How long does Jon Singleton have before the Houston Astros give up on him?
Houston Astros fans are familiar with the continuing story of Jon Singleton, the slugger who can’t solve Major League pitching. Astros fans also remember the similar story of J.D. Martinez, a man the Astros gave up on and who then became a big league star.
Singleton, 24, was acquired in 2011 from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade and was expected to take over first base and provide much-needed punch in what was then an anemic lineup. Signed to a big salary in 2014, Singleton has yet to live up to his potential of becoming a solid big league hitter. In parts of two seasons, Singleton has played 114 games, hitting .171/.290/.331, with 14 home runs, 50 RBI, 60 walks, and 151 strikeouts. His Triple-A line in three seasons (2013-2015) is .247/.363/.467, with 42 home runs, and 152 RBI.
Singleton was recently sent to Triple-A after Tyler White and Matt Duffy won spots on the Astros Opening Day roster in what may have been Singleton’s last chance at sticking with the Astros. Have they given up too soon on this slugger? Recent Houston history includes another man who joined the Astros with promise, had similar difficulty with big league pitching, and was sent packing, as it turned out, too soon.
Martinez made his Major League debut in July 2011 during the purge summer when the Astros housecleaning and rebuilding began. Martinez came directly from Double-A Corpus Christi, two weeks after his teammate Jose Altuve made the same unusual jump. Martinez hit a respectable .274 in 53 games that year for Houston, leading many of us to think he would become the guy we needed – a solid hitter and fielder.
But then the shine began to dull, and J.D. slipped at the plate. Over his three years with the Astros, Martinez hit .251/.300/.387, with 24 home runs, 126 RBI, 63 walks, and 226 strikeouts. The Astros released him on March 22, 2014, and two days later, the Detroit Tigers signed him to a minor league deal. Martinez went to Triple-A Toledo, and in the first 17 games of the minor league season, he tore up International League pitching, hitting .308, with 10 home runs, and 22 RBI.
The Tigers waited no longer to see if his Triple-A success would translate to the big leagues, quickly installing him in the Detroit outfield. It didn’t take long to find out that Martinez had found a new home. He went on to hit .315 in 123 big league games in 2014, with 23 home runs, and 76 RBI. He continued his assault on big league pitching in 2015, hitting .282, with 38 home runs, 102 RBI, and making the AL All-Star team.
There was no way the Astros could know that Martinez would suddenly blossom with Detroit. Could they have afforded to give him more time? Yes, however, at some point with every player, a decision must be made whether they should continue to expend time and resources on someone who may have already reached his peak.
Obviously, the Astros are nearing that decision time with Singleton. Has he already shown his maximum as a big league player? Will more time in Triple-A help him to get where he needs to be as a player?
Part of this problem is the focus on the young phenoms moving up through the minor leagues. Houston has an extremely deep farm system, with several players offering promise. So far, Singleton’s attempts to win the Astros first base job have fallen short, and he does not have much time remaining to prove that he is big league material. We saw White leap ahead of Singleton when he had a great Spring Training and he made the Astros Opening Day roster. If White falters, A.J. Reed, a slugger with tremendous potential, awaits his chance. Adding to the problem is that the Astros are a competitive team, and they don’t have time for auditions. Anyone not producing and contributing is not going to have much time to work it out.
Of course, Singleton is not Martinez. There is no guarantee either way, and that is why the Astros need to hang on for a while. Singleton starts 2016 at Triple-A Fresno and will continue to gain experience, waiting for another chance. He will probably spend most of his season with Fresno at DH with Reed expected to get most of the playing time at first base. Reed will almost surely be called up to the Astros early in the season, further pushing Singleton to the sidelines. This may be Singleton’s last chance to stay in the Houston organization.
Regardless of what happens with White and Reed, the Astros need to wait out the 2016 season before giving up on Singleton. He won’t get much time in an Astros uniform because, as mentioned, they don’t have time for tryouts, so his chances of making the Astros roster are slimmer than ever. However, with the lesson of Martinez fresh in our minds, let’s not give up too soon on Singleton.
**Stats from Baseball-Reference**