Last year, Carlos Correa somehow lived up to the hype after beginning his major league career as baseball’s best prospect. After that, it was only fair that there was a huge spotlight on him coming into 2016.

If anyone out there has lost sight of Correa since then, they should know two things: One, it’s not your fault. Two, he’s still really, really good.

Nobody knows this better than the Minnesota Twins. Correa is a big reason why they just dropped three of four to the Houston Astros at Target Field. The 21-year-old cranked a two-run homer in a four-RBI day in a 7-5 win Tuesday, and he wreaked more havoc in both ends of a Thursday doubleheader.

In the day game, Correa helped the Astros to a 15-7 win with a long three-run dinger:

In the night game, Correa helped the Astros to a 10-2 win with an even longer solo dinger:

Like that, Correa’s sophomore season now looks suspiciously like his rookie season. In 2015, Correa hit .279 with an .857 OPS and 22 home runs in 99 games. In 111 games this year, he’s hitting .273 with an .850 OPS and 18 home runs.

It’s not a perfect match, but it’s close. Weighted runs created plus, which measures offensive performance on a scale of league average, calculates Correa has gone from being 33 percent better than the average hitter to 30 percent better than the average hitter. Offensively, the difference between his Rookie of the Year campaign and his quieter sophomore campaign is a split hair.

This is allowing the former No. 1 pick to keep a special place among his fellow shortstops. He was the best-hitting shortstop in the league last year. This year, he’s being outpaced by only Corey Seager and Aledmys Diaz. (Manny Machado has played more games at third base than short.)

And yet Correa has seemed invisible for so much of 2016. My powers of deduction lead me to believe that has something to do with the shortstop getting lost next to Jose Altuve. The 5’6″, 165-pound second baseman is a small man who’s casting a large, possibly MVP-sized shadow. It also hasn’t helped that the Astros haven’t been good and aren’t getting better. Before winning three in a row, they had lost 11 of 14.

Correa also shoulders some of the blame. There was talk in some parts (including these parts) at the outset of the year that he would contend for the American League MVP award. He fell flat in the face of those expectations. Through the end of May, he was hitting .253 and OPSing .762.

But since then? How about .291 with a .928 OPS and 10 of his 18 home runs? Pretty good, right?

Yeah, pretty good. And the difference isn’t just in the surface numbers.

Simply by comparing Correa’s 2015 to his 2016 season, it’s clear he’s used more of a measured approach this year. His chase rate on pitches outside the zone has dropped. And with it, his walk percentage has risen from 9.3 percent to 12.1 percent.

There’s a fine line between being patient and being passive, though. Correa was on the wrong side of it early on. He struck out in 24.2 percent of his plate appearances in April and May, up from 18.1 percent in his rookie season.

Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle saw what the problem was, noting in late May that Correa was “giving away pitches for strike one and putting himself in holes early.” He also wasn’t adjusting to a heavy diet of inside heat.

“I think he’s a very selective hitter and sometimes might be too selective in trying to wait out the perfect pitch,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, per Kaplan. “I think as he matures and grows, he’ll learn when to hunt early-count fastballs or early-count strikes and maybe not wait all deep into the count until the pitcher’s in control.”

Cue the light bulb over Correa’s head turning on.

Since June, his strikeout rate has fallen to 17.3 percent. He hasn’t been swinging at more pitches, as his overall swing rate has remained stuck at exactly 43.7 percent. This has more to do with his swinging at the right pitches.

As Correa was breaking out in 2015, Brooks Baseball shows the righty swinger was at his most dangerous against inside pitches. Lo and behold, Brooks Baseball also shows his swing pattern has shifted from this in April and May:

To this since June:

Correa was doing a good job of keeping his swings confined to the strike zone in April and May but was aggressive in going after pitches in the outer third of the zone. Since June, he’s cleaned that up and played to his strength on the inner half of the plate.

This, combined with Correa’s good strike-zone judgment, helps explain the decline in whiffs. It also helps explain his increase in power. Although he had straightaway center in his sights Thursday, he’s mostly been pull-happy with a 45.4 pull percentage since June. That’s a good way to find power.

There are still things Correa can improve on. To hit for even more power, it wouldn’t hurt for him to get the ball airborne more often. And he remains a mystery on the other side of the ball. Correa can make amazing plays, but the advanced metrics continue to rate him as a below-average fielder.

The player Correa is, however, should not be taken lightly.

We now have 210 games of Correa being one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball. And now that he’s shown he has the ability to make important adjustments in addition to his insane natural talent, this is something everyone ought to get used to.

So that spotlight? It should probably be a little bigger.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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