Minor League Prospect Report: George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Houston Astros prospect George Springer played the first 106 games of 2012 with the Lancaster Jethawks in the High-A California League. He had very few problems, hitting a .316/.398/.557 with 18 doubles, 10 triples, 22 homers, 28-for-34 in steals, drawing 56 walks in 433 at-bats. He also scored 101 runs and played very impressive defense in center field. This was exactly what the Astros wanted when they drafted him in the first round from the University of Connecticut in 2011: power, speed, walks, and defense.
However, Springer also fanned 131 times in those 106 games for Lancaster, a very high number, plus the park/league environment was quite friendly. How would he handle the more challenging environs of Corpus Christi and the Double-A Texas League? The Astros moved him up to the Hooks in early August, and here are the results:
Springer played in 22 games for Corpus Christi, hitting .219/.288/.342 with three doubles, two homers, 4-for-6 in steals, drawing six walks in 73 at-bats, but fanning 25 times. As many scouts anticipated, Springer had problems making the leap to Double-A, struggling with breaking balls and contact. He did have a nice run at the end of the season, going 7-for-19 with two homers in his last five games of the year. Small sample of course, but maybe something clicked.
Scouts have noted Springer's problems with off-speed pitches since college, so the problems in Double-A aren't unexpected. He still went 11th-overall in the 2012 first round due to his tools: he is one of the few players in the minor leagues with legitimate 20/20 potential. He also has a strong throwing arm and center field range.
Another factor in his favor is patience: Springer makes a good-faith effort to work counts, and usually draws his share of walks even when he's struggling. Many hitters with pitch recognition difficulties are wild hackers who swing at anything. That's not really true for Springer: he swings and misses a lot, but he's at least trying to do what he needs to do, and is willing to get deep into counts to do it.
Springer has enough rawness in his game that he will definitely benefit from a full season in the high minors, so I would expect him to return to the Texas League in 2013. I wouldn't expect him to be a strong batting average guy, but I'm optimistic that he'll make enough progress to be a productive major leaguer.
For more on Springer, check out Crawfish Boxes