Jared Mortensen

Jared Mortensen

Pitcher Mortensen overcomes long odds, signs with Tampa Bay Rays

The road Jared Mortensen has travelled in his baseball career has been littered with detours, but now he's a major league prospect.

The road Jared Mortensen has travelled in his baseball career has been littered with potholes and detours, and on multiple occasions, he very nearly gave up the sport altogether.

But today, the 25-year-old Abbotsford native is an honest-to-goodness Major League Baseball prospect, having parlayed a strong performance in the independent leagues into a seven-year contract from the Tampa Bay Rays.

“So much has happened in the last four months, it’s been crazy,” marveled Mortensen, a righthanded pitcher who was assigned last week to the Charlotte Stone Crabs, Tampa’s high ‘A’ affiliate based in Port Charlotte, Fla.

“It’s unbelievable. When I look at it from a different perspective, I’m three steps away from the big leagues.”

Every step in his baseball career to this point, Mortensen has had people telling him he didn’t have what it took to make it in pro ball.

He was a relative latecomer to pitching – he served predominantly as an outfielder during his days with the Abbotsford Cardinals of the B.C. Premier Baseball League.

But after joining the Lethbridge, Alta.-based Prairie Baseball Academy in 2008, Mortensen participated in a showcase for scouts one fateful day. During a drill which called for outfielders to throw to home plate, Mortensen’s toss registered 100 miles per hour on the radar gun. His coaches quickly transitioned him to the mound, as it seemed to represent his best chance at advancing in the sport.

Mortensen’s raw potential landed him a scholarship to Mount Olive College in North Carolina, but he threw just 19 innings in the spring of 2010, and his full-ride scholarship (worth $22,000 annually) was cut in half because the head coach didn’t think he’d be playing a key role moving forward.

He ended up coming back north of the border to play for the Lethbridge Bulls in the Western Major Baseball League, a summer circuit for college players, and was spotted by a coach from Louisiana State University-Shreveport.

Mortensen learned to add control to his velocity during his two seasons in Shreveport, and was named his NAIA conference’s pitcher of the year in 2012 after going 12-2 with 1.67 earned run average (ERA) and 139 strikeouts in 113.1 innings.

But it didn’t seem to impress MLB teams much. At 5’11”, was told he was too short to be drafted – taller pitchers are thought to have more upside in terms of fastball velocity, while he lacked that “projectability.” And at age 24, he was getting a little old to be considered a prospect.

After another stint with the Lethbridge Bulls in the summer of 2012 failed to yield any pro opportunities, Mortensen – whose had used up all his collegiate eligibility – returned to Shreveport, enrolled back in school to work on his exercise science degree, and busied himself by serving as pitching coach for a local high school team.

But just when he thought his dream was dead, his former coach at LSU-Shreveport found him a spot with the Grand Prairie AirHogs, an independent league team based in Texas.

Mortensen struggled at first – his ERA was over 9.00 after his first four starts – but he slowly began to learn how to get pro hitters out. Justin Dowdy, a fellow pitcher on the AirHogs staff who had pitched in six MLB teams’ minor-league systems over 13 pro seasons, served as his mentor.

“He basically taught me how to play chess with a baseball,” Mortensen said.

“I didn’t know the difference between a college hitter and a professional hitter. I was throwing low 90s, and I thought I could throw 92 or 93 past somebody. But if you leave a ball up in the pros, it gets hit, whereas in college it’s pretty easy.

“Once I figured out you had to throw the ball down in the zone, then everything clicked. I had a streak of 45 innings where I gave up one run total.”

Mortensen’s stretch of dominance drew big-league interest – 11 different teams put in calls to the AirHogs’ general manager. But it was the Rays who finally pulled the trigger.

Tampa Bay has rightfully gained a reputation as one of baseball’s most innovative organizations, managing to stay competitive year in and year out despite payroll constraints by finding undervalued talent. And in Mortensen, they believe they’ve found a mature, underrated player who can rise quickly through the ranks.

Mortensen rewarded the Rays’ faith in his first start with the Stone Crabs – taking on the Fort Myers Miracle, a Minnesota Twins affiliate, on Aug. 21, he pitched all seven innings and surrendered just two hits and zero runs.

“It’s pretty surreal,” enthused Mortensen, whose fastball regularly clocks in the range of 90-94 miles per hour. “I actually think about how many times I’ve considered saying, ‘I don’t want to play anymore,’ or ‘This is my last season.’ There were a couple times where I felt I could walk away (from baseball) and be fine.

“I’m just excited that I didn’t.”

Back home in Abbotsford, Jared’s parents Dennis and Karen are ecstatic that their son has finally broken through.

“He said to me, ‘Mom, this is like being inside a movie,'” Karen said.

“He’s always had to fight to work his way in through the back door. People always said, ‘You’re too short, you’re too small.’ They gave him every excuse in the book why he wasn’t going to succeed. And then he would turn around and say, ‘Yes I will,’ and do it anyway.”

Just Posted

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

(file)
Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read