The Astros started the 2012 season with almost no hope of playoff contention and, as Joe pointed out, they have taken steps to clean house in hopes of building a team capable of contending years down the road in the AL West. In order for that plan to work, they will need a strong group of prospects to live up to their potential. Here are some notes on a few prospects I have watched in person coming through the Cal League.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B
Double-A Texas League: 550 PA, 285/.398/.500, 21 HR, 16% BB%, 23.6% K%
I got a few live looks at Singleton last season after he was traded from the Phillies to the Astros. What I saw then was a sweet swinging lefty with tons of projectable in-game power, but a need to improve against left-handed pitching. At the still fresh age of 20, Singleton’s in-game power took a big step forward this season and he continued to show tremendous plate discipline. However, he only hit .236/.312/.423 with three home runs against lefties, so that aspect of his projection is still a major question mark.
I do believe Singleton will show improved numbers against lefties at some point, but he will likely have limited success against them in the big leagues. Still, the combination of 30-plus home run power and the ability to get on base at an above average clip make him one of the best — and one of my personal favorite — young prospects in the game.
George Springer, CF
High-A Cal League: 500 PA, .316/.398/.557, 22 HR, 28 SB, 11% BB%, 26% K%
Double-A Texas League: 78 PA, .225/.286/.352, 2 HR, 4 SB, 6.4% BB%, 31% K%
One of the best athletes that I saw in the Cal League this season, Springer has shown the ability to hit for power and steal bases, but has also shown a propensity to swing and miss a bit too often. He collapses his shoulders when he strides, dropping his line of sight and creating a loop in his swing that can be easily exposed by good fastballs. When he gets extension, the ball jumps off of his bat. However, his swing can also get long at times, which, along with an aggressive approach, could lead to more struggles like the one he faced when promoted to Double-A.
There is certainly star potential in Springer, but he’ll need to focus on improving his contact skills and smoothing out his swing. If those aspects of his game don’t improve, he still has enough raw ability to be an annual 20/20 outfielder with good range on defense, albeit one that doesn’t excel at getting on base or hitting for AVG.
Domingo Santana, corner OF
High-A Cal League: 520 PA, .302/.385/.536, 23 HR, 10.4% BB%, 28% K%
Over his first two minor league seasons, Santana hit 26 combined home runs, but many believed that he would break out in the power department this season. As it turned out, Santana was indeed ready to break out and the Cal League was the perfect place for him to do it in. Not only did Santana show an increase in his in-game power, but he also showed improvements in pitch recognition as the season progressed.
The negative for me continues to be the ferociousness in which he swings the bat. His swing isn’t necessarily long, it’s actually rather compact with surprising bat speed, but he swings way too hard for me to project that he’ll hit for AVG at the upper levels. Players can succeed while swinging hard as long as it doesn't affect the swing mechanics, which is does with regard to Santana (i.e. head and shoulders pulling out early). That overly aggressive swing has led to consistently high strikeout rates throughout his minor league career and the same held true this season.
Santana is still only 20, so there is time for him to tone down his swing a bit. He projects to hit 25-30 home runs at his peak in the big leagues, but the impact of that power will all depend on his ability to refine and calm his approach going forward.
Bobby Borchering, DH
High-A Cal League: 344 PA, .277/.340/.534, 18 HR, 8% BB%, 28% K%
Double-A Southern League and Texas League: 191 PA, .163/.236/.308, 6 HR, 6.5% BB%, 33% K%
After a very slow start to his second season at High-A, Borchering found his stroke right around mid-season, not only hitting for power, but hitting for power to the opposite field as well (from the left side), helping to ease my worries about him being a dead pull power hitter. Along the way, his plate discipline also showed progression. While the power is certainly a part of his game, he still swings and misses too often, a problem that led to mighty struggles at Double-A. A switch hitter, Borchering has raw power form both sides of the plate.
Borchering was moved from 1B/3B to the outfield after proving he couldn’t handle the infield in 2011. However, the move to the outfield hasn’t done much to improve his defensive rating. Borchering has poor range and routinely misjudges flyballs when he has to make a catch on the run. He will likely be a liability no matter where he plays on the field, thus limiting his value to his offense.
I thought it was a shrewd move by the Astros to acquire Borchering, who wasn’t going to play in Arizona due to his horrid defense. I spoke with a source who said that there was a positive change in Borchering’s attitude and approach to the game from 2011 to 2012, which was a concern during his time at High-A last season. Though I don’t see star potential, Borchering could develop into a 20-25 home run DH who gets on base at a league average clip. That doesn’t translate into a ton of value, but it does mean something to a franchise that is looking to build on a limited budget.