Sunday Notes: Spencer Schwellenbach’s Shortstop Dream Turned Out Different

Last Sunday’s column led with Detroit Tigers infielder/outfielder Matt Vierling reflecting on his days as a two-way player in high school and at the University of Notre Dame. This week’s leads with a former two-way player whose career path took a different turn. A native of Saginaw, Michigan who played shortstop and served as a closer at the University of Nebraska, Spencer Schwellenbach is currently a member of the Atlanta Braves starting rotation.

His big-league debut came sooner than expected. The 24-year-old right-hander was drafted in 2021 — Atlanta selected him in the second round — but because of Tommy John surgery he didn’t take the mound until last year. At the time of his May 29 call-up, Schwellenbach had just 110 minor-league innings under his belt. Moreover, he hadn’t thrown a pitch above the Double-A level.

His two-step call-up is something he’ll never forget.

“They actually told me I was going to Triple-A,” said Schwellenbach. “I showed up in Gwinnett, threw a bullpen, and after I got done they asked if I was all packed up to go to Virginia. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got all my stuff here.’ They were like, ‘Well, unpack your stuff, you’re throwing in Atlanta on Wednesday.’ I was so taken off guard that I didn’t know what to say. It was like, ‘holy crap.’ I called my parents, my fiancee, my brothers, my sister. It was awesome.”

Results-wise, his two MLB starts — one against the Washington Nationals and another against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park— have been somewhat less than awesome. While his attributes — composure paired with a 96-mph fastball and solid secondaries — were apparent in each outing, he nonetheless allowed nine runs over nine-and-two-thirds innings.

Which brings us to how he is now on the mound, and not stationed on the infield dirt.

“I always said that I was a better position player, just because I wanted to be a shortstop,” Schwellenbach said of his days as a Michigan prep. “But I was probably a better pitcher. I loved doing both. And honestly, I worked so hard to be a position player — again, that’s what I wanted — but after I got to college I kind of realized that if I wanted to play as long as I can, I was probably going to have to be a pitcher.”

While that may be true, his numbers at Nebraska show that he was no slouch with the bat; Schwellenbach slashed a solid .282/.405/.423 in his three collegiate seasons. He also threw just 31-and-two-thirds innings as a Cornhusker, all of them in his draft year. An arm ailment that predated his 2021 Tommy John surgery by three years was the reason why.

“When I got there, I had a little elbow issue,” explained Schwellenbach, who chose Nebraska over the University of Michigan and Michigan State (the only schools that wanted him as a two-way player). “The coaches said, ‘You know what? Don’t even worry about pitching. We love you as an infielder, so just focus on that right now.’”

In time, he began to believe that his pitching days were over. His elbow hadn’t fully recovered from a procedure he’d had done in 2019, and when the pandemic hit it had been close to two years since he’d toed a slab. In his mind, a return to the mound was… well, it wasn’t on his mind at all.

Then something happened when he was back in Saginaw, waiting for the world to return to a semblance of normal.

“When COVID hit, I had a lot of time at home,” recalled Schwellenbach. “I had a hockey net in my backyard, as well as a home plate, and one day I went out there with a bucket of balls and started pitching into the net. I thought to myself, ‘Man, I can still do this.’ That’s when I decided I wanted to pitch again.”

That he proceeded to do so with a high level of success — 10 saves and a 0.57 ERA in his junior year, despite a compromised arm that would soon require surgery — cemented his future.

“Scouts thought that my pitching, with a hurt elbow, was better than where I was position player-wise,” said Schwellenbach. “The [Braves] took a chance on me. They thought, ‘Let’s get his elbow healthy and roll with that.’ Obviously, I’m really happy with how it’s worked out. My dream was always to play in MLB, and while in those dreams it was as a shortstop, it just so happens that it’s as a pitcher.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

George Kell went 30 for 75 against Alex Kellner.

Chuck Klein went 20 for 48 against Ray Kremer.

Ken Keltner went 10 for 19 against Harry Kelley.

Charlie Keller went 10 for 23 against Vern Kennedy.

High Pockets Kelly went 5 for 8 against Cactus Keck.

