The White Sox signed Rafael Ortega to a minor league contract last week, as reflected on the MLB.com transaction log and the outfielder’s Instagram page. It’s likely he’ll be in MLB camp as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.
Ortega is looking to get back to the majors for a fourth straight season and an eighth campaign overall. The left-handed hitter has appeared for six different teams. The only time he spanned multiple seasons with the same club came on the other side of Chicago. Ortega was a Cub between 2021-22, operating as their starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for a time.
Those years on the North Side have been Ortega’s most productive to date. He combined for a solid .265/.344/.408 batting line in just over 700 plate appearances. That made it moderately surprising both that the Cubs non-tendered him last offseason and that he was forced to settle for a minor league deal with the Yankees.
Ortega didn’t secure an outfield spot in the Bronx, kicking off a nomadic 2023. He was granted his release from the Yankees. A minor league pact with the Rangers also didn’t get Ortega back to the majors. He signed another non-roster pact, this time with the Mets, in mid-June. After New York fell out of contention and traded Mark Canha and Tommy Pham at the deadline, they brought Ortega to the majors.
He didn’t hit at the level he had with the Cubs. Ortega reached base at a solid .341 clip but only hit one home run over 136 plate appearances. His .213/.341/.272 slash was well below average. New York outrighted him off the 40-man roster at the end of the year, the equivalent of an early non-tender.
For the second straight spring, Ortega will try to secure a roster spot in Spring Training. The 32-year-old can play all three outfield spots but is a better fit in a corner than in center field. Chicago has Luis Robert Jr. locked into center and Andrew Benintendi set for a bounceback opportunity in left. Right field, where the Sox got a .219/.271/.344 showing last year, is wide open. As thing stand, Óscar Colás and Gavin Sheets project to split time.
General manager Chris Getz acknowledged on Tuesday the front office could add a more established option. Ortega shouldn’t stand in the way of that pursuit. The transaction tracker indicates his deal was signed on January 5, even if it wasn’t officially logged until yesterday. Getz was surely aware Ortega was part of the organization before Tuesday’s comments about a potential right field acquisition. Brett Phillips, Wynton Bernard and Mark Payton are also in the organization as non-roster players.