photo: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park (Cooper Deck/The Cardinal Nation)
The Single-A short season State College Spikes finished their 2019 season with a 39-36 record, which left them in third place in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division, just 1.5 games back.
The Spikes were operating under Jose Leon in his first season as a manager. Leon arrived with a reputation as a strong offensive coach as he was previously the hitting coach on the Dominican Summer League Cardinals, which led the league in batting average under his command.
The best word to summarize the season is unfortunate. During the first half, the offense was unstoppable. They were undoubtedly the hottest team at the plate, but unfortunately for them, the pitching staff was struggling mightily during that time. The unit was ranked in the bottom three in the 14-team league almost every stat category. However, the team did a complete 180 degree reversal during the latter half of the year. The offense slowed down while the pitching became dynamic. It’s too bad they were never clicking at the same time, because the team could have been a scary matchup for any team in the league.
State College missed the playoffs despite a late-season run. Obviously, every team wants to make the post-season and it’s disappointing when you don’t, but there are a lot of positives to take from the season as a whole. This was a solid start to Jose Leon’s managing career and while there is clear room for improvement, the program is in a solid place under new management.
Spikes Record by Month
- June: 10-6
- July: 12-17
- August: 16-13
- September: 1-0-1
New York-Penn League Pinckney Division Standings
- Batavia Muckdogs: 41-35 (.539)
- West Virginia Black Bears: 40-36 (.526) 1.0 GB
- State College Spikes: 39-36 (.520) 1.5 GB
- Mahoning Valley Scrappers: 37-39 (.478) 4.0 GB
- Williamsport Crosscutters: 32-43 (.427) 8.5 GB
- Auburn Doubledays: 30-46 (.395) 11.0 GB
Because of four stronger teams in the McNamara Division, the Spikes finished three games back in the wild card race. McNamara leader Brooklyn (NYM), which tied for the best regular-season win-loss record, took the League crown.
State College’s winning percentage of .520 was eighth in the 14-team NYPL, at the top of the bottom half. They had a winning record at home, 23-16, but struggled on the road (16-20). With most of the games played in-division, the Spikes were five games over in those contests (34-29), but went just 5-7 out of the Pinckney. Just two more wins, however collected, would have made the difference.
As mentioned earlier, the Spikes pitching staff wrote a tale of two halves. The unit struggled early but found their stride late in the season. It was a below average group by league standards, but a decent unit nonetheless.
They led the league in innings pitched which definitely had an impact on how the totals look, but the pitching staff allowed the third most runs (346), fourth most home runs (38), and fifth most hits (595) in the league. They also finished with a 3.62 ERA, just eighth-best.
Jack Ralston – The 2019 seventh-round pick was lights out as a reliever for the Spikes. The righty carries a 6’6” 230-pound frame that allows him to reach 95 mph on his fastball and a changeup that touches 88 mph.
Ralston was mainly used a one-inning guy and excelled in his role. He finished with a 1.07 ERA in his 25 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .135 against the UCLA product and he held a 0.75 WHIP. Ralston walked just seven batters while striking out 26. All three of his earned runs came in back to back outings, meaning that in 23 of 25 innings, Ralston was near perfect.
Enmanuel Solano – Solano was the highlight of the starting rotation, but one of the only pitchers who couldn’t get run support in his outings. His 4-7 record is misleading, as Solano finished the season with a 3.39 ERA.
The 20-year-old was the only Spike who consistently went deep into ball games, lasting at least six innings in eight of his 13 starts, including each of his last five. He led the team in innings at 82 1/3 and carried a 1.23 WHIP. Solano is not overpowering by any means, as he struck out just 58 batters, but he locates the ball well and gets ahead in the count.
Connor Lunn – Lunn was another one-inning reliever and performed brilliantly in his role. He pitched 18 1/3 innings and finished with a 1.96 ERA. The USC product struck out 20 batters while only walking six and had a 1.04 WHIP.
The 2019 11th-round pick has a long three-quarter delivery and gets his fastball up around 94 mph. He is limited by his offerings as he doesn’t have a go-to pitch, but mixes everything extremely well and keeps hitters off-balance consistently.
