George Springer slips his slump

After a tough start, George Springer is on the rise again. John Korduner / Icon SMI

When the amateur season began back in February the top talents in the class were predominantly college players, including two hitters who have not had superb seasons thus far. Rice's Anthony Rendon was expected to repeat as the nation's top college hitter and Connecticut's George Springer had a chance to be the No. 2 pick in the draft, thanks to plus power, defense and speed.

Springer started off the season slow and Keith Law scouted him in March with results that included poor swing mechanics, which could be a major factor. But after that West Coast road trip, Springer has been performing at a high level again, and his big weekend coincided with some apparent changes.

I wrote last month that even when Springer's numbers were improving, scouts hadn't seen anything different in his swing to suggest the results meant anything as the outfielder was facing subpar competition. But an area scout trailing Springer throughout the season has started to see some changes.

"I don't know what (scouts) were seeing in California from him, but he seems to have solidified things,' the scout said. "It looked to me as if he was trying to hit the ball in the air, maybe prove that the new bat was not going to be a factor. So he'd hit the ball in the air, or suffer the consequence of such a swing plane and swing and miss. That isn't what he has going on right now."

What Springer does have going is a hot streak, including a 6-for-13 weekend that included two doubles and his sixth home run of the season. Six doesn't sound like many until one takes a glance at the home run leaders among those that have appeared on the Future 50 at any point this season, or are considered potential first-day selections. Only Bethune-Cookman's Peter O'Brien (11), LSU's Mikie Mahtook (10) and Utah's C.J. Cron (9) have more than Springer.

Springer probably never lost first-round status, but he could be on his way to re-entering the picture in the top 10. "There is a lot to really like about that kid, that is for sure," one crosschecker added. "If swing mechanics are his main (concern), I don't think he's all that much of a risk. He's a lot better today than he was five weeks ago for me. That says a lot."

One note to add on Springer is his contact rates, which have improved from a 22 percent strikeout mark last season to 12.6 percent this season.

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice, Rendon is still serving as Rice's DH but has become more consistent at the plate, getting his average up to .350 and adding two doubles and a home run of his own over the weekend. He also drew three more walks to bring his season total to 62 against just 22 strikeouts. The long ball was his fourth of the year and he boasts a .552 on-base and 1.104 OPS heading into this week's play.

The buzz on Rendon is that he's still among the top few talents in the draft, most likely landing in Seattle at No. 2 overall.

More on UCLA's Trevor Bauer and his pitch counts:

Even with teammate Gerrit Cole sitting at or near the top of the draft class as a potential No. 1 overall pick, right-hander Trevor Bauer has the nation's most gaudy stat line in terms of strikeouts with 127 in 82 2/3 innings. Bauer fanned 17 Saturday, the second time this season he's reached that mark. But the real story is the pitch count.

Bauer threw 135 pitches in his start this past weekend, after back-to-back outings of 134 apiece. That's 403 pitches in three weeks, and a season average of 124.5 per start. He's finished with fewer than 120 pitches in just three of 10 starts. The general thought on pitch counts is that this is too many pitches, and while the traditional, old school talent evaluators like pitchers who can throw a lot of pitches, it's a different story when clubs are trying to determine whether or not to draft a kid and pay him millions of dollars.

"I love it," said one club's assistant general manager. "That's my kind of arm, but if I have to make a decision to take him or not, I am worried. I am on board with building arm strength and getting past the five-inning pitcher, but I also believe there are only so many pitches in every arm. When it reaches its limit, that's it."

Also a former big-league pitcher himself, the assistant GM added that "the part I don't like is when a kid is staying in games when the team has a big lead, like more than a run or two." Bauer has entered his final inning of work this season with leads of 3, 4, 4, 4, 7, 7 and 8 runs.

The Major League Baseball leader in pitches per start this season is Cy Young winner Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies, who is throwing fewer than 116 per outing. The leader in 2010 was Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander at just under 113 per start.

"Some teams will not like the pitch counts," the front office veteran said. "All things being equal, I'd draft someone else."

Bauer has good stuff, there's no question about that. His command can be spotty, however, and he's not showing as a future ace, so his somewhat unorthodox delivery and high pitch counts may negatively impact his draft stock. Or not.

"He may find that one team sees it as a positive, so they can run him out there in the big leagues right away and get through seven or eight innings (per start)."

One thing I might worry about with Bauer is how he might handle pitching on four and five days rest rather than the six he's receiving regularly in college.


• Georgia Tech left-hander Jed Bradley sat 92-94 mph again Saturday, but this time with better results than the past two weeks. Bradley skated through seven with just 98 pitches -- 66 strikes -- and has still yet to allow a home run. Clubs may value the safe, polished attack of Danny Hultzen, but those looking for some upside may prefer Bradley in the end.

• A club in search of a safe, signable rotation candidate a little later in the draft -- likely no earlier than late in the compensatory round -- Florida State's Sean Gilmartin may fit the bill. He tossed eight strong Friday, allowing an earned run on three hits while striking out 13. Sure, it was a weak Duke lineup, but Gilmartin threw just 97 pitches and 70 of them went for strikes.

• Oregon State southpaw Josh Osich flashed more positive signs that he's well on his way back to full strength by striking out eight in 6 1/3 innings Saturday. He worked with a low-90s fastball that touched 94, and a changeup with good arm speed and sink. If Osich shows better fastball command for consistent stretched between now and draft day, along with a breaking ball that scouts can believe in, he could climb back into the picture on Day 1.

• Gardner-Edgerton star outfielder Bubba Starling is expected to return to the field this week after nursing a quad injury of late. He hasn't missed a ton of games, however, since his high school season started later than most, so still has plenty of time to wow clubs into buying him out of his commitment to Nebraska.