Omaha, meet this year’s version of Wil Myers.
Locals got to see a lot of Myers in 2012. For the next four days, George Springer is in town with Oklahoma City for a five-game series against the Storm Chasers at Werner Park.
Springer, a center fielder like Myers was last season, is one of the candidates to succeed Myers as minor league player of the year.
“George is special — tremendous potential, tremendous player,” Class AA Corpus Christi manager Keith Bodie told the New Haven (Conn.) Register. “He’s the cornerstone of the Houston Astros’ future.”
Springer, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Connecticut. The 23-year-old had an excellent first full season in 2012 in the offense-friendly California League. He hit .316 with 22 homers and 82 RBIs before turning on the afterburners this season at the minors’ upper levels.
Like Myers last year, Springer opened 2013 in Class AA. While it took Myers six weeks to hit his way to Class AAA Omaha, Springer made the jump to Oklahoma City in late June — after tearing up the Texas League with a .297 average, 20 doubles, 19 homers, 55 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 73 games. Oh, and he hit two homers in the league All-Star game.
Like Myers, he’s seemingly picked up speed in the Pacific Coast League. Through 21 games, a stretch that included a 14-game hitting streak, he’s hit .373 with eight homers, 21 RBIs and six steals. He was hitting .403 before going 1 for 8 his last two games.
“He hasn’t missed a beat in Triple A,” Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco told the Austin American-Statesman. “He seems to be a player that stands out. He’s fun to watch — a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. He can hurt a baseball.”
So, between the two levels, the right-handed hitting Springer is batting .312 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs.
It’s not just Springer’s bat, though.
“He has the opportunity to show you those skills not only on base, but he covers so much ground in center field and he can throw,” Bodie said.
With 29 stolen bases between the levels, Springer is three homers and one steal away from putting together the minor leagues’ first 30-30 season in four years. He’s on pace to finish right at 40-40.
“When you’re watching somebody who possesses those attributes and skills, namely the speed and the power, the sky is the limit for players like that,” Bodie said. “Plus he plays a premium position.”
Like Myers last year, Springer stands out as the best position player of a strong farm system — a recent transformation for the Astros, who have made strides at the minor league level.
The Oklahoma City roster also boasts pitcher Jarred Cosart, whose first (and so far only) big league start was a near no-hitter July 12 against Tampa Bay. Cosart, who has faced Omaha three times this season (going 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA) may not pitch in this series.
But the RedHawks have more to offer. Power hitting first baseman Jonathan Singleton, 21, was considered before the season as perhaps a slightly better prospect than Springer. And pitcher Asher Wojciechowski has solidified his mid-level prospect status with an excellent Class AAA season.
For now, though, Springer is the main attraction.
Despite his smooth transition to the PCL, Springer seems to be staying grounded.
“The pitchers in this league are good,” Springer told minorleaguebaseball.com. “If they make a mistake and I don’t hit it, the count swings in their favor. As a hitter, that’s not a spot where you want to be.
“You have to understand who you are as a player, understand how other teams will attack and play you. You have to know the strike zone as a hitter and know what it is you’re trying to do. All that has to be made up before you step into the box.”
Like Myers, Springer might strike out a bit too much for the comfort of some. He’s fanned 121 times in 94 games this season, including 25 in 21 games in the PCL. That’s more often than Myers, who struck out 140 times in 134 games last year and 98 times in 99 games in Omaha.
“Some people say striking out is bad, and others say, ‘Who cares?’?” Springer said. “A strikeout, to me, is just another out. Obviously, there are times when you don’t want to strike out. I pride myself in not striking out with guys in scoring position.”
Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow recently told the Houston Chronicle that Springer would finish the season in Class AAA.
But a September callup, or the chance to win a starting job next year in spring training, seem to be in the very near future for Springer.
“You’re out there, you’re in a big league stadium, it’s a great environment,” Springer told MLB.com while at New York’s Citi Field for the Futures Game, where he batted third for the U.S. team. “It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to think that, ‘I’m close, but I’ve got to do a lot more to get back here.’?”
Springer opened this season ranked No. 3 among Astros prospects (behind 2012 No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa, a shortstop, and Singleton) by Baseball America. BA listed him as its No. 37 overall prospect while MLB.com rated him No. 58.
But he carried himself like a long-time big league veteran in spring training, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“He’s very mature, and he knows that he belongs,” Astros manager Bo Porter said in March. “He’s not here trying to figure out, ‘Am I a big league player?’ I think he knows he’s a big league player.”
In midseason rankings, BA ranked Springer No. 20 while ESPN listed him No. 29.
“I think he’ll have his best success at the major league level,” Bodie said. “He’s the type of person that relishes (that) type of environment. He’s got a tremendous disposition, a good head on his shoulders — he’s very well-grounded. He’s got a tremendous passion for the game. George is going to be special and fun to watch.”