Rays Prospect Q & A: Tyler Bortnick

Tyler Bortnick was a 16th-round pick out of Coastal Carolina University in 2009 and last season the 24-year-old Ohio native had a banner year. He led the Florida State League in stolen bases and on- base-percentage and capped it off by being chosen to participate in the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game. We caught up Bortnick after a workout last week. Inside is our interview.

Bortnick during a workout on the back fields shortly before our interview.

Tyler Bortnick has earned a well-deserved reputation as being the quintessential baseball "grinder". But the 24-year-old infielder is much more than just a hard-nosed baseball rat. He is a talented, bright, and extremely driven player whose uncanny feel for the game allows him to maximize every ounce of talent in his 5'11" 185 lb. frame.

Although rarely recognized for his accomplishments on the field by the prospect pundits, Bortnick's baseball resume is quite astounding when viewed with a non-critical eye.

In 2011 alone, he led the entire Rays organization in stolen bases with 43, was voted the Best Base Runner in the FSL by Baseball America and the Rays organization, was named to the Florida State League's mid-season and post-season All-Star teams and earned a spot on the Topps Class-A All-Star team. He then culminated the season by being named an Arizona Fall League Rising Star and being ranked by Baseball America has having the Best Strike Zone Discipline in the Rays farm system entering 2012.

In short, Bortnick has shown the ability to do all of the things the Rays place an emphasis on - getting on base, base running, moving runners over, playing solid defense - exceedingly well. He is a player that Rays fans should closely monitor as he moves into the upper levels of the system, because should he continue to play the way he did in 2011, he may find himself in the major leagues sooner rather than later.

Bortnick was kind enough to talk to me after a workout last week about his experience in the AFL, his transition to second base from playing shortstop in college, why he is so successful at stealing bases and what his goals are for the 2012 season.

Rays Digest: First of all I wanted to ask you about your Arizona Fall League experience. You were named to the Rising Stars game and that had to be a big honor for you. What was your experience like out there?

Tyler Bortnick: Arizona was great man. I got to see a lot of great players out there and my teammates were awesome. We had a great time. We had great camaraderie for being all bunched together like that and being told we had to play all these games together. We gelled right from the start.

Competition-wise it was really tough. Some of the best players in minor baseball were there and I was just really honored to be a part of that group. For the Rays to send me out there - I was thankful for the opportunity to go out there and show them what I can do.

Rays Digest: I noticed you were playing a little first base in the Arizona Fall League. Is that something that's going to happen more here for the Rays? Or was that just you filling in for the Saguaros?

Bortnick thinks he can set himself apart at second and to date he has a .969 fielding percentage at the position in 243 games.

Tyler Bortnick: You know I'm not sure. I think it was more experimental to be honest with you. I played some short there, some second, some first....I think I got that label as a utility guy. But for me, I think I can set myself apart as a second baseman. But whatever the Rays feel they want me to do, I'll do. Whatever it takes to get to the big leagues I'll do. If that means playing first base, the outfield, third base or whatever, I'll do it.

Rays Digest: You were actually a really, really good shortstop in college at Coastal Carolina and switched over to second in 2010. How has the transition been for you?

Tyler Bortnick: The transition's been smooth. For a middle infielder like myself coming from shortstop going over to second base, the most challenging part is the double play turns. Thankfully I have good hands, so I can handle that. Over the last two years, they have taught me the proper techniques and Jim Hoff {Rays minor league field coordinator} has been a big help with that. The transition's been nice and smooth.

Rays Digest: You have an on base percentage of over .400 in your minor league career. Can you talk a little bit about your approach at the plate? Because you seem to be willing to get on base any way you can.

Tyler Bortnick: Whatever it takes. Whether it be getting hit by a pitch, a sac bunt, whatever it takes. I'm a grinder-type player. I might not have the most physical ability, but when it comes to playing the game I'm going to do whatever it takes to help my teammates out or get noticed. I might not be the guy that's going to hit the ball out of the ballpark a lot, but you can still put together quality at bats. That's what this game is all about - putting together quality at bats. The more you can do that, the more successful you're going to be and the more times you'll find yourself on base.

Rays Digest: Last year you had a 91 percent success rate at stealing bases and you had over 40 steals the past two seasons. Is stealing bases something that you work on and focus on?

Tyler Bortnick: Yes. It all comes down to studying your pitcher and knowing who's out there and what his time is to the plate. You don't have to be the fastest guy to steal bases either. You just gotta know who is on the mound and how fast he is to the plate. If you really take those things and break it down and work on your first-step quickness, you can really surprise yourself sometimes with how many bags you can steal. I know for myself - I'm not the fastest runner, but I consider myself one of the smartest runners.

Bortnick is 108 for 134 in stolen base attempts, a success rate of 81 percent.

Rays Digest: So the base running and the base stealing, is that all just a part of your overall approach to the game? To just do all the little things to help a team win?

Tyler Bortnick: Yeah. That's my niche. I try and get on base and give my teammates an opportunity to drive me in. This isn't an "I" sport. There isn't just one guy who wins a ballgame. It's a team sport. If I can do my job by getting on base and getting into scoring position, I know it's going to make it a heck of a lot easier for the guys behind me to drive me in. I know a lot of the guys benefited from me being on base a lot and had pretty good years. I'm happy to say that I contributed to that. The more I can do that, the more Joe Maddon and the Rays front office will notice and hopefully they'll take that into consideration.

Rays Digest: What's your goal for the season? Are there any personal goals that you have as far as working on your game?

Tyler Bortnick: I want to be an elite defender. The Rays had about a .988 fielding percentage last year and that's incredible. All around the diamond - that's just hard to do. I know for me to take that next step, that I have to become one of those elite defenders. My offensive game is right where I want it to be. I can always improve. But whether it be batting average, on base percentage, stolen bases or whatever, I know it will be there.

Defensively, you have to bring your game out there every day. If your 0 for 4 or 0 for 10, you can't bring that out onto the field. You've got to turn that offensive switch off and turn the defensive switch on. Defensively this year I want to turn some heads. I want to show people what I can really do.

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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