I love stories like this. Rafael Ortega was signed by the Braves to an MiLB contract in mid-November of 2018, yet large outlets didn’t even think it was worth reporting until 2 months later. Very similar to Michael Reed’s 2018, Ortega had a breakout season at Gwinnett at the ripe old age of 28 (Reed was only 26) and skills that had largely been dormant for his entire professional career were awakened with a brand new team and, if we’re being honest, a brand new ball.
A Minor Flawed Ball Provides a Major Payday
At Gwinnett, it was obvious early on that Ortega had dramatically changed his plate approach. With only 47 home runs in over 4200 plate appearances before 2019, Ortega cranked out 4 in his first 41 PAs and did not slow down all year. In looking at film, the change was blatant: lower hands, increased launch angle, and max effort swing. So many have tried to revamp their hit tool by visiting swing doctors and adopting this approach (Rio Ruiz and Lane Adams are 2 more) to elongate their careers and give another shot toward the big paycheck. While the results didn’t come with him from AAA, Ortega’s newfound power and continued pattern of getting on base resulted in his callup on August 13 so I guess the change in approach paid off…to the tune of a couple 100K.
The Beauty of a Moment
But Ortega got his moment. Fringe guys like Ortega know that their window is small and opportunities to make differences are few. It was a day that many Braves fans would like to forget. August 18th . Bottom 3, Acuna up to bat and hits a long fly. Caught watching, Acuna’s long fly hits the top of the brick in right field and Acuna, who should’ve been standing at 2nd, was parked at 1st. Between innings, Acuna was removed from the game and Ortega was inserted. With the Acuna cloud hovering over Suntrust, the game just had the feel of one of those games where the Braves would lay down and the Dodgers would roll to an easy victory. It was headed that way until Ortega stepped up in the 6th and made magic happen. On an 0-2 count, with 2 outs and the bases loaded against Dustin May, Ortega hit a grand slam that removed the haze and the Braves went on to win 4-3.
Winner By Default
Unfortunately for Ortega, there wasn’t much to celebrate from there on out as he carried a .524 OPS in 86 PAs for the rest of the year. More due to other’s failures rather than his own successes, Ortega was awarded a spot on the playoff roster and went 0-3 with a walk.
In watching Ortega this year, I noticed that he really does hit the ball hard and has ability to work counts and get on base at a decent clip. He likely deserves another chance to prove himself worthy of an MLB roster spot, but that chance is likely going to have to come with another team as the Braves just cannot afford a 40-man spot in 2020 to a 29 year old veteran that lacks options.
Ortega, no matter what, you’ll always have August 18th, 2019, a moment that will live on in Braves history.
Thanks for reading.
Long live Braves Journal