Houston Astros outfielder George Springer made his anticipated big league debut on April 17 last year. Springer, Houston's first-round pick (11th overall) in 2011, was thrown into the fire immediately and struggled a bit from the start.
He hit .182 with no home runs in the 14 games he played in April, but when the calendar flipped over to May, Springer seemed to get comfortable facing big league pitching and started to thrive.
He hit .294 with 10 home runs in May, then added six round trippers in June and four more in July before he missed the remainder of the season with a left quad injury.
Overall, it was a wild success for Springer in his rookie season. He showed off the light-tower power that made scouts drool from the time he was mashing balls in college at Connecticut, he displayed all five tools and he was just an exciting player to watch.
Coming into his sophomore season, expectations are even higher. A writer for the Astros' Fansided website, Climbing Tal's Hill, predicted recently that Springer would hit 37 home runs and finish ahead of Mike Trout in the 2015 AL MVP voting.
While that notion may be a bit far fetched, maybe it isn't impossible.
Springer dedicated the winter to getting stronger, which is hard to believe considering he looked to already have a chiseled frame last year. He reported to camp at 225 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than last year, and it's all solid muscle.
He detailed his training changes to Evan Drellich of The Houston Chronicle, explaining a new, intense workout program called JEKL. Springer already had a vicious swing last year that sent pitches deep into the seats, and he might have even more power this year with that added muscle.
He also said that his new routine and diet will help his body sustain the natural blows that occur over the course of the long season. If he can find a way to stay on the field for at least 150 games, the sky is the limit for Springer, who was ranked the 23rd-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com's 2013 Prospect Watch.
According to FanGraphs, Springer's 127 wRC+, a sabermetric that measures how many runs a player creates for his team, is well above the MLB average of 100. To put that 127 in perspective, Josh Donaldson and Adrian Gonzalez can be found very near that on the list of league leaders in that category.
Had Springer played a full season, he surely would have improved on his 20 home runs and 51 RBI. It is impossible to extrapolate his stats for the rest of the season due to the small sample size, but he may have topped the 30-home run club and would have had a shot at being the AL Rookie of the Year.
Which is why, coming into 2015, folks are so bullish of the 25-year-old outfielder.
The Astros are one year away from contending for an American League playoff spot, if not this season, and Springer is a huge reason why. He fits the mold of a Mike Trout- or Bryce Harper-type of player: big, fast, athletic, power hitter who effortlessly does everything on the field well.
Another thing that will help Springer drastically is the improving cast around him. With Jose Altuve coming off of a breakout 2014 season in which he got on base at a tremendous .377 clip, the emergence of Chris Carter as a legitimate home run threat and the additions of power hitters Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus, the Astros have a chance to become one of the most potent offensive units in the league.
With more runners getting on base in front of him and more sluggers offering protection behind him, Springer should see plenty of good pitches to hit. Expect him to have loads of opportunities to score runs as well as drive them in.
FanGraphs' Steamer projects Springer to hit .236 with 29 home runs and 79 RBI while scoring 77 runs. I think he should be able to maintain a higher batting average than that—he hit .300 in his minor league career—but his high strikeout totals are undoubtedly a source of worry.
He racked up 114 strikeouts in only 78 big league games in 2014, and he didn't show any signs of slowing down throughout the season.
But that's the way the MLB is transforming. Power hitters, or any hitters for that matter, are sacrificing strikeouts for homers.
If Springer decides to cut down his swing a little with two strikes and focus on putting the ball in play, his average should creep up.
Ultimately, whatever he decides to do, he is going to be an intimidating presence whenever he steps to the plate. He has unlimited talent and potential, and 2015 is his year to unleash on opposing pitchers.
Trout exploded in his second year in The Show, and Harper had a solid sophomore campaign as well. Springer had a more impressive first season than both of those aforementioned studs, so he should have no trouble amassing monster numbers.
I'm not as optimistic as Climbing Tal's Hill, but I think Springer will have a tremendous season. I predict him hitting around .250 with 30 home runs and 85 RBI.
He will be one of the most exciting players in the league in 2015, and he will be a key cog in the middle of a productive Astro lineup for years to come. And if he can cut down on his strikeout total, he may be a legitimate MVP candidate in the near future.