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Put The Pedal to The Metal: Why Carlos Correa’s Spring Matters


So, I was prepping to write a story about everyone’s favorite future shortstop when I checked in over at The Crawfish Boxes (yes, Chip, I read other blogs) to see a story on the four storylines that don’t matter this spring. (Link) Story No. 3: How Carlos Correa Performs. Yep, in the fine tradition of Bill Murray in “Meatballs,” the TCB folks cry, “It just doesn’t matter!”

Well, I humbly disagree.

An improved Correa this spring means several things, all good for this major league club specifically and the Astros organization overall. First, let’s look at what’s at stake. Two things can happen with Correa coming out of spring training this season.

First, he performs well. The coaches love him. Everyone says he’s right on track. And he gets sent to Lancaster where the jet stream that blows out at the stadium inflates his stats and makes him look like a god. Nothing wrong with that.

Second, he is amazing this spring. Coaches who love Correa start asking about human cloning. Jeff Luhnow says he’s ahead of the track the Astros had envisioned for him, and Correa is sent to Corpus Christi where he faces stiffer competition and still manages to put up an OPS over .800 at the age of 19.

So, how does one happen vs. the other? And why does it matter?

First, the how:

To see how Correa jumps a league, let’s look at his season last year at Quad Cities. Our Face of the Minor Leagues put up a .320/.405/.467 slash line. Nice. Really nice. But what does it mean? Well, Correa had the seventh highest BA in the Midwest League, and the sixth highest OPS. And he did it all at age 18. How impressive was that? Well, in BA for example, there were two 21-year-olds, a 22-year-old and one guy who was 23 ahead of him. The other two ahead of him? Byron Buxton (19) and Albert Almora (19). Other than the “old dudes,” the two 19-year-olds are both outfielders.

And while Buxton put up great numbers and rightfully earned a promotion to A+ Fort Myers in the FSL, Correa finished out the season in season in Iowa.

The thought in the Twins organization is that Buxton starts the season in AA. Was he better than Correa? Yes. Was he THAT MUCH better than Correa? Mmm, I don’t think so.

So, if Correa impresses—beyond his normal amount of impressing—in Kissimmee this spring, why send him to AA instead of the Cal League? Well, first, we have to define what “impresses” means.

Well, last season he struck out 83 times in 519 plate appearances (450 ABs). That’s nothing to sneeze at. That’s a 16 percent K rate. By comparison, Buxton’s was 17.4 percent. So if he comes to spring training and shows some good plate discipline, why can’t he earn the big promotion to AA? If he’s hitting all the pitchers—the major leaguers in games plus the AA and AAA guys in camp with other teams—why not move him up an extra level?

My thought is this: If Correa dominated at Quad Cities—and there’s really no other way to describe it—then what is he going to do when he is promoted to A+ and pitchers who all played at his level last year also get promotions to the Cal League? Won’t he continue to dominate?

Why not challenge him at AA?

And that’s what leads to my question of why it matters.

If Correa gets sent to Lancaster, the probable path for him in 2014 is that he plays have the season in the Cal League and, if/when his numbers impress at A+, he gets promoted to AA sometime in early to mid-July.

But if you start him in AA, you let this kid—this incredibly mature for his age and hard-working kid—prove himself against better talent. In fact, Correa has stated that his goal this spring is to earn that spot in Corpus right off the bat.

But how will that help Houston?

Well, our current shortstop is one Jonathan Villar. In about a third of a season, Villar proved what we all know about him: He’s a sometimes spectacular, sometimes boneheaded defensive shortstop who has great speed and erratic judgment on the bases. He’s also a marginal hitter whose highest professional OPS totals corresponded to his time in the hitter-friendly Cal League (.767 in 2011) and the hitter-friendly PCL (.784 in 2013).

What else does Houston have at shortstop? Well, there are Marwin Gonzalez and Cesar Izturis. I won’t even bother with their stats. All glove and no wood would be good descriptions, but Marwin isn’t exactly Adam Everett with the leather.

Jio Mier only gets a mention to let you know I won’t discuss Jio Mier. Ronald Torreyes put up a combined AA OPS of .697. If there’s a kind word to say on Torreyes, it’s that he doesn’t strike out a lot. And apparently he’s a good defensive shortstop.

But if something happens to Villar—either he gets hurt or tanks it—what are our options at shortstop? Do you really want to see Marwin and Cesar splitting time next to Matty D and batting in the ninth spot? (Can we DH for the SS and let the pitchers hit?)

