It’s coming up on three years since Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico’s own Carlos Correa made history for being the first Puerto Rican to be the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft, but his former Big League Baseball coach, Edwin Rodriguez, never gets tired of telling this story.
Correa got the news on Sunday that he was called up to the Houston Astros for Monday's opener of a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox. He was with Triple-A Fresno after beginning the season with Double-A Corpus Christi and was hitting a combined .335 with 10 home runs, 44 RBIs and 21 doubles with 18 stolen bases. At 20, he will become the second-youngest player in MLB when he starts.
“I saw him for the first time in 2010 -- he played two years for me,” said Rodriguez of Correa's participation on Caguas’ Team Elite, which is going on its seventh straight year in the Big League Baseball final for 15- to 18-year-olds. “I didn’t have a spot for him at short so he ended up playing every position, even pitching. That year we were playing a tournament in Santa Isabel and there were about 10 scouts there. I went over to them and I said: ‘See that kid at first base, he’s going to be a first-rounder.’ And they told me it was impossible, that he had slow feet, that he was not that good. This was December of 2010.
“A few months later I took him to a Perfect Game showcase in Fort Myers, Florida. And the director, Jerry Ford, asks me: ‘Edwin, where did you find this kid?’”
At Ford’s insistence, Rodriguez took Correa to the Perfect Game All-American tournament in San Diego in August 2011.
“I come back to Puerto Rico and all the scouts are calling me and asking me who this kid is,” said Rodriguez. “I said, don’t you remember? This is the kid you said had slow feet. This is the kid you said would never make it.”
Rodriguez admits that players with Correa’s drive come along once in a lifetime.
“Carlos had a work ethic that was off the charts, but his was a special definition,” he said.
The Houston Astros promoted the shortstop to Triple-A Fresno on May 11 and on May 26 he hit his third home run in 14 Pacific Coast League games. (ESPN Insider Keith Law says he’d be called up by the time he turned 21 in September and ranks him the top MLB prospect this month.)
Some felt that Correa’s call-up might be delayed because of the Super 2 loophole in the MLB collective bargaining agreement, arguing that Correa wouldn't likely get called up at least until after June so that the Astros could delay his arbitration clock. But the Astros disproved that.
Correa himself said he’s grateful to be in the minors because the daily routine helped him improve.
“Doing the same thing every day is what helps me to be prepared,” the 6-foot-4 Correa told ESPN last week. “When you sign and you are a professional you are no longer special. There are a lot of players competing with you and fighting for the same spot, so you have to be good all the time.
“I’m lucky to be in this place, it is a great workshop. They teach you the correct form here and it is a blessing for all baseball players.”
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said before the call-up that Correa was close to being ready, but dismissed worries that the sore right heel Correa suffered earlier is related to a previously fractured fibula from last June.
“I do think he’s benefiting from his time there,” Luhnow told The Houston Chronicle. “He’s seeing a lot of off-speed pitching that he hasn’t seen before. He’s learning how to make adjustments. One of the impressive things is how he will make adjustments in a single game and sometimes even in a single at-bat. For a 20-year-old kid to be able to do that against pitchers that have already been in the big leagues, I think that’s pretty impressive.”
Correa offered special advice for his former Team Elite teammates as they head into the 2015 draft.
“If I could have been a first-round pick then there are other players [in Puerto Rico] who could do it,” he said. “It is important to remember that it doesn’t end with getting drafted, that is just where it starts. The reality is that turning professional is just the beginning. This is where you really have to work, going up against players who are at your same level.
“In Puerto Rico what we need to do is not be complacent. It’s OK to hang out and party once in a while, but if you want success, you have to work for it, especially if you aren’t drafted in a high round. It is not just talent, you have to put in the hard work.”