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Can J.C. Correa Rise in the Rankings With Move Behind Plate?

The 2019 38th round pick impressed with the bat in 2021 but faced questions about his defensive role. Could his move to catcher be the answer?

Syndication: The Fayetteville Observer Andrew Craft via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It would’ve been easy to view the Astros’ selection of J.C. Correa in the 38th round of the 2019 draft, and subsequent signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2020, as a favor to his older brother Carlos, but to do so would’ve been unfair. The younger Correa, while not the most dynamic athlete in the family, was a star for Lamar University in his only full NCAA season, hitting .332/.381/.529 while serving as the regular shortstop, showing great all around feel for hitting. He had never been a highly touted prospect due to his middling athletic tools, but his strong performance in the Southland conference at age 20 had earned him a pro look on the merits, and it made perfect sense for his opportunity to come with the Astros.

J.C. made the transition to pro ball look just as easy as he had the jump from JUCO to D1, debuting in 2021 with Low-A Fayetteville, where he hit .306/.392/.478 in 255 plate appearances while rotating around the infield. He didn’t show too much in the way of power, but he walked nearly as much as he struck out (28 vs. 30) and was one of the tougher outs in the league overall. The level wasn’t offering him much of a challenge, so the Astros promoted him to High-A Asheville, where he’d largely maintain his pace over the remaining 45 games of the season with a .314/.337/.449 slash in 193 PAs. The only piece of the stat line that looked markedly different was his walk rate, as he picked up just 7 free passes, but his strikeout rate remained relatively firm with 29 (15%), a well above average figure.

The performance wasn’t quite enough to send Correa flying up lists— his hitting ability was legitimately impressive to be sure, but the combination of a questionable defensive fit with marginal power left his role muddy. This offseason, it appears that he and the Astros devised a plan to address those concerns. Recently, it was announced that Correa is moving to catcher for the 2022 season, and has been working out at the position regularly. It’s certainly rare to see players start catching at age 22, but on a surface level, Correa has the frame for the position and enough arm strength to stand a chance behind the plate.

While history suggests that the deck is stacked against Correa making such a move this late in his career, it’s still a sensible decision for both sides. Hit hit tool showed real potential in 2021, but the lack of power can only play at a premium defensive position. His below average speed rules him out of the other up the middle spots, so giving him a go as a backstop is a logical step. It’s also not the first time that the Astros have tried this maneuver, having previously attempted it with Colton Shaver a couple of years ago. He would end up struggling behind the plate while also fizzling offensively, evidencing the risk involved in this kind of switch, but perhaps that experience offered some lessons for the coaches that will inform their approach with Correa this time around. A quick look around the league shows that there is room on big league rosters for hitters like J.C. who can handle themselves behind the dish, so his 2022 campaign will offer some real intrigue.