6/2/2014 6:05 P.M. ET
Singleton Astros' latest high-upside domino
Prospect's new deal comes with risk, but GM Luhnow has earned fan base's trust
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Let's not make this thing more complicated than it should be. First baseman Jon Singleton makes the Astros better. That's the bottom line.
Young players don't come with guarantees, but Singleton has a chance to do special things. The Astros' No. 3 prospect had 14 home runs at Triple-A Oklahoma City when the club announced that he will be called up in time for Tuesday night's game against the Angels. Singleton had also drawn 42 walks, which says all sorts of good things about his plate discipline.
At a time when Singleton had to be filled with anxiety about when to expect the phone call he'd been waiting for his whole life, this 22-year-old kid maintained the right approach.
So Singleton joins the Astros with a .397 on-base percentage and a .544 slugging percentage at the Minor Leagues' highest level. He also has an air of confidence, a sense that he will not be overwhelmed by this next step.
Singleton's Spring Training admission that he'd struggled with an addiction to marijuana rocked the Astros, but they clearly aren't scared off.
Again, there are no guarantees, but when a guy has succeeded at every level of Minor League Baseball, that's a tipoff that he has a chance.
Certainly, the Astros think so. Once they looked at all the data, they decided Singleton might just be a cornerstone-type player. Part of his promotion included a contract extension that reportedly could be worth $35 million over the next eight years.
This deal has risks for both sides. If Singleton is a great player, he may be leaving some money on the table in giving up some arbitration or free-agency years. On the other hand, there is reportedly $10 million in guaranteed money in the deal, and as Evan Longoria said when signing a similar deal with the Rays six years ago, "Never walk away from your first fortune."
Meanwhile, the Astros are giving $10 million in guaranteed money to a guy who has never had a big league at-bat.
OK, let's set that stuff aside. This is an exciting day for the Astros, and not because of anything that happened with the contract.
As Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow works the nooks and crannies of the business side of things, he's attempting to be as innovative with this stuff as he has been in his approach to building a baseball organization.
That's not why baseball fans in Houston are once more talking about their team. When the Astros promoted right fielder George Springer to the big leagues on April 16, there was hope among fans that he represented the end of the first phase of the team's rebuilding process.
Springer's arrival meant that the farm system that had been relentlessly restocked was ready to deliver. Springer has fulfilled all the promise the franchise had for him, and oh, by the way, the Astros had a winning record during May and enjoyed a seven-game winning streak.
Singleton is the next domino, and shortstop Carlos Correa is on the fast track. Correa's only 19 years old, but his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi appears imminent. In other words, the Astros are getting better, and the next couple of years should be a fun, wild ride.
Players like Singleton don't come along very often, and here's a tip of the hat to former Astros GM Ed Wade, who acquired Singleton in the Hunter Pence trade three years ago.
For a franchise already feeling pretty good about itself, Singleton's promotion seems to be another significant step on the road back.
To review: When Houston businessman Jim Crane bought the Astros in 2011, he said he would allow his GM to do things right. That is, Crane would accept some short-term pain while a foundation was put into place.
Baseball people rolled their eyes. When I excitedly told Jim Leyland how Crane would do things, Leyland was skeptical. He said he'd heard it before.
In other words, baseball owners sometimes begin a rebuilding process with the best of intentions, but as losses pile up and attendance falls off the table, they lose their nerve.
At that point, they start stocking up on old players. Crane did not do this. He hired Luhnow, who'd overseen a series of tremendous Drafts for the Cardinals, and has given him pretty much a free hand.
Luhnow tore down the Astros in a way few teams have been torn down. His goal was to acquire as much young talent as possible, and also to keep shuffling the big league roster in the search for talent.
At the moment, the Astros are doing a good imitation of a solid big league team. Their starting pitching has been good, their bullpen airtight. There obviously will be many more challenges ahead, but not many clubs have young players as good as Springer and Singleton.
Strip all the noise away, and that's what Singleton's debut means. You're on deck, Carlos Correa.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.