Small in stature, LHP Joe Ortiz making big impression

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Left-handed reliever Joe Ortiz has impressed enough players, coaches and scouts so far in spring training that word has trickled back to Geovany Soto, who hasn't even caught him yet.

"I heard he's got big heart and thinks he's 6-foot-4 and will go after hitters," Soto said. "I like that. I'd like to catch him."

Ortiz, 22, is listed at 5-foot-7, though I'm not sure that number would hold up under scrutiny. He doesn't have a particularly big arm -- he can touch 92 mph when he's feeling good -- and he walks around the clubhouse with a huge smile that certainly doesn't scream intimidation. But put Ortiz on a mound and he gives it everything he's got, attacking hitters and competing hard. Left-handed batters, in particular, don't enjoy the experience.

"I got to play with him in (Double-A) Frisco and (Triple-A) Round Rock last year and he's a competitor, that's for sure," Justin Grimm said. "He won't back down. He has a devastating slider that is really tough on lefties and he was throwing his fastball more toward the end of the year."

Ortiz knows he can't overpower hitters, so he works to keep the ball down and to move in and out.

"I know in Arlington the ball can go out fast if it's up," Ortiz said through translator Martin Perez. "I'll work it in and out, but I have to stay down in the zone. I feel like I'm pitching well."

Ortiz is one of a gaggle of relievers in camp as the Rangers figure out how to round out the staff. He's a longshot to make the club. But so was Robbie Ross in 2012, and the lefty just kept getting batters out.

One scout told me that Ortiz reminds him of former Ranger reliever Eddie Guardado in that Ortiz is a fun guy, but a hard-nosed competitor. Like Guardado, he doesn't have a high-octane fastball, but he knows how to locate pitches.

Once things are sorted out with the rotation, if the Rangers have room for a left-handed specialist in the pen, perhaps Ortiz can make a push. He was 1-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 30 2/3 innings with Frisco and then 1-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings with Round Rock. He had a combined 2.15 ERA in those 62 2/3 innings to go along with 52 strikeouts and nine walks.

There's no doubt walking around the backfields and talking to scouts and coaches that Ortiz is making an impression. We'll see if he can continue to do that once Cactus League games start this weekend.