The Houston Astros drafted George Springer in the first round in 2011 after three excellent seasons at the University of Connecticut. He played eight games in the low minors toward the end of ‘11 and made his full-season debut at High-A in 2012, a slightly aggressive assignment for someone drafted the previous year.
Springer proceeded to lay waste to the Midwest League for the Lansing Lugnuts in 2012, hitting .316/.398/.557 in 500 plate appearances with 22 homers and 22 steals. The Astros drafted Springer as a raw but toosly power/speed guy, someone with a high ceiling who might take a while to develop and might never develop. The combination of power, plate discipline and speed he showed in High-A was everything Houston could have hoped for and more. He was rewarded with a promotion to Double-A toward the end of the season. He scuffled a little, hitting .219/.288/.342 over 22 games while hitting two more homers and stealing four more bases, but there was no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be ready for Double-A in 2013.
Once again, Springer exceeded expectations, hitting .297/.399/.579 with 19 homers and 23 steals in 323 plate appearances at Double-A. That performance earned him a midseason promotion to Triple-A where he posted an even better line, hitting .311/.425/.626 line with 18 homers and 22 steals in 266 plate appearances. Prospect hounds, fantasy owners and the Houston front office were now positively drooling over the 23-year-old who hit 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases in a single-season split between Double-A and Triple-A with a .300+ batting average, a .400+ on-base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage. It was obvious that he would be in the majors at some point during the first half of 2014.
Sure enough, Springer made his major-league debut in April 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. He hit .231/.336/.468 in 345 plate appearances with 20 homers and five steals before knee and quadriceps injuries landed him on the DL in July, ending his rookie season early. In 2015, he hit .276/.367/.459 in 388 plate appearances with 16 homers and 16 steals. His season was shortened by a fractured wrist suffered when he was hit by a pitch, landing him on the DL for two months. Heading into the 2016 season, Springer had developed a reputation as a talented but injury-prone player.
In 2016, Springer did as much as he could to shed the injury-prone label, playing all 162 games and hitting .261/.359/.457 with 29 homers and nine steals. The power and plate discipline were still obvious, the base-stealing ability he had shown earlier was no longer evident. He was caught stealing ten times, one more time than he managed to successfully steal a base. It wasn’t clear why he was stealing less bases, though. It could have been due to organizational philosophy, it could have been a strategy for avoiding wear and tear on his body or it could have been that Springer had simply lost a step. Heading into 2017, the biggest question for him was whether he would get his stolen-base totals back to their previous levels—or if he was no longer that type of player. To be clear, though, he didn’t need the steals to be a productive player, as he provided enough value with his power and patience to make him a top-tier outfielder.
What Went Right in 2017
Now 27 years old, Springer set or tied career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, hitting .283/.367/.522 with 34 home runs and five stolen bases in 627 plate appearances. He played in 140 games, missing time due to a hamstring injury, a hand injury from a hit-by-pitch and a quad injury. Only the quad injury landed him on the DL, though, and that DL stint only lasted a couple of weeks. He showed improvement with regard to both power and patience, while managing to avoid spending a significant amount of time on the DL for a second consecutive season. He was one of the most important hitters on the best offensive team in baseball. He batted leadoff a lot due to his high on-base percentage. He scored 112 runs, his second straight year with more than 110 runs scored, giving him value in one of the most frequently overlooked categories in fantasy baseball.
What Went Wrong in 2017
Aside from the minimal amount of time missed due to injuries, the main thing that went wrong for Springer in 2017 was his stolen-base production. For the second-consecutive season, his caught-stealing total (seven) exceeded his stolen base total (five). As good as his bat is, it doesn’t look like Springer will turn into the 30-30 guy that his minor-league numbers suggested. For fantasy players, it looks like Springer’s owners will have to settle for an excellent four-category player rather than a five-category monster.
What to Expect in 2018
Headed into his age-28 season, Springer is still in his prime and should put up another terrific offensive season in Houston. At this point, double-digit stolen base totals would be a surprise, but a .280/.370/.520 line with 30+ home runs and five stolen bases seems like a reasonable expectation. That makes Springer an excellent player in real life and in fantasy.
The Great Beyond
Unless he signs an extension, Springer won’t enter free agency until after the 2020 season. He is currently in his prime and is putting up big numbers, which should make him an expensive proposition for Houston in arbitration until he reaches free agency. As a tremendous offensive player with power and patience who can play a premium up-the-middle position and by all accounts is also a great guy, it’s hard to find anything not to like about him. If he can stay on the field, he should have a long and successful career.