Why George Springer Is Hyped as MLB's Next Great Hitter

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Why George Springer Is Hyped as MLB's Next Great Hitter
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The Houston Astros are promoting top prospect George Springer before Wednesday’s game.

The 24-year-old outfielder gets the call after a red-hot start this spring at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he batted .353/.459/.647 with 17 runs, three home runs, nine RBI and four steals in 13 games. The promotion also comes in the midst of a six-game hitting streak, during which he batted .478 (11-for-23) with three home runs, three steals and six RBI.

"We feel pretty good with the reps he's got in Spring Training and the reps he's gotten so far during the season that defensively he's ready to go," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. "Offensively, he's been heating up the last week or so, and we want to get a guy when he's hot."

If Springer spends the rest of the season in the major leagues, he will accumulate 166 days of service time and remain under team control through the 2020 season, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

However, before Springer—Prospect Pipeline’s No. 18 prospect headed into the season—makes his highly anticipated debut Wednesday night, let’s take a look at his career and what we can expect moving forward.

 

Background

The Astros selected Springer with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Connecticut, targeting the outfielder for his high-end combination of power and speed. He has posted monster numbers during his ascent of the Astros’ system over the last two-plus seasons.

In his 2012 full-season debut, the 6’3”, 205-pound Springer batted .302/.383/.526 with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases in 581 plate appearances. Yet, while his overall numbers were obviously impressive, Springer spent a majority of the season as a 22-year-old in the hitter-friendly High-A California League and struck out at a 26.2 percent clip. When Springer was finally promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi for the final month of the regular season, he managed to post just a .630 OPS with 25 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances (21 games).

After Springer’s struggles at Double-A in late 2012, many expected him to regress at the plate last year in his return to the level. However, that didn’t happen. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

George Springer's Full-Season Statistics (2012-14)
Year (Level) PA AVG R HR RBI SB BB% K% BABIP
2012 (A+) 500 .316 101 22 82 28 11.2% 26.2% .404
2012 (AA) 81 .219 8 2 5 4 7.4% 30.9% .304
2013 (AA) 323 .297 56 19 55 23 13.0% 29.7% .390
2013 (AAA) 266 .311 50 18 53 22 15.4% 24.4% .362
2014 (AAA) 61 .353 17 3 9 4 14.8% 24.6% .455

FanGraphs.com

In 2013, Springer unleashed an assault on minor league pitching, as he put up the kind of numbers that made his 2012 stats look like a warm-up act.

Splitting the season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Springer batted .303/.411/.600 with 68 extra-base hits (37 home runs), 106 runs and 108 RBI in 590 plate appearances. And just for good measure, he also stole 45 bases in 53 attempts.

Springer’s performance put him in elite company, as his 30-30 season was the first in the minor leagues since Grant Desme's in 2009. He ultimately fell three home runs shy of joining the 40-40 club.

 

Springer’s Future

Few players in the sport are as naturally gifted as Springer, who showcases four plus tools (power, speed, glove, arm) on any given night. For that reason, there are even fewer players with as high of a ceiling as the Astros’ outfielder.

For Springer, showcasing plus power comes as naturally as striking out, and the two will likely be intertwined for the duration of his career. His swing involves a slight front-side leak toward the plate and occasional hard landing, which speaks to Springer’s reputation as a pull hitter.

In looking at his spray chart from the 2013 season, we see that Springer, a right-handed batter, was most successful when hitting the ball to left field—something he did nearly 56 percent of the time.

Courtesy of MLBFarm.com
George Springer's 2013 Heat Map

Still, even though Springer’s tendency to yank the ball to his pull side might lead to a tough adjustment period upon reaching the major leagues as well as an unfavorable strikeout rate, his combination of raw power and power frequency should produce multiple seasons of 25 to 30 (maybe even more) home runs.

However, the ongoing development of Springer’s hit tool and plate discipline will ultimately determine whether he’s an All-Star-caliber player or a decent major league regular.

Between both levels in 2012, Springer fanned 156 times in 128 games, amounting to 26.8 percent of his total at-bats. However, despite walking at a 10.7 percent clip, Springer’s speed and .382 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) enabled him to post a .300-plus batting average.

Last season, Springer’s prospect stock continued to soar behind the improved secondary skills he demonstrated at a pair of advanced levels. Specifically, Springer’s strikeout rate increased to 27.3 percent in 589 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. However, he offset some of the swing-and-miss by boosting his walk rate to 14.1 percent (a 3.4 percent spike) and decreasing his fly-ball rate.

Since strikeouts have and will always be an issue for Springer, his plate discipline and approach must continue to improve in the major leagues. Pitchers will attack Springer knowing he’s a pull hitter, which means they’ll work him on the outer half of the plate and force him to use the entire field. Therefore, considering the adjustments he’ll presumably have to make at the highest levels, Springer’s days of posting a BABIP-driven, .300-plus batting average are likely over.

"He's not going to a perfect player, but he's going to be a darn good player and has a chance to be a very special player," Luhnow said, via MLB.com.

Even if Springer bats .240-.250 in the major leagues, his power and speed should give him the opportunity to approach a 30-30 season annually. And assuming he bats toward the top or middle of Houston’s lineup for the rest of the year, Springer should also both drive in and score plenty of runs.

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