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'Big dude' Ortiz ready for bounceback season

Brewers want 250-pound right-handed prospect to stay healthy
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- "A big dude" is the way Brewers manager Craig Counsell describes 22-year-old Luis Ortiz, who briefly was rated Milwaukee's top pitching prospect following Josh Hader's ascension to the Majors last season. Ortiz says he has always been a big dude, from the day he was a 210-pound first-round Draft pick for Texas in 2014, or the day he showed up for his first professional Spring Training at 230.

Ortiz, listed at 6-foot-3 in the media guide, says he reported this year for his first big league camp with the Brewers at 250 pounds, feeling strong and more flexible after working with a specialist over the winter on ways to activate his glutes and hamstrings. He missed some time at Double-A Biloxi last June when he strained the hamstring in his drive leg.

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PHOENIX -- "A big dude" is the way Brewers manager Craig Counsell describes 22-year-old Luis Ortiz, who briefly was rated Milwaukee's top pitching prospect following Josh Hader's ascension to the Majors last season. Ortiz says he has always been a big dude, from the day he was a 210-pound first-round Draft pick for Texas in 2014, or the day he showed up for his first professional Spring Training at 230.

Ortiz, listed at 6-foot-3 in the media guide, says he reported this year for his first big league camp with the Brewers at 250 pounds, feeling strong and more flexible after working with a specialist over the winter on ways to activate his glutes and hamstrings. He missed some time at Double-A Biloxi last June when he strained the hamstring in his drive leg.

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"He's a big dude, man. You're not going to change that. That's not what we're trying to change," Counsell said. "But you do have to be healthy. You do have to get out on the field. That's a goal for him, to be out there every fifth day for your starts."

Counsell noted that Ortiz has yet to top 100 innings in three full Minor League seasons since the Rangers drafted him in 2014. He went 4-7 with a 4.01 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings last year and slipped out of MLB Pipeline's overall Top 100 prospects list after ranking No. 73 entering the 2016 season and No. 62 at this time last year.

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He's still highly regarded, however, and already has the bulk of two Double-A seasons under his belt despite not turning 23 until September. Ortiz ranks No. 5 on MLB Pipeline's Brewers prospects list, and third among the pitchers behind Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.

"Staying healthy is the big thing," Ortiz said. "I know I'm a big boy. My strength is there. There's no doubt about that -- my strength is there to carry my weight. It's just now getting into my flexibility, my mobility, all of that stuff."

He regrets not being more "open and honest" with Biloxi's athletic training staff last season, when his hamstring acted up. Ortiz tried to pitch through it instead, and calls that period a good learning experience.

Other learning experiences have come courtesy of former Brewers starter Matt Garza, who is from the same area around Fresno, Calif., and began mentoring Ortiz when he was still in high school. Garza hosted Ortiz and other players in his home gym for intense workouts in previous offseasons, but those were put on hold the year after Garza had shoulder surgery.

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"When I found out he was getting surgery, he kind of backed off and I let him do his thing," Ortiz said. "He was salty about it. The way he went out, he didn't want to go out that way. He's always pushed me for the last six years. It's more than a friendship -- it's a brother bond between us. He showed me the ropes, and now it's for me to learn them."

Ortiz wants to shed some weight before the start of his regular season, which probably will begin back at Biloxi. The first round of big league camp cuts are nearing.

"I always think about Bartolo Colon," Ortiz said. "He came into the league as this skinny thing throwing 100 mph. Now he's 40-something years old, and still doing it, even how big he is. He's said he's not much of a weightlifter, but he has to do the work now to carry his load the whole season. He does a lot of yoga. Look at David Wells back in the day.

"Those are big pitchers, big guys, but the guys were athletic. I'm going to be a big boy -- hopefully I don't get that big -- but I'm going to maintain what I have. There's no doubt if I stay healthy, good things come."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Luis Ortiz