Houston Astros first base prospect Jonathan Singleton is off to an excellent start so far in 2014. Through 18 games for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Red Hawks of the Pacific Coast League, Singleton is hitting .329/.430/.726, with six doubles, seven homers, 13 walks, and 24 strikeouts in 73 at-bats. This excellent performance is in sharp contrast to what he did in 2013. Let's take a look.
Jon Singleton was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth round in 2009, from high school in Long Beach, California. At one point he was considered a second-round candidate but his performance as a high school senior didn't match that assessment and cost him several rounds. The Phillies signed him for $200,000. This looked like an astute decision after he hit .290/.395/.440 in rookie ball and .290/.393/.479 with 14 homers in the South Atlantic League in 2010.
He opened '11 at High-A Clearwater and continued to hit well (.284/.387/.414) in 93 games, then was traded to the Astros that summer as part of the Hunter Pence deal. He thrived in the excellent hitting environment at Lancaster after the trade, hitting .333/.405/.512/. He remained effective in 2012 with a .284/.396/.497 mark and 21 homers for Double-A Corpus Christi, drawing 88 walks with 131 strikeouts.
Singleton entered '13 as the top first base prospect in baseball but what should have been a final touch up on his resume ended up as a disaster. It began with a 50-game suspension for marijuana use. When he came back he did not look like the same player: he was overweight, out of shape, and simply did not perform well. He hit just .220/.340 with a terrible .347 SLG for Oklahoma City with 89 strikeouts in 245 at-bats.
It wasn't just the numbers that were off: he didn't look like the same player either with tools or skills; his bat speed was down and his swing had deteriorated mechanically, short-circuiting his power. He was easily fooled by breaking balls but also had problems catching up with Triple-A fastballs. He was running poorly and even his fielding reactions were sluggish compared to what I'd seen previously. All this was after he came back from the suspension. Singleton entered '14 with some serious questions to answer.
It is very early, of course, but Singleton seems to have shaken off the effects of '13. As noted, he's hitting much better at Oklahoma this year. Reports from the PCL back up the numbers: he has his bat speed back and is having few troubles with Triple-A pitching. His strikeout rate is still rather high but that's always been the case for him even when he performed well in the lower minors. He's playing with noticeably greater effort than '13 and in general looks much more like the player he was in '12 and previous years.
Singleton is a left-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-2, 255, born September 18, 1991. It is important not to over-react to small early season sample sizes, but based on current evidence it seems clear that Singleton took the 2013 troubles to heart and has his career back on track.
Barring injury or a catastrophic slump, we'll see him in Houston later this year. I would not expect him to hit .300 against big league pitching, but he has the raw talent to be one of the best power hitters in baseball if he avoids sabotaging himself.