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Orioles minor leaguer Luis Ortiz was a ‘fighter’ throughout cancer battle: ‘Everybody’s feeling it’


Koby Perez recognizes that Luis Ortiz had a long way to go, but as a big left-hander with a low 90s fastball and impressive breaking ball, Ortiz had the profile of a pitcher with a bright future.

“That’s the type of guy that usually finds his way in the big leagues at some point,” said Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting.

Whether Ortiz could have reached that potential will never be known. He died Saturday, about a year after being diagnosed with leukemia. He was 20 years old.

“I can’t believe the way he took it on,” Perez said. “Anytime he was around me, he acted really mature about it. He took it as well as anybody would ever take something like that.

“He was a fighter. He said he was going to fight, and he did all the way to his last breath.”

Ortiz was 16 when he signed with the Orioles out of his native Dominican Republic in July 2019, receiving a bonus of $400,000 that was among the largest of Baltimore’s first true dive into the Latin American market. Perez had first seen him a year earlier, working as Cleveland’s director of Latin American scouting. He heard buzz the Washington Nationals were interested in giving Ortiz a significant bonus, and scouts from numerous teams populated each of Ortiz’s outings.

But he chose Baltimore, the leading pitcher of a 27-player class that represented the franchise’s largest investment in that area.

“Once he saw, ‘Wow, this team that really doesn’t sign anybody around here wants to sign me,’ I think that really helped push him to us,” Perez said.

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Ortiz appeared in seven games with the organization, all in the Florida Complex League in 2021. He was assigned to Low-A Delmarva the next year, but he spent the year in Florida, on the injured list as he battled cancer.

During the past year, Perez joined prayer groups with Ortiz’s family. Perez and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias were at the hospital alongside Ortiz’s family the day he died; Perez said Elias told them the team will handle funeral and other expenses.

Although Ortiz’s professional experience was limited, Ortiz said it made him an inspiration to children back in Santo Domingo.

“Everybody’s looking forward to this hometown hero making it and doing well, and unfortunately, this disease didn’t let him get that opportunity,” Perez said. “There’s some kids in his neighborhood that really looked up to him and were trying to follow in his footsteps.”

Ortiz’s little brother, Ezequiel, was among them. Perez described Ortiz as “a super competitive kid, family guy” who spoke of his siblings often, including Ezequiel.

“That’s his hero,” Perez said, “and he’s taking it really, really hard.”

Teammates share the feeling. Perez said Ortiz was particularly close to minor league outfielder Kevin Guerrero, acquired as part of the trade that sent relievers Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser to the Miami Marlins, as the pair attended the same baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Moises Chace, a Venezuelan right-hander who was also part of Baltimore’s 2019 international class, posted a photo on his Instagram story of an orange No. 24 jersey with “ORTIZ” across the back laid on a pitching mound at the Orioles’ Twin Lakes minor league facility.

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“Everybody’s feeling it down here,” Perez said. “It hurts with any kid, but imagine one of your teammates, and all these kids are young, as well.

“He looks like a man, but he’s just a boy, just a young kid. Just a good kid. Everybody liked him.”

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