The Blue Jays recently traded Seung-Hwan Oh for Chad Spanberger, Forrest Wall and a PTBNL. Who is Spanberger, and why did the Jays target him?
The Jays surprised many people in trading Oh for lower-level prospects rather than targeting players closer to major-league ready. In particular, Chad Spanberger, the headliner of the trade, has only about 650 minor league at-bats and was playing at the Rockies’ Low-A affiliate (the Asheville Tourists – don’t you love minor league ball club names?).
So why Chad? There were many teams looking for relief help, so the Jays likely had several trade options. What did they see in Spanberger that caught their eye?
Start with the usual caveat. In discussing any 22-year-old with only ~650 professional plate appearances (at rookie level and low-A ball, yet) you are talking about a work in process. What he is now is far less important than what he might become. So the comments below should be taken in that context.
Toronto Blue Jays
Hitting tool – FV grade 45-55
In general, Spanberger is an above-average hitter, with good mechanics, high bat speed and an efficient stroke without an exaggerated leg kick. That bodes well – many hitters excel at lower levels with poor mechanics and tools, but are exposed at higher levels. However, Chad has two major problems. The first is over-aggressiveness – he will chase balls off the plate – and the second is an over-fondness for pulling the ball. Any estimate of his future hit tool will be predicated on whether he can overcome these issues – which is why fangraphs rates him as a FV 45 but Baseball Census rates him as a 55. It is encouraging that he is aware of these issues and working on them – in rookie ball, he struck out at a 26.3% rate but in low-A in 2018 his K% has dropped to a 21.6% rate (for reference, the MLB average K% so far in 2018 is 22.3%).
Power – FV grade 55-70
Chad has power. Lots of power. The only question is whether he is merely above average (mlb.com) or elite (fangraphs). He is currently leading the South Atlantic league in OPS, slugging percentage and wRC+ (161), and is top-3 in batting average and home runs. That said, there are red flags. His home park in Asheville is one of the most hitter-friendly for left-handed power hitters like Spanberger, and that is reflected in his home-away splits. Chad is hitting .361/.415/.687 for a 1.102 OPS at home but only .275/.316/.484 for .800 on the road – a difference in OPS of over .300. And second, his slugging percentage against right-handed pitching is over 200 points higher than against lefties. The degree to which Chad can continue his excellent hitting performance against better pitchers at higher levels will depend to a large extent on how he can address these issues.
Speed – FV grades 30-40
Spanberger is slow. Very slow. Somewhere between continental drift rates and Kendrys Morales. But he is generally known to have a high baseball IQ, and as such he uses what speed he has quite well. In 2018, for example, he has 16 stolen bases in 20 attempts at Asheville. So while he will never be a Lou Brock (who – as an aside – had not only a high baseball IQ but also studied the game to a level unheard of in his era), Chad has the potential to at least not be a liability on the base paths.
Fielding – FV grades 45-50
Spanberger is still learning how to play first base, and the learning pains are obvious (he had 10 errors in his first 54 games). His lack of speed means that his range will likely always be below-average, even by first baseman standards. However, his glove is expected to be MLB-average, and his baseball smarts likely mean that his flubs will be limited. His arm is also generally considered to be slightly below-average (though fangraphs sees a MLB-average upside), but that is less of an issue at first.
The bottom line
The upside for Chad is a power-hitting first baseman with limited speed. Plenty of extra-base hits, but likely an unspectacular batting average and OBP. Defensively, he would be adequate, with glove and smarts compensating for a lack of range and arm. Think Chris Davis, or a 2017 Justin Smoak with fewer walks. Coming out of the SEC, Spanberger is expected (hoped?) to be a fast-tracker, and so is expected to make it to the majors by 2020 or early 2021. If the Jays move him to Dunedin (high-A) for the remainder of 2018 and to New Hampshire for 2019 (performance permitting), could he be ready to replace Smoak in 2020?