Authors Note: Any opinions I have about a players strengths/weaknesses/baseball intelligence are formed from professional scouting reports, game production, and my own personal opinions.
Welcome back to my weekly installment of “Checking In On the Farm,” where I give you an insight on the top-flight Astros farm system. I will highlight the “Prospect of the Week,” this doesn’t necessarily mean that this prospect had the best overall week out of all Astros prospects, this post is simply to give readers knowledge regarding the future of the Houston Astros, as well as season projections and ETA to the majors. Due to the big league club having historically bad seasons as of late, it’s hard not to become an “amateur draftnik” of sorts, as well as a devoted prospect lover. Funny thing about prospects is that they don’t always pan out the way you expect them to.
Jonathan Singleton was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth round of the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft out of Milliken High School in Long Beach, California. Singleton, then and now, was widely regarded as a “Ryan Howard 2.0,” due to them both playing the first base position, their similar lefty swings, and Singleton’s power potential. With Howard already manning the first base position, the Phillis tried him out in the outfield in hopes of playing both of them together in the future. They tried it out but Singleton was eventually moved back to his natural position.
The Phillies, who were projected by many to heavily compete for the World Series title in 2011, felt as though they needed to acquire an impact bat heading into the postseason. On July 9th, 2011, they did just that, trading for the Houston Astros All-Star center fielder Hunter Pence. Pence did not come cheap for Philly however, as he was traded for Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Domingo Santana, and Josh Zeid. At the time, Singleton was thought of as Philly’s second best prospect behind Domonic Brown, and the top first base prospect in the minors. Singleton joined the ‘Stros barren farm system, and gave Houston an great prospect with lots of upside.
After being traded, Singleton started off his Astros career at age 19 in the hitter-friendly California League with the high-A Astros affiliate, the Lancaster Jethawks. With the Jethawks that fraction of a season, Singleton played in 35 games batting .333 with 43 hits, 4 HR, and 16 RBI in 129 at-bats. Singleton began the 2012 season ranked as the 34th best prospect by Baseball America, and for his first full year in the Astros system, in Double-A Corpus Christi of the Texas League, he posted a fantastic stat line of 131 hits in 461 AB, 27 doubles, 21 HR, 79 RBI, and a .281 BA in a total of 131 games, all of which had Astros fans very excited of the thought of having the franchises best first baseman and slugger since the days of the “Big Puma” Lance Berkman.
Then, Mr. Singleton’s career hit an unexpected and unfortunate speed bump.
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Singleton, a rising star in the organization and the Astros first baseman of the future, was suspended for the first 50 games for his second violation of minor league baseball’s drug policy. Singleton was expected to be called up to the majors around August or September to get some playing time before his full takeover of the Astros first base position at the start of the 2014 season, so this occurrence was considered a major setback. Singleton’s statement read:
“I was informed today that I have tested positive for marijuana. As a result, I am being suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season. I accept the penalty and take full responsibility for my actions. I apologize to my parents, the Houston Astros, and [general manager] Jeff Luhnow. The Astros have been nothing but supportive of me and good to me in my short time with the organization. My hope is to use this as a learning experience and spend the rest of my career proving to myself and the baseball community that this was a lapse in judgment, and is not in any way indicative of my character or my dedication to baseball or to my team.”
Shortly thereafter, the Astros General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, released a statement on behalf of the entire organization that read in support for Singleton and his struggles.
”We are disappointed in the decisions that Jonathan made leading up to this positive test. Jonathan has expressed regret for his decision and we expect will take the necessary steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again. He has owned up to his actions and that is a necessary first step. The Astros will support Jonathan through this difficult time and we hope this example will prevent other athletes from making similar decisions.”
While serving his suspension, Singleton was forced to play ball in extended Spring Training, which is usually used to serve injured or recently drafted players. Singleton finally began his 2013 campaign with the Astros Single-A affiliate, Quad Cities. During this trying season for Jonathan, he split what was left of the schedule between AA Corpus Christi and the AAA Oklahoma City Redhawks. His numbers during his time in AAA were less than stellar amassing 54 hits in 245 AB, 6 HR, 31 RBI, a .220 BA, a .347 slugging percentage (SLG), and a .687 OPS in 73 games. Although he did begin to heat up towards the latter part of the season, most of the year for Singleton was lackluster at best. This was supposed to be the year where the top ranked first base prospect in baseball put it all together in preparation for full-time major league duty in 2014, and things just unfortunately didn’t pan out the way Singleton or the Astros had hoped.
Recently, the 57th best minor league prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, opened up about his “demons” and his battle with marijuana addiction and struggle with alcohol in an interview with the Associated Press at the beginning of Spring Training. He really “told all,” saying things like ”I know that I enjoy smoking weed. I enjoy being high and I can’t block that out of my mind that I enjoy that,” and “So I have to work against that,” and ”I went through some slight anxiety, some depression because I wasn’t being successful,” he said. “That was definitely difficult and that drove me to drink.”
After his immense struggles with drugs and alcohol, Singleton eventually checked into rehab. Singleton also pointed out during the fascinating interview that he is confident he won’t relapse and is in a good place right now with himself. The former Phillie also impressed the coaching staff by reporting to camp clean and in good shape.
To be successful this season, Singleton, standing at 6′ 2″ and weighing in at 250 lbs. (his weight and conditioning were a problem after the suspension last year), needs to work on limiting his tendency to get behind in counts due to an excess amount of patience at the plate, which I know is extremely weird for a 22-year old guy. He could also work on learning how to hit lefties down the line, which could propel him to play at a plus level.
Overall, Singleton is most likely a four or five hitter in a major league lineup, as he possesses a ton of raw power, a mature approach at the plate, a natural ability to hit the ball (his hit tool is probably his best). Singleton also moves around the bag well with an average arm and average to below-average speed on the base paths. All the skills are there for Singleton to be a really good first baseman, but it’s up to him to apply them.
Jon started his 2014 season in Triple-A and has experienced some ups and downs so far. Despite struggling through the first couple games with his batting average and limiting strikeouts (14 in 36 AB’s), Singleton has heated up in the last couple games with three over-the-fencers and nine RBI with a .278 BA.
Astros fans shouldn’t panic or fret about him not starting the year with the big league club (even though he didn’t have the best Spring Training), as Singleton will almost certainly see time in the majors this season. To avoid starting his arbitration clock and losing a year of control, he will probably get called up to Houston around July or August. If Singleton can stay out of trouble and put his skills to use, look for him to have a bounce-back season while gaining some major league experience.
The Astros possibly have their first baseman of the future in Jonathan Singleton, but it’s up to him to put his undeniable talents to use.