Are we going to promote Torreyes from his likely spot in AAA? Personally, I’d rather challenge Correa and let him take his hacks against AA pitching with the hope he’s ready in an emergency.

And if Villar plays OK and stays healthy, then next season, instead of planning to send Correa to Oklahoma City, we’re all wondering if he pushes Villar to the utility role.

So, which scenario would you rather see:

1. Correa splits the season between Lancaster and Corpus Christi with a projected call up to Houston at the end of 2015? … or

2. Correa starts in Corpus Christi and is getting ready for an emergency call up this year (honestly, who would you rather see in Houston if that emergency occurs?) with an eye toward him competing for the starting job during spring training of 2015?

3. And finally, would you prefer the Astros move prospects up through the system faster? If, say, a player dominates at a lower level, would you want the Astros to move that prospect along more quickly or let him simmer and grow slowly?

So you see, how Correa performs does matter. Take that, TCB!

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About BrianT

Brian Todd is a freelance writer working and living in Rochester, Minn.

34 comments on “Put The Pedal to The Metal: Why Carlos Correa’s Spring Matters

  1. Bo Weaver
    February 18, 2014

    Correa isn’t playing in The Bigs this year. Luhnow will be forced to grab a backup utility IF scrub from the waiver wire before the team breaks camp.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 18, 2014

      And it’s all because Crane doesn’t want him spending a dime more than he has to before he has to do it. Because Crane is cheap, broke because there’s no TV deal and evil.

      Really, Bo, you missed an opportunity to bash Crane. Either you need your coffee or you’re just slipping.

      Like

  2. Dan P
    February 18, 2014

    Interesting discussion point, Brian. Here is Dan’s best case scenario.

    Jeff Luhnow signs Stephen Drew, whose options are drooping the longer he waits to a 1 year contract at $X million – where X is 7 or 8, let’ say.
    Villar is Drew’s backup.
    Correa does start the season at AA and in 2015 he is the Astros starting SS. Voila….

    Like

    • Dan P
      February 18, 2014

      I guess the other consideration is that if Correa goes to AA, what happens with Fontana. Perhaps this is the beginning of figuring out another positions for Fontana.

      Like

      • BrianT
        February 18, 2014

        Perhaps. To be honest, I’m not so enthrall end with Fontana. A big chunk of his OBP and OPS is tied up in his ability to draw walks against pitchers who miss the strike zone.

        And Drew might be nice, but for a one-year rental he’ll cost that supplemental pick an the money that comes with it.

        I just think that having Correa ready in case of an emergency might be the best option. After Villar, I think he is the best shortstop we have. And if he can start proving that in spring training and AA right away, so much the better.

        Like

    • 1oldpro
      February 18, 2014

      Dan, I just don’t think Luhnow will give up that draft pick and its slot money for one year of Drew. I could be wrong but I don’t think I am.

      Like

  3. Dan P
    February 18, 2014

    Should have said position instead of positions (though they may try multiple positions).

    Like

  4. uncleknuckle
    February 18, 2014

    I still think there might be another move or two by made by Luhnow. It’s early. And you’ve got to find out if guys like Sclafani and Fontana can hit. We’ll know fairly quickly once they’ve gotten at bats in Corpus. And yes, I keep mentioning Sclafani, because he’s actually been better at the plate than Fontana and can play second, short and third. Be nice to grow a utility guy from in house. And chances are that Correa will indeed own short at some point. So guys like Sclafani or Fontana might have a better chance playing everyday at second.

    No reason why Correa shouldn’t spend two or three months in Lancaster while a couple of the older guys get time in Corpus first. Then come June, guys can be moved aside or moved up.

    Like

    • daveb
      February 18, 2014

      The previous post was actually provided by daveb.

      Like

  5. 1oldpro
    February 18, 2014

    You do Torreyes a disservice posting his age 20 AA stats only. Starting as a 17 year old his MILB line reads .309, .368, .439, .807 and that is nothing to sneeze at. And your own personal assessment of Fontana, does not take him out of the equation at SS in our minor league system. It’s up to the team to just cast a top 20 prospect aside, not yours. This taints your assessment of the total SS picture of the Astros.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 18, 2014

      I did do Torreyes a disservice. Heck, when he played in the Midwest League he had a breakout season at age 18. Sounds a lot like Correa, right?

      Well, since then he’s become average at the plate. He’s also about 5’9″ and 140 pounds, so I’m thinking he’s a utility infielder at best.

