CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jhailyn Ortiz arrived early Tuesday afternoon to Spectrum Field, moonlighting for the second day this spring as a minor leaguer in major-league camp.
He watched players like Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins rifle through batting practice and sat in the dugout for the first few innings of a 13-6 loss to the Toronto, providing a taste of the major-league life that soon could be his.
Then Ortiz received his chance to play and offered a reminder of why the Phillies gave him $4.2 million in 2015 to sign him as a teenager from the Dominican Republic. Ortiz blasted a grand slam in the seventh inning off Toronto’s Jake Petricka, a 31-year-old right-hander who has spent parts of the last seven seasons in the majors.
“It’s great,” Ortiz said. “I see a lot of major-leaguers, big leaguers. It’s good. I tried to see how they swing and take that into the game with me.”
The Phillies were drawn to Ortiz’ raw power when they signed him, but the 21-year-old outfielder has yet to reach double A. He’s spent the last two years with full-season farm teams and combined for just 32 homers in 125 games with single-A Lakewood and high-A Clearwater. Ortiz had a .653 OPS last season with Clearwater and struck out 149 times, which was the fifth-most in the Florida State League. He struck out 148 times in 2018 with Lakewood.
“I’m working on different things,” Ortiz said. “I feel right.”
The Phillies left Ortiz unprotected this winter before the Rule 5 draft, knowing that a team would not be able to carry the outfielder for an entire major-league season. His strikeout numbers were too high and his power has yet to translate into a consistent home-run rate.
So Ortiz went unclaimed. But the Phillies have to hope that he shows enough promise this season that he must be added to the 40-man roster before next December. If not, Ortiz’ major-league future would be bleak and his spring-training homer will be just a memory of a day in the big leagues. He should reach double-A Reading at some point this season and play in a ballpark known to help batters tap into their power potential. If this is Ortiz’ breakout season, Tuesday was a good start.
“I had been over the complex a few times last year and he really swung the bat well,” said bench coach Rob Thomson, who served as manager during the split-squad game. “He moves around good, too. He made a good play in the gap the other day and cut a ball off. He looks like a nice player.”