Here we are in January, and much like Chris Davis’ bat, we remain at much of a standstill.
At this point, it appears that everyone has taken to the Dan Duquette philosophy of playing the slow game, which is fine. While it leaves the few destined Orioles still out in the open, it turns an already sloth-like process, that has a history of stumbling to the finish line, into an even slower one for the likes of Duquette.
To be blunt, there isn’t really much to talk about on the Oriole front. Davis says he’s working on things, which is good. Hunter Harvey appears to finally be healthy, also good. Manny Machado is still an Oriole, and depending on your interpretation of his sweepstakes, that’s also good...or bad.
Aside from Machado being dangled like a rat in the cage of an uninterested python, the highlight of the Orioles winter has been the club’s ever-presence in the Rule-5 draft. Selecting three players, the most realistic future Oriole appears to be Nestor Cortes.
Cortes, who turned 23 less than a month ago, saw all three levels of the Yankees system in 2017, moving from High-A Tampa, to Double-A Trenton, then finally to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre over the course of the summer. The former 36th-round pick certainly caught the Orioles eye for not only being a lefty, but a productive lefty.
In 104.2 innings last season, Cortes managed a less-than-flukey 2.06 ERA, accompanied by a 1.08 WHIP and walk rate of 6.8 percent. The vast majority of those innings came between the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Cortes isn’t a velo monster. His makeup is that of the cliche “crafty lefty”. According to Brooks Baseball, Cortes’ average four-seam fastball hovers around 89 MPH, with a slider and curveball as his go-to secondary offerings. He isn’t intimidating. He isn’t overwhelming. Naturally, he looks like any Oriole you’ve ever seen.
The first thing Cortes impresses with is his utilization of a polished delivery. There’s no Franklin Morales thing going on. His delivery is all business, from Point A to Point B. He definitely understands his own rhythm on the mound, and his reputation as a strike-thrower is pretty telling evidence.
Granted, it’s only minicamp where pitchers are pitching in shorts with no one standing 60 or so so feet away. Still, Cortes was the talk of yesterday’s opening session. Well, maybe it was just Buck Showalter...
“Cortes can spin the ball. Did you all see that?” Showalter asked following the morning bullpen session.
“He’s an engaging personality. Watching tape on him and talking to people ... have you guys looked at his stats and his background of winning? This guy likes to pitch and he’s got a very educated hand. He can manipulate the baseball. He’s got a lot of ways to get (outs).
“I like him. He’s got a look. Watching him and talking to him. He’s engaged. You can tell that Nestor’s far along.”
Showalter is known for recycling his usual jargon, but this read differently than his casual chatter. It seemed as if Buck exclaimed the point that there is probably a method to Cortes’ madness. Perhaps it’s my neediness for some good news, but the words read that Showalter was thoroughly impressed.
He opens by noting Cortes’ ability to “spin the ball”, a very nuanced way of saying he approves of his stuff. Showalter was able to see firsthand what it takes to produce a 41 percent ground ball rate in the International League, and by reading the extent of Showalter’s comments, one can only deduce that Cortes simply knows how to pitch, and he knows how to use his stuff.
If anything, striking out Rafael Devers while dropping down sidearm is kind of cool.
At the cost of keeping Cortes on the active roster for the 2018 season, the Orioles have invested in a pitcher with a lot of familiar qualities, but a different kind of pedigree.
In today’s era of baseball, the numbers tell a lot, and more often than not, they tend to be right. For many like Cortes, the numbers would often suggest a lack of velocity working against him. However, many of his peripherals prove otherwise.
His walk rate has tended to stay low, as has his allowance of home runs. Cortes even saw his strikeout numbers jump from Double-A to Triple-A, where a 1.49 ERA was shadowed by a 1.72 FIP. For the most part, Cortes has earned much of his success, and it all goes back to understanding how to pitch, and not being afraid to throw anything in any count.
As always, halt the hype train. We don’t know how Cortes’ plus delivery and mind for the game will translate against the best hitters in the world. Maybe Dallas Keuchel is Dallas Keuchel because only he can do what he does as a manipulative lefty. The game has changed, and maybe guys like Cortes are just part of baseball’s natural selection. But it’s hard to find any knock on the kid other than not being able to throw 95 mph.
The Orioles may not have a choice but to throw Cortes into the Jenga game that is the starting staff. But if he is capable of being a bottom block, the Orioles will most certainly welcome just a bit of stability.