All posts by Nick Mazone

2019 State College Spikes Team Review

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.

Jose Leon (State College Spikes)

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

  1. Batavia Muckdogs: 41-35 (.539)
  2. West Virginia Black Bears: 40-36 (.526) 1.0 GB
  3. State College Spikes: 39-36 (.520) 1.5 GB
  4. Mahoning Valley Scrappers: 37-39 (.478) 4.0 GB
  5. Williamsport Crosscutters: 32-43 (.427) 8.5 GB
  6. 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.

Pitching

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.

The Standouts

Jack Ralston (State College Spikes)

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 (State College Spikes)

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.

Hitting

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).

The Standouts

Martin Figueroa (State College Spikes)

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 (State College Spikes)

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.

David Vinsky (State College Spikes)

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

Andrew Warner (State College Spikes)

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.

Conclusion

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.


For more

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.

The Cardinal Nation’s Team Recaps and Top Players of 2019


Bonus for Members of The Cardinal Nation

Seven of Nine Cardinals Minor League Teams Declined in 2019


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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 11

The State College Spikes season has come to a close. After winning a trio of games by one run, the team was heading in the right direction, but four losses in the next five games meant a 39-36 record and elimination. Enmanuel Solano allowed just one run over his final 14 innings.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 10

By losing three straight to close the week, including two at first-place Batavia, State College has fallen into fourth place, four games off the division lead with 10 games remaining. Enmanuel Solano and Scott Politz both made strong seven-inning starts while Stanley Espinal batted .712 during the 3-3 week.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 9

The State College Spikes continue to struggle on offense and in the field as the late surge of good pitching has gone mostly unused. Despite the struggles as a team, Dariel Gomez and All-Star David Vinsky are among Spikes playing at a high level. A 3-4 week kept the team at .500 on the season and 3 ½ games from a playoff spot.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 8

With a 4-2 week, the State College Spikes are one game over .500 and 3 ½ games out of a playoff spot. Infielder Martin Figueroa batted .368 with two home runs and seven RBI in his five games and leads the team in a number of offensive categories.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 7

State College is suffering an offensive shortfall now in its third week. The Spikes plated just 16 runs in six games, less than three per game, and won just twice, falling below .500 for the season. Second baseman Martin Figueroa is doing his best, driving in six of the 16 runs.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 6

State College moved to 21-20 for the season on a 4-3 week as the team’s dynamic shifted from offense-heavy and mediocre pitching to the opposite. If anything, this shows how good they could be when playing at their best. Still, outfielder Terry Fuller has been hot since joining the Spikes, batting .343 in 12 games.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 5

After a fast start, the short-season Class-A Spikes had their second sub-.500 week, dropping their season mark to 17-17. Big innings allowed led to a 2-4 record, but outfielder David Vinsky has been red-hot, batting .400 in the six games.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 4

State College had a rough week, dropping five of seven games. The team is 15-13 and third in their division. Shortstop Moises Castillo and outfielder Jonatan Machado are leading the offense. 2019 draftees Jack Ralston and Logan Gragg have been sharp out of the pen.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 3

The State College Spikes were challenged with a long road trip after two home games to start the week. They split the latter two thirds of their home series before dropping the first two games of the road trip. State College rebounded well, taking the next three games and ending the week on a high note. The Spikes broke program records and tied New York-Penn League season highs in what was an eventful week.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 2

The New York-Penn League Spikes followed a 6-2 start with a 3-3 Week 2 to put them just a half-game out of the division lead. Though offense has been leading the way, right-hander Michael Baird has logged 10 1/3 scoreless innings over three appearances.

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State College Spikes Notebook – 2019 Week 1

The State College Spikes began their 2019 season with a franchise-best record of 6-2 through eight games in the New York-Penn League. The team has been thriving through offense as they lead the league in slugging, hits and runs. They also rank second in batting average and home runs. Outfielder Andrew Warner has been leading the charge.

