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NEW YORK -- It can be lonely at the top. When the Houston Astros made shortstop Carlos Correa the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, he knew he would be entering a world of weighty expectations. The scrutiny comes with the territory, as the superstars (Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez) and No. 1 overall washouts (e.g., Bryan Bullington and Matt Bush) have discovered since the draft's inception in 1965.
So it was nice for Correa to relate some of his personal experiences to Minnesota Twins outfield prospect Byron Buxton, the second pick in the 2012 draft, during the recent Midwest League All-Star Game in Dayton, Ohio. They played on the same Western Division squad -- Correa as a representative for Houston's Class-A Quad Cities affiliate and Buxton for Cedar Rapids -- and spent several innings conversing in the dugout upon leaving the game.
"We had some time to talk and share experiences, so he could know me better and I could know him better," Correa said. "He knows what I'm going through and I know what he's going through. It was great to be able to share experiences on and off the field."
|Some experts already consider Buxton MLB's top prospect.|
At this early phase of their careers, the two phenoms still have to wait their turns on the biggest stage. Buxton entered the All-Star Futures Game in the fifth inning on Sunday and struck out in his only two plate appearances. Correa, the youngest player in the game at age 18, waited around until the eighth inning before getting the call in the U.S. Team's 4-2 victory over the World squad. He never made it to the plate.
Nevertheless, it won't be long until Correa and Buxton are in a place where everybody knows their names.
Barely a year after the thrill of draft night, the development curve is unfolding as planned. Correa is hitting .324 for Quad Cities and showing some impressive plate discipline for a player with so little professional experience. He has 51 strikeouts and 42 walks in 324 plate appearances for a gaudy .421 on-base percentage.
Correa made the most of his winter ball stop with Carolina, Roberto Clemente's old team in the Puerto Rican league. Yadier Molina, the St. Louis Cardinal's perennial All-Star catcher, played on the same club, and Correa took advantage of the opportunity to pick his brain and collect pointers on hitting. Correa also carried himself in a way that suggested he was right at home competing against older, more experienced players, even if his numbers didn't reflect it.
"From a visual perspective, he has everything you're looking for in a young player," said a scout who watched Correa in Puerto Rico. "There are some things that aren't tangible that just strike you, like how he carries himself. There's an air that's really hard to define. Some guys have it and some guys don't. You can march him in front of a scouting seminar and say, 'This is the way you're supposed to look.'"
Correa has already shown an ability to tinker with his stance and make adjustments. Under the guidance of Quad Cities hitting coach Joel Chimelis, Correa has lowered his hands and made an effort to take a shorter, quicker path to the ball. He has five homers and 17 doubles for Quad Cities. And as he showed with a power-laden display during batting practice at Citi Field on Sunday, he has a chance to give the Astros some rare pop from the shortstop position.
Buxton, like Correa, wins points for his ability to control the strike zone and take a walk when pitchers either miss or spend too much time nibbling. The Twins were sufficiently impressed with his production at Cedar Rapids that they recently promoted him to Fort Myers in the high Class A Florida State League. Between the two stops, Buxton has 49 walks and 68 strikeouts in 386 plate appearances, for a .418 on base percentage.
|Correa and Buxton got to bond recently at the Midwest League All-Star Game.|
"He can handle the velocity on the inner half, yet he can do something with the spinning ball going away," said Twins GM Terry Ryan, who was in the stands watching the Futures Game. "He has a little more ability to use the entire field than some of the other high school bats that have come out."
Buxton credits his grounded approach, strong work ethic and appreciation for baseball to his father, Felton, who took ample time out from running his trucking business to teach his son the finer points of the game. At Baxley High School in Georgia, Buxton was timed at a blazing 3.9 seconds down the first-base line and clocked at 99 mph on the pitcher's mound.
His biggest adjustment is getting used to the never-ending grind of professional baseball in his constant quest for self-improvement. He cites a need to become more discerning with his base stealing (he's 35-for-47 on the year), improve his jumps and ability to charge balls in the outfield, and learn to attack the pitches he can handle at the plate and lay off the balls he can't. "I'm basically trying to improve every aspect of my game," he said.
The Astros invested $4.8 million in Correa and the Twins spent $6 million to dissuade Buxton from attending the University of Georgia, and both players herald better days to come for their franchises. Buxton and Twins third-base prospect Miguel Sano generally rank among the top handful of position players on any minor league list, and Correa, Mark Appel, George Springer, Delino DeShields, Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart lead a new wave of players who hope to take the Astros from an afterthought to relevant in the American League West.
The folks back home are certainly paying attention. Buxton experienced a personal thrill during the offseason when he met his favorite Atlanta Brave, Chipper Jones, at a charity golf tournament. Correa, meanwhile, is growing accustomed to the idea that he has an entire island in his corner. When he returned home to Puerto Rico during the offseason, fans routinely came up to him in restaurants or at the mall to wish him good luck and tell him they were rooting for him.
"I love the fans and they love me," Correa said. "It's a great relationship."
Right now it's a love based on the promise of talent and youth. Correa and Buxton, eternally linked as the top two picks in last year's draft, are intent on building something far more enduring.