I’ll cut to the chase right from the start: George Springer is worth drafting in mixed re-draft leagues in 2014. Even if he doesn’t start the year on the major-league roster, he has the potential to be an impact player from the moment he arrives in the bigs.
I saw Springer play quite a bit last year, both in the Double-A Texas League and in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. It’s hard to describe how much Springer stood out from his competition at both of those levels. I guess I could just point to the fact that his weighted offense was about 75% above league-average in both leagues, or that he hit 37 home runs and stole 45 bases on the year.
One of the things that sets Springer apart is that he is the very definition of a freak athlete. At 6’3″, 205 pounds, Springer has a muscular frame that projects well for future power development if he adds some weight over the course of his career. This is simply a physical comp, not a skills comp, but think of a young Ken Griffey Jr., and that’s the type of physique Springer has. He’s also an easy 65 runner for me, with great instincts to go along with his natural speed. Last season, he was successful in 85% of his stolen-base attempts (45-for-53).
He has tremendous bat speed, with enough muscle behind the swing to provide consistent, hard contact that puts his raw power in the 65 range as well. Springer’s hit tool is a bit behind his other offensive skills, largely because he strikes out very frequently. In over 1,200 career minor-league plate appearances, his strikeout rate is sitting at 26.5%. 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.
Speaking of strike-zone recognition, Springer has shown consistent improvement in that area as well. In 500 plate appearances at High-A, he maintained a walk rate of 11.2%. 404 plate appearances in Double-A produced an 11.9% walk rate, a figure that climbed to 15.4% in 266 Triple-A plate appearances. While he may strike out too much to be counted on for a high batting average, he draws enough walks to balance that out a bit in on-base percentage leagues.
I know there’s a chance the Astros could keep Springer in Triple-A long enough to push his arbitration clock back a year, but the guy has absolutely nothing left to learn in the minors. He torched Double-A pitching to a .297/.399/.579 slash line, and then pounded Triple-A pitchers to the tune of .311/.425/.626 in the same season, despite his batting average on balls in play being 28 points lower in Triple-A than in Double-A.
Springer was better in just about every way possible in Triple-A than he was in Double-A last year. As discussed earlier, his walk rate increased, but his strikeout rate improved as well, falling from 29.7% to 24.4%. His isolated power ballooned from an already-ridiculous .282 to .315. Throw in the fact that he’s 24 years old, and keeping him down in the minors any longer is strictly an exercise in cost control.
The Astros did trade for Dexter Fowler to man center field, Springer’s natural position, but the likes of Robbie Grossman, L.J. Hoes and Marc Krauss sure aren’t blocking Springer in the corners. Springer has the arm to play right field, and he did so in 11 games last year in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
If he plays the full season, Springer could post a 20/20 rookie year. To put it into context of a 12-team mixed league with moderately low bench depth, each team is probably drafting about five outfielders. So, who will likely be available when teams are picking those #48-#60 outfielders, and is Springer worth drafting over them? How about another youngster with proven major-league home-run power, Oswaldo Arcia? A steady yet unspectacular veteran like Nick Markakis? I’m taking Springer over either of those examples, even if he starts the season in Triple-A.
Springer’s long-term ceiling is that of a perennial all-star, and his floor is likely a second-division regular. He has the tools and polish to be in the 2014 Rookie of the Year conversation. Obviously, he has yet to prove whether his skills will translate to the majors, but nothing in his numbers or anything I’ve seen with my eyes leads me to believe that they won’t.
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