Monday, June 8, 2015

Happy Carlos Correa Day (plus Day 1 Draft Primer)

The Astros recently announced that Carlos Correa will join the Astros in Chicago in time for the first game of the series against the White Sox.  Correa will join the Astros at the expense of Handsome Jake (Buchanan), who will be optioned to Fresno.  Because Correa is not on the 40-man, a corresponding move will also have to be made, and Deduno to the 60-man is one possibility.

Correa joins the Astros nearly exactly three years after he was drafted first in the 2012 draft (3 years, 4 days to be exact).  Correa played in short-season / rookie league ball that year, then Lo-A Quad Cities in 2013 and Lancaster in 2014.  His season in Lancaster ended with a broken leg - it was initially reported as a broken tibia, but more recently has been reported as a broken fibula.  Regardless of the exact bone broken, it was a break in the sense that it was reported that the ankle ligament took a bit of bone off the bottom of the leg, which is unlikely to be a career threatening injury without some kind of serious and rare complication.

Correa's travels in 2015 are well documented.  He burned through the Texas League, raking to the tune of .385/.459/.726 in 133 plate appearances, then he continued his solid season in AAA Fresno, hitting .266/.336/.447 in 107 plate appearances.  Correa has a combined 18 stolen bases between the two levels, with one caught stealing.  He has 10 home runs - seven in AA.  He seems to have cooled off lately, but a counter-argument is that he was probably ready for the Majors in Spring Training, and didn't really need to head to AA.

Regardless of what the numbers say, the Astros clearly think that he is ready.  The super-two deadline has likely passed, partly thanks to the early promotion of prospects like Kris Bryant and Houston's own Lance McCullers.  The Astros could also use a spark - they seem to have hit a flat point in their season - and if Correa gets off to a hot start, Valbuena could be the one displaced when Jed Lowrie returns.

The irony is that just as the Astros promote one minor-league shortstop, they are highly likely to draft another tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the Rule 4 draft - and the first 40-odd picks will be made tomorrow.  As any reasonable Astros fan knows, they have picks two and five, which puts them in a stunning position because no team has had two draft picks that high.  The linked article explains that teams in a similar position (i.e. two early draft picks) have done pretty well out of those picks, but that the Astros are even better placed than pretty much every team in history because they have four of the first 46 picks along with two of the first five picks.

Complicating this, however, is industry consensus that the top of the draft is weaker than in most years.  I listened closely to Kiley McDaniel and Jim Callis over the weekend, and they agreed that this year seems to be a poor year to be picking early.  Both pundits wonder whether there is a player worth five or six million in this draft, and both speculated as to where the consensus top hitter and pitcher would go if they were in the 2014 or 2016 drafts.  So while the Astros may have an amazing opportunity, the draft class may not be in their favour - perhaps.  It's a draft, so we probably won't know for 8 years or so.

The top three picks seem to all be three shortstops, which is how they relate directly to Correa's promotion.  All three seem to have the glove to stay at short, and all are significant offensive producers.  Dansby Swanson from Vanderbilt seems to be rated at the top of most draft boards - probably including the Astros' - and if he slides past the Diamondbacks, he probably won't get to number three.  No one really knows what the Diamondbacks are going to do, but the consensus seems to be that Swanson is the choice here, although cutting an under-slot deal with someone in the 10-20 range (รก la Carlos Correa in 2012, without the 10-20 range bit) remains a possibility.  That player may be Tyler Stephenson, a catcher from Georgia.  If Stephenson's name is read out first, then celebrate, Astros fans, because the Astros are going to get an opportunity to select the player they really want.

The other two shortstops are Alex Bregman from LSU, and Brandan Rodgers, a high school shortstop from Florida.  Bregman is first on the board at, and Rodgers was the closest thing to a consensus top prospect heading into the 2015 draft year.  He has done little to quieten the hype, but has also not really excelled.

There are a couple of other factors at play here, and much depends on the D-backs' selection.  The Astros may not take a shortshop with the second pick if Arizona takes someone like Stephenson, because they know that one of the three shortstops will still be there when they choose at number five.  Another whisper is that one of the college shortstops will be taken at two, because the Astros want to choose a high schooler at 5 - such as Mike Cameron's son Daz, or Preston Tucker's brother Kyle.  Another whisper is that Daz Cameron is demanding 5 mil as a draft price, and is prepared to slide if teams won't meet that demand.  One comment that I heard over the weekend is that Cameron could slide to 37, whereupon the Astros could snaffle him, and save enough with the first two picks to sign Cameron for five-large.  Also watch out for Andrew Benintendi, a college outfield sophomore, as the number 5 pick if the Astros choose Brendan Rodgers at number 2.

Couple of other stories will also bear watching.  Perhaps Brady Aiken's medicals are better-than-expected, and most articles that I have read project him to go to the Dodgers at 24 at lowest.  Mac Marshall is a second- or third-round talent (#146 on, and seems keen to have a relationship with the Astros, so perhaps they get him the second time around.  And not many polished pitchers, so any arms the Astros may take early (in their first two picks) are probably projects, and may be picked because of what it allows the Astros to do later in the draft.

So the circle of life continues.  The Astros will promote one shortstop, and will have ample opportunity to draft another shortstop tomorrow.  Talent be damned - perhaps the draft class is not as strong as what it has been in previous years, but nothing can be done about that.  Regardless, the Astros have a unique opportunity to add some serious talent to the organisation in the next few days.  Jeff Luhnow made his name in baseball clocking a couple of drafts for the Cardinals, and the 2012 draft for the Astros certainly looks pretty good at the moment.  Hopefully the same will occur in 2015.

Whatever happens, it will be interesting.