In The Bigs: Denorfia, Springer Highlight Talent in Founders Baseball

Born in neighboring New England towns, George Springer and Chris Denorfia now play their big-league ball over 1,000 miles from each other but have both come a long way since their respective prep school careers.

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Born in Bristol, Connecticut, Chris Denorfia (right) has enjoyed a ten-year career in the MLB. Denorfia has spent time with Cincinnati, Oakland, San Diego, Seattle, and the Chicago Cubs. A four-year day student at Choate (Class of ’98) and a three-year member of the varsity baseball team, Denorfia helped build his success for Major League Baseball.

Douglas James, now head coach of Choate baseball, and at the time an assistant talked about Denorfia and the growth he saw when Denorfia, then a shortstop, was at Choate.

“Chris’ biggest jump as a player was when he grew into his body,” Said James. “He was 6’0” and about 175lbs pounds and became a star for our team in his senior season. During that season, it seemed to all fall into place for Chris. He could do it all, had loads of opposite field power, could steal bases, and had so much range at shortstop. His senior season was Chris’ jump from a good player to a five tool player.”

Denorifia , who in the past has referred to himself as a “late bloomer,” did not really face too much diversity at the high-school level.

“Early on, [the adversity] Chris faced was his size. Once he grew into his body, he did not face too many obstacles at the high school level. Although he was not physically dominate like Mike Trout (6’3” 235lbs), Chris just had a love for baseball,” said James.

“His drive was to be the best player he could be and the best student he could be. Chris was a big part of the community at Choate. [He was] a well-respected and well-liked person around our campus. Any hill Chris had to climb, he would be able to do so, on or off the field.”

When asked on how Denorfia ranked against anyone who Coach James has coached or coached against, he had this to say about Denorfia.

“This small league in New England has produced many great players at all levels. Whether it be Division I, NESCAC, Ivy League, or even the few who make it to the big leagues, Chris ranks up there with the best of them.”

“Juan Nieves from Avon was the best pitcher who I ever saw. Mo Vaughn from TP, who was the 1995 American League MVP, was probably the best all-around player I have ever coached against. Chris definitely ranks up there with them. He was such a tough out and extremely clutch.”

After graduating from ChoScreen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.42.53 AMate in 1998, Denorfia would head off to Division 1 baseball at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. At Wheaton, Denorfia would move from his natural position of shortstop to the outfield. The transition did not seem to bother Denorfia as he holds many records at Wheaton. Denorfia is Wheaton’s all-time leader in hits and runs scored, while being second in batting average, slugging percentage, and stolen bases.

After Graduating from Wheaton in 2002, Denorfia was selected in the 19th round of the 2002 MLB draft by the Cincinnati Reds. Denorifa would not get called up until 2005 and did not play in more than 49 games until 2010 with the San Diego Padres, although playing for the Reds and A’s beforehand.

San Diego was where Denorfia started to play his best baseball in the bigs. In his first year with the Padres, Denorfia hit .271/9HRs/36RBIs in 99 games a role player for the ball club. His best season came in 2013 as the Padres starting right fielder, hitting .297/10HRS/47RBIs.

Now Denorfia is with the Chicago Cubs, who just lost in the NLCS against the New York Mets. At the age of 35, Denorfia has not recorded a hit in his five at bats in his first career postseason on a team loaded with talent in the outfield, including guys like Dexter Fowler, Kyle Schwarber, and Jorge Soler.

It will be interesting to see if Cubs general manager Theo Epstein decides to resign Denorifia, as he is a free agent going into the offseason .

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.42.35 AMNine years after Denorfia was born in Bristol, Connecticut, a boy by the name of George Chelston Springer III was born in the city of New Britain, Connecticut.

Springer grew up in New Britain and would attend Avon Old Farms, graduating in the spring of ’08. Much like Denorfia, Springer was not all too big when he first stepped onto Avon’s campus. Avon’s coach Rob Dowling said Springer was only 5’0” and maybe weighed in at 100lbs in his initial Winged Beaver days.

“Despite his size, he was extremely talented and was a player who could simply do it all – hit, run, throw, etc. In addition, he really knew the game well. He was a very smart player,” said Dowling.

Springer underwent a massive growth spurt which would allow Springer to get even closer to his dream of playing Major League Baseball, something Dowling clued in on as time went by.

“I realized he had a shot at the highest levels during his junior and senior seasons.  By the time, he was an upperclassmen, he experienced a serious growth spurt. When he graduated, he was over 6’0”, and was around 200 lbs.  He was really strong and athletic at that point. He was running the 60 yard dash in around 6.6 seconds, was throwing 95 from the outfield, and was routinely hitting homeruns.”

“When one combines that skill set, with the sound fundamentals that were apparent when he was younger, the result is a special combination.”Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.43.38 AM

“At this point in his development, he was getting the attention of the baseball community at the highest levels. I was with him one day at a workout on Cape Cod, and he was getting offers from places like Vanderbilt, but Chris had committed to UCONN the night before.  Professional scouts were all over him on that day too. He had arrived physically, and the baseball community noticed. This was when I know he could make it in baseball. I had seen his skills develop over the years, but my assessment was being validated by all college coaches and professional scouts. ”

Sure enough, Springer was drafted after his senior year at Avon in the 48th round by the Minnesota Twins.

Though he would end up not signing the contract, as Springer would go on to play at UCONN. At UCONN, Springer posted serious numbers and was getting even more buzz from MLB scouts. After his sophomore season, Springer was named to team USA for collegiate players. Springer’s final season with the Huskies was his junior year, the year he would once again be draft eligible.

Springer was taken 11th overall by the Houston Astros of the 2011 MLBDraft. He would go onto sign the contract and forgo his senior season with the Huskies.

In the minor leagues, Springer had one of the best seasons ever as he joined the 40-40 club, by hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases.

Finally, in 2014 Springer was called up to the bigs by the Astros. He would hit .231/20HRs/51RBIs in less than half a season before going down with a wrist injury.

In the 2015 season, Springer helped lead the “Team of the Future” to the postseason. Though battling injuries, Springer still was able to hit .276/16HRs/41RBIs as the Astros starting right fielder on a team with some of the brightest young stars in all of baseball including Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, and Carlos Gomez. Springer has become a leader in the Houston clubhouse, which came to no surprise to coach Dowling.

“His best attribute is his enthusiasm. He never seemed to get nervous or have too much pressure on him. He has a fun confidence, and that was remarkable [when he was at Avon]. This positioned him to be loved by his teammates and coaches.”

“So many guys who are self-absorbed would have seized the spotlight for themselves; George didn’t. He was proud of his accomplishments and the attention he received, but compartmentalized it so that it did not dominate the attitude of our team.  That was special, and revealed a level of maturity that was impressive.”

No matter the level, Springer seems to be as humble as they come and just as good of a leader. He is one of very few players in the majors who is a five-tool player. Though he may not be at the same superstar level as some other five-tool players like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, Springer has all the attributes to join those two phenomenal players as a superstar.

Although the Astros lost in the ALDS, and the Cubs were swept in the NLCS by the Mets, George Springer and Chris Denorfia did have solid impacts for their teams and made the communities at Choate and Avon Old Farms proud to call these two spectacular athletes alumni.