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2019 Season in Review: Carlos Correa

Over the first five seasons of his career, Carlos Correa has demonstrated why the Astros chose him first overall in the 2012 MLB amateur draft. He captured American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, along with some down-ballot MVP consideration. In 2017, he made his first All-Star team, finishing 10th in the league in batting average. More down-ballot MVP votes followed, along with a world championship. He then successfully proposed to his girlfriend on the field in the aftermath, which goes into the books as a pretty good evening. Still just 25 years old, Correa has arguably not yet fully tapped into his considerable talent.

Of course, part of the reason for that is that he's been unable to stay healthy. Correa has missed significant time due to injury in each of the last three seasons, playing just 294 of a possible 486 regular-season games over that span. While he has largely remained productive nonetheless, as a result of these health issues the Astros' shortstop has never hit 25 home runs, scored 90 runs, or driven in 100. Additionally, after stealing 27 bases in his first two MLB seasons, Correa has only attempted seven thefts in the three years since (doing so safely six times).

The injury problems evoke another star shortstop from the previous decade: Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo remained a popular high draft pick in fantasy leagues because the position didn't offer many other players with his upside. At the time, even 100 games from him tended to outstrip a full season's worth of production from most of his peers. Today, the shortstop talent pool is perhaps deeper than at any other point in the game's history. Four players at the position are clear first-round locks, with at least 10 others worthy of consideration within the first 100 picks of a standard mixed-league draft. Where does Correa fit into the picture?

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Rebound Year Marred By More Injuries

Last winter, Correa's stock was at its lowest point. Not only had he failed to accumulate 500 plate appearances for the second straight year, he struggled for the first time in his career when he did manage to suit up. After hitting .288/.366/.498 in his first three seasons, Correa slumped to a .239/.323/.405 line in 2018, with career-worst numbers essentially across the board. That performance was largely attributable to oblique and back injuries. Prior to landing on the injured list on June 26 of that season, Correa had hit .268/.352/.480 - below his usual standard, but within shouting distance of it. After his return on August 10, he put up a miserable .180/.261/.256, with a mere six extra-base hits in those 37 contests. He was a non-factor in the postseason as well, as Houston fell short in its bid for a repeat. In interviews, Correa resisted the urge to use health as an excuse, but also referred to it as "the toughest year of [his] career."

Along with the talent boom at shortstop, this disappointing showing was enough to drop him from a borderline first/second-round pick to the middle of the fourth round in 2019 drafts. Plenty of fantasy owners happily snapped him up at that price, betting that at just 24 years old, Correa could avoid another major injury and return to his prior level of elite production.

They were half right. Through 50 games, Correa hit .295/.360/.547, with 11 home runs and 61 R+BI. Then in late May, he suffered a fractured rib, apparently sustained during a massage at his home, and missed the rest of the season's first half. He returned two months later, and resumed his prior level of power production, though his batting average tanked. Toward the end of August, his back flared up again, and he played only three regular-season games after that. He played every game in the postseason, but again struggled, striking out 27 times in 18 games and only posting a .639 OPS as the Astros fell one win shy of their second World Series title in three years.


Risk vs. Reward

After three straight injury-plagued seasons, fantasy owners are taking a much more cautious approach with Correa based on early draft results. At the time of this writing, Correa is the 14th (!) shortstop off the board, with a 91.9 ADP. It's difficult to argue with that, given the immense talent of most of the names ahead of him and his considerable injury history. The Astros' sign-stealing scandal likely isn't helping matters much, either. But if Correa does manage to avoid the injury bug for the first time in four seasons, he's a virtual lock to earn fantasy owners a tidy profit at this discounted price.

Whether the risk justifies the potential reward comes down to how likely you think that outcome will be, and whether the warts of other players at the position strike you as dealbreakers. Perhaps you have health-related misgivings about Adalberto Mondesi (going 50 picks earlier) as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Maybe you're reluctant to go for Manny Machado (30 picks earlier) after an underwhelming 2019, or are worried about the league adjusting to Bo Bichette (15 picks earlier) after his success in a small sample has the community paying an expectant price. Do you believe Marcus Semien (9 picks earlier) can repeat his career season?

If the downsides of any of those or other shortstop options strike fear in your heart, perhaps the prospect of gambling a later pick on Correa's physical wellbeing becomes attractive.

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