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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.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

State College Spikes Notebook 2018 – Week 12

The 2018 The Single-A short-season affiliate State College Spikes went out on a high note in their final week of the season. The club finished the week of play with a 2-1 record, tying for third in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings with an overall record of 36-40. Lars Nootbaar kept his hot bat going while Stanley Espinal was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

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State College Spikes Notebook 2018 – Week 10

Week No. 10 was the best to date for the 2018 The Single-A short-season affiliate State College Spikes. The club finished with a 7-1 record, placing then third in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings with an overall record of 34-32. The club currently sits eight games back of first place Mahoning Valley, but are only 1.5 games out of the wild card. Great outings from Eli Kraus and Winston Nicacio combined with a historic night from Lars Nootbaar catalyzed the Spikes this week.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2018 Week 9

Week No. 9 was one of the shortest to date for the 2018 Single-A short-season affiliate State College Spikes. The club finished the week with a 3-1 record, placing third in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings with an overall record of 27-31. The club currently sits 6.5 games back of the first place Auburn Doubledays. Stanley Espinal led the way at the plate with Jacob Schlesener recording one of his best professional starts to date.

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NYPL All-Star Game Showcases Three State College Spikes

photo: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park (Cooper Deck/The Cardinal Nation)

The 2018 New York-Penn League All-Star game canvassed some of the top big-league prospects in the world, three of which were State College Spikes players. Along with Spikes manager Joe Kruzel who coached the South team, 2B Nick Dunn, SS Delvin Perez and 3B Edwin Figuera also represented the Spikes in the game, played Tuesday, August 14 at State College’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Nick Dunn (State College Spikes)

Dunn, who played high school ball in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, just over an hour east of State College, was the only Spikes player in the starting lineup for the South. The 21-year-old is currently hitting .263 on the year while tying for the team-high with 29 RBI. He is also having a great year in the field, only accumulating four errors en route to a .977 fielding percentage.

The 2018 fifth round pick out of the University of Maryland started at second base while leading off. In addition to recording a putout for the second out of the first inning, Dunn singled to shallow right field after falling behind in the count 0-2 in his first at-bat. He was moved over to second on a walk, and scored on a two-run triple from Brooklyn Cyclones right fielder Ross Adolph.

Dunn walked in his second at-bat in the second, but was stranded at first following the 25th pitch of the inning, which according to NYPL All-Star Game rules, ends the inning. In his final at-bat of the night in the fourth, Dunn flied out to shallow left field to finish the night 1-for-2.

Dunn exited after the fourth inning, as his teammates Perez and Figuera entered. Perez, St. Louis’ 2016 first round pick from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was in the two slot playing shortstop while Figuera took over the designated hitter position, batting fifth in the lineup.

Edwin Figuera (State College Spikes)

Figuera has been one of the most consistent hitters in the Spikes lineup this year, hitting .288 with while also adding a team-high 12 stolen bases. He has scrapped together 47 hits this year, good for third best on the club.

However, his play in the field has been suspect at best, as he has a .908 fielding percentage at third base with the Spikes representing 10 errors along the way.

The 20-year-old led off the fifth inning for the South team, reaching on a throwing error by the second baseman. He was retired on a fielder’s choice in the next at-bat. Figuera finished the night by grounding out to shortstop on a softly hit ball in the seventh.

Delvin Perez (State College Spikes)

Perez has hit .220 on the year over 44 game appearances at shortstop for the Spikes. His season in the field should not be overlooked, as he has only made eight errors while playing solid defense.

The 19-year-old had one of the hardest hit balls of the night in his initial at bat in the sixth inning, but it was driven directly toward the right fielder, who brought it in for the second out of the inning. Perez approached his second at-bat with one out and runners on second and third in the eighth, but flied out to the second baseman on a flare to shallow right field.

The game was definitely entertaining, as it had a different feel than an actual league game. The players were having fun, conversing on the base paths and joking around with each other throughout.

One of the highlights of the evening 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.

“It gave you goosebumps,” Kruzel said. “It’s an opportunity and a situation to recognize him. He’s done so much for us, and I mean that from the players standpoint in the organization to the Spikes organization. He’s always grateful and he’s always thanking us, but he does a lot more for us than we do for him. It’s just an opportunity to honor him in a position where he may never have that chance.”

The 3,048 fans in attendance at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, however, did not see the most competitive game, as the South took it by a 7-1 decision.

The Spikes return home Wednesday, August 14 to take on the Williamsport Crosscutters (Philadelphia Phillies affiliate) in a two-game set before going on the road for a three game series against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians Affiliate).


