Carlos Correa primed for big year with back injuries behind him

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After an injury-plagued 2018, Carlos Correa still profiles as a superstar going forward.

Carlos Correa debuted to quite a bit of fanfare. Drafted first overall by the Houston Astros in 2012, the young shortstop broke into the big leagues in 2015 like a shotgun blast, putting up a 135 OPS+ and 4.3 bWAR in 99 games. He was 20 years old. He easily won the Rookie of the Year and projected as an absolute no-doubt superstar, a future MVP and the centerpiece of a brewing dynasty in Houston.

Correa put up fantastic seasons in 2016 and 2017, amassing 12.4 bWAR combined in 262 games. Pretty awesome for any age, but even more so for a 22 year old, even as injuries caused Correa to miss about 50 games in 2017. Just as many expected two years before, the Astros broke through that season to win the World Series, led by 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve and an incredible roster, featuring Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and of course, Correa.

This last season didn’t go nearly as well. Correa missed a bunch of time yet again. Back and oblique problems plagued Correa all year, causing him to miss more than 30 games with a DL stint. As he explained to the Houston Chronicle, the absence was deeply frustrating:

“It’s been a tough year, obviously the toughest year of my career — not performance-wise, just staying healthy and being able to play and contribute,” Correa said. “At the same time, it happens. It happens to a lot of athletes out there. We just have to keep working and trying to be successful.”

Not to mention this:

Whoa. Don’t underestimate the detrimental effect the septum issue had on him. You try playing Major League Baseball without full breaths. The back and oblique injuries didn’t help, but part of me thinks the septum issue was the bigger problem.

Overall, the assorted maladies sapped Correa of his power and bat speed (he produced almost 10% less hard contact, for example), dragging him to a career-low 102 OPS+ and limiting his range. Fortunately for Correa and Astros fans, the septum surgery was a success and the young shortstop told Jake Kaplan of The Athletic he has “not even a slight bother in my back.”

Good. Furthermore, his first year in arbitration went smoothly — the young man is now $5 million richer (still wildly unpaid for his value, but alas).

So what to expect in 2019? Will Correa, presumably healthy, promptly bounce back to producing six-win seasons again? That’s a lot to ask of any player, but we shouldn’t let 2018 obscure the player Correa is.

As fans, it’s easy to focus on the new shiny young stars (like Vlad Guerrero Jr., for example), and rightfully so, but Correa is only 24 and has already proven himself in the bigs. If he’s healthy, Correa is a superstar and still an MVP candidate. Period.

Now, if he wants to win the award, he’ll have to beat out his superstar teammates in the Astros infield. Talk about a good problem to have.

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