For the better part of his Cubs career, the 23-year-old Spears has gone relatively unnoticed. A fifth-round Orioles draft pick in 2003 that was acquired by Chicago in the Corey Patterson trade with Baltimore following the 2005 season, Spears batted .246 and .272 in his first two seasons with the Cubs, respectively.
But he began to turn some heads last season at Class AA Tennessee, batting a career best .299 with seven home runs, 22 doubles and 51 RBI in 115 games. He earned a late-season promotion to Class AAA Iowa and then was invited to play in the Arizona Fall League.
By nature, Spears is a quiet player -- one that enjoys being an underdog.
"I like to let my performance on the field do the talking rather than being the 'rah-rah' kind of guy," Spears says. "I don't get a lot of hype, but it really doesn't bother me that I don't. I want to be the underdog. I want to open some eyes that haven't been opened yet. It really doesn't bother me that I'm not getting all the hype that other people get."
Because Spears is a bit undersized (5-foot-11, 175 pounds), he reminds some people of a scrappy middle infielder cut from the same cloth as Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot.
"He is a carbon copy of Mike Fontenot," said Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' Vice President of Player Personnel. "He can hit and has learned to play third base, short and second. He's a real gamer."
Spears is fine with the Theriot-Fontenot comparisons and in fact says he considers it an honor to be mentioned in the same circles as two major league infielders.
"I think it's a fair comparison," he said. "They're both playing at the major league level right now and that's where I want to get, so that's a very good comparison."
What has happened to transform the left-handed hitting Spears into a .300 hitter from some of his earlier averages as a Cubs prospect is a combination of the little things, Spears said.
"I think I've matured a lot as a better hitter and I've been seeing the ball really well," he said. "I've been a little more patient. I think my patience as a hitter has come a long way."
That patience was particularly on display in the Fall League, when Spears batted a robust .349 with 19 RBI in 23 games for the Mesa Solar Sox. He started 21 games and reached base safely in each of those contests, finishing with a .461 on-base percentage and drawing 16 walks to 19 strikeouts.
The Fall League also provided Spears with a chance to get some reps at a couple of new positions – first and third base – and re-introduced him to shortstop, the position he spent his first year as an Orioles prospect.
Spears said the Fall League helped him increase his skills on both offense and defense.
"I felt like the Fall League helped me a lot," he said. "It was a great experience playing against all of the competition out there. I think that was the best competition I've ever played against and I had [Tennessee manager] Ryne Sandberg on the bench helping me out."
Said one major league scout in attendance at the Fall League: "[Spears] really increased his prospect status."
Since joining the Cubs, second base has been Spears' primary position. He played in over 300 games there the past three years, averaging roughly 10 errors per season.
But with the Cubs having afforded Spears more playing time elsewhere around the infield of late, it has opened up the infielder's versatility in an effort to make him more of an all-around utility player.
"I would like to be a utility guy," Spears said. "That's a great role to have and to be able to play more positions I think improves your value as a player."
Spears isn't sure what level he sees himself opening the 2009 season at, but Triple-A is a strong possibility. Either way, after spending three-plus years with the Cubs and taking some lumps along the way, he says he feels happy with where he's at and the progress he has made.
"I've had a couple of bumps in my road, but I think I've overcome those bumps and hopefully this upcoming season will be a good one," said Spears. "I prepared myself in the offseason for this season and I think it's going to be a good one."
Spears Starting to Get Noticed
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