Even after a strong career at Colerain High School (Ohio), Ben Spitznagel wasn’t on the radar for any Division I college baseball programs when he graduated from high school. Determined to show that he had a future in baseball, Spitznagel ventured to the little town of Mitchell, South Dakota, to pursue his dream on the diamond. After a pit stop in Illinois for one year of junior college, Spitznagel finally found a Division I home at UNC-Greensboro – and with it, a path to professional baseball.
Despite a storied career at UNC-G that included a .371 average over two seasons and two second-team All-Southern Conference selections, Spitznagel began to wonder if his dreams of playing professional baseball would be realized as the 2017 MLB draft moved deeper into the third day.
“I was with my girlfriend and we were at lunch. I had the draft tracker on my phone and I was watching every name pop up. I was getting pretty frustrated and feeling like ‘I can’t take this anymore’, so I put my phone away,” Spitznagel said. “Five minutes later I get a bunch of texts and phone calls, and I was thinking, ‘no way, did it actually just happen?’ I was just stunned. Then about five minutes later, the scout called and talked to me for awhile.”
Spitznagel landed with the Oakland Athletics in the 27th round of the draft. The Ohio native doesn’t have a deep history with his new organization, but he is aware of the A’s front office style.
“I’m learning more [about the A’s] as I go right now. I’m not too familiar with them right now but one of my favorite movies is Moneyball,” Spitznagel said. “I’ve watched it many times. I love it.”
In many ways, Spitznagel is a classic “Moneyball” draft pick. Discounted for his lack of size, Spitznagel has always performed. After batting .375 in his one year at Dakota Wesleyan, Spitznagel hit .461 for Wabash Valley College and followed that up with averages of .385 and .355 for UNC-G. He walked 55 times and struck-out just 40 times in 458 at-bats for the Spartans.
Being selective at the plate comes naturally to Spitznagel.
“It definitely helps me out as a hitter. I’m not a big power hitter. I’m not going to hit a lot of homeruns, so I definitely need different ways to get on-base,” Spitznagel said. “That can rattle a pitcher if I take some close pitches that he wants to be called strikes but are balls. That’s just another way that I can help my team.”
Spitznagel’s signing scout, Neil Avent, believes the left-handed hitter will continue to be productive at the plate as a pro.
“He’s a very cerebral hitter. Having the opportunity to see him hit over the course of the last couple of years, he has been very consistent at the plate,” Avent said. “I think he has excellent zone judgment. His splits are good. This kid hits lefties as well as he hits righties. He has feel for the barrel and good zone awareness. I believe this young man will hit.”
In addition to a potent bat, Spitznagel brings speed and versatility to the A’s. He stole 33 bases in 46 chances over the past two seasons and says he enjoys using his legs to disrupt the opposition.
“I love getting on-base and using my speed around the bases,” Spitznagel said. “I like helping my team anyway that I can.”
Spitznagel also pitched in with the glove, moving from second base his first season at UNC-G to the outfield as a senior. Avent says Spitznagel is capable of moving around the diamond as a pro, but that he profiles best in centerfield long-term. Spitznagel says he’s open to returning to second if the A’s have a need there, but that he enjoyed playing in the outfield this past season.
“I like doing whatever the coaches need me to do. I do love the outfield. This past year was my first time playing outfield in a long time,” Spitznagel said. “Growing up, I played outfield my whole life, so it was fun to get back out there, chasing balls. I think I do like playing outfield a little bit more, but if they say to go play somewhere else, I don’t have any problem with that.”
Spitznagel has been a Cincinnati Reds fan for his entire life, but the player he enjoys watching the most is a current A’s division rival.
“I like watching Jose Altuve play because he’s a smaller guy and I’m not a particularly big guy. It’s fun to watch him succeed,” Spitznagel said.
As Spitznagel prepares to enter professional baseball, he is thankful for the opportunities he was presented after playing for the Greensboro program.
“It was a great experience being at the top level of college baseball. Playing with those guys and playing with one of the best coaches I’ve ever had, just elevated my game to levels that I didn’t even know I could reach,” Spitznagel said. “I told my coach [Link Jarrett] how lucky I am and how grateful I am for the opportunities they gave me.”