Drafted 10th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, one spot ahead of Houston Astros right fielder George Springer and four spots ahead of the late Jose Fernandez, Cory Spangenberg has yet to live up to his first-round draft pedigree. However, Spangenberg is still just 26 years old with time to prove he was worth using a first-round selection on.
Spangenberg began his professional career in short-season ball, absolutely mashing the pitching at that level to the tune of a .384/.545/.535 slash line in just over 100 plate appearances. He also sported a walk rate (25.6%) more than double his strikeout rate (12.4%). Given the clear mismatch, Spangenberg finished that 2011 season in Low-A, posting a .286/.345/.365 slash line over 209 plate appearances. Based on his first taste of professional action, it was clear that Spangenberg had all the tools to be a solid hitter, but there was no power whatsoever in his game. Spangenberg spent the entirety of the next season in High-A, although he was limited to a rather pedestrian .271/.324/.352 in just 98 games.
Despite those struggles at a higher level in 2012, Spangenberg rebounded starting the season back in High-A. In 54 games prior to a Double-A promotion, Spangenberg made significant improvements to his walk rate, hit for more power, and posted better numbers all-around. Spange finished that 2013 season in Double-A, playing in 76 games and posting a .289/.331/.366 slash line, leaving him just below league average as a hitter. With a full three years under his belt at this point, it seemed pretty clear the type of player Spangenberg was: low-OBP, low-power, speed first slap hitter.
Spangenberg spent the majority of the 2014 season in Double-A, although he did get a taste of big league action near the end of the year. He slashed .290/.313/.452 in 65 big league plate appearances, showing off his solid speed and average defense in the process. Spangenberg started the 2015 season as a member of the Padres’ bench, but quickly found himself getting more playing time as Jedd Gyorko struggled at the plate. He finished the season with over 300 plate appearances in the big leagues, slashing .271/.333/.399 with a 105 wRC+. On top of that, he demonstrated solid baserunning and defense, which made him a league average player by fWAR (2.0 fWAR) despite the limited playing time.
Going into 2016, it seemed that Spangenberg was finally turning the corner towards being a productive, everyday regular in the Padres’ lineup. Despite being the starting second baseman for the Padres on opening day, Spangenberg tore his quad in April and only played in 14 games for the entirety of the season. After what was basically a lost season, Spangenberg’s place in the Padres’ long-term plans came into question heading into 2017.
While Spangenberg was away in 2016, Ryan Schimpf all but took over the second base job. Going into 2017, Schimpf had a leg up on Spangenberg in that competition. Given Spangenberg’s team options and Schimpf’s success, the Padres opted to start the season with Schimpf as the starting third baseman and Spangenberg back in the minor leagues. After Spangenberg posted a 131 wRC+ over the first few weeks of the season while Schimpf struggled, the Padres recalled Spangenberg back to the big leagues and gave him the starting job. Spangenberg more or less held that starting job for the remainder of the season, playing in 129 games with 486 plate appearances and slashing .264/.322/.401 with a 94 wRC+. Despite finally having a lock on the starting job, Spangenberg was unable to really run with it. His baserunning numbers were the best of his career, and his power reached new heights, but a poor strikeout to walk ratio accompanied by poor on-base percentage and below average defense hindered his season. Following a late-season surge from Christian Villanueva, and an offseason acquisition of Chase Headley, it appeared Spangenberg was once again going to be in a battle for playing time with 2018 around the corner.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 56 games, 228 plate appearances, 7.1% walk rate, 23.6% strikeout rate, .257/.316/.386, 88 wRC+, 0.6 BsR, -1.6 DEF, 0.3 fWAR
ZIPS: 147 games, 527 plate appearances, 7% walk rate, 23.9% strikeout rate, .259/.317/.407, 93 wRC+, 0.2 BsR, -4.2 DEF, 0.9 fWAR
At this point in spring training, it seems like Cory Spangenberg is in competition with Carlos Asuaje for playing time at second base. With both Chase Headley and Christian Villanueva in competition at third, it seems moving back to second is Spangenberg’s best chance for playing time. However, with just shy of 1,000 big league plate appearances under his belt, it’s hard to see Spangenberg being much different from his .266/.324/.401 career slash line. With a poor on-base percentage and sub-par power, it’s hard to see Spangenberg taking a huge step forward on offense. Add to that the fact that Spangenberg has been a below average defender overall, and it’s hard to see Spangenberg doing enough to be a big league regular, even with his solid speed. With Asuaje now in the big leagues, and Luis Urias close behind, Spangenberg may be losing his role. They could always move him back to third after the year, but with below average defense and not a lot of power, he doesn’t profile as much of a third baseman. Long term, it seems like Spangenberg is more likely a platoon player at best and a bench option at worst. For a team with some solid infielders coming through the pipeline, Spangenberg may find himself as trade bait sooner rather than later.