June 4, 2014
The Situation: Heading into yesterday’s game, Houston first basemen were hitting .181/.269/.291 as a group. With Singleton boasting a .267/.397/.544 line for Triple-A Oklahoma City and his contract extension freshly signed, the Astros summoned him to the majors to provide some pop—and in his debut, he did.
Background: The Phillies drafted Singleton in the eighth round (257th overall) of the 2009 draft, just 11 picks after fellow first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The 17-year-old Singleton got his first taste of professional ball that season in the Gulf Coast league, putting up good numbers against players more than two years older than he was. His solid debut earned him a test in the Single-A Sally League, which he passed, cementing his status on the prospect landscape.
In the summer of 2011, the Astros acquired Singleton for Hunter Pence in a five-player deal and sent him to a hitter’s haven in High-A Lancaster, where he continued his assault on older, subpar pitching. The following season brought more of the same, and Baseball Prospectus rated Singleton the game’s no. 25 prospect heading into 2013. However, that season was a rough one for Singleton, as he was suspended for 50 games for marijuana use. This was a big setback for Singleton developmentally, and it raised concerns about his focus on the field—not so because he’d smoked the stuff, but because he admitted to being addicted to marijuana and abusing alcohol, which necessitated a trip to rehab. Thus far, 2014 has been a bounceback year for him statistically.
Scouting report: Singleton is a big man with explosive bat speed, which is his main attraction. The bat that carried him up the chain and into the big leagues features big-time raw power that should translate to high home run totals down the line. He doesn’t have the best feel for hitting, but he recognizes the pitches he can and cannot hit and can work himself into hitter’s counts. Like most top hitting prospects, Singleton can demolish fastballs. However, major-league pitchers not only have quality off-speed and breaking pitches, but can locate them with precision, which will be a big test.
Scouts and people in the know question Singleton’s #want and immaturity on and off the field. Separate those issues from the rest of the equation, though, and you have a first-division first baseman with a second-division floor, so makeup could be the key to the Astros’ return on their investment. —Chris Rodriguez
Fantasy Impact: With concerns about potential Super Two status erased before the ink dried on his contract, Singleton becomes a big leaguer, and with his arrival, long-suffering fantasy owners receive a shot in the arm. While first base is often a source of depth, the well for first base prospects is fairly dry, and Singleton is the best of them. He isn’t the prospect that fellow recent call-up Oscar Taveras is, either in the real world or from the fantasy perspective, but he should be able to provide plenty of value in his own right.
An everyday job should net Singleton somewhere around 350-400 plate appearances, and after committing to him financially, the Astros are likely to give him a longer rope if he struggles. He has plus-plus raw power, so the question is how functional it will be at the major-league level. If he could present even an average hit tool, 15-18 home runs over the remainder of the season isn’t too much of a stretch. His average will likely leave plenty to be desired, but his patient approach makes him a desirable target in OBP leagues. A full-season outlook could see him produce something in the .245/.340/.475 slash line range, with the average potentially on the low end and the OBP on the high end in that scenario. There’s no speed to be found here, and context-dependent counting stats will be hard to come by in Houston, despite George Springer’s presence, but the skills are there for Singleton to be a late-round value at first base.
His recent performance at Triple-A showed drastic improvements compared his down season in 2013, as he dropped his strikeout rate and improved an already robust walk rate. A strong knowledge of the strike zone should help him hit the ground running in the big leagues, but if he starts to abandon his approach, things could be bumpy. He’s shown the ability to adjust before, so if you can ride out any struggles (or capitalize on another owner’s impatience), do so.
Singleton needs to be owned in all keeper leagues, and he should be on a roster in redraft leagues of every size. He might not be worth starting in shallower leagues, but players with his power profile don’t become available every day. In AL-Only leagues, something in the $20-25 range is an appropriate FAAB bid, adjusting upward in OBP leagues. If you’re set at the corners or in the power department, this isn’t someone to go bankrupt for. If you need the skills he provides, though, you’re unlikely to find as big a power threat coming up from the minors this season. In dynasty leagues, keep in mind that this is a player who profiles as more of a second-tier regular—think of how Brandon Moss was perceived heading into this season—than a star along the lines of Taveras. He’s worth measured bidding, not reckless abandon. —Craig Goldstein
Chris Rodriguez is an author of Baseball Prospectus.