Early success runs in Correa family
Astros' star shortstop forced to grow up fast
CLEVELAND -- The typical expectations of age don't seem to apply to Carlos Correa's family. His father, Carlos Sr., began working in construction at the age of 13 and married Carlos' mother, Sandybel, when he was 16 and she was 14. Carlos Jr. was born two years later, and he began helping his father on job sites when he was just 8.
So as the rest of us shake our head in amazement at what this 20-year-old young man is doing on the Major League stage this summer -- three years after the Astros made him the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft -- Correa himself doesn't find the timeline to be all that unusual.
"I had to grow up faster than most kids," Correa said. "I feel like the way I was raised and the work I did on my way here is making me feel more comfortable at this level."
Few people have played this sport at this level and looked this comfortable this quickly. Wednesday marks the one-month mark from Correa's much-anticipated debut, and what he's done in that short time has not only solidified his standing as one of the game's most special young talents, but also helped solidify the Astros' top spot in the American League West.
Here's Correa, Houston's No. 1 with a bullet: In 27 games, he's compiled a .293 average, an .874 OPS, seven homers, nine doubles, five stolen bases and 19 RBIs. Correa hit his seventh home run in just his 25th game, becoming the first shortstop since at least 1914 to achieve such a feat. And though he'll have to work to address both his walk and strikeout rates moving forward (and he won't log enough plate appearances to go all Nomar Garciaparra in '97: 30 homers, 44 doubles, 11 triples, on us), he can certainly insert himself into the conversation of great rookie seasons by a shortstop.
But the historical context might not even be as impressive as the current one. From his June 8 debut through Monday, Correa's 16 extra-base hits trailed only Nolan Arenado (18), Todd Frazier (18), Mookie Betts (17) and J.D. Martinez (17) in that span. Not bad for a guy just getting his feet wet. Correa has been so adept with bat and glove in his first month that he invited All-Star discussion. And even though he likely won't be headed to Cincinnati, he's already, as Astros reliever Tony Sipp put it, "one of those guys who, if you have to go to the bathroom, you wait until after he bats."
Ask Correa, who won't turn 21 until Sept. 22, about all this, and he'll make it sound as if his seemingly easy ascension was prescribed.
"I don't know how to describe it," Correa said. "But when you work hard for something and have goals and want to accomplish it, you feel like you deserve it."
Correa has wanted this basically from that first day he set foot on a construction site. His father, who worked as many as three jobs a day to pay for Carlos Jr.'s schooling, would have him lend a hand by fetching tools or water. On weekends, he'd make the kid wash the family's cars. Maybe that sounds harsh, but it instilled both a work ethic and a dream.
"I'd be thinking, 'I've got to play baseball, because this is tough,'" Correa recalled with a laugh. "The sun, working with concrete, washing cars… it sucked. I'd say, 'This is not how I want to spend the rest of my life!'"
When Correa was drafted out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School, he vowed to his dad that he would never wash another car the rest of his life. So far, he's made good on that promise by ascending up the Minor League ladder and overcoming a fractured fibula that prematurely ended his 2014 season. Between the injury and the upbringing, Correa has a clear understanding of what a privilege it is to be at this level.
"There are some people who take this for granted," Correa said. "I look at them like, 'You don't know what it's like to grow up poor and work since you're a little kid.' For me, it's a blessing every time I'm here, every day that I step in the clubhouse."
Correa has blessed Houston with a rare and remarkable combination of bat speed, foot speed, defensive prowess and pure power. He's No. 1 with a bullet. Correa's ability to adjust his swing to the situation would be notable even for a 10-year veteran. For a newly promoted rookie, it's almost unfathomable. As noted by FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan, Correa's third home run of the season -- off the Rockies' Kyle Kendrick -- came on a low and inside pitch 16 inches from the middle of the plate, well off the inside edge. Correa somehow kept his hands close to his body and turned on the pitch to drive it out to left with an exit velocity of 108 mph.
"He's got the ability to keep that low and in pitch fair and to the middle of the field," Astros hitting coach Dave Hudgens said. "It's an ability not a lot of guys have. He's not overwhelmed. He knows his swing really well. He's mature. Nothing really surprises him."
Because of his strapping 6-foot-4 frame, Correa draws many Alex Rodriguez comparisons.
"One reporter once asked me if I thought I was a clean version of A-Rod," Correa said. "I like that comparison. Of course I want to be compared to one of the greatest shortstops in the history of the game."
But at a time of depressed offensive statistics -- particularly at the shortstop spot -- Correa has the ability to be his own man -- a man who will never again work construction or wash a car.
"It was tough growing up," he said, "but it helped me grow up fast and become who I am today."