Because George Springer played half the season in Corpus Christi, the RedHawks center fielder isn't eligible for The Oklahoman's all-time, top 10 Triple-A players in Oklahoma City list. But Springer probably would rank near the top if he had played at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark all summer.
One of the top candidates for Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, Springer has compiled gaudy stats heading into the RedHawks final five games of the regular season.
Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, Springer was hitting .303 with 37 home runs, 106 RBIs, 104 runs, 43 stolen bases and a .414 on-base percentage heading into Thursday night's game.
“I've coached some great players and coached against some great players,” said Connecticut coach Jim Penders. “He's a guy who has star written all over him. I don't know what ‘it' is but he has it. He lights up a room. He lights up a box score. The sky is the limit for him.”
Selected 11th overall in 2011 out of UConn, Springer arguably is the top prospect among a growing list of talented players that figure to eventually turn around the downtrodden Houston Astros.
Often compared to Angels star Mike Trout, Springer is the classic five-tool player (hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, defense and arm).
“It's his sixth tool that makes anything possible for George,” Penders said. “Because he has those five tools, the sixth tool is what will take him really far. The sixth tool is his absolute love for the game. It oozes out of him. He loves baseball so much.
“When you're with him on a bus or around him in a clubhouse you notice his love for people. Combine that quality with all five tools and he's a player everyone notices. His surname fits him. He's got a spring in his step.”
Penders compares Springer to the cartoon character, “Tigger” from Winnie the Pooh.
“George is always bouncing all over the place,” Penders said. “And like Tigger, he has so much fun. He has a super energy about him that rubs off on others. He's very good at making people smile.”
Player of the Year candidate
Springer is a finalist for USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year where fans will determine the winner. The prestigious award is the player Baseball America selects.
Springer's stats stack up against other hitters on the short list: Twins center field prospect Byron Buxton (. 336, 12 homers, 106 runs, 53 stolen bases); Cubs shortstop prospect Javier Baez (. 285, 35 homers, 105 RBIs, 20 SBs); and Twins third base prospect Miguel Sano (. 285, 33 homers, 99 RBIs).
A viable candidate is Broken Arrow's Archie Bradley. The right-hander in the Diamondbacks system has been impressive (13-5, 1.84 ERA, 160 strikeouts, .216 batting average against).
“I don't pay attention to any of that,” Springer said. “It's been a good season, but there are still some things I wish I would have done better, including hitting for a higher average. But I don't get caught up in stats. I just go out and play.”
RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco points out Springer's Triple-A stats are nearly identical to his Double-A stats. Springer actually has a higher average (. 312) in Triple-A than Double-A (. 297).
“To be able to do what he's done in Triple-A, and play the defense he plays, he's having an awesome season,” DeFrancesco said. “I say it over and over, but you just don't see many players like him who has power, speed and plays tremendous defense.”
Exceptional speed has helped Springer make several highlight reel catches at The Brick, including two in the current series with Nashville.
The Sounds leadoff hitter in the series opener Monday night roped a pitch into right-center. It appeared to be a certain double or triple. Springer ran an estimated 100 feet to turn it into an out.
“He has what we call makeup speed,” DeFrancesco said. “If he can get a great jump, his speed will catch up with the baseball. He reads the ball well off the bat and instinctively knows how to go get it. That's something you can't teach.”
Springer's mother, Laura, is a gymnastics coach who competed at a high level back. During his formative years, Springer's mother signed George up for gymnastics. He never entered competitions. But from age 2 to around age 11 he was actively involved in the sport.
“The biggest thing I learned was how to control my body,” said Springer who occasionally does a back flip near the cage during pregame batting practice. “You understand everything your body can and can't do. It's all about slowing yourself down to control your body.”