Luhnow discusses Springer, Singleton and more
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Wednesday he had been thinking about calling up outfield prospect George Springer for several days prior to finally pulling the trigger. Springer will be in uniform for tonight’s game against the Royals at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros also reinstated right-hander Scott Feldman from the bereavement list and designated right-hander Lucas Harrell for assignment. Outfielder Robbie Grossman was optioned to Triple-A.
Springer was hitting .353 with three homers and nine RBIs at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was the Astros’ first-round pick (No. 11 overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Luhnow said a combination of factors led to his decision to call on Springer.
“We’ve been in touch with the crew at Oklahoma City and he’s been playing some right field, some center field,” he said. “Part of what we wanted to do was give him enough reps in right field to get used to reading the ball off the bat and all that. We feel pretty good with the reps he’s got in Spring Training and the reps he’s gotten so far during the season that defensively he’s ready to go.
“Offensively, he’s been heating up the last week or so and we want to get a guy when he’s hot. Flip side of the equation is, we’ve got guys here that are really struggling offensively and we’re hoping he adds that spark to our offense and gets everybody going. We need to get [Jason] Castro, [Chris] Carter, [Matt] Dominguez – you name it — everybody needs to get going with the exception of maybe [Jose] Altuve. Even [Dexter] Fowler’s been off since he came back. What better way to get them going than to bring up the rookie that potentially could be a game-changer.”
Luhnow had initially given himself a deadline of the end of this series against the Royals to call up Springer if the club was still struggling on offense like it’s been.
“After Saturday’s game when we scored those five runs in that one inning, I thought ‘OK, well maybe we’ve turned around and I’ll give it a little more time,’” he said. “When you start a season with a group of players, you want to give them enough time to succeed, but the reality is we’re at the point where we can’t afford to have players underperforming and playing every day. We can’t have that, so in the case of both Lucas and Grossman, it was time to make a change.
“We’re not in a position where we can let players struggle for long periods of time in Houston. That’s what Triple-A is for and there are other options, and we have enough talent in our organization where everybody needs to realize that if you’re not performing there’s another option for us, and we’re going to go and get that option at some point.”
Luhnow did admit he’s worried about the pressure Springer will face being viewed by most as the man who will save the team on offense.
Last year, Springer batted .303 with a .411 on-base percentage while slugging .600 with 37 homers, 45 steals and 83 walks between Double-A Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City en route to being named the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year.
“I am concerned about that, but not enough to not make the move happen because the reality is he’s got a history of being an exciting player who can hit home runs and steal bases and play good defense,” he said. “If he just sticks to what he’s good at, he’s going to be fine. We think he’s ready. Everybody has some transition when they get to the big leagues, and I expect he will have some transition.
“He will have our support and I fully believe that he is a type of worker and player that will quickly address any deficiencies that reveal themselves and he will be what everybody hopes and expects him to be, which is a very good to great player.”
Of course, Springer wasn’t the only player off to a great start for the RedHawks. First baseman Jon Singleton has been crushing the ball, but his arrival in Houston isn’t imminent.
“We’re happy that Singleton is off to a good start,” Luhnow said. “He does not have the Triple-A track record that Springer has yet. We feel he needs to develop that track record. We’re always going to be in a position where our fans want our top prospects to come up here sooner than we think they’re ready to come up here.
“Last year, it happened to [Jarred] Cosart. We did bring Cosart up at the right time and when he came up he contributed and helped us win ballgames. He still is showing that deserves to be at this level and is ready to help us win.
“I believe Springer, this is the right time for him. I think he’s ready defensively. He’s not going to a perfect player, but he’s going to be a darn good player and has a chance to be a very special player. We don’t feel the rest of the guys are quite there yet. We monitor it on a week to week basis and that could change.”
Grossman went 0-for-4 on Tuesday, was hitting .125 with six hits in 48 at-bats and has had a few misplays on defense. The rough start came as a surprise to Luhnow, but he hasn’t lost faith in Grossman.
“We saw what he’s capable of doing at the end of last year,” he said. “He’s capable of being a very effective two-way player and we handed him that left-field every day job and he played every game so far this year. He was given every opportunity. It was disappointing for him primarily, but also to us. I’m fully confident that Robbie will go to Triple-A and find his stroke and sort everything out and make it back here later this year and will help us win ballgames. I’m confident of that.”
When it comes to Harrell, the team was left with little choice after he went 0-3 with a 9.49 ERA to start the season. He was 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts in a breakout 2012 season and faltered last year and led the league in walks and losses. The Astros have 10 days to trade him, release him or send him to the Minor Leagues.
“I think the reality is we gave him all of last year and three starts this year,” Luhnow said. “He deserved all that opportunity because he was good for us in 2012, but quite frankly we feel like at this point a change of scenery may be in the best interest of both Lucas and the Astros. Whether that means with another club or Triple-A, it’s not something we feel like we can continue to do in Houston at this point.”
Luhnow said either Jerome Williams or Brad Peacock would occupy the final spot in the rotation, replacing Harrell. They both were competing for it in Spring Training before being moved to the bullpen.
“I’ll talk to Bo [Porter], but my assumption would be to give the first opportunity to both of those two guys,” he said.