Ever since he debuted in the Arizona League with an 891 OPS as an 18-year-old, Cordero's natural abilities have been obvious. By day one of spring training in 2014, John noted, "he's a long ways a way but this is someone to get excited about."
But despite his easy speed, impressive raw power and natural athleticism, the Dominican native got off to a brutal start in his full-season debut that year and was sent back to Eugene when the Northwest League opened. After re-working his swing to quiet his front foot and lower his hands, he rebounded offensively in short-season ball, posting a 117 wRC+ mark over 61 games. But the defense remained incredibly rough. He nonetheless slotted back in at #17 on our Top 20 headed into the 2015 season.
His second crack at the Midwest League didn't go much better than the first. By mid-May, the progress we'd seen during his play in spring training was a distant memory. In an effort to take away the frustration related to his defensive struggles and let him focus on his offense, the club ended the experiment at shortstop (also making way for the promotions of Ruddy Giron and Luis Urias to the TinCaps). While he unsurprisingly struggled with his routes and getting reads on fly balls, it quickly became apparent that his future was on the outfield grass.
Cordero's statline didn't markedly improve after the shift, but his comfort level certainly seemed to. And Ben Davey remained the stalwart in his corner during our top 30 rankings headed into last season.
Last year, given the chance to open in Lake Elsinore playing center field, Cordero began to come around in a big way. And with Michael Gettys demanding a promotion behind him, Cordero was promoted to Double-A San Antonio, where he promptly went on a tear through July at the top of the Missions' lineup. He posted numbers in the Texas League that rivaled what he'd done way back in Arizona, hitting .306/.356/.478 over 264 trips to the plate.
While his rebound got him into the back end of each of our individual top 30 lists coming into the year, he was just outside our Top 20 as a talented player to watch whose contact rate concerned us.
Despite my expectation that he'd return to San Antonio to open the year, the organization was happy with what they say from Cordero in spring training - including an extended run in big league camp - and gave him the opportunity to open this season in Triple-A.
He rewarded the club's confidence with a strong start. Despite racking up a strikeout rate north of 30 percent and an alarming .273 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers, he's also brought his impressive raw power into games more.
Rather than just putting on impressive batting practice displays, this year Cordero has posted a career-best .520 slugging percentage, and already had more homers in the PCL than he tallied in nearly twice as many plate appearances in the California League last spring.
"It's a combination of weight training in the offseason and just having a better approach," Cordero explained to John Conniff today from the big league clubhouse in Washington. "If I can recognize the pitches better, I am going to hit better."
That assessment jives with what Chihuahuas manager Rod Barajas told us last month about both Cordero's work ethic and abilities.
Cordero's development as a player is certainly not complete, but he seems to understand what he needs to do to continue to improve.
"I've changed the way I get set up for the pitch," Cordero told me during my visit to El Paso last month. "But my swing has been mostly the same. The biggest adjustment has been with approach, because the pitchers at the lower levels are a lot different than the guys in the upper levels. It takes a lot more of a mental adjustment at this point.
"I don't think I'm a power hitter yet, but I understand that I have that kind of potential."
While the current promotion to the big leagues is unlikely to last beyond the disabled list stints of Manuel Margot, Travis Jankowski, and Alex Dickerson, it's still a testament to the strides Cordero has made on both sides of the game over the last 18 months.
When we spoke in El Paso he said "I've just been staying focused on the things I can control. I've had a big focus on my defense, which is what they told me was my number one area to improve on. I'm just trying to keep my offensive game where it's always been."
“This spring he made a really favorable impression on us," manager Andy Green told John Conniff before Saturday's game. "It’s a live bat and a live athletic body. He looks the part and he has been having a really good stretch in May."
He'll continue to need to make significant improvements both at the plate and with his routes in the field, but Cordero has already done a lot to turn his raw ability into on-field performance. He will be challenged to contribute as an everyday starter without another significant jump in his bat-to-ball skills and pitch recognition, and he probably profiles more as a corner outfielder than true centerfielder over time, especially in the big parks of the N.L. West.
But for right now, Green says, “When he’s here he’s going to be in center. He will play consistently. We brought him here to get a look at him."
For Cordero, the jump to the majors came as a big surprise when he was told just prior to last night's El Paso game. After some travel adventures joining the big league club, he'll likely wait to make his debut on Sunday. But when he does, he'll be a very different player than he was a year ago.
The progress he's made since the end of his disappointing 2015 campaign in Fort Wayne until today is massive. If he can continue to consolidate his skills as impressively over the next year, we could ultimately see him as a streaky but impactful big league contributor.