Every Tuesday, Baseball America will take a look at a prospect who is either just arriving to the majors or on the cusp of the majors to give a look at what can be expected from them both as a player and for fantasy purposes. This is a special Wednesday edition because of the promotion of Astros’ No. 2 prospect George Springer.
He didn’t make the Opening Day roster, but the Astros didn’t wait long to promote George Springer. After watching Robbie Grossman play a particularly brutal defensive game on Tuesday night, the Astros optioned Grossman to Triple-A to clear the way for Springer’s first big league promotion.
Because they waited a little less than three weeks to promote him, the Astros will control Springer’s rights through the 2020 season.
However because he is coming up in mid-April, he will earn Super Two arbitration status after the 2016 season if he does not return to the minors in the future.
Springer’s arrival should give a significant jolt to an Astros’ lineup that ranks dead last in the American League in batting average, on-base percentage and second-to-last in slugging percentage.
In an Astros’ lineup that still is filled with role players asked to be everyday players and everyday players asked to be cornerstones, Springer’s arrival gives the team someone to build around. Springer has a rare combination of power and speed. Even with a 14-game handicap because of his late arrival, he could lead the Astros in home runs and steals this year. Last year, he came within three home runs of becoming the first minor leaguer to put together a 40-40 season.
Springer has excellent bat speed that leads to plus power. He hits from an open stance, looking for balls on the inner half or the middle of the plate that he can drive. When he gets something on the inner half, his approach leaves him in perfect position to sting the ball. All three of his home runs this year and 31 of his 37 home runs last year went to center or left field.
The Connecticut product joins the big league club on the heels of a particularly locked-in stretch in Triple-A. He has a six-game hitting streak and has homered on back-to-back nights, including this grand slam against Christian Friedrich Tuesday night.
While he has power and speed, Springer is unlikely to be a high average hitter, even though he has a .302 career minor league average. Springer has kept his average up in part because he’s played in favorable hitting environments (Lancaster, Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City) and in part because he’s posted extremely high batting averages on balls in play (.382 in 2013/2014 combined and .455 this season). His speed and the screaming line drives he hits at times explains in part his high BABIP, but scouts who have seen him believe that he will be an average hitter at best.
Springer is susceptible to quality off-speed pitches and his pull-heavy approach means that he can be pitched to by pitchers who can locate consistently to the outer-half of the plate. Springer has struck out in 27 percent of his at-bats this season, in line with what he did last year.
Even in Triple-A, pitchers miss spots enough that Springer has gotten pitches to pull. At the big league level, he’ll have to show that he can adjust to pitchers who give him nothing to yank into the seats. If he was a lefthanded hitter, Springer would be the kind of hitter who would face shifts consistently, but as a righthanded hitter with speed and some bunting ability, Springer will likely face extreme shifts more sporadically.
WHAT TO EXPECT
For fantasy purposes, Springer is one of those rare players worth blowing most of your free agent budget to land. He’s coming up early enough in the season to make a significant impact on the stolen base and home run categories while contributing in RBI and runs scored. But expect that he might be a drag on your team’s batting average.
In the real world, Springer is an excellent defender who can play all three outfield positions. With Dexter Fowler in center field, Springer most likely ends up playing right field on a regular basis in Houston—the Astros prepared him for that by giving him some time in right field in Triple-A this year. He played exclusively center field in 2013. He’s a better defender and has a better arm than the Astros’ current right fielders Alex Presley and L.J. Hoes.
Springer’s best case scenario is as an Andre Dawson/Dale Murphy center fielder with power, speed and defense. A less rosy scenario sees his high strikeout rate leading him to end up like Mets center fielder Chris Young. Like Springer, Young has excellent power and speed and at his best, he’s an extremely valuable player who flirted with a 30-30 season in 2007 and 2010. But Young’s batting average and on-base percentage has generally been dragged down by his strikeouts, which has turned him into a nomad now that he’s reached the stage of his career where he’s more expensive–he’s playing for his third team in three years.