WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — At just 23, Carlos Correa is already considered one of baseball’s best shortstops. He thinks he can get better, too.
The Houston star is far from satisfied.
“I still have some holes in my game that people might not notice, but I do,” he said Thursday. “I want to get better at that to have an even better season than last year. Last year was my best year yet by far, it was a great year, but I think I can do so many things better.”
He is reticent to share details about exactly what he is working on, saying he doesn’t want to give his opponents any inside information. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to pinpoint any deficiencies in Correa’s game.
He hit a career-best .315 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs last year despite being slowed by a thumb injury that kept him out from mid-July to September. He returned to form by the postseason and hit five homers and drove in 14 runs in the playoffs to help the Astros to their first World Series title.
The first overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft has always been a solid defender, but he is looking to take that part of his game to the next level.
“I want to be able to save more runs and be an elite defender, and I think if I can do that with the way I hit it’s just going to be something special,” he said.
Manager A.J. Hinch loves to hear how Correa and the rest of his young players want to keep improving. He also thinks attitudes like Correa’s mindset will be the key to more success for the team this year.
“It’s pretty nice,” he said. “It shows how special the season was, but it also shows that you’re still vulnerable when you show up the next season if you haven’t taken a step forward, and that’s the part that I’ll demand out of them.”
Along with his success on the field, Correa is also thrilled about what’s going on in his personal life. When he proposed to girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez on the field not long after Houston’s Game 7 win in the World Series, the couple became internet darlings, with video of the proposal being shared thousands of times.
Several months after that moment, Correa still beams when it’s brought up and raves about his relationship with the former Miss Texas.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “I’m a happy man. I get off the field and I look forward to seeing my fiancee and my dog and spending time with them. That’s just who I am. I don’t like to go out. I like to just eat, sleep, play baseball and spend time with my family.”
They haven’t set a date for the wedding but want to have plenty of time to plan the ceremony. They are aiming for some time in December 2019.
But before then, Correa has plenty of work to do, namely, helping the Astros repeat as champions this year.
“On paper we’re better than last year, it’s all about us putting in the work and showing it on the field,” he said. “What inspires me and drives me right now is … that nobody’s settling, nobody is laying back, everybody is working to try to be better this year. If everybody’s trying to do that, the team’s only going to get better.”
Five teams that could take down the Dodgers this season
The reigning 2020 World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers enter the 2021 season as a favorite to repeat. In fact, the best-case scenario for this year’s L.A. squad is downright scary. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the league is just going to lie down and watch the Dodgers waltz to back-to-back titles.
With that in mind, we asked five our ESPN MLB experts to each pick one team they think is best-suited to take down the Dodgers — in October, when it counts the most. While none of our experts necessarily expect this team to be better than L.A. for the 162-game long haul, they all made their strongest cases why their selection could be the team to knock L.A. out of the postseason. Just how strong were their cases? Well, we left that for our resident judge, the honorable Jeff Passan, to decide with his ruling for each case.
The case for the White Sox: If ever a team was poised to explode, it’s this year’s White Sox. Last year, Chicago had the AL’s second-best offense even though Yoan Moncada had an off year after contracting COVID-19 and the Sox had massive holes in right field and DH. This year, they’ve filled those holes with a veteran in Adam Eaton and a Rookie of the Year front-runner in Andrew Vaughn, two upgrades whose skill sets balance the lineup. And Moncada is a full go.
