He’s the youngest player in baseball, but he doesn’t sound like it.
“Every single day I go out there, I try to get better,” Carlos Correa told me recently. That’s something you might hear from any player, young or old. But in Correa’s case, any credit of his improvement is often deflected toward someone else. Everything comes back to the people that have helped him and taught him and played with him. When asked of the adjustments he has made as a hitter, Correa said, “Well, the hitting coaches here have helped me a lot.”
He is all of 20 years old, and already Correa is in the conversation for the best shortstop in baseball. Of course he has great natural talent — most big leaguers do — but it’s that maturity, that self-awareness, that openness to learn from anyone and everyone around him … that is what has made Correa so good at such a young age.
But there’s more to it than that. Like every major leaguer, he has had to make adjustments as he has developed, and there are certain things he must work on every single day to stay on top of his game.
With that, here are the three secrets to Carlos Correa’s success, directly from the player himself.
Daily chore No. 1: Work on driving the inside pitch
Correa has homered on two pitches that were inside off the plate this year. Take a look at how far inside this pitch from Colby Lewis was headed before the shortstop pummeled it. Now look at it on a heat map:
That’s impressive. In fact, that home run off Lewis came in a zone where very few hitters can drive pitches out of the park. In 2013 for example, less than half a percent of the pitches thrown by a righty to a righty in that zone were home runs.
“In the minor leagues, teams would see that I could hit the ball the other way, and then they’d try to pitch me in,” Correa admitted to me before a game with the Athletics. “I would hit top-spin doubles and singles, even when I was jammed sometimes, but then I learned better how to drive that pitch.”
What did he learn and how does he work on it?
The key for Correa is: “My hands clearing close to the body and still getting extension on the end of the swing.” And that homer you see on the clip was his exhibit A for success in that regard: “That pitch was on the white line.”
The daily work? “It’s something I do every single day with the tee, I put the tee really far inside and I make sure I clear my hands close to my body,” Correa said, once again crediting his hitting coaches for the idea.
Daily chore No. 2: Work on discerning balls and strikes
Once you prove you have big-league power, pitchers begin nibbling. That’s been true for as long as there have been sluggers and pitchers trying to get those sluggers out, but recently Ben Lindbergh at Grantland showed how strong the relationship really is between a hitter’s power and the number of pitches he sees in the strike zone.
Correa has proven that he has big league power, and now he’s seeing fewer pitches in the zone. In his first 26 games, he saw 46.7% of the pitches inside the zone. In his second 29 games, that number dropped to 43%.
The shortstop has responded in kind. He swung at 50.4% of the pitches he saw in his first 26 games, and in the second 29, that number dropped to 41.5%. He swung — and reached — more at first, but then he adjusted once pitchers started nibbling more. “I try not to swing at those borderline pitches, even though it’s obviously hard to do,” he admitted.
|6/8 – 7/8||46.7%||50.4%||36.0%|
|7/9 – 8/10||43.0%||41.5%||27.5%|
Once again, there’s daily work to be done to improve his ability to swing at the right pitches. “Every single swing you take in batting practice, every single flip you take in the cage,” Correa counts as opportunities to improve here. “I tell my coaches, don’t throw me all strikes. Throw me borderline pitches, throw me pitches that are balls.”
He’s thankful for their help, of course. “The hitting coaches here have helped me a lot — they tell me to not swing at the pitches pitchers want me to swing at, but swing at the pitches I want to swing at.” And now? “When I get fastballs, borderline pitches, I’ll take them. And if the umpire calls them strikes, fine, if not, great.”
Daily chore No. 3: Eat right!
There was some worry, as Correa was tearing through the minor leagues, that he might not be able to stick at shortstop, particularly as his frame filled out.
But the player has shown great defensive ability so far this year, with steady range peppered by enough spectacular dives and athletic jump-throws to dream upon a career’s worth of games at the position.
“I want to stick at shortstop,” Correa says as a matter of fact. “I think I’ve proved to everyone I can play the position and now it’s just about keeping that diet and staying there and staying healthy.”
That diet has helped him stay agile as he’s grown. And so Correa makes sure to stay on top of what he’s eating every day. “My diet is very strict,” says the 20-year-old. “I eat lean food, in the offseason at least, you won’t see me eating any pizza, anything like that. During the season, I might, because you need the fat sometimes, since you play every day. When I go home it’s all healthy greens and turkey.”
And though Puerto Rico has some great, potentially unhealthy cuisine to offer the young man, it is on the island that he learned to watch what he ate. “The Puerto Rican baseball academy helped me a lot,” he said. “It helped me grow as a player and as a person, and I was always be grateful to the opportunity to be one of their alumni. I spent three years at the school and I learned how to work, how to eat, how to have a routine, and all that stuff helped to become even better.”
Considering Correa has an .889 OPS and is already one of the more slick-fielding shortstops in baseball — again, while being the youngest player in the The Show — so whatever he’s doing, he should keep doing it.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.