PORT ST. LUCIE — Carlos Cortes still sometimes breaks out his right-handed glove during pregame drills to take grounders at second base.
The ambidextrous Mets prospect wants to be ready, just in case.
Cortes, a third-round pick by the Mets in the 2018 draft, stopped playing the infield (throwing right-handed) last season, leaving him for now as a lefty thrower in the outfield. It’s his natural throwing hand, and the one he trusts the most.
“I grew up lefty-lefty, but my motor skills are righty,” the 24-year-old Cortes said this week at Mets minor league camp. “I am kind of all mixed up.”
Cortes eats right-handed, but brushes his teeth left-handed. He picks up objects with his right hand.
He started throwing with his right hand around age 8 and gave it a shot as an ambidextrous pitcher early in high school, but soon scrapped the idea because of troubles with right-handed precision.
“I could never throw a curveball, I just had no feel for it,” Cortes said. “I kind of have one now, but it was like fastball-slider and I drilled a lot of people. I tried it as a freshman or sophomore in high school and I kept drilling people with fastballs and, yeah, ‘I am not doing this anymore.’ ”
Cortes, the Mets’ No. 11 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, played the outfield full-time for Double-A Binghamton last season and owned a .257/.332/.487 slash line with 14 homers and 57 RBIs in 79 games. It wasn’t enough to earn Cortes a spot on the Mets’ 40-man roster, leaving him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft, which will occur after the MLB lockout concludes.
“There are probably four or five guys we have that concern about,” Mets director of player development Kevin Howard said. “At the end of the day there’s only so many spots and every team is put in the position where they have to leave guys they really like unprotected and that I think is kind of the situation we’re in with Carlos.”
In 2019, Cortes played mostly second base for Single-A St. Lucie and had a slash line of .255/.336/.397 with 11 homers and 68 RBIs in 127 games.
He arrived from the University of South Carolina in the same draft class that brought Jarred Kelenic and Simeon Woods-Richardson to the Mets ahead of him. Kelenic and Woods-Richardson were later traded (to the Mariners and Blue Jays, respectively), leaving Cortes as the highest remaining draft pick from the Mets’ 2018 class.
Though Cortes is ambidextrous, he said he never gave switch-hitting serious consideration.
“My dad was not a big believer in that,” Cortes said. “There’s not too many Chipper Joneses, Pete Roses and Jose Reyeses out there.”
This season, he is expected to continue playing the outfield almost exclusively. It is possible he will begin the season at Triple-A Syracuse.
“I am definitely focusing on the outfield a lot more, I think I am better out there,” Cortes said. “But I am never going to close that option to be right-handed … I am going to try to keep my arm ready so I just don’t throw one day and blow it out, but it’s never going to be like I have to relearn it. It’s there, it’s always going to be there, but obviously the velocity I am going to have to keep training to keep up with that.”
Cortes’ goals for the season extend beyond just reaching Citi Field.
“My personal biggest goal is I want to put myself in a situation where I am a candidate to help the major league team,” Cortes said. “Not just make it to the big leagues, but be valuable to the team and help them win if I can.”