The Spikes kick off their short season tomorrow night in State College against the Williamsport Crosscutters. The Spikes had a disappointing season last year, finishing last in the New York–Penn League with an 18-56 record. They hope to improve on that this year with new draft picks, talent from the rookie league and some faces from last year. The Gulf Coast League Pirates were an impressive 37-18 in the regular season, so hopefully the talent that propelled that team to a GCL division title (they also held the highest winning percentage in the entire league) will push the Spikes to their own division crown. The roster isn’t set for tomorrow’s game, so these are guesses as to who will be with the team at Medlar Field based on their minicamp roster.
Miguel Mendez – Very small sample size on this guy. Tore up the GCL and was promoted to the Spikes where he wasn’t as effective. Showed good power in the GCL and a good eye but lost it once he hit the Spikes and struck out a lot. If he gets that under control he could get up to a .300 BA and hit a few HRs. Threw out 5 of 27 attempted steals and had 5 errors in over 300 innings of work.
Craig Parry –Parry was the second best prospect in the Dakotas and went to South Dakota State before signing. He showed good power in college, hitting 10 HRs his last year, but it wasn’t present in his 62 at bats the same year in the rookie league. Not a whole lot available on his fielding--he only played one game at catcher last year and spent most of his time in the outfield and at DH. During Spring Training he played mostly catcher and will probably stay there.
Justin Byler – Justin may be a very exciting player to watch this year. He was the Spikes' player of the year in 2007 and missed all of last year due to a broken arm in spring training. In 2007 he hit .312 with 8 HRs and 43 RBI with a healthy .849 OPS. He played OF in 2006 with the GCL but was switched to first for 2007. I think if he picks up where he left off he won’t be in State College very long.
Carlos Silva –This guy was very hard to find buried amongst all the articles about the OTHER Carlos Silva. I don’t know what to make of this guy. He played in the Venezuelan Summer League for three years before getting a chance in the GCL, which I’m surprised he got--he was not very good in the Venezuelan Summer League, posting BAs of .117, .215, and .175 with absolutely no power. There is hope, however, as he has improved greatly in the rookie league. In 2007 as a backup he hit .284 and last year he went .329 with a .410 OBP. He has started to show more patience at the plate, 7 BB to 10 Ks last year compared with some very bad ratios he had in his four previous years in the organization. He’s 22. I think he may become the full time 1B if Byler skips town, but I don’t think he has much of a chance of making the big show with his extreme lack of power.
Freicer Pedron – Another guy I’m not too sure about. His story is very similar to Silva’s. He’s 22 and played three years in the VSL, the last year being very successful and getting the promotion to the rookie league where he hit .254 last year but with a very impressive .397 OBP. Limited power but quick, posting 25 SBs in 2007 in Venezuela. Has a good eye and a career 63:100 BB:K ratio (35:50 over the last two seasons). He may be pushed to a backup spot should someone shine in the GCL or get demoted from West Virginia. He can also play third.
Matthew Payne – Started off as a pitcher but was converted to play the field in college. He was placed on the Spikes right after college and had a good year, batting .278 with a .387 OBP. Has a good eye and can draw walks. He showed some power in college in 2007 with 9 HRs but failed to hit one in 176 ABs last year with the Spikes, but this may just be a side effect of the college-professional transition. Isn’t a great fielder from what I can tell, with a .847 fielding percentage last year, but he hasn’t been a third baseman all that long and his fielding could improve. He has very good potential if he can improve his fielding and find his power again.
Brett Willemburg – He’s old for this level, a couple weeks from his 25th birthday. There isn’t a whole lot on him, he signed this year and played in the World Baseball Classic for his home country South Africa. He spent time in the Royals' system a few years ago but didn’t make it. I think he’s mainly here for depth.
Andy Vasquez – Seems to be a utility player and can play just about anywhere the Pirates want him to, so I’m placing him at short. The kid has some potential and a good bit of pop to his bat, hitting 5 HRs for State College last year, his first year in the states. If the coaches work with him to lower his K rate then he could become a very good hitter. The local newspaper labels him as their player to watch this year.
Ty Summerlin – The Pirates' 30th round selection (895 overall) in this year’s draft, out of Southeastern Louisiana University. He will probably get a good look at SS this year. He was a very good hitter in college (aren’t they all?) posting a career .331 BA, has decent power, and stole a few bases. It will be interesting to see how he progresses and adjusts to the pros.
Andrew “Butch” Biela – He’s already played this season at West Virginia but went 0 for 12 and attended the minicamp. I’m not sure of his status. He was with the team for the minicamp but is currently assigned to the GCL. He showed he could hit pretty well last year and was on base a lot. He didn't show much speed or power, and one of those will have to increase if he wants a shot.
Jose Hernandez – The Pirates' 23rd Round pick in this year’s draft (685 overall) showed surprising power this year at the University of Texas –San Antonio with 17 HRs after hitting a total of three in his three previous seasons. He worked with the team at minicamp, but I'm not sure where he'll be surprised. He's obviously not the first Jose Hernandez to play in the Pirates organization, making research very frustrating.
