Reasons Why State College Is Considering Changing Organizations

Cory Giger reports that the State College Spikes are considering changing organizations and cutting ties with the Pittsburgh Pirates when their deal runs out at the end of the year. The main reason is due to the lack of winning in State College.

Most teams put the development of players as a priority over winning in the minors, especially at the lower levels of the minors. A combination of draft trends, development strategies, and aggressive promotions has made it nearly impossible for State College to compete.

In the past few years the Pirates have taken a lot of prep pitchers in the middle rounds, and have pushed them to the New York Penn League, which is typically dominated by college hitters. Ask any pitcher in State College what they’re working on, and the answer is usually the same: “Fastball, fastball, fastball”.

The Pirates put a priority on fastball command, and can be a bit aggressive promoting prep pitchers to the NYPL in their first full season. The combination of prep pitchers vs college hitters, and a heavy dosage of fastballs can make the team hittable at times. That was the case in 2008, the first year of the “Fastball Academy”, when almost every pitcher had an ERA over 5.00. They’ve since changed the strategy — mixing in a few more breaking balls, occasionally starting with an off-speed pitch to keep hitters honest — but the overall focus is on the fastball, which means the pitchers are going to be throwing it the majority of the time.

The problem in State College the last few years has been the offense. That has to do partially to the old draft rules, but mostly due to the fact that the Pirates haven’t drafted many hitters. Most of the guys they’ve taken in the middle rounds — such as Mel Rojas, Evan Chambers, and Drew Maggi — were a bit raw coming out of the draft. A few of those players have shown improvements as they’ve moved up. Rojas, for example, looked horrible in State College, but has been showing more of his potential on the field as he moves up in the system.

The aggressive promotions have also hurt the offense. The Pirates have pushed a few international guys to State College, which didn’t work out in cases like Exicardo Cayones and Jorge Bishop. In some cases, they’ve been very aggressive, pushing guys past State College and straight to West Virginia. It happened with Starling Marte and Ramon Cabrera in the past, and this year it happened with Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, Willy Garcia, and Jose Osuna. The same could be said for Josh Bell and Robbie Grossman, although I’d imagine most organizations would take the same approach with those players.

The old draft rules have hurt the offense in the past two years. In 2010 the best hitter on the team was Matt Curry. In 2011 the best hitter was Alex Dickerson. However, both players waited until mid-July to sign. For Curry, it was because his team was in the College World Series. That wasn’t the case for Dickerson. In a season that lasts only two and a half months, missing your biggest bat for a month really hurts.

The Spikes want to focus on winning, but that shouldn’t be the focus for the Pirates. They could easily win in State College if they hold guys like Hanson and Polanco back, or if they let their starting pitchers go 5-6 innings each start, while throwing their full arsenal. But the goal isn’t winning in State College, just like the goal isn’t winning in West Virginia, Bradenton, Altoona, or Indianapolis. The goal is winning in Pittsburgh, which is why it’s fine for the Pirates — or any organization — to sacrifice minor league results for the development of players that can help one day in the majors.

The Spikes are a great fit for the Pirates. The field is designed to the exact specifications of PNC Park, with the only difference being the size of the right field wall. The location is close to the Double-A team, and not far from Pittsburgh. It’s reasonable for the Spikes to try and find a winner. They’re running a business and trying to sell tickets. But that shouldn’t be a focus for the Pirates. Their focus needs to be on player development, even if that leads to a losing record in the lower levels of the minors.

Tim Williams

Author: 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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • Kevin_Creagh

    Pittsburgh should be in discussions today with the Washington Wild Things about acquiring them and the field to be their short-season team. Obviously this would need cleared with the NYPL as well, but with the field just 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, it would provide a great outlet for the Pittsburghers to see the rising stars.

    Baltimore has a very similar situation with the Aberdeen Ironbirds. And selfishly I could go to a ton of short-season games.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740167494 Mike Adamson

      Agreed I would go atleast a couple times a year if it was in the system!!!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

        As long as they kept tickets at 5 dollars, I’d be there all the time. lol.

    • http://twitter.com/sportsjunkie703 Jon Pennline

      I would love to go to Washington for minor league baseball. I used to play behind that facility for W&J and always loved catching CalU/Wild things games in that gorgeous park.