There’s no question that the loss of Eloy Jimenez takes a bite out of the White Sox’s chances to reach October. But if they are able to compensate for his absence until he returns late in the season, the White Sox become the team no one — including the Dodgers — wants to face in the playoffs. At that point, the White Sox will truly go one-through-nine in the lineup with at least four players — Jose Abreu, Moncada, Jimenez and Luis Robert — capable of putting up an MVP-type season. Then when the White Sox do get into the playoffs, they have a solid veteran rotation built for October and a bullpen of flamethrowers (Codi Heuer, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet) who will bridge the gap to Chicago’s new elite closer, Liam Hendriks. — Bradford Doolittle
Judge Jeff says: The court will not spend too much time belaboring your decision to omit Tim Anderson from Chicago’s MVP candidates. It does, however, take issue with your unwillingness to acknowledge what could preclude a meeting with the Dodgers: a rotation that is not exactly “built for October.” Lance Lynn hasn’t started a postseason game since 2014. Lucas Giolito has made one career postseason start. In Dallas Keuchel‘s past eight playoff starts, he has lasted more than five innings once. That’s built for October like I’m built for the beach. Further, as much as the White Sox should be helped by Moncada’s health, a number of regression candidates exist, starting with Abreu and Anderson.
None of this is to say the White Sox are a bad choice. The threshold of evidence simply needs to be higher. Motion denied.
The case for the Padres: Um, A.J. Preller made the case for me this winter: Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Jurickson Profar, Mark Melancon, Ha-Seong Kim, Fernando Tatis Jr. OK, Tatis was already on the team, but locking him up for 14 years was just another sign this team is serious about winning big. As for Tatis’ recent shoulder injury, it definitely is a concern, but I’m not willing to jump ship considering his prognosis is decent (for now at least).
I get that sometimes teams that win the winter are ones that have a ton of holes to fill, but that wasn’t the case with the Padres. And that’s why they can challenge the Dodgers. They already had a really good team. Now they have a great one, which includes a deeper pitching staff.
The fact that the two teams are in the same division is actually a plus. To be the best, you have to beat the best. The Padres will have 19 tries at it again this year. You can’t tell me that won’t raise the Padres’ competitive spirits. If there is ever a time to take down a perennial division winner, it’s right after they’ve won a World Series. The Padres will smell blood in the water at the very moment the Dodgers show signs of a hangover. And of course, this is all contingent on San Diego’s recent update that Tatis will be back and playing like the superstar he is sooner rather than later. — Jesse Rogers
Judge Jeff says: “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man” is how the saying goes, counselor, and no good argument begins with a poor Ric Flair imitation. That said, the Padres do present a reasonable case. Their rotation depth actually is on par with the Dodgers’, especially if Darvish replicates his 2020 self, Musgrove takes his expected step forward and Dinelson Lamet stays healthy. The lineup is excellent and deep — though Kim has looked overmatched since spring training — and the bullpen is on par with Los Angeles’.
Motion granted, with a figure-four leg lock to the lawyer who disrespected the Nature Boy.
The case for the Braves: If not for the dizzying amount of plays made by L.A. to overcome a 3-1 deficit in last year’s National League Championship Series — many of them turned in by Mookie Betts — we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. The Braves could have and probably should have defeated the Dodgers and advanced to last year’s World Series. And since failing to close them out in the penultimate round, the Braves have added Charlie Morton to the top of their rotation and brought back Marcell Ozuna for the middle of their lineup. Before the end of April, Mike Soroka, who has already developed into one of the game’s best young pitchers, should return from a torn Achilles tendon.
The top of their lineup (Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Ozuna) and the top of their rotation (Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Morton and Soroka) is as good as anybody’s in the sport, including that of the Dodgers. Their bullpen is stacked, their 40-man roster is deep, and Cristian Pache — mostly forgotten on this roster — might be the National League Rookie of the Year in 2021. If you gave Dodgers players truth serum and asked which team they’d rather avoid in a best-of-seven series, I’d bet most of them would pick these Braves over even the Padres. Their flukish slow start — the product of really close losses — will soon be a blip on the radar. — Alden Gonzalez
Judge Jeff says: That’s a damn good case. And it felt like a great case before the Braves lost their first four of the season. But don’t forget their thin bench. And it felt like a great case before the Braves lost their first four of the season. But don’t forget their thin bench, which is buttressed seemingly only by Pablo Sandoval. This is still the NL, and the Braves need to upgrade at the trade deadline so they can match up better in the late innings with the designated hitter no longer in play. That said, motion granted.
