MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Reds' Sparks ignites offense with two homers in AFL

Reds' Sparks ignites offense with two homers in AFL

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When hitters come up to the plate during Arizona Fall League games at Peoria Stadium, their 2017 regular season stats are put up on the video scoreboard beyond the left field wall. For Reds third baseman Taylor Sparks, who was visiting with his Scottsdale Scorpions against the Javelinas on Wednesday afternoon, that means a .199 average compiled over 57 games in an injury-shortened lost campaign.

Rather than let it bother him, Sparks shakes it off and lets his bat do the talking, as he did with a two-homer performance that helped the Scorpions top the Javelinas, 7-5.

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"I just look at it and laugh," Sparks said of the stats. "I know it's not reflective of the type of hitter or player I am. It's just funny that they put it up on the scoreboard, just the stats through the month, month and a half I had. Obviously, they're not as good as I wanted them to be, but it's just funny to see. It doesn't really bother me at all."

Swinging the bat well during his AFL stint certainly makes it easier for the 2014 second-round pick to put his regular season in his rearview mirror. Sparks missed two months of the season with a broken wrist, and while he did return in July, he did so in the Midwest League, two levels down from where he had started the year. And he admittedly had trouble finding any kind of rhythm.

"Especially after such a long rehab, it's just getting ABs and seeing pitches, getting my timing down," Sparks said. "I'm getting closer and closer in trying to perfect that swing."

The swing certainly looked good on Wednesday. The Scorpions had scored a pair of runs in the first with their legs. Giants No. 7 prospect Steven Duggar singled off of Padres starter Walker Lockett and stole second with one out. Angels No. 3 Matt Thaiss singled him to third, and when Thaiss left first base early and got caught in a rundown, Duggar took off with a steal of home to give the Scorpions a 1-0 lead. Thaiss moved to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.

Sparks then made it a three-run cushion by using his considerable raw power. His second home run of the fall cleared the left field wall just in front of the big .199 average on the scoreboard. After the Javelinas pushed a run across in the third, Sparks answered back with a leadoff homer in the fifth to make it 4-1.

"Pretty much all of my at-bats, I was on-time with the fastball, hunting fastball and reacting to everything else," Sparks said. "That first one was two strikes and I was able to put a good swing on it, put the barrel on it and I was able to drive it out. The second one, I was just on time with the fastball. As long as I stay there, I think it'll be good.

"I had a pretty good feeling on the first one just because of the feeling off the bat. I didn't smoke the second one, but I felt it off the bat, though."

Sparks on facing great pitching

The Scorpions seemed to be in control until the Javelinas' vaunted offense kicked into gear against Angels reliever Samil De Los Santos in the sixth. Braves outfielder Jared James led things off with a single to right and then De Los Santos walked Red Sox infielder Josh Tobias. One out later, Mariners outfielder Eric Filia, the league's top hitter with a .395 average, tied the score with a three-run homer to right.

Scottsdale got the lead right back in the top of the seventh as Braves No. 14 prospect Touki Toussaint had trouble finding the strike zone and it came back to hurt him. Mets No. 9 prospect Tomas Nido earned a one-out walk and Duggar doubled him to third. Back-to-back walks issued to Reds infielder Brantley Bell and Thaiss plated Nido to make it 5-4. Padres reliever Andres Munoz replaced Toussaint with the bases loaded and gave up a two-run single to Yankees No. 17 Thairo Estrada.

With his day, Sparks is now hitting .326 this fall with three homers and 12 RBIs, which puts him seventh in the AFL and second on his team behind league-leader Billy McKinney (Yankees' No. 23). Those are the numbers he would much rather see on scoreboards. "I would say so," Sparks laughed.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.