It's arguable that among the players that opened the '14 regular season in the minors, no player's eventual promotion to the majors was more eagerly anticipated in fantasy baseball circles than that of Astros top prospect George Springer. In the numbers-dependent virtual game, Springer's combined 37 home runs and 45 steals in 135 games last season across two minor league levels (Double- and Triple-A) was impossible to ignore.
When Springer was promoted this week, the buzz was clear and present. On Wednesday, Springer's MLB debut for the Astros, the Houston man-child was picked up in nearly 50,000 Yahoo leagues. That was 40K more leagues than any other player on that day. Springer picked up a hit in his debut, but went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts. And the swing-and-miss issues are the rub when it comes to Springer's profile. He's been a high-K type throughout his minor league career, though he's managed to walk a healthy amount as well.
Now that he's facing the best arms that the world has to offer, the big question surrounding Springer is whether or not he'll be able to put the bat on the ball enough to support his tantalizing power/speed skills with a serviceable batting average. With that in mind, we asked the Yahoo fantasy baseball experts to weigh in with what their expectations are for Springer's inaugural MLB campaign - I'll lead things off:
Brandon Funston — I look to Giancarlo Stanton as a comp for George Springer. Both had similar plate discipline profiles, as Stanton drew a nice number of walks in the minors, but also sported hefty whiff rates. And like Springer, Stanton's contact shortcomings were easy to ignore given the the promise of his physical skill-set.
Stanton managed to tread water with his batting average (.259) in his rookie campaign, a more than serviceable number when combined with the 22 home runs (in 100 games) that he hit in his first season with the Marlins. Given that Springer has hit over .300 in nearly 300 minor league games, holding out hope for a .250-.260 average for the Astros in '14 is not completely misguided. I would probably put the even money on a .250 clip. And, with that, I'd expect the speed to play more immediately than the power, with a projection for something close to 15 home runs and 20 steals.
In terms of fantasy value, I'll point to Desmond Jennings's '13 campaign, in which he hit .252 with 14 home runs, 20 steals, 54 RBIs and 82 runs scored. Those marks earned Jennings a top 150 value in last season's fantasy game. And that's about where I'd peg Springer's worth for '14, though given his talent ceiling, I wouldn't quibble if you backed him with a few more chips in the middle of the table than that.
Andy Behrens — A very good rookie season for Springer would probably look something like Will Venable's 2013, perhaps with a slightly lower average. Springer had a ton of swing-and-miss in his game in the minors; he struck out over 150 times in each of the past two years. But there's no denying this kid's power/speed potential. He could easily go 20/20 (or 15/25), assuming a healthy season. Clearly Springer won't do his hitting in a high-powered lineup, so runs and RBIs won't be plentiful. Put me down for a fantasy line of .255 with 18 home runs, 59 RBIs, 66 Runs and 25 steals.
Dalton Del Don — There's legitimate concern about Springer's high strikeout rate, which is why I don't foresee him batting more than .250, but it's also hard not to get excited about his power/speed combo. It's nice to see Houston not only give him an earlier than expected call up but also immediately place him No. 2 in the batting order. Despite a shaky BA, I could see Springer hitting 20 homers and swiping 25 bases over the rest of the year, making him a top-25 type fantasy outfielder.
Scott Pianowski — The one skill I'm expecting to translate right away is Springer's speed. Assuming he sticks around, there's no reason he can't swipe 20-30 bases, maybe more than that. The pop should be fine, I'm thinking 12-15 home runs (more down the line).
The batting average everybody knows could be a little bit dicey, as he's had contact problems throughout the minors. We live in a bottom line business, and here is mine: say a .259 average, 74 runs, 13 homers, 27 stolen bases 53 RBIs. Maybe it's not the buzzy, exciting line everybody wants, but it's still going to make him a solid third or fourth outfielder in most fantasy leagues. And with the pedigree at play, you know the ceiling is higher. I know we've said this before and we'll say it again: there's a wide range of outcomes here. The learning curve is different for everyone.