Pioneer notes: Spanberger comes out swinging

Arkansas slugger adjusting quickly in debut with Grand Junction

Chad Spanberger is hitting .333/.655/1.044 with six home runs over his first 21 games with the Rockies. (Richey Miller/AP)

By Fritz Neighbor / Special to | July 21, 2017 11:20 AM

The Southeastern Conference isn't just known for football, since its baseball teams seem to routinely rule the College World Series. In terms of SEC schools, Arkansas may not be the first one that jumps to mind -- though it has produced boppers like Brett Eibner, Kevin McReynolds and Red Sox standout Andrew Benintendi.

So in May, when Chad Spanberger went to the SEC tournament and hit three home runs for the Razorbacks against Auburn -- then hit two more against eventual national champion Florida a couple games later -- scouts took notice.

"That's where a lot of people make their money for the Draft," Spanberger said. "That helped me."

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound first baseman, a sixth-round pick by the Rockies in the June Draft, has continued to crush the ball with Grand Junction, posting a .333/.655/1.044 line with six home runs over his first 21 games. A left-handed hitter out of Granite City, Illinois, Spanberger grew up a Cardinals fan but remembers talking about his second choice with his buddies: Colorado.

"Hitters' league and a hitter's ballpark," he said. "I said I'd probably pick the Rockies. It's just known for hitters. Then I got the call."

Now he's in Grand Junction, where the elevation of 4,583 feet is somewhat lower than that of the Mile High City, but still makes for thin air.

"The ball really flies here," he said. "Big time."

While Grand Junction is just 4-9 at home (and 10-6 on the road), Spanberger has hit at a .407 clip at the Rockies' Suplizio Field.

Video: Spanberger hits three-run shot for Grand Junction

"He came from a big college and is very advanced," said Lee Stevens, the hitting coach for Grand Junction. "He knows what he's doing. Not a lot of moving parts -- he has a sense for the strike zone and a good, compact swing."

Because of these attributes, an .118 average against lefties and an 0-for-8 stretch haven't bothered Stevens.

"He's not a huge swing-and-miss guy," he said of Spanberger. "That's not alarming at all.

"I'm just letting him be himself and do his thing, and then we'll fix little things as they come along."

Spanberger followed up a so-so sophomore year at Arkansas (.225 with six homers) with a huge junior campaign (.305, 20 homers, 67 RBIs), setting up a smooth transition to pro ball so far.

"It's just having confidence in yourself, trusting in yourself," said Spanberger, who added 25 pounds of "good weight" after getting to college. "I didn't really change my swing or anything like that. It just was a matter of staying with what had worked."

"With him, it's rhythm," Stevens said. "Keep some rhythm. When he's off, he's just off-time -- as most hitters are. So that's his reminder."

In brief

Star struck: Hunter Greene, not quite 18 and owner of a record $7.23 million signing bonus, arrived in Billings late last week after signing with the Cincinnati Reds. The April 24 Sports Illustrated cover boy and the No. 2 overall pick in this year's Draft plans to be both an infielder and a pitcher for the Mustangs. Mustangs' general manager Gary Roller noted that Greene, who's been clocked at 102 mph on the mound, was activated July 19 but said a date for his professional debut remains murky. Greene said he's been steadily working himself into batting practice and bullpen sessions. "Really just work getting myself ready to go out and perform at my best," he told the Billings Gazette.

Homer happy: Ogden catcher Luis Paz has found his power stroke in the Pioneer League. The 21-year-old out of Marilia, Brazil is 17-for-29 (.586) with five home runs in his last eight games, pushing his season batting average to .410 and his homer total to a league-leading 10 in 20 games. Paz toiled in the Dominican Summer League for three seasons and is in his second year with Ogden, where he hit .269 with six homers in 2016. He began 2017 with Class A Great Lakes, hitting .196 in 39 games. The Pioneer League record for homers in a season is 23, set by Greg Morrison for Medicine Hat in 1997.

Video: Ogden's Paz continues home run streak

Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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