Pitching prospect Luis Ortiz is with the Pirates and is expected to start Tuesday’s game, reports Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s already on the 40-man roster but the club will need a corresponding move to get him onto the active roster. The club announced that he’s on the taxi squad today, meaning the move won’t be official until tomorrow.
The 24-year-old Ortiz wasn’t initially a highly-touted prospect, signing with the Pirates as an international amateur in 2018 for a modest bonus of just $25K. However, he’s vaulted himself onto the map with some strong work in recent years. He spent 2021 in Single-A, posting a 3.09 ERA in 87 1/3 innings that year. He struck out 30.1% of batters faced, walked just 7.4% and got grounders on 49.1% of balls in play.
Last year, Ortiz began the season at Double-A and tossed 114 1/3 innings with a 28.6% strikeout rate, 9.5% walk rate and 46.8% ground ball rate. He ran into some home run troubles, however, as 19 long balls inflated his ERA to 4.64 at that level. Nonetheless, he impressed enough to get bumped to Triple-A for a couple of starts and then got called to the majors, taking the ball four times at the end of last year with a 4.50 ERA. He flashed triple-digit velocity on his fastball and even got to 99 mph on his two-seamer while also throwing a slider and a changeup.
Based on that excellent year, he started to garner the attention of prospect evaluators. Baseball America ranked him the #74 prospect in baseball coming into this year and FanGraphs had him at #77. He was sent to Triple-A to begin this year and is doing very well so far with a 2.23 ERA through his first seven starts. His .214 batting average on balls in play and 82.2% strand rate suggest there’s a bit of good luck in there, but he’s getting grounders at a 54.1% clip while striking out 22.8% of opponents and walking 8.7%.
The Pirates have a need for another starter with Vince Velasquez recently landing on the 15-day injured list due to elbow inflammation. It’s still unclear how long he will be out of action, but it seems Ortiz will likely get a few turns through the rotation next to Mitch Keller, Rich Hill, Roansy Contreras and Johan Oviedo.
Ortiz got 23 days of service time during his call-up last year and there will be 146 days left in this year’s season when he is activated tomorrow. Even if he were to stay with the big league club the rest of the season, he would end up at 169 days of service, just shy of the 172 needed to get to the one-year mark. Even if he’s now up for good, he wouldn’t reach free agency until after the 2029 season, though he would be well positioned for reaching Super Two status after 2025. Some rookies can get a full year of service time even after a late call-up by placing high in Rookie of the Year voting, but it requires being on two out of the three top 100 prospect lists from Baseball America, ESPN and MLB Pipeline. Ortiz made it onto the BA list but not the other two, meaning he won’t qualify.
That may end up being a fairly moot point if Velasquez returns in a few weeks and Ortiz gets send back to the Triple-A. Then again, Oviedo and Contreras each have an option year remaining and have been struggling of late. Perhaps there’s some chance that Ortiz can pitch well enough that he sticks and one of the others is sent back to Indianapolis when Velasquez returns.
The Pirates started out scorching hot but have cooled off significantly by losing their last seven. They are still 20-15 on the season but the excitement around the club has dimmed a bit in the past week. If they end up falling out of contention, both Hill and Velasquez would make for sensible trade deadline candidates given that they are veterans on one-year deals. That could make some more room for all their young pitchers in the rotation as the season goes along, but it would be a different situation if they manage to stay in the playoff race.
For now, the club will get a look at one of their top prospects to see how he fares against big league hitters this time around and if he can cement himself as a future building block of their rotation.