8. Anthony Ortega, rhsp.
Birthday - 08/1985 - Height - 6’0" Weight - 170 lbs
AA: 135 innings ERA: 3.73 K/9: .61 K/BB: 1.69 GO/AO: 1.30 BAA: .247
AAA: 39.1 innings ERA: 2.52 K/9: .56 K/BB: 3.67 GO/AO: 1.29 BAA: .282
At #8, Venezuelan Anthony Ortega is the highest ranking Halo prospect on this list to have entered pro ball via teenage free agency in Latin America. I expect that to change next season - as many as half of 2010’s top ten prospects could be rising Latin players - and that’s a credit both to the players themselves and to the Angels organization’s efforts to find and develop top-tier talent beyond the American amateur draft.
In just one year, Anthony advanced from under-the-radar AA work horse to a leading candidate for the 2009 big league rotation. His success didn’t come entirely out of the blue - he won the 2005 Dominican Summer League ERA title, advanced three levels in 2006, and competently handled the California League as a 21 year old in 2007 - but his progress was nevertheless a pleasant development for an organization that saw its two most senior pitching prospects, Nick Adenhart and Nick Green, blown off their respective pedestals by Pacific Coast League hitting.
Speaking of Pacific Coast League perils, Anthony will likely return to Salt Lake in the coming year, where he faces expectations to repeat his success despite having benefited mightily from a low opposing batting average of balls in play in 2008. In other words, he was probably a little lucky because more than his fair share of struck balls ended up in the gloves of his defenders. While his decent ground ball rate means that he shouldn’t get lit up quite as much as Nick Green, another pitch-to-contact type who came to Salt Lake under similarly high expectations last year, he will likely struggle at times in a league that rewards hitters for merely making any sort of contact.
Anthony’s ability to consistently induce groundballs was the difference between his solid performances in years past and his breakout in 2008. His GO/AO ratio improved from a mere average 1.01 in ‘07, to a solid 1.29 in ‘08. Those extra groundballs were no accident: they resulted from Anthony’s conscious effort over the 2008 season to keep his stuff down in the zone (I believe it was largely for those efforts that the Halos named Anthony their 2008 Organizational Pitcher of the Year). To carry over his Pacific Coast League success in 2009, Anthony will to have to continue getting hitters to pound his offerings into the ground.
Early signs of maintaining that groundball rate are not promising: the Venezuelan Winter League chewed Anthony up, largely due to a regression in his GO/AO to less than 1. It's a small sample size, sure, but he'll have to do better than that next year. Obviously, this season could be a crucial one for him, as he’s just as likely to end it the Angels’ #5 starter as he is another flamed out, pitch-to-contact prospect in the Pacific Coast League. If he finishes somewhere in between, we should consider it a meaningful victory for the 23-year-old.
In terms of stuff, Anthony is very similar to Sean O’Sullivan, whom he ranks ahead of on this list because of slightly better performance at higher levels in '08. Anthony throws a bit harder, regularly hitting the low 90’s and topping out at 95; Sean’s strength is his ability to add and subtract a few mph off his fastball. Like Sean, Anthony’s secondary offerings - a curve and changeup - are merely average, and don’t project to improve much.
If he can maintain his 2008 groundball rate, Anthony Ortega is again similar to Sean O’Sullivan in that they both have ceilings projecting to Jon Garland’s better seasons: an ERA in the high three’s, with a WHIP high enough - 1.30 or 1.40 - to make that ERA unsustainable. Those will be the good years; in others he’s much more likely to be league average. Still, yielding a run every other inning while pitching 200+ innings a year is a valuable contribution, and if Anthony can do that, he will have a successful career as a number four or five starter.
Next up for tomorrow, Mr. Wild Thing himself, Kevin Jepsen.