State College Spikes Season In Review

If you follow the minor leagues but don't actually get to see the games in person that often, it's easy for players to become abstractions. Heck, even players we see every day are abstractions. It's easy to look up Garrett Jones' OPS, but it's not easy for us as fans to really know him.

A bunch of people who know me through Bucs Dugout have friended me on Facebook, and a bunch of those same people have also friended lots of Pirates minor leaguers, which led me to glance at some of their profiles. It was weird. I didn't see anything scandalous, and nothing the Pirates should worry about, but it was perfectly clear that these guys are basically just high school kids: 19- and 20-year-olds who wear stupid clothes and have bleach-blonde girlfriends and just went to senior prom last year.

Just to be clear, there's nothing wrong with these guys wearing clothes I don't like. But it made clear that these guys are not just abstractions. It's one thing to treat a major-league player as an abstraction, since major leaguers are basically adults who display some maturity and consistency of behavior (Nyjer Morgan aside), and have bodies that are done growing. That's not necessarily true when you're dealing with 20-year-olds. This week as I was at a rookie league game in Wyoming, sitting among various starting pitchers from one of the teams, and it became clearer to me that these guys are not fully-formed adults. (And that's not meant to be an insult, really; I wasn't a fully-formed adult when I was 20, either.) It's one thing to talk about how we think Brandon Moss might do next year. It's quite another to try to predict major-league success for a gangly teenager with ridiculous spiky frat-boy hair with lines shaved into the sides. That's one reason why this level of the minors is about quantity and not just quality. And the Spikes have plenty of quantity.

Their leader in innings pitched was Tyler Waldron, their 2010 fifth-round pick out of Oregon State, who generally handled himself pretty well in his pro debut but didn't strike out enough batters. The pitcher with the next-highest innings total was Zack Von Rosenberg, who is one of the Pirates' top arms to watch next year. His overall line (59 innings, 39 strikeouts, 3.20 ERA) is pretty good on its own, and his last ten starts were fantastic after a terrible beginning to the season - he supposedly improved his velocity as the year went on.

Von Rosenberg was the best pitcher named "Zack" or "Zachary" on the team, but probably not by much - 2009 34th-rounder Zachary Fuesser nearly struck out a batter an inning, and probably deserves more attention as a prospect. 2009 fourth-rounder Zack Dodson pitched decently too, but like Fuesser, he gave up a fair number of flyballs and struggled a bit with his control. This may not be much to worry about in Dodson's case - as WTM points out, the Pirates focus on fastball command at the lower levels, and Dodson's best pitch is a breaking ball.

Two other 2009 picks, Brooks Pounders and Trent Stevenson, showed somewhat different profiles, with low walk numbers but rather low strikeout numbers as well. With Pounders, that might be par for the course: despite his hulking physique, he really isn't an overpowering pitcher. Stevenson might be a different case, since he's rail-thin and will probably look pretty different when he makes it to the majors, if he ever does. That he's able to throw strikes right now is probably a promising sign, since if he does put on some weight and add some velocity (a big if, but that's what the Pirates were hoping would happen when they drafted him), he could become one of the Pirates' better pitching prospects.

The last bonus-baby 2009 draftee on the Spikes' pitching staff was Colton Cain, who probably pitched better than any of the others except perhaps Von Rosenberg. Cain struck out nearly a batter an inning despite undergoing back surgery in the offseason.

Two other pitchers deserve mention here: Venezuelan reliever Jhonathan Ramos posted terrific peripherals for thirty-plus innings before being promoted to West Virginia, where he continued to post fine peripherals but got hit harder. He throws very hard, so he should get lots of chances despite his small size. And Australian hurler Mitchell Fienemann posted good control numbers for the second straight year.

The Spikes' lineup was a little less loaded with prospects. 2010 third-rounder Mel Rojas Jr. was the biggest name. He got off to a decent start in July, batting .265/.368/.347, but didn't hit much after that. I'm not sure I'd worry too much about him, though, since it was his first exposure to pro ball and he didn't come from a big college program. He'll likely be at West Virginia next year.

The Spikes' most productive hitters were first baseman Matt Curry and outfielder Adalberto Santos. It's great that they hit so well, but I wouldn't read too much into their performances - Curry played at a big college program, so he should do well in the NY-Penn League, and Santos (who the Pirates probably scouted as an organizational player when they were looking at his Oregon State teammate Waldron) is nearly 23. They may yet become prospects, but their performance this year doesn't prove they are. (I will say this, though - Santos' MILB.com photo does freak me out a little, and if I were an opposing pitcher I'd be very, very worried.) Anyway, both demonstrated a good balance of average, power and walks. It wouldn't shock me too much if the Pirates went a little crazy and sent Curry to Bradenton, since they have Justin Howard behind him. (Huh - I came up with that on my own, but I just saw that WTM also thinks Curry could go to Bradenton and share time with Aaron Baker.)

After that, most of the remaining potential hitting prospects didn't really hit a whole lot. Gift Ngoepe posted a .636 OPS; he drew a ton of walks, suggesting that his plate approach is pretty advanced for a guy who grew up in South Africa, but he also batted only .205. And 2009 13th-rounder Walker Gourley didn't hit at all after not really hitting in the Gulf Coast League in 2009 either. It's too early to give up on either of these guys, however, since they're both pretty green.

Finally, 2010 15th-rounder and big-bonus recipient Drew Maggi played 18 games with the Spikes and didn't hit at all, which is too bad, because he's a bit older and from a big college program, and he was supposed to be good with wood bats. Hopefully it was just a sample-size issue, or a matter of him just needing a few weeks to adjust. He'll probably be at West Virginia this year.

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