“Too risky,” they say. Who is they? Probably you. That’s right, you are a member of the ignominious “they” now. Doesn’t feel so good, does it? But I’m here to make one last ditch effort to try to get you to see the light. Here is the argument for Carlos Correa at #4 overall:
1) Correa’s competition isn’t as safe as they appear (Donaldson, Arenado, Rizzo, Machado, Stanton, Cabrera, McCutchen)
Let’s start with Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo, and Manny Machado. All of these guys have exactly one year of elite fantasy production, and only Donaldson managed to even crack the top 5 last season. Arenado finished 10th on Yahoo’s player rater, Machado finished 13th, and Rizzo 23rd. Their track records, which I guess is the reason they are considered safer than Correa, include multiple seasons of non-elite production for each player. It would not be the first time we attribute a “breakout” season to a player, when it ends up being closer to a career year in reality. Not to say I don’t think these guys had real breakouts, I do, but you can’t completely ignore the risk of regression, either.
Which brings us to Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera, and Andrew McCutchen. The risk factor for Stanton is obvious, injury. He has played in under 125 games in 3 of his 5 full major league seasons. As for Cabrera and McCutchen, they present the best arguments for picking a safe player over Correa, but their track records are starting to get a little too long, as some age related red flags popped up for both of them last season. Cabrera’s came in the form of injuries. He played in only 119 games in 2015 after being a pillar of health his entire career. McCutchen’s came in the form of stolen bases. He stole a career low 11 bags, on a career low 16 attempts last season. This coming off establishing career lows in both categories in 2014. I actually have Cabrera and McCutchen ranked slightly higher than the general consensus, so I do value the safety of a long track record, but the longer the track record gets, the more wear and tear risks come into play.
2) 5-category production
Picking true 5-category producers in the early rounds, rather than pure power guys, will give you the flexibility to seek value in the later rounds, no matter what form it comes in. You won’t have to pass on your favorite sleepers, or that stud that keeps falling, because you ignored speed, or average, earlier in the draft. Arenado, Cabrera, and Donaldson are not going to give you much in the way of steals. Rizzo and Stanton fall more into the “sneaky” steals category, and don’t think you can count on them for true 5-category production like a 20+ steal Correa will provide. McCutchen’s declining stolen base totals and attempts were discussed above. Machado is the most interesting case. If I were more confident in his ability to steal bases, he very well might be deserving of the #4 spot (at least in a Yahoo league where he has SS eligibility), but his past history, poor stolen base percentage, and average speed grades suggest his 20 steal season in 2015 might be hard to repeat.
The 5-category production argument is also the major reason why I wouldn’t draft Clayton Kershaw ahead of Correa, either. Through no fault of his own, Kershaw is limited to being a 4-category producer. I also believe in an overarching draft strategy of favoring hitters over pitchers. I’m always going to take one of the elite hitters in the first round of a draft, no matter how dominant a pitcher is. I have been in many leagues where I have seen a pitching heavy strategy work, so I don’t think drafting Kershaw #4 overall is disastrous, but it is just not a strategy I will employ.
3) The much maligned positional scarcity
Positional scarcity should not be a major factor when you are drafting, and that’s the point, Correa can stand at #4 on his own merits, without the positional scarcity handicap. But it also doesn’t mean we should completely ignore it. The entire SS position is riddled with risk, starting with the moving away from Coors, oft injured Troy Tulowitzi, right on through to all of the highly touted youngsters (Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor). Ending up with Evan Longoria as your 3B, or Mark Teixeira/Brandon Belt as your 1B, is far safer than guys like Marcus Semien or Ketel Marte, as much as I like them as sleeper candidates myself. So while it may feel like you are going “safe” by passing on Correa in the first round, you are really just reallocating some of that risk to later in the draft.
4) Carlos Correa is a beast
As for Correa himself, he put up a fantasy line of 52/22/68/.279/14 in 432 MLB PA last season. He then played even better in the post season, putting up a .903 OPS with 2 homers in 25 PA. This coming off a MiLB hitting line of 44/10/44/.335/18 in 246 PA split between Double-A and Triple-A. And for the cherry on top, he is triple-slashing .419/.513/.774, with a 1.287 OPS and 3 homers in 39 PA so far this Spring. There is not a single scouting report that doesn’t absolutely love this kid. It is seriously looking like the riskier bet is actually betting against Correa to keep on hitting. And that 5-category production from the shortstop position is too risky to pass up after the big 3 are off the board.
By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)