Coming into 2014, I was very high on George Springer. After seeing him play in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, I was so confident in his abilities that I wrote a column explaining why Springer was still worth drafting and holding in standard mixed leagues, even if he started the season in Triple-A.
The 24-year-old spent exactly 13 games back down in Triple-A to start the season, hitting .353/.459/.647, with eight extra-base hits and four steals. That was enough to convince the Astros to call him up and give him the everyday right-field job. At first, he struggled to adjust, hitting just .182/.262/.218 in his first 14 major-league games. As it turned out, two weeks was about all the adjusting he needed to do.
Springer’s full-season line says that he hit .231/.336/.468 in his 345 major-league plate appearances, but let’s see what that looks like without the two-week adjustment period. From May 1 on, Springer hit .242/.352/.525, swatting 20 homers in just 284 PA. By the time he was shut down in mid-July with a quad injury, he had already done enough to be the No. 60 outfielder in standard formats on the year.
In other words, he produced at such a high level for ten weeks that his entire season was mixed-league relevant. As for the future, I’m pushing in all my chips on Springer. This season, we got just a 2 1/2-month glimpse at the kind of production he provides, and even then he wasn’t as good as he can be. Next year, he could very easily be a top-15 fantasy outfielder, or even better.
The primary reason I say that is because of Springer’s speed, and the fact that it didn’t play into his 2014 fantasy production at all. Keep in mind that — up until he reached the majors — Springer has always been a center fielder. He played 247 of his 278 career minor-league games in center. Furthermore, in 2013, Springer swiped 45 bases while getting caught just eight times.
So, while those five steals he registered in 78 major-league games may not look too impressive, the steals are coming. Along those lines, I expect his batting average to improve significantly as well. Part of it is that after posting a .379 minor-league batting average on balls in play in 1,270 PA, he had a .294 BABIP in the majors. While I certainly don’t expect him to maintain a .379 BABIP in the majors, I also certainly do expect him to improve on that .294 mark.
The other aspect of my batting-average optimism ties into Springer’s approach at the plate. This passage from my January column summarizes the point well:
I’ve heard others criticize his two-strike approach, but to my eyes, he strikes out so much because he simply doesn’t change his approach at all, no matter what the count is.
Springer is up there to crush that ball, whether it’s 3-0 or 0-2. While it’s not an ideal approach for maintaining a high batting average or decent strikeout rate, I’d much rather see a young player with a high strikeout rate that comes from an aggressive mindset, instead of poor strike-zone recognition or inconsistent/flawed swing mechanics.
While Springer did strike out in a whopping 33.0% of his major-league plate appearances, don’t automatically lump him in with other high K-rate Astros like Jon Singleton, or even Chris Carter. I do expect Springer to be somewhat of a consistently high-strikeout hitter in the majors, don’t get me wrong, but I think once he learns to rein in the aggression in his approach, his K-rate should stabilize in the 25% range.
When you get down to it, it’s relatively simple. Springer was one hell of a power hitter this year, and that alone was enough to make him a significant fantasy piece. Once he starts stealing more bases, and legging out more hits, and striking out less, I honestly believe we could be looking at one of the best players in fantasy baseball, period. I’m not letting him slide past the first 15 outfielders in any mixed leagues next year.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.