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Kiké Hernández committed an error during an in-game interview on Friday night. Asked after the game if the interview impacted him on the play, the Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman said, “Maybe a little bit.” Subsequently asked if he’d reconsider being mic’d up during a game, he replied “No, because we’re getting paid.”

According to the Associated Press story that quoted Hernández, “Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement calls for a player to receive a $10,000 stipend for wearing a two-way microphone for at least one inning of a regular-season game. The amount rises to $15,000 in the postseason.” The story went on to say that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wasn’t aware that his third baseman was being interviewed while on the field.

Hernández’s suggestion that a stipend makes an error acceptable is questionable, and so is the fact that a broadcast entity — this particular game was on Apple TV — is willing to shell out that kind of money for a few minutes of what is often inane banter. That said, at least they’re willing to pay for something they feel adds to the broadcast (even if it usually doesn’t). The Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays continue to have their radio teams call away games remotely rather than send them on the road. That’s not simply questionable, it is flat out embarrassing.

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A quiz:

Cecil Fielder and Prince Fielder each hit 319 home runs. Which of that father-son combo had highest single-season total?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Hank Allen, an outfielder who played for three teams — primarily the Washington Senators — from 1966-1973 died this past week at age 83. The brother of should-be Hall of Famer Dick Allen and Rod Allen, the Wampum, Pennsylvania native became a scout and a horse trainer after his playing days.

Hank Foiles, a catcher who played for seven teams in a career that spanned the 1953-1964 seasons, died in late May at age 94. Primarily employed in a backup role — he logged just 353 hits — Foiles represented the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1957 All-Star Game.

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The answer to the quiz is Cecil Fielder, with 51 home runs with the Detroit Tigers in 1990. Prince Fielder hit 50 for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007.

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Adley Rutschman and Bobby Witt Jr. were the top picks in the 2019 draft. You can have either one going forward. Which are you taking?

I asked that question in a Twitter poll a few days ago, fully expecting a relatively close race. What I got instead was a landslide. Of the more than 1,400 votes cast, 89.2% went to the Kansas City Royals shortstop. The Baltimore Orioles catcher received a paltry 10.8%.

Witt is the younger of the two. He turns 24 later this week, while Rutschman celebrated his 26th birthday back in February. How much of a difference that made to voters is hard to say. Ditto the fact that Witt is off to a spectacular start this season. An early contender for AL MVP, the sweet-swinging infielder has a 159 wRC+ and 4.2 WAR — which isn’t to say that Rutschman hasn’t likewise been performing at a high level. Playing a position largely lacking star power, he has a 134 wRC+ and 2.1 WAR.

As for their respective careers to date, Rutschman has played in 326 games and has a 131 wRC+ and 13.3 WAR, while Witt has played in 372 games and has a 115 wRC+ and 12.4 WAR.

Does the better future for these young superstars truly belong to Witt? Only time will tell.

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Sticking with polls, @BloggerTubbs ran one that grabbed my attention. Following up on their preliminary polls that established four finalists, they asked which of Jack Clark, Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, or Tony Gwynn was most deserving of the 1987 National League MVP award.

Following the polling as it went along, I observed Gwynn holding a steady lead only to be ultimately overtaken by Davis. The final results were Davis 29.7%, Gwynn 28.8%, Dawson 26.4%, and Clark 15.1%.

My vote went to the last-place finisher. Clark — whose career 138 wRC+ and 50.6 WAR reside in Vladimir GuerreroDavid Ortiz territory — led the senior circuit in several categories that year, most notably on-base percentage (.459) and slugging percentage (.597). Moreover, Clark’s 176 wRC+ was not only tops in MLB, it was 20-plus points higher than those of Davis and Gwynn. Even more notably, it was 50-plus points higher than that of Dawson, who as the record books show won the polling that matters most. Thanks largely to league-leading home run (49) and RBI (137) totals, “The Hawk” was voted MVP by the BBWAA.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Daichi Ohsera threw the 102nd no-hitter in Japanese baseball history on Friday as the Hiroshima Carp beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 4-0 in inter-league action. The 32-year-old right-hander walked five and fanned two in the 129-pitch effort.

