Last week, I took a mini-baseball vacation through Pennsylvania (and a one-day stop in West Virginia) to see three of the Pirates’ minor league affiliates as well as the big-league club. This is the first of three reports on the minor league teams.
Sunday July 31 — State College Spikes
The Spikes don’t have a lot of interesting prospects but they have been winning of late. Following are some observations from the one game I saw — take these for what they are — just some information on what the players looked like from one person’s perspective in one game.
I was fortunate to see a game that Nick Kingham started. As he has almost every start, he pitched a very good game. He seems to have bought into the Pirates’ low-level fastball academy program. He was even given permission to throw some off-speed stuff early in counts. His fastball was nothing special, sitting around 90 or a little less. The important thing is he threw strikes and kept the fastball down in the zone. His change was effective, especially the couple of times he threw it early in the count — you could see the batters were sitting dead red and looked silly as they swung early and over the slower pitch. He only threw a curve a few times and only when he already had 2 strikes on the batter.
Kingham was extremely effective through the first three innings giving up only 1 hit. In the fourth, the opposing batters were looking for low fastballs and had a couple of hard hits, including a long home run for the only run Kingham would give up. After that, the pitch calling got a little more creative, and the 2010 draft pick got through five very effective innings. He looked a lot like Aaron Pribanic to me.
Alex Dickerson is the most interesting of the hitters at State College, being this year’s 3rd round draft pick. In his first at bat, Dickerson went deep into the count, fouled off a 3-2 pitch, then dropped an opposite field single to help fuel a 2-run first inning. In his next at bat, he was out in front of an offspeed pitch on a 1-1 count and grounded out weakly to the pitcher. The next two at bats were very quick as he flew out on the first pitch to medium right field both times. He looked impatient after the first at bat, but it could have just been an off day.
The other interesting hitter that I noticed was the catcher, Samuel Gonzalez. This is Sammy’s first year in the states after two years in the Dominican Republic, and he has been hitting like he wants to stay here, with a batting average over .300 and OPS over .800. The night that I saw him, he had 2 hits, including his only home run of the year, which was a laser shot line drive over the left center wall. What is amazing about this is that State College’s ballpark is built to the same dimensions as PNC Park, with a 410 foot Nittany Nook (instead of North Side Notch). His HR sailed over this wall with ease.
In the field, I was treated to a fielding exhibition by Ashley Ponce, another player in his first year in the U.S. Ponce made plays to his left, right and charging weakly hit grounders, fielding all with ease and making great throws from each angle. I don’t think his bat will play in the upper levels, but he sure was fun to watch in the field!
You might ask how Wes Freeman looked, as he has been hitting very well of late. Honestly, he looked a bit improved from when I saw in the Gulf Coast League last year, but not by much. Again, it was just one game, so I wouldn’t read too much into this.
As a side note, the State College ballpark is beautiful. Not only is the field a replica of PNC, but so is the concourse area. So as you are standing in line to get your food, you can still watch the game. There is nothing behind the outfield walls, so you can see out to the mountains in the distance. It is definitely worth the drive from Pittsburgh or any other place in Pennsylvania!