HOUSTON -- Gary Pettis sits on a bat rack at Angel Stadium -- the same ballpark where he won two American League Gold Glove Awards while playing for the Angels in the 1980s -- and reminisces about some of the great catches he made during his career as he surveys the playing field.
Pettis, the Astros' third-base coach and outfielder instructor, won five Gold Glove Awards for three teams and was a mainstay on the nightly highlight reels in the 1980s with his athletic and acrobatic catches. These days, he has a front-row seat nightly to watch another outfielder who's emerging as one of the best in the game, George Springer.
Springer's diving catches in the outfield and leaping grabs at the wall should have him in contention to win a Gold Glove Award in the AL, Pettis said. Springer had 11 Defensive Runs Saved through 79 games, according to Fangraphs, which was third among AL outfielders and second among right fielders (Adam Eaton of the White Sox had 17). Eaton leads all AL outfielders with 11 assists, and Springer is third with eight, behind teammate Colby Rasmus (nine).
Although he hasn't appeared among the top vote-getters on the AL 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot, Springer has All-Star credentials. In addition to his Gold Glove-caliber defense, he's hitting .259 with a .357 on-base percentage, 17 homers and 48 RBIs. AL and National League rosters will be revealed at 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday in the Esurance All-Star Selection Show on ESPN.
Kole Calhoun of the Angels won the Gold Glove Award in right field last year. The competition is stiff.
"If he doesn't win, in my mind, he's certainly in contention, especially the way we ask him to play out there -- shallow, deep, right-center field," Pettis said. "I mean, it takes a knack to play right field, and he's adjusted to it extremely well. Yeah, I believe if he doesn't win, he certainly should be in contention for it. And in my mind, I'd give him the vote, seeing him every day."
Springer was a center fielder coming through the Minor Leagues, but he was moved to right field in Triple-A because the Astros had Dexter Fowler patrolling center in 2014. Springer has always prided himself on his defense and says he hasn't given much thought to winning a Gold Glove Award, which isn't surprising, because he always spouts team-first quotes.
"Yeah, that would be nice, but it's a long time from now, and we've got a lot of games ahead," Springer said. "You've just got to go out and keep playing."
If he won't say it, others will.
"I think he's in good position to do it," said center fielder Carlos Gomez, who won an NL Gold Glove Award with the Brewers in 2013. "He plays great defensively -- running, throwing -- and is one of the top three right fielders right now."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch says what sets Springer apart is his athleticism and instincts, but he's also put in a lot of work with Pettis to put himself in the right spots on the field to be able to make plays. Whether it's diving for a ball in the gap, stealing a home run or spinning and throwing to the plate for an out, Springer does it all.
"It's hard to argue there's a more dynamic outfielder than George in right field," Hinch said. "His impact going and getting the ball and selling out with his body and being successful -- there are guys around the league that dive just to dive and it makes it a real flamboyant attempt, but he actually records the outs. He can throw, he gets assists, he's very accurate. It's hard to get the ball past him in the air, and he plays relatively shallow. I'm not around every right fielder in the league, but there's a strong argument we have the best defensive right fielder."
Teams don't run much on Springer because he gets to balls quickly and has a strong arm, and Pettis says he's always putting himself in the right position with each batter that comes up.
"There are times when I get up because I want to make sure he's in the right spot, and I look up there and he's already moving," he said. "When you see that, you know that they're really in tune with what's happening in the game. When an outfielder is already moving before the outfield instructor has to tell him, then you know he's on the right path."
Pettis, who keeps his five Gold Glove Awards on the mantle above his TV at his home in San Clemente, Calif., said Springer's success has mostly to do with his hard work, which helps him take advantage of his natural abilities.
"When it happens during the game, he's already rehearsed it," Pettis said. "A lot of times, people might think it looks natural to him, but it's because of the work he's put in. I've always said that hard work makes the game look easy, and I think that's probably some of the things that the normal fans don't see."