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2009 Season Review: State College Spikes

To put it mildly, 2009 was a far better year for the Spikes than their disastrous 2008 season, as State College finished at an even .500. The 2008 Spikes were undone partly by a weird concentration of good players on the left side of the infield and partly because the Pirates didn't sign any early-round pitchers in the 2008 draft, at least not soon enough to play. But the big problem was that Dave Littlefield didn't leave the Bucs with anything, either from Bradenton or from Latin America. 

That wasn't an issue this year. The Spikes got excellent pitching performances from 2009 draftees Jason Erickson and Phillip Irwin, along with Littlefield-era holdovers Kyle McPherson and Ricardo Paulino. Unfortunately, those players will have to move quickly to become real prospects, and it's a little unclear to me why, for example, McPherson was allowed to return to State College after pitching decently there in 2008 and acceptably at West Virginia early in 2009. Maurice Bankston, too, is young enough to be a prospect and was at least passable at West Virginia, but the Pirates sent him back to State College anyway. It seems a bit premature to treat these guys as organizational players. The midseason additions of Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, Hunter Strickland and Quinton Miller to the West Virginia rotation undoubtedly made it hard to keep McPherson and Bankston starting there, but Lorin and Rudy Owens could have been promoted without much trouble. Also, Owens was up against an innings limit, and another Power starter, Gabriel Alvarado, was routinely pitching four- and five-inning starts, so the Power might have gone with some games in which there were effectively two starters, one for the first four or five innings and one for the last four or five. 

The Bucs might have found any number of more creative solutions to the West Virginia rotation crunch, and only they can know whether the more obvious solution they found was the right one. Maybe it was. In any case, it was a good problem to have. 

The best pitching prospects for the State College team were probably actually a few guys whose numbers stuck out a bit less: 2009 supplemental pick Victor Black, who struck out a batter an inning and posted a 3.45 ERA; fifth-rounder Nate Baker, who made six appearances; and 12th-rounder Jeff Inman, who made two good appearances at the end of the year.

The Spikes had a ton of player movement throughout the season, so much so that their roster at the end of the year didn't look much like their roster at the beginning. The Spikes used 23 different position players, and their lineup looked forceful by the end of the year, in spite of the departures of Tony Sanchez and Starling Marte, because many of their hitters improved as the year progressed. 2009 third-rounder Evan Chambers, for example, posted a .735 OPS before the All-Star break and an .846 OPS after. Ninth-rounder Brock Holt had a .738 OPS before the break and a remarkable 1.052 OPS after. And 11th-rounder Aaron Baker hit for a .681 OPS before and an .897 OPS after. These trends may or may not mean anything, but they're the sorts of trends you hope to see from players in their first exposure to pro ball. Chambers, Holt and Baker all bear watching at West Virginia next year. 

Unfortunately, the Spikes had few other genuine hitting prospects, at least not that stayed with them for any length of time. That's probably to be expected, though, given the dearth of talent there last year, and the three prospects who stuck around could join catcher Ramon Cabrera, shortstop Benjamin Gonzalez and outfielder Rogelios Noris of Bradenton in what could be a pretty interesting West Virginia Power lineup in 2010.