Correa leaves wild offseason behind in '23 debut

March 1st, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After an offseason roller coaster defined by second opinions, MRIs, phone calls with vacationing Mets owner Steve Cohen, scrubbed press conferences and rampant speculation, brought the whole journey full circle on Wednesday, when he once again took the field as the starting shortstop for the Minnesota Twins.

That offseason will always stick with him -- and, if anything, he said it helped him appreciate the moment even more when he emerged from the third-base dugout at Hammond Stadium for his spring debut, a 1-for-2 performance with an infield single as part of the Twins’ 4-4 tie with the Phillies.

“Feels great to just feel good physically and feel healthy and go out there and hit the ball and run, and just cherish every moment out there on the field,” Correa said. “If I learned something this offseason, it's that I realized that one day, I'm not going to be able to play anymore. That might be when I'm 40. That might be when I'm 45. You never know. You've just got to enjoy every single moment that you spend on the baseball field.”

But now, it’s time to get down to business.

Correa had been getting plenty of work done before this debut, seeing live pitching on the back fields to load up on at-bats instead of taking his two plate appearances each game. He also hit the ground running from a leadership standpoint, noting that his approach entering Spring Training has changed significantly this year because he’s no longer the new guy looking to establish his place in the clubhouse, as he was when he signed last March.

“It’s changed big-time, because now I have everybody’s trust, from the coaching staff, from the analytic department, from the players’ perspective,” Correa said. “They trust me. I’ve been in an organization that was built from the ground up, from losing 111 games to being a dynasty. This is what I want for this organization.”

That has afforded Correa plenty of time to get a look at other future building blocks of the organization, including Edouard Julien (“My God, the kid can hit, man,” Correa noted) and 2022 first-rounder Brooks Lee, who had seen the lion’s share of playing time at shortstop in Correa’s stead. 

“Man, that kid is a stud,” Correa said. “I really, really, really like this kid.”

And after months of wondering where he would be suiting up in March and how long he’d be committed to his next team, Correa was clearly excited to get back to his element -- having to stop himself from leaving the batter’s box due to the new pitch timer rules, asking second-base umpire Andy Fletcher for clarification about the new fielder positioning rules, and, as he said, just enjoying the game with his future secure.

Facing top Phillies pitching prospect Andrew Painter in his first plate appearance of the spring, Correa rapped a liner to the hole at deep short and legged out an infield single after the ball trickled off Edmundo Sosa’s glove. Two innings later, Correa hit a routine fly ball to left fielder Símon Muzziotti, before he was replaced in the field by Minor Leaguer Ben Ross to start the fourth. Faced with a normal buildup for the regular season, Correa is already feeling better than he usually does at this point in the spring.

“It was a great first day,” Correa said. “Usually, I'm swinging and missing at a bunch of [stuff]. Today, I felt really good. So it's probably my best first day of spring.”

There aren’t yet any concrete timelines for and to join Correa in game action as they ramp up at their own pace, but manager Rocco Baldelli said the Twins’ other two up-the-middle players are seeing “a lot of” live at-bats while also getting in their running and defensive work. They’ll eventually work into full-speed action when Minnesota deems them ready, too.

But Correa is ready to go, and at the end of a tumultuous offseason, all is finally back to normal.

“He’s going to be in good shape by [Opening Day on] March 30,” Baldelli said. “He understands how to prepare for a Major League season. He’s getting everything he needs and more, and he’ll get himself ready to go.”