      And again, if something happens to Villar, I’d rather challenge Correa and put him in a position to succeed than put my hopes in Torreyes.

      Like

      • 1oldpro
        February 18, 2014

        Bryan, look again. You dismiss Fontana because he doesn’t hit and walks and K’s too often. Torrreyes had only 29 strikeouts in 427 plate appearances and only 28 walks. That strikeout rate is incredible for a 140 lb SS who hit .269 as a 20 yo in a league where the average age is 24. Torreyes had 37 rbi’s and only 29 strikeouts this year. He has only 98 strikeouts in over 1600 plate appearances in MILB. You are totally missing this guy. I love Correa, but Torreyesa is a little giant that Jeff Luhnow went and got.

        Like

      • BrianT
        February 18, 2014

        OK, OK! While I’ve never said Fontana won’t be an MLB player, his value will go down as his level goes up.

        But you’ve sold me on Torreyes. While I still think Correa needs to start in AA — for reasons of challenging him and accelerating his arrival, even if that arrival is June 2015 — I apologize to Torreyes and everyone in his family. ;^))

        Like

    • Flash
      February 18, 2014

      I think you mean to say incredulous OP.

      Like

  6. 1oldpro
    February 18, 2014

    Now for my Comments on Correa. He is the poster boy of the Astros organization, Luhnow’s signature player. Whereever he starts, either Torreyes or Fontana will be pushed out so it doesn’t matter. Since he wants to work on his defensive quickness I would recommend Lancaster to start the year because the balls come off the bats like a bullet there in the thin air. Move him up to AA in the summer. He still finishes the year at CC so you end up in the same place

    Like

    • Bo Weaver
      February 18, 2014

      I 100% agree. Lancaster, then a promotion to AA by season’s end.

      Like

      • BrianT
        February 18, 2014

        Really? You claim holding Springer in OKC for a month will make him resent management even though Springer has said he understands there are things beyond his control that will determine if he makes the team out of spring training or not.

        But Correa has publicly said his goal is to start in Corpus. So holding him back if he rakes in Florida is fine?

        Like

    • BrianT
      February 18, 2014

      The comparison with Springer comment was a response to Bo.

      Oldpro, I would argue there is a difference. If he goes to Lancaster and something happens to Villar, I wouldn’t want to promote him in that emergency situation. Furthermore, I think he’s less likely to compete for the top job next spring with only half a season at AA.

      But if he starts in AA–even if he never earns a mid- to late season promotion to OKC–that gives him experience against better pitching right from the start for an emergency call up, and a longer sample size in AA.

      Furthermore, the better hitting in AA should be a perfectly fine test of his defense.

      Like

  7. Steven
    February 18, 2014

    I’ve enjoyed Chip’s blogs for years. I’ve even enjoyed the vast majority of guest bloggers over the years. Dan and Brian, you are both amongst teh best I’ve seen here.

    Good look at SS overall today. Enjoyed the takes. Agree for the most part.

    I would like to see the Astros drive people through faster. Admittedly though, we are writing from the comforts of our living rooms, while there are people making those decisions that are watching those guys for hours a day everyday. I have no choice but to subject myself to their judgements. The Robin Yount’s of the world seem to have become an extreme rarity – teams seem very reluctant to even explore those possibilities. It seems to me maybe the media is a little too harsh to blame a GM or coach when a prospect fails, so its unlikely we will ever see teenagers in the majors ever again.

    Two reasons you should ease up on Bo though – one, the point of blogging is to share opinions, even the negative ones. Two – unfortunately, to date, he has been more right than any of us.

    Like

    • Dan P
      February 18, 2014

      Steven – I have no problem with Bo taking a contrarian view – but I just get plain bored with every argument going back to the same points about Crane.
      If the Astros had torn everything down to the bare bones and still had a minor league system that stunk – then I would say there is no hope – run the guy out of town. But we now have the best system in the mlb with another #1 pick coming and so I don’t think anything has been proven except the rebuild is well under way.

      Like

  8. Steven
    February 18, 2014

    Brian – there is also statistical evidence to support that a player that draws a lot of walks in the minors also does so in the majors. Fontana should be fine in the BB category.

    My concern is going to be his overall average. Cursory reviews of his stat lines make him appear to be a BABIP nightmare. Is he TOO selective that he is letting hittable pitches go by? Does he have a problem with making good, solid contact? It’s doubtful that he has just been that unlucky in over 700 plate appearances – especially with a full season at Lancaster.