    • northsidenotch

      Oh man, that would be awesome.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      Yeah, that would be great. It would be interesting to see those young draftees in person. It would be especially nice to see the Wild Things be somewhat relevant; not that it isn’t fun to go out to a game, but to be honest, it’s not like there’s a ton of guys waiting for their call up. It would also be cool because it’s about a minute from my house.

    • buccotime57

      That would be amazing it stinks how far away our minor league teams are compared to others like cleveland..outside of cleveland, akron, ytown, columbus..i would go to ton the wild things would make a ton

  • RandyLinville

    How much of losing in the minors is due to the strict focus on development and how much of it do you think is perhaps from a lack of talent? State College and WVA have both been no better than .500 in the last three seasons. The clubs at A+ (Bradenton and Lynchburg) have been pretty good (won-loss wise) while Altoona has had a couple of decent seasons mixed in there. While there is no question that play in the minors is focused on development, the fact is that some teams are going to win games in spite of (or maybe because of) the focus on development. The Pirates have had a recent history of poor W-L performance in the lower minors and slightly better performance in the mid-minors. Yet, the high minors are stacked currently with players who apparently can’t help the worst offense in baseball. So, I’m thinking if the organization had both talent and a sound development strategy, there’d be some offensive help on the horizon (or at the front door) that we could point to. If the club has been solely focused on developing pitching, then maybe that’s a different story and if, so, let’s see if any of those arms can be swapped for helpful bats.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I think that the “lack of talent” question can be answered as players move up through the system. For example, in 2008 the Spikes had one of the worst teams in their short history (might have been the worst). The pitching was horrible. Two of those pitchers were Kyle McPherson and Rudy Owens. Owens had a 4.97 ERA, while McPherson was at 4.37.

      As I mentioned, the Pirates have been pushing a lot of players in SC. They’ve been going with higher upside guys, rather than established college guys. Most of the guys are more about potential than current results. And you see that as they move up the system, continue their development, and improve their numbers on the field.

      They’ve also skipped some of the more talented guys over the level, pushing some young guys to full season ball instead of keeping them in SC.

    • Kevin_Creagh

      I don’t know if I’m the extreme or not, but I could care less about the won-loss records of the minor league teams. I know we put them in the daily review, but in the end it does not matter a single bit how the teams do. Anyone remember what the Curve’s record was 3 years ago?

      If you want to stack a team with overage players in order to “win” at a certain level, that’s fine. But I would prefer, especially at High A and lower, that development occurs and players are challenged.

      If you look at each roster, it would be fantastic if 2-3 players on the whole roster would someday make the majors. This is a game of attrition and repetition.

      • RandyLinville

        I agree 100% with you – I don’t care what the won loss record is in the minors. What I care about is that the system is productive. So, SC is mad because the Pirates haven’t produced a winner in SC. Tim points out, correctly, that all teams try to develop in the low minors. Yet, here we are with with worst offense in the Majors and we don’t have much available in terms of hitters at the high level of the minors several years after this front office took over. If our focus in minors is to develop (and it is) and yet we don’t seem to develop much, that leaves a couple of scenarios:
        1. The hitters got hurt2. The hitters didn’t develop at all or haven’t developed yet3. The front office didn’t bring much hitting talent to the low minors

        So, that’s where my question came from: is the losing in the low minors due to a strict development focus or is it due to lack of talent? If we are saying that there has been plenty of hitting talent brought into the organization in the low minors, then I would question the effectiveness of the development.

  • State College Steve

    That would suck, being from State College and having been a Spikes season ticket holder since the first year. While I understand the Spikes concern about winning, I really think that having the Cardinals that first year or two spoiled them. Those teams where FUN to watch. When the Pirates took over things just seemed, different. It seemed the Cardinals ran a MUCH tighter ship. You saw Pirate players getting in trouble etc…. I hope they stay with the Pirates, we’ve had players stay here and love seeing them in the majors and following them up through, watching them in Altoona as well.

    • Lee Young

      First I’ve heard of Pirate players getting in trouble in SC. Care to elaborate? Links?

      • State College Steve

        There were a few incidents some years back, one DUI, and a few others that weren’t reported, underage drinking, etc. You talk to the players and other host families, you learn alot :)

        • Lee Young

          thx

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

        The most notable was when Mitchell Fienemann was drunk in public. But I wouldn’t say the Pirates don’t run a tight ship. He was suspended, and released after the season.

