Fantasy baseball Prospect Watch: Astros call up George Springer
George Springer had nothing more to prove in the minor leagues. In 266 plate appearances last year with Triple-A Oklahoma City, he hit .311/.425/.626 with 18 homers, 50 RBI and 22 steals; this, of course, happened after he put up a nearly identical line in the first half of the 2013 season at Double-A Corpus Christi.
The Astros were so aware of his major league readiness that they offered him a seven-year, $23-million deal last September that he summarily rejected. Since that deal sought to buy out his arbitration years, most figured that the Astros would keep Springer in the minors until a time where they could extend team control for a full season. That's why, despite the way he ate up Pacific Coast League pitching for two weeks, it seems silly that we are now having this discussion.
Silly or not, Springer is officially a major leaguer as of Wednesday night. As expected, he basically forced the team's hand by hitting .353/.459/.647 with three bombs, nine RBI and four steals in just 13 games. Before setting foot in a major league batter's box, he may already be the most feared hitter in Houston, and is rightfully seen as the future face of the franchise. He put an exclamation point on his short stay with Oklahoma City this year, going 3-for-4 with a grand slam in his final game before getting the call.
If you're in a competitive or deep league, chances are Springer was drafted and stashed on his owner's bench, so this will read to you as nothing more than an ode to a potential star-in-the-making. If for some reason he's still available in your league, go get him right now. Springer has absolutely raked at every stop in his journey through the Astros' minor league system. His one downfall are his strikeouts, posting a K-rate of 24.4 percent at Oklahoma City and 29.7 percent at Corpus Christi last year. In 61 plate appearances before getting his promotion, he fanned 15 times. He does, however, offset that to a degree with a strong walk rate, earning a free pass in 83, or 14.1 percent, of his 589 plate appearances last year.
Most projection systems assumed Springer wouldn't play more than half of the Astros' games this year, and even that was a generous assessment. Instead, he should end up playing in 130-plus games. After all, they didn't bring him up to stick him on the bench. His tendency to strike out could cause some growing pains early, but Springer should be started with confidence in all but the shallowest of leagues. Assuming he plays nearly every day for the rest of the season, he's easily a top-40 outfielder with a top-25 ceiling.
• Not to be outdone, Gregory Polanco is off to a roaring start with Triple-A Indianapolis. The 22-year-old outfielder is hitting .465/.511/.744 with a pair of homers and 11 RBI. Polanco, the No. 1 hitting prospect in the Pittsburgh organization, hasn't walked much in his minor league career, a 12.6-percent walk rate in 286 plate appearances at Double-A Altoona notwithstanding, but he doesn't strike out either, and those contact skills should immediately translate to the majors. The Pirates are obviously set in center and left, and Travis Snider has been playing well as the regular right fielder, but it's just a matter of time before Polanco gets a shot in the majors. If you have room to stash someone, he should be toward the top of your list.
• Javier Baez, the Cubs top prospect, hit the seven-day DL on Sunday with a sprained ankle. Luckily, he seems to have avoided serious injury. He has yet to get going at Triple-A Iowa, hitting just .154, but he does have two homers and a double among his four hits. What's more troubling is that he has struck out 10 times and walked twice in 28 plate appearances. Iowa expects him back next week, and conventional wisdom is that he's ticketed for a midsummer debut with the Cubs. At this point, however, we cannot be sure he will hit that timetable.
• The Mariners received some disquieting news when Taijuan Walker was scratched from a rehab start due to shoulder stiffness. He's set for a re-evaluation on Wednesday, but this is potentially terrible news for both team and player. Walker is on the DL with shoulder bursitis, but he seemed to be on track to recover from the injury as expected.
• Archie Bradley's agent recently made waves when he said the Diamondbacks were only keeping him down to control costs, not for competitive purposes. That very well may be true, but fantasy owners will almost certainly be able to reap his benefits at some point this year. He's 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and eight strikeouts in 12 innings with Triple-A Reno thus far. The 21-year-old is likely the No. 1a to Taijuan Walker's No. 1 ranking as the best pitching prospect in baseball, and the only reason Walker is ahead is because he's already slotted in the Mariners' rotation, once he returns from his shoulder injury. Even if we don't see him in the majors until June or July, he's worth stashing in most leagues.