State College Spikes 2012 Season Recap: Top Prospects

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The Hitters

The Pitchers

Top Prospects

Top 10 Prospects

1. Luis Heredia

2. Clay Holmes

3. Barrett Barnes

4. Adrian Sampson

5. Jake Burnette

6. Joely Rodriguez

7. Tyler Gaffney

8. Jason Creasy

9. Dalton Friend

10. Jacob Stallings

 

Tier 1: Heredia, Holmes

Luis Heredia: Luis Heredia entered this season with some question marks based on his young age and lack of professional baseball experience, making him difficult to project according to many in the industry. After posting a 2.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in the New York Penn League at age 17/18, Heredia has solidified himself as one the Pirates top prospects.

The 6’6” right-hander’s ceiling continues to grow, as this year he improved the location of his 91-94 mph fastball, got more comfortable with his change-up, and re-worked his average slow curve into a potentially plus hard curve. At times, he struggled with his consistency, appearing to lose his command out of nowhere, but that can be expected for player of his age.

From a developmental perspective, the improvement of his off-speed pitches is a great sign. At the beginning of the season, 80% of Heredia’s pitches were fastballs, but as the year wore on and he demonstrated an ability to get ahead in counts, the staff asked him to throw more of the curve and change-up. Even with good downhill plane on his fastball, Heredia’s strikeout totals were lower than you expect to see from a top prospect. However, by mixing pitches more and tweaking the curve to have less loop, more velocity, and sharper break with a month to go in the season, Heredia bolstered his strikeout total, whiffing five in five innings in the season finale. The upside is three plus pitches on a big durable frame that can eat innings.

Clay Holmes: The over-slot 2011 9th round prep arm was named Spike’s pitcher of the year after posting a 2.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and .176 BAA. When he commanded his 90-93 fastball, he pitched well. The few outings on the year in which he struggled were a result of the fastball catching too much plate and being up in the zone. However, when Holmes had has fastball command, he got ahead of hitters and worked his improving change-up and curveball, which is more like a slurve or hard curve, and not loopy. The curve has potential to be a strikeout pitch, particularly when he throws it with sharp bite, starting in the zone and bottoming out into the dirt. With time, he can learn to locate it in the strike zone too.

All season, Spikes’ manager Dave Turgeon and pitching coach Justin Meccage talked about Holmes’ need to be aggressive and trust his stuff. When Holmes focused on throwing inside with the heater and trusting his change to peel to the outside part of the plate to lefties, he looked like a future rotation regular. When he ‘aimed’ instead of ‘pitched,’ he looked like a 19-year old with a lot to work on. The fact that this was his first year of pro ball and that he performed well against older bats is promising. Holmes has moved up the Pirates prospects rankings because his upside is three above-average pitches, and he has some projection to add velocity to his fastball.

 

Tier 2: Barnes

Barrett Barnes: 2012 2nd round draft pick Barrett Barnes features quick hands, good power, and above-average speed, making him the Spikes’ most toolsy player. In his short season campaign, in spite of a leg injury that sidelined him for almost half the season, he impressed with his athleticism and easy swing, hitting .288 with five home runs and 10 steals. He also showed impressive patience at the plate, laying off a number of pitches that other players at this level swing at. In combination with his quick hands through the zone, Barnes can be more patient and still make solid contact by keeping his hands back. Barnes was not only a leading hitter when healthy, he was also an on-base machine posting a .401 OBP.

Barnes wasn’t as advanced on defense and his fit in centerfield will be a question mark as he moves up through the system. My observation is that his arm is below-average, and while I didn’t see him make mis-plays in center, and I don’t have defensive metrics to support my feeling, the eye test suggests he doesn’t cover as much ground as you’d expect for a player of his speed. I’m skeptical of Barnes’ chances of sticking in center, begging the question: can he hit for enough power as a left-fielder?

Based on his 2012 campaign, we can remain optimistic on Barnes power potential. The plate patience is huge, seeing lots of pitches and getting into more fastball counts aided him this year. He did struggle at times with breaking balls from right-handed pitchers, but Barnes has the hitting tools to continue improving in this area. Five home runs is good pop in the pitching heavy NYPL, with a home ballpark that plays deep, especially to right-handed hitters.

 

Tier 3: Burnette, Rodriguez, Sampson

Jake Burnette: A 2011 7th round pick at of high school, Burnette suffered an elbow injury this season after only five starts and 21 innings pitched. At 6′ 4″ 180 pounds, Burnette has some projection in his frame. Like many State College starters this season, his K rate was low, which may either be a function of the heavy dose of fastballs he threw or some soreness in his elbow prior to being shut down. I saw his last outing of the season, and you can see the potential.

Joely Rodriguez: Rodriguez is young enough that he can improve, but he still struggled this season. The issue has been command within the strike zone, as too often this year he caught too much of the plate and left the ball up, yielding a .298 batting average against. I saw one of his best outings of the season back in July, in which his stuff had a lot of life, but without better command, it is hard to project Rodriguez having an impact at the higher levels of the system. If he can learn to command the fastball better, he could move up this list, but the signs are not good at this point.

