Spring Training, on a club looking for a new identity, could make for some interesting circumstances to develop. Some players trying to hang for one last run at some type of glory may actually be willing to try a different position or two. Young players are littered around facilities wondering if a hot spring could actually get them a spot on the big league club or, at the very least, catch someone’s attention. Both types are simply trying to make sure they’ve done everything they can to gain a seat inside a dugout of a major league team come opening day. For Jonathan Singleton, he is simply on course to be the next top prospect to make an impact in Houston. He doesn’t need to rush or be rushed, simply stay the course and he will arrive as expected. Which makes the news that Singleton will play a little outfield this spring a bit puzzling to myself because why or what purpose would it serve? Do the Astros have another plan already in place for Singleton or do they simply want to get the kid at bats during the spring? Moves like this make people wonder and what seemed like a concrete path to the majors, suddenly looks a bit less decided.
The easy approach would be to let Singleton develop at his own pace and have the game come to him. To be honest, I would handle it in that exact manner given a talent of Singleton’s caliber. Why rush someone who is penciled in to be the next great Astros’ 1st baseman, a guy who will lead your offense for a decade and a half? The facts are clear that Singleton has excelled everywhere he has gone, with the exception of a brief time in A ball but that had more to do with the position he was playing than his swing. He will most likely kill AA pitching and eventually the same at the AAA level, not until he reaches Houston might he be truly challenged. Let the young man find himself, even go through some frustrations and let that fuel his fire. Its pretty clear what I would do but playing him in the outfield sounds a lot like what the organization did to another young prospect about 13 years ago, Lance Berkman. With Jeff Bagwell at 1B, Berkman wasn’t going to replace a Houston icon, yet. Lance would eventually take his spot at 1B and this season will replace another icon at the position. Singleton might be mentally strong enough to handle a position change now but development is far more important than experience in this case.
Others will say, challenge the young guy and push him to see what he is truly made of. This is a dangerous but not completely outrageous proposition. Some of the game’s elite prospects have excelled when faced with new and harder challenges, why not let Singleton give it a go. If Jonathan can thrive then we might see him in Houston much sooner than even the most optimistic person could have imagined. In the past, the Astros haven’t leaned this way in their approach to minor leaguers, no matter how much of a prospect they’ve been. That changed a bit last season with the promotions of Jose Altuve, Jimmy Paredes and J.D. Martinez. All three youngsters made the majors straight out of AA baseball. Jordan Lyles was called up from AAA ball but the reality is he was pushed up the system at a much faster rate than most. That regime is gone and we’ve yet to truly get a grip on how Jeff Luhnow would like to operate his prospects. The philosophy in play will be a huge part in decision making, obviously, but Singleton’s play might just make a few people reconsider their way of thinking.
Which ever way the Astros decide to go, and not just with Jonathan Singleton, will be confirmed this season. I think we will all treat this coming campaign as a learning experience and a chance to get used to a different process of handling the most prized youngsters. The first hint might have been the decision to play Singleton in the outfield. They could see it as a way to get Singleton to Houston sooner and allow the Astros a chance to see their top prospect ahead of schedule. It’s an odd move, regardless, but it may hold a glimpse in young Mr. Singleton’s future with the Astros.