Joey Spence has enhanced his status as an MLB draft prospect this spring.
The West Bend, Wisconsin, native has played in the Hitters High School Spring League this spring instead of playing for West Bend East High. Spence only played for his high school team his sophomore year in 2019 and opted to play in the Spring League this year to test his skills against other well-regarded prospects.
The decision to push himself against other talented players has paid off. Spence has advanced his skills while improving his status for July’s draft. Spence is a slightly under-the-radar prospect who scouts believe could hear his name called in the first 10 rounds of the draft.
“It has been an interesting process,” Spence said. “There have been a lot of unknowns, and there is no guarantee. I just have to keep my head down and try not to think about it too much.”
Spence is the second-best prep position player in Wisconsin this year, only trailing potential second-round pick Noah Miller, a shortstop from Ozaukee High.
Over the last few years, Wisconsin has had numerous well-regarded prospects selected in the early rounds of the draft.
The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted shortstop Gavin Lux of Kenosha Indian Trail High 20th overall in 2016. The New York Mets picked Jarred Kelenic of Waukesha West High sixth overall in 2018. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee catcher Daulton Varsho of Marshfield was a second-round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017.
Watching Wisconsin natives go early in the draft over the last five years has motivated Spence to follow in their footsteps, he said.
“I think everyone is just playing with a chip on their shoulders,” Spence said. “A lot of people like to overlook guys from the Midwest. People don’t realize that we are working every day of the week for multiple hours with the facilities we have here. We probably get in the same amount of work in, maybe more, compared to other states with these facilities.”
Spence is a well-rounded player who is known for his offensive ability. The 6-foot, 200-pound left-handed hitter has a smooth, quick and repeatable swing and consistently barrels up pitches. He drives the ball to all parts of the field.
Right now, Spence believes his “bat is pro-ready” and that he “could step into a minor-league game right now and hit the ball around,” he said.
“For me, I would say I am a power bat. I am also a big leader on the field. Obviously, the catcher has to kind of take over a little bit and run the defense. I would say my bat is my biggest weapon. But I also hold my own behind the plate and feel like I do a really good job of working with my pitchers and calling the game.”
Spence should remain behind the plate long-term. He is athletic and has made strides defensively over the last year.
Defensively, Spence has an athletic stance, quick transfers, and solid arm strength, allowing him to throw on a line to second base. At the Super 60 Pro Showcase in February, Spence posted pop times from 1.94 seconds to 2.02 seconds.
Spence is a leader on the field and has a strong feel for the game.
“I would like to improve my defensive skills for sure,” Spence said. “Arm strength has been a big thing I have worked on improving the last couple of offseasons. I just want to sharpen up my approach and the mental part of my game.”
Besides his status as a well-regarded draft prospect, Spence is a University of Notre Dame commit. He committed to the Irish over Oregon State, Tennessee and Purdue, he said.
Spence verbally committed to the Irish on Nov. 9, 2018. Notre Dame pitching coach Chuck Ristano recruited Spence, and he was a holdover on current Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett’s staff when he took over on July 12, 2019.
The Irish are in the midst of their best season in recent memory. They have a 33-11 record and have advanced to the NCAA tournament super regionals for the first time since 2002.
“The biggest thing for me is I want to play in the ACC,” Spence said. “I want to play somewhere where I know I am going to face the top arms in the country every week.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He has interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.