On the eve of the 2015 amateur draft, the Astros have promoted the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft to the major leagues. Shortstop Carlos Correa will join the team Monday to make his debut against the White Sox in Chicago.
Chosen out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School when he was three and a half months shy of his 18th birthday, Correa was the first of three straight overall No. 1 picks by general manager Jeff Luhnow, and his selection was quite a surprise at the time given that many viewed the team as much more likely to choose Stanford righty Mark Appel. The team signed Correa for a $4.8 million bonus, well below the $7.2 million slot value, and was able to use the savings to sign two other prized picks, including supplemental first-rounder Lance McCullers, who just this past week became the youngest pitcher to throw a complete game featuring a double-digit strikeout total since Kerry Wood's 20-K masterpiece on May 6, 1998. Appel wound up being chosen by the Pirates at No. 8, but did not sign until he was made the overall No. 1 pick by the Astros in 2013.
Correa has justified the Astros’ unusual approach by drawing rave reviews as he's climbed the ladder to the majors, as he's more than held his own on both sides of the ball at nearly every stop despite being the youngest position player in his leagues.
He hit .320/.405/.467 with nine homers and 10 steals as an 18-year-old at Class A Quad Cities of the Midwest League in 2013, then .325/.416/.510 with six homers and 20 steals in just 62 games last year at Class A Advanced Lancaster of the California League, a stint that ended when he suffered a fractured right fibula while sliding into a base on June 22.
Ranked either third or fourth on every major prospect list coming into this season, Correa began the year at Double A Corpus Christi of the Texas League, putting up videogame numbers (.385/.459/.726 with seven homers and a perfect 15 for 15 in steals) in 29 games and winning player of the week honors twice before being promoted to Triple A Fresno on May 12. Having recovered from a 4-for-33 skid near the end of May, he's hit .266/.336/.447 with three homers and three steals in 23 games at Fresno.
Fifty-two games in the upper minors is very few, even for a top prospect. By comparison, Starlin Castro had 57 (all at Double A), Bryce Harper 63 (42 at Double A, 21 at Triple A) and Mike Trout 75 (all at Double A) under their belts before their MLB debuts, and Trout returned to the minors after a brief stint with the Angels. But despite his age and inexperience, Correa’s advanced approach and makeup, as well as his performance, have led the Astros to conclude that he’s ready. Via MLB.com's Brian McTaggatt, here's what Luhnow said about the promotion:
“Carlos has performed extremely well at every level of our Minor League system. ... We feel he has earned this promotion and look forward to him joining our ballclub. Since he is just 20 years old, we do not have unrealistic expectations of Carlos. However, his performance on the field and his maturity indicate that he is ready to contribute on the Major League level.”
Here's what Keith Law had to say about the 6'4", 210-pound Correa in ranking him third on ESPN's Top 100 Prospects list this spring:
Correa's bat continues to impress as his approach is advanced beyond his years, but it's his defense that earns him even higher praise, as he looks more and more like he'll at least be able to start his major league career at shortstop, a position I expected him to quickly outgrow. He played all of 2014 at age 19, and may still bulk up to the point that a move to third base makes more sense; right now, he could play an average shortstop in the majors, while his arm and bat will both profile well at third base. He might be Adrian Beltre in the end, but I wouldn't give up on him doing a little Troy Tulowitzki before he moves.
The Astros began the year with Jed Lowrie at shortstop, having re-signed him on a three-year, $23 million deal last December. While he got off to a hot start (.300/.432/.567 through 19 games), he tore a ligament in his right thumb on April 28 and underwent surgery that will keep him out until after the All-Star break.
Marwin Gonzalez (.227/.233/.353) and Jonathan Villar (.273/.323/.386) have shared shortstop duties since Lowrie went down, holding their own defensively but doing little to help an offense that ranks seventh in the league in scoring (4.22 runs per game), 12th in on-base percentage (.304) and dead last in batting average (.236).
The Astros were 12-7 when Lowrie went down, and they ended May with the league's best record at 31-20. They're now 34-24, having lost four straight to the Orioles and Blue Jays, all on the road. They lead the surging Rangers in the American League West by 3 1/2 games, though with their losing streak they've fallen a game behind the Twins in the race for the league's best record.
Any way you slice it, that’s still a major step forward for a team that's posted six straight losing seasons. The rebuilding process that began even before Luhnow was hired in December 2011 is bearing fruit, and as an overall No. 1 pick, the arrival of Correa at the major league level is a symbolically significant one.
Once he debuts, he’ll become the league’s youngest position player, and if the reports are to be believed, it shouldn’t be a surprise if Correa starts making a mark of his own before long.
Meanwhile, the Astros will get another chance to add impact players in Monday’s draft, as they own two of the first five picks: the number two pick, based on their failing to sign 2014 overall No. 1 pick Brady Aiken, as well as the No. 5 pick.