After bursting onto the Major League scene in 2015, Carlos Correa is set to give the baseball world something it deserved all along; an untainted Alex Rodriguez.
Correa exceeded even the loftiest of expectations for the young Houston Astros shortstop in his first cameo in the Major Leagues in 2015. He is already poised to be the first-class shortstop in all of baseball entering only his age 21 season in 2016.
Enter the Alex Rodriguez comps. The comparison is made with the same ease in which Correa covers his position.
Both Correa and A-Rod were 1st overall picks. At the start of their big league careers, both were tall, lengthy, yet sneakily powerful shortstops early on in their Major League careers. Both had the type of athleticism and intangibles that left you with little doubt that they would be future superstars.
As any baseball fan knows A-Rod’s legacy has been polluted by confirmed performance enhancing drug allegations. The type of allegations that, even when only suspected, have kept all-time greats like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame.
This is where Correa comes in, with the steroid era in MLB’s rear view mirror it is time for new, unblemished, Hall of Fame legacies to be built. Correa has a chance to have an A-Rod type of career without a colossal asterisk next to his statistics.
In only 432 plate appearances, spanning 99 regular season games in 2015, Correa mashed 22 tatters, drove in 68 runs, stole 14 bases, and won the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Correa averaged a HR once per 17.6 at bats in his age 20 season. In Alex Rodriguez’ age 20 season, 1996, he averaged a HR per 16.7 at bats, only a slightly more impressive number. A-Rod also finished second in the MVP voting in his age 20 season.
In 1996 A-Rod also posted a stunning .358/.414/.631 slash line compared to Correa’s .279/.345/.512, which is still substantial, just not close to what A-Rod did in 1996.
This comparison alone seems slanted toward A-Rod. It is important to remember that A-Rod already had big league exposure entering that season though, with 208 career regular season plate appearances. He also played a full seasons worth of games, while Correa only played 99 games, which makes up some of the difference in the MVP voting (Correa finished 24th in the AL MVP balloting in 2015).
A-Rod obviously earned that big league exposure in the two seasons prior to 1996, but there was also more incentive for the Mariners to push A-Rod through the farm, especially in 1995 when the Seattle Mariners were serious contenders.
Meanwhile Correa’s Astros lost 111 games in 2013 and 92 games in 2014, making it easier for them to be a little bit more patient with Correa. Correa’s ascension to the Majors was also slowed when he broke his fibula in June of 2014 and missed the rest of the season.
Had it not been for that injury, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Correa would have made it to the Majors even sooner than he did.
Even as it stands, it seems trivial to discount Correa for reaching the Majors at the comically old-age of 20. To take it a step further, let’s consider the 208 plate appearances A-Rod had before age 20, to be easily made up by not missing an entire season for testing positive for PED’s.
Had it not been for an epic collapse in the 8th inning of game 4 of the 2015 ALDS the budding narrative of Correa may be even more impressive. Correa misplayed a key grounder off the bat of Kendrys Morales that should have resulted in a double play in a 5-run top of the 8th inning that completely changed the course of the game.
Before that crucial top of the 8th inning Correa looked destined to start his playoff career off with an exclamation point. In what would have been a series clinching game for the Astros, Correa went 4 for 4 with 2 HR’s and 4 RBI’s, it truly was on the verge of being a game that people would look back after his career as one of the climactic points of his career.
Even accounting for the costly error, it’s still a performance worthy of acclaim. Although the error came at a bad time, Correa should not be looked at as the goat of the situation. The Astros bullpen had a 4 run lead entering the inning, a lead due in large part to Correa’s performance, and the ‘Pen simply blew it. Plain and simple.
Instead of looking at this game as a failure, it should be looked at as a sign of things to come for Correa. With his explosive offensive performance during game 4, Correa showcased the kind of poise and capability that leaves you salivating for what is to come.
Throughout his big league career A-Rod has amassed 687 HR’s, or one every roughly 15 at bats. Correa may never develop quite that type of power, or hit 50 HR’s in a big league season like A-Rod did in 2001, 2002, and 2007, but, Correa has the makings of a regular member of the 30 HR club, with a chance to break the 40 mark more than once.
He also has the speed on the basepaths and baseball aptitude to join Rodriguez as a member of the 40 HR-40 SB club (1998). Correa should match A-Rod’s accomplishment of joining the 3,000 hit club, provided he stay healthy
The most important distinction between Correa and Rodriguez, is simply the ability to have a clean legacy. With regular PED testing across MLB, it is almost guaranteed that Correa will stay clean.
At only 21 Correa is poised to give the baseball world something that it needs and deserves: A look at what A-Rod’s career could have been without a black cloud over his plaque in Cooperstown.