There’s no reasonable way George Springer can be considered a disappointment; he’s one of the best young players in baseball. And yet…has he become something of a post-hype sleeper?
Before the 2014 season, Springer was a consensus top-20 prospect in baseball — if only just barely, squeaking in at #18 at Baseball America, #20 at Baseball Prospectus and #21 at Major League Baseball’s own in-house prospect rankings. The book on Springer was that he had great power potential combined with a real aggressive approach at the plate that led to two things: lots of extra-base hits, and lots of strikeouts. In 2013, he homered 37 times in the minors, along with hitting 27 doubles and four triples across Double- and Triple-A.
Those numbers came with riders, of course. Houston has its Double- and Triple-A affiliates in the Texas League and Pacific Coast League, respectively — two of the biggest hitters’ leagues in minor league baseball, especially the PCL. But they were indicative of a fundamentally effective and, almost as importantly, extremely engaging way of playing the game of baseball. Springer’s style thrummed with energy, of things always happening — sort of the way Bryce Harper played for his first few years with the Washington Nationals, though perhaps with less grandiosity and a bit less swagger.
And when Springer got his promotion to the big leagues, he made good (and bad) on much of that promise: he hit 20 home runs with eight doubles and a triple in his first 78 games while playing an aggressive right (very occasionally center) field, and of course, striking out 114 times. One hundred fourteen times in 78 games! One hundred fourteen times in only 345 plate appearances! And then in the middle of the year, the Astros lost him for the rest of the season to a quad injury.
The next year was a new year for Springer, in which he did…well, most of the same stuff. He once again played an extremely aggressive right field, once again hit for good-but-not-great power with 16 home runs, 19 doubles and two triples, and once again struck out a lot — 109, this time, in only 102 games because, once again, Springer was hurt. This time a fractured wrist was to blame for him missing July through to September.
But there was an important difference between his 2014 and 2015 seasons, working around the injuries: Springer figured out how to hit for average at the major league level. Not well enough to make it a major tool of his — we’re talking going from hitting .231 to .276 here, which is a big jump but still leaves him well shy of the coveted .300 benchmark — but that adjustment was enough to turn Springer into a very valuable player because of another one of his skills that has remained constant: an excellent batter’s eye.