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Correa showing maturity well beyond his years

DENVER -- The idea was to ease Astros phenom Carlos Correa into the big leagues slowly, hit him down in the lineup, limit the pressure and let him get his feet on the ground.

So much for that idea.

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Five games into his big league career, and the 20-year-old Correa -- the first player selected in the 2012 Draft -- was right in the middle of things, jumped from sixth to second in the batting order.

"We did ease him in a couple of games,'' Astros manager A.J. Hinch said with a grin. "I thought it would be longer. We wanted to see how he handled what is a big step.''

No sense wasting time.

Correa has handled things well, on the field and off. With a two-run home run in the first inning, an infield single in the second inning, and a run-scoring double in the sixth inning of the Astros' 8-4 victory against the Rockies at Coors Field on Wednesday night, he became the first player in Astros history to have 14 hits in his first nine big league games.

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That's more than Hall of Famer Craig Biggio and potential Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell. That's more than Phil Nevin, who like Correa was the first player taken in the Draft, or Ken Caminiti. Heck, that's more than any of the 729 other players who have appeared in at least nine games for the franchise.

He has had a hit in eight of his nine starts, and drew a walk in the other game. He is 14-for-39 with the walk, two doubles, three home runs and seven RBIs, and in the five games he has hit second he has gone 9-for-23 with two home runs, and the Astros have won four of the five. The only loss was that one hitless game, Saturday against Seattle.

Big deal? Not to Correa.

"Hitting second, I'm comfortable,'' he said, ``especially behind [George] Springer. The guy is on base a lot. For me as a hitter, having a guy on base is comfortable. I'm more locked in.''

Video: [email protected]: Correa connects to left for two-run homer

That was evident from the start.

That's why Hinch decided to make the lineup adjustment.

"I was talking to Trey [Hillman, bench coach] about it and said, `You think it's too early?''' recalled Hinch. "We felt like he was ready.''

For Hillman it was more than the fact Correa was getting hits. It was how he approached each at-bat.

It wasn't that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look.

"The balance at the plate, the way he stayed back on secondary pitches and his pitch recognition was what I saw," said Hillman. "He is ready to fire when the pitch is on the zone and ready to step back when it isn't. He is a very impressive young man.

"He is definitely a young man beyond his age of 20. He has that kind of thought process I saw in a young man when I was working in player development with the Yankees. It's similar to [Derek] Jeter.''

And to think, the word in scouting circles when the Astros decided to make Correa the No. 1 pick was that it was about signability -- similar to 20 years earlier when the Astros passed on a kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., named Jeter because he wanted $750,000 to sign and the old ownership said it wouldn't go higher than the $700,000 that Nevin agreed to receive.

Nobody is questioning the decision to draft Correa any more.

"He has a chance to be special,'' said Hillman. "A lot of people with the Astros before I got here deserved a whole lot of credit for that decision.''

That's high praise, but it is deserved.

Only 17 when he signed his first pro contract three years and 10 days ago, Correa never stumbled in his 288-game Minor League career. He had a cumulative .313 average, hit 28 home runs along with 84 doubles and 14 triples and drove in 199 runs.

And when he got the call 10 days ago to join the team for a series with the White Sox in Chicago, he felt ready, physically and mentally.

"My Double-A manager [Rodney Linares] told me it's the same movie at every level, just a different theater,'' said Correa. "You want to have fun every day, wherever you play. And when you are in the bigs, you want to stay as long as you can.''

It's early in Correa's career, but he certainly shows every sign of staying power, although he is not trying to downplay what it takes to be a big leaguer.

"It's definitely not easy,'' he said. "It's a challenge every day. I work hard and listen and hope for the best.''

And so far, his best has been awfully good.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
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