2009 State College Spikes Season Recap

One of the big stories last year in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system was the horrible performance of the 2008 State College Spikes. The 2008 Spikes went 18-56, mostly due to some horrible pitching numbers thanks to a heavy dose of fastballs and not much else, which left the hitters knowing what was coming.
The 2008 team may not have been a failure though. I broke down the 2008 Spikes a few months ago, noting that the “establish fastball command” approach really paid off this season, especially in the case of Rudy Owens.
As for the 2009 Spikes, the results were much better, with the Spikes finishing with a .500 record, a dramatic improvement over the 2008 team. That was fueled by strong efforts from members of the 2009 draft class, and much better pitching than the 2008 team. Below are the stats for the final 2009 Spikes roster, broken down by age group.

Click the tables to see the larger version:

The Pitchers: Well, the pitcher. Nelson Pereira came in to the season as the 30th best prospect, according to Baseball America’s rankings. Pereira struggled to start the season, which made his numbers look poor. He actually ended up with an exceptional season. From July 16th on he pitched 37.2 innings, with a 2.15 ERA, and a 40:17 K/BB ratio. That was after putting up a 11.25 ERA and a 16:11 K/BB ratio in his first 12 innings. He really solved his control issues, and showed his true potential after those first five starts.

Pereira is more of a control pitcher, with an above-average curveball and changeup, and a fastball in the low to mid-80s. He has potential to add some velocity there.
The Hitters: Evan Chambers is the highest profile guy here, after being taken in the third round of the 2009 draft out of the JuCo ranks. Chambers has drawn comparisons to Kirby Puckett, and had a good start to his career. Chambers started out hitting for a .176average in 85 at-bats during the month of July. He rebounded from there, hitting for a .296 average with three of his four homers on the season in the next 115 at-bats.
Elevys Gonzalez was in my recap of the GCL Pirates, and was called up to State College following the end of the season in Bradenton. Gonzalez struggled in State College after a decent season in Bradenton.
The Prospects: Chambers is the best of this bunch. He has a few tools, most notably speed and raw power, although he has a below-average arm which isn’t good enough for center field. The big reason Chambers wasn’t widely considered an option in the top five rounds was due to questions on whether he could hit as a pro. The Pirates were willing to take a gamble, and if Chambers continues his post-July performance, that gamble could pay off. Pereira is the other prospect here, with stuff good enough to average more than a strikeout per inning. He may not be a power pitcher, but his control is good, and he should continue his progression with West Virginia next year.

The Pitchers: Victor Black, Nathan Baker, Jeffrey Inman, Phillip Irwin, Jason Erickson, Teddy Fallon, and Marc Baca all made their debuts from the 2009 draft. Black was one of the higher profile picks, taken 49th overall in the draft, and put up some solid ratios. Black tops out at 96 MPH, and could be a good power reliever one day. Baker and Inman signed late, but each had limited appearances in which they looked good. Irwin and Erickson were taken in the 21st and 24th rounds, respectively, and both put up surprising numbers in their pro debuts. Baca and Fallon were late round picks, with Baca having success in the closer role.

Kyle McPherson and Maurice Bankston both returned from the 2008 team, and each player had much more success than their 2008 seasons. Zachary Foster was taken in the 49th round last year, and put up good numbers in relief, after some decent numbers last year with Bradenton.
The Hitters: Brock Holt, taken in the 9th round of the 2009 draft, had a very impressive start to his career. Holt’s numbers look good, but look even better when you consider he hit for a .172 average in 29 at-bats in June, a .281 average in 114 at-bats in July, a .326 average in 86 at-bats in August, and a .440 average in 25 at-bats in September. Holt has a good enough arm and range to play shortstop, although he has remained at second since transferring from second to short at Rice.
Aaron Baker was also taken in the 2009 draft, in the 11th round, and started to show his power in the second half of the season, with three homers in his final 129 at-bats, and 18 of his final 34 hits going for extra bases.
The Prospects: Holt looks like he could be a good all around player at second base, which is something the Pirates lack in their system. He doesn’t have a lot of speed on the bases, but he hits well, hits for some power, and plays strong defense. Baker could be something nice if he finds his power stroke as a pro, and manages to hit for average, but he’s more of a fringe prospect. The pitching in this group looks good, with a lot of the lower profile 2009 draft picks. Victor Black will probably crack a lot of top 30 Pirates prospect lists. Nathan Baker and Jeffrey Inman each had success in college, and while it’s a long way off, each could be future back of the rotation starters. Inman is the best of that pair, with his value relying on whether he can bounce back from his injury. Kyle McPherson and Maurice Bankston also provide good prospect depth at the position.

The Long Shots: The guys in this group are more of gambles, as a year at a time at each level puts them in AAA at the age of 27-28, which is kind of old. Tyler Cox and Ricardo Paulino put up good numbers, although it’s hard to tell if that’s because they’re a level too high. Cox probably has the best chance of being a prospect in the system, as he’s a lefty who shows good control. On the offensive side, Jose Hernandez and Pat Irvine were each college seniors from the 2009 draft, and each had a lot of power in college, but each is a gamble.

Final Thoughts…

The early return on the 2009 draft class shows a lot of promise. The big surprise is that the 2009 team has so
many pitching prospects, after the 2008 team did so horrible in that area. Victor Black is going to end up in a lot of top 30 lists, while Nathan Baker and Jeffrey Inman could each crack the lists. On offense, Brock Holt looks like a very promising middle infield prospect. Evan Chambers is a very toolsy hitter, although his arm might force a move out of center field. My top ten prospects from the 2009 team:

1. Victor Black, RHP
2. Brock Holt, 2B

3. Evan Chambers, CF
4. Jeffrey Inman, RHP
5. Nathan Baker, LHP
6. Nelson Pereira, LHP
7. Aaron Baker, 1B
8. Phillip Irwin, RHP
9. Jason Erickson, RHP
10. Kyle McPherson, RHP
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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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