Following the offensive season Bren Spillane had as a junior at the University of Illinois, you would expect it just to be a matter of time for him to break out as a pro. That happened Saturday.
The Reds' third-round pick went 4-for-4, falling a double shy of the cycle, as Rookie-level Billings shut out Helena, 4-0, at Kindrick Legion Field.
Gameday box score
The Big Ten Player of the Year came into Saturday's game with one hit and five strikeouts in seven at-bats. But he got off to a quick start against the Brewers, lacing a single into right field before getting thrown out trying to stretch it into a double in the second inning.
In the fifth, he did something Illini fans got used to seeing this spring as Spillane clubbed his first homer as a pro, a blast that cleared the wall in left. The West Virginia native hit 23 this season, which ranked third in Division I behind Arizona State's Spencer Torkelson (25) and Texas' Kody Clemens (24).
"It did feel good. It always feels good, but it felt good to finally square one up," Spillane said.
The first baseman singled to left in the seventh and capped his perfect night by slicing a ball to right that he hustled into a triple. Spillane is an above-average runner, scouts say, but had only three triples in his college career.
Although the triple came in his final at-bat, the notion of hitting for the cycle was on his mind.
"At the end of the day, yeah," he said. "Because in my first at-bat, I got thrown out at second trying to stretch a single and the guys were saying, 'You hit for the cycle, you hit for the cycle.' And I said, 'Uh, I got thrown out at second, thanks.'"
Spillane had statistically one of the top offensive seasons of any hitter. His .903 slugging percentage was the best in Division I and his .498 on-base percentage was eighth in the country. He lasted until the third round because, scouts said, he lacked a track record. He did not play much as a freshman and missed time as a sophomore due to injuries, although he did post an .878 OPS in limited time.
The Illinois native started his pro career slowly and noted that he could see the differences between college and pro ball.
"I mean, yeah, it's definitely different. You see different guys every day, and then guys coming out of the 'pen."
He also said that playing college ball gives him an advantage over the younger guys in the Pioneer League.
"Definitely, as far as there's a lot of guys here who haven't played college ball. College teaches you, for sure, the team aspect of it and competition," he explained.
Spillane played first base Saturday but said he can play all three outfield spots. Still, his favorite place to play is undeniable.
"Honestly, my favorite position is hitting," he said.
That was evident in college this season, as it was on Saturday.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder was the main thrust of the Mustangs' 13-hit attack. Reshard Munroe doubled, singled twice and walked, while Brandt Stallings doubled, singled and drove in a run to back right-hander Jared Solomon (1-0). The 2017 11th-round pick allowed two hits and struck out three over six innings.
Justin Bullock (0-1), a 2017 16th-round pick, gave up a run on four hits with five strikeouts in five innings but took the loss in his season debut.