Chad Spanberger was “shocked” when Asheville Tourist’s manager Robinson Cancel pulled him from the lineup in the second inning of a South Atlantic League game against Lexington Wednesday night.
Once he learned the reason a few hours later, he was glad.
The slugger from Granite City, taken by the Colorado Rockies in the sixth round of the 2017 Major League Amateur Draft, was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal involving former Cardinals’ closer Seung-hwan Oh.
“I got pulled in the second inning and was confused why,” Spanberger said by phone Thursday morning. “I didn’t hear anything until about 10:30 and didn’t get confirmation until after 12. It was an eventful night for sure, but I’m happy about it.”
Spanberger, 22, was taken by the Rockies in the sixth round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of the University of Arkansas, where the 2014 graduate of Granite City High School helped lead the Razorbacks to a College World Series Super Regional.
He made an immediate impact on the Rockies’ short-season rookie team in Grand Junction (Colorado), batting .294 with 19 home runs and 51 runs batted in over just 60 games.
This season, his first full one in professional baseball, has been stellar.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound left-handed hitting first baseman leads the South Atlantic League in hits (110), runs batted in (75), total bases (202), OPS (.942), slugging (.579), and ranks third in batting (.315), home runs (22).
He has a .363 on-base percentage and has stolen 16 bases.
“I’ve had good at-bats, I think, just because I’ve played my own game and stuck to my own approach,” Spanberger said. “I take my at-bats one at a time and don’t look backward at the last at-bat or forward to the next one.
“I’ve been in a groove and have been fortunate to be able to sustain it.”
He also got a hit and scored a run batting cleanup for the SAL South All-Star team in June. With those statistics, a higher-ranking prospect might have been promoted by now.
“Yeah, that part kind of sucks,” said Spanberger, who was No. 24 on on MLB.com’s list of top 30 Rockies’ prospects, “but you have to do their thing and understand that you have no control over it. It’s a business
“It’s a good thing for me. The Blue Jays showed their interest in me and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Spanberger reports Friday to the Lansing (Michigan) Lugnuts, Toronto’s affiliate in the Class A Midwest League.
According to Baseball America, scouts have recognized Spanberger’s speed and athleticism, despite his reputation as a raw source of power, and believe he could be used as an outfielder. It’s an opportunity Spanberger, a catcher at Granite City High, welcomes.
“Absolutely, yes. At Arkansas, after I quit catching, I played outfield,” he said. “I was still getting some time in the outfield less than a year ago. I’d be happy to have that chance again.”
Oh, 35, came to the Cardinals in 2016 after 11 seasons in the Japanese and Korean professional leagues. In his first season in the U.S., he saved 19 games with a 1.92 ERA, striking out 103 batters in 79.2 innings. It was a different story in 2017 when Oh struggled with hamstring injuries. He saved 20 games, but finished 1-6 as his ERA ballooned to 4.10 ERA in 59 innings.
Oh initially agreed to contract terms with the Texas Rangers, pending a physical, but the deal was never completed. In 47 innings in Toronto, Oh was 4-3 with a 2.68 ERA and 55 strikeouts.
In exchange for Oh, the Blue Jays also receive outfielder Forrest Wall and a player to be named later or cash.