In the past few years, the State College Spikes have been heavy with pitching prospects, with not a lot of the system’s top hitting prospects. There will be a few notable hitters this year, but for the most part, the pitching trend should continue. Leading the way are top international prospect Luis Heredia, and 2011 over-slot pitchers Clay Holmes, Jake Burnette, and Jason Creasy. On the offensive side, we should see a lot of the 2012 draft picks, highlighted by compensation pick Barrett Barnes.
The State College roster should change throughout the year as new players are signed from the draft. For now, here is what the roster looks like on opening day.
In the lower levels, there aren’t really set positions like there are in the upper levels. You’ll see a lot of players moving around, and maybe 5-6 players playing one position throughout the course of the short season. Typically I list a starting lineup in my previews. But in this case, I’ll just profile each position.
Catcher - Jacob Stallings and Ryan Hornback will share the position. Stallings was the seventh round pick this year, and has good defense behind the plate, highlighted by a laser arm.
First Base - Jared LaKind is the prospect who figures to see the most time at first base, although he could also get some time as the DH. LaKind was an over-slot position player in the 2010 draft, signing for $400 K in the 23rd round. He’s got power potential, but has gotten off to a “Wes Freeman” start to his career thus far. Once his signing is official, Jordan Steranka figures to get playing time at first.
Second Base - The interesting player at this position will be Samuel Gonzalez. The former catcher had surgery on his shoulder over the off-season, and his arm strength has not recovered all the way. He’s got a good bat, so the Pirates looked to find a new spot for him. He’s fared well at second base, which is where he should get some playing time. Yhonathan Barrios and Walker Gourley will also get playing time here.
Shortstop - Jodaneli Carvajal is the best defensive shortstop on the team, and should get most of his playing time at the level. Carvajal started the year in West Virginia, but was demoted after hitting for a .243/.308/.336 line in 107 at-bats. Yhonathan Barrios should also factor in here. He doesn’t have the defensive skills that Carvajal has, as he’s a bit stocky for the position, but he does have some power potential. Walker Gourley figures to get some time here, and D.J. Crumlich and Chris Diaz will factor in to the mix when their signings become official.
Third Base - The Pirates don’t have a true third base option, although they don’t really have a true option at any of the other spots. Barrios, Gourley, Steranka, Crumlich, and Diaz could all spend time here as well.
The infielders who really stand out are Carvajal for his middle infield defense, Barrios and LaKind for their power potential, and Gonzalez for his hitting skills. It’s hard to profile most of these guys as anything more than bench players in the future, although those projections aren’t set in stone.
The top prospect in the outfield is Barrett Barnes, the compensation round pick by the Pirates in the 2012 draft. It would be hard to picture Barnes spending much time in State College, considering his background as a top draft prospect and a top college hitter. He should play center field, where he has the tools to stick, and has some power at the plate.
It’s hard to draw a precedent for Barnes, as the Pirates haven’t drafted many hitters in the top rounds. The only first round hitter they’ve taken who has played the same year was Tony Sanchez. Sanchez played four games in State College, before moving up to West Virginia. In 2008, Jordy Mercer was a third round pick, and played six games before moving up a level. But moving up quickly isn’t a guarantee. Alex Dickerson spent the entire 2011 short season in State College, and Chase d’Arnaud did the same in 2008.
Raul Fortunato is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on. The outfielder had a 37 game hitting streak last year in the Dominican Summer League. He’s 21 years old, so the Pirates are moving quickly, skipping him over the GCL and moving him right to State College. Fortunato has speed and a good frame, with some pop in his bat.
Rodarrick Jones and Alex Fuselier will also get time in the outfield. The Pirates hope to sign fourth round pick Brandon Thomas, and 24th round pick Tyler Gaffney to also play in the outfield for State College.
The top prospect in the outfield, and the top hitting prospect on the team, is Barnes. After that, Fortunato and Thomas are interesting guys to watch.
The Pirates have placed a big focus on young pitchers, so it’s no surprise that the rotation would be full of interesting prospects. The starting rotation, in order of how they will open the season, is as follows.
Jason Creasy, Joely Rodriguez, Jake Burnette, Luis Heredia, Clay Holmes
The top prospect in the rotation, and in State College, is Luis Heredia. The 17 year old will face an aggressive assignment, going up against college hitters that are 4-5 years older than him. Heredia can be one of the hardest throwers in the system. He’s touched 98 MPH in the past, although he works mostly in the lower 90s to focus on maintaining his delivery and his control. He’s got the feel for his breaking stuff, and needs to improve the consistency of those pitches as well. He’ll mostly be focused on fastball command, but will also be focusing on improving the breaking stuff.
Creasy, Burnette, and Holmes were all drafted in the top ten rounds last year. Creasy is 6′ 4″, 185 pounds and touches 90 MPH with his fastball, although his big frame and loose arm action could allow him to add velocity going forward. Burnette and Holmes are similar pitchers. Both are tall, projectable right handers who can throw in the 90-93 MPH range. Holmes received $1.2 M last year, which is a record for a ninth round pick. Along with his fastball, he throws a slider, which can be a plus pitch at times. Burnette signed for $550 K as a seventh round pick, and throws a curve and a changeup in addition to his fastball.
Rodriguez is an interesting international prospect. He started off in State College last year, but was removed after two appearances with an elbow injury. The 20 year old left hander was touching 93 MPH with his fastball in extended Spring Training, although he commands the pitch better at lower speeds. He’s got some good arm-side movement on his fastball, although command is an issue. Sometimes his fastball has late arm-side break. Sometimes he lets it get away from him and it rides in on right-handers. He usually sits 88-92 MPH, and has more control on the lower end of that scale. He’ll be focusing on that fastball command, and improving his changeup.
The bullpen is as follows.
Lance Breedlove, Jordan Cooper, Emmanuel De Leon, Dalton Friend, Tom Harlan, Kyle Haynes, Pat Ludwig, Joan Montero, Logan Pevny, Josh Smith
Typically relievers in the lower levels aren’t strong prospects. Most of the upper level relief pitching prospects spent time as a starter in the lower levels. Five of these players are 2012 draft picks.
Tenth round pick Pat Ludwig was touching 94 MPH this year with his fastball, and throws three breaking pitches, and a changeup.
Left-hander Tom Harlan is the next Fresno State pitcher to sign, following Josh Poytress and Justin Wilson. Harlan touches 90 with his fastball, and combines that with a sweeping curveball.
20th round pick Kyle Haynes throws in the low 90s, with a slider and a changeup. The change is his best pitch.
23rd round pick Lance Breedlove throws in the low 90s with good command, and pairs his fastball with a slider.
25th round pick Josh Smith is another left hander who touches 90-91 with a two seam fastball that has good movement. He also throws a sharp slider and an excellent changeup.
One of the most interesting relievers in this group is Emmanuel De Leon. The right hander can throw in the mid-90s, and has good movement on his fastball.
Logan Pevny has been a starter previously, but will spend time in the bullpen, likely getting extended innings. The right-hander has an easy throwing motion, and a highly projectable frame, giving him the chance to add velocity going forward. He currently tops out in the 90-91 MPH range.