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State College Spikes Ready for 2019 Opener

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

The State College Spikes of the New York-Penn League are preparing to start their season this Friday, June 14 when visiting the Williamsport Crosscutters. As always, there are significant changes to the team from previous years.

Jose Leon (St. Louis Cardinals)

First and foremost, the Spikes will be managed by Jose Leon, who is stepping into his first assignment as a manager. Leon was previously drafted by the Cardinals in the 1994 MLB draft, reached MLB as a player and has been the hitting coach for the Dominican Summer League Cardinals, who under his coaching, led the league in batting average.

When asked about his expectations for the season, Leon was optimistic.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “We’ve been working for two and a half months down in Florida and I think we have a really good team.”

However, Leon acknowledged the struggles that come with the territory as manager.

“I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, guys,” he said with a smile. “You know when you’re a first-year manager, you make a lot of mistakes, but my real challenge is having kids that have never played under the lights, and get them used to the system and used to bus rides.”

Since Leon has gone through the journey of a minor league player who climbed through the ranks to the top, he is stressing the importance of trying to help the players grow as much as they can.

“I’m trying to help the most I can and [share] the mistakes that I made when I was a player,” he said. “I’m going to help the kids the most I can and try to make them better every day. I’m trying to help with the language and help with everything I can.”

Matt Duce (State College Spikes)

The Cardinals ninth round draft pick in 2018, Matt Duce, says the effect of Leon as manager is already prevalent.

“It’s big because [the season] is a grind. The minor leagues, it’s a hard round and it’s a fun road at times,” he said. “But at the same time having a manager like Leon to give you his experience and stuff like that is key.”

As a returning Spike, Duce is trying to help the new players as much as he can as well.

“You always try to share what you’ve been through with the guys that need it,” he said. “You just try to stay positive each day, you try to be there for the guys, but you also play your own game and try to lead by example.”

With everything that the team has gained from Florida from the past couple of months, Duce says they are excited to get the season under way.

“It’s always nice to come out and play in front of some fans and under the lights and stuff like that.” He said. “We’re all looking forward to it and really excited to play. State College is a great place to play.”

The Spikes will travel to Williamsport for the season opener on Friday before their home opener on Saturday, June 15.

The team will be honoring Josiah Viera, the honorary bench coach since 2013 who was born with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria and died on Christmas Eve. Saturday is Josiah Viera night, but the team will be wearing a ‘JV’ patch on their jerseys all season in his memory.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.


Tentative roster

Kevin Woodall (Bret Jacomet photo)

Duce is among seven 2018 Spikes back with the club. Others are pitchers Michael Baird and Hector Villalobos, catcher Cameron Knight, infielder Imeldo Diaz and outfielders Stanley Espinal and Kevin Woodall.

Five players are moving up from Johnson City and two are making the move from the Gulf Coast League. Five pitchers are making the big jump from the 2018 Dominican Summer League. Seven Spikes have full season experience, including pitchers Fabian Blanco, Eli Kraus and Enmanuel Solano, both catchers, infielder Moises Castillo and outfielder Andres Luna.

Rounding out the roster will be a contingent of college players drafted by St. Louis earlier this month. This group is expected to include RHP Tony Locey (third round), LHP Connor Thomas (fifth), catcher Pedro Pages (sixth), RHP Adrian Mardueno (20th), RHP Scott Politz (29th) and third baseman Brylie Ware (23rd).

The Cardinal Nation will have the full Opening Day roster later in the day on Friday.


Update

The team released its Opening Night roster on Friday morning.


For more

Each Saturday starting on June 22, the State College Spikes Notebook, will be available for members of The Cardinal Nation. Get your Spikes news direct from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, from local reporter Nick Mazone.

Also, all Spikes game recaps will be included in TCN’s daily Minor League Notebooks, posted every morning.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Springfield Cardinals Notebook – 2019 Week 10


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