What lays ahead for the powerful Jon Singleton with the Astros?
Jake Kaplan, of the Houston Chronicle, tweeted out the Astros list of non-roster spring training invitees. There are some exciting names presented, like Francis Martes, Ramon Laureano, and Derek Fisher. However, there was also at least one name that wasn’t “supposed” to be there.
This familiar name wasn’t “supposed” to be among the non-roster invitees because he was expected to be a central part of the team already by now. He was once highly regarded by many of the baseball publications and was the crown jewel in the Astros rebuilding efforts before drafting Carlos Correa. We are, of course, talking about Singleton.
Last Chance for..?
Another year, another look into the future of Jon Singleton. CTH’s Michael Knight wrote about this same subject last spring training, and here we are again. In what may be one of his last opportunities to prove his baseball worth, Singleton has been invited to spring training as a non-roster invitee.
This, after being removed from the 40-man roster in November to make room for new additions and more highly regarded prospects. The centerpiece of the Hunter Pence deadline deal in 2011; Singleton was just 19 years old, raw, and full of seemingly unlimited potential. Astros fans were excited in 2012 when he slashed .284/.396/.497 in Corpus.
He had shown flashes of his impressive potential at such a young age, and there was considerable excitement. Amid all the back-slapping and dreamy comps to MLB sluggers, there were some warning signs in his game to which few paid any real attention. In that same season, he struck out 131 times in 131 games. “So what? He’s still really young, and he’ll make adjustments.” Right?
Swing and Miss…a lot
Unfortunately, those adjustments never materialized. Over his eight minor league seasons, Singleton has struck out every 3.6 AB’s. While that isn’t great, it’s not terrible either. However, the bat-to-ball issues were only exacerbated in the big leagues where more video was available on him, and the pitchers were grown men who were better equipped to take advantage of his shortcomings.
As a result, Singleton often looked lost and overmatched as a big leaguer. His whiff rate ballooned to a strikeout every 2.3 AB’s. To offer some perspective, the MLB leader in strikeouts for the last two seasons has been Chris Davis of the Orioles. According to Baseball Reference, Davis is a K victim every 2.66 AB’s.
That’s frustrating to watch, but he also averaged 42 HR & 100 RBI over that same stretch. So, his precipitous strikeout rate is offset by something of value to the team: power and run creation. Unfortunately for Singleton, there has been no offset. But hey, he’s still young…right?
Nothing but a Number
Because he started his professional career at 19, Singleton has typically been younger than his competition in the minor leagues, so some of his numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. That said, while he was good at various minor league stops, he was never dominant. Sure, he’s shown impressive flashes, but there hasn’t been a sustained level of dominance over a full season.
He struck out a lot in the minors, but the offset was there: his OPS and power numbers were enough to justify the whiff rate. In the big leagues, the whiffs increased while everything else decreased. Then, AJ Reed and Tyler White stole the show in Spring Training last year and pushed Singleton further away from Minute Maid Park. Making matters worse, 2016 was Singleton’s worst season as a minor leaguer in virtually every offensive category.
Things started off well when he hit 13 HR and drove in 35 runs in his first 46 games, but quickly fell off into an abyss hitting only seven more homers with just 31 RBI over his last 77 games. Something was amiss. Given all the 1B/ DH options the Astros plan to have this upcoming season Singleton will have to do something otherworldly to earn a roster spot out of spring training.
Whatever happens with Singleton, it’s important to remember that he’s just 25 years old. He signed a controversial contract that brought a lot of attention. How many of us had our careers figured out and were on a path to greatness at 25?
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That’s what makes what we see from guys like Manny Machado or Carlos Correa that much more impressive; these teenagers step into a grown man’s game and dominate. Seeing that makes us expect similar feats from every “prospect” in the pipeline, and that’s just not a fair expectation. That controversial contract, a 5-year deal signed in 2014, has one more guaranteed year.
After 2018, the Astros have a $500,000 buyout and odds are, Singleton will play out these final two years as a $2 million minor leaguer. Eating $2 million in salary is nothing for an MLB team, so this spring training invitation is not about the money for the Astros. They know his potential, and whether this time on the field proves to make him attractive to a trade partner, or helps him force himself onto the big league roster again, they’re hoping that talent will come through. Until then, Singleton represents a $2 million lottery ticket.
Is Singleton going to be another of a long list of guys who flip the proverbial switch with a “change of scenery”? That’s entirely possible. Despite his struggles, Jon Singleton remains immensely talented. I’m willing to bet there’s a hitting coach somewhere who can’t wait for the chance to work with him.
Because of the expectations, Singleton has taken a lot of heat from Astros fans. I hope he can turn things around for himself. Not only for what he can bring to the team but for the man. I mean, who doesn’t love a good redemption story? Good luck, Jon.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***