Pat Irvine – Another draft choice, 985 overall. He hit 10 HRs two years ago before belting 17 this year. He also has some speed and stole 19 bases for Elon this year. Once again, not sure where he is being assigned but could be a great addition.
Kyle Morgan – This is his second year in the system, he wasn’t too impressive last year but did show potential and power. Hopefully he can turn around his .235 average and keep up the HR total.
Ciro Rosero – The frontrunner for best name ended last year in State College with a nine-game hitting streak. His .266 average .301 OBP weren’t eye popping, but he does have some speed and stole eight bases last year. Played mostly in center last year and has a good arm. Has really poor numbers against lefties and will rotate in against righties.
David Rubinstein – Second year player out of Appalachian State where he was a third team All-American selection. Had a tremendous August last year hitting .348 with a .929 OPS after being average the rest of the season. He will probably move to West Virginia quickly if he continues where he left off.
Kyle Saukko – Bit of an oddity, he’s been drafted as a pitcher twice although he's an outfielder now. He was unimpressive in the GCL, hitting .212 with no extra base hits. However in his one year of junior college he hit .405 with a .450 OBP in 173 at bats. It'll be interesting to see what position he ends up at.
Zach Foster – Decent numbers in the GCL last year, 3.99 ERA, 32 Ks in 38 IP, but apparently doesn’t throw very hard (high 80s fastball). The jury is still out on him. We’ll see what he can do in low A ball.
Brandon Holden – Holden was very erratic in 2007, handing out 20 walks in 22 IP. He pulled it together last year with only 5 walks in 30 IP and a 3.90 ERA. Throws a low 90s fastball but definitely has time to gain some arm strength. If he continues his good work he may be rewarded with a trip to West Virginia soon.
Quinton Miller – This guy may be very fun to watch. He was drafted last year out of high school, then signed to a huge bonus. In high school he was the best prospect from New Jersey, nearly struck out two batters per inning (72 in 43 IP), and had a 1.90 ERA.
Diego Moreno – He has pitched lights out in the VSL, posting a 0.87 ERA last year and 2.42 the year before. He doesn’t let a lot of guys on base (.81 WHIP last year!) but doesn’t strike many out. He’s a little old and because of that is skipping over the rookie league, he and Miller look to be the best prospects out of this group.
Richardo Paulino – Seems like a good talent but has had big issues against lefty batters. He may project to become a bullpen specialist later down the line. Not a whole lot to complain about--low WHIP, good ERA and a K rate around one per inning. Could have a good career if he keeps it up.
Nelson Pereira – Could be a very good player. He's one of the younger Pirate prospects to have reached this level, and for good reason--low ERA, strikes out a lot of guys and doesn’t walk a lot. Has some good pitches, and he may see West Virginia this year.
Alan Knotts – Spikes' pitcher of the year last year, good numbers all around, most seem very surprised he isn’t in West Virginia already. Struck out 51 in 44 IP last year (all in relief) with a 4.09 ERA. He was a little erratic in college but settled down last year with 1.84 BB/9IP.
Mike Williams – Erratic, walked nearly 4 batters per 9 IP at State College last year, allowing a 1.48 WHIP. He did strike out ten batters per nine innings last year, though. It will be interesting to see how he does in his second year.
Tyler Cox – Won't blow anyone away with his stuff, but does somehow get a good number of Ks, nearly one per inning. Posted a 1.79 ERA in 45.1 IP in the GCL last year but got touched up in his 2 IP in State College. He won’t be here for long if he keeps up his solid work.
Albert Fagan – Still undecided on him, side-arm pitcher with mid to high 80s stuff. Played decently last year at a lower level with a 2.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.
Rookie Pitchers (Not sure if they will be starters or relievers)
Marc Baca – The 1255th pick in this year’s draft out of UNLV, Baca wasn't too impressive in college with an ERA just below 5. He was a reliever in college and will probably remain in that position here. He could be a project.
Jason Erickson – The 715th pick in the draft out of Washington, pitched as a starter and in relief in college and got better as the years went by, starting more games each year. He finished this year 5-4 (14 games, 11 starts) with 74.2 IP, 55 Ks, and 18 BB. Pretty solid numbers for so many innings. Could either start or relieve.
These are only the players that attended the minicamp. One of the joys and sorrows of the minor leagues is the incredible team turnover. More draft picks will sign and be placed, players will be demoted and promoted so this lineup is far from official or accurate regarding positions. Miller and Moreno are the pitchers to look out for and by all accounts probably the best players overall [ed. note: I'd watch out for Pereira, too], Byler, Parry, Irvine and Rubinstein lead the position players I think are most likely to succeed. This season should be solid and repeat acts in the minors are rare, so I don’t expect them to lose so many games again this year.
6/19 EDIT --
Centre Daily Times came out with a Spikes preview today with a player I missed.
Edward Garcia -- 21 year old who joing the team in 2004 as a non-drafted free agent. He's got some speed, he went 15-0 last year in the GCL and a little power, 5 HRs in 250 VSL at bats the year before. He needs to work on his patience some more to get his BA and OBP up so that he can really use that speed.