When you promote someone as young as Carlos Correa, the most you can realistically hope for is that the player’s able to hold his own. Sure, it would be possible for a 20-year-old to become a standout immediately, but just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to expect. The majors are hard, and rookies aren’t finished products, because the rookies haven’t been in the majors, and the majors are hard. Generally, you look for learning, and you look for glimpses. You look for signs you’ve promoted the player to the appropriate level.
We don’t know what rookie Carlos Correa is going to be. Lots of baseball left to go; lots of adjustments left to be made. This much could be said, though: if a 20-year-old rookie were to become a standout immediately, he might do things like Correa has done. It would be difficult to imagine a more promising start, and underscoring everything, the Astros got a hell of a glimpse of Correa’s talent on Wednesday in Colorado. On Wednesday, Carlos Correa did something amazing. Let’s watch it.
I do understand that truly amazing accomplishments by hitters tend not to begin with pitches thrown by Kyle Kendrick, because destroying a pitch thrown by Kyle Kendrick might seldom be considered amazing, but here we are, and I’ve gone too far to turn around now. Correa and Kendrick in the first inning, with an 0-and-2 count. The visual:
We can slow it down. Even an ordinary home run is special. This wasn’t an ordinary home run.
You see where the ball was hit. You see where the broadcast locates the pitch, right before the video loops back to the start. Carlos Correa ripped a home run, and according to Statcast, the ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour. The pitch was well inside, off the plate. Correa did an outstanding job of keeping his hands tucked close to his body.
Statcast is exciting, but let’s not forget about PITCHf/x. According to PITCHf/x, Kendrick’s pitch was just about 16 inches inside from the middle of the plate. Or, a little more than 1.3 feet. So let’s blend PITCHf/x data and Statcast data. Here’s a plot of average batted-ball velocity for right-handed hitters, against horizontal pitch location. The groups are each separated by three inches. This was all made possible by Baseball Savant.
The pitch Correa hit against Kendrick belongs in that first column. It’s the group with the lowest average batted-ball speed. Everything here is intuitive — the closer you get to the middle of the plate, the better the quality of contact. Batters don’t hit those inside pitches hard. They’re very difficult to turn around, which is why the inside fastball is such a treasured weapon.
Instead of groups, let’s just look at everything. Here are all the batted balls by righties, recorded by both PITCHf/x and Statcast. I’ve highlighted the Correa dinger.
That’s a pretty exceptional-looking dinger. There is a gray spot right next to Correa, but here’s where we remember this graph doesn’t say anything about trajectory. Correa hit a home run. The neighboring ball in play was a grounder for an out. Considerably less impressive. There is a somewhat comparable home run, hit by Ryan Zimmerman, but then there’s another consideration. Zimmerman’s swing:
Zimmerman stands toward the back of the box, away from home plate. Correa’s up toward the front, so the same inside pitch would look quite different to each hitter. Zimmerman stands such that he can turn around on a pitch the pitcher might generally consider inside. It’s more remarkable to see a hitter turn that pitch around when he stands where Correa does.
It’s one example of brilliance. Doesn’t necessarily mean Correa is certain to be brilliant, but brilliance is within his grasp. I hesitate to make these kinds of comparisons, but the way Correa hit that pitch is reminiscent of Miguel Cabrera. There might be no one in baseball better at keeping his hands in and punishing inside pitches than Cabrera. Correa can’t do this every time, but he’s now proven he can do this. Correa hit that pitch 108 miles per hour. Jason Kipnis has yet to hit any pitch more than 107 miles per hour.
Of course, the early days of Carlos Correa have been about more than one swing. Since he debuted, 62 players have hit at least 20 batted balls, as captured by Statcast. Correa ranks ninth in average batted-ball speed, between Mike Trout and George Springer. Considered differently, over a small sample, Correa has hit 57% of his batted balls at least 100 miles per hour. Here are the full-season leaders, with a minimum of 100 batted balls tracked:
As early as it is, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether Correa might already be the American League’s best shortstop. It’s obviously nothing that can be proven on track record, but on ability and projection going forward, Correa’s at least in the mix. You do want to make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself. A year ago, through May, Xander Bogaerts had a 138 wRC+. From June 1 on, he came in at 49. Pitchers will spot things about Correa they haven’t yet spotted, and we’ll see how he responds to that response. Remember that he’s 20. Remember that no one expects him to immediately be a superstar. The Astros just want him to be a big-league shortstop. Anything beyond that, in this summer, is gravy.
But, could be there’s going to be a lot of gravy. Correa, to this point, has done nothing but impress. And he hit a home run righties usually don’t hit. It was a swing that calls to mind one of the greatest right-handed hitters of the era, and that’s the sort of thing that does nothing to diminish the hype.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.