- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - It’s easy to see that Carlos Correa doesn’t feel well from across the Houston Astros clubhouse.

His face is partially obscured by the hood of a bright orange sweatshirt he pulled on after changing out of his street clothes on Saturday morning, but what you can of his face beneath the shadow of the hoodie isn’t the normal look for the charismatic 22-year-old shortstop.

“It’s so sore,” Correa mumbles.

The “it” he is referring to is his mouth. He had four wisdom teeth removed two days ago, a procedure that had to be done after a toothache developed last week. Correa remained swollen and on pain medication on Saturday as the Astros prepared for their first full squad workout.

Correa reported to camp on time on Friday and walked onto the field with the rest of the team the next day. But while his teammates donned their uniforms, he wore shorts and a different hooded sweatshirt. He is under doctor’s orders to avoid baseball activities and too much sun for the next 3-5 days.

Not the best scenario for a man eager to get back to work to prepare for the season.

“You want to show up to spring training ready to go and ready to go out there with your teammates and practice and get things going,” Correa said. “So obviously this is not what I wanted, but I’d rather have this now than during the season.”

Correa is coming off his first full season in the majors, in which he hit .274 with 20 homers, 36 doubles and 96 RBIs. Though most people would consider that a successful season, the top overall pick in the 2012 draft was disappointed he didn’t do more last year to help the Astros reach the playoffs.

It’s a feeling that stayed with him throughout the offseason and led him to one simple personal goal for this year.

“I want my performance to be way better than last season so I can help my team make the playoffs,” he said. “I didn’t do that last year, so I feel like I need to do that this year.”

His lofty expectations could have come from what he did in his rookie season, when he hit .279 with 22 homers, 22 doubles and 68 RBIs in just 99 games to earn the AL Rookie of the Year award and lead the Astros to their first postseason appearance in a decade.

“I think when you’re as notable as Carlos Correa, when he comes to the big leagues, the expectations that are put upon him are incredible,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I got asked a lot of questions like: ‘Was it a disappointment? Did he take a step backward?’ And I think when you take a step back and look at the numbers and look at how productive he was, while it might not have been a perfect year, it was a pretty productive year.”

But “pretty productive” is not good enough for the overachieving Correa, who implored his parents to enroll him in a bilingual school when he was in elementary in Puerto Rico because he wanted to be able to speak for himself in English when he became a major league player.

Now that he’s entering his third season in the majors, Correa believes that Houston finally has the team to contend for a title.

“Obviously this year (the goal) is going all the way,” he said. “We want to go all the way and the mentality we have is to go to the World Series this year and that’s what we want to accomplish.”

While Correa is still dealing with the pain of having his wisdom teeth removed, a shoulder problem that dogged him late last season is behind him thanks to offseason rest and treatment.

“The last month and a half I struggled with my shoulder, but it’s healthy now,” he said. “I took care of it in the offseason and I’m back to 100 percent so I’m really excited about that.”

The Astros have always valued Correa’s work ethic but were shown his grit last year when he refused to sit out while he struggled with a shoulder ailment so painful that it hurt with every swing he took.

“He posted in the lineup every day even though he didn’t feel great … and did the best he could,” Hinch said. “So I think he’s a driven athlete that will also consider last season less than his best even though last season was pretty good.”

This year he’s thrilled not only for the possibilities for this team, but for the opportunity to play alongside fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran, whom the Astros signed in the offseason.

Houston believes the 19-year veteran will be an important leader for Correa, Jose Altuve and the rest of the team’s young stars.

“I can’t wait to learn so much from him,” Correa said. “The way he takes care of his body, the way he goes about his business is what makes him so special. He’s going to bring a lot to the table, he’s going to bring a lot to this team and I can’t wait to learn next to him.”

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