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Rafael Ortega takes route 66 to center field

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A few words about another Cub getting a chance to play after the selloff.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Rafael Ángel Ortega García was born May 15, 1991, in El Tigre, Venezuela. He plays all outfield positions but has mostly appeared in center field as a Chicago Cub, where he has done well enough that he is probably penciled for a role on the 2022 team, though his production has fallen off some recently.

He’s the third of the elder ‘rookies’ (he isn’t a rookie technically but Frank Schwindel and Patrick Wisdom are) to make his mark on the team. On January 30, 2008, Ortega was signed as an amateur free agent by the Colorado Rockies, and played in their minor-league system with some success, until he made his major league debut with the Rockies on September 30, 2012. He spent the 2013 season as a member of the Double-A Tulsa Drillers.

In 2016, Ortega surfaced again in MLB as a member of the Los Angeles Angels. getting into 66 games. He also played in 41 games for the 2018 Miami Marlins and 34 games in 2019 as a member of the Atlanta Braves. In November 2020, he was signed to a minor-league contract with the Cubs and was invited to Spring Training, where he made a bit of an impact, and he was brought up to the Cubs May 26, 2021.

He’s done well — he currently sports a .280/.341/.451 slash line in 94 games with the team, has played a more-than passable center field, has demonstrated occasional home run power (three in one game!), and has been a steady if unspectacular presence at leadoff, a longtime sore spot in the Cubs’ lineup. good so far for 1.2 fWAR (and 1.4 bWAR).

One can easily imagine Ortega platooning at leadoff and batting 6-7-8 against lefthanded pitchers (as his .116/.269/.116 in 53 PA vs. LHP is pretty bad), with 2021 acquisition Nick Madrigal probably penciled in as the starter at leadoff or the second spot, depending some on how Nico Hoerner is at shortstop (or center), and barring any unforeseen signings.

In any event, he’s played his way onto the team and we can reasonably expect to see him in the lineup on a fairly regular basis for the next couple of years, while Brennen Davis and Pete Crow-Armstrong work their way to the majors. Russell Dorsey of the Sun-Times today called the three elder rookies ‘quality depth’, so at least there’s that. Maddie Lee of NBC Sports Chicago said Ortega’s path to the majors has allowed him to seize the opportunity. His two timely grand slams and three-homer game against the Washington Nationals won’t hurt his cause, nor will any of the daring catches he’s made in deep center.

He’s part of the Cubs’ emerging new core, and can certainly stand in until better players surface or are acquired. David Ross likes to move guys around, especially if he feels that he can depend on them, and Ortega fits that scheme well.

Michael Hermosillo was almost No. 4. His injury makes his grade for this year incomplete, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ottawa, Ilinois, native make the roster after 2022 spring training, either.