Alterations helped put prospects on better path
Norby, Ortiz have adjusted to get on road toward majors
SARASOTA, Fla. — Connor Norby was never out to make a statement at the Orioles’ major league camp.
“I need to just handle my business and get better, and that’s all I need to do,” he said earlier this spring. “I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I just want to get better.”
Norby’s time as a member of the Orioles’ spring training roster ended Tuesday evening, when he, fellow infield prospects Jackson Holliday and Joey Ortiz and righthander Kyle Dowdy were sent to minor league camp. That his exit came alongside Ortiz is somewhat fitting; both made midseason adjustments that led their 2022 performance to skyrocket about the same time, and each is ranked among Baltimore’s top 10 prospects and baseball’s top 100 while positioned to arrive in the majors at some point in 2023.
It was unlikely either would do so straight out of camp, with the Orioles’ major league infield mostly set and neither having a full month of experience at Triple-A Norfolk. But that they both ended the year there after how their seasons started speaks to their respective turnarounds.
Drafted 41st overall in 2022, Norby struggled in the first half of his first full professional season. The NCAA hits leader in his third year at East Carolina, the 22-year-old hit .237 at High-A Aberdeen with a weighted runs created plus of 99, meaning he was just below league average. But promoted to Double-A Bowie alongside Colton Cowser and Coby Mayo, he took off.
Having entered July with eight home runs and a .744 OPS, Norby hit 21 home runs with a .987 OPS over the next three months, ending the year as the Orioles’ minor league home run champion.
“Mentally, I needed to just understand, like, you’re supposed to fail,” Norby said. “I needed to learn that, hey, you’re gonna fail at times, and it’s OK. It’s OK to fail. You need to, honestly.”
Norby made physical adjustments, too. He raised his hands’ starting position, he said, and instead of loading with them to begin his swing, he turned his body slightly. He also became more selective, following the organization’s practices of studying the pitches and zones he can have the most success against.
The team’s initial approach with those adjustments, Norby said, was, “Try it for a week.” He was receptive to that approach.
“Normal person, you look at a week, you’re like, it’s a long time, but in the season when you’re playing every night, a week’s nothing,” Norby said. “I’ll try it for a week. What’s a week to me when you’ve got 24 others?”
The first week did the trick, with Norby saying the changes “clicked kind of right away.” He recorded multiple hits in his first four games of July, and in the middle of the month, he began a stretch in which he hit 21 home runs in 61 games, including four among his nine games at Triple-A to close the season.
Ortiz’s season flipped at the same point. He was a breakout member of Baltimore’s system in 2021, at last pairing offensive impact with his stellar defense, before a torn labrum in his left[b] [/ b]shoulder ended his season. Coming off surgery, he spent 2022’s early months feeling out of sync. Through June, Ortiz had four home runs, a .206 batting average and a .596 OPS.
“Being out so long with the shoulder, it was kind of tough to get back into a baseball rhythm,” he said. “I’ve never really been
through a slump like that.”
But a change to his hand placement that helped with, as Ortiz put it, “making sure the bat was getting into the good path, good slot to hit the ball harder” had its desired effect. Paired with a rediscovery of his timing, he
slashed .352/.416/.610, good for a 1.026 OPS, with 15 home runs from July on. His strikeout-to-walk ratio fell from 3.1 to 1.3.
In the offseason, the Orioles added the 24-year-old to their 40-man roster.
“It was great seeing your work finally come into fruition,” Ortiz said.
With Cowser also on a tear at Bowie, Norby and Ortiz both credited the other members of the trio for helping inspire their turnarounds.
“They never got out,” Norby said. “I was fighting for my life trying to keep up with them.”
Said Ortiz: “Once they came up and I saw them hit, I was like, ‘I want to get in on that, too.’”
Tuesday’s roster moves assured both will return to Norfolk to start the season. Norby appeared in 14 big league spring training games, hitting .280 with seven strikeouts and no walks.
Ortiz played in only six games before a ground ball to the head in drills put him into concussion protocol, though he had an .857 OPS when healthy.
The limited playing time wasn’t enough for them to fully show whether last year’s adjustments carried into this season. Should Norby and Ortiz prove they did, it won’t be long before they’re wearing Orioles uniforms again.
“Not everything you change in a swing or anywhere, pitching, defense, whatever, it’s not always gonna be like that,” Norby said. “You have to understand that as a player, and you’ve got to go through the hard times to get to the good ones.”