As the draft got under way Thursday night, the Texas Rangers sat and watched name after name go off the board.
They felt that Luis Ortiz’s would be called well before their first turn came up at pick No. 30. But, as it unfolded, Ortiz was available when they were on the clock, making their lives easier.
“He was clearly our pick,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “There were some other guys we liked, but our guys were pretty ecstatic when he was there.”
Said Ortiz: “It means the world to me. I’m glad the Rangers gave me this opportunity. They saw something in me, I’m willing to work with it, become that person I want to be ... an All-Star in the major leagues.”
Ortiz is a right-handed pitcher out of Sanger High School in California and already has what Daniels called “big-league caliber stuff.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder went 5-3 with a 1.04 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings this year as a senior, although he did miss time with a forearm strain. Ortiz said the forearm strain is nothing to worry about and that he simply tried to pitch through tendinitis.
Ortiz has touched 96 mph and mixes in an above-average breaking ball. Baseball America listed him as the 28th-best prospect in this year’s draft, and the 14th-best right-handed pitcher. MLB.com had him ranked as the 24th-best overall prospect.
Asked how he’d describe himself as a pitcher, Ortiz said: “I describe myself as a dominant high school pitcher. I’ve been out there and competed against some of the best players out there. I compare myself to one of the best pitchers in the draft.”
Ortiz said he is a self-taught pitcher who never had a pitching coach growing up. He learned how to pitch by watching Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and mimicking his mechanics in the mirror.
Outside of his natural ability, the Rangers liked that Ortiz dropped significant weight in high school.
“It really shows that this kid is looking at it as a long-term career and profession rather than a hobby,” Daniels said.
Ortiz has committed to pitch at Fresno State, but Daniels fully expects the team to sign him. MLB has allotted a slot of $1.76 million to sign Ortiz, and the Rangers have a total budget of $4.82 million to sign their picks within the first 10 rounds.
The Rangers forfeited their first-round pick when they signed Shin-Soo Choo in December, but recouped a compensation round “A” pick when Nelson Cruz signed with Baltimore.
That pick was used to select Ortiz.
It’s the third time in the past four years that the Rangers have spent their first pick on pitching. They drafted right-hander Alex Gonzalez last year and left-hander Kevin Matthews in 2011. In 2012, Texas went with outfielder Lewis Brinson.
The Rangers selected Ti’quan Forbes, a shortstop from Columbia (Miss). High School, with the 59th overall pick late Thursday. It follows the Rangers trend of taking up-the-middle players with high upside.
Forbes is a 6-foot-3, 180-pounder who batted .427 with three home runs and 32 RBIs this past sesaon. He also was the quarterback of the football team and played on the basketball team.
Baseball America ranked Forbes as the best prospect in the state of Mississippi and the fifth-best shortstop prospect in the draft.
“He’s a guy that has versatility,” assistant general manager A.J. Preller said. “At the end of the day, he’s going to have a chance to play shortstop, third base and maybe the outfield. Ultimately it’s a right-hand bat who brings speed, athletic and hit tool to the table with defensive versatility.”
Ortiz and Forbes are certainly two players the Rangers had targeted and were thankful remained on the board when they selected.
“You set up your board and you have scenarios you really like,” Rangers director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg said. “This was one of our more popular ones. We’re very excited to get both of those players.”
The draft continues Friday with Rounds 3-10 and concludes Saturday with Rounds 11-40.