The playoff bound Oklahoma City RedHawks close out the regular season with an eight-game homestand that begins Monday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. It's far from your typical play-out-the-string baseball.
Two storylines could be historic.
A 17-game home winning streak normally would be the headline story. But the big story this week at the Brick is star center fielder George Springer's run at history.
No minor league player has compiled a 40 homer, 40-stolen base season in 57 years. Springer has a shot.
Houston's 2011 first-round pick, selected 11th overall, Springer swiped his 42nd base of the season Saturday night in Round Rock. To join the exclusive 40-40 club Springer needs three more home runs.
Four major leaguers have notched 40-40 seasons — Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano. But in the minors, where modern day players with gaudy stats often are jettisoned to the majors, Len Tucker was the last player to reach the exclusive 40-40 club.
Tucker, the first black player signed by the Cardinals, hit .404 with 51 homers, 181 RBIs and 47 stolen bases in 1956 with Pampa, Texas. Tucker, though, never reached the majors.
Springer, 23, not only will reach the big leagues — as early as next month — the New Britain, Conn., native could become one of the top players in baseball.
There's a baseball saying: “But he ain't done nothin' yet in the big leagues.” It's a reference can't-miss prospects on occasion fail to meet expectations. But Springer, often compared to Angels star Mike Trout, could be a perennial All-Star at some point in his career.
Astros fans want Springer to be called up. After all, 17 of Houston's current 25 players have played with the RedHawks the past two years.
Why not Springer?
“It's a question I get every day, a couple of times a day,” said Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. “It's a question a general manager likes to hear. You want your fans clamoring for the next potential superstar.”
Since Springer will be in the lineup everyday once he's promoted, one reason for keeping the future star in OKC is the Astros can evaluate players such as Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes who might flank Springer in future years at Minute Maid Park.
Another factor is Springer will benefit from additional Triple-A seasoning. Two years removed from leading the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament, Springer has played in only 56 Triple-A games.
Luhnow hinted Springer will remain with the RedHawks even when rosters expand in September.
“It's important some of these guys stay here to try and win a championship,” Luhnow said. “Guys like Jon Singleton and George Springer have a chance to do something special. I don't want to take that away from anybody.”
The RedHawks will be in the playoffs. It's not official, but they're close to clinching the Pacific Coast League American Southern Division title.
Posting a 27-11 record since the All-Star break, the RedHawks haven't lost at the Brick since July 14, their final game before the All-Star break.
A 12-0 homestand — four-game sweeps over Iowa, Reno and Colorado Springs — vaulted the RedHawks to the top of the standings. The streak continued a week ago with a five-game sweep of Albuquerque that essentially wrapped up the division title.
Still, the big story is Springer.
In 129 games in Double-A and Triple-A, Springer is hitting .302 with 37 homers, with 102 runs, 105 RBIs and a .413 on-base percentage.
The eight-game homestand and the playoffs — the RedHawks will host Games 1 and 2 of a best-of-5 series Sept. 4-5 — probably will be the final chance for OKC fans to see Springer, projected to be the Astros starting center fielder for years to come.
“We'll make the decision on when's the right time for Singleton and Springer and some of the others to join us in Houston,” Luhnow said. “Right now we want them to focus on winning here.”