Rule 5 Pick Nestor Cortes Could Fill Orioles' Southpaw Void
No team was more active in the 2017 Rule 5 draft than the Orioles, who made 23-year-old lefthander Nestor Cortes the first of their club-record three selections in the major league phase.
The Orioles also chose 24-year-old righthanded relievers Pedro Araujo from the Cubs and Jose Mesa Jr. from the Yankees. However, Cortes is the early favorite break camp with Baltimore because the club needs a southpaw for both its rotation and bullpen. Cortes worked primarily at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2017, recording a 2.06 ERA in 104.2 innings while striking out 105 and walking 32. The 36th-round pick in 2013 out of Hialeah (Fla.) High carries a career minor league ERA of 2.08 and strikeout rate of 9.5 per nine innings into 2018.
The Orioles probably will carry only one of the three Rule 5 pitchers, especially with outfielder Anthony Santander retaining his Rule 5 status through the first 44 games of 2018.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette said Cortes initially will compete as a starter.
"This is a guy who has very good pitching instincts,” Duquette said. "He knows how to locate his pitches. He knows how to field his position and combat the running game. He has a lot of skills, some very unique skills. Look at his record of success at every step of the way.
"The critics will say he doesn’t throw hard, and that’s true. He is not a hard thrower. But he can do a lot of other things that count in getting a hitter out.”
Cortes ranges from 87-93 mph and also throws a changeup and curveball, making him an appealing option in a rotation that has three openings. He tends to change his arm angle to further confound hitters, and he generates a high rate of swinging strikes as a result.
"Nestor Cortes is a very versatile lefthanded pitcher,” Duquette said. "He’s got good breaking stuff, excellent control and is a very good competitor. His role model is Gio Gonzalez, and he’s from South Florida, a very competitive environment.
"He did a nice job with the Yankees . . . He has good pitches and experience and has had success at every level."
The Orioles lost six players off their Double-A roster in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which Duquette views as a reflection of the organization's farm system depth.
"With the work that our scouts and player development people have done over the last couple of years, the Orioles have more depth, particularly with position players in the minors," he said. "Other clubs saw that depth and made selections, and that’s a good compliment to the work our people have been doing the last couple of years.”
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Among those lost in the minor league phase were two second basemen Baltimore had only recently acquired: 24-year-old Angelo Mora, who signed as a minor league free agent in November, and 21-year-old Brallan Perez, whom the Orioles picked up from the Rangers in August for $500,000 in international bonus pool money.