It took some time, but first baseman Jonathan Singleton is showing RedHawks fans why he's listed as the top prospect in the Houston Astros organization, and one of the top hitting prospects in the minors.
Singleton got a delayed start to the 2013 season. The Long Beach, Calif., native was suspended the first 50 games for a second positive test for marijuana.
Returning in late May, Singleton slammed five homers in 17 games in Class A and Double-A. But his first month in Triple-A, Singleton batted .198 with only one home run in 27 games.
“There's definitely an adjustment period once you move up level to level, but (the slump) lasted longer than it should have,” Singleton said. “I realized a long time ago this game is a game of failure. Even the top hitters make outs seven out of 10 times. I never really stressed out about it.”
The slump is over. Heading into the RedHawks' game Saturday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Singleton was hitting .300 in August with 14 RBIs in 15 games.
“When I watched him take batting practice (before Saturday's game) he looked like the same guy I saw last year in Double-A,” said Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. “He's a guy who can do a lot of damage, not only at this level but the big league level.”
Singleton, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound power hitter, batted .292 with 48 homers, 221 RBIs and compiled an on-base percentage near .400 his first three pro seasons.
“He's a can't-miss kid. He has the whole package,” said RedHawks hitting coach Leon Roberts. “The life in his swing doesn't come along very often. He was off just a tick or there but I knew he wasn't very far off.
“His numbers said he was far away but I could see his swing was close. Pete Rose used to say the cream always rises to the top. You knew a player with that type of talent would catch fire.”
Singleton's 50-game suspension isn't the same situation as Alex Rodriguez and others handed suspensions for their involvement with performance enhancing drugs. Singleton tested positive for marijuana.
“Most people know my situation, but they're kind of surprised the suspension is the same,” Singleton said. “That's in the past. I've learned lessons from it. Throughout this whole experience I've learned different things. It is what it is. I served my time and I've moved on.”
The Astros have a logjam at first base, but Singleton figures to move ahead of Brett Wallace and Chris Carter, who plays first and the outfield.
Singleton, 21, is viewed as the better long-term hitter among the three candidates and also is the top defensive first basemen.
“He's a very good first baseman,” Luhnow said. “That's his natural position. That's where he will play.”
Now that they're in the American League, the Astros can use the designated hitter slot to play two of the three candidates on a regular basis. But what happens if all three play at a high level?
“I would be a happy general manager,” Luhnow said. “We want depth at every position. That's how you win championships. You can reload if you have injuries or someone has a decline in performance.
“Singleton will have a good shot to compete for our first base job next year. Between him, Wallace and Carter we'll see who wins.”
Singleton said he's taken pride in his defense since he was a kid playing Little League games in California.
“I've always wanted to get the last out of the game, make a pick (on a bad throw) or tag a runner coming down the line,” Singleton said. “Defense is a big part of the game.”
But it's Singleton's bat that has him ranked among the top prospects in the minors.
The Phillies selected Singleton out of high school in the eighth round in 2009. The Astros obtained Singleton at the July trading deadline two years ago in a deal that sent outfielder Hunter Pence to Philadelphia.
“He looks like he's having fun again,” said RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco. “He's going about his business the right way and the results are showing up. He's a guy like (center fielder) George Springer that can impact the game at the next level.”
Singleton said the most valuable lesson he learned during his slump was if you get a mistake pitch it might be the only good pitch to hit the entire game.
“You try to work the count but the key is to be ready every single pitch,” Singleton said. “You're trying to figure out what they're going to throw. But the bottom line is you have to be ready to hit. You get a little frustrated but I knew things would turn around. It was just a matter of time.”