Most baseball fans are familiar with the phrase "Three True Outcomes", which refers to walks, strike outs, and home runs. These outcomes are "true" in that they pit the pitcher against the batter, largely independent of outside factors like defense or foot speed. When ball four is awarded to the batter, it is a certainty that he will be reaching first base.
When it comes to prospects, certainties do not exist. Every prospect has a wide range of outcomes between his ceiling and floor potential, with most players settling somewhere in between the two. I like to think of prospect outcomes as the Dream (the player's ceiling), the Nightmare (the player's floor) and the Reality (weighing all the factors to come up with the most likely outcome). Throughout the year, I will be examining the ceilings and floors of players across the minor leagues, and making my best forecast on the eventual outcome. Today I'll look at the top pick from the 2012 draft, shortstop Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros.
Leading up to last year's draft, the conventional wisdom said that the Astros would take Stanford pitcher Mark Appel or Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton with the top selection. Instead though, the Astros opted to select Correa, a toolsy Puerto Rican shortstop. The pick raised some eyebrows, that is, at least until the Astros' master plan was revealed. Drafting Correa and signing him to a below-slot $4.8 million deal allowed Houston to sign right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers and third baseman Rio Ruiz later in the draft, a tremendous haul for a team looking to restock its system. Unfortunately a very important got lost by some of the baseball community when analyzing the draft - Correa may in fact have been the best player as well. We're talking about a highly skilled 6'4" 18-year old (17 when drafted) shortstop that is a true 5-tool talent. Seriously, there is nothing Correa can't do on the field. Despite his size, it is an almost unanimous opinion that he has the athleticism and fielding actions to become a well above average shortstop, and some scouts throw an 80-grade on the rocket launcher hanging off his right shoulder. However, what we should really be focusing on is the bat, and that's pretty special too. Correa has easy plus bat speed, and he with his size he should develop into a 20-25 home run player in time. He runs well enough, and is a good base runner who could steal 15-20 bases a season in his early years as well. Still, what really separates him at this point is the advanced feel for hitting at such a young age. Correa is hitting .323/.412/.457 in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, walking 11.5% of the time while striking out in just 16.6% of his at bats. Correa has the tools and the makeup to potentially become one of the best players in baseball, and the face of a franchise searching for one.
Ceiling Fantasy Line: .336 average, 28 home runs, 123 runs, 114 RBIs, 21 steals at Shortstop
Do you remember when you were 18-years-old? Without a care in the world, I'm sure you felt like you could, and would, accomplish all of your goals and fulfill your true potential. Unfortunately, for the majority of people, that's not how it works. And prospects are no different than the rest of us, well at least in this one particular instance. So there is a good chance that Correa doesn't turn into a top shelf player. He's still yet to finish a full season in lo-A, and despite his massive collection of tools, Correa still needs to refine his game. His generates a ton of torque from a strong hip rotation, which coupled with his bat speed can throw him off-balance at times. The power, while described as "freak-show power" by Houston scouting director Mike Elias, has yet to show up in games and it will only get tougher as he climbs the ladder and faces better pitching. And although most think he'll stick at short, there is a faction that sees his frame and thinks more of Ryan Zimmerman than Troy Tulowitzki. He really could fill out, limiting his range and his speed on the base paths. At his age it's just so tough to project what his body will look like in 3-5 years, making it an exercise in futility to say with any real conviction that he won't have to move to third base. As far as 18-year-olds are concerned, Correa is relatively safe, but that's only because teens come with so much risk.
Floor Fantasy Line: .249 average, 9 home runs, 47 runs, 36 RBIs, 12 steals at Third Base
Based on the Dream and the NIghmare above, and his lofty placement on my Midseason Top-100 Prospect List, I bet you have an idea where this paragraph is headed. A fair question to ask, however, is if Correa is so good, why does it seem like no one is talking about him? Well, in my opinion the spotlight has been stolen by the player taken just after him last year, Byron Buxton. And with good reason, as Buxton has been nothing short of spectacular, hitting .341/.431/.559 with 32 steals in the Midwest League before recently earning a promotion to Hi-A. Did you know, though, that Correa is a full 10 months younger than Buxton? 10 months may not seem like a big deal, but it has been shown that age is a huge separator in quality players, and superstar players. I'm not saying Correa is necessarily the better prospect than Buxton, but I am saying they belong in the same conversation without a doubt. By all accounts Correa has plus-plus makeup and work ethic, giving even more weight to the idea that he will reach his full potential. And again, while I'm blown away with the tools, the big point for me is the advanced approach and feel for the game at an age that most would be high school seniors. He just needs refinement. And with it, Correa might finally give us the top-flight shortstop we have been missing since the Jeter, A-Rod, Nomar days. Get excited Astros' fans, get excited.
Fantasy Line: .317 average, 24 home runs, 112 runs, 104 RBIs, 19 steals at Shortstop
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Fore more on the Astros and their prospects, be sure to check out The Crawfish Boxes.
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