2018 State College Spikes Team Review

photo: 2018 State College Spikes (State College Spikes)

The Single-A short-season State College Spikes finished their 2018 season with an overall record of 36-40, tied for third in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division Standings.

Returning only five players from last year’s roster, the Spikes were a wild card heading into this season. They had top ranked prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals system such as Wadye Ynfante and 2016 first-round pick Delvin Perez while also showcasing many rookies including Nick Dunn and Lars Nootbaar.

If there was one word to describe this year’s club, it would be streaky. The best stretch of the year came in mid-August, as the Spikes won 17 of their 20 games from August 5 to August 24. However, they followed this win streak by losing eight straight from August 25 to September 1, knocking them out of playoff consideration.

Another anomaly about this year’s Spikes team was their tendency to win on the road and lose at home. The team went 23-15 on the road and 13-25 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Strangely enough, the Batavia Muckdogs, Auburn Doubledays and Mahoning Valley Scrappers, all who finished either tied or ahead of the Spikes at the end of the season, also won more games on the road than they did at home this season.

While the Spikes did not make the playoffs, their improvement as a team since the start of the year cannot be overlooked. With roster changes being made on a weekly basis, this club put together a very successful season after it looked like it was falling apart about half way through.

Spikes record by month

June: 5-10
July: 14-14
August: 16-15
September: 2-1

 New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings

1. Mahoning Valley Scrappers: 42-33 (.560)
2. Auburn Doubledays: 41-35 (.539) 1.5 GB
T3 Batavia Muckdogs: 36-40 (.474) 6.5 GB
T3 State College Spikes: 36-40 (.474) 6.5 GB
T5 West Virginia Black Bears: 32-44 (.421) 10.5 GB
T5 Williamsport Crosscutters: 32-44 (.421) 10.5 GB

Pitching

The strong-suit of the Spikes this season was pitching staff. Time and time again, they would go out and get the job done, only for the team to lose the game due to a lack of run support.

Still, the pitching staff finished just 11th in overall ERA (3.75), 11th in strikeouts (504) and tied for second in shutouts (7) in the 14-team NYPL.

The Standouts

Jake Dahlberg (Peoria Chiefs)

Jake Dahlberg – The 2017 21st round pick out of The University of Illinois-Chicago was by far the most dominant pitcher for State College this year. While his fastball maxes out at roughly 87 mph, he is extremely accurate with hitting his spots and mixing up his pitches. With the Spikes, Dahlberg accumulated a 2.15 ERA over 50 1/3 innings work. The Vancouver, Washington native made the adjustment when promoted to Peoria flawlessly, recording a 2.87 ERA over seven starts with the Chiefs.

Franyel Casadilla – Voted the Pitcher of the Year by the State College Spikes team, Casadilla was great all year both starting on the hill and out of the bullpen; he was the closest thing that a pitcher can be to all-purpose. Over 12 appearances this year, the 21-year-old accumulated a 3.84 ERA while striking out 43. Casadilla had one of the top velocities on the roster this year, usually maxing out at 92 mph

Jacob Schlesener – The Rogersville, Missouri native is one of those players that has a very high ceiling, but struggles with consistency. When Schlesener was on, he couldn’t be stopped. However, when he did not have his best stuff, he lost control of the game. The 6-foot-3 lefty recorded a team-high 69 strikeouts of the year, and also tied a Spikes franchise record with 10 on August 16 against Williamsport in only four innings.

His fastball maxed out around 91, but he counters that with a curveball that is nearly untouchable, dropping an average of roughly four feet.

Kevin Hamann (St. Louis Cardinals)

Kevin Hamann – The 6-foot-4 lefty closer was lights out all year, plain and simple. Hamann, a 24-year-old, finished with a league-high 10 saves while recording a 3.89 ERA over 31 game appearances, all of which were in relief. Hamann had one of the toughest jobs all year, coming in in high-pressure situations, but he handled them perfectly as he went 10-for-10 in save opportunities.

Hitting

The performance at the plate was a constant battle all year for manager Joe Kruzel and his coaching staff.

Statistically, the club was one of the worst in the league when it came to hitting, with it finishing the season ranked 12th in the NYPL in team average (.232), tied for 10th in hits with (587) and tied for 11th in home runs (27) among 14 total teams.

However, there were many bright spots at the plate on an individual level.

The Standouts

Stanley Espinal (Lowell Spinners)

Stanley Espinal – The Santiago, Dominican Republic native, who was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player, had the most consistent 2018 at the plate this year, totaling team-highs in average (.286), RBI (41), home runs (8) and total runs (41) . Espinal is one of those players that seems to come through for the team when needed, recording clutch hit after clutch hit all year.

