Just 24 months ago, Jon Singleton was the Astros' first baseman of the future, and the best-regarded first base prospect in all of baseball. When he came up in 2014 at 22 years of age, he slugged 13 long balls in 95 games while walking 13.8% of the time. He had some warts, but the solution to that was the same as always; more time, more experience, more adjustments.
But that never seemed to materialize. Chris Carter won the first baseman's job out of Spring Training in 2015, and with the newly-acquired Evan Gattis filling the DH spot full-time, Singleton was sent packing to Triple-A Fresno. There, in a more hitter-friendly park than the Astros' 2014 Triple-A affiliate, Oklahoma City, plays in, Singleton seemed poised for an even more blistering year with the bat, which would eventually force the Astros to call him up and would allow him to cement himself on the roster.
That, too, never materialized. Singleton hit .254/.359/.505 with Fresno, a notable drop from his 2014 performance, and when he finally found his way back to the Majors late in the year, he didn't get much playing time during the pennant chase, and didn't look particularly impressive when he did play.
It was a reminder of how quickly a top prospect can fall on hard times. When Lance Berkman was dealt to the Yankees at the deadline back in 2010, his replacement, Brett Wallace, was immediately brought to the Big Leagues. After Wallace failed to live up to his promise, Carter was brought in to bridge the gap to Singleton. Now it's A.J. Reed that Astros fans wait and hope for, while Singleton has so quickly become something of an afterthought. Baseball is hard in general; hitting a moving one is nigh-impossible.
But there's hope yet for the First Baseman of Future Past. Singleton's tool box still contains some value; prolific pure power and plenty of patience to procure a plethora of free passes. The Astros cut bait with Carter, they won't want to start A.J. Reed's service clock right out of camp, and Evan Gattis may miss the first week or so of the regular season.
The opportunity will be Singleton's for the taking, but it may be his last with this organization. Remember that Singleton is signed to a long-term, team-friendly contract; if he proves himself worthy of all his options being exercised, the Astros will have his services for the next six seasons for a grand total of just $26.5 million. He'll be given every reasonable chance to succeed, but the days of waiting on a struggling player for a long time went out the window as soon as the team became competitive again in 2015.
If he can put together a solid March, he'll easily win the lion's share of playing time at first base to start the year, and if he can prove his worth during the first couple of months of the regular season, he may even up relegating the current First Baseman of the Future to being the Designated Hitter of the Future instead. The Astros certainly hope so.