The fact that Carlos Correa is a special player has never really been news. Scouts uniformly believed that he was going to be one since the day he was drafted as the number one overall pick in 2012 at only 17 years old. The Astros chose him over the consensus number one pick, Byron Buxton, though cutting an under-slot deal of $2.4 million was likely a factor too. GM Jeff Luhnow was in his first year, and he clearly hit the ground running.
Correa had already made some history the moment he was drafted. He joined Alex Rodríguez and Adrián González as just the third Hispanic player to be selected first overall, and the first among Latin American-born players.
Despite the number of great players that Puerto Rico has produced, none had ever been drafted number one overall. The previous highest was Ramón Castro, a catcher that was selected 17th overall in 1994. A big reason for this is that Puerto Rican players were not included in the draft until 1990. Before that, Puerto Rican players were signed as international free agents, just like players from any other country. It is a topic for another day, but the history of Puerto Rican amateurs clearly has been rocky, with issues that go beyond the normal problem of professional drafts cheating kids out of their free market value in order to save billionaires money.
Correa debuted at only 20 years old in 2015. He had an excellent rookie season, hitting .279/.345/.512 for a 135 wRC+. He accumulated 4.1 WAR in only 99 games and took home well-deserved Rookie of the Year honors. The Astros played Correa at shortstop the entire year and continue to do so. Coming up through the minors, scouts were concerned about whether or not he could stick there. Correa has a great arm and instincts, but he was getting big for the position. (He is currently listed at 6’4’’, 215 lbs.) But in his rookie year, he looked surprisingly good by the eye test. My opinion as somebody who is not a scout is that Correa would be fine there in the short term, while he’s still young and quick.
In early 2016, Correa’s defense looked to be substantially worse, but he appeared to improve over the season. Still, I would have moved him over to third base when Alex Bregman was called up. Bregman is probably little better than an average defensive shortstop, but that still looked better than what Correa was doing. Regardless, by my not-trained eye, Correa seems to have been passable at shortstop in the past calendar year.
By the advanced metrics, Correa has been worth a total of -2 DRS at shortstop in his career. In other words, fringe-average to average. Baseball Prospectus’s advanced defensive metric, FRAA, thinks significantly less of his defense. He rates at a career -14.7 FRAA. Correa is going to be out until September, so any position changes for him this season might be ill-advised, but the Astros should consider moving him to third base in 2018. He played there during the World Baseball Classic, and he looked very impressive. I believe that, with his arm and quick reactions, Correa could easily be a plus defender there.
(This might be somewhat trivial, but the all-time Puerto Rican team needs a better third baseman. Nothing against Mike Lowell, but he is no Alomar or Beltrán. Correa could fill that spot nicely, assuming that Francisco Lindor dethrones José Valentín at shortstop. I believe that is a safe bet.)
Of course, what makes Correa a superstar is his bat. From his 2015 debut through 2016, he hit .276/.354/.475 with 42 HR. That home run total is tied with Marcus Semien for the most among shortstops during that time frame. Correa’s 127 wRC+, while very good but unremarkable across all positions, was outstanding for a shortstop. His fellow countryman Lindor was second at the position with a 118 wRC+. Because of defense, however, Correa is tied with Lindor and Brandon Crawford for ~10 bWAR total over that time.
But this year, Correa’s bat is just making all the other shortstops look silly. At the time of his injury, he was hitting .320/.400/.566. His .403 wOBA is 48 points higher than in the previous two seasons. He hit 20 HR in only 84 games. As well as Corey Seager and Zack Cozart are hitting (I never thought I’d say that about the latter player) Correa’s 158 wRC+ is significantly higher than theirs. Among all qualified players, that ranks fifth in all of baseball, coincidentally behind his teammates George Springer and José Altuve.
Last year, Correa’s strikeout rates went a bit up while his power came way down. He had a .177 ISO compared to a .233 ISO the year before, but he was walking more. Now he appears to have put it all together with a 19 percent strikeout rate, 12 percent walk rate, and .246 ISO. He does have a .353 BABIP, but it is possible that it is not far from his true talent. His hard-hit rate is a bit up, and he is putting the ball up the middle more often. Moreover, Correa is showing more plate discipline by swinging at pitches outside the zone less often.
What is especially striking is that Correa had a poor start to the season. Through April, he was hitting just .233/.309/.349. Since then he has hit .351/.432/.644. The caveat of arbitrary endpoints apply, but that is Aaron Judge-good, and from a shortstop.
It should be noted that Correa’s baserunning has taken a step backwards. His ten GIDP in 2017 is just two short of his total from last year. After stealing 27 bases in 34 attempts the previous two seasons, he has not even attempted a steal this season. It also appears that he is making more outs on the basepaths, as his UBR is also down. Of course, this is all pretty minor in comparison to his now monstrous bat. It is a no-brainer of a trade-off.
The Astros have a 17-game lead in the division, so I am sure that they will be just fine without Correa. They will very likely finish with the best record in the AL, too. The Dodgers are the Astros only real competition at this point, and that is just for baseball’s best record. Even then that only matters for home field advantage if they face each other in the World Series. That being said, I am sure that all baseball fans, not just Astros fans, are eager to see such a special player return from the DL as soon as possible.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.