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Sports

June 25, 2013

ON THE ASTROS: George Springer powers resurgent Astros farm system

George Springer put on another display Tuesday, hitting ball after ball over the fence in the Texas League All-Star Game in Springdale, Ark., home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

Yes, there’s an easy transition, sitting right there. Springer. Naturals. You can make the leap yourself.

But, calling Springer a natural is too easy. What he actually represents, as he hits home runs and steals bases in the minor leagues, is the future of the Houston Astros. Springer hit home runs in the home run derby before the All-Star Game and he hit two more during the game itself.

That prompted new Astros president Reid Ryan to tweet out a message to Astros fans about Springer’s hitting feats.

If Twitter had subtext, Ryan’s message would be music to a starving fan base. Springer is one of many signs that the team’s future is not far from becoming the present.

Springer is one of a number of prospects in the first wave of this rebuild. He joins first baseman Jonathan Singleton and pitchers Asher Wojciechowski and Jarred Cosart as the closest top prospects to the majors. Not far behind the group is fireballing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who also appeared in that Texas League All-Star Game, along with Singleton.

Amid all the losing at Minute Maid Park, the prospects have sustained hardcore fans. As the Astros put up consecutive 100-loss seasons and appear on the verge of a third, fans have scoured draft lists, looking for the next star addition to one of the most improved farm systems in the game.

On Tuesday, Baseball Prospectus released its midseason Top 50 prospects list. Five Astros farmhands made the cut, the most of any team in the majors. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012, shortstop Carlos Correa, led all Astros prospects, ranking No. 16. Mark Appel, the top pick in 2013, was second at No. 18, while Springer ranked at No. 30, Singleton at No. 36 and Foltynewicz at No. 49.

Just missing the list was another 2012 draftee, supplemental first round pick Lance McCullers, Jr., a right-hander who’s currently at Low A Quad Cities.

Of those five names, three seem poised to make a contribution to the big league club within the next year.

After hitting 19 home runs and stealing 23 bases in 73 games for Houston’s Double-A affiliate Corpus Christi, Springer was promoted last week to Triple-A Oklahoma City. There, he sits just a step away from joining the Astros outfield, and that group gets thinner every day.

The big question with Springer is his strikeout rate. The power-hitting center fielder struck out 96 times in 323 plate appearances for the Hooks. He was able to balance that with a 13 percent walk rate, but those Ks are worrisome. If he can cut that strikeout rate down to around 25 percent, he has a good chance at roaming the Minute Maid Park outfield this season.

Singleton joins Springer as a middle-of-the-order threat, something the big league team doesn’t have in abundance right now. Singleton probably would be in the majors right now if it weren’t for a 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse that scuttled the beginning of his season.

So far this year, the first baseman has played at three different minor league levels, hitting six home runs in 115 plate appearances while walking roughly 18 percent of the time. After a brief period of adjustment to Double-A, Singleton hit .263/.396/.526 for the Hooks in 11 games before being promoted to OKC. There he toils, tweaking his swing and getting hit timing back, waiting for the Astros to make a trade or otherwise free up some time at first base or DH.

Springer and Singleton are more than just two of the top prospects in the Astros system.

They have star power.

Houston hasn’t seen prospects like this crop in quite a while. Some of them will not work out, but those who do should start to make an impact on this Houston team soon.

It couldn’t come at a better time, either. Though the big league team got off to a horrid 10-30 start, the Astros have played better of late. They’ve won seven of their last 12 games and are 18-18 since May 15. Young players like right-hander Jordan Lyles, second baseman Jose Altuve and catcher Jason Castro have led the turnaround, too, giving Houston a nice, young core of talent to build upon in the coming years.

And, we haven’t even mentioned those top two picks in the last two drafts. Carlos Correa may be overshadowed by Minnesota Twins prospect Byron Buxton, who took the top spot on that Baseball Prospectus list, but Correa is over a year younger than Buxton and is hitting well in the Midwestern League.

In fact, his numbers are very comparable to Manny Machado, the Orioles 20-year old third baseman who could make his first All-Star appearance this year.

Add in Appel, who could end this season in Double-A with the Hooks, and Houston’s future is burning bright.

What’s more important, though, is that the good part of rebuilding (i.e. winning games) should be just around the corner.

David Coleman is a sportswriter for the Port Arthur News. Email him at dcoleman@panews.com or find him on Twitter at @MDavidColeman.

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