Nestor Cortes’ ascension to stardom for the New York Yankees didn’t take a regular path. A 36th-round pick of the Yankees back in 2023 out of Hialeah High School in Florida, the now 27-year-old lefty jumped around a few different organizations before agreeing to a minor league contract with New York ahead of the start of the 2021 MLB season.
What Cortes has done since is nothing short of extraordinary. Playing under that minor league contract a season ago, he pitched to a 2.90 ERA and 1.075 WHIP in 22 appearances (14 starts). During a season in which New York’s pitching staff was injury-plagued, Cortes acted as a reinforcement.
It led to him re-signing wtith New York on a one-year, $725,000 major league contract back in March. Since then, he’s looked like the Yankees’ best pitcher. That’s not hyperbole.
We can add Monday’s outing against the Texas Rangers as the latest case study here. Despite getting the no-decision, Nestor Cortes pitched 7.1 innings of no-hit ball. Not until outfielder Eli White tagged Cortes for a single with one out until the eighth was the no-no broken up.
Never really seen as someone with overpowering stuff, Cortes has in the past relied on his cutter to do its thing. That was the case in his sixth appearance this season (all starts) Monday against the Rangers.
All said, Cortes struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings. He did not walk a single hitter, throwing 68 of his 103 pitches for strikes. Talk about command.
“It was on today. I was able to locate it to both parts of the plate, got some funny swings, soft contact and that’s what helped me get through the day today.”Nestor Cortes on his cutter after yet another stellar performance, via North Jersey
Nestor Cortes star shines bright for American League-best New York Yankees
By virtue of their win in Monday’s make-up game from the weekend against the Rangers, the Yankees now find themselves at 20-8 and with the best record in the American League.
Primarily, this success has been about the Yankees’ starting rotation. Bigger-name hurlers such as Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino have pitched extremely well. However, it’s what we’ve seen from Cortes that stands above the rest.
Nestor Cortes stats (2021): 1-1 record, 1.42 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 42/11 strikeout-walk ratio in 32 innings.
It must be noted that Cortes had pitched into the seventh just once in his first six starts on the season. That came in a 5-4 win over the Cleveland Guardians back on April 23.
Despite this, it’s becoming clear that he’s going to be a mainstay in the Yankees’ already-elite rotation. He’s also earned the trust of manager Aaron Boone.
“I was going to let him go as long as he was efficient. If it starts to get where he’s laboring and walking more guys, then we’ve got to make an adjustment obviously. There wasn’t a number I was looking at.”New York Yankees’ Aaron Boone on Cortes’ performance
Nestor Cortes: From journeyman to the talk of the Bronx
As noted above, the lefty was a 36th-round pick of the Yankees back in 2013. After toiling away in the minors for a few years, he was picked up by the division-rival Baltimore Orioles in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft.
Cortes ended up pitching to a 7.71 ERA in four appearances with the Orioles back in 2018 before being returned to the Yankees. He’d make 33 appearances in New York during the 2019 season, compiling a 5.67 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in the process.
At that point, it seemed like Cortes’ hopes of any type of MLB success was over. He was sent to the Mariners for international bonus pool money in November of 2019 — postingg a 15.26 ERA in five appearances.
But once the Yankees took a chance on Cortes ahead of the 2021 season, things started to click for him big time.
“I want to pick up where I left off. Obviously, the main goal here is to stay healthy and make sure the body’s right for the task at hand,” Cortes on his 2021 performance ahead of opening day.
It sure the heck looks like this is the case. And in reality, it has Cortes as one of the biggest storylines over the first few weeks of the 2022 MLB season. What we saw Monday against the Rangers in the Bronx adds another layer to this.