After the RedHawks were eliminated in the opening round of the Pacific Coast League playoffs last September, one couldn’t help but wonder if center fielder George Springer had played his final game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
One of the top 10 prospects in minor league baseball, Springer will be in the RedHawks lineup when they open the season Thursday night at Round Rock.
Springer made a run at history last season. He nearly became the first minor league player in almost half a century to steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in one season.
Greg Genske, one of Springer’s representatives, said he was disappointed the Houston Astros are delaying the start of his client’s big league career.
“Clearly it was a baseball decision,” Genske told reporters at Astros spring training in Florida. “It was about cost savings.”
If Springer opened the season with the Astros it would start his “arbitration clock.” That’s a baseball term for big-league games a player accumulates to move closer to becoming salary arbitration eligible, the first step toward landing lucrative contracts.
Genske’s comments were a reference to a media report that the Springer camp turned down a seven-year, $23 million contract offer during the offseason.
“I think he understands the whole situation, the business side of it,” said RedHawks interim manager Tom Lawless. “I’m not expecting him to be anything but typical George Springer when we start the season. He’ll try to put up numbers better than last year.”
Springer split the 2013 season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. His season totals: a .303 average, 37 homers, 108 RBIs, 45 stolen bases and a .411 on-base percentage.
“I still failed a lot,” Springer said. “This game can humble you quickly. That’s something I hold on to. My focus is to improve in all areas I didn’t have success last season. It’s not just offense or defense. It has to be both.”
Springer is buoyed by a friendship he’s developed with his boyhood idol, Torii Hunter. The Tigers veteran outfielder said it’s unfair Springer must spend more time in the minors just because a team is trying to save millions in the future.
“George is a tremendous talent,” Hunter told the Houston Chronicle during spring training. “Fast, strong, power, can run the bases, do it all. He’s like the Mike Trouts and Andrew McCutchens. When I was that age, I was one of those guys.