Notable performances by prospects around the minors on Tuesday.
• George Springer, cf, Astros. Having put 30-30 in his rear-view mirror on Aug. 9, Springer continued his march toward 40-40 with a home run, his 36th of the season, for Triple-A Oklahoma City yesterday. The 23-year-old went 2-for-5 in the game to bump his Pacific Coast League batting line to .311/.427/.661 with 17 homers through 180 at-bats.
Springer needs four more homers and one more stolen base in Oklahoma City’s remaining 13 games to become the first 40-40 man in the history of the minors as we know them today. The passage of the Player Development Plan, put into effect in May 1962 to ensure the survival of the minors by having major league organizations subsidize them, created the modern farm system where player development takes precedent over winning. Big league orgs are paying the salaries, after all.
Prior to the creation of the modern minors, a 27-year-old outfielder by the name of Len Tucker hit 51 homers and stole 47 bases in 1956, doing so in 140 games for Pampa, an unaffiliated team in team in the Class B Southwestern League. (Hat tip to the baseball historians on Twitter for that piece of trivia.)
At any rate, Springer’s remaining schedule looks like this: five games at Round Rock, followed by an eight-game, season-ending homestand with four games apiece versus Nashville and Memphis. The good news for Springer is that Round Rock features about two home runs per game, to rank fifth-most in the PCL, but his home park in OKC, unfortunately, sees about 1.5 per game, dead last in the 16-team league.
• Luke Jackson, rhp, Rangers. Texas League opponents still haven’t gotten to the 21-year-old Jackson, who remains unscored upon through 18 Double-A innings. He struck out five over five no-hit innings against San Antonio yesterday, walking three and leaving after 84 pitches. The Rangers’ sandwich pick in 2010, Jackson has two present major league-caliber pitches in his fastball and breaking ball, but he’ll need to make significant improvement to his control after averaging 4.2 BB/9 this season at two levels. Scouts believe this is an attainable goal.
• Kohl Stewart, rhp, Twins. All players look forward to the day they can leave the complex-based Gulf Coast League behind them, and the Twins’ prized righty is no exception. The fourth pick in this year’s draft out of a Houston high school, Stewart expressed his gratitude by throwing four shutout innings, fanning eight, in his debut for Rookie-level Elizabethton of the Appalachian League. He allowed only one hit and one walk.
• Chris Flexen, rhp, Mets. Don’t read too much into Flexen’s status as a 14th-round pick out of last year’s draft. The Mets went well over slot ($374,400) to sign the projectable prep righty out of Newark, Calif., and he’s shined brightly with Rookie-level Kingsport this season. After throwing a nine-inning, 11-strikeout shutout yesterday in which he allowed two hits, Flexen ranks among the Appy League leaders in several categories, including ERA (2.14), strikeouts (56), shutouts (two—one of them a seven-inning complete game) and WHIP (0.95). The 19-year-old Flexen shows uncanny command of a low 90s fastball and can spin a quality breaking ball, making him perhaps the Mets’ top arm at the short-season level.
• Daniel Norris, lhp, Blue Jays. When Norris ran up an 8.44 ERA over 43 innings during his pro debut last year, the various outcomes failed to match the teen southpaw’s attributes. Signed for $2 million out of the second round of the 2011 draft, Norris throws with easy plus velocity and keeps hitters guessing with the ability to generate major league life on his breaking ball and changeup, even if he can’t always put them where he wants.
After more poor results in the first half of this season at low Class A Lansing, the 20-year-old Norris has pitched effectively for five straight starts, culminating in the most effective start of his career yesterday. He held Lake County scoreless over six innings, allowing two hits, walking one and striking out four. Blue Jays fans: If you’re looking for a silver lining—and don’t mind a small sample—then Norris in his past five starts has logged a 1.50 ERA and 31-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 24 innings while allowing 17 hits.
Stay tuned for a forthcoming feature in which J.J. Cooper details Norris’ development this season.