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What to expect from Cory Spangenberg

While the Milwaukee Brewers reportedly try to sign another infielder, they already have their insurance policy in place in case they can’t come to a deal. The signing of Cory Spangenberg became official shortly after the new year, and as of now the former top-10 pick will come to camp in a little more than a month from now with a chance to win a spot as a utility player, or even the team’s starting second baseman.

The idea of heading into Spring Training with Spangenberg as one of the leading options to start the year at second base might be disappointing considering some of the other names that were on the free agent market, but there’s a solid chance he could still represent an improvement over what the Brewers saw at the position last year.

Of course, that may not be that hard to do. With the addition of Yasmani Grandal’s bat, the overall lineup may already be better than it was last season. Anything Spangenberg and others could provide above the .227/.290/.378 line Brewers second basemen put up last year — the fourth-lowest second baseman OPS in the National League, ahead of only the Padres, Dodgers and Giants — would only further improve the offense.

Turning 28 next month, Spangenberg has been a pretty average infielder to this point in his career. He’s put up a .258/.318/.391 line with a 94 OPS+, .309 wOBA and 94 wRC+. That’s been good for a 3.9 fWAR over parts of 5 seasons, but much of that value came in one year, when he hit .271/.333/.399 in his first full season in 2015. His second-best year came in 2017, when he hit a career-high 13 home runs in 129 games.

Moving to Miller Park provides some hope that those power numbers will improve, as Adam McCalvy noted last week when the signing became official:

That hope for power potential might not just be due to the switch in home parks. Last year, Spangenberg put up a career-high 35.6% hard-hit rate, which while not necessarily elite, still would have ranked inside the Brewers’ Top 10 last year and was higher than Mike Moustakas (35%), Hernan Perez (34.6%), Jonathan Villar (33.2%), and Jonathan Schoop (31.8%) put up in Milwaukee. Stearns & Co. are likely hoping that, combined with a tweaked approach to hit the ball on the ground slightly less than the 48.1% of the time he did last year, could lead to more power.

While simply moving out of San Diego to Milwaukee may help his power numbers, he could see his production improve with the Brewers for a different reason. Craig Counsell has been able to use the platoon advantage to great effect to get the most out of players, and he has an opportunity to do the same at second base this year.

A left-handed hitter, Spangenberg’s production has long been dragged down by his performance against left-handed pitching. For his career, he’s hitting just .214/.275/.288 against lefties, as opposed to .271/.331/.423 against righties. Last year, the Padres limited his exposure to lefties to just 68 plate appearances in 45 games. The split was again noticeable, hitting .141/.167/.250 in that limited sample compared to a .261/.332/.393 line against righties.

Conveniently, the Brewers have another infielder who can handle the other half of a possible platoon quite well in Hernan Perez. For his career, Perez is hitting .273/.293/.444 against lefties, including a .277/.304/.479 line last year.

Put the two together, and Spangebob Perezpants might be the most productive Brewers second baseman since Rickie Weeks, with the added versatility of appearing just about anywhere else on the diamond when others are in need of a day off. We already know Perez can also handle shortstop, third base and the corner outfield spots well. Spangenberg may not be quite as versatile — he’s played all of 2 innings at shortstop in the majors, and only the equivalent of about 30 games in the outfield during his career — but outside of a bad year in 2017 he’s handled third base fairly well. The Brewers have shown an interest in getting him more experience in the outfield and shortstop this spring:

This all sounds great, but admittedly, there’s also a chance Spangenberg just proves to be another Brad Miller, who had similar career numbers and strengths against right-handed pitching, but could never get going in his short stint in Milwaukee, hitting .230/.288/.378 in 27 games for the Brewers.

If that happens, the Brewers won’t be out much, considering he only signed a one-year, split deal for $1.2 million, and Keston Hiura might be proven ready to take over by the time the Brewers find that out. Even then, the Brewers could still keep Spangenberg around for depth, considering his deal pays him $250,000 if he’s in the minors — still much more than he’d make in the minors somewhere else. If the Brewers end up signing Josh Harrison or someone else to play second base between now and the start of the season, that insurance policy would also pay off as minor league depth.

Ultimately, it will be hard for the Brewers to be much worse than they were last year at second base, so even a middling performance from Spangenberg and Perez seems more likely than not to improve the overall production there. At the very least, they may be able to be competitive enough to act as a solid bridge to the Era of Hiura — or, if the organization decides to keep Hiura at Triple-A for a full year, long enough to get to July, when Stearns may be able to find another half-year stopgap.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs

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