WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- George Springer, the Astros’ leadoff hitter of the past, slugged a leadoff home run for the Blue Jays on Thursday. He did that 38 times in nearly five seasons as a leadoff hitter for Houston -- second most in franchise history behind Hall of Famer Craig Biggio’s 53 -- before signing with Toronto, leaving a huge question mark atop the Astros’ lineup.
Houston manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday night that it will likely be either shortstop Carlos Correa or outfielder Myles Straw -- the leading candidate to replace Springer in center in 2021 -- batting leadoff this year. Correa has never batted leadoff in his career, but he said Thursday he’d relish that opportunity.
“Being the leadoff guy, everything starts with you,” said Correa, who reiterated that he needs to have a contract extension done with the Astros prior to the start of the regular season to avoid free agency. “You set the tone for the rest of the game. It’s a big responsibility, so I’m very excited, if that’s the case. I’m excited about a new challenge.”
Springer moved into the leadoff role full-time on May 24, 2016, when former manager A.J. Hinch switched Springer and Jose Altuve, who was the primary leadoff hitter early that season. The Astros were 17-28 when Springer slid up to the leadoff spot, and they went 67-50 the rest of the way, though they missed the postseason for the only time in the past six years.
With his power and athleticism, Springer helped redefine the role of a leadoff hitter, and Correa is cut from the same cloth. Correa has started games at every spot in the lineup, except first, eighth and ninth, as a big leaguer. He’s made most of his starts in the cleanup spot (257 games) and No. 3 hole (211).
“I [would] only lead off when I hit the first time through, and after that, I might not hit leadoff the rest of the game, so my approach shouldn’t change,” Correa said. “A good thing is the first pitch is going to be a fastball 90 percent of the time. But, you know, whatever [Baker] needs me to be in the lineup, I’ll be there. At the end of the day, all I care about is helping the team win. And if he thinks batting me leadoff is the best for the team, I’m always down.”
Straw, one of the fastest players in the game, would bring a completely different element than Correa. He doesn’t hit for power, but he could wreak havoc on the bases. Straw didn’t perform well in limited playing time and may have to prove he can get on base consistently at a high clip before Baker decides to move him into the leadoff spot.
“At the end of the day, it’s about being a good hitter,” Correa said. “You can think of a leadoff guy as a guy that’s going to slap the ball around and steal bases. That’s not the case in baseball anymore. I’m going to stand at the plate and either look for damage or draw walks. That’s what being a leadoff guy means for me -- getting on base, creating damage when you hit the ball. And, you know, helping the team win games.”
Correa had three hits from the leadoff spot against the Marlins on Wednesday, raising his batting average to .333 this spring. He hit .264/.326/.383 with five homers and 25 RBIs in 58 games in the regular season last year, before batting .362/.455/.766 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 13 postseason games. Correa said he figured out something in the postseason and that his swing is progressing.
“Once we get into a game, it’s more about timing,” Correa said. “It’s been feeling better throughout the last couple of games. [Wednesday], I felt really good at the plate and was seeing the ball better. And it’s only going to keep getting better. We only have two or three more weeks left in camp, so by the time the season starts, it should be right where I want to be.”