The New York Yankees have an interesting pitching prospect developing in the far depths of their farm system. He isn’t on anyone’s top prospect charts. He doesn’t blow you away with awe-inspiring stuff. But he also doesn’t allow runs to score; it is time to take notice of Nestor Cortes.
(UPDATE from the author: This article ran at Today’s Knuckleball over the weekend. Cortes was called up to Double-A Trenton on Sunday, skipping over High-A Tampa in what appears to be an as-needed situation in the bullpen. He recored a four inning save, allowing two runs while striking out five. He is still slated to pitch in Charleston this week, so he will still return to Low-A. The analysis remains the same below, as Cortes is an exciting under-the-radar prospect.)
Cortes is the 21-year old left-handed Yankees pitching prospect making a name for himself in the Low-A Charleston. Just 5-foot-11, Cortes has been very imposing on South Atlantic League hitting this season. As both a starter and a reliever, he has posted impressive numbers across the first half of the season, to the sound of a microscopic 0.82 ERA and 0.64 WHIP — all while limiting opponents to a .119 batting average.
So, where did Cortes come from?
Cortes was selected in the 36th round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Hialeah Senior High School in Florida. He spent his first two seasons in the Yankees system in the Gulf Coast League. He was primarily used out of the bullpen at the end of games and in relief, although he did make five starts in 21 appearances over that span.
In 2015, Cortes excelled mainly as a starter for the Pulaski Yankees in their inaugural season of Rookie short-season ball. He went 6-3 — five of those wins coming as a starter — in 10 starts over 12 appearances. He posted a 2.26 ERA overall, with a 0.91 WHIP, en route to Appalachian League Postseason All-Star honors. Most impressively, without an elite arsenal, Cortes had a stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio of 66-to-10 over 63.2 innings pitched.
His success carried over to 2016 at his highest level of his career. He started the season out of the bullpen, but has made four starts since. His last two outings have been starts and arguably the best two performances of his young career.
Cortes flirted with a no-hitter back on June 14, hurling six innings of one-hit ball, striking out three and walking two, allowing no runs. The win locked up the RiverDogs first playoff birth in 11 seasons. How does one follow up a performance like that? By throwing seven more shutout innings, this time allowing just three hits while striking out six and walking two, landing 63 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
All four of Cortes’ starts have gone six innings, including a dandy back on May 19 that saw him strike out 12 over six scoreless, two-hit innings. He has allowed a combined one earned run over those four starts. Charleston’s skipper Luis Dorante will be hard pressed to send him back to the bullpen, depending on how long Cortes stays in the Sally.
Despite not having overpowering stuff, he has been able to consistently post solid strikeout-to-walk ratios all throughout his career for two essential reasons. Cortes is a strike-thrower, not afraid to pound the zone. It’s because he seemingly has that all-important “makeup” that often makes or breaks young pitchers. He has the mentality and confidence that if he throws his stuff, good things will happen.
For a break down of his pitch arsenal and more of my usual analysis, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball to complete reading my full article by click on the link below!