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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Correa proudly represents P.R.

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Chicago White Sox catcher Ramon Castro still has the distinction of being the prospect selected earliest in the MLB First-Year Player Draft right out of a Puerto Rican high school.

In 1994, the Houston Astros selected Castro with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the draft. Castro had just completed high school in Vega Baja, P.R., and his selection with the No. 17 pick remains the highest a Puerto Rican has ever been chosen.

That might change next June when top prospect Carlos Correa enters the 2012 draft.

Correa, a 6-3, 190-pound slick-fielding, strong-armed shortstop who attends the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Santa Isabel, is at City of Palms Park this week participating in the Perfect Game National Showcase. The PG National, which showcases 270 of the nation’s top prospects in the high school class of 2012, runs through Sunday.

Correa’s appearance stateside this week comes on the heels of the one he made in January at the PG World Showcase, which was held at Terry Park and the Red Sox Player Development 5-Plex, also here in Fort Myers.

“I know that this is one of the main events here with Perfect Game, and when I received the invitation I accepted to come here because I want to show my skills and how I can play the game,” Correa said in only slightly accented English. “I’m very happy to be here.

“This can be beneficial to me. If I do a good job I can be well-ranked,” he continued. “Every player wants to be in front of scouts and do a good job when (the scouts) are seeing them.”

Correa made the trip here with Edwin Rodriguez, the director and coach for Team Mizuno Puerto Rico, on which Correa plays.

Rodriguez also brought right-handers Edwin Diaz, Jose Orlando Berrios and Malcom Diaz; first baseman Kristian Brito; catchers Wilfredo Rodriguez and Cristian Munoz; and middle-infielder Jesmuel Valentin Diaz with him after they were extended invitations to the National.

Rodriguez brought Correa on board with Team Mizuno P.R. last year to get him ready for this pivotal summer, and he was immediately impressed.

 “I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and Carlos is a special kid with a lot of talent,” Rodriguez said. “He’s shown that he has some tools, and in my opinion and the opinion of some of the scouts, he’s going to be the best player coming out of Puerto Rico in (pause) well, we don’t know how long.”

Correa took part in the infield throw portion of Thursday morning’s workout session and one of his throws from short to first base was gunned in 92 mph, the second best velocity among the 36 infielders who took part in the session.

Perfect Game has Correa ranked No. 6 nationally and No. 1 in Puerto Rico in its 2012 top prospect rankings. Those high rankings alone provide fuel to the speculation that he could be a high first round pick in next June’s draft – high enough to boot Castro from his perch.

Rodriguez said the talent level in Puerto Rico is on the rise, and everyone is benefitting from it.

“This year is going to be very good,” he said. “The weakest point we usually had was pitching. We never had those 90 (mph) guys pitching, and all of a sudden in the past year we started getting those guys who were getting into the 90’s.”

And, as Rodriguez pointed out, when hitters have to face hard-throwing pitchers on a consistent basis, it will only serve to make the hitters better.

The other thing Rodriguez has been doing successfully is bringing the Puerto Rican prospects stateside to help them get noticed and maybe earn an invitation to a prestigious showcase like the PG National.

“These kids never did the (big showcase events) before, and the one thing I’m doing is trying to get them involved in those types of things,” he said.

Correa certainly appreciates the opportunity to come to the States and showcase his skills in front of the pro scouts – more than 100 were in attendance at City of Palms by the time the first game started Thursday afternoon.

“In Puerto Rico there is a high level of baseball, but when we come here we see the pitchers throw harder and the hitters drive the ball longer,” Correa said. “That’s the difference between Puerto Rico and here – there is more talent (in the U.S.) because it’s a bigger country.”

It is Correa’s goal to one day play in the big leagues, and if he is able to achieve that goal he will join some elite company.

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Yadier Molina, Geovany Soto, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios and Andrew Torres are a few native Puerto Ricans currently in the big leagues. Puerto Ricans Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar and Orlando Cepeda are in the Hall of Fame.

Outfielder Reymond Fuentes was the last player selected in the first round of the draft to come straight out of a Puerto Rico high school. He was taken 28th overall by the Red Sox in 2009.

Correa is content to bide his time and see what transpires. He plans on returning to the mainland this summer to attend other Perfect Game events.

“I have been playing baseball since I was five years old and I live for this. Baseball is my passion,” he said.

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