Is George Springer Morphing Into Beltranwell?
I admit it; I booed Carlos Beltran every time he showed up at the JuiceBox after jilting Houston for the New York Mets so many years ago. It wasn’t just that he doody-hosed us but he doody-hosed us for the Mets. I despise the NY Mets and desperately wanted Beltran’s five tool clinic he put on for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 playoffs to continue in the 2005 regular season. But he did a LeBron and went for the glitter and celebrity. Therefore, I heartily and continuously booed. Even when I didn’t have time to attend the full game against the Mets, I’d still make a couple of innings just to boo Carlos Beltran.
Jeff Bagwell burst into the Astrodome with hitting smarts and power I had never seen in the Bayou City. A friend scored me some Diamond Level seats in the Dome early in Jeff’s career and I witnessed him up close working at the dish. When pitchers made mistakes, he consistently made them pay. In the fifteen previous years I had followed the Astros, I had not seen such a true, game-smart Houston power hitter. Glenn Davis? Ppfffft! The “Big Bopper” seemed to go yard only when the home team was way ahead or way down and it didn’t matter. Bagwell brought the lumber like no Astro since the days of the Red Rooster and the Toy Cannon (I have my complaints about Jeff in the playoffs but that’s a discussion for another day).
But Bagwell didn’t have the speed or fielding abilities of Benedict Beltran. And by the same token, while Beltran could hit for power, he was no Jeff Bagwell. He was not going to and indeed never did reach the elevated railroad tracks in left field. Enter George Springer 2014.
If you haven’t (and my money is on you have not) seen the highlight reels on this young man, you are missing something. Most recently, the former gymnast (what?) did a Willie Mays-style over the back, twisted leap and crash into the wall catch on a center field blast in the Texas Rangers’ house. His first major league home run was a veteran-smart push out to right field of a low and outside pitch that left the yard as if laser guided. That’s doing it the hard way, decisively.
The kid is fast. His head is straight and he appears to respect the game unlike many of the brash young athletes that fill our television screens with fetid rivers of ego like a spillway at the end of an open sewer pipe.
However, what I saw in the Astros-Seattle home stand sent a delicious chill up my spine. I’ve watched the replay at least fifty-seven times. It was the first inning and the Mariners’ Taijuan Walker served up a 2 – 0, 94 mph fastball. Springer was sitting dead red; he drove it like the infamous Pujols – Lidge 2005 playoff homer. It seemingly skimmed the rafters before clearing the light bars over the Crawford Boxes. When he connected, you could hear and almost feel the very grains of wood from his bat scream out in an angry operatic note as he all but tore the cover off the ball. That rich, cracking sound simultaneously silenced and then thrilled the sedate, sparse crowd as it resonated and expanded to the walls of the half-full JuiceBox. Bat speed, meet 94 mph fastball that you knew was coming.
Yes, good friends, it’s way, way too early to get excited. The bad guys are rapidly piling up scouting data and digging deep to uncover every atom of Mr. Springer’s weaknesses. Yet this is immediately intriguing to me; I haven’t seen a talent this formidable since Beltran or scary since Bagwell. And if Springer pans out as the real deal, he could be better than both (no offense Jeff; go to hell Beltran). If I had to call it now, I would call him Beltranwell.