KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The kid wore aviators, a backward hat, a short-sleeved sweatshirt, ripped jeans, a leather backpack and a cloak of indomitability. "My mind is bulletproof," he said. My mind is bulletproof. My mind is bulletproof! Who does this kid think he is?
A superstar. That's about right. And if this were anyone else, it would come off as false bravado, the work of a poseur, traipsing in the first day of spring training and talking about greatness like it was preordained. "I always visualized this stuff coming," he said. "I think it came earlier than I expected. I was ready for it. I'm ready for it, and I'm not going to let it get to my head."
And no matter how that sounds, please understand: There is something about Carlos Correa that absolves his words of pretense. What reads as arrogance leaves his mouth in such a mellifluous fashion that it almost sounds … humble. Which is about right, too, because he is baseball's Goldilocks principle: not too much, not too little, just right. Bryce Harper is on occasion too audacious for the masses and Mike Trout generally too introverted to sell the world on himself let alone a cold-cut sandwich. Correa is a delightful in-between, and the fact that he speaks with the fluidity he does in a second language only reinforces the bet Major League Baseball is placing that he is its next golden boy.
Trout and Harper, the game's two best players, each not yet a quarter-century old, aren't the only ones, of course. Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton and Kris Bryant and Clayton Kershaw and Chris Archer and Paul Goldschmidt all sell the game and sell it well, though considering baseball's playing demographics skew more Latin by the year, surely the sport could use a photogenic, personable, bilingual cherub with A-Rod's talent and Jeter's equanimity to fill that void.
And there you have Carlos Javier Correa, 21 years old, 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, shortstop to the core, hands soft like they'd been smoothed by a pumice stone, feet of a dancer, arm that belongs on the mound, legs that could steal 30 bases if he let them, bat that will hit 30 home runs stat, mind impervious to ammunition. Others may be crossover possibilities – his Houston Astros teammate Jose Altuve or fellow standout Puerto Rican shortstop Francisco Lindor or old standby Felix Hernandez – but Correa is smart money.
An apology here: All of this is terribly fawning, seemingly excessive for someone with fewer than 100 games in the major leagues. Only it's not just people around the Astros organization who can't get enough of Correa. Major League Baseball is praying his .279/.345/.512 Rookie of the Year-winning season was just the start. Adidas locked him up for five years and occupied most of that first day he showed up here shooting a commercial. Opponents marvel, too, at how he looked like he belonged so quickly.
Houston took Correa first overall in the 2012 draft, and in his first full season the next year, at 18, he owned a clubhouse of 21- and 22- and 23-year-olds. The same presence that turns egotism into modesty worked its magic on a group equally impressed with his talent and charisma.
"When you meet him for the first time, you realize he's got some unique qualities," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "As you watch him more and more, you become more and more convinced he can handle the immense spotlight that's on him."
Houston summoned Correa on June 8 last season. He hit his first home run the next day. The team knew this was just the start. The players quickly came to agree and, as more and more attention was lavished on Correa, did their best to keep any vanity from bubbling over. Correa stood at the front of the bus on one trip and answered questions from veteran team members over the loudspeaker, a standard rookie-hazing technique.
"Some guys try to pretend they're not intimidated, so they overdo it," Astros reliever Luke Gregerson said. "That's what he did. He looked like he was really comfortable, but it was over-the-top comfortable."
Gregerson told Correa part of his rookie duties were to get all the Astros players T-shirts that say "Team Correa," an homage to his family/marketing slogan he brought to the big leagues. Correa did one better: Toward the end of the season, as the Astros were pushing for a playoff spot, dozens of moisture-wicking T-shirts that bore the word SHOWRREA – with the H as an Astros logo, naturally – arrived for teammates.
The armored kid, the one ready for anything, came into a den of alpha-male millionaires with a T-shirt that calls himself the show before he was legally able to take a drink and didn't just live to tell it. The shirt is in Gregerson's regular rotation for workouts.
Like with the Class-A group in 2013, Correa was so good and so put-together that players understood his future was theirs. "It was kind of like us saying; 'Here you go, dude. You own this place,' " Astros outfielder George Springer said.
And now, less than two weeks after that first day at camp, Correa is ready to play his first spring game Friday, the first in what he believes will be an eight-month-long run.
"We have the team to win it all," Carlos Correa said, and then it was, "Nobody can tell me I'm not going to get better; nobody can tell me I'm not going to do this or do that," and after that it was more of the same, his mind 21 going on Methuselah and his confidence a 100 emoji, happy to stand in front of everyone silly enough to doubt him and urge them to fire their best shot, just to see if he's as right as he knows he is.
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