Chicago Cubs: Can Rafael Ortega be a piece of this team’s future?

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

Though most are still soured by the recent events that took place at the trade deadline, there is still optimism brewing on the North Side if you’re the Chicago Cubs. For one, Jed Hoyer did a surprisingly good job at the trade deadline. At 51-56, it’s OK if you’re not confident in making the postseason this year, because – if we’re being honest – that’s no longer what the rest of the 2021 season is about.

It is still important to note the progress the newer younger players are having, as they can help shape the future of the organization. One man in the Cubs lineup that is absolutely crushing it right now is Rafael Ortega.

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Since being called up in May, Ortega is batting .319/369/.549 in 113 at-bats. In his last four games alone, he is 9-for-16 with four home runs and a double, while driving in seven in his past two contests over the weekend. Over the weekend, he had the best game of his career, tying a Cubs single-game record, hitting three home runs and also knocking in five.

So.. who is Rafael Ortega?

The 30-year-old Venezuelan was drafted as an international free agent in 2008 by the Rockies. He has played for organizations such as the Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves and, finally, the Cubs. In that time, he has played a total of 192 big leagues games at the big league level, slashing just .243/.299/.324 in his career.

Fast forward to 2021 and Ortega is far and away having his best stretch of baseball at the professional level and it couldn’t come at a better time if you’re the Chicago Cubs. This guy is scorching hot – providing some spark for a team that’s a shell of its former self.

In terms of his contract, Ortega currently earns the league minimum of $570,500 and will enter his first of three arbitration years next season before reaching free agency in 2025.

One thing I would love to see from Ortega moving forward is better contact against left-handers when given the opportunity to do so. He currently has only has 14 at-bats against southpaws and has struck out in seven of them, good for a .071 batting average. Very small sample size for the season, but the career numbers tell the same story. He’s a .183 hitter against left-handers in 71 career at-bats.

However, on the flip side, he has been mashing righties this year. Ortega is batting .326 at home against right-handers and .327 on the road, with most of the power coming on the road with five of his six home runs coming away from the Friendly Confines. Ortega’s best state once again comes on the road against right-handed pitchers, with a .396 wOBA and 146 wRC+. It’s important to keep in mind this is a sample size of only 49 at-bats, but the numbers are encouraging as these are those of breakout potential.

Chicago Cubs: Has David Ross found his new leadoff man in Rafael Ortega?

Ortega has seen leadoff duties in his last six games and has gone 11-for-23 with four home runs, one double, eight driven in, two walks, one stolen base and three strikeouts. It would be nice to see the lineup get into a groove. Obviously, Hoyer himself has said we can’t compete this year, but it will be a breath of fresh air to know we still have some life on this team.

Next. After the deadline, prospects are once again the focus. dark

Though Ortega is already 30, it doesn’t really matter. If he can continue producing that is all that is important on a team that simply needs production right now. Hopefully he can be the spark that ignites the rest of the order. It will be interesting to see what this team can do offensively in the final two months of the season and if Ortega can stay hot down the stretch.