Prospect watch: Infielders Jonathan Singleton and Jio Mier.
Jonathan Singleton has drawn plenty of comparisons to Phillies slugger Ryan Howard. That’s high compliment, to be sure, but somewhat problematic if you’re being compared to Howard AND you’re a first baseman in the Phillies organization.
That was Singleton’s plight when he was selected in the eighth round of the draft two years ago. A slugging first baseman, the Phillies envisioned him as a Howard-type. The same Howard who signed a three-year extension in 2009, the year Singleton was drafted, and the same Howard who then extracted a five-year extension that will keep him in a Phillies uniform — at first base — through 2016, and possibly 2017.
So the Phillies did what the Astros had done more than 10 years earlier when they drafted first baseman Lance Berkman, even though they had Jeff Bagwell locked up for years — they moved Singleton to the outfield after his first year of professional baseball. Singleton played left field in Instructional League and started 2011 there as well.
That experiment didn’t last long. Singleton’s batting average started to dip and the Phillies suspected that as a result of being outside of his comfort zone, he was starting to press offensively. By June, Singleton was back at first base. Two months later, he was still at first base — but no longer as a Phillies prospect.
Considered one of two prizes of the five-player trade that sent Hunter Pence to Philadelphia just before the July 31 traded deadline (pitcher Jared Cossart being the other), the 19-year-old Singleton was assigned to the Astros’ High-A affiliate in Lancaster, Calif., where he is playing first base. There will be no further talk of moving to the outfield.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Singleton is hitting .333 with six doubles, one triple two home runs and six RBIs over 16 games with Lancaster. Other than being somewhat happy to be in closer proximity to his hometown of Long Beach, Singleton appears to be unfazed by being uprooted from one organization to another and, in some ways, to be starting over.
“It’s different,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. But you just go into it with open eyes. That’s the only way you can go into it.”
Major League players aspire to be in organizations with a history of winning and a chance to go to the World Series, but the perspective of a Minor League prospect is often quite the opposite. Powerhouse organizations often are two or three deep at each position and young budding stars can find themselves blocked.
If you talked to any of the 10 prospects the Astros landed in the last several weeks in the Pence, Jeff Keppinger and Michael Bourn trades, you’d likely hear more optimism than grumbling to be joining an organization that, barring an unprecedented surge in the last five weeks, is destined for 100 losses from its big league team.
The Astros are rebuilding, and they have very few long-term commitments at any position. The opportunity is there, and the Minor League players coming through the system are well-aware that their chances to get to the big leagues quickly increases ten-fold in an organization such as the Astros.
There’s no timetable for any of the Astros’ prospects. They will dictate their ETA by how they perform in the next year or two. But for a 21- or 22-year-old budding prospect, Houston can be viewed a realistic landing spot.
The Astros’ recent youth movement is, obviously, a hot topic throughout their Minor League system. Every player asked has admitted it’s impossible not to have noticed what’s been happening in Houston lately and even harder not to get a little excited about the possibilities. Especially for those who just played on the same team with Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez not even a month ago.
Jio Mier, the Astros’ No. 1 pick in 2009 and Lancaster’s starting shortstop, is paying close attention. He lived with Martinez during Spring Training this year, and he talks to Altuve four or five times a week. Needless to say, Mier is hoping to join his friends in the big leagues sooner than later.
“There is no bigger motivator,” Mier said. “Everyone wants to make the big leagues. It’s everyone’s dream. They’re living it out and I couldn’t be more happy for them.”
Mier’s game is his defense, so he won’t have to necessarily tear the cover off the ball in order to get a call to the big leagues. He realizes, however, that a .200 batting average isn’t going to cut it. He was hitting .245 over 57 games in Lexington when he was bumped up to Lancaster, and through Tuesday’s game, he was batting .199 over 38 games for the JetHawks.
Mier admitted he’s feeling “off.”
“You just lose a feel for what you’re doing,” he said. “When you’re going good, you don’t know what you’re doing right. You’re just out there and not worrying about anything. That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last couple of games. I’ve seen a difference the last week, my at-bats, and what I’ve been doing.”
Mier has made sure to not let his defense suffer while his bat is causing him fits.
“I’m a shortstop for a reason,” he said. “I love to play defense, make the plays. But I don’t want to be labeled as a defensive guy, so I work on hitting. Would I love to hit .300? Yea. Everybody does. But they want my defense more than anything. But I love hitting and I want to succeed at it.”
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