Whenever Jake Ortega steps into the batter’s box for Cal State Bakersfield baseball, basically nothing is off the table for head coach Jeremy Beard in regard to what he wants to call.
“Just about any type of a scenario, you feel good about him executing, whatever it is,” Beard said. “There’s always a strong confidence with him in the box.”
And the numbers back it up.
Through 32 games, Ortega led the Roadrunners in batting average (.342), hits (40), total bases (46), and on base percentage (.428). His batting average was 11th-best in the Western Athletic Conference and he was the 40th toughest player to strike out in Division I, averaging one strikeout for every 12.1 at-bats.
The senior from Mission Viejo got back to the plate approach he had as a sophomore to find more success in his final season at CSUB.
“My approach is just never give in,” Ortega said. “I see something up and just put it in play. That’s been my goal since I’ve started this year. Just be tough to strike out and just find any way on. So far that’s been working pretty well.”
The 2019 season has been Ortega’s best yet at the plate. His average, hits, extra-base hits and slugging percentage are all up from each of his previous three seasons. His strikeouts are down.
It came after what he considered to be a step back in his junior season.
After somewhat of a breakout sophomore year when he hit .322, Ortega put up the worst batting statistics of his Roadrunners career as a junior. He batted .245, the worst of all qualified CSUB hitters, and struck out a team-high 34 times.
“I was trying to get bigger on swings,” Ortega said. “Trying to do things that I don’t normally do, that’s not in my style of play. Coming into this year, I was trying to get back to that sophomore year approach where I worked counts more and just try to find anyway to get on base.”
When he gets two strikes on him, Ortega knows pitchers will attack him low in the zone. He has the patience to not chase pitches, recognize spin early out of the hand and looks to drive any fastballs he gets.
When Ortega is ahead in the count by two balls, he sits on fastballs and will look for the one pitch he wants. He goes for line drives rather than home runs, considering he hasn’t hit one out of the park in his career. He prefers ground balls to pop ups.
“Staying out of the air, I know for me, speed guy, you find any green, it could turn into a double or anything like that,” Ortega said. “There’s no bad hops in the air. It’s harder to get on base when you're popping it up as opposed to trying to put one on the ground through the infield.”
Ortega was a sophomore when Beard took over as the interim head and overhauled the team’s offensive approach. Ortega watched older players like David Metzgar, Ryan Grotjohn and Max Carter. They picked up the offense quickly and bought in right away, Beard said.
Now Ortega is the example for the younger players at CSUB to follow.
“He understands what it can do to a ball club if you can execute and do your job well instead of going up and just trying to improve your numbers,” Beard said. “He understands a team game. It’s no surprise to me that he’s doing those things now. And it’s no surprise to me that he’s one of the guys that guys can look at and want to learn from just like he did those other guys.”