Pipeline Inbox: Springer could be on deck for Astros
Outfielder could make Houston's Major League roster out of Spring Training
Welcome to week two of the Pipeline Inbox here at MLB Pipeline. Jim Callis set the bar very high with the debut of the Inbox. Each week Callis and Jonathan Mayo will take turns answering your prospect-related questions.
Have something on your mind? Use the box on the right to share it with us, and we'll respond to as many of the best questions as we can. Jonathan will take your questions this week. Let's get to the second edition of the Pipeline Inbox:
Have a question about prospects?
E-mail your query to MLBPipeline.com reporters Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
How much playing time will George Springer get for the Astros next year?
-- Steve W., Las Vegas, Nev.
Springer had about as good a Minor League season as anyone in baseball in 2013, falling just three home runs short of a 40-40 season while putting up a .303/.411/.600 line across two levels. Much of the second half of the season had Astros fans waiting expectantly for Springer's arrival to Houston, but it never happened.
While there was much clamoring for a September callup, there isn't really a problem with the organization waiting to start Springer's service time clock. He's not currently on the 40-man roster and a decision on him, technically, wouldn't have to be made until after the 2014 season.
But don't despair, Astros fans. Just because Springer wasn't up in September doesn't mean you'll have to wait an entire season. It's hard to envision a scenario where he wouldn't get the chance to win an outfield job in Houston during Spring Training. Springer has played center and right, and it's easy to see him in either spot based on the personnel the Astros have. And if he wins the job, he'll play every day.
Why is Maikel Franco still slightly under the radar? Is he not perceived as a top 20 prospect even though he has arguably the best numbers in MiLB?
-- Matt W., Mt. Sterling, Ky.
I'm not exactly sure Franco is still under the radar. He's No. 72 on MLB.com's Top 100, No. 2 on the Phillies' Top 20 and currently sits at No. 6 among all third base prospects. In a recent Pipeline Perspectives where Jim Callis and I unveiled our All-Prospect team, Franco was actually my choice at third. How much more on the radar do you want?
It's possible the argument can be made that Franco should be higher on various rankings in a year that saw him finish tied for seventh (with fellow third baseman Miguel Sano) in the Minors with 103 RBIs and tied for seventh with 31 home runs. He also slugged .569 across two levels, showing absolutely no issues with the move up to Double-A.
So what's holding Franco back? There are some who think that his offensive output in 2013 was a bit of an aberration and will want to see him do it at the upper levels and the big leagues. And there are some who aren't convinced Franco can stay at third base long-term. That being said, the fact he just turned 21 at the end of August and had the kind of breakout season he had means a lot more people will be paying attention to what Franco does in 2014.
Does Mookie Betts have the potential to develop into a kind of "super sub" for the Sox?
-- Dave D., Cape Cod, Mass.
Dave, why are you selling Mookie Betts short? The Red Sox's No. 16 prospect had an absolutely terrific 2013 season. The fifth rounder from the 2011 Draft made his full-season debut, made the South Atlantic League All-Star Team, earned a promotion up a level and proceeded to hit better in the Carolina League. He finished second in the system in batting average (.314), second in on-base percentage (.417) and first in slugging (.506). His 38 steals also topped the system.
Those numbers don't speak utilityman to me. Betts did play some shortstop in 2012 (he appeared in just one game in 2011), but he was a second baseman only this past season. And all signs point to him being able to play there full-time. Betts showed more extra-base ability than some thought he was capable of this past season, too. If that continues, there's nothing that says he can't be a very good top-of-the-order, offensive-minded second baseman in the future. Now, there is that Dustin Pedroia fellow signed until the next millennium in the way, but cross that bridge once Betts gets there.
What has happened to Alex Wimmers, and do the Nationals have any prospects on the fast track from their 2013 draft?
-- Michael N., Ann Arbor, Mich.
A bit of an two-pronged question, but I'm game. We'll start with Wimmers. The 2010 first-rounder had Tommy John surgery in August 2012 after throwing just five innings. That came after a 2011 that saw him forget how to throw a strike, but battle back to finish the season well and provide some hope for the future. That ended when the Ohio State product came down with the elbow problem.
Wimmers did return in 203, making six starts in the Gulf Coast League in July and early August. He threw just 15 innings and allowed nine earned runs over his final 3 2/3 innings before being shut down on Aug. 8. Wimmers was shut down after that because he was dealing with some soreness, but he pitched in the instructional league on Tuesday and the Twins are working to build his arm strength back up so he's ready for Spring Training.
As for the Nationals' 2013 Draft, there do not appear to be much in the way of fast trackers, but here are two potential names to watch. One is fifth-rounder Austin Voth, the University of Washington right-hander who did make two starts for full-season Hagerstown at the end of the summer. The other is Jake Johansen, taken in the second round. The Dallas Baptist product also made it to Hagerstown at the end of the season after a strong debut in the New York-Penn League. There's the chance that both could end up in the bullpen, though they each started during their pro debuts. A move to relief work could hasten their arrival.
What is the upside for Cubs right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks?
-- Charles S., Endicott, N.Y.
Hendricks isn't currently in our Cubs' Top 20, but he is in the 21-25 area and an argument could very easily be made that he deserves to be higher. Originally taken by the Texas Rangers out of Dartmouth in the eighth round of the 2011 Draft, the right-hander came to Chicago in the July 2012 Ryan Dempster deal. In his first full season with the organization, Hendricks pitched at two levels, reaching Triple-A, and he is now knocking on the door. He was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year after leading the system in ERA, wins and WHIP, while finishing second in strikeouts and batting average against.
Hendricks isn't going to wow anyone with his raw stuff, though he can reach the low 90s with his fastball and mixes in a good changeup and breaking ball. But he really knows how to pitch and looks like his ceiling is that of a No. 4 type starter, if he continues to throw like he did in 2013.