Devin Ortiz’s dreams of playing professional baseball started in the parks of Nutley growing up. Now, after a fine career at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale and at the University of Virginia, Ortiz is back home and hoping for that chance when MLB hosts its annual amateur draft July 17-19.
“It would mean everything. It’s what I’ve been working for all of these years, even before high school,” Ortiz said. “It’s always been a goal of mine to play professional baseball. Now I’m finally healthy, I’m totally ready to go and excited. I’m hoping a team will take a chance, that’s all I can do right now.”
Ortiz has been traveling all over New Jersey the past month, prepping the draft, while also working prospect camps and even helping coach with a 10-U softball team. That means practicing in the park with father Jose or with former teammates Raul Ortega and Kyle Teel, working out at FASST in Lyndhurst.
“I just keep myself busy every day,” Ortiz said of his hectic schedule since the conclusion of Virginia’s season. “Right now I’m working camps, doing private lessons and just trying to make some money on the side as well.”
Multi-tasking is nothing for Ortiz, who was one of college baseball’s top two-way players.
This season, his fifth at UVA, he hit .286 with seven home runs, 47 RBI and an impressive .389 on-base percentage in 58 games.
He also pitched in nine games (five starts), going 5-1 with a 2.02 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 26 ⅔ innings before his season on the mound was cut short in early April due to fatigue. Even so, he was one of five nominees for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award.
“I’m still working at all of the infield positions. I don’t know where I’ll be at the next level, so I’m just trying to be prepared to play the corners, play a little bit of second. I can fill in at short and play a little bit of outfield as well. And also I’ve just been training for pitching as well,” said Ortiz, who primarily played first base this season. “Whatever they need, I’m just trying to do it all right now and we’ll figure it out when the time comes”.
Ortiz was mainly a third baseman and shortstop when he arrived in college from St. Joseph Regional. Soon afterward, he found himself in the outfield in order to get his bat in the lineup. The past two seasons, Ortiz started primarily at first base, but also saw a lot of time at designated hitter because of an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, which required surgery.
For his career, Ortiz recorded 154 hits in 573 at-bats (.269) with 18 home runs, 113 runs scored, 103 RBI and 73 walks. On the mound, he was 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 71 ⅓ innings.
Despite being one of college baseball’s more versatile players, Ortiz feels he was unable to show his peak abilities on the diamond, largely from a host of injuries and a missed season thanks to Covid during his five years at Virginia.
“I feel like I haven’t gotten the chance to show who Devin Ortiz is as a player,” Ortiz said. “I had some great moments at Virginia that allowed me to keep my name on the radar and help my team win in big moments. But just from a consistency standpoint of completing a whole season and being consistent throughout a whole season is definitely something I’m really excited to do. I am healthy now, I don’t have things to worry about and hopefully it can stay that way.”
Regardless of whether Ortiz hears his name called during this month’s draft, he doesn’t intend to walk away from the game anytime soon. Whenever his playing career is done, he hopes to coach in college.
“I’m definitely going to stay involved in the game for as long as I can. I definitely see coaching at a higher level than high school as a goal of mine,” Ortiz said. “I’m definitely interested in coaching college baseball and getting my foot in the door whenever my time is up. That could be a year, two years or it could be eight, 10 years from now. Whenever that time is up, I definitely want to stay in the game. I’ve dedicated my whole life to it. I’ve learned so much and I still have a lot to learn. I just want to help build the game and help teach younger guys, especially at the college level.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)