TORONTO -- Fair or not, Glenn Sparkman will draw a lot of comparisons to Joe Biagini this spring, and while that could come with quite a bit of pressure, the Blue Jays' recent Rule 5 Draft pick seems oblivious to all of it.Sparkman knows the name, but he's not too
TORONTO -- Fair or not, Glenn Sparkman will draw a lot of comparisons to Joe Biagini this spring, and while that could come with quite a bit of pressure, the Blue Jays' recent Rule 5 Draft pick seems oblivious to all of it.
Sparkman knows the name, but he's not too familiar with Biagini's story -- the one that saw the 25-year-old enter Spring Training as a Rule 5 Draft pick before making the team as a long reliever and then becoming one of John Gibbons' most trusted high-leverage arms.
That's probably a good thing, because a lot of rookies might become overwhelmed by the opportunity and expectations. One thing that became clear in talking to Sparkman is that any pitfalls he runs into likely won't be the result of outside distractions.
Sparkman said he loves to play the game and everything that's involved in it, but he doesn't watch much baseball elsewhere. He grew up in a household where watching sports on television wasn't much of a priority, so all of the hoopla that surrounds this multibillion-dollar industry doesn't seem to hold much weight.
"I don't keep up with baseball very much, I just love the game," Sparkman said when asked about Biagini. "I keep up with a few things, here and there, but I just really love playing baseball. ... I'm just thankful for the opportunity. They saw something in him, and hopefully they see something in me just like that. I can't wait for Spring Training."
Sparkman's outlook becomes easy to understand when you take a closer look at his background. He grew up in the small town of Ganado, Texas, with a population of approximately 2,000 people, and playing baseball became an early passion. His high school had a graduating class of 62, and while there was a baseball team, it wasn't much to write home about.
After graduating, Sparkman committed to Texas A&M Corpus Christi to pursue a career in marine biology, but he wanted to keep playing. One tip he received was to audition at one of MLB's open tryouts, and after finding a free one outside of Houston, Sparkman got his first big break. An Astros scout recommended him for a spot on Wharton County Junior College's roster, and his pitching career got off the ground there.
Sparkman redshirted the first year and pitched as a middle reliever the second. He then drew the attention of professional scouts when he moved into a starting role for his junior season. An uptick in velocity sparked the interest, and after starting off in the 82-86 mph range, Sparkman can now reach the mid-90s with his fastball.
"In my mind, I always thought I can be it, I can do it," said Sparkman, whose best secondary pitch is a slider. "Slowly, as my velo started rising, we did a great shoulder program, and it definitely helped me out. My velo started rising, and then a few scouts started seeing me when they were watching players for other teams. They started talking to me slowly, and then I was like, 'Wow, I might actually have an opportunity.' That's what really picked me up and put me on the path to try for it."
Sparkman will face a lot of hurdles this spring, but the opportunity is clear. Toronto has a lot of uncertainty in the bullpen and few arms with secure jobs outside of Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli and likely Biagini.
As a Rule 5 Draft pick, Sparkman has to remain on the Blue Jays' 25-man roster for the entire season, otherwise he will be offered back to the Royals for $50,000. The only exception is for a stint on the disabled list. With the lack of guaranteed contracts, if Sparkman performs, there are a lot of creative ways to keep him in the fold.
"I think it's a great opportunity," said Sparkman, who posted a combined 5.22 ERA at four Minor League stops in his return from Tommy John last season. "I feel like the Blue Jays believe in me and I'm excited that they've given me the opportunity to try to prove myself. I just can't wait to see what happens."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.