South Carolina freshman Carlos Cortes was rated as one of the top 25 high school prospects in the nation by D1Baseball and Perfect Game coming out of Lake Howell High in Oviedo, Fla.
But unlike some highly-rated prospects, Cortes was not set on beginning his professional baseball career immediately after high school.
If the money was right he was willing to turn pro, but the 5-foot-7, 195-pounder had a strong desire to play for the Gamecocks, a desire that began when Cortes was 12 years old.
“Ever since I saw them win the 2010 national championship I fell in love with them,” he said. “I came here and saw this amazing stadium and this amazing college town, and ever since then I’ve wanted to be a Gamecock.”
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MLB organizations opted to not meet Cortes’ asking price and he was selected in the 20th round by the New York Mets after Cortes had already announced he would be playing baseball at USC in 2017.
“I always wanted to come here so I set the bar high. My dad encouraged me to come here. My family wanted me to go to school. It made the decision a little bit easier,” Cortes said. “I’ll get the best experience playing with a bunch of guys that it’s like a family, trying to win.”
Cortes arrived in Columbia this past summer with big expectations. He was viewed as one of the top hitters in the country in the class of 2016.
Those expectations remain high with the season set to begin in a week. Cortes was recently rated as the No. 1 freshman in the SEC by Baseball America and the No. 1 impact freshman in the SEC by D1Baseball.
He isn’t concerned with living up to lofty predictions, though. He just wants to win.
“None of that matters,” Cortes said. “Just coming out every day and working hard, trying to win, that’s all that matters.”
Cortes is capable of playing a number of different positions for the Gamecocks as he has experience as an infielder and outfielder.
He is a unique player in that he is ambidextrous. He is naturally left-handed but learned to throw and field as a right-hander growing up so that he could play in the infield.
“I had to learn it because I was short and wasn’t very fast. I was already lefty so I didn’t have many positions to play. My dad wanted me to learn new positions,” he said. “It took me until I was about 14 to actually become very good at it. It became normal, like second nature to me.”
Cortes has been working at second base, third base and in the outfield in preseason scrimmages while trying to adjust to college pitching.
He struggled hitting a changeup in the fall but believes he has made progress in that area.
“It was strictly fastball, curveball in high school. Guys have good changeups (in college). You have to adjust to that. It’s been tough but hopefully it works out,” he said. “I’m working on seeing two different speeds when I’m in the cages, hard, slow, just mixing it up.”
Cortes is also getting help from several veterans on the team as he prepares for his first season playing Division I baseball.
“Alex Destino has been here a while and he’s seen it and he knows what’s going to happen,” Cortes said. “Even the pitchers, too, I’ve listened to them. I look up to them. They’re good guys, and they know what they’re talking about too.”
Carlos Cortes bio
Ht./Wt.: 5-7, 195
Hometown: Oviedo, Fla.
▪ No. 1 freshman in the SEC by Baseball America and D1Baseball
▪ No. 14 best prospect in the SEC for 2018 MLB Draft by D1Baseball and Perfect Game
▪ - No. 18 best high school prospect in nation by D1Baseball, No. 23 by Perfect Game and No. 31 by Baseball America
▪ As a senior in 2016, hit .395 with 19 runs and 17 RBI. Had three saves. Led Oviedo to 2015 state title.
▪ Ambidextrous thrower, he throws with right hand when he plays infield and throws with left hand when he plays in the outfield and pitches
What: USC baseball scrimmages
When: Friday, 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Founders Park
Also: All scrimmages are free and open to the public.