The Carlos Correa countdown is on. The Houston Astros—check that, the AL West-leading Houston Astros, who sport the best record in the American League at 18-8 entering play Tuesday—suddenly find themselves in a position where promoting their young shortstop and No. 1 prospect to the majors might come sooner than expected and would make plenty of sense for a few reasons.

First, there’s the recent injury to Jed Lowrie, the club’s starting shortstop who will be out until after the All-Star break with a torn ligament in his right thumb, according to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle.

Lowrie was playing very well in his return to the Astros, hitting .300/.432/.567 in 18 games. His loss means Houston has been forced to try to hold down the fort at short by turning to the likes of Jonathan Villar and Marwin Gonzalez, neither of whom is worthy of starting at the position for a team that actually is looking to return to relevance, if not contention in 2015.

Speaking of which, reason No. 2 has to do with just that. The Astros, of course, have been undergoing a necessary and extremely lengthy rebuilding process in recent years. They are coming off six straight losing seasons, tying them with the New York Mets for the longest active stretch of nonwinning campaigns in baseball.

During that time, questions, concerns and criticisms have come to the forefront over the approach and when—or even if—Houston finally would turn it around. A lot can happen over the course of a six-month baseball season, but if the first portion of 2015 is any indication, that turnaround is underway.

Yes, the Astros are winning for a change, off to a hot start that has them with—get this—the largest division lead in baseball at the moment. Houston is already a whopping seven games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners (11-15) in an AL West where the other four clubs have to try to claw their way back to .500 before they can set their sights on the ‘Stros.

And the third reason why the Correa countdown is ticking? Well, Correa himself.

One of the elite prospects in the game, Correa was the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 and was ranked among the top five—in fact, the top four—by each of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and at the outset of spring training.

The 20-year-old keeps killing the ball at Double-A Corpus Christi. Through 23 games, he’s hitting .383/.458/.702 with 21 runs, 13 doubles, five home runs, 25 RBI and 11 stolen bases, while striking out only 18.7 percent of the time and walking 11.2 percent.

Here’s where we pause and suggest you reread those numbers, because: Wow. To put them in context, Correa is leading the Texas League in—deep breath—batting average, slugging percentage, on-base-plus slugging percentage, runs scored, hits and doubles.

As for on-base percentage, homers, RBI and stolen bases, he’s merely in the top four. Oh, and he has made but one error while playing all but one game at short, with the other coming as designated hitter.

All that, and Correa is the third-youngest player in the circuit, as only lefty Julio Urias of the Los Angeles Dodgers and outfielder Nomar Mazara of the Texas Rangers were born after him.

“Carlos is going to be a star player in the big leagues,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said when the Astros sent Correa down to the minor league camp during spring training. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Luhnow wrapped up that media session with the following statement: “We feel good about the squad that we’re going to take to Houston to start the season with. And we feel good about the protection and the players we’ll have available to us [in the minors], should an injury occur or a need arise.”

Well, a need has arisen, and Correa has performed as well as any player possibly could through the first turn of the season. But that doesn’t mean the Astros are ready to push the envelope by pushing their stud youngster all the way to the majors—at least not quite yet—even if he’s looking more and more ready by the day.

“He’s definitely a special player, so his time will come faster than it would for other guys,” Luhnow told Drellich in the aftermath of Lowrie‘s injury. “But…he’s got 70 at-bats above Class A, and we feel like he needs some more.”

Which raises the question: Had Correa not lost half of 2014 when he fractured his right fibula sliding into third base last June, would he be in Houston instead of Corpus Christi right now?

While the Astros, like most clubs, prefer their most valuable prospects go through all levels of the minors, including Triple-A, other phenoms like Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton and Manny Machado have been bumped from Double-A straight to MLB at age 20 in recent years and found success, if not immediately then fairly soon thereafter. Correa is very much in the same class as those three were at the time of their promotions.

Another young player who made that jump?

“[Jose] Altuve never had Triple-A time, and he did OK,” Luhnow said, per Drellich. “[But] those at-bats that Correa is taking at Double-A, he’s not wasting his time there. He’s learning stuff, we’re evaluating, and it’s all helping toward the ultimate goal of getting him to the big leagues and having him help the team.”

Often with prospects, patience is prudent, if not imperative. But the forces seem to be aligning just so between Lowrie‘s injury and the way the Astros and Correa are playing so far.

The countdown is on.


Statistics are accurate through Monday, May 4, and courtesy of and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter:@JayCat11.

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