The case for the Yankees: For all of the hype surrounding many of the young, talented teams in baseball like the Padres, Braves and White Sox, the Yankees are still the Yankees. They still have Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of the lineup, barring injuries, of course. They still have Gerrit Cole at the front of their rotation and a bullpen anchored by Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Zack Britton. Toss in Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and you’ve got a group that could easily keep pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers as the most talented team in the sport. Mentioning that the Yankees have a shot at winning the championship is like saying LeBron has a chance at winning an NBA Finals, but sometimes the boring pick is still the right pick. — Joon Lee
Judge Jeff says: While I appreciate Mr. Lee’s attempt to offhandedly brush away the Yankees’ predilection for injuries, there is an undeniable element of skepticism with them because they have not stayed healthy. It’s difficult to buy the idea of the Yankees without taking that leap — a leap that extends beyond Stanton and Judge to Kluber, Taillon and Luis Severino, who’s returning from Tommy John surgery. Complicating matters is an AL East that is no cakewalk. The Blue Jays were a playoff team last year and are better this season. The Rays beat the Yankees in last year’s postseason and are always a threat. Boston is better. Baltimore, as the Red Sox learned opening weekend, is no cake walk, either.
New York may be the AL East favorite, and it has the talent to dethrone the Dodgers, but this court needs to see a half-season of health from the principles before it hitches itself to a wagon that always seems to find itself missing a wheel. And Gleyber Torres needs to catch the dang ball, too. Motion denied.
The case for the Mets: I was originally going to go with the Nationals here, but how can I pick them after Max Scherzer gave up four runs on Opening Day!? So I am opting for the Mets instead. Yes, getting through the NL East will be like surviving the Hagler-Leonard-Duran-Hearns slugfests of the 1980s. But if the Mets do that, they can roll out an October rotation of Jacob deGrom … and, well, they have other good starters like Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, and hopefully Carlos Carrasco gets healthy and Noah Syndergaard returns around midseason. But it’s all about deGrom. He’s so good he began his season throwing 24 consecutive fastballs. He’s hitting 100-plus mph with ease. He paints the corners. This is the Year of deGrom. He’s capable of a Madison Bumgarner-like run from 2014 and shutting down the Dodgers’ lineup. (The Mets can hit a little, too.) — David Schoenfield
Judge Jeff says: Well, the last team to beat the Dodgers in the postseason was the Nationals, so I see where you were going with that initial thought, but if you’re going to pick another NL East team to beat the Dodgers, the Mets may be the better candidate for this season. (Screams from Philadelphia noted.) There’s an argument to be made, in fact, that the Nationals are likelier to miss the playoffs than they are to beat the Dodgers.
They’ve got the best pitcher in the world in deGrom and that rotation potentially including Stroman, Walker and — when they return from injuries — Syndergaard and Carrasco is dangerous enough to follow what the Nats did against L.A. in 2019. But it’s a little too early to assume all of those pitchers will be on the mound in top form by October. And if manager Luis Rojas can’t turn one of them into a super-reliever and needs to stick with this bullpen? Well, that means motion denied — for now.
Our hottest hot takes one week into the 2021 MLB season
The first week of baseball is only a small taste of the 162-game main course that is an MLB season. But we’re not about to let that stop us from having some fun in early April as the sport returns to a full schedule after last year’s shortened 60-game campaign.
We asked a group of our MLB experts to go all-in on the early returns by making one bold prediction based entirely on what they’ve seen so far. They were allowed to pick any topic of their choosing with the following conditions: It had to be bold, and it had to be something they believe could happen.
From a polarizing pitching staff to a pair of teammates who could be battling for 2021 MVP honors — and even raising a World Series trophy together come October — here is what they chose.
