The only disappointing thing about George Springer’s on-field production in 2013 was that he didn’t become the first player in the modern-era minor leagues to reach the 40 home run, 40 stolen base mark. The 23-year-old outfielder did make some history regardless, as he became the first member of the minor-league 30/30 club since former A’s prospect Grant Desme joined it in a 2009 season split between Low- and High-A.
Springer’s 2013 campaign is a sight to behold statistically: he posted a .303/.411/.600 slash line in 135 games between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, socking 27 doubles, four triples, and 37 home runs. He also added 45 stolen bases in 53 attempts. Even more impressively, the UConn product’s all-around numbers improved after his midseason promotion to Triple-A, where he hit 18 round-trippers in 62 contests while improving both his walk and strikeout rates.
That strikeout rate has been a talking point among scouts for much of this season. Despite Springer’s gaudy numbers in 73 Double-A games, he whiffed 96 times––a 29.7 percent clip. To his credit, he cut his strikeout rate to 24.4 percent in the Pacific Coast League while posting an outstanding 15.4 percent walk rate.
There’s no doubt that Springer’s tool set and up-the-middle potential is first class; he has an exciting combination of plus power and speed with an easily plus glove in center. Although scouts seem to universally agree that Springer’s talent should make him an everyday-caliber center fielder, his strikeout rate leads to a wide range of opinions. I’ve heard some scouts argue that the 6-foot-3, 200-pound slugger is among the minor leagues’ best position players. I’ve also heard some peg him as “just” a role 5 (average everyday) guy.
Springer’s premium raw talent and propensity to swing and miss make him one of the game’s more intriguing prospects. The righty supplements his big raw power with outstanding bat speed and a fairly disciplined approach. Springer’s on-base skills are legitimate; despite the strikeouts, he’s not a total free swinger. While he doesn’t expand the zone with alarming frequency, I did see him swing and miss at a lot of good stuff within the strike zone this season. Perhaps Springer’s whiffing will ultimately cause his hit tool to fall into the .250 range and make him a more ideal six-hole hitter at full maturity. But it shouldn’t keep his power from playing in games, and his combination of pop with on-base skills, speed, and glove should be enough to make him a valuable and productive big leaguer, at the very least.
The Astros opted against giving Springer a September call-up this season, but with little competition ahead on the depth chart, there’s little doubt that the former first-rounder will be manning center field in Houston at some point in 2014. While the Astros will be highly unlikely to contend next year, the team should be a more intriguing watch. This year’s crop of young talent––RHP Jarred Cosart, SS Jonathan Villar, and others––should eventually be joined by top prospects Springer, 1B Jonathan Singleton, and RHP Mike Foltynewicz.
Earlier this season, I spoke with Springer––who has spent the past two seasons improving not only his on-field performance, but also a speech impediment that troubled him as a child––about making adjustments at the plate, playing in an organization that’s rebuilding from within, and more.