Also in inter-league action, Livan Moinelo recorded the first base hit of his professional career while also pitching the Fukuoka SoftBanks Hawks to a 10-1 win over the Yokohama DeNa BayStars (NPB’s Pacific League has a DH; the Central League does not). A 29-year-old Cuban-born left-hander, Moinelo has a 1.70 ERA in 69 innings.

Kazuma Okamoto has 10 home runs to go with a .271/.361/.467 slash line in 249 plate appearances for the Yomiuri Giants. The 27-year-old corner infielder came into the year having averaged 34 home runs over the past six NPB seasons.

Guillermo Heredia has a KBO-best .379 batting average to go with a .425 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage, and 150 wRC+ in 252 plate appearances with SSG Landers. The 33-year-old former MLB outfielder joined the Incheon, South Korea-based club prior to last season.

Do Yeong Kim continues to be one of the best young players in Korea’s top league. The 20-year-old Kia Tigers third baseman is slashing .346/.391/.602 with 16 home runs in 272 plate appearances. He also has 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts.

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A random obscure former player snapshot:

Despite his having pitched for 13 seasons, many of you — especially younger readers of this column — probably aren’t familiar with Ron Perranoski. You should be. The longtime lefty reliever led the National League in appearances three times while pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and twice he led the American League in saves while a member of the Minnesota Twins. Perranoski had a pair of 4.5 bWAR seasons. In 1963, with the Dodgers, he went 16-3 with 21 saves and a 1.67 ERA. In 1969, with the Twins, he went 9-10 with 31 saves and a 2.11 ERA. All told, Perranoski pitched in 737 games, all but one of the bullpen.

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Jamie Westbrook got his first big-league hit on Wednesday, and it was a long time coming. The soon-to-turn-29-year-old, Boston Red Sox infielder/outfielder has been in pro ball since 2013, and he’d played in over 1,100 games — with six different organizations, no less — when he stepped up to the plate at Fenway Park and stroked a pinch-hit single against Atlanta reliever Jimmy Herget.

After the game, I asked Braves manager Brian Snitker how much he can appreciate such a moment from the opposing dugout.

“It’s really cool when a kid has worked his way up and went through everything, the grind of baseball, as I well know it,” said Snitker, who managed in the minors for two decades before finally getting his own big-league opportunity. “I’m always happy for a player like that when they get that first hit. His family was probably here. His girlfriend, his wife, whatever. Good for him.”

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FARM NOTES

Houston Astros prospect John Garcia went 5-for-5 with five doubles for the High-A Asheville Tourists on Wednesday. The 23-year-old, Dominican-born catcher/first baseman was drafted out of Grambling State University by the Astros in 2022. He is slashing .287/.369/.446 on the season.

C.J. Kayfus is slashing .353/.448/.612 with eight home runs in 201 plate appearances between High-A Lake County and Double-A Akron. Promoted to the higher of the two levels earlier this week, the 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman was drafted in the third round last year by the Cleveland Guardians out of the University of Miami.

Carson Skipper is 3-0 with three saves, an 0.41 ERA, a 2.03 FIP, and 29 strikeouts in 22 innings for the High-A Spokane Indians. The 24-year-old left-hander in the Colorado Rockies organization was drafted out of Auburn University in 2022.

Chandler Champlain has a 3.33 ERA and a 3.55 FIP to go with 61 strikeouts and 42 hits allowed over 54 innings between the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals and the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. The 24-year-old right-hander was acquired by the Kansas City Royals from the New York Yankees in July 2022 as part of the Andrew Benintendi trade.

Braiden Ward — featured here in Sunday Notes two weeks ago — has slashed .404/.508/.654 in 66 plate appearances since being promoted to Double-A Hartford. The 25-year-old outfielder/second baseman in the Colorado Rockies organization has a 193 wRC+ between Hartford and High-A Spokane.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from my conversation with Milwaukee Brewers rookie southpaw Robert Gasser — the feature ran a week ago Thursday — were his thoughts on experiencing the major leagues for the first time. I asked Gasser what the highlight had been thus far, expecting him to cite his impressive debut performance. What I got instead was something refreshingly different.

