After a promising season with the rookie-level AZL Rangers in 2007, Michael Ortiz repeated the league and struggled last summer, batting just .256 with five extra-base hits in 125 at-bats.
The first basmean's batting average was down to .200 with just over one week remaining in the 2008 season. Ortiz finished the year on a tear, going 11-for-20 with two doubles and two triples [80% of his extra-base hits] in his last six contests.
The 19-year-old chose to attend Dominican Instructional League after his encouraging finish. Ortiz came away satisfied with his progression, and he returned to the U.S. with his confidence back in-tact. In Thursday's Spring Training action, the Miami native belted line-drive home run over the right field fence.
Lone Star Dugout chatted with Ortiz after a recent Spring Training game.
Jason Cole: How did you feel about your season in the AZL last year?
Michael Ortiz: At the end of my rookie ball year – first off I want to say that I was pressing pretty much all of rookie ball. I had a shot in Spokane, but I didn't capitalize on that opportunity that I got. But that's my fault. You learn as you go. I went back down to rookie ball to get some more reps, and I had two or three games where I realized I could do it. I felt fine, felt comfortable, but I started going downhill from there.
I just pressed too much to be honest with you. I struggled and I pressed and pressed every day until finally I got with the coaches and they just told me to stay loose and play your game. It was all mental, and I think over the last month, I definitely fixed that by just saying, ‘I've been working hard, I can do this, just go out and play and have fun.' It all worked out in the end.
Cole: Even though you struggled at the plate last year, is there an area of your game that you feel you really progressed in?
Ortiz: That would be my defense. Yeah, I still made a couple of errors, but I've come a long, long way. No matter what anybody says, I know that I've proven to myself that I can be a defensive player. I know I can make those game-changing plays. In extended spring training, I had a couple of game-changing plays. In rookie ball, I had a couple.
I feel great on the field and I feel great at the plate now. I feel I've developed as a defender, which is a big thing for this organization because we're all about defense and pitching. Your hitting is going to come and go, but your defense has to stay there.
Cole: A lot of guys carry their offensive struggles into the field. Being a guy that doesn't have a whole lot of defensive experience, how difficult is it to avoid that?
Ortiz: You see a lot of young players – even in the big leagues you see guys who go through big slumps and they take it out to the field. Don't get me wrong, errors happen all the time. Errors are going to happen and they've been in the game forever. But, me, I don't have much experience with playing defense and hitting, but this organization has given me such a great opportunity to play every day, be a position player, and hit in the lineup. That is great. I've definitely learned quickly not to take any of my at-bats into the field, because that will kill a player. If you can't play defense or hit, you won't survive in this game.
Cole: You went to the Dominican Instructional League after last season ended. Going into that, what were your expectations on the experience?
Ortiz: My expectations were to obviously do well. I always expect myself to go out there and play great. Some days you won't, some days you will, but you've got to stay even keel mentally. As far as the game in the Dominican Republic, I think I definitely got to work on all the offspeed pitches and the breaking pitches. I definitely saw too many of them, I would say.
But I adjusted well and I hit decent. I did pretty good and I was proud of what I did over there. You've got a great bunch of coaches down there with Tingler and Riley. Those guys are tremendous coaches – Mercedes too, the hitting coach. It's a great place if you want to learn and take extra reps.
I understand that the living conditions are a little rougher than normal, but you've got to take what you can get and have the best time with whatever you can get. You can't look at the downside of anything – you've got to look at the upside. I think that's the one thing that I did in the fall.
Cole: How much did it benefit you, getting even more one-on-one time with coaches and instructors there?
Ortiz: One-on-one time was great. In the morning, we had about an hour and a half of one-on-one with Mercedes, Riley, and Tingler in the cages. Then we'd play our game and get a couple hours off. I was with Aja Barto out there too. I'd say 3:00 we were done with the day and around 5:30 or 6:00 we would be back out there for a half hour taking ground balls and endless popups. It was great – baseball all day. That's all I could have asked for. I'm glad they even gave me the opportunity to go out there and get all those repetitions.
Cole: Getting to go with a good friend in Aja Barto, how much did that help you adjust to life in the Dominican?
Ortiz: At first, getting out of the airport, it was a little bit different. The streets are kind of chaotic. But once you get to that complex and you see baseball and your teammates around you – yeah you're unfamiliar with the territory, but once you hang loose and get with your friends, you have a blast.
We played checkers all day in the afternoon after practice. I have no complaints. I think it's good for us to get away from all the technology and just focus on baseball and having fun.
Cole: In preparing for the season, did you do anything to change your offseason routine?
Ortiz: Definitely. Last offseason I came into the season thinking that I'd had a good rookie ball and I thought I had worked hard. But when I looked back on it, I really didn't do enough. I think that's a big part of why I died down towards the end of the year. I was exhausted and my brain was exhausted – I was mentally fatigued. They say that's the number one thing that a player is going to need in the long run – his mental game. I definitely crashed.
But this offseason, I definitely prepared myself much better. I was working out six days per week, running, and I realized that confidence was the key to success. Whether you're a little guy or a big guy – it doesn't matter your size – if you've got the confidence and the heart, you're going to play better than anybody else on the field.
Cole: When did you arrive in Surprise?
Ortiz: I got here on the 12th. I reported on the reporting date because I had a great bunch of guys down there that I was working with. I felt like I was getting great feedback from all the work I've been doing this offseason, so I decided to stick it out a little bit longer and reporting on our reporting date.
Cole: What have you been working on out here so far?
Ortiz: So far, hitting. Hitting and defense. Footwork around the bag. My ground balls I'd say have gotten a lot better. I consider myself a wall over there – at least I'd like to. But you can always get better.
Definitely my hitting – working on hitting the ball the other way because they're going to attack the outside half. Not many guys are going to come inside on most hitters, so they're going to go away and I've got to learn how to go with it.
Cole: Do you have any idea which team you'll break camp with?
Ortiz: Right now, I'm working out with Hickory and playing with Hickory. But where I'll end up, I have no idea. I'm not the type of guy to ask too many questions. I know they say that if you're interested in where you want to be, they want you to come to them and talk to them.
But I'd rather just let them do what they need to. They've got enough problems they need to deal with. I'd rather just get my work in and play the best I can. Wherever they send me, that's where I'll go.
Cole: What are you looking for out of yourself this season?
Ortiz: To get back to what I did my first year. I had a very good first year and I just want to get back to that. I want to be aggressive – I don't want to be passive. I was a little too passive last year, so you'll definitely see me swinging more. I'm just trying to help the team win. I want to win – I don't want to lose. That's the key.
Ortiz hoping for bounce-back season
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