Carlos Correa laid on the dirt of a small minor league ballpark in Lake Elsinore, California, his season halted and the future of the Houston Astros much bleaker than it was just seconds before.
Correa, one of baseball’s top prospects and Houston’s No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, fractured his right fibula sliding into third base last June. The injury cut short his second full season in the minors days before he was scheduled to be promoted to Class AA, and it was shaping up to be a magnificent season for the then-19-year-old shortstop.
The obvious fear was that the broken leg would stunt Correa’s development, but the Astros are pleased with his recovery as he prepares to enter his second spring training as a non-roster invitee for the big league club.
“My leg is feeling great,” Correa told the Houston Chronicle’s Jose de Jesus Ortiz last month. “I feel like I’m back 100 percent. I’ll be able to go to spring training and show them I’m ready to play.”
And once again, a healthy 20-year-old Correa is the centerpiece of the Astros’ incredibly bright future.
Before the 2012 draft, no one figured Correa to be part of the Astros’ rebuild. Not because he failed to rate as a future star, but more because no one saw the team using the first overall pick on a 17-year-old when more established and seasoned amateur players were on the board.
But partly because of the draft bonus system implemented that year, which caused “signability” concerns, the Astros took Correa, shocking much of the baseball world.
It turned out to be a wonderful decision.
In his first full professional season, Correa hit .320/.405/.467 with an .872 OPS at Low-A Quad Cities. That year led to Correa entering 2014 as a consensus top-10 prospect.
Last season, before the season-ending injury, Correa was hitting .325/.416/.510 with a .926 OPS, six home runs and 57 RBI in 293 plate appearances with High-A Lancaster, a league where Correa was roughly four years younger than the average age of position players.
Because of that, and because there is virtually no concern about his recovery after his first serious injury, Correa enters the season as one of the game’s most prized prospects. Per Astros Future:
With the promotions of other prospects in the organization, and because of some wheeling and dealing by general manager Jeff Luhnow in order to better compete at the major league level, Correa is the one potential star in the Astros’ farm system.
While his game matures, so does his body. Correa has added about 11 pounds since last season, making him 216 pounds, and he has trimmed his body fat to 9.3 percent, according to Joel Ortiz Rivera of El Nuevo Dia. Considering Correa is coming off a broken leg, that kind of body change is all the more impressive.
On top of the training, Correa also spends the winter in Puerto Rico, where his family lives, doing baseball activities.
“I’m at the ballpark six times a week and at the gym five times a week,” Correa told Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. “I’ve been keeping busy. I got to work a little more, a little harder and a little smarter because of the injury.”
Unfortunately for the Astros, they won’t reap the benefits of Correa’s progression this season. Correa still has two minor league levels to prove himself at, and a major league promotion seems unlikely until 2017 at the earliest.
Plus, because the Astros are not going to contend for a playoff spot until next year—that is thinking optimistically—there is no need to rush Correa through the system.
That is why Correa will start this season at Double-A Corpus Christi. A strong showing there could eventually lead to another promotion by season’s end.
“I would imagine that Double-A would probably be the most logical starting point for him,” Luhnow told CBS Houston’s Howard Chen. “I don’t see any reason for him to go back to High-A. He was days away from getting promoted when he got hurt. I think that Double-A is always a good challenge for players, so I would guess that that’s the lowest level he would start at.”
That does not mean Correa has nothing to prove this spring. His second camp with the Astros could be a showcase and the start of him proving he should spend no more than one more summer in the minors.
Regardless of how his Grapefruit League season plays out, Correa’s time in the minors has already screamed future star. This season, those calls could grow louder as he makes his way to becoming the face of the franchise.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.