    • wtmiller

      I’m guessing those Cardinal teams were back when Jeff Luhnow first took over the Cards’ draft. Their system was incredibly thin and he signed huge numbers of college seniors. None of them ever became prospects, but they bolstered the rosters at the lower levels. I’m sure it was great for fans of their lower level teams, but it did nothing for them at the major league level.

      • Fan0242

        Great point…made about the team that won the World Series last year. I agree, did absolutely nothing for them at that level. But those Buccos, they know exactly what they are doing. How about this theory. “Don’t win in the minors so you aren’t shocked in the event you make it to Pittsburgh.”

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          You’re taking major league results and applying them to minor league strategies. The Pirates haven’t lost the last 20 years because of their strategy in short season A-ball in 2008-2011. And the Cardinals won the WS last year because of guys like Pujols, Holliday, Berkman, Molina, Carpenter, Garcia, Lohse, etc. None of those guys played for the 2006 Spikes. The only member of the 2006 Spikes to make any significant contribution last year were Jason Motte and Alan Craig.

          • Fan0242

            Regardless whether or not the players you named actually played for State College, they still played in the minors for someone other than the Pirates, and have been successful. The Pirates have lost the last 20 years for a multitude of reasons, and yes player development is a big part.

            • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

              I don’t see how player development in SS A-ball the last four years is relevant to a discussion of major league performance the last 20 years. No way the development process in SS A-ball can make an impact in any of those years.

              • Fan0242

                So what is relevant to the discussion? The fact that the Spikes want to be an affiliate of an organization that isn’t associated with 20 years of losing? Is there an inverse relationship between developing and losing I’m not aware of?

                • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

                  I think I explained my stance in the article. You can’t fault the Spikes for wanting to go another direction. But you can’t fault the Pirates for focusing on development, rather than focusing on improving the lower level teams in their system.

                  • Fan0242

                    Generally improvement, development, and winning go hand in hand in the long run, but I guess the Pirates have it all figured out. Their track record sure proves it. That logic = flawed. Sure, there are players that initially struggle and end up developing into quality major leaguers, but on the whole making that excuse for mediocrity year after year becomes a tired act.

                    • szielinski

                      You are an idiot. First and foremost, the Pirates are now seeking to develop players, not provide the best possible entertainment for their minor league affiliates. Littlefield actually tried to build attractive minor league teams. Minor league winning percentages were important to him. And he sought out minor league veterans who performed as ringers for the Pirates minor league teams. He also had Pirates prospects move slowly through the system. Often they were old for the levels they played in during a given season. That ‘development’ strategy was a disaster.

                      Huntington and Stark have implemented the right program. The goal is to challenge players. This program might not produce immediately satisfying results. But it ought to produce qualified major league players. Huntington’s program might not fit in well with the business plan of Spikes’ owners. Que sera….

                    • Fan0242

                      It’s cool, I’d be irritated if I was a fan of a team that had 20+ losing seasons also…Huntington’s and Stark’s program. Surely you’re kidding me, right? I guess by using that logic a blind squirrel “ought” to find an acorn eventually.

                    • szielinski

                      I don’t kid fools.

                    • Fan0242

                      Fools in Pittsburgh sure seem to kid you.

                    • szielinski

                      What a clever troll you are.

                    • Fan0242

                      I’m afraid not. Been following for quite some time, just finally felt the need for a different spin to be brought into the conversation. None of it’s personal.

                    • szielinski

                      You deny you are a troll or a clever troll?

                    • Fan0242

                      I confirm you are a bitter “fan” taking things personally…Calm down bro. Like I said before, I’d be upset too if my team was a perennial loser also. Who knows, maybe they will turn it around one day.

                    • pirateswillwinin2012

                      hmm if i recall didn’t a AA team form Altoona win a championship not too long ago? Wait what organization do they belong to again?

                    • Fan0242

                      Whoh, easy with the triple post there buddy. You’re right…and they proceeded to follow up that by firing the manager…and also, fired the previous AA manager who also won a championship. Why? Because of the aforementioned. Winning is not a part of what goes on in Pittsburgh. Which organization would be the only ones to fire two separate managers that won championships? You guessed it.

