Not every player on a roster is going to see a ton of at-bats and give us a season’s worth of production to judge. During the course of the season, teams will just need a lefty bench bat that has a chance to contribute at the plate as injuries come up and playing time starts to get managed later in the season. Rafael Ortega parlayed a strong season in the minor leagues into such a role with the Braves and while he wasn’t a big time influence in the roster, he still made his mark on the 2019 season with one swing.
What went right in 2019?
We will start with the minor leagues because, well, there is more to be happy about there. Ortega came into the 2019 season as a guy that had existed as essentially a quad-A since the 2014 season as he bounced around from organization to organization. For the 2014-2018 seasons, Ortega combined to hit 22 home runs. During the 2019 season, Rafael hit 23 home runs between Triple-A and the majors in under 600 plate appearances. If you are looking for case studies to illustrate that the new baseball is having a huge impact on power numbers, Ortega should absolutely be among them.
Ortega’s performance in the minor leagues did not go unnoticed by the Braves. In mid-August, he was brought up from Gwinnett to shore up the Braves outfield that had been beset by injuries to Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte. Aside from his increased power production and 127 wRC+ season in Triple-A, this swing right here against arguably the best team in the National League in the Dodgers was the biggest thing that went right.
What went wrong in 2019?
While his time in the minor leagues was a rousing success, his time in the major leagues was less successful and he was unable to get much playing time beyond pinch-hitting appearances against righties and the occasional spot start. He posted just a 51 wRC+ in 96 plate appearances with the big league club in 2019. He didn’t get much help in the luck department, either, as his BABIP with the Braves sat at .250.
What to expect in 2020?
It is hard to realistically project what Ortega IS as a player if you take any stock in his 2019 numbers in the minor leagues. The safest bet is to see that performance as an outlier and he will, at best, be a guy on a Triple-A roster somewhere (which could easily be the Braves) and on standby if the need for a lefty bat on the bench that can play in the outfield arises.
As for Ortega’s future with the Braves, the tricky part of just keeping him is that he doesn’t have any options left, so the flexibility of keeping him on the roster isn’t there. There is little in the way of financial cost, but when the team has several needs in free agency, a bullpen to retool in significant ways, and a few guys that will probably require protection from the Rule 5 draft, Ortega’s future with the team is far from certain.