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Springer searches for self, finds MiLBY

Houston prospect finds stride during chase for 40/40 season
October 24, 2013

MiLBYs are the end-of-season awards that honor the best players, teams and performances of the Minor League season. For three weeks, fans chose their favorites in 11 categories, and now we're announcing the Fans' Choice winners as well as staff picks for the major awards.

George Springer didn't need to find out what kind of hitter he could be in 2013. Rather, he was just trying to figure out what kind of hitter he actually was.

For everything that the Astros center-field prospect accomplished during the 2013 season, that was the talking point he kept coming back to. The power, the speed, the instincts, and even, the strikeouts -- it's all part of the George Springer total package, and the 24-year-old is increasingly comfortable with that.

Certainly, 2013 provided plenty of reason for confidence. Houston's No. 3 prospect was good on a nearly historic level, falling three homers shy of the first 40-homer, 40-stolen base Minor League season since 1956.

With 37 homers, 45 steals and a stellar season patrolling center field for Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Springer earned the staff MiLBY for Offensive Player of the Year in emphatic fashion, despite a stellar class of competition.

The 11th overall pick in the 2011 Draft edged top Minnesota prospect Byron Buxton for the honor by taking six of the available 11 first-place votes. No staffer had Springer ranked lower than second on his or her ballot. The Cubs' top prospect Javier Baez finished third, and Philadelphia's No. 2 prospect Maikel Franco checked in fourth.

Springer's 37 round-trippers tied him for second in the Minor Leagues, trailing only 19-year-old Texas prospect Joey Gallo -- the first teenager to slug 40 long balls in 51 years. Springer was the only 30/30 player in the Minors and one of only five to reach 20/20.

For the year, Springer batted .303 with a .411 on-base percentage and a 1.010 OPS. He hit 19 of his homers in Double-A and 18 in Triple-A, and actually improved many of his numbers after jumping levels following an MVP performance at the Double-A All-Star Game.

He was named Player of the Year in the Texas League, despite playing just half a season there. In the Pacific Coast League, he helped guide Oklahoma City the league's best record, hitting .400 with a 1.238 OPS in three postseason games.

Most important to Springer, he showed consistent improvement throughout. That was the goal for the 24-year-old throughout the season, and he made good on that.

Slow motion

This year wasn't Springer's first stab at Double-A. A native of New Britain, Conn., he played 22 games with Corpus Christi in 2012, hitting just .219 with a .630 OPS and a 25-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Devon Travis, West Michigan/Lakeland

Devon Travis didn't get a lot of love heading into the 2012 Draft, falling to Detroit in the 13th round. The Florida State product is a diminutive second baseman who batted .325 in his last season as a Seminole, belting eight homers and stealing seven bases. The 22-year-old was even better in his full-season pro debut, hitting .351 between Class A West Michigan and Class A Advanced Lakeland. He slugged 16 home runs and swiped 22 bases for the season, posting a .936 OPS over 132 games. Voting results »

In 2013, there was a clear first step for Springer -- as he's fond of saying, he needed to just "slow it down."

"It was just a timing thing, being able to slow my mind down and just play off my instincts and natural ability and not think too much," he said. "Just go out and play.

"As I played teams over and over, I learned some of the starters' patterns. The guys in the 'pen, I learned their patterns and pitches, and then how guys behind the plate call games. I was able to slow everything down and take that next step from there."

Springer was solid and consistent out of the gate for the Hooks, managing a .297 average and a .978 OPS in 73 games before a late-June callup to Triple-A.

He was even better in Oklahoma City. He maintained similar power and speed numbers, all while cutting his strikeout rate down from 29.7 percent of plate appearances to 24.4 percent.

Springer said the falling strikeout rate was the result of an improved approach. The center fielder noted he was helped by conversations with multiple RedHawks teammates, as well as thoughts from hitting coach Leon Roberts.

"It was one of those things where I have to become a great mistake hitter," Springer said. "That's one thing at Triple-A I was able to do more of, was not miss mistakes. Not necessarily try to drive the ball out of the park, but continue to try to do my kind of damage.

"I don't have to chase a pitcher's pitch. One of the things is I'm extremely comfortable hitting with two strikes. I was able to slow my strikeouts down, but at the same time, I didn't take away from the type of hitter I want to be. I just slowed myself down and didn't chase pitches. If he makes a mistake, I have to get it."


It's within that approach that Springer's game can be found. He's capable of being that "great mistake hitter." If his pitch comes, fantastic. As he said, "One of the things I know is that the home runs will come." If his pitch never comes, a strikeout isn't much different from any other out. It's a game of risk and reward, and Springer's gamble is that the punishment he levies on misplaced fastballs and flattened curveballs will outweigh his losses.

That offensive profile, paired with his outstanding baserunning and ability in center, make for an attractive -- and rare -- package. It's a rare breed that matches or exceeds Springer's physical talents, with Corpus Christi manager Keith Bodie even mentioning his center fielder in the same breath as Mike Trout in regard to physical prowess.

"When you're watching somebody who possesses those attributes and skills, namely the speed and the power, the sky is the limit," Bodie told earlier this year. "Plus, he plays a premium position.

"He's an exciting player, and he has a chance to be a perennial All-Star."

Springer ranked fourth in the Minors with a .297 isolated power average. (Jim Redman/

The package certainly made for an entertaining 2013 campaign. Though the quest for 40/40 fell short, the mere fact that Springer even made it a watchable race is a feat worthy of high praise.

"It was fun," he said. "At the same time, I understand that a home run is a home run, and it's not necessarily the easiest thing to get. I can't go out and try to hit home runs. I got to 34 or 35, and it wasn't a big deal anymore."

A synecdoche story

Springer may be the most notable story, but his rise to the upper echelons of prospect rankings fits within the larger narrative of what's currently happening in the Astros organization.

In years past, the Houston farm system had failed to produce much in the way of Major League talent. Just two players drafted by Houston between 2005 and 2010 have contributed more than two Wins Above Replacement (according to at the big league level -- Bud Norris and Jason Castro.

The Astros look to get far more out of their last three Drafts. In 2013, six of the team's eight farm clubs qualified for postseason play, and most of those were teams driven by the organization's top prospects. Springer doesn't see much in the way of coincidence there.

The University of Connecticut product was drafted roughly five months before Jim Crane purchased the Astros and began to rebuild the franchise in his own vision. That vision started with the hiring of general manager Jeff Luhnow, and Springer thinks that duo has the farm system among the most well-stocked in the game.

"I think the overall prospective has changed," Springer said. "The overall mentality has changed. There's no more accepting defeat is what it is. We go out and play hard and play to win. I think we've achieved success, and that brings confidence to guys.

"I would give Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane all the credit for believing in their players and their philosophy and I believe that's starting to show, especially down in the farm system, that the Astros are up-and-coming."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.