Name: Jonathan Singleton
Position: First base
Notable 2011 Stats: .284/.387/.413 with 14 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 83/56 K/BB, and 3-for-6 SB in 93 games with Clearwater (High-A);
.333/.405/.512 with 9 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 40/14 K/BB, and 0-for-0 SB in 35 games with Lancaster (High-A);
.298/.392/.441 with 23 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 123/70 K/BB, and 3-for-6 SB in 128 games total
Why He’s This High: Singleton burst onto the scene with a huge first half in Low-A in 2010 as just an 18-year-old, and he followed that up by posting a .392 OBP in High-A despite not turning 20 until after the season ended.
Singleton could be a star offensively if he continues to develop his all-around game. His best asset right now is his plate discipline, which has allowed him to post excellent OBPs–.395 in 2009, .393 in 2010, and .392 this year. He’s a strong lefthanded hitter who could develop plus power as he continues to move up.
Singleton is athletic for a first baseman, so he’s not just a lumbering DH type. He has a fluid swing that should translate well to the upper levels, especially once he’s facing pitchers who aren’t three or four years older than him.
Why He’s This Low: Singleton has yet to show plus contact or power. He struck out 123 times in 128 games this year, a big decline from the 74 in 104 games last year. His walks do make up for that, but his K/BB ratio cratered after he was traded from Philadelphia to Houston in late July (in the Hunter Pence trade), falling to 40/14 in 35 games.
One could counter that by pointing out his slugging jumped 99 points after the trade, but that can mostly be attributed from moving from an extremely tough environment (Clearwater in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League) to the most friendly home park in organized baseball (Lancaster in the California League).
The Phillies had attempted to move Singleton to the outfield, but those plans were scrapped after just 30 games, so he’s probably certain to be confined to first at this point. He’s already fairly big, and while he’s currently athletic for the position, he could end up just as an average defensive first baseman if he continues to grow.
Furthermore, since he’s already so big, Singleton isn’t especially projectable, which makes his current low power output quite troubling. His career path has a real Daric Barton vibe to it at this point.
Conclusions: There’s a lot to like about Singleton when you consider what he’s accomplished as a teenager, but the offensive bar is set extremely high for a first baseman, and while his polish is admirable, there are serious questions about what more he’ll be capable of providing.
If he’s going to be more than Barton or Lyle Overbay, he has to start showing 20+ HR power (or at least manage more than 37 extra-base hits in 128 games), and he’s going to need to cut his strikeouts. Given how young he is, there’s plenty of time for him to improve, but we shouldn’t just assume all of that improvement will happen just because of his youth. Moving up to Double-A next year, he’s at something of a crossroads–a big year could put him as one of baseball’s elite offensive prospects, but a decline will cast serious doubts on his ability to be an asset as a starting first baseman in MLB.
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