MLB draft: Sanger High's Luis Ortiz, Clovis' Jacob Gatewood selected (video)

The Fresno BeeJune 5, 2014 

— Shortly after a crowded room of family and friends erupted in cheers, and Luis Ortiz had maneuvered toward his mom for a long hug, the Sanger High pitcher took out and kissed an old photo he keeps in his wallet.

It is a picture of his late great-grandfather, one that Ortiz carries with him every day. Ortiz made a promise to him the day that he passed away.

And that promise was fulfilled Thursday night, when Ortiz was selected by the Texas Rangers with the 30th overall pick in the major league baseball amateur draft — becoming the first Fresno-area high school player to be taken in the first round in 20 years.

Clovis shortstop Jake Gatewood, a projected first-rounder, went to the Milwaukee Brewers with the No. 41 selection, the final pick of the competitive balance round just before Round 2.

That wrapped up the first of the draft's three days, with Ortiz the early headliner among local college and high school standouts hoping to fulfill their pro dreams. And for Ortiz, the night carried extra emotion.

"Five years ago, I signed a ball to him and I put it in his coffin," Ortiz said. "It had my dream on there, to make it to the big leagues.

"Just getting that call and knowing I'm going to be a Texas Ranger and keeping that promise that I always had with my great-grandfather. It was the biggest thing for me to know it came true."

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Ortiz, the 10th right-hander and 16th overall pitcher selected in the 2014 draft, is expected to sign for $2 million, a family member said, slightly above Major League Baseball's recommended assigned slot bonus of $1.76 million.

Ortiz went 5-3 with a 1.04 ERA and 72 strikeouts with seven walks in 43 2-3 innings for Sanger this season.

He also won the gold and was named MVP for the United States at the IBAF 'AAA'/18U World Cup in September, when he went 1-0 with three saves, a 2.16 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 8 1-3 innings during the 12-nation tournament in Taichung, Taiwan.

Ortiz joins a Rangers club that's shown strong interest in Valley prospects in recent years. Former Fresno State pitchers Tanner Scheppers and Justin Miller and third baseman Tommy Mendonca all were drafted and signed with the Rangers. Scheppers is currently with the major league club.

Ortiz entered the draft projected in various mock drafts to go as soon as the 17th pick and as late as 34, with mlb.com rating him the 24th-best overall prospect.

"We thought it was unlikely, based on what we were hearing, that he would be there," Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels told a group of reporters after the selection. "There were some other guys we liked, but nobody in his category. He was always our guy. Our guys were pretty ecstatic.

"He has big league stuff right now. It's not projectable. He has real power and is a strike thrower."

The Rangers were the first of all 30 organizations that paid Ortiz a home visit, with nine general managers making their way to Sanger.

Ortiz traveled for individual workouts with the Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants, the team he rooted for growing up.

While helping prepare food for the draft party of about 80 family and friends Thursday morning, Ortiz's mother, Maria Esquivel, randomly placed a Rangers magnet on her refrigerator.

"I don't know," Esquivel said. "I just did. I think I had a feeling."

Ortiz looked stressed and nervous from the get-go, burying his head in his girlfriend's arms a couple of times while watching and waiting.

The Houston Astros selected left-hander Brady Aiken (Cathedral Catholic-San Diego) with the No. 1 overall pick, follow by right-hander Tyler Kolek (Shepherd-Texas) to the Miami Marlins and lefty Carlos Rodon (North Carolina State) to the Chicago White Sox.

Most of the Ortiz clan was hoping he would go to San Francisco with the 14th overall pick, and the room got silent when baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced that pick. The Giants selected a pitcher, but it was Tyler Beede of Vanderbilt.

The room hushed again eight picks later when the Los Angeles Dodgers selection was announced. They went with a pitcher, Grant Holmes of Conway High in South Carolina.

Ortiz walked around, tried smiling, and ate some of the homemade food. But his nervousness was obvious.

A few family members tried to loosen him up, rubbing his shoulders and head.

Then just when the 27th pick came and the St. Louis Cardinals were on the clock, Ortiz dipped outside for some air and took a deep breath.

"We knew it was getting close," said Marcus Rodriguez, Ortiz's godfather who is also an assistant at Memorial High and serves as Ortiz's adviser. "Those next three, four picks, one of those teams were going to pick Luis. We just knew it."

The Cardinals passed on Ortiz. So did the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds.

Then the Rangers were on the clock. The room went silent once again.

Just before Selig announced the pick on the living room TV, a family member who was watching the draft in a different room and on a quicker feed screamed.

The crowded room realized why soon after, when Ortiz's named was called and his photo flashed onto the TV.

"My dream came true," Ortiz said. "I was a fan of the San Francisco Giants. But I'm a Texas Ranger now. I'm a Texas Ranger!"


 

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6362, bjanteola@fresnobee.com or @Banteola_TheBee on Twitter.

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