“He really didn't stand out,” Penders said. “You definitely noticed his athleticism, but he was really small. His body started to mature between his junior and senior year. By then you could tell he had a chance to be special.”
When Springer left UConn, that small Old Farms kid had developed into a 6-foot-3, 205-pound All-American, a slam-dunk first round pick.
UConn was playing Clemson in a regional final the night of the draft. Midway through a game the Huskies won 12-1 to advance to a Super Regional for the first time in school history, Springer was informed he was selected in the first round by the Astros.
“As he's coming off the field, he knew he would probably be getting around a $2 million signing bonus,” Penders said. “He walked over and hugged his mom and said, ‘Can you believe it? ... We won.' He didn't even mention the draft. That's the kind of teammate he is. It's all about the team.”
Top prospects often are promoted to the majors when rosters expand in September. Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow has indicated Springer might remain in Oklahoma City until the RedHawks season ends. Even if he stays in OKC, the Astros might call him up the final two or three weeks.
“I'm not concerned about it,” Springer said. “That's not in my control. The only thing I can control is how I play. Whenever it's time I'll be ready to go. Right now, I'm trying to help this team win.”
Perennial American League All-Star?
Most scouts and analysts believe Springer has the tools to develop into a perennial American League All-Star. His few critics point to 316 strikeouts in 257 minor league games as a potential red flag.
The flip side is Springer has drawn 146 walks for a .395 on-base percentage his first two seasons. And when Springer draws a walk it's essentially a double. Springer has swiped 75 bases the past two seasons, complemented by 62 homers.
“His speed should help him even if he gets in a few slumps at the next level,” said an AL East scout. “Every organization would take him right now. In a heartbeat. He strikes out a little too much. But he does so many things to help you win games, defense, steal a base, crush a homer.”
Time is running out, but Springer is only three homers shy of posting the first 40-40 season in the minors in 57 years. Springer already is on a short list.
A couple of weeks ago, Springer joined Darryl Strawberry and Ruben Rivera as the only minor leaguers the past 40 years to compile a 30-homer, 40-steal season. That's something Trout didn't accomplish in the minors, although their skill sets are remarkably similar.
“It's a great comparison. They're both great players,” DeFrancesco said. “Trout already has done it in the major leagues. Hopefully, Spring can translate success at this level to prime time.”
During his three years in college, Springer hit .346 with 46 homers, 196 RBIs, 220 runs and 76 stolen bases, stats that rank among UConn legends Jeff Bagwell and Mo Vaughn.
Springer has averaged 31 homers, 38 stolen bases, 97 RBIs and 107 runs scored his first two pro seasons. And he still has five more games that count toward the overall total before the RedHawks open the playoffs next week.
“Did I see this coming?” Penders said. “I'm not going to pretend to say you could see a 40-40 season coming at any level of baseball. But I could see star potential in George back to when he played here.”
Springer's pro career essentially started last season. He played in only eight games the year he was drafted. He most likely will be the Astros' opening day center fielder next season.
Playing college ball, Springer is older than most prospects. He will turn 24 in mid-September, about the time he might be called up. The advantage is Springer is mature. He's sharp. He studies the game. He talks team more than individual accomplishments.
“Nothing he ever does on a baseball field will surprise me,” Penders said. “I don't want to put any extra pressure on him, but with his skill set, his heart and his work ethic, I'll be surprised if he's not a perennial All-Star.”