Following two straight 100-loss seasons by the Astros, there hasn't been much to be excited about when it comes to baseball in Houston.
George Springer could change that.
The 23-year-old center fielder has just the right combination of power and speed to grab attention around the diamond. It was those abilities, along with a quality glove and arm, that made him stand out in three seasons at the University of Connecticut, where, along with Red Sox prospect Matt Barnes and D-backs prospect Nick Ahmed, he led the Huskies in 2011 to their first College World Series appearance in 32 years. Rangers prospect Mike Olt also played alongside Springer in 2009.
After being named Big East Player of the Year, the native of New Britain, Conn., was selected 11th overall by the Astros in that year's Draft.
Springer didn't disappoint in 2012 -- his first full season in pro ball. He batted .302 with 24 homers, 87 RBIs and 32 steals in 128 games between Class A Advanced Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. Thanks to those numbers, he was named the Astros' No. 3 prospect and MLB.com's No. 57 overall entering the upcoming 2013 campaign.
We caught up with the promising outfielder to discuss the memories of his times in Storrs and what he believes lies ahead with the Astros.
MiLB.com: You're down in Florida for your second Spring Training with the Astros. How's it been so far, and what have you noticed that's been different?
George Springer: As of right now, it's all been good. You're getting quality reps, quality swings and other offensive reps every single day over and over. As a player, that's good. You definitely want to get your legs underneath you after a long offseason.
As for going from last year to this year, the atmosphere here has completely changed. Bo Porter and all the other new coaches have done a fantastic job so far of establishing that the old Astros are the old Astros. This is a new year, and that's a great way of thinking. And that doesn't just go for the big-league team. It's an attitude the organization as a whole is taking.
MiLB.com: With that being said, people are still looking at the Astros as an organization that's focusing more on the future than the present. Because of that, do you feel any more pressure as someone seen as one of the top prospects in the organization?
Springer: I guess you want to say the future is the future and you'll worry about it when it comes. I wouldn't say prospects or guys who have the potential to play at higher levels have any added pressure or anything like that.
Still being the young player that I am, I have complete respect for the guys who are up there in the Majors right now. They're still pro hitters, pro throwers, pro pitchers.
I'm spending a lot of time here talking with guys like Jose Altuve, Justin Maxwell, Jason Castro, Fernando Martinez -- the list could go on and on. As a player, they are the big league team, so you want to see what they do and how they work. ... Right now, wins and losses, I don't care about that. Those guys up there go out and compete and play to win every day.
MiLB.com: Going back to yourself, what did you take away from the 2012 season?
Springer: I learned a lot more about myself as a hitter. From the moment I was drafted to instructs to my first year, I feel like I've learned and grown tremendously, and that's great. I have a lot of things to improve on, and I will improve on all of them. It's going to take blood, sweat and tears, but I know I've got just as much to learn from all my mistakes, not just my successes.
The biggest part of that is not to give away at-bats at all -- be more aware of how I'm being pitched and how the guy behind me is being pitched. I could go on for hours about what needs work. But at the top, I have to have a better sense of who I am as a player and a teammate because in order to succeed in this game, you have to make the necessary adjustments.
MiLB.com: You've talked a little about knowing what kind of player you are. What kind do you see yourself as right now?
Springer: In my own mind, I'm a guy that's going to compete for you every day. It doesn't matter if we're up nine or down nine, I'm going to play hard and do all I can to be a good teammate. ... If I go 3-for-3 but we lose, I'm going to be upset. But if I'm 0-for-3 and we win, I guarantee you I'll be happy.
MiLB.com: As for more technical things, you've been described as a toolsy player. What do you think is your most important tool?
Springer: Speed. Speed is something that can help you in all aspects of the game. It'll help you run the bases fast. You'll play the field fast. The faster you can be, the better player you are. It's really the No. 1 tool for me. Our organization has some guys, like Delino DeShields, who has great speed and really knows how to use that speed. So as far back as freshman year of school, I've been trying to understand how to best utilize my speed in everything I do.
MiLB.com: So if you and DeShields were to race down there in Spring Training, you think you'd have a shot to beat him?
Springer: I don't really know to be honest. He can definitely run. You saw that when he stole more than 100 bags last year. But in a game situation, who knows? He can run. I can run. If we ever race, I think we'd make it pretty fun for everyone.
MiLB.com: Moving back a little bit, between yourself, Mike Olt, Matt Barnes and Nick Ahmed, you guys had a couple of really good teams at UConn. What was it like to be a part of that?
Springer: That experience was honestly something I won't forget. I was extremely fortunate to play with guys like Nick, Mike, John Andreoli. It's another thing that I could go on and on about, just the guys who were there.
But one of the biggest forces to our team was Coach [Jim Penders]. He made sure everyone was loose and let us have fun with what we were doing. He really understood us as players and people. With guys like Olt, Ahmed, Barnes, Andreoli, one of the best parts was how he got everybody to pull in the same direction.
When I was there, I have every confidence in the guy behind me. If I strike out, I know he has my back. If Ahmed is on first, I know he's stealing. I've never played on a team like that. We fed on each other, and that started with Coach on Day 1. We knew we had to play hard for the team and its goals. Because of that, we did some things in my three years that hadn't been done by the program ever.
And that's a testament as much to the guys who came before us too. The Pete Fatse's of the world, he helped me a lot. Harold Brantley. Pierre LePage. ... It was just the best time of my life.
MiLB.com: Was it even a little sweeter being that college teams in the North don't usually have the success you guys did with the Huskies?
Springer: It was obviously something special for sure. To play for Connecticut and play the big-time schools that have had success historically was huge. And for me, Mike and Matt, it was an honor to represent our state and the place we're all from. I feel like it definitely opened up some eyes and got us some exposure that we normally wouldn't get in that situation.
MiLB.com: Do you still keep in touch with everyone from that team?
Springer: Oh, yeah, I'm in contact with those guys all the time. I'm always checking up on how they're doing, checking their stats. It's something great, just to see as a program where we've gone. It's something special to me to see guys I've played with are having success.