Spruill, who played his senior season at Kell High School after transferring from Etowah, was part of a seven-player trade between the Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday that brought outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta.
Heading west with Spruill will be utility player Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and minor league infielders Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.
While former All-Star Prado and highly regarded pitching prospect Delgado were the keys to the deal, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers expects Spruill to compete with Delgado for a spot in the Diamondbacks’ rotation this spring.
“His performance will dictate where he goes,” Towers said. “I want him to be of the mindset to come in and compete for that fifth spot in the rotation with guys like (Patrick) Corbin, Delgado and (Tyler) Skaggs.”
Towers also said that if Spruill, a second-round draft pick by the Braves in 2008, did not make the rotation to begin the season, he would then likely start the year with the Diamondback’s Triple-A affiliate in Reno, Nev.
The 23-year-old Spruill went 9-11 with a 3.67 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 161 2/3 innings at Double-A Mississippi last season, with whom he was named a Southern League All-Star.
Towers said there was a lot to like about Spruill, who was twice named a minor league pitcher of the year in the Braves’ farm system and was considered Atlanta’s ninth-ranked prospect by Baseball America.
“We like his size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and the downward angle (on his pitches), and the sink,” said Towers, who knew about Spruill’s talents in high school and at Mississippi.
Towers personally saw Spruill pitch in the recent Arizona Fall League, where Spruill went 2-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings.
“We see him as a No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 starter in the major leagues down the road,” the GM added. “He’s somebody that doesn’t walk many, which we like, and commands the fastball really well in the zone, and somebody that doesn’t give up the long ball. To me, that’s usually the sign of a pretty good and eventually a productive pitcher.”
Braves general manager Frank Wren said talks to make this trade happen began prior to the holidays last year and many player combinations were considered. But when the trade talk really heated up this week, he knew, in order to get Upton from the Diamondbacks, it became obvious it would get expensive from a player standpoint.
“We felt like we gave a very rich package,” Wren said in a conference call. “You don’t get a quality package like this without giving up quality players.”
And Arizona wanted Spruill, who, along with former Walker pitcher David Hale, was added to the Braves’ 40-man roster in November.
“Zeke really blossomed last year,” Wren said. “He threw well in the front of Kevin Towers and (manager) Kirk Gibson in the Arizona Fall League, and our scouts were there, too. But he was on their radar before that.”
While Spruill will get a chance to compete to make the Diamondbacks’ opening-day roster — something that was unlikely with the Braves — the trade may have come with mixed emotions. In addition to being drafted by Atlanta, Spruill grew up a lifelong Braves fan.
After being named pitcher of the year for the Braves’ Class A affiliate in Lynchburg, Va., in 2011, Spruill was anxious to get cheers from the Braves fans when he had the chance to be recognized for his accomplishments at Turner Field.
“I’ll have a smile on my face from ear to ear,” Spruill told the Journal that summer. “This is pretty cool. I grew up a Braves fan. I’ve lived in Atlanta my whole life, and to go out there on the field and to be recognized in front of all those Braves fans is pretty big deal.”
Messages left for Spruill seeking comment were not returned.