GJ Rockies’ Spanberger getting used to being in lineup every day
No ballplayer will ever complain about seeing his name in the lineup every day.
Chad Spanberger certainly won’t. The Grand Junction Rockies’ first baseman — their only true first baseman — made his professional debut on June 26. Two days later, he got a day off. He hasn’t been out of the lineup since, playing 21 of 22 games between June 26 and July 18.
“I told him he had (July) 19th off and he was like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s great,’ ’’ Grand Junction manager Frank Gonzales said before Thursday night’s game.
Spanberger laughed and said his next remark was, “Oh wait, we’re gonna be on the bus.”
He also got July 11 off — another day spent on the bus.
Until last weekend, Spanberger at least got a breather every few days by being penciled in as the designated hitter, with either Hidekel Gonzalez or Javier Guevara, both catchers, manning first. Gonzalez was assigned to Class A short season Boise after the game on July 14, leaving Grand Junction with only two catchers, Guevara and Nic Motley.
Spanberger was the Rockies’ DH on July 8, going 3 for 4 with a home run. He’s been at first every game since.
“I love it. I can’t complain about playing time,” the University of Arkansas product said.
The added reps are helping him learn the position — he didn’t play first for the Razorbacks until this past season. He was an outfielder/catcher, so every day he can take ground balls helps. The Rockies’ hitting coach, Lee Stevens, is a former left-handed-hitting first baseman, just like Spanberger, so that’s even better.
“Defensively it’s about getting reps and staying consistent,” Spanberger said. “Getting good reps over quality, doing it well and then taking them to the game. I’ve really worked on my footwork. I didn’t start playing first until this last year in college, so I’m trying to transfer over and work on my glove, my feet, work on perfecting that position.”
He’s getting better inning by inning.
“He’s still learning some things around the bag a little bit, polishing him at the professional level,” Gonzales said. “It takes time and Lee does a nice job with those guys at first base. The swing is nice and he gives you competitive at-bats right in the middle of the order with some power.”
Entering Thursday’s game — yes, he was in the lineup, playing first base and hitting fourth — Spanberger was hitting .333 with seven doubles and six home runs, tied for third in the Pioneer League. He’s driven in 18 runs in 21 games, and is second in the league in slugging percentage (.655).
There have been a couple of games during this long stretch when Spanberger’s been fatigued, but said he makes sure he gets plenty of sleep, hydrates and eats right to keep himself going.
“We had that early game on the road trip and I had a workout that day and I was like, ‘Ugh, I feel tired today,’ ’’ he said. “My bat felt really slow; I think I broke two bats that day. It really (hits) at the plate, your eyes get tired quicker and your hands get slow. Your legs feel like they’re a hundred pounds trying to run.”
That’s when those DH games were welcome, when he could rest his legs after hitting.
“Those are kind of your off days, I can kind of relax for a little bit as long as I don’t have to go play defense for nine (innings),” he said. “I can just worry about hitting.”
Help is on the way, though. Motley is learning to play first base, and third baseman Todd Czinege started taking reps during early workouts toward the end of the road trip, and the Rockies signed another catcher, Kyle Cunningham, out of St. John’s.
Spanberger said both Motley and Czinege are catching on quickly, with the biggest transition learning how to play the bag with a runner on first. Other than that, for Czinege, it’s pretty much like playing third.
“We’re still working on Motley to get him some reps there, he’s not quite ready yet, but we’ll give Czinege a little time at first so we can give Spanberger some time off,” Gonzales said. “He’s been grinding pretty hard at first base.”