Even though Byron Buxton has gotten all the publicity among 2012 draftees, Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is proving that he was more than deserving of being the No. 1 pick in that class.
Correa did the Astros a service after signing right away for $4.8 million—nearly $2.4 million below the slot value—and giving the team more money to spend on later picks in the draft. But he was not a pick used just to save money.
There was a lot of volatility at the top of the 2012 draft, with Buxton, Correa and Mark Appel as the consensus top talents available. Appel had great stuff but the results at Stanford in his junior year were not great. Buxton had the best raw tools in the class, but was incredibly raw due to lack of competition at a small high school in Georgia.
Correa already showed tremendous offensive upside prior to the draft. Even though he would be drafted as a shortstop, the odds of him staying there were/are remote given his body and how it will develop over the next two to three years.
The Astros made the bold move to start Correa in the Midwest League with Quad Cities this season as an 18-year-old, one that has paid huge dividends thanks to a .319/.404/.466 line with 44 extra-base hits and a 76-55 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 119 games.
Showing the stats and telling you Correa has been fantastic are easy, but we want to dive deeper into the young stud to show you why he is going to be a superstar.
It All Starts With The Hands
Like all great hitting prospects, Correa's hitting prowess starts with his hands. We talk a lot about bat speed and power, which can both be attributed to many things like hip rotation and lower-half strength.
In looking at those two things, we tend to underrate the value of the hands in the swing. And make no mistake, Correa has tremendous bat speed and incredible hip rotation to drive the ball.
But what separates the really good hitters from the great hitters, which Correa can certainly be, is the use of hands and hand-eye coordination. Being able to use hands allows you to get away with things that others just can't.
For instance, after a hitter gets fooled on a breaking ball and doesn't have the hands to wait back on the ball, he has already started the swing forward and is going to miss or hit the ball weakly.
Correa doesn't have to worry about that as much because he has such explosive hands that he is capable of being early on a ball with his lower half while still driving it into the gap.
Take a look at the series of at-bats by Correa from a game earlier this season. His first plate appearance ends with a weak tapper to the shortstop on a breaking ball he was fooled by. Then, in the third appearance, he is out in front of the ball just a bit but uses his hands to slap a hard grounder down the third-base line for a double.
We see things like that all the time with experienced big leaguers. But to have an 18-year-old in his first full season doing it is remarkable and speaks to the incredible wealth of talent Correa has AND the in-game adjustments he's capable of making.
Note: Tool grades are based on the 20-80 scouting scale where 50 is average.
One thing to keep in mind about Correa is that even with his success as one of the youngest everyday players in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, he's just scratching the surface of his upside.
Correa has gotten better as the year has gone on, again illustrating his ability to make adjustments and show confidence at such a young age. He hit .304/.400/.430 with 18 extra-base hits in the first half, but has exploded with a .335/.407/.502 line with 26 extra-base hits and a 30-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio since the All-Star break.
Blessed with tremendous athleticism, Correa still has a lot more room to fill out his long, lanky 6'4", 205-pound frame. That does change where his future position will be because eventually he is going to outgrow shortstop and move to third base.
There's nothing wrong with a position change, as a lot of top shortstop prospects will end up playing somewhere else.
Boston's Xander Bogaerts is a prime example. The 20-year-old, who was recently promoted, can play shortstop for a few more years, but will eventually add more muscle and lose too much range to play short.
When you project as a third baseman, a lot more emphasis is placed on the bat. You have to be able to hit and hit for power to project as a superstar playing a corner position.
Defensively, there is no doubt that Correa can be at least an above-average third baseman. His arm is strong enough and accurate at shortstop, so that transition won't be difficult. The range is above-average and the footwork is solid. He also has underrated instincts as a shortstop, which could keep him there longer than expected.
Correa is already showing surprising pop at such a young age with a .466 slugging percentage, which ranks eighth in the Midwest League. But a lot of those extra-base hits are doubles right now, both because the parks are so big and because Correa hasn't reached peak physical condition.
In two years, after Correa has graduated to the upper levels of the minors and started to put on some of the bulk I keep talking about, we will start to see more of those doubles turn into home runs.
Though you wouldn't know it by looking at his batting line, Correa is still raw and learning as he goes along. You can see that in his base-stealing ability right now. He's just 10-for-19 in stolen-base attempts this season, despite having above-average speed.
As Correa gets older, that speed is likely to move down in the average range, but he could still end up stealing 10-15 bases per season as he learns to read and react to pitchers.
The ceiling is incredible, with Correa having the potential to be a grade-65 hitter with 60 power, 50 speed and 60 defense. There might even be a little more in the hit and power tool, depending on the development and performance next year.
Putting a comparison on someone, especially in Low-A, is dangerous and tricky both because no two players develop the same and it puts a lot on the shoulders of the youngster.
With that caveat out of the way, Correa compares very favorably with two top-tier third baseman.
The first comparison comes courtesy of Baseball America in the August 9 edition of its Hot Sheet, which details some of the best performances of the week in the minors.
And you have Carlos Correa, who is putting together a monster seasons at low Class A, reminding many scouts of Manny Machado with his combination of hitting ability, power and tall, rangy build.
Physically, the Machado comparison is appropriate. Correa is slightly taller, but both have long, lanky frames that are going to fill out. Machado is a superior defender, both now and likely in the future.
Correa has more offensive upside, but it is very close. I think Machado winds up being a player who hits 40 doubles and 20 homers, while Correa could be more like a 30-35 doubles hitter with 25-plus homers.
Another Correa comparison I have thought about is David Wright. That is an insane amount of hype to put on Correa, but given everything already stated about him, it doesn't feel that out of place.
Here is the scouting report on Wright from 2002, his first full season in pro ball spent at Low-A, according to Calvin Young of Scout.com (subscription required):
Batting and Power. Wright makes good adjustments, drives the ball to all fields, can hit and run, hit behind runners has outstanding plate, recognizes pitches well and works the count in his favor. He projects to have 25-30 HR power. Wright is an exceptionally mature hitter and should be an above average hitter at 3B.
Base running and speed. While he lacks great speed, Wright runs well, is a good base runner, and solid base stealer.
Defense. Wright has a solid arm, excellent mobility and grit to develop into a fine defensive 3B. He's answered the question of whether he'll remain at 3B with his fine defensive play at Columbia.
Aside from the hilarious use of the word "grit," Young's report sounds a lot like what Correa is doing right now and will do in the future. I don't know if Correa will ever be as prolific at stealing bases as Wright, but everything else lines up really well.
One notable difference between Correa and Wright is the performance in Low-A.
Wright hit .266/.367/.401 with 43 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases at 19 years old. Correa has put up superior numbers while playing a full season at the age of 18.
If Correa turns into either Machado or Wright, or some combination of the two, the Astros have more than justified making him the No. 1 player taken in a draft that also featured Byron Buxton.
The Final Word
Despite his high level of performance, Correa is being brought along slowly by the Astros. It would have been easy and tempting to bump him to High-A last month just so he could get his feet wet in preparation for 2014.
But the Astros also know that there is no reason to rush an 18-year-old who is more than holding his own in a league that can sap offensive numbers.
Correa will finish out the regular season this week, go into the playoffs with Quad Cities and come to spring camp next year ready to tackle High-A as a 19-year-old.
It will be interesting to see what happens if Correa puts together another season like this in High-A and whether the Astros get a little more aggressive with him by jumping him up to Double-A in the second half.
That would put Correa on track to make his big league debut in early 2015 at the age of 20. So many things can happen in between that it is unrealistic to say it will definitely happen.
But given what we have seen from this young man already, it is hard to put anything past him.
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