Fort Wayne, Indiana
A pair of talented teens from Latin America are now sharing baseball and life experiences in the Midwest.
Ornelas, who was born in Tijuana, completed high school in his home country while Santo Domingo-born Rosario ended one year of secondary school.
Both signed as undrafted amateur free agents in 2016 — Ornelas for a reported $1.5 million signing bonus and Rosario for $1.85M.
At 14, Ornelas played for a team in Oaxaca and later attended the academy. At 15, he turned heads at a Padres showcase at Petco Park. He says he did not grow up a Friars fan, but has rooters in his family.
The lefty-swinging outfielders played on separate San Diego teams in the Arizona League in 2017 — Ornelas hitting .276 with three home runs, 11 doubles, 26 runs batted in, no stolen bases, and a .399 on-base percentage for 53 games for Team 1 and Rosario .299-1-10-24-8-.404 in 52 contests for Team 2.
In 2018, the 18-year-olds are in Fort Wayne, Ind., as teammates with the Low Class-A TinCaps.
While most players with the club share apartments, Ornelas, Rosario, and Fort Wayne teammate Esteury Ruiz stay with a local host family. In their spare time, they play video games together.
With Padres minor league coach Felipe Blanco interpreting for the Spanish speakers, Rosario identified his best tool as offensive.
“I stay inside the ball and put the ball in play a lot,” says Rosales through his interpreter. “I’m not worried about power right now.”
Ornelas responded to the same line of questioning.
“I’m a little bit different from Jeisson because he can drive the baseball to the outfielders and has occasional power, too,” says Ornelas through his interpreter. “I can hit it to every part of the field.”
Rosario says he is working the most on improving his speed and defense.
“I need to pay attention to that and stay focused,” says Rosario.
The mental side is where Ornelas is placing much of his emphasis.
“I’m paying attention to the game,” says Blanco for Rosario.
Ornelas says the biggest adjustment in going from amateur to professional baseball is getting his mind right after the long bus rides.
“Coming from the AZL to (the Midwest League) is a big difference,” says Blanco on behalf of Rosales. “You have to make an adjustment everywhere — on and off the field.”
Fort Wayne hitting coach Jonathan Mathews has been impressed with Rosario’s offensive abilities.
“He’s been as about as good as we have managing the strike zone, swinging at pitches he can hit, and taking pitches he can’t,” says Mathews, who played in the Colorado Rockies system. “Not only balls, but strikes that are on the fringes.
“He’s done an unbelievable job. He’s been on base all (season).”
Through 42 games, Rosario was hitting .267 with one homer, three doubles, 12 stolen bases, and a .402 on-base percentage.
“The Padres put an emphasis on that,” says Mathews. “On-base percentage is a big thing for us in our system.
“He’s super athletic. He can bunt for a hit. He steals bases. He’s a pretty dynamic offensive player.”
On defense, Rosario is usually in center field.
“He goes and gets the ball with anybody,” says Mathews. “He has closing speed. His jumps are really good. He goes back on balls about as well as anybody I’ve seen at that age.”
Mathews has witnessed an improvement in Rosario’s left arm. In his younger days, he was a pitcher.
“In spring training, he threw it OK. But he’s thrown the ball very well during the course of the season. It seems he’s getting stronger as the year goes on.”
In his first 46 appearances in 2018, Ornelas was hitting .262 with three homers, eight doubles, 19 RBI, four steals, and a .347 OBP.
Mathews also gives high marks to Ornelas.
“Similar to Jepson, for his size and age, he has a really good command of the strike zone,” says Mathews of the 6-foot-4, 180-pounder. “He’s a different type of offensive player. He’s going to hit some more home runs that Jeisson is. He’s going to drive balls in the gaps.
“He doesn’t have an out-of-control kind of game at his age. He’s been pretty impressive. He’s been as about as good as we have in the Padres’ system at understanding what are and what are not strikes.”
At around 10, Ornelas was a catcher and third baseman. As a second-year pro he plays mostly in right field, but is athletic enough that he has started in center.
“He’s a solid outfielder,” says Mathews. “He makes good reads. He’s smart beyond his years as far as this game is concerned. His (right) arm would probably be the lesser of his tools. But his arm plays. He’s very accurate. He comes and gets balls hard and hits cut-off men.”
Fort Wayne’s roster is full of teenagers with Jack Suwinski (19) also in the outfield corps, Luis Campusano (19) and Juan Fernandez (19) as catchers, Esteury Ruiz (19), Luis Almanzar (18), Gabriel Arias (18), and Justin Lopez (18) as infielders, and MacKenzie Gore (19) and Luis Patino (18) as pitchers.
With youth comes the question of maturity.
“We’re the youngest team in this league and — for the most part — in our system,” says Mathews. “The Padres throw them into the fire. These kids are facing college pitchers every single night. We’re playing against guys who are 23- and 24-years-old and we’re running 18- and 19-year-olds out there.
“We are very young and Latin and they managed April in Indiana about as well as I could have hoped. A lot of these kids had not seen snow or been in sub-freezing temperatures. Now that (warm weather) has hit, I expect them to take off even more.”