The New York Mets will finish with MLB’s best starting rotation ERA … and worst bullpen ERA
We’ve had only a very small taste of what this team has to offer so far due to the preemption of its first few games due to Washington’s COVID-19 issues, but it’s clear to me that the combo of Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman is going to lead a generally solid corps of arms with routine quality starts, if not outright dominant outings.
It’s also equally clear to me that “1 IP, 1 ER” is going to be the new normal for each and every Mets reliever — except of course, for Jeurys Familia, who will likely continue his career-long routine of “infield hit, weak ground ball resulting in a bang-bang force play (but only after video review), walk, strikeout, walk, hard-hit line drive that 50% of the time finds a glove, 50% percent of the time drives in two.” If he’s still on the roster in June, buy tons of stock in Tums. — AJ Mass
The defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays are in trouble
Hey, I’m the high man on the Rays. Called them the most exciting team in baseball in 2019 and they won 96 games and made the playoffs. Said they were going to make the World Series in 2020 and they did. So if I’m down on the Rays, pay attention.
The big issue here is the rotation behind Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough, and we still have to see if Glasnow can dominate over a full season. The Rays are counting on Michael Wacha, who hasn’t had a 2-WAR season since 2015. Rich Hill is 41. Chris Archer? Collin McHugh? These are rolls of the dice.
The Rays were able to ride their bullpen last season, but that was in a short season with expanded rosters. That will be a more difficult strategy in 2021, even more so without Nick Anderson, their best reliever, who will miss at least half the season. The offense, meanwhile, really needs Randy Arozarena to be a big star, and he hasn’t looked good so far. Including spring training, he has 18 strikeouts and two walks. I hate to say it, but he might be a case of a guy who just rode an all-time hot streak last October and settles in as a good — but not great — hitter. Wander Franco will help when he comes up, but you can’t count on a 20-year-old to carry the lineup. — David Schoenfield
The Chicago White Sox will go undefeated against lefties, but never win a game started by a righty
Too hot? Perhaps. But that trend has already taken form, as going into their home opener on Thursday, the Sox were 3-0 when a lefty starts against them and 0-4 with a righty on the mound. This, coming after a 2020 season that saw them 14-0 against southpaws but just 21-25 against righties. This isn’t random. Other than Jose Abreu, their righties don’t hit righties very well, but more importantly, the Sox have a deficiency of dangerous hitters from the left side of the batter’s box.
There are games where they’ll need slug from lefties, and they might simply not have enough. This doesn’t mean Adam Eaton, Yasmani Grandal and Yoan Moncada aren’t good hitters, but they don’t bring the thunder — or threat of it — that other lefty sluggers around the league possess. It’s going to be a grind for them against righties all year. It has been so far. — Jesse Rogers
Corbin Burnes will finish in the top three in NL Cy Young voting
At the time I’m writing this he has made only one start this year — but it was a dominant outing. He throws the hardest cutter in the league (96.3 mph) — and threw it 47% of the time in that outing — and is tied for the third-hardest fastball among starters (behind Jacob deGrom and Shohei Ohtani) at 98.1. In his 14 career MLB starts, his strikeout rate would rank third and his xFIP (a better predictor of ERA than ERA itself; 2.81) would rank fifth in baseball among starters in the 2020 season, when no pitcher had more than 12 starts. An even bolder prediction would be that three Brewers will get top-five Cy Young votes among their four elite arms: Burns, Brandon Woodruff, Devin Williams and Josh Hader — Kiley McDaniel
Shohei Ohtani will get at least one MVP vote
A message to all the skeptics: This is happening. Ohtani will not only be a two-way player for the Angels this season; he will hit on the days that he starts and play without any restrictions he doesn’t voluntarily place on himself. And he will be good at it. Ohtani has already proved to be an elite hitter. He has the stuff to be an elite pitcher, but he also needs to ease into it given that he accumulated only 79 2/3 innings from 2017 to 2020.
