Of all the talented prospects in the Houston Astros' system, RedHawks center fielder George Springer has the best chance of being a perennial All-Star, the type of player who shows up regularly on ESPN both offensively and on Web Gems.
Drafted 11th overall two years ago out of Connecticut, Springer has compiled destined-to-be-a-star statistics. He's on the brink of becoming the first minor league player in four years to record a 30 homer, 30 steals season.
At one point, before a recent “slump,” Springer was on pace for a 40-40 season, which has occurred only four times in the majors and hasn't happened in the minors in 57 years. It's a long shot, but there's still 35 games remaining.
“Watching him two years at UConn, I know what he's all about,” said Iowa Cubs third baseman Mike Olt. “I'm certainly not surprised that he's put up these type of numbers.”
After Sunday night's game against Iowa at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Springer has 29 home runs; 33 stolen bases; is batting .312; owns a .399 on-base percentage; scored 81 runs; and registered 82 RBIs in 102 games with Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
“He has a chance to be just like Mike Trout,” Olt said, referring to the Angels' five-tool outfielder. “George is a really smart player. He has great instincts around the bases and plays great defense like Trout.”
Like Trout, Springer is lightning fast. Springer turns potential doubles in the gap into outs.
“He's a complete player,” said RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco. “He has power and speed and is a solid defender. Your hope is that potential plays in the major leagues. He's still young in the sense of playing in the minors, but he's a quick learner.”
In the preseason, Springer was ranked only 27th among minor league prospects by Baseball America. He's moved onto every midseason top 20 list and probably is worthy of top 10 status.
“That honestly doesn't matter,” Springer said. “I'm just another guy with a number on the back of his uniform. My focus is to play hard, improve and help this team win games. That's how I am.”
The surprising stat has been Springer's home run production. He slammed 24 last season in Class A, plus a late-season call up to Double-A Corpus Christi. This season, he's already surpassed that total with Corpus Christi and his first taste of Triple-A in Oklahoma City.
“I've always been able to run a little,” Springer said. “The power has come once I got into pro ball. In pro ball you get to concentrate on your craft more, learn your body, learn your swing.”
Even though Springer will average around 100 runs, 95 RBIs, 30 homers and 35 steals his first two full pro seasons, the New Britain, Conn., product needs to improve his contact rate.
Springer has struck out 286 times in 237 games, roughly once every four at bats.
“Early on he got a lot of fastballs, but he's finding out you don't see as many 2-0 or 3-1 fastballs here,” DeFrancesco said. “He's learning how to make adjustments when he's ahead in the count. At times he over swings ... but he has a lot of talent. Your hope is he can help (the Astros) down the road.”
Playing three years at UConn, Springer is older than fast-track high school prospects. But Springer, who turns 24 in mid-August, said he will always cherish three seasons with the Huskies, who won 129 games while he was on campus and advanced to a Super Regional.
“Honestly, going to UConn was one of the best things I've ever done,” Springer said. “I got to help build something, be part of something that hadn't happened there in a while. We accomplished something schools up north aren't supposed to do. It was a great experience.”
Springer still is on the fast track.
“I'm just trying to slow down and let the game come to me,” Springer said. “At this level they use more finesse and are more crafty. You can't necessarily hunt the fastball. You try to get something good to hit and don't miss it if they make a mistake.”
The Astros' calling up Robbie Grossman over the weekend to replace injured J.D. Martinez was a sign they want Springer to gain more Triple-A seasoning. He's only played in 29 Triple-A games. There's a chance Houston could promote him when rosters expand in September.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Springer said. “It's not something I've thought a lot about. I just try to have fun and keep developing as a player. We're building something with this organization. It's going to be a lot of fun.”