When should the Houston Astros start worrying about Jon Singleton?


Jon Singleton (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Earlier this season, the Houston Astros made the very controversial decision to sign first baseman Jon Singleton to a five-year contract extension worth at least $10 million. As one of the system’s top prospects, Singleton signed a deal structured to include three club options (worth up to $35 million over eight years) and run through the 2018 season.

As soon as the two sides came to an agreement, Singleton was immediately called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City to join the Astros big league team as their everyday first baseman. With the contingent of Jesus Guzman and Marc Krauss ranking last in the majors with a .181 batting average and a .561 OPS, the Astros were hoping Singleton would bring a much-needed boost to the position.

Jon Singleton (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Since then, however, Singleton has had a difficult season in Houston. The left-handed slugger isn’t hitting nearly as many home runs as the team expected and he desperately needs to cut-down on the number of strikeouts. Singleton is still learning to be more patient at the plate and has only shown flashes of his power. Here’s a look at the first baseman’s month-by-month numbers from this year:

"June: .198/.288/.374 with four home runs, 13 RBIs, 11 walks, 36 strikeouts, 18 hits, and four doubles in 91 at-bats.July: .153/.250/.365 with five home runs, 14 RBIs, 11 walks, 37 strikeouts, 13 hits, and three doubles in 85 at-bats.August: .182/.333/.330 with three home runs, 14 RBIs, 20 walks, 35 strikeouts, 16 hits, and four doubles in 88 at-bats.September: .121/.293/.242 with one home run, three RBIs, eight walks, 18 strikeouts, four hits, and one double in 33 at-bats.2014 totals: .172/.292/.343 with 13 home runs, 44 RBIs, 50 walks, 126 strikeouts, 51 hits, and 12 doubles in 297 at-bats."

Singleton was given two days off (Sunday and Monday) after Tom Lawless noticed him struggling with his confidence. The Astros manager told The Houston Chronicle he was worried Singleton didn’t feel like he belonged here and noticed the slugger needed to relax a bit. Lawless said it was “a great learning experience for him” and felt “we’ll see the real Jon Singleton start playing” soon. Last night, Singleton responded going just 0 for 2 with a walk and a strikeout, but said the two days off were very helpful for him.

"“Just sit back and kind of learn and just see how the game is going on. Just kind of take a step back and see how everybody else goes about their business,” Singleton told The Houston Chronicle. “Any time you go out and you prepare so much and you’re not successful, it’s a little hard, but you have to continue to go out and do it. It’s our livelihood. Every day I’m willing to go out and work hard to get better. I know each day I’m not going to be successful, but I still have to go out and get better every day.”"

Before getting called-up, Singleton was hitting .267/.397/.544 with 10 doubles, 14 home runs, 42 walks and 52 strikeouts in 54 Triple-A games with the RedHawks. Baseball America ranked the Astros slugger as the 82nd best prospect before the season, saying he “has middle-of-the-order potential” in their 2014 Prospect Handbook. However, Singleton served a 50-game suspension to begin 2013 for a second failed drug test and made news in spring training by sharing his struggles with marijuana and alcohol in an interview with The Associated Press.

Jon Singleton (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

The Astros, who acquired Singleton from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade, still have very high hopes for their first baseman, but haven’t seen much to get excited about so far. The good news? Today is only Singleton’s 23rd birthday. The 6-foot-2, 230 pounder from California could still breakout and become the player the Astros expected. Ideally, Singleton will take advantage of everything he has learned this year and use the summer to work on his game. The fact he will receive over 300 at-bats this season should help him understand how pitchers will attack him moving forward.

A perfect example would be Chris Carter. The Astros designated hitter had multiple seasons in MLB where he struggled to find his swing, but Carter is now second in the American League in home runs and enjoying the best season of his career.  If Singleton is able to shorten his swing and improve his vision, he should have a monster season in 2015 and be a legitimate bat in the Astros lineup. We have already seen him improve his defense a lot these last couple weeks.

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The first base position will remain Singleton’s to lose for now. A.J. Reed, who Houston just drafted out of Kentucky earlier this summer, is off to a terrific start in the minor leagues, but won’t be ready to for the majors for another couple years. The team was hoping George Springer and Singleton would bring excitement to major league team this season and get fans excited for the future. Before his injury, Springer was exceeding expectations and doing a phenomenal job.

Now, it’s Singleton’s turn. Although I don’t expect much to change the rest of this season, the start of next year will be an early turning point in his career. Singleton needs to show the Astros he can be the first baseman they were expecting him to be or they may start looking in another direction. The talent and potential is there. It’s time for him to put in the work and show the rest of MLB what he can do.