After years of having no offense, the State College Spikes are seeing a ton of hitting to start the season. The Spikes won 9-2 on Saturday night, fueled by a five run eighth inning. The Spikes have scored 21 runs in their last three games, which paired with great pitching has led to some easy victories at home.
From a team perspective, this team looks like it could be a winner. From a prospect perspective, it looks about the same as previous years: great pitching depth, and not much in terms of prospects on the hitting side.
Tonight the Spikes got great pitching again. After watching Luis Heredia and Clay Holmes lead the team to back-to-back shutouts, Jason Creasy took the mound against Mahoning Valley. The right-hander, taken in the eighth round of the 2011 draft, gave up one run on three hits in four innings, with a walk and four strikeouts. This comes after he gave up three runs, two earned, in 2.2 innings his last time out.
“I was able to locate my fastball a little bit better, and my off-speed was pretty good,” Creasy said of the difference between last time out and tonight’s start. “I could locate pretty much everything. It was down too.”
Creasy threw a few curveballs, getting some strikeouts with the pitch. He also threw his changeup, working mostly on a fastball/changeup combo. A key for him this year will be staying down in the zone, and he did that much better tonight than he did in his first start of the year. The right-hander was working in the 88-91 MPH range tonight with his fastball. The 6′ 4″, 191 pound pitcher has loose arm action and a projectable frame, making him a candidate to add velocity down the line.
On the other side of the ball, the Spikes were great with situational hitting tonight, leading to a lot of runs off of small ball. While the offense has been strong in the early part of the season, there aren’t a lot of guys who profile as legit long-term prospects. The only guy in the lineup who really stands out as a potential starter is Barrett Barnes. Other guys could make it as a bench/utility player, or could become a wild card, similar to Adalberto Santos.
Take Samuel Gonzalez, for example. He’s moved to first base, and has also played some second base recently, all due to off-season labrum surgery. Gonzalez has a good bat, and that bat woke up tonight with two hits and a walk. But his bat worked much better behind the plate. Fortunately, he’s not out of the mix behind the plate for the long-term. When, or if, he returns will depend on the health of his shoulder.
Then there’s the 2012 draft picks. Jacob Stallings, D.J. Crumlich, and Chris Diaz have all shown some good tools, mostly on the defensive side of the game. Stallings has been great with the pitching staff, and has a cannon for an arm. He’s also flashed some pop in his bat with a few doubles to deep center field. Crumlich has been hitting well, going 3-for-4 tonight and hitting for a .545 average on the young season. Diaz has shown some speed, and is playing some good defense at shortstop. But with all three players, it’s hard to profile them as anything more than bench players at this point. Any success at this level has to be taken with the disclaimer that they’re all college players playing in a league that is very similar to where they played in college.
There are a few wild cards. Jodaneli Carvajal has been getting hits non-stop since making his debut. He went 1-for-5 tonight with a double, and has a .455 average on the year. A lot of his hits have been a result of his speed at the top of the order. His double tonight was purely on speed, making it to second when the right fielder struggled to pick up the ball. He did the same thing in yesterday’s game. Carvajal was praised for his defense when he was signed, and he still has that. He’s got the footwork, arm strength, and range to play any position in the infield. He’s got the speed to profile as a top of the order hitter. There could be a future there at shortstop down the road, although like the guys above, it’s safer to project him as more of a bench guy at this point.
The key guy this year is Barrett Barnes. Yesterday, Spikes manager Dave Turgeon called him a potential middle of the order hitter in the majors. Barnes has shown good range in center field, and good speed on the bases. He’s a good athlete and a plus runner, who has knowledge and feel for the game, and good instincts.
“You’re going to see some special things from him this summer,” Turgeon said after tonight’s game. “You’re going to see some exciting, special things from that guy offensively this summer. And he can run a little bit to now. He’s going to get some bags for you. Going to track down stuff in center field.”
This Spikes team is similar to previous Spikes teams. There’s a ton of upside in the rotation, with Luis Heredia, Clay Holmes, Jake Burnette, Jason Creasy, and Joely Rodriguez making up a rotation full of legit long-term prospects. There’s also one standout hitting prospect, and a lot of guys who profile more as bench guys if they can make it to Double-A and beyond. That could change going forward if guys like 2012 4th round pick Brandon Thomas join the team, or if a few guys get promoted from the GCL, such as Luis Urena or Stetson Allie.
There’s nothing wrong with the mix right now. It’s similar to the past, with a few key differences. The top hitter (Barnes) has more upside and is more polished than a lot of the top hitting prospects in previous years (Mel Rojas Jr., Alex Dickerson, Evan Chambers, Drew Maggi). The biggest difference is that this team executes better. So far they’ve come through when needed, played good small ball, and executed situations well, with 13 out of 14 situations executed tonight. Short term, the Spikes could be a winner. Long term, the Spikes have great pitching depth, and one standout hitter.