Nick Dunn – The University of Maryland alumnus is one of those players that everyone makes sure to be in their seat when he is coming to the plate. Not because he does anything crazy, but simply because he always seems to get the job done and makes something happen. Before being promoted to Peoria in August, the 2018 fifth-round pick was hitting .275 with the Spikes with 32 RBI and three home runs. Perhaps the most impressive stat was only recording 21 strikeouts over 210 at-bats. Even if Dunn did not get on, he worked the pitcher deep into counts in seemingly every at-bat. The best scouting report on Dunn summed up in two words is “controlled aggressiveness”; he capitalizes on the opponent’s mistakes while also being conservative when he has to.

Justin Toerner – If there was ever a “Mr. Hustle” award given out, Toerner would win it for every team on which he plays. While he had a slow start, the outfielder turned things around toward the middle part of the season. He finished his Spikes career hitting .292 while stealing 11 bases over 50 game appearances. However, the stats do not truly embody  Toerner’s impact. The 2016 28th round pick out of Cal State Northridge is the player that every team needs; someone who is willing to do whatever necessary to help his team win.

Edwin Figuera – From the Spikes roster that finished the season, Figuera finished a very close second to Espinal with a .285 average. There was a point about a quarter of the way through the season that the 21-year-old led the team in nearly every offensive category. At the end of the season, he was atop the team only in steals with 15 total. The Puerto De La Cruz, Venezuela native started 2018 with Peoria, hitting .304 over 20 games until being moved to State College at the start of its season. The only area of concern for Figuera is his ability in the field, as he recorded a team-high 19 errors this year, 16 of which came at third base.

Lars Nootbaar (State College Spikes)

Lars Nootbaar – The USC alumnus would have not even been considered for this list without his stellar last three weeks of play to close out the season. Nootbaar finished  with a .227 average,  but his big story was the 14 RBI that he produced in a six-game period ending on August 28. Early on, the 2018 eighth-round pick was not an every day starter, but he made his presence known at the end of the season. When given the opportunity to play night in and night out, he made the most of it. The Spikes fans only saw a brief window of Nootbaar’s potential, which was cut off when the season came to an end.

New York-Penn League All-Star Selections

Edwin Figuera, Delvin Perez and Nick Dunn were all selected to take part in the league’s All-Star Game this season.

One of the highlights of this game included Josiah Viera, who suffers from Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, going out to the mound for a call to the bullpen. As the honorary bench coach, Viera is an integral part of this Spikes team, as the teen has his own jersey and supports the team in any way he possibly can.

He went out to the mound alone, and the entire stadium stood up and clapped for him as he went out for the change; even the players for each team came out of the dugout to recognize him, along with the umpiring crew as well. It was truly a very special moment.

2018 State College Spikes Awards

State College named its award winners prior to first pitch at the final home game of the year. Stanley Espinal was named the club’s Most Valuable Player, Franyel Casadilla the Pitcher of the Year and Brady Whalen the Josiah Viera Perseverance Award.

Top prospects underachieving

Delvin Perez (St. Louis Cardinals)

Delvin Perez – While the former first round pick made the All-Star Team, he only hit .213 on the year and struggled with consistency at the plate. The 19-year-old was nearly flawless in the field, accumulating a .951 fielding percentage and only recording 13 errors over 64 games at shortstop this year. Perez is a very fun player to watch, as he is extremely smooth in the field and can get around the bases faster than most. It’s simply the consistency at the plate that he needs to work on ahead.

Wadye Ynfante – The 21-year-old began the season on an absolute tear at the plate, but slumped tremendously in the last two-thirds of the way. Ynfante recorded a team-high 101 strikeouts this year en route to a .213 batting average. The Santiago, Dominican Republic native is very similar to Perez, as they both have a great glove in the field, but struggle to remain consistent at the plate.

Conclusion

The State College Spikes were a team filled with youth, as many other teams at this level are. The chemistry between the team took about half the season to click, but once it did everything started to fall into place. If the season extended a month or two longer, it is likely that they would have been much more successful in chasing a playoff berth.

The Achilles heel for the club all year was the inability to bring runs across the plate. The pitching and fielding was there all season, minus a handful of outlier games.

Spikes fans witnessed a tremendous amount of potential, both on the individual and team level. All in all, the 2018 season was a success, but of course there is much to improve on for the 2019 season.

For more

Link to master article with all 2018 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the State College Spikes Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation:

The Cardinal Nation Prospect Interview – Connor Jones

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Contact Cooper Deck at cooperd118@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @CooperDeck.

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