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!