If one was to draw a picture of a "slugger," that picture would probably look a lot like Vasili Spanos. Spanos is cut from the same mold as the baseball sluggers of a previous generation, such as Gorman Thomas or Boog Powell. At 6'3'', 235 pounds, Spanos looks like he was born to launch baseballs out of the ballpark. What is surprising about Spanos, however, is that despite his size, he is also an adept fielder both at first and third base. Although Spanos has seen a lot of time at DH this season for Midland, he gives the team a good glove at either corner of the infield when he's in the game.
Spanos has always been a top-flight hitter. He graduated from Indiana University as one of the most prolific sluggers in the history of Big Ten baseball. The Chicagoland-area native hit 16 homers for IU in 2002 and followed that up by hitting .412 during his final season with the Hoosiers in 2003.
The A's snatched Spanos up in the 11th round of the 2003 draft. In 2004, Spanos was assigned to the Kane County Cougars, where he was one of the Cougars most productive hitters. He was a fan and front office favorite during his time in Kane County. Cougar GM Jeff Sedivy told OaklandClubhouse last season that Spanos reminded him of current Orioles infielder Kevin Millar, who was a Cougar when he was in the Florida chain.
"[Spanos] is a guy who just refuses to take 'no' for an answer. He just wants to get to the next level, he wants to continue to excel, and you're going to have to pry the bat out of his hands. He's that kind of gamer," Sedivy said.
Spanos' time with the Cougars was somewhat abbreviated in 2004 because he had the honor of playing as part of the Greek Olympic team in the 2004 Athens Olympics. In 97 games with the Cougars, Spanos hit .311 with 12 homers and 80 RBI. In 2005, Spanos began the season in high-A Stockton. He hit so well in Stockton that he earned a mid-season promotion to AA-Midland on June 23. At the time he left the Ports, Spanos was hitting .315 with nine homers and 56 RBI.
Spanos hit the first speed-bump in his career at Midland in 2005. In 43 games, Spanos hit only .235 with six homers and 27 RBI. He was sent back to Stockton in late August and finished the year with the Ports.
The right-handed hitter was given another shot at AA in 2006 and, thus far, he seems to be taking full advantage of the opportunity. Spanos gives the Rockhounds a solid right-handed bat in a lefty-dominated offense. His .443 on-base percentage is third on the team and he leads the Rockhounds in walks. Spanos also is second only to Jason Perry in slugging percentage at .573.
OC: Do you think your time in Midland last season is helping you succeed this year?
VS: I think so. I think I feel a little more comfortable this year because I was here last year. I made some adjustments in the off-season with my swing, making it more efficient. It's good to be doing well now, but you have to continue to make adjustments throughout the season. I just need to continue to be patient and, lord willing, things will work out.
OC: Do you set goals for yourself at the start of the season?
VS: I tend to look at things day to day and at-bat to at-bat more than looking long-term at my numbers or whatever. It's always fine to say as a hitter that I want to hit .320 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, but you can't really think that way.
Numbers are sometimes out of your control. You can't control when a pitcher is going to throw one right down the middle of the plate and when he is going to pitch around you and so forth. The best you can do is try to learn something from each at-bat and bring that to the next at-bat.
OC: Do you like playing third base or first base better?
VS: I like both positions pretty much equally. At first, you get to stay in the game more because you get the ball so much. Sometimes, you can go a whole game at third and never have the ball come your way. However, at third, you get a chance to show your talents more. I have been DHing a lot here this season, but I definitely enjoy being out on the field at either first or third.
OC: What was your Olympic experience like? Had you ever been to Greece before?
VS: The opening ceremonies were probably the best part because we were able to walk into the stadium as the home team and everyone was cheering for us. It was pretty special. We didn't play all that well. We had some injuries to our pitching staff, guys who got hurt during their minor league seasons, and anytime you have injuries to your pitching you are going to have a tough time. Our manager died two months before so we had a lot of adversity to overcome. I think it was my fourth or fifth time in Greece. I have family over there. It was a really neat experience.
OC: What is it like playing for a manager like Von Hayes who has so much major league experience?
VS: He's great. The whole coaching staff is really good. Von Hayes is a very intense manager. He expects you to play hard every day and give your all. Sometimes he'll offer some thoughts on the mental aspects of the game that you can bring with you on the field. I think it is always good to have someone on staff who was in the big leagues, but the entire staff is really outstanding.
OC: What was the transition like from the college-level to the pros?
VS: Playing in the Cape Cod Leagues helped prepare me for the transition from college to the pros. In the Cape Cod League, you see great pitching every day. I used to practice with a wooden bat sometimes [in college] so making that adjustment wasn't too bad. Mostly, I think that the adjustment from college to the pros is much like any adjustment to a higher level. You always have adjustments to make.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.