It has been a banner year for rookie hitters. Pitching and defense rule the game these days, but this new crop of hitters looks to turn the tide. There's thunder in these bats. Guys like Joc Pederson, Kris Bryant, Miguel Sano, Francisco Lindor, etc. have shown flashes of brilliance with even brighter futures ahead, but one rookie in particular jumped out. He stood out to the Astros in 2012 when they took him first overall and he's already made a splash at the highest level. Carlos Correa, come on down! When the Astros selected Correa it was seen by some as a value pick as Houston saved some money on his pick compared to their other options. At this time (2012) I had just dipped my toes in the water for player evaluation and while I didn't think Correa was bad, I never saw such an insanely bright future. I like guys with good swings, and frankly Correa's was a bit rough around the edges coming out of high school. I love guys who work at their swings and find that next level and Correa certainly did that. To show how far he's come, here's his swing from the Perfect Game National Showcase compared to his current big league swing.
Correa is going to be special. His swing now is deceptively simple. He doesn't have a huge leg kick or a big bat tip but still offers real bat speed. Correa keeps his swing simple, not because he lacks athleticism, but rather because he doesn't need huge actions to create serious force. His lower body is a great model for young kids as a strong pattern of movement. There are tons of clips below showcasing Correa's swing. Make it a point to watch the hips and back knee cap. As his body moves forward during his stride, his hips and back knee actually go the other way. His hips coil inward and his back knee also counter rotates. Not only does this put him in a great place to create power with his lower body when it fires, but it also helps him gain rhythm and timing. On a pitch with big time velocity he gets in and out of that coil almost instantly. On slower offerings he hangs on to that coil for a split second longer before unleashing his swing. These subtle, in-flight adjustments are something veteran big leaguers get a feel for over time. Correa came into the league already in control of these type of moves. Small moves like these keep Correa's swing from looking choppy or segmented. Everything flows in his swing. The upper body is solid but shines once the bat really gets going. He keeps rhythm with his barrel and uses his arms well enough. He doesn't create the level of depth behind with his rear arm like some hitters do. See how his elbow gets into his side fairly quick compared to somebody like Josh Donaldson? One isn't better than the other, just different. Anyway, the money aspect of Correa's swing is how he can control the barrel.
The end of the bat will face toward the catcher during any good swing before turning 90 degrees into contact. Correa already shows the skill to control when the bat releases, depending on pitch type and location. Here he is on an inside fastball.
Watch how the end of the bat points toward the catcher then immediately whips around to catch up the velocity of the pitch. On an off-speed pitch, he would be in trouble if the bat head released at the same time. What he will do is hang on to that angle so the end of the bat stays toward the catcher for just a split second longer before he lets the bat explode through the zone. This is some serious control. Knowing how to control your body while swinging is hard enough but having similar control over the barrel is damn impressive. Watching film on Correa, I was blown away by how he is able to move and adjust within his own swing. Lots of hitters have good swings but they only have one way to move. It's always one type of leg kick and one type of follow through. Correa adjusts his swing in subtle ways that I'm not sure he's even aware of. There isn't enough time during a typical pitch for Correa to think his way through swing changes. He just has to let it fly. And my goodness does it fly! His typical swing is a medium-sized leg lift and two-hand finish. He's not stuck with that one swing. If he needs to make a change, he can. On some swings he will take the same type of stride, but tap his toe as he comes down then fire his swing. Other times, he picks his foot up and sweeps it towards home plate before striding down. It's so simple but Correa's swing is built around timing. He does whatever he needs to do in order to square up baseballs. While the timing of his swing may change, the pace of his movements really never does. His stride is always one speed but the time it takes to complete that change can vary. That is an incredibly high-level adjustment. He is even better at making adjustments with his hands. Here's a handful of his home runs and hard hits from this season.
His follow through looks pretty different on all of them. He doesn't need to put a perfect swing on a ball. Beyond simple aesthetics, the different follow-throughs are indicative of a change earlier in the sequence. If you change something in how the bat launches you are going to change how the bat finishes. On a typical follow-through Correa's bat hits/nearly hits his back shoulder. His first career homer (against White Sox above) is a great example. On some of these hits his bat never comes close to his back shoulder. Sometimes it's because he's received an off-speed pitch and has to make the bat resist taking a left turn as long as possible so his finish becomes longer. On the fastball it's the opposite case. With the breaking ball he needed to delay the bat head for as long as possible but on this inside fastball he has to get the head out quick. Luckily enough, this swing had a side view so we can really see his hands at work. Look where he snaps the head of the bat around. He pulls his hands in and whips the head of the bat around as soon as his hands move past his back hip.
So Correa can hit different pitches in different ways. This is not a swing built just to mash exclusively fastballs or breaking pitches. He's going to hit everything. That's a bold statement but digging deeper into Correa's swing makes it easy to stand by a claim like that. The thing that makes Correa special is his ability to manipulate both his upper and lower body to achieve the desired result of hard contact. Let's watch this finely tuned athletic machine show us how it’s done. Two fastballs. Both on the inner half at similar velocities. Both end up as extra base hits. Correa hit these similar pitches in vastly different ways. Front View:
On the video against the Angels, Correa has a 2-0 count. He's not going to get cheated here. One the video against the Rockies he's got an 0-2 count. He's in protect mode. The lower body starts the swings differently based on the count. On the 2-0 swing his left foot moves 4 frames sooner than the 0-2 swing. As the stride continues he taps the ground with his toe on the 2-0 swing while on 0-2 his foot floats a couple inches off the ground. From this point on the lower halves move essentially the same but obviously his 2-0 swing is being delivered with more intent. Now the fun part. It's simple enough to change a stride but changing how your upper body moves to control the barrel is far more difficult. Correa does it with ease. 2-0 swing is on the left and 0-2 on the right. On the left his hands wait to be taken to the ball. His hips start to open, his legs are driving and his hands can just hang out behind his shoulder. Pay attention to his elbows. His rear elbow turns behind body and keeps some space off his torso before moving forward. His lead elbow stays aligned with the front of his jersey. Ball meets bat, it's awesome, and Correa shows why it's a horrible idea to give him a 2-0 count. Side View:
0-2 and it's a whole new pattern. On 2-0 his hands stayed patient and waited for the big muscles to build up some energy and deliver them in to the zone. 0-2 his hands get into action almost immediately. Watch his elbows here. His right elbow turns forward into his body almost as soon as his foot hits the ground. Rather than stay aligned with his chest his lead elbow pushes forward and creates a visible gap between his arm and his body. Miguel Cabrera can make this same kind of adjustment. Correa sharing a skill with the best hitter on the planet bodes well for his success. All these skills sound so minor. There's no drastic change or huge actions like Donaldson or J.D. Martinez but what Correa can do puts him on a whole other planet than your average big leaguer. There are a handful of big leaguers with Correa's physical gifts. There's a smaller number that can play with their own swing on the fly like Correa. The combination of those two is what makes Correa special. And he's 20. He's only going to better.