Two weeks ago, it happened: George Springer was called up to the Majors. Astros fans rejoiced. Single-season fantasy owners scrambled to their free-agency pools to grab him first. Keeper-league owners raced to their rosters to make sure they had him stashed. Like the Astros, those who did triumphantly slotted him into one of their starting outfield spots.
For all that fanfare, the early returns have been, well, disappointing, if not unpredictable. After Tuesday's action, Springer was batting .176 with no homers, four RBIs, one steal and 18 strikeouts through his first 13 games (57 plate appearances). The punchouts that were unfortunately a part of his game in the Minors have been there, while the power and speed haven't.
And that's the important word. Springer's struggles are your run-of-the-mill, let-him-take-some-time-to-adjust stuff. He'll make the necessary adjustments, and the game we saw in the Minors will come, as will the numbers, albeit they'll be a little deflated given the advanced competition of the Majors.
In other words, don't go rushing to drop Springer off your fantasy rosters yet in any league.
With that in mind, here's a look at whom fantasy owners can expect to be the next Springer, i.e. the next big prospect who will hit the Majors to the sounds of trumpets from the fantasy community. (All stats are though Tuesday, April 29.)
Gregory Polanco, Pirates outfielder -- Many expected Polanco to break out at the plate, but this seems a little extreme. The 22-year-old outfielder owns a .400/.457/.632 slash line with four homers, 25 RBIs and four steals in 24 games at Triple-A Indianapolis. As such, there are plenty of calls in Western Pennsylvania for his MLB debut to have happened yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. That comes not only as a result of his production but also the lack of any from Pirates right fielders (-0.2 fWAR).
The thought, at this point, would be they're looking to protect him from reaching Super Two status, but the Bucs are doing their best to say that's not the case.
"It's not a driving factor for us," Bucs GM Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We've worn [that criticism] every year with a guy in Triple-A who's doing well. We were holding Pedro Alvarez back. We were holding Starling Marte back. We were holding Andrew McCutchen back. I would argue that the guys who have come up with significant Triple-A experience and hit the ground running have had fewer pitfalls than the guys who, as I look back on now, I feel we've rushed."
That reads as spin but also as enough cover to hold Polanco down long enough and keep him under team control for an additional year as a result. As such, don't think of that as a bluff. Don't expect Polanco up until June or maybe even early July. If you can afford to stash him until then -- and if you're in a keeper league, you definitely should -- do so. Otherwise, it might be best to search for other options that can contribute now.
Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays right-handed pitcher -- The Jays seemingly don't have the same concerns as the Pirates when it comes to service time with their No. 2 prospect.
"Stroman has continued to impress," Toronto assistant GM Tony LaCava told Sportsnet. "It's just a matter of the opportunity and the right time for him. We think his time is coming soon."
Those comments sound quite the opposite of Huntington's. What's more, they're backed up by actions. A rainout for Triple-A Buffalo last Saturday allowed the organization to push Stroman back to Tuesday, when his start aligned with the struggling Dustin McGowan (5.87 ERA), whom the Duke product could easily replace in the rotation.
What followed seemed to go perfectly to script. Stroman struck out 10 and didn't allow a hit in six innings Tuesday against Louisville, lowering his ERA to 1.69 to go with his 36 strikeouts and seven walks through five starts (26 2/3 innings) with the Bisons. McGowan, meanwhile, may have bought himself one more start after giving up three runs (two earned) on three hits and three walks in six frames during a 10-7 loss to the Royals.
The strikeout and control numbers are no mirage from Stroman, who averaged 10.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 20 Double-A starts last season, and that should excite fantasy owners. He's worth an add right now in all leagues so you have him when he does get the call, and a trade in keeper leagues shouldn't be out of the question either.
Jon Singleton, Astros first baseman -- The fact we return to the Astros to find the next Springer says a lot about the depth of talent in their Minor League system but also about the lack of quality on the big league club.
After putting up a .220/.340/.347 line with six homers and 31 RBIs in 73 Triple-A games last season, Singleton is off to a much hotter start in 2014 with a .295/.404/.663 triple slash, nine homers and 27 RBIs in 24 games. Those numbers are about in line with Springer's (.353/.459/.647, 3, 9) during his 13-game stay with Oklahoma City and actually exceed them on the power side. What's more, Astros first basemen, who collectively sport a -0.8 fWAR, aren't adding anything to the argument that the team's No. 4 prospect should be kept down.
As the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich explained, the Astros don't have to worry about service time now either. He's been down in the Minors for longer than 20 days after being optioned to start the year, meaning he won't become a free agent until 2020. Instead, they'd like to see some production over a longer period of time, especially following his 2013 struggles.
"[Singleton] does not have the Triple-A track record that Springer has yet," Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told the Chronicle. "We feel he needs to develop that track record. We're always going to be in a position where our fans want our top prospects to come up here sooner than we think they're ready to come up here."
Singleton should have fantasy owners on red alert, especially those without a top-tier first baseman. Keeper-league owners may even want to hold on a little harder, given the lack of quality first-base options in the Minors. (At No. 47, Singleton is the only first baseman among MLB.com's top-100 prospects.) But for those who are in it for just this year, it's best to pump the brakes on a Singleton add until the time for his promotion becomes clearer.
Alex Meyer, Twins right-handed pitcher: There are always clues as to what's around the corner in the audience of a Minor League game. (For example, it's always fun to see which scouts are checking out another team's prospects around the Trade Deadline.) For Meyer, he had Twins general manager Rob Antony watching over him Monday, when he struck out 11 and only gave up two hits in six scoreless innings for Triple-A Rochester against Charlotte. It was his second straight 11-strikeout performance, and Antony surely took notice.
Like Stroman, Meyer only has a handful of Triple-A starts under his belt, but they have been impressive all the same. He's 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 11 walks in 26 2/3 innings for the Red Wings.
Unlike the Blue Jays though, the Twins are in full rebuilding mode and can afford to wait past the Super Two deadline and keep Meyer in Triple-A to squeeze another year of control out of him. There's the added fact that he pitched only 78 1/3 innings in 2013 due to shoulder problems, so they might want him to prove his health before putting it to the test in the big leagues.
Still, Meyer's numbers, especially in terms of strikeouts, should have fantasy owners drooling for that chance when he does hit the big time. He's certainly got the size (6-foot-9) and stuff (mid-90s fastball, biting curveball) to thrive in the Majors, and the Twins, whose starters have a 6.04 ERA this season, should have plenty of room for him come June. Plan appropriately.
Other candidates: Oscar Taveras, Joc Pederson, Kevin Gausman