Baltimore Orioles: Taking a closer look at pitcher Nestor Cortes
While the fans are impatiently waiting for the Baltimore Orioles to sign MLB-ready pitchers, General Manager Dan Duquette is being heavily praised for his ability to find quality in unlikely places.
In fact, the Baltimore Orioles GM has already signed a handful of pitchers and there is a chance the could toe the slab in the rotation in 2018.
In an article by MLB.com, writer Richard Justice considers Duquette’s signing of three pitchers in the Rule 5 Draft a stealthy improvement. Justice comments on Duquette’s strength in finding talent where others fail to look.
Justice cites players like Brad Brach and Miguel Gonzalez as evidence for Duquette’s prowess. Historically, Duquette has done well by guiding his scouts to look for the benefits of a player and to rate them better than their negatives. But, will the Rule 5 Draft picks he made last week pan out?
The three Rule 5 pitchers
Orioles fans might want to brace themselves and recognize that the men he picked are the pitchers that could be regulars in the starting rotation. He signed three to the 40-man roster including Nestor Cortes, Pedro Araujo, and Jose Mesa Jr. Of the three, Cortes is the closest to being MLB ready.
The details on Cortes
Cortes is a 5’11 left-handed pitcher who weighs 205 pounds. While many of the top starting pitchers are well over six feet (Miguel Castro stands 6’7), Cortes is built more like Yadier Molina. Cortes is only 23 years old and was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 36th round in 2013. He was drafted right out of high school near Miami. He attended Hialeah High School. A few other notable MLB players attended the same school: Gio Gonzalez, Bucky Dent, George Enright, and Charlie Hough.
Check out some video from the Yankees farm system about Cortes in 2016:
While Cortes has yet to make his MLB debut, he has to be close. In the Yankees organization in 2017, he spent time in High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A both starting and in relief. Interestingly, in his five seasons in the Yankees farm system, his ERA actually dropped as he moved up in the system. In High-A, he had an ERA of 3.06, Double-A saw a 2.73 ERA, and in Triple-A he had an ERA of 1.33. All too often, pitchers’ ERAs increase as they move up in the ranks, due to hitting improvements at the higher levels.
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Overall, Cortes has pitched 353.2 innings in the Yankees farm system. Batters have only hit 18 home runs against him. Of course, those numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt as minor league batters do not homer as often as major leaguers do. But, that is still a low number of home runs. He has proven to be a tough pitcher to get a hit off of as his career minor-league WHIP is 0.996.
Why didn’t the Yankees keep him?
With these numbers, it is difficult to consider why the Yankees did not keep him. The only possibility is that he is just one of many good young pitchers in their farm system. Someone had to go and he was the one. The Yankees may not have liked his sidearm delivery (but the O’s clearly are ok with that). Even at the Triple-A level in 2017, he had a strikeout rate of 10.61 per 9 innings and a walk rate of 2.05 per 9. He did only pitch in 48.1 innings in Triple-A in 2017. If he can carry these numbers into the Majors, he could be formidable.
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According to Fangraphs, Cortes has some benefits. He has good control over his fastball and it ranges between 88-92 MPH. He also has a curveball that stymies left-handed batters. Fangraphs thinks he will be a bullpen pitcher, but that he could also be a fourth or fifth starter. With the fully loaded Orioles bullpen, there is a good chance that Cortes could end up in the rotation – whether fans like it or not.