                    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

                      They fired Walbeck for developmental reasons. He then got a job with a low-A team and was fired mid-season by that team.

                    • pirateswillwinin2012

                      hmm if i recall didn’t a AA team from Altoona win a championship not too long ago? Wait what organization do they belong to again?

                    • pirateswillwinin2012

                      hmm if i recall didn’t a AA team from Altoona win a championship not too long ago? Wait what organization do they belong to again?

        • wtmiller

          Yes, in fact, those drafts did absolutely nothing for them. The drafts I was thinking of were a number of years ago and they were very poor drafts. Particularly this one, which was Luhnow’s first draft:

          http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=franch_year&team_ID=STL&year_ID=2004&draft_type=junreg&

          They signed over 40 college guys, which is a huge number, and got no major league talent to speak of, as the link shows.

          As Randy has pointed out, though, they weren’t the ones responsible for the Cards’ affiliate he was referring to, which came after Luhnow stopped loading up on college seniors.

          • RandyLinville

            Wow – that is an ugly draft. Holy cow!

          • Fan0242

            Cardinals Scouting Director:
            2005 Jeff Luhnow St. Louis Cardinals NLC 100-62 Rank: 1 Won Division
            2006 Jeff Luhnow St. Louis Cardinals NLC 83-78 Rank: 1 Won Division
            Won Pennant
            Won World Series
            2007 Jeff Luhnow St. Louis Cardinals NLC 78-84 Rank 3
            2008 Jeff Luhnow St. Louis Cardinals NLC 86-76 Rank 4
            2009 Jeff Luhnow St. Louis Cardinals NLC 91-71 Rank 1 Won Division
            2010 Jeff Luhnow St. Louis Cardinals NLC 86-76 Rank 2
            2011 Jeff Luhnow St. Louis Cardinals NLC 90-72 Rank 2
            Won Wild Card
            Won Pennant
            Won World Series

            I’d say the results speak volumes.

            Also, I’d like to add…you have no idea what you are talking about:

            2004 John Mozeliak St. Louis Cardinals NLC 105-57 Rank 1
            Won Division
            Won Pennant
            ^
            |
            |
            This guy was the scouting director in 2004 that you referenced to. How about we check our facts before completely making things up. But great analysis, stopped loading up on those college seniors. If only the Cardinals could get their hands on the Pirates’ secrets, they could one day achieve that elusive success they seek.

            • wtmiller

              Your reading comprehension is lacking.  I never said Luhnow was a crappy scouting director or that the Pirates had done a better job.  i said his first draft produced nothing, which is a verifiable fact.  On 06/02/12, Disqus<notifications@disqus.net> wrote:  Fan0242 wrote, in response to wtmiller: Cardinals Scouting Director:2005Jeff LuhnowSt. Louis CardinalsNLC100621Won Division2006Jeff LuhnowSt. Louis CardinalsNLC83781Won DivisionWon PennantWon World Series2007Jeff LuhnowSt. Louis CardinalsNLC788432008Jeff LuhnowSt. Louis CardinalsNLC867642009Jeff LuhnowSt. Louis CardinalsNLC91711Won Division2010Jeff LuhnowSt. Louis CardinalsNLC867622011Jeff LuhnowSt. Louis CardinalsNLC90722Won Wild CardWon PennantWon World SeriesI’d say the results speak volumes.Also, I’d like to add…you have no idea what you are talking about:2004John MozeliakSt. Louis CardinalsNLC105571Won DivisionWon Pennant^||This guy was the scouting director in 2004 that you referenced to. How about we check our facts before completely making things up. But great analysis, stopped loading up on those college seniors. If only the Cardinals could get their hands on the Pirates’ secrets, they could one day achieve that elusive success they seek.Link to comment wtmiller wrote: Yes, in fact, those drafts did absolutely nothing for them. The drafts I was thinking of were a number of years ago and they were very poor drafts. Particularly this one, which was Luhnow’s first draft:http://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?query_type=franch_year&team;_ID=STL&year;_ID=2004&draft;_type=junreg&amp;They signed over 40 college guys, which is a huge number, and got no major league talent to speak of, as the link shows.As Randy has pointed out, though, they weren’t the ones responsible for the Cards’ affiliate he was referring to, which came after Luhnow stopped loading up on college seniors. —– Options: Respond in the body to post a reply comment. To turn off notifications

        • pirateswillwinin2012

          how about you sound like an idiot??