As an Angels source said recently: “Judge him in May.” Translation: Ohtani will only get better at this, not worse. By the end of the year, he will have had the type of impact we haven’t seen since Babe Ruth in 1919 — with an added element, given Ohtani’s ability to make an impact on the bases. — Alden Gonzalez
This will be the Year of Byron Buxton
I hate to curse a guy with my total inability to connect on hot takes, but here goes: Byron Buxton is going to win the AL MVP award. This is not an overreaction based on his three early homers. I just love where Buxton’s offensive approach is right now. He’s in that magical age-27 zone. With a modicum of newfound patience, he could hit 30 homers. With a career-first season of start-to-finish health — the biggest question mark in this scenario — he’s going to steal 50 bases. In that potent, balanced Twins offense, he’ll score 110 runs and drive in 100. And his work in center field is historic. This is the year that the version of Buxton we’ve always known was there is going to emerge. — Bradford Doolittle
Or make that the Year of Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz leads baseball in home runs and OPS and wins AL MVP honors and leads the Twins to a World Series championship. All-in. Lineup. Rotation. Bullpen. Manager. And the 40-year-old Boomstick. Does Cruz look old to you? It’s incredible to think about where he was in his career just a decade ago, but now he is seemingly at the top of his game, regularly churning out 40-homer seasons. Now comes 50. Homers. Not age. Not yet. — Eric Karabell
Or Jose Berrios will win the American League’s Cy Young Award, the World Series MVP award and record said Fall Classic’s final out
Most of the problems with Berrios’ 2020 were related to fastball command — a pitch in which he added velocity despite those issues — and since the exhibition season began, he certainly seems to have corrected them. He has added more spin and a hint more velocity to the pitch, giving him two bona fide swing-and-miss pitches, and he’s one of the few who should get a workload befitting an “ace” in today’s game. These Twins will go far in the playoffs, thanks in large part to his efforts. — Tristan Cockcroft
Chicago White Sox’s Lance Lynn shuts out Kansas City Royals in home opener
“It’s awesome to get the first one, but it’s behind me,” Lynn said after the game. “They scored some runs, so I was able to hit cruise control. I was glad I was able to do it at home. That was the most exciting part of all of it.”
Lynn, who threw 111 pitches, is the third pitcher in franchise history to strike out at least 11 hitters without issuing a walk in a shutout. He gave up five hits, with just two Royals reaching as far as second base. Lynn was asked if his pregame bullpen session gave him a hint he’d have a big night.
“Was the typical ‘felt terrible, had success’ situation,” Lynn said with a smirk. “As the game went on, with rain showers and stuff, we were able to get through some things. Once the pitch count started to build up, I started to get loose and everything felt good.”
Lynn’s feat barely overshadowed another good night at the plate for rookie Yermin Mercedes, who homered and singled in four at-bats. He’s hitting .556 with five extra base hits on the young season.
The Sox came out swinging after a rain delay that lasted 2 hours, 12 minutes. Yoan Moncada and Mercedes hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning giving Lynn an early lead and the ability to settle in right away.
Lynn is no stranger to throwing 100 pitches in a game, having done it a major league-high 45 times over the past three seasons. The only tough part came during that rain delay.
“It was extremely boring,” Lynn said. “There are no couches to sit on and you have to wear your mask the whole time. I sat in my locker, away from everyone, socially distanced.”
Lynn was an offseason acquisition from the Texas Rangers, sliding into the third slot in the rotation. After a high pitch count knocked him out after just 4⅔ innings in his first start of the season, he was able to last the distance in start No.2.
“From the first pitch on, he was just nails,” manager Tony La Russa said. “He had control of all his pitches. He was deceptive and his ball had life.”
The win evened the White Sox’s record at 4-4.
Before the game they placed outfielder Billy Hamilton on the injured list with a hamstring injury.
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