Correa continues meteoric rise
Astros' phenom shortstop homers, flirts with cycle, flashes leather
ANAHEIM -- The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Gurabo, P.R., is to be commended. One of its graduates, Carlos Correa, is a polished gem embarking on what promises to be a fulfilling career in a highly demanding profession.
Three months shy of his 21st birthday, Correa carries himself like Mike Trout at shortstop: confidently advanced beyond all logic and reason. Correa put his full range of abilities on display in Tuesday night's 13-3 thumping of the Angels by the American League West-leading Astros.
In his 15th Major League game, Correa looked as if he'd been playing for 15 seasons. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Houston's first overall choice in the 2012 Draft appears to have everything you could want in a baseball player.
"The last player I've seen with that kind of confidence and charisma at that age was Trouty," said Astros catcher Hank Conger, who played alongside Trout for three years. "Those guys don't get frustrated about anything on the field. They just keep playing."
Correa brings sure hands and a strong, accurate arm to a premium position. He combines power with plate discipline. While Correa isn't nearly as fast as Trout, he's quick enough to get around.
Part of a powerful new wave of great baseball talent, Correa was a triple shy of a cycle on Tuesday night. His three-run home run in the second off C.J. Wilson to left field was crushed. Correa singled in the first and doubled in the fourth, scoring both times.
Linking Correa atop the lineup with five-tool outfielder George Springer and reigning AL batting champion Jose Altuve, both 25, gives Houston fans an almost embarrassing stash of riches.
"Well, he's not a secret anymore," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of his shortstop. "He's a good player, very comfortable up here. He's not timid at all. He's doing a lot of things right early and gaining a lot of confidence at this level."
Correa is batting .308 and slugging .569, with four homers, 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored.
"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," Correa said when asked about his swift start. "I'm just going out there having fun. All the work I put in during Spring Training is paying off."
What we've also learned about Correa, beyond his breathtaking skills, is that he heals quickly.
One year ago at this time, Correa was in a world of hurt. He fractured his right fibula sliding into third base with a triple in Lake Elsinore, Calif., a 40-minute drive southeast of Angel Stadium. Correa was playing for Lancaster, the Astros' Class A Advanced affiliate in the California League.
Surgery was performed four days later in Houston, rendering Correa inactive for the balance of his third professional season.
"I don't even want to think about that now," Correa said.
Hinch said the expectation was that Correa would be ready by the spring, adding through a smile, "He's got young bones."
Jumping on the fast track, Correa made his big league debut this season on June 8 after 53 games combined at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno.
One of Correa's best moments Tuesday night came with the glove in the fourth inning. The Angels had scored twice against Collin McHugh and were threatening to get back in the game with two men aboard when Johnny Giavotella slapped a hard grounder through the middle.
Darting to his left, Correa was there in a heartbeat, releasing an off-balance throw with his body moving in the direction of right fielder Domingo Santana. Trotting to the dugout, Correa looked a great deal like Derek Jeter.
The great ones make difficult plays look easy. Correa already is doing that.
"Some of his defensive plays -- like that one tonight -- are going to be overshadowed by his offense," Hinch said.
These Astros are a fascinating study in winning with pitching, defense, home runs and stolen bases. They're loaded with compelling stories, including Will Harris' improbable rise as a lights-out reliever with his fourth organization and Luis Valbuena's strangely wondrous season with 19 homers and a .195 batting average.
Conger, from nearby Huntington Beach, Calif., banged three hits in his old stomping grounds while performing all those subtly invaluable acts catchers deliver on a nightly basis.
"There's a lot of talent on this team," Conger said. "It's going to be fun watching guys like Carlos as they evolve."
They haven't talked yet, but playing in the same division, Correa and Trout will get to know each other well in the seasons ahead.
Correa smiled when told Angels manager Mike Scioscia compared his demeanor to that of Trout.
"That means a lot," Correa said. "Mike Trout is one of the greatest players in the game now. Hopefully, I can get to meet him at some point."
Trout has a big head start, but Correa is shaping up as another potential face of baseball. There should be room for co-faces, right?