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Prospect Ortega makes surprising arrival with Rox

Prospect Ortega makes surprising arrival with Rox

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Prospect Ortega makes surprising arrival with Rox
LOS ANGELES -- Rockies manager Jim Tracy walked past the area where visiting clubhouse attendants dress in Dodger Stadium -- in a corner, behind a classic arcade game and tables with video equipment and laptops. Tracy made eye contact with a young man, who looks younger than he actually is, a courteous hello as he walked by.

Then he stopped and thought: That's my center fielder today.

Welcome to the big leagues, Rafael Ortega.

Down to one healthy reserve, the Rockies surprised Ortega, 21, with a phone call Saturday night and a callup for Sunday's game against the Dodgers. Not only that, but Ortega started in center field and hit second. Ortega spent the season at Class A Modesto (.283, 23 doubles, eight triples, eight home runs, 36 stolen bases) and was playing in instructional ball. Tracy had seen the stats and knew the story, and knew he needed Ortega, ranked No. 19 among the Rockies' top prospects.

After figuring out who Ortega was, Tracy figured he'd better go back for a proper introduction.

"I felt really bad, so I went right back to him and gave him one of those Tracy hugs, after I said to myself, 'You know what? That was Ortega,'" Tracy said, laughing. "I think he knew who I was.

"The good Lord was looking out for me. Could you imagine if he had on a powder blue shirt and I'd gone by and said, 'Hey, kid, get me a coffee.' Then I'd have had to go back on my hands and knees and say, 'Please, please play center field. I'm sorry.'"

Ortega may look like a bat boy, but he has shown skills that suggest he has a fighting chance against Major League pitchers in the season's final four games.

The announcement of Ortega's first at-bat was greeted by silence from the Dodger Stadium crowd. But against Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett, Ortega beat out a grounder to the right side of the infield for his first hit, stole second but didn't advance farther. He added a bunt single in the fifth and was hit in the right leg by a pitch in the ninth inning, but stayed in the game, a 7-1 Rockies loss.

Before the game, Ortega was trying to overcome the shock of receiving the phone call Saturday night from player development director Jeff Bridich and the added surprise of seeing his name in the lineup. Ortega quickly called as many family members and friends in Venezuela as he could reach. Rockies infielder Jonathan Herrera, a fellow Venezuelan, called those Ortega didn't have time to reach.

"I'm happy now, and I'm going to go out and play," Ortega said with a chuckle.

Herrera has played against Ortega in Venezuelan Winter League games the last few years.

"He can play and he can run," Herrera said. "He was the right fielder for the other team. I recognized him, 'That was a kid who was with Colorado in Spring Training.' His experience was like mine, when I got called up in San Francisco [in 2008]."

Tracy said the Rockies went with Ortega partly because he was still playing. Many players higher in the Minor League system are already into their offseasons, and asking them to jump into big league games could put them at a risk. Ortega ended up starting because of the domino effect of needing to rest catcher Wilin Rosario. Jordan Pacheco moved from first base to catcher, Matt McBride moved from the outfield to first base and Ortega had his spot in center.

Ortega also impressed the Rockies enough that they were going to add him to their 40-man roster this winter so he wouldn't be exposed to other clubs in the Rule 5 Draft.

"Charlie Blackmon is involved in the outfield picture in left field, Andrew Brown in right, and we're hoping to close those gaps down in the outfield in relation to what I've heard about this kid's [Ortega's] defensive capabilities," Tracy said.

Ortega was needed because Herrera was the only healthy reserve. Tyler Colvin experienced swelling in his left elbow before the game, and Dexter Fowler (right wrist) and Jason Giambi (right groin) were active but not healthy enough to play.

{"content":["prospect" ] }
{"content":["prospect" ] }
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