He should be playing baseball. Instead he’s shopping.
It’s Monday afternoon in dreary Manhattan. It’s cold, damp, and raining and the Yankees postponed Opening Day hours earlier because the forecast called exactly for this.
That gave Carlos Correa an unexpected day off and the freedom to do whatever he wanted. So he decided to head downtown to SoHo.
One of the most exciting players in the majors, all of 21 years old, rolled into the adidas store on Wooster St. unannounced and without an entourage. One of the brand’s newest athletes came to check out the gear and talk a little baseball. The conversation started with one high and tight.
Are you the best shortstop in baseball?
“What do you think? I only got 99 games so it’s premature to say something like that,” says Correa. “But I work every day to be the best.”
The No. 1 pick doesn’t always live up to the hype in baseball, but Correa, who was selected first overall by the Astros in the 2012 draft, is exceeding expectations and establishing himself as one of the game’s premier players—despite being one of the youngest. Through his first 99 games, Correa has slugged more home runs (22 to 14) and driven in more runs (68 to 58) than the player whom he’s most often compared: Alex Rodriguez.
“The type of batting, the way they look, how tall they are, actually looking toward his batting frame in the future, I see a lot of Alex Rodriguez,” says MLB Network analyst and Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez. “I think this guy, Carlos, is a little bit more agile than Alex was at the time.”
A-Rod was the No. 1 selection in the 1993 draft and made his major league debut a year later at age 18. Two seasons after that, Rodriguez won a batting title and led the league in runs, finishing second in the MVP race to Juan Gonzalez. Even with the stink of steroids attached to him, and a position change when he joined the Yankees, Rodriguez will go down as one of the game’s great shortstops. And based on early returns, Correa could be the next one.
Watch Correa swing, launching moonshots, and you’ll see glimpses of A-Rod. Watch him range into the hole, steal a base hit, and rifle it over to first, and you’ll see hints A-Rod. Watch him put up mind-blowing numbers in the majors when almost every other professional his age toils away in the minors and he seems destined for greatness.
“He’s a lot more mature than Alex was. He’s just a guy that is unique,” says Martinez. “I would have a hard time comparing him to anybody else at the same age. Back in the day, you could probably say Cal Ripken, but I never got to see Cal Ripken at 21, 22. I saw him after he had matured. [Carlos is] pretty above the pack for his age.”
“The type of batting, the way they look, how tall they are, actually looking toward his batting frame in the future, I see a lot of Alex Rodriguez.”
— Pedro Martinez
And if the comparisons to A-Rod aren’t lofty enough, there are the ones to Derek Jeter. People bring up The Captain when talking about Correa because—just like Jeter—there’s an air of unflappability around him. But the Jeter comparisons ring truest on the field where Correa has already perfected the five-time World Series champion’s signature play.
“I practiced the jump throw since I was probably 10 years old,” says Correa.
At 6-foot-4 and around 220 pounds, he’s built just like Rodriguez and Jeter, not like your average ballplayer. How many shortstops look like they could hold their own against J.J. Watt? Dap and bring it in with Correa and he might knock the wind out of you.
“In high school I had the Jeter, A-Rod type frame,” says Correa. “It was in my makeup, and what I do off the field people compare me to Jeter. The way I play they compare me a lot to A-Rod. I think that’s great—to get compared to A-Rod on the field and Jeter off the field. That’s what I always wanted.”
He’s talked to A-Rod, and another shortstop he grew up admiring, Toronto’s Troy Tulowitzki, who have both imparted their knowledge. “Don’t let success get to your head,” Tulo told him. “Work hard and be a good teammate,” A-Rod told him. Despite penning a couple of pieces for Jeter’s Players Tribune, Correa is still waiting to meet his other idol.
After last year’s surprising run to a Wild Card berth, more than a few prognosticators have the Astros pegged as American League champions and Correa A.L. MVP. If that were to happen he’d be the youngest MVP in baseball history. Making a paltry half a million dollars, under team control until 2021, and projected to put up numbers that are MVP caliber, Correa is one of the game’s most valuable commodities. Sports Illustrated had him No. 2 on its list of the most untradeable players. Mike Trout was No. 1.
So outside expectations are ridiculously high. Predictably, Correa hasn’t listened. “The only person putting pressure on myself is me,” he says. Getting him to talk about his goals for 2016—and we mean specific numbers—is like trying to hit a 95-mph Noah Syndergaard slider.
