Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa justify hype with Rookie of the Year honors – USA TODAY
InÂ June 2012, the Houston Astros bet their future on a young shortstop from Puerto Rico who wasnât regarded as the consensus top pick in the draft. The next year, the Chicago Cubs followed the Astros in the draft and took a power-hitting third baseman with questionable defensive skills as the No. 2 overall choice.
Today, neither team could be any happier with its choice.
When the Astrosâ Carlos Correa and the Cubsâ Kris Bryant were named rookies of the year in the American League and National League, respectively, on Monday, the awards provided further confirmation that their clubs had hitched their wagon to the right horse in their efforts to overcome years of futility.
The Astros spent nine years out of the playoffs, enduring six consecutive losing seasons along the way, until winning an AL wild-card spot this season with a big push from Correa, who became one of their pillars shortly after his early-June arrival.
“We have a strong, young core of players who are going to play for us for the next years and are going to bring a lot of emotions and a lot of accomplishments to the city of Houston,”Â said Correa, the first Puerto Rican taken No. 1 overall in the draft. “Hopefully one day we can bring a championship for the first time to the city of Houston.”
The Astros beat the New York Yankees in the wild-card game and took the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals to five games âÂ even leading by four runs in the eighth inning of Game 4 on the strength of two Correa homers âÂ before bowing out in the Division Series.
It was the first playoff experience for most of the Astros, but with Correa as a cornerstone and talented players like Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Lance McCullers around him, they figure to return plenty of times.
“Now we know what itâs like to play playoff baseball. Now we know the atmosphere of playoff baseball,”Â said Correa, who also made a key error in the pivotal Game 4. “You canât beat what we experienced when were in Houston playing the Royals for those two days. The atmosphere was crazy, it was loud. You want to be able to play in that atmosphere every single year.”
While Bryant won rookie honors unanimously, Correa had a stiff challenge for the award from fellow Puerto Rican shortstop Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians.
A combination of style and substance may have given the edge to Correa, who received 17 of the 30 first-place votes and outpointed Lindor 124-109. Both players were called up to the majors within a week of each other in June and both played in 99 games. Their on-base-plus-slugging percentages were close âÂ .857 for Correa and a surprising .835 for Lindor âÂ and the Cleveland rookie actually had the better batting average, .313-.279. Lindor was also a fielding sensation, leading the AL with 15 defensive runs saved, compared with Correaâs minus-1.6 mark.
But while Correa was making the highlight shows regularly with his graceful fielding and power displays in guiding the Astros to a wild-card spot, Lindorâs Indians never became serious postseason contenders. They finished third in the AL Central at 81-80.
And the 6-4, 210-pound Correa put up offensive numbers that drew comparisons to Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr. Correa, who was the majorsâ youngest position player this season and did not turn 21 until Sept. 22, banged out 22 home runs and drove in 68 runs in 387 at-bats.
He was such an influential figure on the Astros that, just a month after his debut, Altuve said Correa should be considered one of the faces of the game.
The same could be said for Bryant, who captured the attention of the baseball world by hitting nine homers in 14 spring training games. He was still sent out to the minors for the first two weeks of the season, likely for financial reasons, and said Monday he âplayed with a little chip on my shoulder this year.ââ
He didnât specify if that was the reason, but the Cubs didnât mind Bryant carrying that extra fire inside him.
Bryant, 23, led all major league rookies with 99 RBI, 31 doubles and 87 runs scored. He batted .275 with 26 homers, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgersâ Joc Pederson for tops among first-year players, and registered an OPS of .858, the highest among qualifying rookies.
Besides handling third base better than some observers expected âÂ his 6.9 defensive runs saved ranked fifth in the league âÂ Bryant showed his versatility by playing all three outfield positions, including 10 starts. He also stole 13 bases.
Bryant said heâd like to make more consistent contact to cut down on his league-leading 199 strikeouts, but overall couldnât ask much more from a debut season in which he helped the Cubs reach the postseason for the first time since 2008. With a group of rookies that also included Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell, they got to the NL Championship Series before being swept by the New York Mets.
“I donât think there was any pressure for myself, just because youâre surrounded by a lot of guys your same age and a lot of rookies,”Â said Bryant, one of the gameâs most hyped prospects the last two years. “You donât need to put that pressure on yourself. I think the only expectations that really matter are the ones you put on yourself. I certainly exceeded my expectations this year.”