Ortiz seeks all-around progress

Jhailyn Ortiz couldn’t hide his smile. Even as a question was asked of him in English, the Dominican outfielder for the Wil­liamsport Crosscutters knew what was being asked of him.

Then he dialed back his enthusiasm and ans­wered as the coach­ing staff would pro­b­ably want him to. No, the final round of batting practice isn’t a chance for the 18-year-old to just hit the baseball as far as he can. But that doesn’t mean he occasionally doesn’t try to reach Route 15 beyond the left-field wall.

Ortiz’s batting practice sessions are fun to watch. But it’s not in the same vein as it was fun to watch a Jose Pujols or a Sebastian Valle when they came through Williams­port. The power is prodigious, but it’s not overwhelming during his four or five rounds of pre-game swings.

The Cutters’ series fi­nale vs. Auburn Monday night was canceled over field conditions.

There’s a plan in place for the outfielder who was signed two years ago for more than $4 million by the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s about getting loose, getting his hands warmed up by swinging his Redwood tree of a bat some 30 times. It’s about concentrating on using all fields. It’s about hitting the ball on a line, meeting the barrel with consistency.

And while his most prodigious blasts come in those final rounds of swings, it’s born out of a swing which is both smooth and effortless. It’s exactly that kind of swing which has helped him hit seven home runs this year for the Cutters, second-most in the New York-Penn League.

But make no mistakes, while calm, it’s a swing as powerful as a jet engine, sending baseballs far enough that they should carry flight attendants and in-flight movies.

“I like to be in control. I don’t really like to go all out in that last round,” Ortiz said through teammates Jesus Azuaje, who translated. “I like to wait for the game to go all out. I like to make sure I stay in control and stay positive during batting practice.”

But as much as Ortiz’s offensive batting practice session is must-see, he gets some of his best defensive work in, too. As complimentary as Williamsport manager Pat Borders is about Ortiz’s offense, he was recently as complimentary about how much Ortiz has improved in right field.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Ortiz maybe doesn’t look like you prototypical outfielder, but he’s a faster runner than he’s given credit for. He takes solid routes to the baseball. And he’s not afraid to sacrifice his body to make a catch.

And much of that comes from the work he puts in during batting practice. He treats the hour-long session as a live-game scenario. He uses it to read the ball off the bat and run it down.

What it’s led to is a much-improved defensive player, one who looks far more than adequate playing the position. He’s made a number of highlight reel catches this year, diving to his left and right and even on sinking line drives just over the infield. He’s covered ground like Garry Maddox to run down fly balls in foul territory. He’s even crashed into a wall or two, all just to help his team in even the smallest capacity.

“Ortiz has improved his defense in right field from extended spring a lot,” Borders said. “I couldn’t even put a percentage on it because it’s a lot better than what it was. It’s night and day. He’s a very different player than he was three months ago.”

“I love those moments when I have to dive and make that really nice catch because it’s probably going to change the game,” Ortiz said. “I practice like it’s a game. I want to be ready for every situation because you never know what can happen in a game. So if you practice it, you can be ready for it.”

He’s still waiting for the right moment when he can unload with the rocket launcher attached to his right shoulder and gun down some runners. About two weeks ago he fielded a shallow fly ball in right field and fired to the plate to cut down a baserunner for the final out of the inning. After Ortiz unleashed the throw, he started jogging toward the dugout because he knew it was good enough to get the out.

“I know my arm, and I knew the runner coming to home and I was confident about my throw,” Ortiz said with that million-watt smile which never seems to turn off. “I was happy to get him out and get back in to hit.”