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It happened unexpectedly. One of the biggest prospects in the game was called up by the Astros, out of nowhere really (turns out that according to Jeff Passan the two week delay in calling up Springer to start the season pushes back his free agency from 2019 to 2020). He strode onto the field, bat slung over his shoulder, ready to change the game of baseball as we know it. Let me introduce you to George Springer and give my thoughts on what they should be expecting from him for 2014.
Some background on the uber-prospect.
He stands 6'3” and weighs 205 lbs.
He bats and throws right-handed.
He was last drafted in 2011 with the 11th overall selection by the Astros.
According to Baseball Prospectus he was the 49th best prospect in baseball in 2012.
According to Baseball Prospectus he was the 55th best prospect in baseball in 2012.
According to Baseball Prospectus he was the 20th best prospect in baseball in 2012.
Year by year.
2011: 5-for-28 with one homer, four steals.
2012: .3302-24-87-109-32 in 128 games at High-A, Double-A
2013: .303-37-108-106-45 in 135 games at Double-A, Triple-A
Did you notice the nearly 40/40 effort he posted last season in all of 135 games?
Clearly this guy has some talent.
Springer is a .302 career hitter in the minors. That might be slightly deceiving though. Often times elite talent, as Springer is, can dominate at the lower levels. I say that because of some holes that undoubtedly exist in his swing. There doesn't need to be much analysis here. A quick look at his player card shows massive strikeout totals. In 283 minor league games, and that includes 114 games at Single-A ball, he's struck out 334 times. Just awful. Strikeouts will be a problem for Springer. And with them it will be render Springer incapable of hitting .300 in the big leagues. It might even make a run to .270 difficult. There's also this. For his minor league career he's only produced an 18 percent line drive rate (see Minor League Central). That's not exactly breakfast of champions kind of stuff (remember the big league average is about 19-20 percent). Also pretty hard, OK let's just say it, it's impossible to think he will be able to transition the .380 BABIP he has in the minors to the big leagues. Ain't happening. He has a decent 0.47 BB/K ratio though so at least he takes the occasional walk (his career .397 OBP in the minors is nice).
Springer has 65 homers in 283 games played. That's 33 homers per 142 games played. That's good (for insightful analysis like that keep it tuned to FantasyAlarm... LOL). Part of that success is do to his huge 26 percent HR/F ratio. How good is that? A 26 percent HR/F ratio in the big leagues in 2013 would have been the third best mark in baseball. Can he sustain that rate in the big leagues? Unlikely. What makes this situation even more concerning is the fact that Springer has a mere 33 percent fly ball rate. That's about two percentage points below the big league average. He's going to have to lift the ball some more with the Astros because it's nearly impossible to think he will be able to continue to convert more than a quarter of his fly balls into homers. It should also be noted that Springer has been rather pull heavy to this point of his career, so he will have to learn to use the field a bit better or pitchers might be able to exploit his inability to consistently drive the ball to the opposite field.
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Springer steals bases, impressively so. He's averaged 38 steals each of the last two seasons. He's only played an average of 132 games each season. He should be able to steal bases, and that alone should help to buoy his fantasy value. Not much to worry about here. He simply needs to get on base. It's not like the Astros are going to hold him back – they need to produce runs.
Let me state a few things clearly.
(1) Being called up this early means that George Springer should vie for the Rookie Of The Year Award.
(2) Springer will play every day for the Astros.
(3) Springer should be added in every AL-only league that he wasn't drafted in (how was he not picked?).
(4) Springer should be added in all 15 team mixed leagues.
(5) Springer should be added in all 12 team mixed leagues.
(6) Springer can be added in 10 team mixed leagues (if you start five outfielders).
What should you be expecting from Springer? Let me throw out three names...
I know that no one wants to hear that. But I'm not here to make you smile. I'm not here to hold your hand and tell you everything will be alright. I'm here to be honest. That's why you follow the Oracle, right? For his honesty. That's why I mentioned the three guys I did. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Springer will be Carlos Gonzalez. Could he be up to that level of a fantasy producer in 2014? The talent is there, but it would be foolish to expect that to occur (don't believe folks that are selling that). It's far more likely that Springer experiences the ups and down that most rookies do. He's talented, will run into pitches and bash them over the wall, and he'll steal bases. He's also undisciplined at the dish and has a pull happy approach that can be exploited. That's why I listed the three men I did. They are all talented and capable of posting a 20/20 season, but it's also a successful campaign if they bat .250. That's where we are at with Springer. Expect the homers and steals to be plentiful, but expect struggles in the batting average and OBP categories.
Springer could one day be a fantasy superstar.
It's just not likely to happen in 2014.