2012 Draft Spotlight: Carlos Correa

Ultimate Draft Book

Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa

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The selection of Carlos Correa with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft signaled the beginning of a new era for the Houston Astros. It also heralded a triumphant return of Puerto Rico’s storied baseball tradition.

Not since the island’s Dream Team ran roughshod in the 1995 Caribbean Series, or a record 53 native sons populated major league Opening Day rosters in 2001 had there been reason for Puerto Ricans to celebrate a baseball moment quite like the one Correa provided.

The 17-year-old Correa thoroughly embraced the occasion, happily waving a Puerto Rican mini-flag in a salute to his homeland when baseball commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement of his draft selection on national TV.

“I always think about representing Puerto Rico, lifting baseball in Puerto Rico,” Correa said. “It’s always something I’ve focused on since I was drafted. I wanted to tell people that, yes, there are good baseball players in Puerto Rico.”

His selection harkened back to a day when Puerto Rico was influential in the development of major league talent, producing the likes of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Alomar, all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And there was the 1995 Dream Team roster that included Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Carlos Delgado, Juan Gonzalez, Edgar Martinez and Bernie Williams, all established major league stars in the mid-1990s. The major league player’s strike of 1994 moved many of Puerto Rico’s major leaguers to play winter ball, which culminated with Puerto Rico dominating the four-nation Caribbean World Series in front of raucous, partisan crowds in San Juan.

All of the Dream Team players joined U.S. professional baseball as free agents on the open market, since Puerto Ricans were not subject to the draft until 1989. The introduction of the draft coincided with a decline in baseball interest in Puerto Rico, and a resulting dip in talent.

Puerto Rico’s dwindling influence in baseball came at a time when other sports such as basketball, boxing and volleyball became popular on the island. The baseball draft also played a role, considering that major league teams had less incentive to find talent on the island that they might or might not land. Instead, scouts re-directed their focus to areas such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, which were unencumbered by a restrictive draft.

From a record 35 Puerto Ricans drafted in 1995, only seven were selected a decade later, none higher than the 31st round. Even more noteworthy, a record-low 11 Puerto Ricans were on Opening Day major league rosters in 2012, the same year Correa became the first Puerto Rican drafted first overall.

Like his countrymen from another era, Correa pursued baseball with a passion from a young age. With the help of his father, he practiced endlessly to fine tune his skills, which led to a scholarship at age 15 to the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, a baseball-centric, but accredited high school that opened in 2002 and was funded in part by Major League Baseball. The Academy’s mission was to rekindle baseball interest among Puerto Rico’s youth.

The school provided Correa the finishing touches, both physically and emotionally, he needed, and he quickly developed into a top shortstop prospect. His powerful arm, superior speed and thunderous bat reminded some scouts of both Alex Rodriguez, for his size and skill set; and Derek Jeter, for his grace and natural affinity for the game.

Taking a cue from Jeter, Correa understood that his growing fame came with responsibility. From the moment a humble, but proud Correa was drafted, he was embraced as a national hero in his homeland, and he enhanced his celebrity status by earning the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2015, edging out another Puerto Rican shortstop, Francisco Lindor.

In the process, Correa not only became the face of a franchise experiencing a turnaround, but a driving force behind the resurgence of top-flight baseball talent from Puerto Rico.