College Baseball

Spraker's move to bullpen has nice ring to it

Graham Spraker made two appearances for the Vancouver Canadians in the four-game Northwest League championship series against Eugene, earning the victory in relief both times, including the championship-clinching game. He tossed 2 2/3 scoreless and hitless innings with three strikeouts and no walks.
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 25, 2017 10:15 am Updated: Sep. 25, 2017 10:30 am

Gil Kim's reaction wasn't exactly what Graham Spraker had in mind.

For a moment, it had him regretting the fact he spoke up.

However, it might have been the best thing the former Quincy University right-handed pitcher could have done.

Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 31st round of June's amateur draft, Spraker first went to the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., before being assigned to the rookie league team in Bluefield, W.Va.

After arriving in Dunedin, Spraker met with several members of the front office, including Kim, the director of player development. During that meeting, he listened to Kim and others discuss the team's wealth of starting pitching prospects and the idea they might "piggy back" starters. Spraker mentioned he had worked out of the bullpen in the past and was comfortable doing it.

"I was just trying to come off as useful to be honest," Spraker said.

It got Kim's attention.

"He kind of lit up and looked at me and said, ‘Oh, yeah?'" Spraker said. "In my head, I was like, ‘Oh, crap.'"

The next day, Kim approached Spraker with the news the Blue Jays weren't going to use him as a starter. He was heading to Bluefield to be a reliever.

"I was OK with it," Spraker said.

By the end of the season, he was thrilled by it.

Spraker thrived coming out of the bullpen, making 19 appearances with a 1.62 earned run average and seven saves. He pitched 33 1/3 innings, struck out 39 and walked only six. He did not allow an earned run in his final 12 appearances.

What he learned was how to pitch as a reliever.

"It was tough to adjust the first few appearances," Spraker said. "I remember going out for my second outing, and I had a solid three days of rest, but I was still dead. So I got a little more responsible in the days in between and did as much recovery stuff as I could.

"I started getting in a new routine, and it got better and better."

It got to the point Spraker was a valuable commodity.

After wrapping up his season in Bluefield with a save in the team's lone victory in the Appalachian League playoffs, Spraker was promoted to Class A Vancouver, where the Canadians were playing for a Northwest League title.

Spraker made two appearances in the four-game series against Eugene, earning the victory in relief both times, including the championship-clinching game. He tossed 2 2/3 scoreless and hitless innings with three strikeouts and no walks.

"They didn't bump us up there just in case, like if somebody got in trouble or something," Spraker said. "I wasn't a guy to throw in there if they were down 13-0. I went there so they could use me, which was a good sign."

Adding a championship ring to the collection made it a little more worthwhile, too. He helped the Hawks win an NCAA Division II Midwest Regional championship in May and make their first-ever appearance in the national tournament.

"I had never won a championship before playing baseball," Spraker said. "And I won two this year. It was a good year for me."

The year isn't over.

Spraker reported to Dunedin last week to take part in the Blue Jays' fall instructional league, a sign the franchise is investing in his potential.

"That's what they all tell me," Spraker said.

It bolsters his growing confidence even more.

"I'm pumped," Spraker said. "I had high expectations for myself, but I didn't think I was going to pull something together like this."

The challenge will be to put another season like it together next year, whether he's in Vancouver, Lansing or wherever the Blue Jays assign him.

"I have new-found confidence in myself, knowing my ceiling is much higher than I thought it was," Spraker said.

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