Yankees sign exciting veteran outfielder with MiLB for 2023

Rafael Ortega, Yankees
September 3, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Chicago Cubs center fielder Rafael Ortega (66) hits a two-run single against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports

As the Yankees continue to add to their MiLB depth, they’ve picked up another left-sided outfield bat that could provide a spark off the bench for the team if he makes the MLB roster. Rafael Ortega, 31, had a solid stint with the Chicago Cubs between 2021 and 2022, slashing .265/.344/.408 with a 108 wRC+ in 221 games, mostly serving as a squad bat against RHP. He is the second left-handed batsman they signed to a MiLB contract last week, joining Willie Calhoun in that regard.

Yankees could get a solid bench bat

Rafael Ortega’s swing is designed for the Bronx, with a 43.2% FB% and 17.7° launch angle with the Cubs as a left-handed bat. He also shot nearly 45 percent on the ball during that span, which likely prompted the Yankees to give him a chance in spring training to stay with the MLB team. Statcast estimates Ortega would have had 3 more HRs had he played at Yankee Stadium in 2022, and that’s backed up by his spray charts.

Rafael Ortega’s 2022 spray chart with Yankee Stadium overlay

Adding more bats into the mix that could grab spots on the bench and serve as spot hitters or starters when injured or give players time off is a good thing, and Ortega is providing that to the Yankees. He also sports a low chase rate and good contact rates, which helps the Yankees continue to improve their plate discipline as a team. Despite the loft he generates in his swing, he only hit 20.5% of the time with only 8.4% Swinging Strike%. He also only chased 25.2% of throws out of the zone and walked a 10.6% clip, which is a huge boost to his OBP.

Ortega’s success against RHP cannot be understated, as he has a .341 wOBA and .347 OBP against RHP, making him one of the best hitters in the league in that regard. The Yankees could use him to hit in places where someone like Oswald Peraza, Jose Trevino or Harrison Bader is facing really tough RHP and either force a manager to make a change or put that pitcher in a position where the odds are stacked against them. The Yankees are a fairly right-handed team, so having left-handed bench bats is a priority for them.

Competing for the 4th outfield job?

Aaron Hicks is currently expected to become the Yankees’ 4th outfielder while Oswaldo Cabrera appears to be the heavy favorite in the LF. Assuming the Yankees move Isiah Kiner-Falefa, that would open up a bench spot for someone like Ortega to get MLB reps in the role that Matt Carpenter had, despite being much better defensively. While he struggles in the CF (-5 DRS since 2021), he’s an excellent defensive RF (2 DRS since 2021), and while the LF career metrics aren’t pretty, he hasn’t passed there. a lot of time since 2019. He could give the Yankees solid defense in the corner outfield if he has to play him in a pinch.

matt carpenter, new york yankees
August 5, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Matt Carpenter (24) waves to fans as he receives a standing ovation before his first at bat in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry – USA TODAY Sports

He has a strong arm averaging ~86 MPH on his throws since 2021 and a maximum of 91 MPH, which should allow him to offset the average tools in the league defensively. While the Yankees can (and will continue) to explore their options in the trade market for an LF, it’s good to know they have options in the situation where they have injury issues next year. Rafael Ortega is a solid addition for a team looking to build a solid bench, and he could hit a few HRs here or there for that ball club in key spots as a pinch hitter.

Rafael Ortega also seems to have a penchant for the dramatic, exuberant style of play, with HRs like that outburst against the Rockies and an energetic personality. The Yankees have rallied around guys like that before, and Ortega could add a clubhouse presence that could benefit younger players in the locker room.

We could be looking at the next fun Yankees veteran who has some memorable moments on and off the court, and that’s always something to look forward to. It’s still a question of whether the Yankees will have a roster spot for him to compete in spring training, but maybe they’ll get the 122 wRC+ bat the Cubs got in 2021 when they brought in the Venezuelan outfielder.

Leave a Comment