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Cubs need to make sure they deploy Rafael Ortega effectively in 2022

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

Right in line with the trend of late-blooming breakouts that was found all over the second-half roster last summer, Cubs outfielder Rafael Ortega put it all together at the dish in a significant way.

Most of the attention and accolades went to Frank Schwindel (back-to-back NL Rookie of the Month) and Patrick Wisdom (set the franchise rookie home run record), but Ortega played a key role for David Ross’ club – and he could very well do so again in 2022, even with a crowded outfield picture.

Ortega will compete for time with the likes of Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, Clint Frazier, Michael Hermosillo and Harold Ramirez – and there’s more depth waiting in the wings in the form of Greg Deichmann, Nico Hoerner, depending on how the team chooses to line him up defensively, and top prospect Brennen Davis – who’s expected to make his big league debut this season.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be enough reps to go around. But a key piece of the puzzle will be Ross and his coaching staff putting these guys in particular scenarios and matchups to succeed. We’ve talked quite a bit about how utilizing Heyward correctly will be a must-win battle for Chicago this season – and a lot of those same lessons apply to Ortega.

With the Cubs likely spending 2022 taking stock of what they have internally and figuring out who’s a long-term chip and who isn’t, it’s a big year for a lot of guys – and Ortega falls in that group.

Chicago Cubs: Rafael Ortega needs to be put in spots to succeed

Last year, in 330 at-bats, Ortega put up a .291/.360/.463 slash line – good for 2.0 bWAR and a 120 OPS+. It was, by far, the most sustained action he’d seen in his big league career – with more than 40 percent of his career ABs coming in 2022. So the question heading into this season is whether or not it was real, sustainable success or if he just got hot at the right time.

One thing is for sure: Chicago cannot give him regular at-bats against lefties. He mashed right-handers to the tune of a .900 OPS – but managed a .421 OPS against southpaws, batting .128/.293/.128. Knowing that – and, again, putting Ortega in spots where he’s been successful (facing right-handed pitching) is a ‘must’ in 2022.

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The outfield is going to be a lot of wait-and-see as the team evaluates the plethora of options looking for playing time. Hopefully, by season’s end, a couple of them have stepped forward and solidified the outfield picture on the North Side.