The Houston Astros have Dallas Keuchel, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. And they have Carlos Correa, who just added an AL Rookie of the Year trophy to his case.

If you’re searching for reasons to be excited about the 2016 ‘Stros, in other words, you don’t have to look far.

There’s another Astros player, however, who could grab the wheel and steer the club’s fortunes next season. And he appears poised for a genuine breakout campaign.

In some ways, George Springer already broke out in 2015. The slugging outfielder and 2011 first-round pick hit .276 with 16 home runs and 16 stolen bases. But he also missed two months with a broken wrist and wound up playing just 102 games.

Springer, who turned 26 in September, is dangling on the edge of stardom. He has the tools. And he has the admiration of his teammates.

“He’s our spark plug,” said Keuchel, per’s Richard Justice“He comes to the park every day with a smile on his face.” 

The entire Houston franchise should be grinning. After entering last season as a presumed up-and-coming also-ran, the Astros led the AL West most of the way before claiming a wild-card slot and pushing the eventual champion Kansas City Royals to five games in the division series.

Now, the ‘Stros are nominal favorites in the West, neck-and-neck with the Lone Star State-rival Texas Rangers. A healthy, full-throttle Springer could push them over the top.

Full throttle, seemingly, is the only way Springer knows how to roll. 

“I try to copy the way he plays,” All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve said, per Justice. “He has one speed100 mph.”

This is the part where we embed a defensive highlight that shows Springer giving up his body and wielding a glove made of Krazy Glue. Tellingly, there are many to choose from, but this one’s plenty instructive: 

Marry that with plus speed and legit, game-changing pop, and you’ve got all the elements of a rising star ready to flash across the MLB firmament.

As FanGraphs’ Brad Johnson put it, “Alfonso Soriano with more walks (and fewer steals) is one possible outcome.” 

Can you say tantalizing?

Sure, the injury questions will linger until Springer lasts a full season. And while he reduced his strikeouts in 2015, he still whiffed 223 times in his first 180 big league games. 

You can poke holes in any player’s resume, though. Even five-tool studs have their weak spots.

If you want to pivot back to optimism, here’s the evidence, courtesy of Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Beller:

He cut his o-swing percentage—which measures the rate at which a player swings at pitches outside the strike zone—from 26.7% to 23.1%. Unsurprisingly, his contact rate surged to 69.5%, an increase of nearly 10 percentage points, while his whiff rate dropped from 18.6% to 13.9%. Springer struck out in exactly one-third of his plate appearances as a rookie, but that K-rate plummeted to 24.2% last year. That goes a long way toward explaining his 45-point jump in batting average and 31-point climb in OBP.

Or just look at the way Springer finished last season.

In the final 10 games of 2015, while Houston was scratching and clawing for a playoff berth, Springer went 18-for-46. And he doubled and homered in the division series against Kansas City.

As Opening Day approaches, much of our focus is trained on the impressive 2015 rookie class, a loaded group that includes Correa, Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, Maikel Franco—the list of stellar sophomores goes on.

Springer, who debuted in 2014 but has a scant 683 MLB at-bats to his name, might outpace them all. 

Playing his home games at Minute Maid Park, the ninth-most homer-happy yard in baseball, according to ESPN’s Park Factors, doesn’t hurt. Nor does taking his hacks in the midst of a balanced, potent lineup.

The bottom line, however, is that Springer is a specimen. A missile ready to launch. 

“We talk a lot about the type of athletes we’ve got,” Houston skipper A.J. Hinch said, per David Borges of the New Haven Register. “I don’t know that we’ve got a better combination of power and speed and athleticism than George.”

If you’re searching for reasons to be excited about the 2016 ‘Stros, toss a dart and take your pick. If you’re searching for under-the-radar stars in the making, don’t overlook Springer.


All statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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