Switch-hitting catchers don't come along everyday. That's one of the reasons why the Phillies took Joes "Chico" Cortez in the 14th round of the 2003 Draft. Of course, it didn't hurt that there was a gaping hole in catching depth in the organization, especially after the trade of Johnny Estrada. Speaking of Estrada, there are more than a few scouts who see solid comparisons between the two players.
While it's generally agreed that Cortez has a huge upside with a ton of potential, there are differing viewpoints on whether or not he is best suited to play behind the plate. Some scouts argue that his strong arm and leadership abilities make him worthy of the position. Others argue that he lacks the necessary skills to play at a high level defensively and that he may need to be moved elsewhere. For now, the Phillies plan on keeping him behind the plate, but with the emergence of other catching prospects and a strong draft filled with catchers in 2004, Cortez may be asked to try something different if his defensive skills don't come around.
It took Cortez a little while to adjust to hitting with a wooden bat, but he seems to have made the adjustment and looks like 2005 will be the season where he really puts it all together. It's not out of the question that Cortez could have a huge season and jump far up the list of Phillies prospects by this time next season.
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Batting and Power: There is a lot to like about Cortez offensively. He's a switch-hitter who can hit for both power and average. Cortez clubbed 70 homeruns in his college career, tying a Division III record. Prior to that, he led Division III hitters with 1.8 RBI per game in 2001 and was ranked fourth in the category in his freshman season.
Baserunning and Speed: Cortez has decent baserunning skills, but not the speed to really put them to good use. He gets a decent jump on balls and generally doesn't hurt his team on the bases, but he's not going to be a base stealer. His lack of speed also may keep him from being considered for any position change other than perhaps, first base.
Defense: This is where it gets tricky. Cortez isn't the greatest defensive catcher and needs some work. The Phillies are working with him on simply receiving the ball better and blocking pitches in the dirt. Some scouts believe he simply doesn't have the skills needed to handle the job defensively. If there is a saving grace, it's the fact that Cortez has a strong arm and it would be a waste to put his arm at first base. It's not that Cortez is the worst possible defensive catcher, but he can hurt his team at times. Another key is Cortez' leadership skills. He's a take charge sort of player, who was a clubhouse leader in college.
Projection: Whether or not he stays behind the plate is the big question. Offensively, Cortez has the skills to play in the majors down the road and should be more than just a utility type player. First base or DH wouldn't be out of the question. The Phillies challenged him with a spot at Lakewood last season and they may challenge him again this spring with an assignment to Clearwater. Don't be surprised though if he's back at Lakewood for at least a little more work, although that may be a waste of time.
ETA: If all goes perfectly, Cortez will start to push himself to the majors at a good pace. He could get a look by late in 2007 and be looking for a full-time major league job by the next season. Again, a potential position change and who may be ahead of him could make changes in his ETA.
Comparison: The comparisons to Johnny Estrada are there, but so too are the comparisons to Jason Kendall. Cortez lacks the defensive skills that Estrada has, but Estrada has worked hard to develop a lot of those skills. Kendall definitely has Cortez beat in the speed area.