After mashing 19 home runs in 60 games in his first professional season in the Colorado Rockies’ system, Granite City High graduate Chad Spanberger is in line for a promotion.
Spanberger, a sixth-round pick in the June draft out of the University of Arkansas, batted .294 with 15 doubles and 51 RBIs in 235 at-bats at Rookie-level Grand Junction (Colo.) of the Pioneer League. His OPS was a gaudy .985.
“Me and my buddy, Casey (Golden), both broke the (Grand Junction) home-run record, but he beat me by one,” Spanberger said. “That was kind of a big deal to me, just the fact that it was my first pro season. To be able to break a record was kind of cool.”
The 21-year-old Spanberger headed for Instructional League in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday, where he will spend the next three weeks refining his defensive work at first base and continuing to build momentum for 2018.
That’s when the left-handed hitter likely will be assigned to his first full-season squad, probably the low-Class A Asheville Tourists of the South Atlantic League.
Spanberger’s success in the minor leagues didn’t come as a surprise after what he accomplished in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in May, when he was 8-for-19 (.421) with three doubles, five home runs and 10 RBIs in five games. Arkansas finished second to Louisiana State.
He set Arkansas single-game records with three homers and seven RBIs in a 12-0 win over Auburn.
“I just stuck to what I was doing after the season at school, and it turned out well,” Spanberger said. “That (SEC Tournament) was a big confidence booster. It proved I could play at a high level. I was like, ‘If I can do it here, I can do it at a lot of places.’ You have to go in with confidence. Have a plan and stick to it.”
Spanberger said the pitching in the minor leagues was more challenging than what he saw in his three seasons with the Razorbacks.
“It was good pitching. They’re professional athletes,” he said. “There were some young people, but we faced some guys throwing 100 (mph). The big difference was the consistency of it. In the SEC, on the weekends, anybody that starts or comes out of the pen has dominant stuff. In pro ball, only every once in a while did you say, ‘He’s good, but I’ve seen better.’”
Spanberger, nicknamed C-Span, debuted with Grand Junction on June 26. In his first professional game, he was 2-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs against Idaho Falls. After four games, Spanberger already had four homers and five RBIs.
In late August, Spanberger enjoyed a three-game stretch where he had four homers and seven RBIs. Earlier in August, he homered in three consecutive games, a feat he accomplished again in early September.
“Home runs come and go. They can be streaky. It’s baseball,” Spanberger said. “You’re going to struggle (the majority) of the time. If you hit .300, that’s good, but you’re still making an out 70 percent of the time. When you’re feeling good, you’re feeling good. But one day, that feeling can just go away and you have to try and find it again.”
Batting near .300 was “a big deal,” Spanberger said, because he already had the confidence that he could hit the long ball.
“I like to show I’m just not a power hitter. I can hit for average,” he said. “I can have a long at-bat, battle with two strikes and go the other way every once in a while.”
Spanberger grudgingly considers himself a first baseman these days, although he acknowledges he prefers playing the outfield like he did with Arkansas.
“It’s not for me to choose,” he said. “I just want to keep improving my defense. That’s one of my weaknesses. I want to master that. Hitting-wise, I just want to come out and perform well. I want to hit like I did this year, with more home runs since I’ll have more games. It’s 142 games. It’s going to be a long time.
“But if you think about it, in college I played roughly 65 (games) and in pro ball I played 60. That’s close to the same amount. It was just a little more spread out. The offseason will be about getting my body in shape and ready to go for the long haul.
Spanberger struck out 71 times and batted .160 (8-for-50) against left-handed pitching, two areas he will seek to improve next season. It’s nothing that other young hitters haven’t faced as long as baseball has been around.
“With the strikeouts, obviously, nobody likes to strike out,” he said. “Sometimes it just happens. If I was hitting .220 and had those strikeouts, I would be worried about it. It’s all about having quality at-bats. I just don’t want to have a wasteful strikeout at-bat.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm