Pirates minor league season recap: State College

Jared Wickerham - Getty Images

Luis Heredia and a pair of college outfielders highlighted the 2012 edition of the State College Spikes.

The State College Spikes were unable to turn in a winning season in what proved to be the last year of their affiliation with the Pirates. Next year the Pirates will pack up their pitch counts and truck them off to Jamestown. The Spikes’ chances of a winning, and possibly contending, season in 2012 were torpedoed by injuries. By the end of the season they were playing with organizational utility infielders and catchers starting in the outfield. Several potentially interesting players, including catcher Ryan Hornback, outfielder Raul Fortunato and RHP Jake Burnette, missed most to nearly all of the season. The team’s two best hitters, outfielders Barrett Barnes and Tyler Gaffney, also finished the season on the disabled list.

Another factor that impacted the team was the new draft rules, as Bud Selig implemented his plan to prevent profligate owners like Bob Nutting and David Glass from spending MLB into oblivion with ruinous draft bonuses. The new rules figured to benefit State College by putting an end to the Pirates’ obsession with above-slot high school pitchers, but, as usual, Selig’s penny pinching didn’t work out the way he planned. Instead of drafting college prospects in the early rounds, the Pirates focused in some rounds on college seniors who figure to be organizational players in order to save pool money for their attempt to sign Mark Appel.

As a result of Selig’s efforts to prevent the Pirates from improving themselves, the Spikes had a largely uninteresting lineup, particularly when Barnes and Gaffney weren’t in it. Their best hitter for much of the year was D.J. Crumlich, a glove-first infielder who was taken in the ninth round and signed for far below slot money. He hit .292 with a lot of doubles, but he’ll have to hit at higher levels to prove he’s not just an organizational guy. Another below-slot signee, catcher Jacob Stallings, hit well early but slumped badly as the season wore on. As expected, Stallings showed outstanding defensive skills and could ultimately make it to the majors as a catch-and-throw type backup. Much of the rest of the lineup was made up of prospects who pretty clearly are going nowhere. One potential prospect from this year's draft was Chris Diaz, an 11th-round pick coming off a good senior year for North Carolina State. He played short but struggled badly at the plate.

The bright spots offensively were Barnes and Gaffney. Barnes got off to a slow start, with no extra base hits, one walk and ten strikeouts in his first dozen games. After that, he posted an OPS of 1.004, with 16 walks and 11 strikeouts. Unfortunately, a stress fracture in his leg kept him out after the end of July. Gaffney posted an outlandish .483 OBP, thanks to a high walk rate and 20 hit batsmen in 38 games. He also hit for good gap power, but played only 17 games after July. The Pirates haven’t had a successful college outfield prospect since ... uh ... I don’t even know, so it’ll be interesting to see whether either Barnes or Gaffney succeeds.

The Spikes had the New York-Penn League’s youngest pitching staff by a wide margin, with the key hurlers again being high school draftees, plus Luis Heredia. Heredia managed the difficult task of succeeding (1.10 WHIP, 2.71 ERA) as a 17-year-old in a league full of college draftees. He showed very good control and kept the ball on the ground, showing unusually good mechanics for a pitcher who’s both very young and very tall, at 6-foot-7 (and possibly still growing). He threw in the low 90s and didn’t strike out a lot of hitters, but most minor league mavens don’t consider that a concern.

The rest of the season-opening rotation, mostly made up of 2011 high school draftees, produced variable results. Clay Holmes produced by far the best results, posting an ERA of 2.28 and allowing hitters to bat only .176 against him, but he did it with a very low strikeout rate and occasional control meltdowns that led to him walking almost as many as he struck out on the season. Jason Creasy mostly struggled, putting up very weak numbers across the board, and Burnette was able to make only five starts before going on the shelf with elbow problems. Fortunately, he was expected to be healthy for fall instructionals. Lefty Joely Rodriguez, a hard-throwing Dominican, struggled after getting off to a good start.

Several 2012 draftees, all but one of them relievers, had good debuts. Fifth-round pick Adrian Sampson, drafted out of junior college, pitched well in most of his starts and fanned over a batter an inning. He throws in the low 90s with a good curve. Dalton Friend is a big lefty who also came out of junior college. He has a history of erratic stuff and command, but is potentially dominating. Friend overcome a horrible first outing to put up good numbers. Pat Ludwig, a Yale senior who was taken in the 10th round as a below slot pick, showed a 94-mph fastball and posted a WHIP of 0.82 before finishing the season with several good outings for West Virginia. Finally, there’s 18th-round pick John Kuchno, an Ohio State senior who has the stuff to turn into a relief prospect. He wasn’t able to pitch until the end of the season and got into just a few innings.

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