Is the time finally right for late-blooming Corey Julks?

Apr 17, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros left fielder Corey Julks (9) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Is the time finally right for late-blooming Corey Julks?

Once thought of as an organizational depth piece, the former eighth-round pick has pushed his way into the Houston Astros lineup.

God provides a time for everything, even if we do not know when that time will be. For Corey Julks, there was a point where it seemed there would not be a time for him as a major leaguer, but his time is finally here.

So far, he is making the most of it.

The former Clear Brook High School and University of Houston star was selected in the eighth round by his hometown team, the Houston Astros, in the 2017 MLB draft. He began his pro career in the Astros system the same year with the Tri-City ValleyCats, in what was then the New York-Penn League, a short-season A-ball league.

In 2018, he began the year with the Quad Cities River Bandits in the Midwest League, then a Low-A affiliate. He’d spend half the season there hitting .259 with a .341 OBP. He showed extra-base power that the team thought could develop into home run power, and halfway through the year he was promoted to High-A Buies Creek in the Carolina League.

In 2018 at Buies Creek, he played better against improved competition. He hit .282 with a .362 OBP and an .820 OPS, producing 26 extra-base hits. He also stole 16 bases in 21 attempts.

He began 2019 at Buies Creek, continued to play well offensively, and was promoted two-thirds of the way through the season to Double-A Corpus Christi in the Texas League, but struggled in limited action.

The 2020 season was wiped out due to the pandemic, costing Julks a crucial developmental season at age 24. Many MLB-bound prospects take significant steps forward during their age-24 season. Julks never had that opportunity.

In 2021, Julks again began the year at Double-A Corpus Christi. His production was decent, but both he and the organization were looking for more. Julks hit .272 with a .320 OBP and a .732 OPS, but he was struggling to capitalize on his raw power. While his OPS was very close to average (. 742), the belief was that Julks had much more to offer.

In late June, the organization presented Julks with a plan. They were going to take him out of the Corpus Christi Hooks lineup and send him to extended spring training at the team’s facility in West Palm Beach for individual instruction. He was placed on the development list, where he remained for three weeks.

The Astros felt that Julks was one of their system’s strongest, most athletic players and that his potential had yet to be realized. Julks was initially taken aback by the team’s approach, but after reassurances from the Hooks coaching staff, he put his head down and got to work.

The player development staff worked with Julks to incorporate more of his lower body in his swing. By the end of his three weeks in the development process, the resulting surge in his power at the plate was tangible.

Julks then returned to Corpus Christi and began hitting for power. Over 225 plate appearances, the new and improved Julks batted .297 with a .369 OBP and a lofty .914 OPS. His new swing was generating the kind of power sought after by both parties.

Julks played at Triple-A Sugar Land in 2022 and posted the best power numbers of his career. He batted .270 with a .351 OBP, 31 home runs, 56 extra-base hits, and an .854 OPS. He also stole 22 bases in 27 attempts, proving he hadn’t lost any speed.

That Julks was willing to buy into the program and make changes midseason is a credit to him as a person and as a player, and it exhibited his desire to succeed. Many players would have resisted, especially since it wasn’t as if he were playing poorly at the time the Astros pulled him for individual instruction. The resulting change to his swing and power surge changed the organization’s outlook on Julks significantly.

Julks was a non-roster invitee to Astros Spring Training, where his new swing and power continued to show and earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster. As a part-time player on the defending World Champion Astros, Julks has posted a .300 average and a respectable .788 OPS through Friday’s game. He has made some terrific plays in the outfield, and Houston is 9-3 with him in the starting lineup entering Saturday’s against the Atlanta Braves.

Julks’ ability to make adjustments to his swing, combined with his natural athleticism, has the now 27-year-old outfielder on the major league roster. Having grown up locally, Julks is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Houston. Julks is living out the kind of story every kid dreams of, even if it took a little bit longer to play out than he’d originally hoped.

With the Astros dealing with early injuries to Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve, and now Chas McCormick, Julks’ evolution has come at a perfect time for both him and the organization. Julks’ production has allowed the Astros to play Yordan Alvarez at DH while keeping the currently red-hot Mauricio Dubon at second base, filling in for Altuve.

Corey Julks’ road to success has not been a straight one, but his time is finally here, and he is making the most of it.

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