“It’s got to be playing at places like this,” replied Gasser, who was sitting alongside me in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park prior to batting practice. “This is just my fourth stadium, and the first one that’s been outside. The others (Milwaukee, Houston, and Miami) were all indoors. My second outing was actually a day game in Milwaukee with the roof open, but you have that surrounding area, so it still feels like a dome. When you play at a place like this, with all the history, it’s really cool. You walk up the steps [into the dugout] and I can only imagine the people who have walked them. It’s really cool.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Luis Arraez is chasing a third-straight batting title, and he’s doing so with a skill set that is no longer highly-valued in MLB. Barry Bloom wrote about it at Sportico.

Bryce Rainer is a two-way player projected to go in the top half of the first round of this summer’s draft. Cole Jacobson profiled the California prep for MLB Pipeline.

Pitcher List’s Renee Dechert talked to Cleveland Guardians right-hander Tanner Bibee about his arsenal.

Purple Row’s Joelle Milholm wrote about the importance of Latin American roots in Colorado Rockies starting pitching.

The Minnesota Twins recently changed their opposing-hitter scouting charts from a nine-box strike zone to halves; up or down, in or out. Tyler Kepner explained why in his must-read Sliders column at The Athletic (subscription required).

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote about how MLB players are getting death threats from aggrieved gamblers.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Elly De La Cruz played in his 162nd MLB game on Friday. Since making his MLB debut on June 6 of last year, the 22-year-old Cincinnati Reds shortstop has 148 hits, 24 home runs, 69 stolen bases, and 4.5 WAR.

Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell have combined to throw 70 innings and allow 61 runs this season. Fellow free agent signing Seth Lugo has thrown 84-and-a-third innings and allowed 21 runs.

Bob Gibson gave up a home run to the first batter he faced in the big leagues, Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Jim Baxes. A decade and a half later, the Hall of Fame right-hander gave up a grand slam to the penultimate batter he faced in the big leagues, Chicago Cubs first baseman Pete LaCock.

Schoolboy Rowe went 43-21 with a 3.57 ERA for the Detroit Tigers across the 1934-1935 seasons. At the plate, he slashed .307/.360/.434 with five home runs over 243 plate appearances.

On today’s date in 1975, Joe Rudi drove in the deciding run in the top of the 15th inning as the Oakland Athletics edged past the Baltimore Orioles 4-3. Vida Blue, who went on to finish the year 22-11 with a 3.01 ERAn over 278 innings, came on to record the final out for the second of his two career saves.

On today’s date in 1933, the Chicago White Sox tied the game with five runs in the ninth inning, then walked off the Detroit Tigers courtesy of a Luke Appling home run in the bottom of the 14th. Ted Lyons, whose 260 wins are the most in White Sox franchise history, threw five scoreless innings in relief for the win.

Players born on today’s date include Scarborough Green, an outfielder who played for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997 and for the Texas Rangers in 1999-2000. A native of Creve Coeur, Missouri, Green had a career-best day on September 28, 200 when he logged three hits and swiped five bases.

Also born on today’s date was Mack Wheat, a catcher who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1915-1919 and for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1920-1921. A native of Polo, Missouri, he was the brother of Hall of Fame outfielder Zack Wheat. A third sibling, Buck Wheat, played and managed in the minor leagues.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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jewishtitofuentes
11 days ago

Bobby (39) and Barry Bonds (73) = 112 HRs

Anon
10 days ago

He asked which of THAT combo (meaning Prince or Cecil) had the highest single-season total.

Interesting question itself though – what father/son combos had the highest single-season HR totals. Pretty clearly the Bondses and Fielders are the only ones over 100. Just quickly eyeballing it, I think the only others at 70+ are the Griffeys (56 and 21) and the Alous (39 and 31). Both Ray Boone and Bret Boone topped 25 but Bob in between them never hit for more than 12. Of course, if you skip a generation you could pull in the Yastrzemskis (44 and 25).