A mere 53.5 miles separates TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater from Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. That gap can feel even closer when your life revolves around these sites.
“When Dominguez and Wells got called up, guys in our locker room - because they were there to start the year - guys were so happy, so excited,” Spencer Jones said.
That would be Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells, the outfielder and catcher who began their 2023 campaigns with the Double-A Somerset Patriots and worked their way up to the iconic mothership known as the New York Yankees.
If this has proven to be a considerably disappointing season for the best-known sports franchise in North America, then the Yankees at least have capitalized on that disappointment to elevate their own prospects and promote their future. Infielder Oswald Peraza and outfielder Everson Pereira also reached the big leagues, and shortstop Anthony Volpe, the Yankees’ top selection in the 2019 amateur draft, spent the whole year in the starting lineup, enduring some growing pains and hanging tough.
Spencer, the Yankees’ top pick of the 2022 amateur draft, pays attention to all of this. He envisions the day when he’ll be the one getting the big call, putting on the Yankees’ pinstripes, receiving a thunderous welcome from the team’s rabid fans.
“Yeah, I do. Sometimes,” he acknowledged, before mildly curbing his enthusiasm: “But there’s still so many things I’ve got to work on until I get to that point. But…someday.”
That day could easily arrive in 2024. In Spencer’s first full professional season, he played his way from Class A Hudson Valley to Somerset and totaled a .267/.336/.444 slash line in 117 regular-season games, jacking 16 homers, four triples and 29 doubles in 480 at-bats; the Patriots are still alive in the Eastern League postseason. His big man’s profile of 6-foot-6 and 235 pound enables Yankees fans to fantasize about Spencer serving as a lefty complement to towering Yankees captain Aaron Judge.
Such fantasies don’t dominate the mind of the level-headed Spencer. He said he met Judge during spring training in Tampa, at the batting cages, and he spotted the 2022 American League Most Valuable Player once during a bench-pressing session. That’s about it so far, although “The plan is to get more in touch and learn some more things this offseason,” Spencer said.
Spencer’s journey has featured little downtime since the Los Angeles Angels, located not too far from Spencer’s hometown of Carlsbad, California (if not as close as Spencer’s childhood favorite San Diego Padres), chose him in the 31st round of the 2019 draft out of La Costa Canyon High School. Back then, Spencer regarded the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani as a role model.
“I was a two-way guy. I threw hard and I hit the ball hard and I was like, ‘I could totally do both,’” Spencer said. “And then my arm just didn’t agree.”
He fractured his pitching (left) elbow during senior year, and after foregoing pro ball to play for Vanderbilt, he saw his freshman season curtailed by COVID. It was while pitching in the California Collegiate League in the summer of 2020 that Spencer tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, concluding his two-way ambition. He underwent Tommy John surgery that year and decided to focus on hitting and fielding.
Asked if he misses pitching at all, Spencer replied, “No. I couldn't throw strikes. But I threw it super-hard. So everyone was like, ‘You’re gonna pitch today.’ I just never threw the strikes for me to enjoy it. Then I got hurt.”
An encouraging sophomore year at Vandy led to a vital showing in the 2021 Cape Cod League, where, as Spencer put it, “I played centerfield and hit leadoff every day. I kind of got my feel for baseball back.” That showing got the attention of Yankees vice president of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer, as Yankees Magazine reported. Spencer added 30 pounds to his frame in a year and posted an even better junior season, and that led to Oppenheimer making him a Yankee, choosing him 25th overall, in ‘22.
“At the moment, I didn't really know what it meant or what that stuff entailed. I didn’t really know too much about the Yankees organization. I never really watched Yankees baseball or anything like that,” said Spencer, whose first pair of BRUCE BOLT batting gloves came courtesy of the Yankees during a prospect camp last offseason. “But it’s been really special so far.”
In order to make his Yankees experience as special as possible, Spencer will work on the “so many things” he mentioned as areas to improve: “I could be so much better defensively, throwing guys out, or on the basepaths, getting extra 90s on dirtball reads. Stuff like that. In the batter’s box, I could do a better job of controlling the zone in certain situations and taking extra 90s out of the box.”
(“Extra 90s,” in case you’re old and out of touch like the writer of this article, are extra bases.)
When he’s not working on his skills or his conditioning this winter, which he’ll spend in Nashville, Spencer will move closer to completing his undergraduate degree in Communication Studies at Vanderbilt. He has two semesters of schoolwork left and takes most of his classes in person.
“I’m already in Nashville and I’m working out at Vanderbilt,” he said. “And school’s free. Might as well knock it all out.”
Spencer is not one to overcomplicate things. It bodes well for him as he strives for a big-league life that can surely be complex if one opts to make it so.
“There’s a lot of exciting times to look forward to,” he said. The future need not be far away at all.