Astros make Correa Draft's leading man

June 4th, 2012

HOUSTON -- The Astros surprised the baseball world on Monday night by selecting shortstop Carlos Correa of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy and High School with the first overall pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

The 17-year-old, 6-foot-4, 190-pound Correa became the highest-drafted Puerto Rican high school player in Major League history. Correa has committed to play at the University of Miami, but the Astros -- with a top-pick allowance of $7.2 million -- will try to convince him to sign with them instead.

"I suspect Miami will not see him, unless he's visiting some friends," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

Correa is the third No. 1 overall pick in Astros history, joining third baseman Phil Nevin (1992) and left-handed pitcher Floyd Bannister ('76).

Most experts had the Astros taking Stanford right-hander Mark Appel with the No. 1 overall pick, but the club was blown away by a personal workout it had with Correa last month. It's the second time in four years the Astros have taken a shortstop with their first-round pick; Jiovanni Mier was picked in 2009.

"It means a lot to me. It's history, man," Correa said. "I'm the first Puerto Rican to be selected with the first pick. I just feel happy. I'm only 17 years old, but I've just worked hard and my father was always there with me, helping me out and throwing with me every day. ... All the sacrifices pay off."

Fellow Puerto Rican Major Leaguers were thrilled. Correa told MLB Network he had heard from countrymen Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, who are in Houston preparing for the Cardinals' series against the Astros.

"It's very exciting for the land of Puerto Rico," said former Major League catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who was representing the Texas Rangers at the Draft in Secaucus, N.J. "I've been receiving a lot of texts from friends in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is very excited right now to see Carlos being a first-round pick. I'm very happy for him. He has lots of time and has a tremendous future in front of him. I wish him the best."

With the No. 41 overall pick, the Astros grabbed a player they believe is a first-round talent by selecting hard-throwing righty Lance McCullers Jr. of Tampa Jesuit High School. Luhnow sounded confident he would able to sign McCullers, who has committed to the University of Florida.

"We got two future big leaguers today, and I feel very good about the guys we got," Luhnow said.

The Astros plan to keep Correa at shortstop, though he could wind up at third base. Correa has been compared to Alex Rodriguez and should be able to move up quickly in an Astros farm system that is still thin in several areas, including the left side of the infield.

"There are some people saying that I will be a third baseman," Correa said. "I think I have the ability, and I will work hard. I want to be at shortstop in the big leagues, and I want to be one of the best."

Bobby Heck, the Astros' assistant general manager/scouting director, has gone up the middle for all five of his first-round picks with Houston.

"We're very excited to add a player of Carlos' caliber," Heck sad. "He profiles as a power-hitting middle-of-the-field guy, and to get that type of power at shortstop -- his work ethic, how he was brought up and the family environment he comes from, the student he is -- it's a great pick for us, as well as a great long-term investment for the Astros."

The Astros didn't decide on Correa until the final hour before the Draft, Luhnow said, having been swayed by the shortstop's May 27 workout at the club's complex in Kissimmee, Fla., during extended spring camp. Numerous Astros scouts had laid eyes on Correa, but Luhnow got to see him up close and got to know his parents.

"It was good, because we got to know the parents very well," Luhnow said. "I spoke to them in their native language and really got a feel for them, and then Carlos got a chance to interact with our players that are down there in extended [spring camp]."

Correa's workout for the Astros, who have been tracking him since he was 15 years old, included taking batting practice and fielding grounders in the infield. He played in a simulated game, and he swung and missed only once in 12-15 at-bats.

"He was really three or four years younger than most of the players and he was the only amateur, and he stood out from the professionals that were down there," Luhnow said. "For me, that was good, because it gave confirmation. This was the type of player we're looking for. This is an impact player we need for the future of this organization."

Luhnow was also impressed with what Correa has achieved off the field. Correa, who grew up living in public housing in Santa Isabel, P.R., was a straight-A student at the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy and High School -- Luhnow checked his transcripts -- and can speak English well.

"He's an overachiever," Luhnow said. "He's driven to be successful, and this is the type of guy we need."

Carlos Berroa, the baseball director at the school that has produced 84 Draft picks since 2004, said Correa is a special one.

"He's one of those guys that comes along once in a long time," Berroa said. "The sky is the limit with this kid, and you could not wish for anything but the best for him. He's an even better person than he is a player, and he deserves everything he gets."

Correa's work ethic also impressed the Astros.

"Every day when I was at school, I was waking up at 5 o'clock in the morning to go to school, and then I arrived home at 6 p.m., after doing some work at the school and taking classes," Correa said. "Then I'd go back home, and my father works with me. He throws me BP, he hits me some ground balls."

Fellow Puerto Rican Major Leaguers were bursting with pride.

Correa is the first shortstop taken No. 1 overall since 2008 (Tim Beckham, Rays), and is just the fourth shortstop taken first overall since 1994. Other notable players who were selected as shortstops with the first overall pick were Shawon Dunston by the Cubs (1982), B.J. Surhoff by the Brewers ('85), Chipper Jones by the Braves ('90), Alex Rodriguez by the Mariners ('93) and Justin Upton by the D-backs (2005).