Top prospect set to make his debut on Monday vs. White Sox
By Richard Justice
Carlos Correa represents everything the Houston Astros hope to stand for over the next few years. So it would be impossible to overstate how important Monday is to the franchise as the 20-year-old shortstop and MLB's No. 2 prospect makes his debut.
This is a moment the Astros have looked forward to since they made Correa the No. 1 pick overall in the 2012 MLB Draft. He was 17 at the time, but Correa had blown Houston away with his skills, smarts and relentless commitment to greatness.
At the time, the Astros predicted Correa would fly through the Minor Leagues because, well, some guys are just different. They said he was one of those special ones who might impact games with his bat, legs, glove, etc.
This is how clubs like the Astros have to do it, methodically one brick at a time. Actually, it's the way every club has to do it. No team -- not the Yankees or Red Sox, and certainly not the Royals, Pirates or Astros -- can compete without a productive farm system.
When Houston businessman Jim Crane bought the Astros in 2011, he said he would hire a general manager with a proven track record in the Draft and that he would give him the freedom and resources to do things right.
Some baseball people were skeptical that Crane would stay the course for a total reconstruction as losses piled up, attendance declined, etc. But he has done exactly that.
Crane said again and again that he was willing to accept some short-term losses while his general manager constructed a great farm system. And, Crane believed, once the Astros were back in contention, they'd have a pipeline of talent to keep them there for years.
In hiring Jeff Luhnow to be his general manager, Crane got someone who oversaw a string of productive Drafts for the Cardinals.
And Correa was Luhnow's first pick.
Two other older players from that first Draft -- right-hander Lance McCullers and outfielder Preston Tucker -- beat Correa to the big leagues and have contributed to one of baseball's most surprising teams.
(Luhnow used another 2012 Draft pick, third baseman Rio Ruiz, as part of the package that landed Evan Gattis from the Braves.)
Others are on the way. Right-hander Vincent Velasquez, 23, will also join Houston on Monday after compiling a 1.37 ERA at Double-A Corpus Christi. Luhnow hopes that right-hander Mark Appel -- the overall 2013 No. 1 pick -- will contribute at some point this summer.
That Correa will make his debut at shortstop in the Majors on Monday when the Astros have the second and fifth picks in the first round of the 2015 Draft makes an important day for the franchise even moreso.
Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and others have discussed for weeks when the time was right for Correa. In terms of talent, the organization almost unanimously believed he was ready
Correa has played just 53 games above Class A, but he batted .385 in 29 games at Double-A and .276 in 24 at Triple-A. There were financial considerations in terms of arbitration eligibility and all of that. But apart from the finances, Houston wanted his arrival to come at a time when the club needed a jolt.
Now, having lost four in a row, including blowing a ninth-inning lead on Sunday at Toronto, the Astros could use one. Correa will get White Sox ace Chris Sale right out of the chute.
"I have zero questions about him," one of Correa's Minor League instructors said last week. "He's what a Major League Baseball player is supposed to look like."
Correa's Minor League managers and coaches have raved about his leadership, how even at 18 or 19, he seemed to own the clubhouse because of his physical presence (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and talent and presence.
In that way, Correa may have a similar impact that outfielder George Springer has had. He, too, is going to be a star. Springer is a leader, even though he is just 25 years old and is spending his first full season in the Majors.
Springer and Correa could be the faces of this franchise for years to come. Or American League batting champ Jose Altuve could continue to be that guy. Or maybe it'll be ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who has both a spectacularly distinctive beard and a 1.85 ERA.
So many things have changed with this franchise in the last three months that it's hard to keep up with all of them.
The Astros always believed Correa's arrival would signify that they had turned an important corner back toward respectability. That corner has been turned faster than anyone could have expected.
After averaging 104 losses the last four seasons, Houston has raced to a 34-24 start and spent 49 consecutive days atop the AL West.
Now with the Astros' division lead having shrunk from seven games to 3 1/2, Luhnow is playing his most important card. He's also giving baseball a special day. So many incredibly gifted young players -- Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, etc. -- have arrived in recent years that we're seeing a sport transformed right before our eyes.
Correa -- 20 years old and blessed with dazzling talent -- is a reminder that there has never been a better time to be a baseball fan. So here's hoping we look back a few years from now and think of Correa the way we think of those other stars. Go get 'em, kid.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.