By Karan Gill
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. – Toronto Blue Jays prospect Graham Spraker had his eyes focussed so intently on the Major League Baseball draft in 2016, his game fell apart.
The 6-foot-3 pitcher from Quincy University led the Great Lakes Valley Conference in 2015 with a 2.16 earned-run average as a sophomore and was attracting big-league scouts.
With the newfound attention entering his junior year, when top players are typically drafted, Spraker stumbled.
“I think I put too much pressure on myself,” he said, Wednesday, at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. “I was expecting myself to throw a no-hitter every game.”
Over 72 innings, Spraker went 6-3, but with a 5.75 ERA.
“He was trying too hard to get drafted,” said Quincy head coach Josh Rabe, over the phone.
At a team meeting during his junior season, when the Hawks weren’t performing well, Spraker recalled being told by a teammate that he was playing selfishly.
“’You’re trying to win the game,’ he told me,” Spraker said. “’But you’re trying to do it yourself. You need to win as a team, that’s what baseball is.’
“I had to re-evaluate what I was doing off the field as well as on.”
His senior year, the pitcher bounced back with a 2.44 ERA in 88 innings and led the Hawks to the Division II College World Series.
“I tried to take the focus off of me. [It was my] last chance to play baseball but also my last chance to win a championship,” Spraker said. “And if I was going to win one it was going to be with Quincy.”
Matt Stembridge, the right hander’s pitching coach at Quincy attributes Spraker’s comeback to his adjustment in attitude.
“He and I had some very long conversations prior to the season his senior year,” Stembridge said, by telephone. “He put pressure on himself to make things happen rather than to just trust who he is, trust the process, trust his mechanics, trust the ball to do what it’s supposed to do.”
Spraker, who was selected in the 31st round of the 2017 draft by the Blue Jays, made 21 appearances for the rookie-league Bluefield Blue Jays last season before being called up to pitch in two post-season games for the class-A short-season Vancouver Canadians. In his 40 combined innings as a reliever he had an ERA of 1.35, 46 strikeouts and eight saves.
He visualizes bigger things for this coming year.
“I’ve got my eyes set on the [Midwest League Lansing] Lugnuts.”
While moving forward it will be the lessons that Spraker has learned along the way that will propel him forward.
Just last month, Spraker and his two coaches reunited in Quincy, Ill. for a College World Series ring ceremony.
“They asked me to present the pitcher of the year award that I gave to him,” Stembridge said. “We had a nice conversation following that.”
Spraker credits his coaches at Quincy for his success.
“I definitely wouldn’t be here without Rabe and Stembridge. I owe everything to those two.”