    He also was VERY error prone last year, clocking a .951 fielding percentage in almost 400 chances. 95% is great in a lot of things, but not fielding.

    Fontana’s longterm is hard to project. If a major league teams gives a SS significant playing time, and that SS posts record setting type on base percentages, and pretty much below average every where else, would he last? Fontana is a wait and see, by that I mean wait and see if he gets better in some other category – hits for more power, better fielding, better contact more consistently, something. Until then, he is still just the 3rd best SS in the Astros system behind Correa and Villar.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 18, 2014

      Oh, Fontana will draw walks at every level. But his rate will drop as his rises through the minors. And his value, therefore, will drop unless he learns to start actually hitting to get on base.

      Like

  9. daveb
    February 18, 2014

    I don’t really see that the issue of Correa starting the season at A+ rather than Corpus is all that significant. If he continues to excel, he’ll chart his own course. And we should not even be thinking of Correa as an emergency replacement for Villar at this point. He’s far too valuable down the road than to make his initial appearance in that manner. When a team is expected to lose 90 plus again, could there even ne such a thing as an emergency at shortstop? After all, we’ve still got Wallace.

    Like

    • BrianT
      February 18, 2014

      Wallace. I literally laughed out loud. Good one.

      I just think delaying these guys is a mistake. I could be wrong, but I think Robin Yount was 19 when he broke into the big leagues. Bob Feller was 17.

      Look, I think Byron Buxton might be ready late this year if the Twins need him. Is Correa any less ready? Or a better question might be, shouldn’t we put Correa in position to be as ready?

      I know Altuve went from A+ to Houston in a single season. But I’d rather give Correa the benefit of challenging himself from the start. Because I don’t think Jet Stream Stadium in Lancaster will be much of a challenge.

      Like

      • Dan P
        February 18, 2014

        Brian T – was reading a ST update where Porter was indicating that 1B was Guzman and Wallace. I assume that means that they get to the end of ST and drop some of the extra arms they picked up off waivers and move Wallace back on the 40 man……

        Like

      • BrianT
        February 18, 2014

        It was the idea that Wallace would be an emergency SS — which he did in OKC — that I laughed at.

        Like

      • daveb
        February 18, 2014

        If Correa kills it in A+, he’ll be in Corpus by June. And if he makes it look easy in Corpus, he might get a look in September. But no need to rush a 19 year old.

        Like

      • Ian
        February 20, 2014

        Not so sure picking him was a win. Badler’s BA chat today he said he’d pick Buxton over the Astros trio “easily.” And Buxton hits lefties and righties equally well – his OPS against both is identical – while Correa really beats up on lefties but is just solid against righties.

        And passing on Gray and Bryant for Appel — these last few drafts could be a world of “what if’.

        Like

  10. 1oldpro
    February 18, 2014

    If Brett Wallace is on the final 25 on April 1 and George Springer is not, my 52 year investment will start looking for a new company to invest in. That would be the height of stupidity on Luhnow’s part!

    Like

    • daveb
      February 18, 2014

      With you oldpro.

      Like

    • tedf1948
      February 18, 2014

      If anyone in the organization is still spewing out positives about Wallace, other than him being a nice guy, at this point in time, then its time to go back to the Yankees. We should not be wasting time with him still on the roster. The fact that no other team wanted him is a testament to his ability. The guy has never seen a low inside pitch that he didn’t want to swing and miss at.

      Like

      • daveb
        February 19, 2014

        Who’s spewing positives about Wallace?

        Like

  11. devin_
    February 18, 2014

    The key is for Correa to develop. Picking him over Buxton was a big risk. They did so, signed him for less money, and then were able to also get McCullers and Ruiz. So far it looks like a win, but we’ll see what happens as all of those players progress.

    For the Astros, Correa can’t be an average major league shortstop/third baseman. He has to become an All Star caliber player at one of the positions and must display all the leadership qualities that come with being the poster boy. Given his age they can afford to be cautious.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      February 18, 2014

      Devin, what a timely post! John Sickel released his ne Astros Top 20 prospect list for 2014 today.
      In one of the best farm systems in baseball, Correa is #1, McCullers Jr is #5 and Rio Ruiz jumped up to #10. Correa is rated A, LMJ is a B+, and Ruiz is a B. Hows that for the first three picks in the 2012 draft?

      Like

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This entry was posted on February 18, 2014 by in Astros.
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