Astros' Singleton shows star potential in AFL
Houston Astros first base prospect Jonathan Singleton has been playing baseball since he was 8 years old.
In his youth, Singleton experienced baseball in a manner few high school players can equal. He played on traveling teams that visited both Japan and Australia.
Those experiences came to his mind immediately when I asked him to tell me about himself.
Singleton played baseball at Millikan High School in Long Beach, Calif.
Instead of enrolling at Long Beach State, Singleton chose to sign with the Phillies. He was selected in the eighth round by Philadelphia in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Singleton, a left-handed hitter, is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. He has the size and raw power to be a prototypical first baseman.
In his first three years playing in the Phillies' Minor League system, Singleton was a model of consistency. His first experience was with the Phillies' Gulf Coast Rookie League team, where he hit .290 with two home runs in 119 plate appearances covering only 31 games. His performance was a hint of what was yet to come.
Singleton's second season was spent at Lakewood in the Low Class A South Atlantic League. He again hit .290, but over 450 plate appearances. He hit 14 home runs with 77 RBIs.
Singleton's third year in baseball was split between two High Class A teams because he was traded in the middle of the season. He played for both Clearwater in the Florida State League and Lancaster in the California League. His overall batting average was remarkably similar to his first two seasons. He hit a combined .298 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs.
At the 2011 July non-waiver Trade Deadline, Houston traded outfielder Hunter Pence to Philadelphia for a package of prospects that included highly regarded pitching prospect Jarred Cosart, pitcher Josh Zeid, outfielder Domingo Santana and Singleton.
Overnight, Singleton was no longer blocked in his path to the Major Leagues by All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard.
With Houston, Singleton has a very good opportunity to be included in the mix as the future first baseman.
I first saw Singleton in the 2012 All-Star Futures Games in Kansas City. I remember his very solid approach at the plate and his very quick hands and controlled swing.
Singleton had an outstanding offensive Futures Game. He got three hits, all singles, in four at-bats. He also walked once, scored two runs and drove in a run for the United States team. He played left field and first base in the game.
Realizing Singleton could be on a fast track to Houston, I have paid very close attention to him in this year's Arizona Fall League.
I have seen a slightly different player than the one I observed last July.
When I saw him last summer, Singleton had a very loud and high-impact bat. He could break up a game with one short swing, using very strong forearms and wrists to power the ball.
While the swing is still good, some of his strength seems to have vanished with fatigue. After all, it's a long season. Entering this fall, he had already logged 555 plate appearances, not counting All-Star type games. Bat speed is one of the first casualties of fatigue.
Although I'm certain a player with Singleton's outstanding work ethic would never admit it, playing fall baseball in Arizona after having finished an entire season can become exhausting.
Singleton has a slight uppercut swing that sends the loft of the ball high enough to clear the fence in any park. In fall games I've seen, he has hit more line drives than fly balls in the light Arizona air.
Having the ability to recognize pitches and quickly as the ball comes out of the pitcher's hand, Singleton has no problem catching up with good fastballs. He damages mediocre pitching and can take advantage of mistakes. He also has an ability to hit off-speed breaking balls. He's just a good hitter.
When at his best, the ball jumps off the barrel of the bat due to his upper-body strength and bat speed. When his bat lags, he has a tendency to roll over pitches or not complete his extension. He gets himself out with weak ground balls, strikeouts or pop outs.
I only have one major concern about Singleton's offense at this stage of his career.
I am concerned that Singleton won't always make contact. In fact, this past season he struck out 131 times at Double-A Corpus Christi. He hit .284 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs, which are all good statistics, but the lack of consistent contact is an issue. I think that will improve in time. I believe he'll also improve against left-handed pitching.
He has struck out 20 times in 73 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. However, he has walked 13 times, which indicates his good eye at the plate.
Some scouts believe he takes too many pitches and is too patient. I don't agree.
Defensively, Singleton is smooth and quick around first base. He is above average defensively with good range and agility that belies his size. He can also play the outfield.
Singleton may be the best prospect in the Astros' system.
Clearly, he, along with outfielder George Springer and Cosart, are among those that will be called upon to increase the caliber of play for Houston.
Singleton has outstanding raw power that may soon convert from projection to reality. For now, he continues to refine his game with meaningful at-bats in Arizona.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.