The situation: The Astros have been the best team in the American League but have lost four straight, scoring just 12 runs in those four games. To help with the offensive “woes,” Houston has called on arguably the best offensive prospect in baseball, in the form of Carlos Correa.
Background: Correa was a somewhat surprising first overall selection of the 2012 MLB Draft out of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy in, you guessed it, Puerto Rico—though most believed he was a lock to go in the first four or five picks—and all he has done since becoming a member of the Astros organization is put up sensational numbers and impress the heck out of scouts and fans alike. The 20-year-old right-handed hitting shortstop has posted a career .882 OPS, and after a slow start, he was hitting a very respectable .266/.336/.447 in 107 plate appearances at Triple-A Oklahoma.
Scouting Report: Simply put, Correa is an elite offensive prospect; possessing plus bat speed and a swing that has excellent balance and very little wasted movement from start to finish. His pitch recognition ability is outstanding for a big league veteran—much less a kid who isn’t old enough to purchase beer for another three and a half months. While he’s an assertive hitter who will swing at his pitch early in the count, he’s also willing to work counts into his favor and won’t give away at bats by swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. There is some swing and miss to his game though, mostly because there’s some length to the swing, and this is likely the only thing that keeps the hit tool from being plus-plus in the future.
While Correa is still developing his strength like most kids (yes, kids) his age, Correa’s power has begun to fill out, and it’s an above-average tool right now thanks to said bat speed, a strong lower-half and strong hip rotation. His long limbs also give him great extension, and he’s capable of driving the ball out of the ballpark—or more likely into the gaps at this point—to both right and right-center. He’s also an above-average runner with outstanding base running instincts, so he’s a threat to give you 20-plus stolen bases as well.
When you’ve got a future 65 hit, 70 power skill set, it doesn’t really matter where you play, but it’s all the more special because it looks like Correa is going to be able to play shortstop—though because of his size it isn’t a lock. The arm is plus, and though his defensive instincts aren’t quite as polished as the bat, he charges the ball well and doesn’t make many mental mistakes with the glove. If he’s going to move it’s going to be to the hot corner, and he’d be among the best in baseball defensively there (a Manny Machado-esque defender, if I may be so bold). Right now, there’s no reason to think he can’t play shortstop for at least the next few seasons though.
Immediate Big League Future: Correa will be the youngest player in baseball, so expecting him to light up the AL West the way he did the California, Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues is a mistake. Even the very best hitting prospects are going to go through struggles when they first enter the league (see Trout, Mike), and a learning curve is to be expected. That being said, there’s reason for Astros fans to believe that Correa can come up and contribute immediately both with the bat and the glove. This is a special prospect—in my personal opinion the best in baseball, with apologies to Mr. Buxton, Mr. Seager and Mr. Giolito—and special prospects have a propensity for doing things that we don’t expect them to do. The ceiling is a perennial MVP candidate, and while no prospect is completely foolproof, the floor for Correa is an above-average regular. In other words, he’s really, really good.
Fantasy Impact: Before the season, Bret ranked Correa as the third-best fantasy prospect in the game. With Kris Bryant’s earlier promotion, along with Correa’s own thorough demolition of the high minors this spring (.332/.404/.602 with ten homers and 18 steals in 19 attempts across 240 plate appearances), he would’ve been my pick for mid-season honors.
The Astros’ current shortstop situation has been a fantasy black hole for much of the season, most recently lowlighted by Marwin Gonzalez’s .586 OPS and Jonathan Villar’s platoon with Marwin Gonzalez’s .586 OPS. With Jed Lowrie not expected back from a thumb injury for at least another month it would appear the keys to the castle belong to Correa now, and his combination of talent and top-shelf makeup suggests a thorough collapse under the bright lights is unlikely.
The standard caveats about rookies and their debuts in the big leagues absolutely apply here. Correa is just 20 years old, and when he takes the field today he’ll be the youngest player in Major League Baseball. Twenty-year-olds, no matter their talent or pedigree, tend not to dominate the best players in the world immediately. Still, a couple things work in Correa’s favor as far as demanding a substantial FAAB investment in re-draft leagues where he remains available. For one, the bar for productivity at shortstop is extremely low; the average big league shortstop is currently hitting .247 with a sub-.300 OBP and a homer every nigh-on 62 plate appearances. And not a single shortstop has stolen double-digit bases thus far. Correa boasts one of the best hit tools in the entire minor leagues—position be damned—and the potential to pop double-digit homers over the remaining 100-plus games of the season. You can count on one hand the number of fantasy shortstops with that kind of power potential.
The other factor here is the particular skill set itself. As a 20 year-old in Double-A and Triple-A this year Correa posted a highly-advanced 39-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while ripping 21 doubles along with the 10 homers. Those are baseline skills that should indicate potential for a smoother-than-average transition. Asking for an elite average is asking for trouble, and the minor league speed numbers are unlikely to make the jump entirely intact. But he’s perfectly capable of netting you positive contributions relative to other shortstops right out of the gate, and combined with the power-speed profile, he can offer the potential for legitimate top-tier shortstop production going forward.
Correa is already gone in all keeper and dynasty formats, so let's no waste too many words there. In redrafts, he needs to be owned in all leagues, starting five minutes ago. He’s easily worth a $15-20 FAAB play in standard 15-team mixed formats, and you can more than double that in AL-only formats, given the playing time he's likely looking at and the buzz that generally accompanies a prospect of Correa's elite pedigree. Depending on your spot in the standings and current shortstop situation, an aggressive bid may not only be justified, it may be imperative. —Wilson Karaman
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