Power, Speed and Strikeouts: OF George Springer is Coming
If you are reading this blog then there is a roughly 90% chance you are aware of the existence of Houston Astros’ top OF prospect George Springer. You may even be able to summarize his skillset and when doing so, you may sound a lot like I would when trying to summarize Springer’s skillset. If you sounded exactly like me, you would probably say something like: “George Springer is a legitimate five-tool prospect. With a high BABIP due to his speed and drive-dominant swing, his K totals mask a potentially scary hit-tool, and I’ve never heard any question marks at all about any of the other four.” Springer is the face of the new face of baseball: a beautiful swing plane and his lightning-fast hands allow him to make hard line-drive contact that goes a long way, and with the foot speed to beat out a lot of the ones that do end up as grounders he should be able to be productive even if he were to approach 200 strikeouts per season. That same speed allows him to patrol center field with ease and his graceful stride and right fielder’s arm combine to potentially make him a flashy, first tier defender up the middle. His power tool, long one of his calling cards, has progressed very well considering he played last year at age 23. Springer is a big part of the reason that fans in Houston endured 2013’s abysmal season with smiles on their faces, as the Astros have the talent in the upper part of their pipeline to become scary-good scary-fast. He is not without his detractors though, pundits consistently return to the mountain of strikeouts that he continues to build beneath him as a sign that he is sure to fail in the majors, as he may lack the profile to succeed in the Dunn/Reynolds mould.
Make no mistake, Springer does strike the heck out at a 26.4% clip in his time as a pro (AFL excluded), but that has yet to prevent him from posting a nutty .394 OBP while doing so. He sustains a high BABIP (.362 this year in AAA) with a fairly average batted ball mix (43%GB/32%FB/18%LD) by virtue of his excellent foot speed and his below average IFFB% of 6.8 last year bodes well for that to continue. Springer makes quality contact, hits for power when he puts it in the air, and is capable of running it out when he doesn’t, and in that way he reminds me of a young Curtis Granderson in his years with the Tigers. I feel this is a fairly good comp and that Astros fans should feel comfortable dreaming on performance somewhere between Granderson’s ’06 where he hit .260/.335/.438 with excellent defense for 3.8 WAR and his breakout in ’07 when he went .302/.361/.552 with elite D for 7.7 WAR and a 136 wRC+. Granderson struck out less, and so the .302 average is likely never going to be in the cards excluding some major BABIP luck, but Springer projects to steal considerably more bases and walk a bit more while having more power than the young version of Grandy. This is in line with the Steamer projection for Springer were he to make the jump to the Show immediately, as they have him pegged to put up a .256/.330/.460 line upon arrival.
Springer clearly likes to pull the ball for the most part, although he pops it up the middle enough to keep them guessing he could still be susceptible to shifts supressing his BABIP, which he will need to keep high to prevent the strikeouts from hampering his game. Like any prospect, he can scarcely be called a ‘sure thing’ but after nearly putting up the first recorded 40-40 season in the minor leagues (37-45 final) he is about as close as one will come. Scouts love his makeup and work ethic and all-out playstyle, with one saying he approaches the game with a “football mentality” that allows him to take full advantage of his considerable tools. I won’t say the strikeouts don’t worry me; I’ll stop just shy of that, but when you consider the total package I think you’re crazy to project doom and gloom for Springer. Barring any strange goings-on in Houston, he should start 2014 as the Astros’ opening day center fielder, and I think we are all in for a show.
Summary: Springer is the quintessential Power/Speed prospect, epitomized by a near 40-40 season between AA and AAA this year.
Bodes Well: The power is already showing up at 23, cut Ks in AAA without losing power, excellent SB success rates, outstanding defense, excellent work ethic
Portends Doom: Struck out in over a quarter of minor league PAs, Opposed to Opposite field, ‘all-out’ type players can lean toward injury-risk
Projected Arrival: Opening Day 2014
Arbitrary PrawnGrade: A-