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GEORGE SPRINGER READY TO STEP INTO SPOTLIGHT AS MLB SUPERSTAR

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 09:  George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros scores the winning run in the twelfth inning on an Evan Gattis #11 walk by Matt Strahm #64 of the Kansas City Royals at Minute Maid Park on April 9, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 5-4. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterApril 11, 2017

Before Alex Bregman and before Carlos Correa and before the Houston Astros had broken out of their 100-losses-a-year rut, George Springer was the guy who was going to key the turnaround.

“The electric star rebuilding Astros are still missing,” the Houston Chronicle called him in the summer of 2013, atop a Brian T. Smith story that included this line: “Out of all the names, numbers, definitelys and maybes in the Astros’ improving talent pipeline, Springer is currently the one.”

The turnaround happened. The Astros made the playoffs in 2015 and were talented enough that it was a disappointment when they didn’t get back there last October. They have stars like Correa and Bregman and Jose Altuve, who won the American League batting title and finished third in Most Valuable Player voting in 2016.

The Astros are more likely to get to 100 wins than 100 losses, though if you were writing a similar story this year to the one above, the headline would have been about the front-line starting pitching they’re missing.

It wouldn’t have been about Springer, not this spring, though maybe the first week of the season is a reminder it still could be about him. Maybe now that he’s 27 years old with 1,500 major league plate appearances behind him, Springer really can be the one.

He homered four times in the team’s first seven games, becoming the first player in major league history to hit three leadoff home runs in the first seven games of a season.

“I’m not at all shocked,” said one National League scout who knows Springer well. “I love the kid.”

He qualifies as a kid, if only barely. He also qualifies as a supertalent with an impressive combination of power and speed, even if that speed isn’t translating to stolen bases.

If you doubt Springer can still run, check out this video from MLB.com of one of his five triples last year:

Check out the maximum velocity, which StatCast shows as 21.1 mph. For comparison’s sake, StatCast clocked Miami Marlins speedster Dee Gordon at 21.0 mph on a 2015 stolen base.

Numbers like that catch your eye, and so does the 114.2 mph exit velocity Springer recorded on one of last week’s home runs. The estimated distance: 454 feet.

Electric. Still.

It’s easy to overreact to a first-week power surge. It’s worth remembering that while Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays and Mike Piazza each homered four times in the first seven games of a season, so did Chris Truby, Brandon Inge and Mark Quinn.

The reasons to believe in Springer were detailed by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

“Of all the players with delightful first-week numbers, Springer may be the likeliest to take the leap to superstardom this season,” Passan wrote Monday, citing Springer’s age, walk rate and improving strikeout rate.

One scout who studied Springer’s first week said he seems to be chasing fewer pitches outside the zone and thus getting fastballs he can hit. The statistics say the same thing, as FanGraphs lists Springer’s 2017 O-swing percentage (swings on pitches outside the zone) at 20, which is down from 26.1 percent last year.

Numbers only tell part of the story. Springer’s a favorite of baseball people inside and outside the Astros organization because of how he plays the game.

“I’ve always been a big fan of his,” one AL executive said. “I love his energy.”

“There’s an energy when George comes into any building,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said in a spring training interview with the Chronicle‘s Smith. “Everybody smiles when we see George.”

The smiles were even bigger this past week, because Springer was the biggest reason the Astros had a winning record through seven games for the first time in 11 years. He’d driven in eight of their 21 runs, and three of his four home runs came in games they won.

The biggest hit of all was a three-run walk-off home run in the 13th inning against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday.

When Springer followed that with a leadoff home run Thursday and another one Sunday, Richard Justice of MLB.com was ready with this tweet:

He’s not going to hit 93 home runs, but he might be on the way to being the star the Astros were missing four years ago.

The electric star. Even with all the other talent the Astros have now, they could still use one of those.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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