      • RandyLinville

        The only year State College was an affiliate of STL was 2006 and we were a couple of years into Luhnow’s tenure with the Redbirds. The average age of the State College player was in line with the league average and players who were on that team currently making a contribution at the ML level include Luke Gregerson, Allen Craig, and Jason Motte. Brendan Ryan is hanging on. Adam Ottavino and P.J. Walters are getting ML looks in 2012 and Donovan Solano, who was 18 that season, has broken in this year with Miami. Two other hitters – David Carpenter and Mark Hamilton – got cups of coffee. Under DL’s watch, the 2007 Spikes – now affiliated with Pittsburgh – put no hitters into the bigs and only two relievers – Watson and Moskos. Of all the hitters, only Brian Friday is still active and he is only one of two that even advanced past AA.

  • Fan0242

    Your article would make for a much stronger case if the Pirates weren’t perennial losers at both the major league and minor league level.

  • http://www.facebook.com/reedjohnmiller Reed Miller

    As a Spikes fan (I live here), I’d like to see them win more. It would make going to the games more fun and it would be fantastic to have playoff baseball here the week the student’s return. I, and many fans, go to as many games as I can regardless, but watching a bad team is really demoralizing after a while, even if it is just a NYPL team. There are many nights where it’s just so obvious that the other team is much more talented.

    I understand that the Pirates primary concern is player development, but the Spikes have a business to run too. Attendance is still ok, but it’s slipping and the number one complaint from all of the fans is the quality of the home team. It may just be that the two businesses cannot find a way to make it work for both sides. No hard feelings. It’s just business. The Spikes originally became a Pirates affiliate because they were originally owned by the same group that owns the Curve. But since then, the Curve was sold to one of it’s original founders. Also, State College has a fair number of Pirates fans, but I don’t think that really helps attendance, since most of the Pirates fans are pretty cynical about their club’s management. There are as many if not more Phillies fans around here (a lot of glory- hunters, but still). It’s nice to be able to go down to Curve games in Altoona and see former Spikes, but I’d be ok with giving that up if it meant the Spikes had better players to begin with.

    The Pirates could maybe help out the Spikes without changing their development strategy by skipping fewer guys past this level or maybe not being so quick to call-up guys from State College to West Virginia. It’s not that much of a change in the standard of play so it wouldn’t really stunt player development by keeping them here two months longer. And guys like Stetson Allie who are still very raw could be kept in the GCL where fan attendance isn’t an issue.

    I can’t really comment on the soundness of the Pirates development strategy because the current regime hasn’t been in place long enough to judge the results. I can say that I have seen some cosmetic improvement in the aspects of the Spikes that the Pirates control. For example, in the first year of Pirates affiliation, the guys wore whatever they wanted to around the park. Now they have to always be seen in Spikes or Pirates gear and everyone has to wear their socks the same way. The idea is to push a professional atmosphere, which makes sense. But by the same logic, creating a “culture of winning” and training guys to care about each and every game like it matters sounds like a great idea too, but the Pirates seem to be conceding that that minor league games are just practice.

    The perennial favorites in the NYPL are Staten Island and Brooklyn, affiliated with the Yankees and Mets, respectively. They have relatively big stadiums and draw big crowds by trying to win. This isn’t hurting their big league clubs, but of course those teams have totally different financial constraints, or lack thereof, than the Pirates. However, the Indians’ NYPL affiliate won the title not long ago and the Red Sox affiliate in Lowell was terrible last year, so size of the big league team’s market doesn’t necessarily correlate to success on this level.

    Acquiring the Wild Things is not really an option because that would mean some existing team in the NYPL would have to fold. None are going to do that voluntarily. Certainly not the Spikes. The Spikes’ stadium is state of the art and it’s a fairly affluent community here that is generally ideal for an NYPL team. In fact, a higher level team could do well here, but that wouldn’t work with the ballpark sharing arrangement the team has with Penn State. The college team/short-season set-up works well. So well that other universities, including WVU, now want to copy it.