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Anthony Ortega, Top Angels Prospect #27

27) Anthony Ortega, 8/24/85 - rhsp, AAA and MLB

AAA: 2 wins, 1 loss. 18.3 IP, 9.64 ERA, 5 K/6 BB

MLB: 0 wins, 2 losses. 12.2 IP, 9.24 ERA, 7 K/6 BB

Ranking in a Nutshell: Ortega began the 2009 season as the Halos 8th, 9th, or 10th best prospect, depending on who you talked to, due to a strong four season track record that began with the 2005 DSL ERA title and ended with the Angels' 2008 Organizational Pitcher of the year award. Recurring elbow inflammation, a couple of apocalyptic performances, and just adequate stuff hurts his stock entering 2010, but there is still a very real chance that he rights the ship this year.

Track Record: Before getting too down on Ortega's '09 performance, let's remember that he put up both the second best pitching performance in the organization in 2007 (3.9 WAR) and the third best in 2008 (3.4 WAR).  He showed a lot of poise in his first two major league starts, keeping his club in the game despite a nasty dose of tough luck.  Injuries hindered his effectiveness in 2009 and increase the risk he carries moving forward, but they should not diminish a portfolio that includes 337.2 effective innings over the past two seasons and a couple of gritty, promising performances in his first two MLB appearances. 

Win-the-Lottery Ceiling: Jon Garland.  A back of the rotation starter who gets his outs on guile, a quantity-over-quality pitching arsenal, and moderate groundball tendencies.

Scouting Report: (below the jump)

At his best, Ortega pounds the lower half of the zone with a 89 mph-93 mph fastball with moderate sink and occasional arm side run. He backs the heater with a decent curveball, a sometimes effective change-up - he kept an almost entirely left-handed Yankee lineup at bay over six innings on April 30th -, and a show-me slider that helps him against righties, though it doesn't induce a lot of swings and misses.  Fangraphs reports that his change-up played best in the majors, good for 0.2 runs above average, while his fastball hurt him the most at -4.8 runs below average. He backs his low-average stuff with good pitchability and sometimes plus command, though he is still prone to issuing too many free passes when he doesn't get the corners called for strikes.

Ortega's debut against the Mariners showcased both his pitching smarts and his limits.  Ortega clearly worked to establish a low strike with his fastball, going after leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki with four straight heaters. His first two pitches, 91 mph and 92 mph respectively, missed just low, but he drew a called strike beneath the knees with a third heater at 90 mph. His fourth pitch of the sequence dialed back up to 92 mph, hit the same spot, and induced Ichiro's first swing for a groundball.  Ichiro being Ichiro, he poked it through the right side for a hit.  Bad outcome, but Ortega had clearly executed his game plan, making his pitch and establishing the low strike. 

Four batters later, he faced Russell Branyan with two men on.  Ortega threw a curve as get-me-over junk for strike one.  That set up the next pitch, a high 88 mph fastball that induced a late, ugly swing for a chopper foul.  Ortega went back to the curveball for his third and final pitch, dropping it to the ankles, right where Napoli wanted it, but Branyan chased with a loopy swing (see that pitch here).  Despite getting drawn out on his front foot, Branyan hooked the ball into the right field bleachers.  Again, bad outcome, but Ortega had done everything right, changing Branyan's eyelevel with the pitch sequence and inducing two bad swings. 

Whether the beating Ortega sustained at the MLB level resulted from bad breaks, or his stuff just not being major league caliber, remains an open question. He'll get more chances though, because assuming he comes back healthy, he'll be duking it out with Tommy Mendoza, Trevor Bell and Sean O'Sullivan to become the Halos long-term 5th starter.