Nestor Cortes was drafted by the Yankees in the 36th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft out of Hialeah Senior High School in Hialeah, Florida. Cortes has pitched as high as Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as both a starter and reliever. The 5’11” lefty will pitch the entire 2017 season at the young age of 22.
Cortes joined the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Yankees on July 20th and pitched a scoreless inning while appearing out of the bullpen against the GCL Astros. His last, and best outing of the season came as a starter on August 28th against the GCL Blue Jays. He pitched 3.1 innings, allowing just one run, and striking out three. While having his number called over the course of 10 games—three as a starter, Cortes pitched to a 4.42 ERA.
To start the 2014 season, Cortes was assigned to the GCL Yankees 2. He pitched in 11 games and seemed to grow more comfortable as the season continued. Again, Cortes pitched as both a starter and reliever. In his two starts of the year, he pitched a combined 9.1 innings, allowing zero earned runs while punching out 12.
He picked up his first professional win on August 1st against the GCL Pirates. His three innings of relief came after five solid innings from Melvin Moria. The GCL Yankees scored two runs in the bottom half of the seventh inning to put Cortes in line for the win. Cortes finished the year 1-2 with a 2.27 ERA over 31.2 innings. He struck out 38 batters along the way.
Cortes began the 2015 campaign with the Pulaski Yankees. This season would also be the first time the Yankees organization was able to get an extended look at Cortes as a starter. Though starting the season in the bullpen, Cortes finished the year with ten straight starts.
Cortes won three straight starts from August 5th to 17th. The most innings he pitched in any of those three outings were 5.1 innings. He was still able to strike out 14 batters in those 15.1 innings of work. Those three outings were a part of the strong finish that Cortes was able to put together. He won four of his last five starts and pitched to an impressive 2.26 ERA on the season.
The lefty finished the year 6-3 and doubled his innings total from the year before going from 31.2 to 63.2 innings. He also held batters to what was a career-best .203 average. Cortes also pitched well during his one start in the postseason. He completed six innings against the Princeton Rays, only allowing one run. He struck out four.
2016 played out to be the year of travel for Nestor Cortes, who found himself pitching on four different teams in the Yankees minor league system. He started the year off in Single-A Charleston and was lights out. Cortes started eight games and pitched as a reliever in five. He dazzled with a minuscule 0.79 ERA during his 68.1 innings with Charleston.
His stellar numbers do not end there. He also struck out 75 hitters, while opponents batted a career-low .157 against him. His WHIP was also a career low 0.75
On May 19th he pitched one of his best games of his young career against the Columbia Fireflies. Cortes fired six innings and struck out a career-high 12 batters. He gave up zero runs and picked up his second straight victory.
During the middle of the 2016 season, Cortes was promoted to Double-A Trenton for a spot start. He pitched four innings and gave up two runs. After that start for Trenton on June 26th, he was then sent back down to Charleston, until he was again promoted to Advanced-A Tampa on July 22nd.
Later in that year, on August 19th, against the Brevard County Manatees, Cortes pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out nine. What was so impressive is that he only threw 82 pitches over those seven innings. Very rarely do you see a pitcher strike out nine batters and throw that few pitches. Cortes was then summoned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a start on August 30th against the Buffalo Bisons. He threw 5.2 of no-hit baseball, issuing three walks, before being taken out because he was at 99 pitches.
Last year was easily Cortes’ most impressive year in professional baseball. He pitched 106 innings, with an ERA of 1.53. He struck out 115 batters on the way and was selected to the Mid-Season All-Star Game with Charleston.
The Yankees have moved Cortes pretty quickly through their system meaning that they like what he brings to the table. However, you will not see him on any top prospects list. His build is not ideal. 5’11” is short for a pitcher and that hurts him in the eyes of evaluators.
Expect to see Cortes start the season in Double-A Trenton to get more seasoning. He has only started a handful of games above Single-A, so it will be important for him to master those levels before he gets the call to move up. Even though it was just one start in Triple-A, Cortes dazzled, and that will be remembered if the organization considers pushing him up faster. Cortes will more likely than not start and finish the year in the minor leagues. The 22-year-old has pitched well so far in his career, but he is not quite ready to start in the show.