April 17, 2014
The Situation: Underperformance in the Astros’ outfield and the passing of enough days to guarantee that coveted seventh year of team control has opened the door for the promotion of the organization’s no. 2 prospect on Jason Parks’ 2014 team rankings and the 20th-ranked prospect overall on Parks’ 2014 Top 101. The powers that be in Houston are ready to show off to the franchise’s patient fan base another young piece of what they hope will become the foundation for future competitive Astros teams.
Background: Springer, a University of Connecticut product, was selected in the first round (11th overall) of the 2011 draft. Considered perhaps the toolsiest player in an absolutely stacked draft class, Springer was a divisive collegiate player for evaluators due to the nature of his aggressive approach and the amount of swing-and-miss in his game. Even with a troubling start to his junior season, Houston was not dissuaded and jumped on the opportunity to add his potential plus power/speed talent as the cornerstone of their rebuilding process.
Through his two full seasons in the minors, Springer routinely put his power on display, slugging .526 in 2012 between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi (24 home runs) and .600 in 2013 between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. The high K-rates have remained as well, with over 25 percent of Springer’s 1200-plus minor league plate appearances ending in a strikeout. Fortunately for Springer and the Astros, those strikeouts have yet to prevent his power from manifesting. Additionally, Springer has improved his strike-zone awareness, as evidenced (albeit slightly overstated) by an impressive 95-point delta between his minor league career .302 batting average and .397 on-base percentage.
This is a case where the scouting matches up with the stats, as Springer’s undoing at the plate over the last full season has been tied to a lengthy swing that can be exposed in certain zones, rather than the wild flailing that commonly characterizes young power prospects. He exits the minors with a gaudy .302/.397/.562 triple-slash line and steps right into the spotlight.
Scouting Report: Springer is known for his classic speed/power profile, but the pleasant surprise in his development has been the barrel control he has been able to demonstrate despite a swing that can get lengthy and porous in certain zones. When he makes contact, it tends to be hard contact, and his bat speed has helped to make up for some of his other mechanical shortcomings. He is still learning to make adjustments behind in the count, and the tendency to swing through hittable pitches will be more aggressively exposed by major league arms, potentially leaving him vulnerable when he’s behind in the count. Overall, though, there is potential for a true impact offensive profile, including an average hit tool and above-average to plus in-game pop.
Defensively, Springer plays a strong center field and has improved the consistency of his routes as a professional. The arm can be a weapon, and while the body is strapping and physical, it’s an athletic composition and should work well up the middle for the foreseeable future. Springer’s plus speed plays both in the field and on the bases, with the former Huskie generally a solid decision-maker on the basepaths who’s capable of solid reads and jumps that help him to get the most out of his wheels.
Immediate Big-League Future: Springer’s immediate impact will be dependent upon his ability to adjust to the advanced preparation and execution of major league arms. He will regularly face pitchers with an ability to gameplan (both on their own and with the aid of advanced reports) and execute their strategies, which is often the biggest obstacle that mechanically-based swing-and-miss bats have to deal with when adjusting to baseball at the highest level. He will without question continue to hammer mistakes, and the rate at which he brings himself up to game speed should coincide with the degree to which he can lessen, or properly account for, the holes in his swing and approach.
There is nothing left for Springer to learn at the minor league level. This is that exciting sink-or-swim moment for an electrifying talent, and Houston should give him all the rope he needs to wade out into the often choppy waters of major league competition. While he will not single-handedly change the fate of the ’Stros, Houston fans can rejoice in the knowledge that his arrival signifies the biggest addition thus far to a team foundation under renovation for the past few seasons—a big step in the transition from blue print to realization. —Nick J. Faleris
Fantasy Impact: With only 13 games in the books, fantasy owners are getting near full-season value from Springer. He should provide power and speed in spades, with the potential for a negative impact in average. OBP leagues should see some benefit here, as he’ll draw his share of walks, racking up the strikeouts due to a limited two-strike approach (as opposed a limited knowledge of the strike zone). Points leaguers will have to consider the strikeouts, but don’t let that get in the way of the overall production that Springer can provide.
If you’re in the type of league where Springer isn’t already rostered, he’s worth a healthy amount of FAAB, thanks to his ability to contribute for the vast majority of the season. It’s difficult to name a number, due to the various methods of FAAB bidding and league dynamics, but I’d be comfortable going to $60, if not more, in most scenarios, knowing full well that there is significant risk involved. Even in shallow or re-draft leagues, Springer is a must-add thanks to his electric upside, but in re-drafts, don’t be afraid to cut him loose if he struggles. —Craig Goldstein
Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @NickJFaleris