For more – Catch Cooper Deck’s in-depth State College Spikes Notebook, posted each Saturday morning all season long, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

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

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

State College Spikes Notebook – 2018 Week 8

Week No. 8 was the best to date for the 2018 short-season Class-A State College Spikes. The club finished with a 5-2 record, with all five wins by one run. The Spikes are for third in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings with an overall record of 24-30. The club currently sits nine games back from the first place Mahoning Valley Scrappers, who have a 32-20 record. Justin Toerner and Stanley led the way at the plate, with Diego Cordero and Kevin Hamann emerging as top pitchers.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2018 Week 5

The Single-A short-season affiliate State College Spikes finished the fifth week of play with a 2-4 record, tying for fourth in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings with an overall record of 13-21. They currently sit eight games out of first place. Edwin Figuera led the way for the Spikes this week at the plate.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2018 Week 4

The Single-A short-season affiliate State College Spikes finished the fourth week of play with a 3-3 record. Overall, they are last in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division with a record of 11-16. Shortstop Delvin Perez continues to pace the Spikes at the plate and in the field.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2018 Week 3

After going nearly a week without a win, the Single-A short-season State College Spikes turned things around in their third week of play with four wins in seven games. Their 8-13 overall record still has them sixth (last) in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings. Delvin Perez is leading the way at the plate and in the field.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2018 Week 2

The Single-A short-season affiliate State College Spikes culminated their second week of close losses by breaking their seven-game losing skid. Their overall 4-10 record has them last in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings. Infielder Wood Myers leads the offense.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2018 Week 1

The single-A short-season affiliate State College Spikes kicked off their season with a 3-5 start, placing fourth in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division standings after the first week of play. Center fielder Wadye Ynfante is off to a hot start at the plate.

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State College Spikes Set For Season Opener

photo: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park (Cooper Deck/The Cardinal Nation)

Only five players from last year’s St. Louis Cardinals short-season Class-A affiliate State College Spikes roster are returning for the 2018 season, but that did not stop manager Joe Kruzel from being optimistic about what this team has on its horizon.

“It’s almost like you feel like Betty Crocker sometimes,” Kruzel said. “You can start from scratch.”

This year’s Spikes team has been together for extended spring training in Jupiter, FL and since they returned to State College on Saturday, but it seemed like they have been teammates for much longer. There was a certain eagerness and camaraderie as the team gathered for media day at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

As the Spikes took their team photo, the new faces mixed in with the old ones, canvasing a very young State College Spikes team.

The tentative roster of 32 players includes 10 2018 draftees: RHP Edgar Gonzalez (6), RHP Chris Holba (11), RHP Michael Baird (23), LHP Eli Kraus (24), RHP Troy Montemayor (25), C Matt Duce (9), 2B Nick Dunn (5), OF Brendan Donovan (7), OF Lars Nootbaar (8), OF Justin Toerner (28).

The five returnees are catchers Joe Gomez and Alexis Wilson, infielders Imeldo Diaz, Stanley Espinal and Edwin Figuera.

Kruzel, who is heading into his second season as the Spikes manager, said that State College is a perfect venue for a team of this blueprint.

“I really believe this is a great place for a lot of our young players and our new players to begin their career,” Kruzel said. “[Our fans] really treat us real well, so I think it’s exciting for everybody around.”

Headlining this Spikes roster is former first-round pick and shortstop Delvin Perez, who has spent the majority of the 2016 and 2017 season with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. Perez also had a brief stint with the rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals at the beginning of the 2017 season until returning to the Gulf Coast League. Over the past two years, he has accumulated a .272 batting average on 62 hits and 23 RBI.

Catcher Joe Gomez, as noted above is one of the returners from last year’s roster, said that he is focusing on facilitating the field from behind the plate and being a leader for this year’s team.

“We’re coming out here to be champions, that’s all we want to do,” Gomez said. “If we’re winning, that means everyone is playing well. That’s the way I look at it.”

While many of the new players on this year’s roster had to travel to State College from all around the country, the same did not hold true for fifth-round pick and former Maryland Terrapin infielder Nick Dunn. Dunn, who led the Terrapins in nearly every offensive category last season, grew up just over an hour drive east of State College in Sunbury, PA.

“It means a lot to have my family and friends this close, [and] for them to be able to come out and watch games,” Dunn said. “It’s pretty special for me.”

Dunn accumulated a .330 batting average on 70 hits and 39 RBIs en route to being selected as an All-American and first-team All-Big Ten in his last season at Maryland.

The Spikes have one more scheduled team work out Thursday morning at 9 a.m. before they travel to take on the Williamsport Crosscutters for their season opener Friday night.

For more

Members of The Cardinal Nation can follow the exploits of the 2018 State College Spikes in Cooper Deck’s weekly team notebooks, posted each Saturday morning all season long.

The State College roster is current here at The Cardinal Nation and the Roster Matrix is also up to date, including all confirmed signings and assignments. See the left menu bar in red under ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES to access them all.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Palm Beach Cardinals Notebook – 2018 Week 10

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase our new 193-page 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price. Our limited edition printed version is sold out.

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

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.