The Orioles announced on Thursday that they have recalled infielder Joey Ortiz from AAA Norfolk and optioned utility player Terrin Vavra. Ortiz joins Grayson Rodriguez, Ryan O'Hearn, and Yennier Cano as Triple A players to make it up to Baltimore this year.
The Orioles selected Ortiz out of New Mexico State University with their fourth round pick in the 2019 MLB draft. The 24-year old middle infielder who hails from Garden Grove, California, is ranked seventh in the Orioles top 30 prospects list by MLB Pipeline and sits just inside MLB Pipeline's Top 100 at 91.
There is little doubt in the Orioles system that Ortiz would play in the majors. But at first glance, this news may sound surprising. First off, it seemingly came out of nowhere, as there were no rumblings of an Ortiz promotion on the horizon. In addition, middle infielder Jordan Westburg, the Orioles 4th-ranked prospect and number 68 prospect in baseball, seemed like a more logical choice to join the team before Ortiz.
In Thursday's series opener against the Detroit Tigers, Ortiz is batting ninth in the lineup and playing second base. Jorge Mateo is flanking him in the middle infield at shortstop, Ramón Urías is starting at third base, and Ryan Mountcastle is playing first base. Adam Frazier will be playing right field as Anthony Santander shifts to DH.
The Orioles have plenty of depth at Ortiz's likely positions of shortstop and second base with Gunnar Henderson, Ramon Urias, Jorge Mateo, and Adam Frazier all battling for at-bats at those positions. In addition, while Vavra has not lit the world on fire -- he is 6-26 with three walks on the year -- he has competently played left field, right field, third base, and second base for the Orioles, providing the depth they likely sought when they broke camp with him on the roster.
But take a closer look and the rationale behind the move begins to come into focus. Nathan Ruiz succinctly tweeted the Orioles logic behind the move:
Ruiz is right. As the Orioles begin a four game series in Detroit tonight, they will be facing three left-handed starters: Joey Wentz, Eduardo Rodriguez (not again....) and Matthew Boyd. It was highly unlikely that the left-handed hitting Vavra would draw a start in any of those games, which brings the promotion of the right-handed hitting Ortiz into deeper focus. Furthermore, while Westburg might be the bigger name, Ortiz is on the 40-man roster, while Westburg is not. This means that the Orioles did not have to remove someone from the 40-man roster altogether in order to bring Ortiz to Detroit.
For his part, Ortiz has hit the cover off the ball through the first few weeks of Norfolk's season. In 72 plate appearances, Ortiz holds a superlative .359 batting average and an equally strong .889 OPS. As solid as he has been with the bat, it's Ortiz's defense that draws rave reviews and may truly make him special. As Nathan Ruiz reported, Ortiz was a runaway winner for best fielder in Spring Training, with Westburg referring to him as a "magician" in the field. To be clear, it was a question of when, not if, Ortiz would make it up to Baltimore.
How long will Ortiz be here? Could this also be a product of shortstop Jorge Mateo and right-handed hitting outfielder Austin Hays being banged up? And what does this mean for Terrin Vavra's future? in Baltimore? Has he been "passed" by Ortiz? We simply do not know. All we can do is wait for Ortiz to make his debut - which could come as soon as tonight in Detroit against Wentz - and cheer for him to succeed as his former team, the Tides, are already doing.
Best of luck, Joey. Hope you're here to stay.