If not for a nasty, freak broke leg suffered on a slide last summer, it is entirely possible Houston Astros prospect Carlos Correa would be the consensus top prospect in baseball right now. Even in spite of the injury John was comfortable enough to note he may be the top position player prospect anyway, anointing him with a straight Grade A and placing him firmly at the top of Houston’s system for the second straight season. I had the good fortune to watch a lot of Lancaster games before Correa went down for the season, and I’m here to tell you that the hype is warranted and then some for the 20 year-old Puerto Rican.
For starters, Correa was neck and neck for me with Corey Seager in projecting as either 1-a or 1-b among offensive prospects in the Cal League last summer. And given the growth he demonstrated even in the relatively brief window of play last season I’d just as soon hand him the trophy outright. Let’s take a look at his swing mechanics and what makes him such an offensive threat.
Video Courtesy of Baseball America
He starts his hands firm off his back shoulder, right around my ideal for a launch point. There’s a marginal drift in his load as he coils his weight on his back leg that isn’t ideal from a timing perspective, but the movement did not show any signs of impacting his ability to position himself to trigger in my viewings. The hands remain strong in their starting slot while his body drifts back, so he does maintain his starting angle well in spite of the extra motion.
From there he unfurls one of the most technically perfect swings in the minors, and certainly the prettiest that I had the pleasure of seeing last season. After a brief and soft toe tap at the culmination of his back weight shift he starts to generate forward momentum with a moderate stride. Two things in particular stick out. The first is how early his hips begin to fire. He really uses his back leg to generate velocity in his forward movement, and by the time his front foot plants he’s beginning to unload a tremendous amount of torque in his lower body. Clearing that early has repercussions for his upper body, as it allows the bat head to come on plane early and spend a longer time in the zone.
The second thing to key on is how seamlessly his shoulders and arms work together as force multipliers in his barrel delivery. There is no wasted force as the bat head whips through the zone, and it helps him generate easy plus bat speed. His point of contact features a pretty flawless ball striking position, with excellent leverage off a firm front foot.
In terms of approach he tracks well from same-handed and opposite-handed pitching alike, though he did show some signs of over-aggressiveness against the latter, opening him up to early count change-ups and hooks. I don’t necessarily see a red flag there, as he’s balanced enough in his swing to adjust off-speed effectively, but there may be an adjustment period as he settles in to dissect high-minors sequencing.
His raw power is plus, perhaps a bit more. I saw him do some damage to the left-center field scoreboard in Lancaster, and he can take the ball out to right with authority when he wants. The full force of his raw did not show up in games yet, as the general approach and swing plane is generally geared towards hard line drive contact (which it frequently produces). But because of the technical proficiency of the swing and the above-average approach there’s every reason to believe he’ll eventually be able to bring the vast majority of that raw into games, as well.
I haven’t seen anything that would dissuade me from putting a 65 projection on his hit tool, the swing is legitimately that pretty. If he maxes out the power utility there’s legitimate potential for a 65/60 offensive profile here, though the power grade remains pure projection based on the strength of he hit tool. A more likely outcome has the power playing to 55, which in combination with the hit tool is still an impact Major League bat.
Before the broken leg Correa was an average runner, perhaps a bit faster. I got nine clocks on him to first last year ranging from a low of 4.22 to 4.33 on the high. He displays good first step quickness and burst in his crossover on stolen base attempts, but the raw speed probably won’t be there for him to steal more than ten to 15 bags a year at the Major League level. His frame is large, with broad shoulders capable of adding additional weight without compromising his upper body mobility, and it’s likely the speed will tick down as he reaches full maturity.
The big question marks from Correa’s draft pedigree revolved around the likelihood he’d stay at shortstop long term, and given the large frame those questions persist, if in more hushed tones. I honestly didn’t see anything beyond standard conceptions of size limitation to suggest he couldn’t stick through his twenties at the least, however.
His standout defensive tool is a laser gun of an arm. It’s a borderline plus-plus weapon that affords Correa a tremendous amount of leeway into the hole. Case in point, early in the season against Inland Empire he gunned down Sherman Johnson on a ball three-plus steps to his right on a 4.07 dig by the fleet-footed Johnson. He shows strong footwork, particularly ranging to the right, in establishing a plant foot and generating maximum velocity for his throws.
The range itself is adequate at present. Correa shows surprisingly nimble feet for an athlete his size, with solid lateral range and good instincts to charge balls out in front. He can get a bit lackadaisical with the aggressiveness of his charge, likely from the well-deserved trust he puts in his golden right arm, but that’s largely nitpicking. His actions are quick and crisp, the range plays, and the arm makes up for any looseness he’ll show. He won’t be a defensive star at the position, but unless he goes the unlikely route of adding another 15-plus pounds to his frame the tools and talent are there for an average or even slightly above-average defensive shortstop.
So basically, when you read about Carlos Correa having the potential to develop into a future superstar the sum of these parts is the reason why. He has three standout tools and two other average-or-better ones, and when you package that up in a shortstop with better than even odds of sticking at the position for the first decade of his big league career that’s exactly what the Astros may just have on their hands.