Waiting in the Wings: George Springer

Bob Levey

A look at the former first round pick who is trying to shed the "raw" label

You wouldn't necessarily expect that a college player drafted in the first round of the MLB draft would have the "raw" label, but nothing better defined George Springer. He flashed all five tools, but there were questions on most everything but the athleticism for Springer, and especially on the utility of his hit tool. It's been pretty smooth sailing for Springer, despite the immaturity in his game, and he's currently excelling in what was supposed to be a major test for him: Double-A.

Assigned to short-season ball for a smattering of games after being drafted and signed by the Houston Astros in 2011, Springer was jumped to the Hi-A California Leage for his first full professional season. While he had a raw overall game and was jumping straight to Hi-A, Springer was actually old for the level at 22 years old. Even so, I think it was a surprise to some when he posted a .302/.383/.526 slash line for the season and spending the last portion of the season (22 games) at Double-A. Springer struggled with Double-A in his go round, but appears to be adapting quite nicely as far as the first month of the season is concerned. He's posting a .302/.394/.655 slash line in 37 games. He's increased his walk rate to 11.1%, up from 7.4% at the tail end of last season. The big issue, and this plays into how raw he is, is the consistently far too high strikeout rate which resides at 30%. While Springer has succeeded (with flying colors, really) thus far in his career, despite the elevated strikeout rate, 30% is a damning figure. I can't see any possible way for him succeed, long term with that rate. To give context, Adam Dunn didn't eclipse the 30% mark until 2010 when he was already in decline. Springer's saving grace might be his understanding of the strikezone, allowing him to reach base at a premium clip. Springer flashes power and speed, making him an obvious attraction to fantasy owners. He's already mashed 13 home runs and notched 10 stolen bases in 2013. He's a good basestealer as well, with a career success rate of 82%. It should be noted that Springer has enjoyed the benefits of an above average BABIP, both in 2012 (.404) and thus far in 2013 (.377). While this is certainly helping his average, and a BABIP in the .400s is certainly unsustainable, one might anticipate that given his speed and the strength with which he hits the ball, Springer might be able to sustain a BABIP higher than the league average.

When it comes to tools, Springer has them all. He's a true five-tool prospect with far more security on the defensive side of the equation. Springer shows plus speed and an athletic body that should cover centerfield without issue. He's got a strong arm, rounding out the defensive profile. Springer uses his hands extremely well, parlaying big bat speed into plus power. The big question for Springer is the utility of the hit tool that will let him access that power. So far he's swing and missing a lot, but making enough contact that the power rules the roost. The fear is that, if he's whiffing 30% of the time at Double-A, what is more advanced pitching going to do to him? What happens when he faces bigger bite and fewer mistakes? We can't really know until he fails and is forced to adjust, unfortunately. It could be that those adjustments aren't needed until he's at the highest level. As stated before, Springer's speed is plus, helping him on defense and on the basepaths where he's experienced great success as a pro. Five tool player gets thrown around a decent amount these days, but often times it's either an exaggeration, or the five tools are all present but average. Springer could be the rare player with five above-average to plus tools all playing at the same time. He's there statistically right now, but not developmentally. If it all clicks though, his ceiling his a high 6 type of player. A high energy player, Springer's make up receives good marks as well, as he's known as a player who's attitude is contagious (in a good way.

Despite statistical success at an upper level of the minors, Springer still has a lot to work on. It's unclear if his approach would work at the MLB level and a first step towards the majors would be a reduction in the strikeout rate. Springer is of acute interest to me, in that the athletic, three true outcome player is a rarity, and that's what is profile is at this very moment. I do believe there is growth to be seen in his hit tool, though it may never reach his ceiling. Springer is a valuable fantasy asset who is likely to be overrated due to all the questions surrounding the maturity of his game. Even if the hit tool isn't as hoped, the speed and power would make him worthwhile property. If you can get him while those questions persist, do so, because if he answers them, he will be nigh impossible to acquire.

Source Material
Baseball America
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Reference
FanGraphs

You can follow me on Twitter at @cdgoldstein
You can find more of my work at The Dynasty Guru and MLB Draft Insider

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