Monday, the Astros promoted Carlos Correa – without even a stitch of experience in Class AAA – to their 25-man roster and immediately installed him as their starting shortstop.
As you’ll no doubt recall, Jed Lowrie opened the season as the Astros’ shortstop, and was playing brilliantly, playing better than he’d ever played before, statistically speaking anyway, before suffering a thumb injury that required surgery, and he’s not expected back in the lineup until after the All-Star break. With thumb injuries, you never know; maybe it’ll be well after the All-Star break.
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That left shortstop in the hands of Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar, both of whom sport sub-.300 career on-base percentages. That sounds pretty bad, and you’re happily forgiven for thinking Gonzalez and Villar are terrible players, or have been terrible this season. Otherwise, why else rush this Correa kid, however talented, to the majors?
Well, Gonzalez and Villar aren’t terrible. They’re both replacement-level players, all things considered, probably a tad better.
So why bring Correa up now? Because the first-place Astros’ margin for error is smaller than you might think, just looking at the standings. Yes, they’ve got a three-game lead over the Rangers, and bigger leads over the Angels and Mariners, who were essentially the preseason co-favorites.
But while the Astros are now 34-25, their +16 run differential isn’t nearly as impressive. Considering that somebody – the Rangers, the Angels, maybe even those underperforming Mariners – will make a run at first place, the Astros will quite probably need to play better, fundamentally speaking, than they’ve been playing. And while they’re aren’t any guarantees with Correa, he entered this season as one of the two or three best prospects in baseball, and he might immediately become one of the Astros’ best players.
Which is sort of the point of all this. The Astros do not have a strong lineup, with only Jose Altuve and arguably George Springer projected as top-notch regulars over the rest of the season. It’s probably not fair to expect the same of Correa. What’s fair is to expect him to play better than any combination of Gonzalez and Villar. And if Lowrie comes back strong in a month or two … well, that’s a pretty good problem to have, as they say.
If the Astros are going to hold off the competition, they need a few more things to break in their favor. And Correa playing well immediately might be their best bet for that.