“I don’t want to be saying and doing my own predictions and then people just start talking and it becomes accepted,” says Correa. “I just try to keep it to myself and then when I perform people are going to eventually talk about it. I would rather do something, people talk about, then I know what my growth was and my expectations were.”
People are talking about a 30 home run, 30 steal season from the second-year player, something that hasn’t been done since Mike Trout’s A.L. Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012. Asked if 30/30 means something to him, Correa says, “It does.” Taking it up a notch, asked if 40/40 means something to him, Correa says, “It does.”
In 2006, Alfonso Soriano became the fourth man to join the 40/40 club—one of baseball’s most exclusive—and Correa has the chops to become the fifth. Spending his off-season in his native Puerto Rico working out on the beach to improve his quickness and speed, he wants to be a faster runner and better base stealer. “Moneyball” has deemphasized the stolen base and you wonder if the Astros would allow their prized possession to run enough times to swipe 40 bags, but talent is talent. Martinez says, “I totally believe he’s capable of it.” As long as Correa stays healthy he’s up for the challenge.
“Last year I was not 100 percent healthy with my ankle,” says Correa. “So I ran a little bit. I stole 30-something bases between the big leagues and minor leagues. So I feel like I can steal a lot more.”
Correa’s 2016 is off to a blistering start. He became the second-youngest player in baseball history to hit a home run and steal a base (he finished with two) on Opening Day. Wednesday night, he went 4-for-5 with two more homers, including one bomb to dead center in Yankee Stadium that was measured at 462 feet. The game isn’t supposed to look so easy for such a young kid. After Tuesday’s game, Rodriguez told reporters that Correa is a “very special talent on both sides of the ball. Five tools, fun to watch.”
So here's the question: Is he the best shortstop in baseball, or not?
“I would have a hard time saying [he’s the best] because I’ve only seen him for one year,” says Martinez. “But one year, you might say yes, he could probably rank right up there. But to say he’s the best shortstop in the big leagues is a lot to say.”
Correa’s biggest competition for the title is probably the Indians’ Francisco Lindor. MLB Network actually tabbed him as their top choice this past off-season after Lindor finished 2015 with the second-highest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and WAR among current shortstops. With an arm to match his impressive range, he finished second to Correa in the Rookie of the Year voting.
"You have so many guys that are really good. It’s difficult to make a comparison with a kid who hasn’t played an entire season,” says Martinez.
There’s Tulowitzki who, when healthy, provides the most pop at the position and excellent defense. But that’s a big if considering the five-time All-Star has missed 256 games over the past four seasons. After Tulo, there’s San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford, an extremely solid player and two-time World Series champion. Martinez has high praise for Boston’s Xander Bogaerts Martinez, while Los Angeles’ Corey Seager is another highly touted young shortstop. But none of them are quite the complete package that Correa is.
“I prepare myself the right way so every single time I step on the field I have the confidence because I’ve been there and done that several times,” says Correa. “When I do the spinning play and make the out, the fans go crazy. I show no emotion because I practice that play so many times that’s a routine play for me.”
Outside the adidas store, Correa laments the crappy weather. The forecast for the rescheduled afternoon opener and the rest of the three-game series in New York is cold. The trees are finally blooming around New York but the temps are barely going to be above freezing. Correa shakes his head.
“It’s bad to throw. Bad to hit. If you hit a foul ball off the end, you’re done,” he says. “You can no longer swing. You better hope he throws four balls.”
The kid from the Caribbean would prefer to be in Houston where it was 83 degrees Tuesday. Instead he was in the Bronx where it was an insulting 36 for early April. In the field, he stole a base hit away from—of all people—A-Rod. Up at the plate and on the base paths—debuting custom adidas cleats—he put on a show.
After striking out his first time up then reaching on a fielder’s choice, Correa dug in against Masahiro Tanaka for his third at-bat in the top of the sixth. Tanaka’s 1-0 pitch drifted over the plate. Correa extended his arms and drove it over the right-field fence for an opposite field solo home run. Tie game. On a day when the air was dry and the ball wasn’t carrying, he put Tanaka’s mistake 10 rows deep in an impressive display of power.
He quickly rounded the bases and subtly tipped his helmet as he touched every base. If the weather can’t hold him back, good luck to the rest of the league.