Entering the 2019 season, Nestor Cortes wasn’t exactly in the Yankees’ plans. Sure, the team invited him to spring training, but he still wasn’t on the 40-man roster. Not only that: the Yankees left him available to the rest of the league in the Rule 5 draft a few months before. To make matters worse, this was the second season in a row the club did so, with the Orioles actually taking a chance on him in 2018. Eventually, Baltimore returned Cortes.
A year later, the Yankees added Cortes to the 40-man and brought him to the majors. As already well documented, the team was decimated by injuries and simply needed warm bodies on the major league roster. Cortes was just that. After his first two appearances, he had allowed six runs in six innings. Simply put, Cortes looked like a replacement level player. Of course, it’s not like much more was expected. But since then, Cortes has been a shot in the arm. Here’s what he’s done after his unimpressive first two outings:
That’s damn good! Most of that work has been done as the “bulk guy” after Chad Green serves as the opener.
Now, nobody is pretending that this is the real Cortes. It wouldn’t be hard for me to explain to you why there’s no way the young lefty can keep this up. I could easily cite Statcast and various projection systems in order to bring him down. But what fun would that be? None at all. This is an appreciation post after all, and nothing can take away what Cortes has contributed to the Yankees thus far.
As great as Cortes has pitched, there’s more to his story than just performance. Lindsey Adler of the Athletic penned a great article (subs. required) about Cortes’s up-and-down experience as a professional. Without giving too much away, just think about how hard he worked to get to this point:
- His parents immigrated from Cuba to Hialeah, Florida when Nestor was months old.
- He presumably signed for a low bonus out of high school as the Yankees’ 36th round pick in 2013 (the amount is unknown, but definitely less than $100k).
- He’s toiled in the minors for the better part of six years before finally start getting big league paychecks.
- At 5’11” and 205 lbs. without velocity, he doesn’t have the ideal frame that teams covet.
- As their Rule 5 pick, the Orioles cut him loose after just four appearances last season. A team that lost 115 games couldn’t keep him around, even if they didn’t realize they would be that bad.
- The Yankees left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft again, but nobody took him.
He’s had pretty long odds to get to this point, no? And to pitch well so far? It’s quite impressive. All that makes Cortes an easy player to root for. Oh, and I suppose his style on the mound makes him a fun guy to watch too.
Nestor Cortes Jr. has the wackiest release point visuals I've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/KwIuwskmOK— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) June 26, 2019
Cortes *literally* will throw you everything but the kitchen sink. He doesn’t have a live fastball or a nasty breaking ball, so he has to be creative instead. It’s a breath of fresh air in the age of power pitchers. No, he’s not the type of pitcher any organization is trying to model their young hurlers after, but try to tell me stuff like this isn’t fun:
I don’t know what the 24 year-old’s big league future is, but one thing is for sure: Cortes has a knack for exceeding expectations. I wouldn’t bet against him to carve out a few years in the majors, whether or not it’s with the Yankees.