In the first game against the Cleveland Indians, last year’s American League champion, Cory Spangenberg, Trevor Cahill and the bullpen led the Padres to a 1-0 win. The Padres faced Corey Kluber (7-3 with a .285 ERA) and knew that runs would be hard to produce.
The former Padres’ draftee (2007) and 2014 Cy Young winner, Kluber gave up only five hits in eight innings, two by Spangenberg. The latter beat out a fielder’s choice, knocking in Hector Sanchez who had singled to lead off the fifth.
Like Kluber, Spangenberg was drafted by the Padres (10th overall, in 2011) in Jed Hoyer’s last year as general manager. Hoyer and company valued his line-drive stroke and speed, as well as his defense at second base.
Ironically, Hoyer also traded minor leaguer Kluber for Ryan Ludwick in an attempt to improve the team’s offense in 2010 and has since admitted he made a huge mistake. Ludwick let Petco Park get in his head and put up feeble numbers (.211/.301/.333) during his time in San Diego.
Since being drafted by the Padres, Spangenberg has had a rough road to the majors and a tough time staying on the field. Rated the 81st best prospect before the 2012 season, he had two concussions in his first three years in the minors, which obviously limited his playing time.
In 2014, Spangenberg received his first call-up to the major leagues, appearing in 20 games and batting .313/.452/.764. In 2015, he joined infielders Yonder Alonso, Alexi Amarista, Clint Barmes, Jedd Gyorko, Will Middlebrooks and Yangervis Solarte on the roster at the beginning of the season. By June he began replacing a struggling Gyorko at second. Toward the end of that weird season, Pat Murphy also decided to platoon the two at short as well as second. In 108 games he earned a 2.0 WAR, batting .271 with 21 doubles and a .344 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).
Leading into the 2016 season, the Padres had high hopes that his ability to get on base, his speed and his left-handed bat would make him a valuable part of the team. However, two weeks into the season a quad strain put him on the disabled list and kept him there most of the season. In the meantime, Ryan Schimpf started knocking the ball out of the park.
With his 64.8% fly ball ratio, Schimpf has been “the embodiment of the so-called three true outcomes – home run, strikeout or walk – the results of plate appearances that supposedly are not impacted by defense” according to Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today Sports. In his two years with the team, Schimpf has had 175 strikeouts. In that same time period, Spangenberg struck out 71 times.
This year, Spangenberg began the season with the El Paso Chihuahuas while Schimpf started for the Padres at third. In late April the team, concerned about Schimpf’s performance, called up Spangenberg. In early June, the team optioned Schimpf to the minors. Although he’d hit a team-high 14 home runs he had the lowest batting average (.158) of any player in the major leagues and had struck out more than 30 percent of the time.
Since then, Spangenberg has been entrusted with third base. In June he slashed .299/.357/.455 but has regressed so far in July to .277/.261/.364. Obviously, he lacks the power that Schimpf has, but he brings speed to the table as well as the trust that the Padres, including hitting coach Alan Zinter.
“A lot of guys in BP [batting practice] just hit, work on their swings, but they’re not actually focused on the actual discipline, getting a better pitch,” Zinter told Nathan Ruiz of MLB.com. “… He’s put himself in better counts, he’s seeing the ball better. He’s working on two things: His swing, he’s always working on. Now, he’s working on making better decisions, too.”
Green has also expressed his confidence in Spangenberg to Ruiz: “He went down there, swung the bat very well. He came up and shared time. Now he’s finally getting an opportunity to run with the job, and he’s starting to drive the baseball a little bit more. “… We believe long term in Ryan Schimpf, as well. We love his power, love his walks. But this affords Spangy a chance to, hey, go play pretty consistently. He’s running with it.”