Prospect of the Day: Josh Spence, LHP, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres promoted southpaw prospect Josh Spence directly from Double-A San Antonio Tuesday afternoon. He was drafted just a year ago; let's take a look at his rapid rise.
Josh Spence is from Geelong, Australia, but pitched college ball in the United States. He began his career at Central Arizona Community College and was extremely successful, posting a 1.40 ERA with a 327/43 K/BB in two seasons. This got the attention of Arizona State University, who inserted him into their starting rotation in 2009 with stunning results: 10-1, 2.37 ERA, 125/30 K/BB in 103 innings, 93 hits allowed. Remember, this was with the old metal bats, not the deadened versions used in 2011.
Spence was drafted in the third round by the Angels that June '09, but didn't sign, opting to return to Arizona State for his senior year. This looked like a huge mistake 13 months ago: he missed the entire 2010 college season with a vague elbow injury. However, the Padres still drafted him in the ninth round, and he proved healthy enough to pitch 24 innings between rookie ball and the Midwest League, posting a 42/7 K/BB and a 3.00 ERA. He has spent all of 2011 with San Antonio, posting a 1.71 ERA with a 42/11 K/BB in 47 innings and just 29 hits allowed.
In 71 minor league innings, Spence has a 2.14 ERA with an 84/18 K/BB in 71 innings with a miniscule 48 hits. His elbow seems fine now.
With these K/IP ratios and low hit rates, you might think he's a hard-thrower, but quite the opposite: his fastball is frequently in the mid-80s and tops out at 87. However, he has a wide variety of tricks in his arsenal, including a good slider, a good changeup, a curve, pinpoint command, a deceptive delivery, and outstanding makeup. He's extremely tough on left-handed hitters, holding them to a miniscule .130 average this year, but his large arsenal means he's not helpless against right-handers.
Spence seems ideally-suited for the role of bullpen lefty, but his experience as a starting pitcher gives him more potential stamina than the typical LOOGY type. While his lack of plus velocity gives him little margin for error, he shouldn't be underestimated, and it is not out of the question that he could return to starting eventually.