Improvements Help Carlos Cortes Round into All-Star Form

Until the recent analytic revolution, baseball scouts would evaluate prospects based on their own conventional criteria. If a player failed to check off their proverbial boxes, they seldom had a future in professional baseball. Since David Eckstein led the Anaheim Angels and the St. Louis Cardinals to World Series titles a decade earlier, scouts began paying closer attention to undersized second baseman, opening the door for future AL MVPs Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve.

Altuve’s 2017, in particular, had a profound effect on scouts in the upcoming MLB Draft after leading the Houston Astros to their first world championship and recording at least 200 hits for four consecutive seasons. 5-7 inch Nick Madrigal was the fourth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft for the Chicago White Sox, while the New York Mets hold high hopes for the 5-7 inch second Carlos Cortes, their third-round selection out of South Carolina.

“I think there is a link,” Cortes said. “It’s more about who is able to produce now, and it’s only a matter of being able to keep playing and most importantly, playing well. It’s not about size anymore. Those guys like Altuve and Pedroia gave hope for guys as small as me to do big things in the big leagues.”

The son of a baseball coach, Cortes had a strong desire to make a career of his own in the game and sought to further his opportunities by learning to throw right-handed despite being a natural born lefty. Learning to bat from a different side of the plate is more common as seen with switch hitters like Carlos Beltran and Chipper Jones, but only Pat Venditte, a former Yankees prospect, who pitched for Staten Island in 2008, was an ambidextrous thrower.

“My dad was the one who made me throw with both hands,” Cortes explains. “The main thing he felt was that I would be able to play multiple positions. When I was at South Carolina, I was able to have some time playing the outfield. It’s been a benefit since I’m playing second base in professional baseball.”

After graduating from Lake Howell High School in 2016, the Mets offered Cortes the chance to turn pro as a 20th round pick, but his desire to attend the University of South Carolina was the primary factor in postponing those plans. Cortes would have a strong playing career with the Gamecocks, averaging a .377 on-base percentage in two years of eligibility with 27 home runs and 85 runs batted in across 390 at-bats. The consistent approach at the plate helped Cortes put himself in a spot where he would earn a second look from the Mets’ organization.

“South Carolina is an incredible school,” Cortes says. “They had won back-to-back national championships at the time. It doesn’t get much better than that. The atmosphere at the school is second to none. They are a consistently a winning program.”

Cortes’s hometown of Oviedo, Florida is slowly forming a reputation for developing professional athletes. In recent years, pitchers A.J. Cole and Zach Eflin established themselves in the major leagues after growing up in Oviedo. The town’s most famous resident, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, enjoyed his finest season as a pro in 2017, leading Jacksonville to the brink of the Super Bowl. His younger brother Colby, a third base prospect in the Detroit Tigers’ organization, played against Cortes in the SEC, furthering the reputation of Oviedo athletes.

“The players at Oviedo are great competitors and great people,” Cortes said. “They motivate you to become better every day. You want to be better than them because of the way they compete. When I was at South Carolina, I believed in the process and stuck to the game plan. It comes down to working hard.”

Persistence and hard work helped Cortes overcome a brief slump to begin his pro career. Once the calendar reached August, Cortes maintained the approach that made him a top amateur prospect, batting .277/.346/.412 in his first 31 games with the Brooklyn Cyclones. Cortes moved up to second in the batting order, supplying power with a line drive approach in crucial situations. The New York-Penn League took notice of Cortes’s recent performance, naming him to the league’s All-Star Game in State College, Pennsylvania.

“I’m constantly making adjustments with my everyday routine,” Cortes said. “Playing professional baseball is a much different experience as opposed to college because you are playing every day as opposed to a couple of times per week. The biggest thing for me was getting used to the day to day lifestyle playing in the minor leagues and seeing what I’m doing because there’s another day ahead.”

Known primarily for his offense, Cortes showed versatility on defense, playing many positions for South Carolina, but mainly focuses on second base in the pro ranks where he gradually gets a feel for the position. His swing can generate bat speed through the strike zone when he finds a pitch to his liking to his pull side with the ability to hit line drives down the right-field line. Some of the recent adjustments made by Cortes at the plate were keeping his hands back and using the entire field. A high contact rate enables Cortes to work deep counts and avoid strikeouts.

“He’s doing pretty well,” Cyclones manager Edgardo Alfonzo said of Cortes. “In the beginning of the season, he was trying to do too much, but now he’s settled down, and he is able to see more pitches at the plate. His defense he’s handled well, having not played the position in a while. He still needs work, but he’s doing a good job after playing mostly in the outfield the last four years.”

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