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April 12, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Spears content to bide his time in Pawtucket after "nail biting" spring

Nate Spears (Kelly O'Connor)
PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Prior to the 2010 season, Nate Spears signed with the Red Sox as a little-known minor league free agent who could provide solid defense up the middle. Just two years after his name slipped under the radar of even the most ardent Red Sox minor league followers, Spears was one of the guys fighting for a bench spot on the big league club in the final days of spring training.

“It was a little nail biting,” Spears said regarding those last days. “We wanted to know, and each day I would just try to take a deep breath before I got in the batter's box, and (tell myself) whatever happens is going to happen. (The Red Sox) chose to go with extra pitching, there's nothing we can do about that.”

Those players in major league camp fighting for jobs were trying to focus on preparing for the season to the best of their ability, and block out as many of the outside factors as possible. But Spears admitted that not playing the role of general manager in your head is difficult at times.

“Your mind does kind of wander into situations, but you try not to think about it too much,” he said. “I mean, all three of us (himself, Jason Repko, and Pedro Ciriaco) had great springs. We showed what we can do and hopefully all our names (come up) at one point when we're needed this season.”

Though the team went with an extra pitcher, Spears did not feel like it was a major setback for him. The 26-year-old knows that his main goal was to leave a favorable impression with the new manager, and make himself a top replacement player, should that time come.

“You know, last year I did it with Terry (Francona) and it worked out for me later in September and hopefully it will work out with Bobby (Valentine) sometime this year,” he said regarding making his abilities known during spring.

Francona spoke glowingly of Spears during the previous year's spring, and when the time came to give him a shot, Spears was rewarded with a September call-up. He may have received the call earlier, but it was not his best season from a statistical standpoint. He batted just .248 with 8 home runs after breaking out the year before with 20 longballs while leading all Double-A players with 104 runs scored and 84 walks in Portland. Much of his scuffles last season can be attributed to injuries, which caused him to make two separate trips to the disabled list.

Though he didn't get a hit in four plate appearances with Boston, the experience meant much more to Spears than the final numbers.

“It was my dream my whole career to play in the big leagues, and it was exciting,” he said. “It was everything I could dream of. It was a big payoff for my career.”

Part of the reason he is so valuable as a player to have in reserve for the big league club is his versatility. While he was drafted as a shortstop, he's played the most games in his career at second base. Two seasons ago, he was primarily playing third. “I'm pretty comfortable and confident in my ability everywhere,” he said.

That kind of versatility is invaluable to a team, Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler explained.

“He's a very versatile guy, plays a lot of positions,” said Beyeler, who has managed Spears all three years he's been in the Red Sox organization, including during his standout campaign in Portland. “He had a big year in Double-A a couple years ago after coming over. He plays hard, he's a great kid, and he can play all over the field. He's a good guy to have on the team.”

Last season, he added corner outfield to the long list of positions he plays, a move that he was happy to make. “The more versatile you are, the more valuable you are to teams,” he said. “You could take up one spot on a team for multiple positions, where they (would) have to carry two or three extra guys (otherwise).”

Beyeler had little negative to say about how he handled the transition out of the infield. “He does a nice job out there,” Beyeler said. “He kind of plays the corners, and it is new to him, but he caught everything that got hit to him out there last year. It made him more valuable. I know they used him a lot out there in spring training and even got put at first base a few times. So he's got a bag in there full of a bunch of gloves.”

Though he has yet to use it, there's one more glove in his bag that he's planning on spending a little time with soon.

“I do have the catcher's mitt,” Spears said. “I haven't busted it out yet, it's in my bag still. So I'll probably be breaking it in soon and might do a little bit of stuff just as an emergency guy, maybe catch a couple bullpens. I did that last year, just emergency situations.”

Beyeler seemed to have a fondness for Spears, but said on his future as a long-term super-utility player at the big league level that it comes down to one factor.

“The bottom line is if he swings the bat and hits, he's going to get a chance to play,” said the manager. “You know, he can play all over the place and he has a little power, and it's just a matter of finding a fit because he can be an every day guy and play different spots around as an every day guy. But the bottom line with all these guys is they gotta swing the bat a little bit and throw some big numbers up to establish themselves, and then do it again to kind of show it wasn't a fluke and beat somebody out up there.”

As for this season, Spears believes it will be more of the same. “One day at third, maybe one day at second, one day at short, maybe one day in left, one in right,” he said. “Wherever I'm needed I'll be out there.”

Matt Huegel is Senior Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.