Nestor Cortes was at it again on Thursday, twirling a gem for the New York Yankees in a 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Cortes threw seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out seven, lowering his ERA to 1.50 in the process. If you haven't been paying attention, Cortes' story is the best in Major League Baseball this season.
A Cuban-born immigrant who grew up in Hialeah, Florida, Cortes was selected by the Yankees in the 36th round of the 2013 MLB Draft. While he put up good numbers in the minors, he was never considered a great prospect, partly because of his lack of size and projectability. He's 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, and those might be generous measurements. He throws in the low 90s with a cutter, slider and changeup and relies heavily on deception to get runners out. He's awkward, which makes him difficult to hit.
Without much future in the Yankees' organization, Cortes was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. He made the Orioles' Opening Day roster as a reliever, but struggled in the first week of his major league career. The Orioles designated him for assignment on April 9, which meant he was sent back to the Yankees. He finally debuted for New York In May of 2019, but struggled to find consistency. He was eventually traded to the Seattle Mariners in November of 2019. During the 2020 season in Seattle Cortes posted an ERA of 16.26 in 7.2 innings and was released following the campaign.
The Yankees signed Cortes to a minor league contract in December of 2020, marking his third stint with the franchise. He's been excellent ever since. In 2021, he went 2-3 with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 93 innings over 22 appearances (14 starts). He's been even better this season.
In 10 starts so far this year, Cortes is 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP and an opponents batting average of .178. He has 68 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched and is setting records along the way and putting his name up there with some of the greatest to ever wear a Yankees uniform.
As stated above, Cortes doesn't overpower anyone. Instead he changes speeds and uses timing and pinpoint control to confuse hitters. It's truly brilliant how he's developed his style.
He might be the unlikeliest dominant pitcher in MLB history and it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch him pitch.