Jacob Schlesener – The 6’3” lefty was probably the most inconsistent pitcher on the staff this season. Schlesener, when on his game, is nearly untouchable, but the lefty often finds himself missing spots and sometime the strike-zone entirely.
The former 12th-round draftee does not have an overpowering fastball, as it sits in the low 90’s, but Schlesener possesses a Kershaw-esque curveball that dives off of the table. Going back to the inconsistency, Schlesener has a lot of upside, as he broke his own Spikes’ record with a 12-strikeout performance in early-June, but also has multiple outings with 6+ earned runs.
The Spikes paced the league for the standard of what hitting should look like. The offense was the unquestioned top unit for the majority of the season and was a large part in the team’s success. The team ranked first in the league in average (.247), slugging (.364), OPS (.695), runs (353), hits (626) and doubles (135).
Martin Figueroa – “Big Fig” was arguably the most dynamic player on the Spikes’ roster this season. He ended the year off roughly, but was electric for the majority of the second-half. Figueroa finished with a .282 batting average, a .360 OBP and a team-high .460 slugging. He recorded 27 RBI and launched four home runs. Figueroa’s versatility and consistency earned him a share of the team’s MVP honors.
Pedro Pages – Sharing the MVP award with Figueroa was Pedro Pages, a sixth-round pick out of FAU. Pages ended the year with a .291 batting average and .393 OBP. He led the team in doubles with 17 and paired his power (.430 slugging) with a keen eye at the plate, drawing a team-high 28 walks. Pages was an all-around solid player this year, rarely struggling and showing an ability to get hot quite often.
Andrew Warner – A modern day slugger if there ever was one. Warner started off the year as hot as anyone I’ve ever seen, picking up 10 of his 28 RBI in the first week alone. After that, Warner struggled a bit but never fell so far to be deemed unplayable. Regardless, Warner finished with a team-high seven home runs. However, Warner is as boom-or-bust as it gets, as he struck out 65 times (42.4% of plate appearances). He ended up with a respectable .248 batting average and earned an NYPL All-Star nod due to his big play capabilities.
Matt Duce – At times, Duce struggled to find playing time as he was stuck behind Pages and former Spike Carlos Soto on the depth chart. However, when Duce received playing time, he shined as an offensive star. He played in 35 games and hit .308 with a .393 OBP. Duce showed his power with three home runs and 10 doubles, which helped him knock in 18. The Dallas Baptist product also led the team with a .825 OPS.
David Vinsky – The All-Star selection led the team in hits with 67 and did so at a .284 clip. Vinsky provided something that not many others on the team could, and that was speed. He tallied a pair of triples and led the team in stolen bases with nine. Vinsky picked up 14 doubles and 19 RBI on the season and was able to draw 19 walks as well.
New-York Penn League All-Star Selections
Four members of the State College squad were selected for the New-York Penn League All-Star Game. Andrew Warner, David Vinsky, Martin Figueroa and Andre Pallante were the choices and all four made an impact. Warner collected two hits, Vinsky and Figueroa each crossed the plate and Pallante tossed a scoreless inning.
2019 State College Spikes Awards
Martin Figueroa and Pedro Pages shared the team’s Most Valuable Player award. Jack Ralston took home the Spikes’ Pitcher of the Year award and Andrew Warner won both the Josiah Viera Perseverance Award and the first PSECU People’s Choice Award.
The first two awards are self-explanatory. Warner became the first Spike to take home multiple year-end awards. The Josiah Viera Perseverance award is a tribute to the former honorary bench coach who passed away this December from Hutchinson/Gilford progeria. Viera was a rallying point and team icon. The first PSECU People’s Choice Award is a fan-voted selection of the team’s top player. Warner’s slugging ability matched with his now-shaved impeccable mustache made him a near-lock for this award.
While it is disappointing to miss the playoffs, Jose Leon made a strong impression in his first campaign as a manager. He proved his ability to make batters be the best versions of themselves was no fluke and did so by turning one of the league’s worst offensive units into the league’s top dog in just one year.
Yes, the pitching was an issue for a while, but even that came full circle as the season neared it is conclusion. If the season was a month longer, the Spikes may have had enough momentum to reach the playoffs. This season, if nothing else, was a solid building block for what is to come in the future.
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our Peoria Chiefs Team Review.
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