After Buxton, the Astros' George Springer might have as much upside as any prospect in baseball. There isn't another player who can match his considerable power potential and all-around tools, all of which are solid or better. That's why in today's Pipeline Perspective showdown of center fielders, I'll take Springer over Jonathan Mayo's choice of the Cubs' Albert Almora.
Almora has exceptional instincts for a teenager and one of the highest floors of anyone on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list. But Springer is faster and stronger, and if both players fully realize their potential, he'll be more devastating than Almora.
The 11th overall pick in the ridiculously loaded 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Springer already is proving that he can translate his considerable ability into production. He posted the best numbers in the Minor Leagues in 2013, finishing in the top five in home runs (37), total bases (295), runs (106), RBIs (108), slugging (.600) and OPS (1.010) while splitting the season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Springer stole 45 bases, so he was just three homers shy of the becoming the first 40-40 man since the modern era of the Minors began in 1963. The last 40-40 man in the Minors was outfielder Len Tucker, who swatted 51 homers and stole 47 bases in the Class B Southwestern League in 1956.
Tucker never played in the big leagues, a fate that Springer will avoid. On sheer talent, he'd be a no-brainer for the Astros Opening Day roster. But financial considerations -- delaying his eligibility for arbitration and free agency down the road -- might send Springer back to Triple-A for at least a few weeks at the start of the season.
How good are Springer's tools? Let's break them down, from best to worst.
Power (70 on the 20-80 scouting scale). Springer has a lethal combination of bat speed and strength. His quick hands allow him to catch up to quality fastballs and he can launch the ball out of any part of the ballpark. Springer set a University of Connecticut record with 46 career homers and has gone deep 62 times in 271 pro games.
Speed (60). Scouts measure speed by home-to-first times, and Springer can get down the line from the right side in 4.2 seconds. That qualifies him as an above-average runner -- but that's also selling him short because his big swing slows him down a bit. Springer is more of a plus-plus runner once he gets going, and he knows how to use his speed to steal bases. He has swiped 81 bases, with an 84-percent success rate, in pro ball.
Defense (60). Springer's quickness allows him to cover both gaps easily from center field. He can be a plus defender if he's stationed up the middle, and a Gold Glover if he shifts to right field. That could happen, either in the present, in deference to newly acquired Dexter Fowler, or in the future if Delino DeShields Jr. takes to a shift from second base.
Arm (60). Don't get misled by Springer's meager assist totals: three in 2013 and 10 in two-plus seasons. His arm gives him a fourth above-average tool and will rate as one of the strongest among big league center fielders once he gets to that level.
Bat (55). The only real question scouts have about Springer is how much he'll hit for average in the Majors. Though he has batted .299 in the Minors, he gets too aggressive at the plate, can look bad against offspeed pitches and swings and misses a lot (319 strikeouts in 1,026 at-bats). The good news is that Springer has the patience and the presence to draw walks (83 in 2013, 147 in 271 games total) and should post solid on-base percentages.
Scouts laud Springer for the intensity he brings to the ballpark on a daily basis, and for getting the most out of his substantial tools. He may not produce lofty batting averages, but that won't stop him from being a star. Almora likely will be a more steady player, but Springer should reach greater heights.