Springer, DeShields soaking up first camp

Springer, DeShields soaking up first camp

VIERA, Fla. -- The bond between George Springer and Delino DeShields Jr. was forged during last year's instructional league, where both were in the infancy of their professional careers. They were anxious, eager and wide-eyed and became fast friends.

As the Astros' two most recent first-round Draft picks, Springer and DeShields have plenty in common. They're both bursting with athleticism and potential and both compiled impressive resumes prior to being drafted. And now Springer and DeShields -- in their first Major League spring camp -- are trying to live up to expectations.

Springer is the Astros' No. 3-ranked prospect by MLB.com, and DeShields is No. 8.

"I'm really excited," DeShields said. "It's a good experience. I was down here a little early and got the feel of things, and I'm really comfortable here. It's good to be with my future team and all that good stuff, which is fun."

When DeShields' future team becomes his present team remains to be seen. Neither DeShields nor Springer are expected to make the Major League club out of camp, but they're here for a reason. The chance to learn from the Major League staff and players and absorb as much information as possible is the top priority.

"The objective of them being here is to get them that much more desire to get back here as regular players and understand more about what it takes to not only get to the big leagues, but stay in the big leagues," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Exposing them to the coaching staff and to the players that have been in the big leagues -- even though we have fewer of those than other clubs -- it still is important."

Springer, who struck out twice in Sunday's 10-2 victory, and DeShields, who fanned in his lone at-bat, have been inseparable this spring, sharing an apartment together and riding to and from the team's facility on a daily basis. When they walked on the field Sunday at Space Coast Stadium for batting practice, the youthful enthusiasm was present as DeShields came up from behind Springer and tapped him on the head as he jumped past him.

"I'm extremely fortunate to be here and see how guys who have been here for three-plus [years], how they handle everything and they go about their business," Springer said. "It's cool."

Springer, 22, was the Astros' top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft after earning Big East Player of the Year honors at the University of Connecticut, where he hit .343 with 12 home runs and 77 RBIs in 66 games. After signing with Houston at the deadline, Springer appeared in only eight games at short-season Tri-City.

Perhaps more than any other player, the Astros are eager to get a good look at the man who should be their center fielder of the future.

"I have a lot to prove and a lot to learn, and there's already a great core of players here," Springer said. "There's J.D. [Martinez] and [Jordan] Schafer and they're prime-time players and they're young. The [organization] itself is headed in a great direction, and I'm excited to be a part of it."

DeShields, 19, played his first full season of professional ball last year and had 17 doubles, nine home runs and 48 RBIs in 119 games at Class A Lexington. He also led the club in stolen bases (30) and runs scored (73) while batting .220. He was an outfielder when drafted out of high school in 2010, but has made the transition to second base.

"At first, it was a bumpy course," DeShields said. "I started to get really comfortable and had a pretty good year defensively. The transition was really tough. I think I did a pretty good job and I only look to improve now."

Of course, being in a big league clubhouse is nothing new for DeShields, whose father, Delino DeShields, played 13 years in the Major Leagues. The younger DeShields has fond memories of being around players like Mark McGwire, Albert Belle and Cal Ripken Jr. when he was a kid.

"I remember as a kid I used to go in the locker room and there was a big shelf full of candy," he said. "That's all I remember. I used to go in there with a big bag and stuff it with candy."

Being the son of an accomplished Major League player, DeShields is dealing with some added expectations that Springer isn't facing.

"It can be some pressure," he said. "There can be fans that say stuff in my ear when I'm up to bat, but I learned at a young age to not let those kinds of things affect me. My dad taught me a long time ago, 'Don't worry about what people say to you. Don't let it affect your game. Don't let them ruin everything. ...' I'm the son of Delino DeShields, but we're two different people. That's how I see it."

Luhnow said the Astros haven't decided at which level Springer and DeShields will begin the season, though it's a stretch to think they'll start higher than Class A Lancaster.

"We're going to spend a lot of time this month talking about that," he said. "I'm sure [director of player development] Fred [Nelson] and his staff has ideas where they project everybody to start at this point. I want to make sure we put everybody in the right position to succeed, and we're not promising people they should be at a certain level because of their age or Draft status. We want people in the right spots so they can develop the right way, and when they're ready, they'll show up."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.