Jose Ortega is a 25 year old right-handed relief pitcher from Venezuela, who was signed as an international free agent by the Tigers in 2006. He has worked his way up through the organization, appearing briefly in the major leagues during the 2012 season for 2 2/3 innings and the 2013 season for 11 2/3 innings.
In his brief time in the major leagues, Ortega would have been considered mostly effective were it not for the home run ball. His only home run allowed in 2012 came on a solo shot.In the two games where he allowed runs in 2013, he was also victimized by the long ball. He was tagged with a blown save and a loss in the two games, but otherwise held his own.
After battling injuries in 2011 and 2012 -- posting ERA's of 6.30 and 5.74, respectively -- Ortega rebounded in 2013 with an ERA of 1.86 a WHIP of 1.26, and held opposing hitters to a .168 batting average. His nemesis was the number of walks he issued, which is something he has worked on in Venezuela over the winter, as he discussed in this article by Jason Beck on MLB.com.
"I worked in Venezuela on my location," Ortega said. "I work on that every day -- location, location, location."
It is ironic that the long ball was Ortega's nemesis when he was called up, as he allowed just two home runs in his 48 innings last season. He was called up when Phil Coke was placed on the disabled list in early May, and remained in the majors for over a month. He was then optioned back to Triple-A Toledo when the Tigers needed Jose Alvarez to make a spot start.
Jim Leyland said at the time:
"Ortega really didn't do anything wrong at all," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That’s just one of those freak situations we needed to take care of."
Like so many other Tigers pitchers, Ortega maintains a solid strikeout rate, ranking second in the International league in 2012 at 9.8 whiffs per nine innings, and increasing that last season to 10.4. He maintained an 8.8 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate during his brief time in the major leagues, while cutting his walk rate to half of that, at 4.4 walks per nine innings.
Key to Success
Like so many other Tigers prospects, Ortega's primary battle is with control, as he walked 6.1 batters per nine innings in 2013 and 7.3 batters per nine in 2012. He also uncorked a dozen wild pitches that season. That won't cut it in the majors. If Ortega can get his control together, there is no reason he can't compete for a roster spot in spring training this season.
Ortega goes to camp battling for a roster spot along with right handers Luke Putkonen and Evan Reed. The Tigers figure to want youngsters Melvin Mercedes and Jose Veldez to get more time in the minors, in closing roles for the time being. Ortega will have to win the job, though. Putkonen has demonstrated better control thus far, and Reed is out of options, so he can't be sent down without clearing the waiver gauntlet. If not to start the season, Ortega will be on the short list if and when the need arises.