MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Correa too impressive for Astros to pass up

Justice: Correa too impressive to pass up

Eight days ago, the Astros wanted to look at 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa one last time. Over the last two years, they'd had at least eight scouts see him dozens of times. They'd spoken to his coaches and to his teachers, too. Along the way, an impressive portrait had emerged.

His skill set was off the charts. Some scouts compared him to Troy Tulowitzki. Others mentioned Alex Rodriguez. Even though Correa was the youngest player in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the Astros decided he could be in the big leagues by his 20th birthday.

Beyond the baseball stuff, Correa was No. 1 in his high school class and had scored 1560 on the SAT exam. He'd self-taught himself English and was popular among the people who knew him best in his native Puerto Rico.

Still, this was a strange Draft in that there was no clear No. 1 pick. As Astros scouting director Bobby Heck said, "We would have been thrilled with any of the top five players."

2012 Draft Central

When Correa accepted Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow's invitation to participate in a simulated game in Kissimmee, Fla., last week, there wasn't much the club didn't already know about him. But there were questions Luhnow still needed answered.

"I wanted to see how he handled 92-93 mph inside fastballs," Luhnow said.

Correa took 12 to 15 at-bats that day, and handled a diet of inside hard stuff. He showed a combination of discipline and power.

"He swung and missed once," Luhnow said, "and that was on a curveball out of the strike zone."

By the time Luhnow and his staff flew back to Houston, they had great vibes about Carlos Correa.

"He looked like he fit in," Luhnow said. "He was three or four years younger than most of the players on the field. He absolutely stood out. It gave me confirmation that this is the type of player we're looking for. This is an impact player that we need for the future of this organization. Carlos has a chance to be a star."

The Astros' decision-makers spent the weekend at Minute Maid Park weighing the plusses and minuses of each of the top players, and around mid-afternoon on Monday, they settled once and for all on Correa being the No. 1 overall pick.

"He looks like a man among boys right now," Luhnow said. "I can just imagine in five years out here at Minute Maid he'll be looking the same way."

New Astros owner Jim Crane hired Luhnow to be his general manager last winter in large part because of the extraordinary work he'd done supervising the Draft for the Cardinals. His first three Drafts produced 24 Major League players, tops in baseball over that time.

Crane believes that good baseball organizations are built from the ground up. He does not believe in shortcuts. The Astros may not be really good again for another year or two, but by then, he hopes Luhnow will have positioned the franchise to be in contention for years to come.

So Correa represents something larger. For a franchise that made six postseason appearances in a nine-year stretch between 1997 and 2005, the Astros hope that the drafting of Correa will be a significant step on the road back to contention.

"He's an overachiever," Luhnow said. "He's driven to be successful. He's exactly the type player we need."

In their final meetings, the Astros debated whether to use the No. 1 pick on a college pitcher (Stanford's Mark Appel), a high school outfielder (Byron Buxton of Georgia) or Correa. There were other players in the discussion, and even though Appel was believed to be the consensus No. 1 pick by several teams, the Astros kept coming back to three factors.

One is that Correa had gifts that could be measured and more gifts that couldn't. Second, he played in the middle of the infield. Third, they believe he'll eventually hit 20-plus home runs in the Major Leagues.

For a franchise committed to sticking to a blueprint, to doing things right, for being comprehensive and methodical, Carlos Correa made the most sense.

"We feel very comfortable that the Draft isn't his finish line," Heck said. "The Major League All-Star Game is his finish line."

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.