AFL Road Trip: Pep Talk Inspires Cubs’ Spears

MESA, Ariz. — How’s this for getting a pep talk?

Back in April, the season not even three weeks old, Double-A Tennessee (Cubs) infielder Nate Spears got summoned into his manager’s office.

There, Buddy Bailey gave it to him straight.

“He told me I as a lot better player than what I was playing,” Spears said. “After that, I turned my season around.”

Spears’ breakout season in the Southern League earned him a spot in the Arizona Fall League, where, in the words of Mesa Solar Sox manager Rocket Wheeler, “he’s tearing the cover off the ball.”

Or so it seems.

Through his first 37 at-bats, Spears was hitting .378/.521/.514 with three doubles, a triple and six RBIs. Entering Wednesday, his on-base percentage was second in the circuit behind Scottsdale’s Drew Sutton (.604).

Spears credits Southern League pitchers for readying him for the fall league. The list included Rays lefthander David Price along with several Marlins arms, including Chris Volstad.

“It definitely steps your game up,” Spears said. “You have to perform more. It gets your mind ready. Carolina had three big leaguers on their team. You had to pick your battles and pick your pitches. If you missed, they were going to get you out.”

Spears has played second base, shortstop, third base and has even been thrown over to play first base as Wheeler tries to get him more at-bats.

“Offensively, he’s had a nice, steady approach. He does a very nice job of hitting to the opposite field and getting to the inside pitches and pulling them,” Mesa hitting coach Ryne Sandberg said. “I thought he made some nice strides over the coure of the past season.

“I haven’t seen him vary his approach,” Sandberg said. “He’s pretty locked in and he also battles. He’s a tough out and has a good sense of the strike zone. He’ll give you quality at-bats every time.”