As the Major League Baseball Draft neared its conclusion and his name yet to be called, Devin Ortiz, like he had hundreds, if not thousands of times before, went with father Jose to find a park near their Nutley home to work toward Devin’s dream of being a professional baseball player.
So it was only appropriate in the middle of their workout at the Belleville High School baseball field Ortiz received the phone call he had been hoping to hear for years now.
The phone call was from the San Diego Padres to express their interest in signing Devin, a star at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale and the University of Virginia, to a free-agent contract.
On Tuesday, Ortiz officially signed his contract with the Padres at the team’s spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona.
“When I got the call, it was a great moment. It was a great time to get the call because I was with my dad and we were hitting,” said Ortiz of the call, which happened roughly 30 minutes after the draft’s conclusion on July 19. “It was a great moment. We celebrated. I got to be with my friends and family and have dinner with everyone at my mom’s house and just enjoy the day.”
The day was initially a frustrating one for Ortiz as he followed the third day of the draft. Eventually the need to get out of the house and try to focus elsewhere became too much after the 15th of 20 rounds came and went.
“We were just trying to kill time and not think about it too much,” Ortiz said. “I was watching it and we said let’s go get some hitting in. If you hear something, you hear something. We were just hoping to get a call or something. We were thankful enough that the Padres reached out and wanted to work a free agent deal and I’m very grateful that we were able to make it work.”
Five days later, Ortiz was on a plane for Arizona where he and the Padres’ 2022 draft class and undrafted free agents were getting their first taste of professional baseball.
“Right now, everybody’s just making the adjustment. There’s a lot of information and a huge transition for all the guys here,” Ortiz said. “Everybody’s just getting their footing, getting used to the routine and all that. It’s been great so far.”
Ortiz said he’s been working as a utility infielder so far, getting time at second and third base as well as shortstop.
Playing multiple positions is nothing new for Ortiz, who appeared at seven different positions during his career at Virginia. But for the first time, he’ll be focusing solely on hitting and being a position player.
“I’m definitely a position player right now,” Ortiz said. “I’m looked at as a utility player for now and if I have to pitch in the future, it’s something I can have in my back pocket down the road if I have to. The focus right now is being a position player and hitting.”
This spring, he was recognized as one of the country’s best and most versatile players. Ortiz was a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award after hitting .286 with seven home runs and 47 RBI at the plate and going 5-1 with a 2.03 ERA in 26.2 innings on the mound. His all-around play earned him Second Team All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, College Baseball Foundation and the NBWA.
In his five years at Virginia, Ortiz, who was also named Most Outstanding Player at the 2021 NCAA Columbia Regional, hit .269 with 18 home runs, 103 RBI, 113 runs scored and a stellar .367 on-base percentage. As a pitcher, he went 10-1 with a 2.78 ERA, throwing primarily out of the pen, with 89 strikeouts in 71.1 innings
At St. Joseph, Ortiz was an All-State honoree and a four-year starter, finishing with 111 hits and 14 home runs at the plate and more than 150 strikeouts on the mound. In 2014, following the conclusion of his freshman year, Ortiz was selected as a member of the Team USA U-15 national team, which played in the U-15 World Baseball Classic in Mexico.
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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.)