Cortes on the Right Track

KODAK, Tenn. – Cubs farmhand Jorge Cortes may be trying to break into a crowded outfield with the parent club, but at least he's on the correct path – an All-Star selection, an everyday player, and a role model for younger prospects.

Cortes, 26, will play in the Southern League All-Star Game in Pearl, Miss., Monday night as he is one of five representatives from the Double-A Tennessee Smokies in a selection that his manager felt was much deserved.

"He came out and did a good job," Tennessee manager Pat Listach said of Cortes. "He's one of the best defensive outfielders out there. I think when I had all three of those guys – Cortes and when (Josh) Kroeger was here and Sam Fuld – we had the best outfield in Double-A.

"He's got a really good arm, accurate, gets on base and takes his walks. He's a pretty good baseball player," Listach added.

Cortes, primarily the team's left fielder, is joined on the All-Star roster by teammates Matt Craig (INF/DH), Jake Fox (INF/catcher), Casey McGehee (catcher), and Mark Holliman (right-handed pitcher).

Entering the All-Star break, Cortes is hitting .283 with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .747. He has just one home run despite 14 doubles and two triples, and he has driven in 24 runs and scored 34 while hitting primarily second in the order.

"I'm really happy because you work every day hard, and it's a good thing to be selected as an All-Star," Cortes said of the nomination. "It's an (acknowledgement) of what you're doing every day. That's one of your goals on the season, so now you go there and keep going and working hard."

Listach doesn't have to worry about Cortes returning to the team and continuing to work when regular season play resumes Wednesday.

"He's easy because he just goes about his business," Listach said. "He's a professional. He gets prepared for the game. He's the first guy in here every day looking at video of his swings. He comes in here, and he takes care of business the way he's supposed to take care of it.

"He gets after it in the weight room, and he gets after it on the field," Listach added. "He's a joy to be around and hopefully some of these other players will learn something from him; some of these younger guys."

The Cubs have a lot of young prospects in the outfield, and finding a spot in Chicago won't be easy.

"You never know," Listach said. "You look around the outfield. You look at (Alfonso) Soriano. You figure he's going to be there for the next seven years. You've got Matt Murton who's up and coming. Felix Pie is always going to be there."

For that reason, Listach projects Cortes as a fourth or fifth outfielder.

"He can always be a fourth or fifth outfielder," Listach said. "He's going to be that type of player. I'm not so sure he'll play every day in Chicago with us, but he's got some value because he's a left-handed hitter number one, and the way he plays defense number two."

Holliman, who threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Huntsville Stars on June 21, had a helping hand in that game from Cortes, who snared a line-drive shot in left field that was tailing down and away.

Cortes came up with the catch rather easily.

"I think one of my best things is my defense," Cortes admitted. "My offense, I feel like I'm a good hitter and a good outfielder. I think what I need to get better (at) is my speed and try to steal bases."

Cortes only has one stolen base on the season and has been caught stealing once. His 14 doubles and two triples do indicate some speed on the base paths, however.

Cortes attributes his approach to the game – the one lauded by Listach – to his maturity and time spent in the minor leagues.

"I think I have a couple of years on the game," said Cortes, whose first year of professional baseball was in 1998 at the age of 17.

"I get myself ready before every game. I use my concentration and do everything in practice to be ready for the game."

Cortes is also settled off the field. The native of Colombia, South America, makes his off-season home in Williamsport, Pa., where his wife, Bridget, is from. They have a son, Andres, who just turned 3 years old.

Williamsport is the home of the Little League World Series, and while Cortes never played in the iconic event, he has attended some games in his wife's hometown.

"It's really fun," he said.

Cortes was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997 as a non-drafted free agent. He later joined the Houston Astros organization and signed with the Cubs as a free agent in November of 2006.

Last season, Cortes hit .293 with eight home runs and 51 RBI in 126 games for the Astros' Double-A club in Corpus Christi, Texas.

"Talking with my agent, it was the best opportunity," Cortes said of his decision to sign with the Cubs. "I'm happy to be here and doing my best, waiting hopefully (for) something good."

It was in Corpus Christi that Cortes first heard the cheer "Hip Hip Jorge" when he came to bat. A few fans have picked up on it in Tennessee, and the scoreboard sometimes flashes the same message when he walks to the plate.

Cortes finds it to be somewhat corny and just smiled when asked what he thought about the tribute. He did laugh when it was pointed out that at least fans are pronouncing his name correctly.

Like Listach, Cortes also knows the Cubs' outfield is stacked. He just wants to keep performing in the minor leagues in hopes that the parent club or other teams notice his efforts.

He has the confidence that he can play in the major leagues, but also knows he can't control when that happens.

"As a player, if I am here, I feel like I can play there," he said. "I don't know if it's going to be this year or next year, but I feel one day I am going to play there. I'm happy, and I'm doing my best. That is what I know, that I am doing my best."

The Smokies are two games out of first place in the Southern League's Northern Division in the second half of the season. After taking three of four games from the Mississippi Braves at home, they dropped three out of four to Huntsville on the road going into the break. They'll try to get back to winning Wednesday against the Mobile BayBears.

"It's always fun when you're winning," Cortes said. "It's bad when you're losing. The important thing is you go in there and play 100 percent and you know you did your best."

Cortes' best effort in the first half earned him a trip to Trustmark Park in Pearl for the All-Star game. His goals for the second half are to keep it going.

"Maintain myself and keep it there," Cortes said. "Don't go down. Finish strong and wait for something to happen."

Cubs Prospect Video: Josh Kroeger, Jorge Cortes --


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