The Inside Story: Johnny Córdoba

He looked like the next star of the great Yankee, Panamanian pipeline. Johnny Córdoba was a star in the making and there was a buzz surrounding the teenage, lefty fireballer's arrival on US soil. However, his arrival never came in 2004. What delayed the 2003 Dominican Summer League Player of the Year's anticipated arrival? Find out the intriguing inside story of a possible future phenom, Johnny Córdoba.

There was Mariano Rivera, there was Ramiro Mendoza, both of which were prominent Yankee prospects and became Major League stars. How about adding a young man named Johnny Córdoba to that prestigious list of Panamanian star, Yankee pitchers? It sure seemed like a pretty logical assumption back at the end of the 2003 season. The Panamanian lefty had a season that is nearly indescribable in the Dominican Summer League in 2003. The only way to depict it would be as a pitching version of Roy Hobbs performance in "The Natural." It was a season good enough to make someone figuratively wonder, "is Johnny Córdoba actually human?" Well, of course he is, but his electrifying 2003 season was about as close as you can get to being supernatural.

Johnny Córdoba is certainly no stranger to the spotlight. As a native of a country that loves baseball, Panama, the hard throwing lefty got an early start to fame. It isn't exactly easy to be the ace of your country's junior national team as only a young teenager, however, Johnny Córdoba came through with flying colors. This was never more evident than when the weight of an anxious nation was on the shoulders of the young lefty back in the year 2000. As Panama pulled for a Junior Baseball World Championship, Córdoba came up huge and delivered. In the championship, he pulled out three victories for the Panamanian Junior National team. Two of these victories were against Aruba and the final was in the finals against the American team. He won the clinching game for Panama and needless to say, he was dominating in each one of of his outings. But, Córdoba was not done yet. He would be brought back as the ace of the staff for the next two seasons where he would again, lead his national team deep into the Pan-American tournament. He was quickly becoming a baseball legend in his homeland. 2002 would be his final season pitching for the junior national team. He pitched there up until the age of 17, but it had to be expected that suddenly, several MLB organizations were salivating for his services.

The Yankees are still known, to this day, to be an organization that covers Latin America with a fine toothed comb as far as scouting is concerned, and they certainly weren't about to pass up, arguably, Panama's best pitcher since Mariano Rivera. They jumped on Córdoba and inked him on May 12th of 2003. Johnny was signed by Ricardo Finol, who is also responsible for the signing of Dioner Navarro and Marcos Vechionacci. "He is a pitcher with tremendous control and is very aggressive," said Yankee Dominican Coordinator, Carlos Rios after the signing of the 5' 9" lefthander. The organization expected some special things out of their new Panamanian star but what they got in Córdoba's performance, was far beyond what anyone could imagine.

Year

Team

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

2003

DSL Yankees

8-0

0

50

17

2

66

0.36

The statistics above show just how truly unreal the 2003 season was for Johnny Córdoba. By looking at the strikeout to walk ratio alone, you can see that this kid was something that might only come around once in a generation. No matter what level you play at, to put up statistics that just aren't seen in this game of baseball, is just incredible. However, it only further proved that the domination of Córdoba during the Junior Championships was for real. One must remember that this is the same young man the mowed down some of the finest Junior teams in the world with double digit strikeout performances, including Aruba, Netherlands Antilles and the United States. During his season in the Dominican Summer League, the dominating lefty averaged over 11 strikeouts per nine innings and gave up only 17 hits in 50 innings pitched. He also compiled an unheard of WHIP of 0.38 and an ERA of 0.36. Obviously, no one touched Johnny Córdoba in the 2003 season. And, for good reason, Córdoba was named the Dominican Summer League Player of the Year. At the time, there was no telling what stardom the 2004 season would bring.

After an incredible 2003 season, Johnny Córdoba was now the buzz of the Yankee Minor League system. The Yankees even had him attend the Instructional League in September of 2003. "Since he arrived, he made an impression," said Yankees Panamanian Representative, Carlos Heron. "His change of speed is good. The important thing is that he is a pitcher who is not scared," Heron stated. So, as it can easily be seen, the expectations were now sky high for the now 19 year old lefty. The Yankees expected him to make his debut on US soil in the spring of the 2004 season and be placed on the Gulf Coast Yankees roster. However, things came to a screeching halt just when the excitement and hype had peaked for Johnny Córdoba.

The Yankees got news of something that no organization ever wants to hear about one of their young, golden arms. Johnny Córdoba had gone down with a serious shoulder injury in Extended Spring Training while preparing to make his regular season debut in the United States. "An injury is something normal in the career of a ballplayer," said Córdoba. "It is necessary to know how to have the maturity to confront it. I leave everything in the hands of God." Even though the injury has proven to be very serious, the diminutive, but feisty, lefty showed that he was willing to battle through it. "The injury is so serious that the doctors have not been able to detect what it is." However, Córdoba has no plans of laying down and letting the injury beat him. "I am going to continue running and doing physical workouts to maintain my condition," said the determined young star. The organization decided that they were going to perform an exploratory surgery but the results are yet to come in on what the problem is. But, the Yankees remain confident that Córdoba can return to action next season at the age of 20.

What exactly would baseball be missing out on if Johnny Córdoba didn't recover? How good can he be? The fact is that there is stardom written all over him. Even at 5' 9", 160 pounds, Córdoba can still bring his fastball in the low 90's with the best of them. You want control? How about a guy that only walked two batters in 50 innings pitched? With an advanced curveball, a solid changeup and a great fastball for his size and age, baseball would be missing a lot to lose Johnny Córdoba to an injury. However, we can look towards his drive and dedication to help him recover in time for next season. The Yankees have also begun to do whatever it takes to be able to unveil their hidden gem next season. Is that 2003 season enough to tempt anyone? It sure is. But, with his big game experience, intelligence, his still ripe age of 19 and stoic mentality, a talent like this would be too much for the game of baseball to miss. Hopefully, with the full recovery of his shoulder, Johnny Córdoba can bring back the magic in 2004.

PinstripesPlus.com would like to send out our best wishes to Johnny Córdoba in his recovery from his shoulder injury.


Pinstripes Plus Top Stories