HOUSTON -- Coming off a whirlwind summer in which he was the top pick in the First-Year Player Draft, graduated from high school and made his professional baseball debut, Carlos Correa is back to work for the Astros.
Correa, who became the first Puerto Rican-born player to be drafted No. 1 overall in June, began playing Thursday for Carolina Gigantes of the Puerto Rican Winter League. Correa hadn't played since wrapping the season at Rookie League Greeneville at the end of September.
"I will start playing the first day and it all depends on how I develop and my body reacts," Correa said. "I hope I can play as much as I can."
Correa, 18, got off to a very slow start when he made his professional debut this year, but rallied to hit .232 with two homers, five stolen bases and nine RBIs in 39 games for the Gulf Coast League Astros. He finished the year with Greeneville of the Appalachian League and hit .371 in 11 games.
"My first season, for me, was great," he said. "There were a lot of experiences, a lot of adjustments I had to make, but it was still great. I started slow but ended up really well, and I want to keep it going."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was able to sign Correa only three days after he was drafted. He signed for $4.2 million, which was substantially less than the $7.2 million signing bonus prescribed by Major League Baseball.
"I'm excited for him," Luhnow said of Correa's venture into winter ball. "I'm hoping to get over there and spend a few days watching."
The biggest challenge last season for Correa, MLB.com's No. 2 Astros prospect, was playing every day, something he didn't do growing up in Puerto Rico.
"If you get tired and stuff, you have to keep doing your best and giving your best all the time," he said.
It's yet to be determined where Correa will begin next season, but Luhnow hinted it wouldn't be at one of the team's full-season clubs. Correa could certainly wind up there by the end of the year, but he is perhaps headed for Tri-City of the New York-Penn League in 2013.
"I think one of the lessons we learned last year was where we put the prospects matters," Luhnow said. "Sometimes they aren't at the level they want to be at, but they're at the level that's right for their development at that time."
There was no better example, Luhnow said, than former first-round pick Delino DeShields Jr. repeating last season at Class A Lexington and putting up the kind of numbers that made him the team's Minor League Player of the Year.
DeShields, the No. 5 prospect in the Astros system, stole 101 bases in 135 games between Lexington and Class A Advanced Lancaster, an Astros Minor League record. He was the first player in the modern era to steal over 100 bases and hit 10 homers in a Minor League season.
Between Lexington and Lancaster, DeShields hit .287 with 12 homers and a .389 on-base percentage.
Correa hinted he could begin the year at Quad Cities -- which is replacing Lexington next year -- but Luhnow said that might be too aggressive.
"We'll put him at the level where he's going to have the best chance to learn the game the right way," he said. "We're not going to hold him back, but he might not be ready for a full season right out of Spring Training."
The Astros didn't decide on Correa until the final hour before the Draft, Luhnow said, having been swayed by the shortstop's May 27 workout at the club's complex in Kissimmee, Fla., during extended spring camp. Numerous Astros scouts had laid eyes on Correa, but Luhnow got to see him up close and got to know his parents.
Correa was the first shortstop taken No. 1 overall since 2008 (Tim Beckham, Rays), and is just the fourth shortstop taken first overall since 1994. Other notable players who were selected as shortstops with the first overall pick were Shawon Dunston by the Cubs (1982), B.J. Surhoff by the Brewers ('85), Chipper Jones by the Braves ('90), Alex Rodriguez by the Mariners ('93) and Justin Upton by the D-backs (2005).