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Dark Horse Danny

Danny Ortiz has started his spring with two impressive games. What’s his deal?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies-Media Day Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re like me - and I’ve got my generic moments! - you probably don’t remember when the Phillies invited Danny Ortiz to their Major League camp this spring. If you’re like me, you might not recall a single one of his 13 plate appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, which resulted in one hit, one strikeout, and one walk. As of two days ago, you (also like me) probably couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup.

But that was a different time, that pre-spring era. Now, we’re one collegiate exhibition and one official Grapefruit League game into this spate of Spring Training action, and Danny Ortiz has had the best go of it.

Following his home run in Friday’s game against the Blue Jays, Ortiz has cemented himself as a spring curiosity, and we’re only two games in! He’s also made a very nice defensive play and added another loud, warning track out to his record, and that tiny, minuscule sample of activity has been just enough for me to wonder: Do we have another Cedric Hunter on our hands? Another Hector Luna? The next longshot invitee who turns enough heads and induces enough slow head nodding to warrant a look deeper into spring than any of us initially anticipated?

Well, I’ll bring things back to earth, here: It’s head-smackingly obviously that it’s way too early to tell. I know that, and you probably knew that as you made a face at me through your screen reading those first three paragraphs. But my curiosity was piqued just the same: Who is Danny Ortiz, and what is his deal?

A fourth-round pick of the Twins back in 2008 (good year!), Ortiz was selected immediately before the Dodgers drafted Dee Gordon. Like, the very single selection before. It’s a round full of decent players, really: Brandon Crawford, Former Phillies Greats Trevor May and Chase d’Arnaud, Jason Kipnis (though he did not sign), and Can’t-Take-Him-Seriously-With-That-Name-All-Star Buddy Boshers.

Ortiz missed the entire 2009 season after injuring his knee while sliding, and so he needed to repeat Rookie League ball at age 20. He scraped his way through the Midwest and Florida State Leagues and made it to the upper levels of Minnesota’s system by 2013. Sub-.300 OBPs in Triple-A through 2015 eventually doomed him, though, and the Twins opted not to carry him on their 40-man roster. That allowed the Pirates to sign the then-26-year-old, who proceeded to hit 32 homers in 240 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, the early part of which was enough to get him a late spring cup of coffee for a day in late April and a week in mid-May. That would be all for Ortiz in Pittsburgh’s system, as the Bucs also opted not to carry him on their 40-man, and Ortiz sought potential opportunities where the outfielders ahead of him (then) weren’t Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen.

Fast forward to today, and Ortiz still has a handful of capable outfielders ahead of him. Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams are the Phillies’ A-team, that much is certain and unflinching. As a matter of depth, though, especially as it related to center field, the Phillies aren’t operating with an ironclad insurance policy. Aaron Altherr figures to be something of a de facto backup, but the sense is rather apparent (given his injury history) that the team would prefer having someone share that load with him. Roman Quinn, too, could play CF...if his body allowed him to do so for more than two weeks at a time. That leaves Pedro Florimon and Collin Cowgill as the only ones with any legitimate center field experience to speak of, and no, I’m not allowing you to say Dylan Cozens is a viable option here.

Ortiz, if he continues to have a steady, noticeable spring both at the plate and in the outfield - especially center - could absolutely find himself midway through the depth chart of outfield options, the small axe behind the glass you break in case of an emergency. He doesn’t have great plate discipline and his professional career high in homers is 17, but the ability to play a trustworthy center field is a valuable commodity. So while it’s far too early to say he’s got a shot to make the Phillies, it is definitely slightly less early to keep an eye on Ortiz during this spring’s slate of games. He may yet emerge as the latest unknown to surprise us.