DETROIT —The Orioles took another step in their evolution Thursday. In making the roster move to promote infielder Joey Ortiz from Triple-A Norfolk, Baltimore weighed the value of continuing a prospect’s development with the desire to field a win-now team at the major league level.
And the win-now mentality weighed more.
So, welcome to Detroit, Ortiz. He will wear No. 65 when he makes his major league debut at second base Thursday night, and his presence for this series against the Tigers is another recent example of Baltimore’s front office opting to make more aggressive roster construction decisions in the middle of the season.
First it was the choice to call up top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez to replace Kyle Bradish when the latter landed on the injured list, forgoing the argument made at the end of spring training that keeping Rodriguez in the minors would be better for his development. Next it was left-hander Cole Irvin, who was optioned to Triple-A after three lackluster starts despite being one of two offseason starting pitching acquisitions.
And now it’s Ortiz, who ranks as the No. 91 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, making him Baltimore’s seventh-best prospect. Ortiz, considered a top-tier defender in the middle infield or at third, is hitting .359 in 16 games for the Tides.
“We’re trying to win games,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “So we’re going to try to get the best roster we can, short-term, long-term. We feel like Joey’s going to be able to possibly help us this series, then we’ll go from there.”
The short-term vision for adding Ortiz now makes sense, considering the Tigers are set to start three left-handers in four games against the Orioles. Vavra, a left-handed utility player, wasn’t likely to start those games; Ortiz is a right-handed batter who could face a more favorable matchup.
There’s more to consider in regards to position, though. Vavra played three times in left field, six times in right field and twice in the infield while hitting .231. Ortiz has never played in the outfield during his time in the minor leagues or at New Mexico State, which likely means second baseman Adam Frazier could see more time in the outfield.
But calling up an infielder and optioning a utilityman also points to the fact Hays won’t miss much time, and it could have more to do in the short term with the slew of lefties on the mound and shortstop Jorge Mateo’s sore hip (Mateo has played through it, although he received a standard off day Wednesday).
On Hays’ part, he said he is available to run and will begin to swing again in a few days. To avoid a break of his right middle finger was lucky, he said.
“I did not dodge the ball,” Hays said, “but I feel like I dodged a bullet with that.”
There were several infield prospects the Orioles could have chosen for this role. Jordan Westburg is hitting .323 for Norfolk and has started twice in the corner outfield this season, but neither he nor second baseman Connor Norby are on the 40-man roster. Ortiz is, which makes his promotion easier.
While Westburg and Norby are considered stronger batters, Ortiz has made strides at the plate. He finished 2022 with a .346 average for Norfolk and has continued that pace so far this year.
“I feel like I’ve always got something to prove,” Ortiz said. “Now I’m at a new level, and I got to hit here, so it’s important to prove still.”
In all likelihood, this won’t be a permanent promotion for Ortiz. Hyde called it a “wait-and-see” situation for Ortiz.
He could fit into the infield this weekend in Detroit, helping against left-handed pitchers and factoring into a rotation between second, shortstop and third base that will include Gunnar Henderson, Mateo and Ramón Urías, with Frazier potentially seeing more outfield time.
Should Ortiz find himself on the bench for long stretches, the Orioles will likely send him back to Norfolk in favor of everyday playing time. But for the Orioles to make this move with that short-term mindset perhaps only reinforces that the club is truly taking a win-now approach.
The Orioles have won five straight series and at 16-8 hold the second-best American League record. For the first time in years, they’re aggressively managing the roster so they can stay at that level.
“We’re just trying to put the best roster out there right now,” Hyde said.