SECAUCUS, N.J. - The Houston Astros selected 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft Monday night, making him the highest selection ever to come from Puerto Rico.
Correa has an incredibly strong arm and terrific instincts defensively, and the Astros might have found a big-time bat for the middle of their lineup. He bested catcher Ramon Castro, who went No. 17 to Houston in 1994, as the highest-drafted Puerto Rican player.
"This means a lot," said Correa, in attendance at the draft site at MLB Network studios. "We've got a lot of good players there."
Stanford pitcher Mark Appel throwing during an NCAA college baseball game at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Appel was the No. 8 overall selection by the Pirates in MLB Draft on Monday.
It was the first time Houston had the top pick in the draft since 1992, when the Astros selected Phil Nevin - passing on a young shortstop named Derek Jeter, who went five spots later to the Yankees. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Correa "has a chance to be a star" who could hit 20-30 home runs in the pros, whether it's as a shortstop or "ultimately maybe third base."
While recent previous drafts lacked intrigue with the first pick, it was unclear even an hour before their selection who the Astros would take. Many mock draft lists predicted the Astros would select Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, but instead Houston made a somewhat surprising selection - although Correa was considered one of the top five players available.
Appel slid a few spots lower than projected, going to Pittsburgh at No. 8 overall.
As Correa walked to the podium and shook hands with Commissioner Bud Selig before a brief hug, he pulled out a small Puerto Rican flag and held it up. Former big league All-Star Carlos Delgado, also from Puerto Rico, congratulated Correa on his Twitter page.
"I feel so excited to be the No. 1 pick," Correa said. "I've worked so hard to be here."
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound star from Santa Isabel starred at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and is committed to the University of Miami, but after being a surprise No. 1 pick is likely headed to Houston's farm system instead.
With the second pick, Minnesota took speedy Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, considered a five-tool player with a bat considered the best among all draft prospects. The Appling County High School star has blazing speed, an outstanding arm and is excellent defensively.
University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino, who has drawn comparisons to Jason Varitek for his leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, was taken No. 3 overall by Seattle.
Baltimore went with LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman with the fourth pick, adding a potential ace to its system. The draft-eligible sophomore has had a terrific season for the Tigers, going 11-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 115 2-3 innings. He was a sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010, but didn't sign and immediately stepped into LSU's rotation as a freshman.
Kansas City went with University of San Francisco right-hander Kyle Zimmer with the No. 5 overall pick. The Dons' ace went just 5-3, but had a 2.85 ERA with 104 Ks and only 17 BBs in 88 1-3 innings, and threw consecutive shutouts during one stretch.
This year's draft opened with uncertainty about the talent - many teams considered this year's crop of players weaker than recent groups - and several significant rule changes in place. Under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, teams will have a pool of bonus money from which to sign players. The Astros, for example, have about $11.2 million to use as bonuses on their 11 picks through the 10th round. The Twins, who have 13 picks in 10 rounds, have about $12.4 million to use for bonuses.
Teams face a punitive tax and the possibility of losing draft picks if they stray from the prescribed bonuses. If a player doesn't sign, the team loses the amount for that slot. Teams will now have only until mid-July to sign their draft picks, instead of the previous mid-August deadline.
Florida high school outfielder Albert Almora was selected sixth by the Chicago Cubs. He established himself as a prime-time player on a big stage, playing on six national teams including being named MVP of the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 18-under Pan American Championships in Colombia.
Max Fried, a high school left-hander from California, was picked seventh by San Diego. He projects as front-line starter with a low- to mid-90s fastball, tight curve and terrific changeup.
Pittsburgh, which selected UCLA righty Gerrit Cole with the top pick last year, went after pitching again while taking Appel. The ace of Stanford's staff has a mid-90s fastball and is 10-1 with a 2.27 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 119 innings for the Cardinal. In his last start before the draft, he avenged his only loss of the season by beating Fresno State in the NCAA tournament, fanning 11 in a dominant four-hitter.
Oklahoma State lefty Andrew Heaney, also in attendance, was all smiles when his name was announced as the No. 9 pick to Miami. The 6-2, 175-pound draft-eligible sophomore was 8-2 with a 1.60 ERA for the Cowboys.
"I'm just so happy," a teary-eyed Heaney said while wearing a Marlins cap. "Words can't explain it."
Colorado rounded out the first 10 picks by taking speedy Alabama high school outfielder David Dahl.