Finally we’ve established a great golden age for shortstop. There are five names that could go in the first two or three rounds of the draft, and that’s excluding Manny Machado and Jonathan Villar (primarily third basemen). With a top tier so rich in potential, who do you pick as first off the board? I can’t fault anyone for opting for Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, or even Trevor Story. However, my money is on Carlos Correa as the top option. Here’s why.
Most casual observers would believe that Correa had a large setback based on his rookie production. He had more home runs in fewer at bats during his 2015 campaign, and his stolen bases and batting average dropped slightly as well. Therefore those who went all-in on Correa’s rookie year and took him as a first-round pick suffered a net loss on draft value. Although I’d consider it unfair to draft almost any second-year player in the first round, I can’t blame owners for trying, and believing Correa may prove to have Mike Trout success.
One of my favorite go-to stats is ground ball percentage. If a player has a rate at or above 50%, then it’s hard to project more than 20 homers in a season. Correa did indeed have a 50% ground ball rate in 2016, and so he managed only 20 HR. He had a 49% rate in 2015 as well, so this is a trend that will be hard for him to change quickly, if at all.
Some other quick hits on Correa’s 2016 season are his drop in contact rate and the drop in stolen bases. His numbers are still reasonable in both of these categories, but drops are going to cause concern among some owners. A rise in swinging strike rate helps explain part of his contact drop. An issue with batting average against lefties is also a point to watch.
There are plenty of gains to note in his sophomore campaign, and those fantasy owners who skip over them will leave great value on the draft table. Even among some of those points of criticism, I can find metrics that mitigate my worry and give me optimism for Correa’s future. Regarding contact rate, Correa’s overall number dropped, but it was in the first half (73%). In his second half of 2016, he rebounded to 79%, which is in line with his rookie season.
As for his struggles against lefties, it’s more due to unlucky BABIP than anything else. His walk rate was actually better against lefties, and his contact rate was the same as against righties. He also had a better hard hit rate against LHP, so I’m not concerned moving forward and expect him to rebound to his 2015 profile, where he had very little difference in splits.
Although Correa’s stolen bases dropped, it’s not entirely his fault. Most hitters batting third or fourth are not going to focus on stealing bases, because the guys behind him should be able to drive him in. In Correa’s case, he simply ran less: his stolen base opportunity dropped from 17% in 2015 to 9% in 2016. His speed metrics actually improved in his sophomore year, but because he didn’t run as often, the total SB wasn’t there.
A drop in HR/FB in the second half of 2016 warrants mention. Though he remained above league average, owners expected more than just 12% HR/FB from Correa in the second half, especially after his strong first half (21%). Given that the first half was in line with his 2015 stats, I’m more willing to write off the second half drop, especially given that his hard hit rate jumped from his 2015, and it wasn’t much different between the first and second half last year.
Yes, his current ground ball tilt will still cap his home run production, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he hits 25 HR in 2017 — and the potential for more is there if he can learn to loft the ball a bit more.
When it comes to his ability to learn, he’s already made clear strides. An increased walk rate and a decreased O-Swing% show he has plate discipline already, even if he is whiffing on a few more pitches. He’s teachable, and so I believe he could improve his fly ball rate by at least a few percentage points.
Comparing Him to the Other Top Four
It depends on which projections site you use, but most of the safe projections are close to each other. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Correa’s ranks in average, home runs, and stolen bases when compared to the other top, full-time SS options. Potential ranks are out of five.
- Projected BA: 4th
- Projected HR: 2nd
- Projected SB: 2nd
The glaring low mark is batting average, but when you consider the strong hitting class, it’s less scary to your fantasy team’s overall production. Correa is likely to hit near .280, which is still above average for fantasy and MLB purposes. It’s simply that Lindor, Bogaerts, and Seager are projected to hit over .285, which knocks down Correa’s ranking here. In the grand scheme of things, His worst category here is still better than average, so take it with a grain of salt.
The other two categories are where I get excited. For home runs, Correa is tied with Seager for second, at 22 HR. Both of them had low FB% in 2016, and both had a HR/FB fade in the second half. But Correa has that 2015 HR/FB under his belt, he bats from both sides, and he plays in the more favorable AL West. Either player could break out in home runs with enough FB% improvement, but I’d give the tiebreaker to Correa in 2017.
When it comes to being a true five-tool fantasy player, I was a little surprised that three of these top SS options are rather lacking in stolen bases. Seager doesn’t project to steal much at all, and Story and Bogaerts may be lucky to reach 10. Lindor has the best chance of breaking 25 SB, but Correa has proven he is capable of double digits, and many projections have him at 15+ SB. That’s not going to blow anyone away, but it’s enough to take a solid second in these rankings. What’s more, in one projection system I trust, Correa is only 1 SB behind Lindor, 18 versus 19.
That ability to produce across all three categories, as well as the runs and RBI he’ll pile up in the middle of the Astros lineup, make Correa the best overall shortstop to target in 2017. I’m very comfortable with a .275/23/15 projection. However, if a few things go right, I’d not be at all surprised if he manages a .285/30/20 season in the near future. For your middle infield, this is a star profile, and he’s just 22. Because he won’t hurt you in any roto category, you should prioritize him over the other elite options.
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