Cortes' Stuff Plays

PULASKI, VA - Pitching wins games and the Pulaski Yankees are no different. They're currently in first place in the Appalachian League East division and lead the entire league with a team ERA of 3.18. The Yankees have also thrown a league-leading 174 strikeouts through 20 games. Nestor Cortes is one of the major reasons for the team's success.

Cortes is 2-0 in four appearances this season. He has a stellar 1.17 ERA through 23 innings after Sunday's six shutout innings and has a team-high 24 strikeouts. Cortes got the start in game two of a doubleheader on Monday and didn’t disappoint either. He threw six shutout innings then too, allowing only three hits.

Cortes said his fastball has kept opposing batters off balance.

“I feel like I’m commanding it very well and getting good results out of it,” Cortes said. “In the last few games I’ve been pounding the inside with my fastball. I’m not a 95 [mph] kind of guy and it’s still working for me.”

Despite his success, Cortes’ start on Monday was his first of the season. His two prior appearances came out of the bullpen.

Drafted in the 13th round in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Cortes started his professional career in in the Gulf Coast League. In his two seasons there, he posted a 3.34 ERA in 50 innings. The 20-year-old was assigned to Pulaski after Extended Spring Training this season.

“Last season my fastball was my strength,” Cortes said. “So this offseason I was working on my offspeed. I went to Instructs for my changeup and it got a lot better. I wanted to make my curveball a little tighter.”

Cortes says that pitching in Pulaski so far has helped him evolve into a better pitcher.

“Last year I think I did a fair enough job in GCL but I didn’t feel like I was pounding the strike zone. This year I feel confident and I’m working extremely hard,” Cortes said.

Pulaski Yankees manager Tony Franklin said Cortes’ command is advanced for this level.

“A person that throws strikes is going to have success,” Franklin said. “Nestor is a strike thrower coupled with the fact he throws his offspeed pitches for strikes as well. He throws them in an area where they swing and miss a lot.”

Cortes says that his fastball is sitting around 88-91 mph, with his changeup about ten miles per hour slower. His curveball is in the low-mid 70s and his slider is sitting around 77-78 mph.

Even though Cortes lacks elite velocity his stuff has been hard to hit. Opponents are hitting just .212 against him this season.

“I try to throw every pitch with authority and command,” Cortes said. “That’s what has helped my pitches be a lot better.”

“Nestor’s not going to wow you or knock your eyes out with his velocity but there are a lot of guys in this game like that,” Franklin said. “From what I see, he’s got good stuff. His stuff plays. When you’ve got a guy like this you continue to put him out there every fifth or sixth day to see if his stuff continues to play.”

Along with having command of his fastball, Cortes has been working in the video room constantly.

“I’ve been looking at my mechanics and working with [pitching coach Justin Pope],” Cortes said. “He’s helping me fix what I do wrong and help me do what I do right more often. I watch every hitter and what their motion is, how they’re hitting and where they’re hitting. That’s been key for me this year.”

Franklin has managed two pitching prospects similar to Cortes in Daniel Camarena and Manny Banuelos. Both Camarena and Banuelos are left-handers that lack the prototypical size for a pitcher. Franklin managed both Camarena and Banuelos in Trenton last season. Banuelos made his major league on Tuesday for the Atlanta Braves, allowing just one run in 5.1 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. Franklin says that Cortes is more comparable to Camarena because of their similar velocity.

“When I had Manny he could throw the heck out of the ball. He had incredible arm strength,” Franklin said. “Nestor doesn’t have that same velocity but he favors well to Camarena. He commands and throws strikes and uses his offspeed pitches effectively. He and Daniel compare very well.”

Cortes has pitched well enough to garner attention for the rest of the season. He seems to have broken into the starting rotation in a big way, tossing twelve shutout innings in his first two starts. Franklin said that in the end, Cortes’ stats will be the deciding factor as to where he goes from here.

“Baseball has always been a numbers game and at the end of the season you get the numbers and see where you stack up, that dictates where you’re going to go,” Franklin said. “If you put the numbers on the board you have a chance to move up.”

“I want to pitch my butt off here and try and do well,” Cortes added. “If I don’t end up anywhere, I don’t want it to be in my hands. I don’t want the decision to be left up to me. When I got out there, I give it my best shot. The rest is up to my coaches and coordinators.”

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