Is it time for the Astros to call up George Springer?
No surprises here, but the Astros are not good. Especially at the major league level. They are rebuilding and they have a smart front office, headed up by Jeff Luhnow, but the squad that they run out on a day to day basis is abysmal. The Astros are particularly poor out in centerfield. Houston’s center fielders posted a .210/.274/.303 slash line in the first half of 2013.
The Astros have trotted out Justin Maxwell (30 games – .231/.298/.365), Rick Ankiel (25 games before going to the Mets – .194/.231/.484), Trevor Crowe (34 games – .200/.282/.286), Brandon Barnes (75 games – .232/.291/.332) and Robbie Grossman (28 games – .198/.310/.243) in center. All the while, they have 23 year old George Springer, who started the year in AA and was promoted after 73 games with a .297/.399/.579 slash line with 23 steals and 19 home runs. Since his promotion to AAA he’s slashed .404/.507/.842 with 5 steals and 7 home runs in 17 games. He does have some significant swing and miss in his game. He struck out in 29.7% of his plate appearances in AA. On a positive note about the strike outs (with a gigantic small sample size caveat), he has brought his K% down to 27.5% since his AAA promotion. Some of that may be the friendlier hitting environment of the Pacific Coast League and some may just be the super small sample size.
The question for the Astros and for fantasy owners is, should he be playing for your club. Will it hurt his development? I would imagine that it wouldn’t be any worse than the stiffs they’re rolling out in center so far this season. Let’s pretend for a minute that Springer would be a league average center fielder (.260/.324/.405), that would be a monumental improvement in offensive production. If we knock an arbitrary 10% off of the league average to account for his adjustment to the big leagues, he’d still be slashing .234/.292/.365.
On the fantasy side, Springer has some serious upside. He has the highly sought after power speed combination. He’s going to eclipse the 30/30 mark in combined stats over AA and AAA easily. He will probably even get to 40/40. How does that translate when facing Major League pitching? The last player to hit 40+ home runs and steal 40+ bases in a minor league season was Len Tucker in 1956 (via Baseball America). Tucker hit 51 homers and stole 47 bases. Of guys that have made it to the Major Leagues, Nelson Cruz the guy who came closest to the 40/40 mark. In 2008, Cruz hit 37 homers and stole 24 bases.
Seeing that this type of power and speed don’t come along every year, I would recommend picking up Springer if you can stash him somewhere. I believe that he’ll get a look this season as Houston seeks to find out what they have. Let’s assume he gets 120 plate appearances this season (roughly 30 games). I would project him to hit .270/.340/.430 with 6 home runs and 10 stolen bases. That can help your team this year, and if his skills continue to develop, it will definitely help your squad in the coming years.