Cortes On Top Of His Game

Nestor Cortes has had a good EST

TAMPA, FL - Left-hander Nestor Cortes is feeling optimistic after finally notching a full Spring Training under his belt. Last year, Cortes was only a senior in high school preparing for the MLB's first year player draft and therefore didn't have much time to become acclimated with the system. This year, Cortes has had a plethora of time to hone and develop his skills, and he's doing exactly that.

"Spring Training went well," he said. "I mean, I got a lot of work in, especially since last year I was in the draft and didn't get much of a Spring Training really."

Having an increased training period has allowed Cortes, last year's 36th round draft pick, to identify what he needs to do to make his dreams become a reality.

"My primary goal no matter where I go [for the short-season leagues] is to just work hard. I think I'm a gamer; I just go after everybody and I always want the ball," Cortes said with a grin.

From a coaching perspective, it's hard not to like a guy with a mindset like that. If you knew Nestor Cortes, though, his answer wouldn't surprise you.

Off the field, Cortes is an unassuming, friendly guy. The 19 year old southpaw has been described by coaches as a "hard worker who never complains," and has a generally affable demeanor.

Raised in the Miami area of Florida, Cortes began his baseball career at Hialeah High School where he was named a 3rd Team All-American by Rawlings and held a 1.08 ERA his senior year. Last season with the Gulf Coast Yankees, Cortes put up a respectable 4.42 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 18.1 innings over ten appearances.

Cortes is a balanced pitcher whose biggest attribute is his versatility. According to pitching coach Jose Rosado, Cortes can throw fastballs, curveballs and changeups, a feat that makes him stand out among other younger pitchers in Extended Spring Training right now.

"I have a fastball-curveball combination but I really think my changeup's my best pitch," Cortes said.

When asked what the young lefty needs to do to make his wide variety of pitches more effective, coach Cory Arbiso pointed to increased command as the remedy.

"Just having more consistent command with his offspeed pitches will serve him well," Arbiso said. "His changeup's gotten a lot better. His offspeed is what keeps the hitters off-balance. His fastball plays up because of his offspeed pitches."

Arbiso is right. For a pitcher that depends on strategically dueling batters as opposed to just mowing them down with power, control is everything. Finesse is also a key component, as placement is nothing without velocity and complexity.

Rosado agrees with Arbiso and believes Cortes needs to maintain his fastball command in order to bolster the effectiveness of his curveball. He emphasized that utilizing enhanced topspin for better movement on the ball is also crucial.

"It will give him [flexibility] to throw his curveball, which he likes to throw a lot," Rosado said. "Being able to work ahead of the count is important for him."

For Cortes, a primary goal is to give his pitches some pop to catch hitters off guard. He discussed what area he needs the most improvement.

"I think what I need the most work on is [getting] a bite on my curveball, making it sharper," Cortes said.

In terms of comparisons with other players, Cortes has been compared to fellow Yankee prospect Manny Banuelos [currently with the Double-A affiliate Trenton after recovering from Tommy John surgery] and Washington Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez, given his smaller stature. Coincidentally, Gonzalez hails from Cortes' hometown of Hialeah, Fl. as well.

"He's got a comparison to Gio Gonzalez," Arbiso said. "He doesn't throw as hard at the moment but he's still a young kid. To me that power will come. He can spin the ball pretty well."

It's easy to see why Cortes would be compared with a player such as Gonzalez, as the two have very similar tendencies outside of the obvious differences in fastball velocities. Gonzalez is a fastball dominant pitcher that likes to use the curveball as a trusted second option.

With time, Cortes could become a very similar pitcher.

Overall, this Extended Spring Training has been a generally solid one for Cortes. His fastball has improved tremendously and he has kept his strikeout rate up.

"He doesn't really walk that many players," Rosado said. "He's a man with a plan and he's on top of his game, let me tell you that."

Included in that plan? Playing at a higher level sooner than later.

"I think no matter what league I go to I need to keep on doing what I'm doing. My goal is to be at a high level and to work on everything I need to work on during the offseason," Cortes concluded.

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