Adrian Sampson: Unlike State College’s other starters, the 2012 5th round draft pick out of Bellevue Community College flashed a high K rate this season, whiffing 44 batters in 42 innings. His out pitch is a sharp curveball that he gets good depth on. His fastball is decent, sitting 91-94 mph, but he does not generate the downward plane that often makes low 90s fastballs play ‘up.’ Consistency was a bit of a problem, sometimes hanging a change-up or showing too much of the fastball. That said, he has an out pitch in the curveball. With some development, he could improve his command and third pitch, the change-up, to land himself on prospect lists down the road. Like many Spikes’ pitchers, the change is new for him. Unlike many Spikes pitchers, he knows how to strike batters out.

 

Tier 4: Creasy, Crumlich, Friend, Gaffney, Stallings

Jason Creasy: Creasy was drafted by the Pirates in 2011, but hasn’t shown the same stuff as fellow 2011 prep pitchers Clay Holmes or Jake Burnette. He throws an 87-91 MPH fastball, and worked this year on adding a downward plane to the pitch. He also struggled at times moving it to the corners of the plate, leaving the pitch down the middle, which led to him being hit around. His slider was a good pitch for him, working in the low 80s. He also spent time working on improving his changeup, which was 81-83 MPH. The 6′ 4″, 180 pound pitcher could add velocity to his fastball in the future, but the bigger thing will be his command of the fastball, and the ability to set up his slider as a strikeout pitch.

D.J. Crumlich: Drafted as org guy ($5,000 bonus), Crumlich was one of the Spikes’ best hitters this season, hitting .292/.357/.389 and being named the team’s MVP. However, Crumlich’s value to the Pirates organization may be his ability to play 2B, SS, and 3B at a high-level. He even got some time in left field at the end of the season. Manager Dave Turgeon believes Crumlich “Will play baseball for a long time,” and compared him to former MLB utility-man Tony Graffinino. So the question becomes, can he hit enough to go along with the glove? From what I saw this season, I wouldn’t count Crumlich out, who can be a line-drive machine with a decent contact rate and good patience at the plate. Ultimately, however, his lack of power will most likely become an issue as he progresses through the system and faces higher quality pitching. Towards the end of the year, his average slipped some, and it appeared he was trying to hit with more power, resulting in more fly balls and pop outs. He told me that his focus in instructional league will be adding power to his game.

Dalton Friend: The 2012 12th round draft pick out of Junior College came into the season a bit raw for his age. Friend could get away with some pitches that he cannot in pro baseball. Friend’s upside will rely on the development of his secondary pitches, a curve and change-up. His curve ball was inconsistent (occasionally quite good), but he keeps it down in the zone for the most part and throws it routinely from the same angle as his fastball, which is positive. Pitching coach Justin Meccage was happy with the progress of the change-up, which Friend had never thrown prior to joining the Pirates organization. As the year wore on, Friend also improved his ability to throw with downward plane. Nonetheless, he periodically struggled with location, leaving pitches up and out over the plate, evidenced by a few multi-run innings this season. That said, there is some potential for Friend to have three above-average pitches from the left side, and if that happens the chances of him starting can’t be ruled out. If the secondary stuff doesn’t come along, then he’s more of a bullpen arm.

Tyler Gaffney: The former Stanford running back was a favorite in the press box this season. Many love his aggressive base-running, on-base skills, and, for lack of a better term, grit, and he fits cliches like “he only knows one speed” and “he’s a real gamer.” As much as I appreciate this quality and like Gaffney’s make-up, he will still need to hit to have success as a pro ballplayer. In his 38 games in State College before a shoulder injury, he posted a .297/.483/.441 slash line, good for a .925 OPS. This is positive, but probably not sustainable, particularly the incredibly high OBP. His future is as a corner outfielder, which must translate to power for him to progress through the system. While 11 extra base hits (6 2B, 5 3B) is good, to me it suggests gap-to-gap power more so than home run power, and he will need to improve his hitting against right-handed pitching to continue his progression (.254 BA vs. .375 against lefties). He is not a guy I would count out based on his intangibles, but he profiles to me as more of a sleeper than a ‘true’ prospect like Barnes.

Jacob Stallings: Every team in MLB covets the two-way catcher who can provide value both behind and at the plate. Stallings looks good in the former case, especially his ability to call games and work with young pitchers. Pitchers and coaches from the Spikes both laud his defense and skill-set behind the plate, allowing only three passed balls . His arm impressed this season, throwing out 36% of runners. He also showed flashes of offensive upside, particularly in July when he posted a .318/.371/.455 slashline. His numbers tailed off toward the end of the year, perhaps a function of the high number of innings he caught once catcher Ryan Hornback went down with a season-ending injury. Stallings noted fatigue and being a bit banged up as challenges to him toward season’s end. Worth noting, Stallings had to be one of the slowest runners in NYPL. I’m undecided on how valuable athleticism is at the catcher position, but it is certainly a weakness in Stallings’ game, possibly made up for by his cerebral abilities behind the plate.

Author: John Eshleman

John Eshleman joined Pirates Prospects in 2012, providing live coverage of the State College Spikes and the Altoona Curve. He will return for the 2013 season to provide coverage of the Jamestown Jammers while they are in State College. He will also be providing coverage of the Altoona Curve throughout the year. John is currently earning a Ph.D in Rural Sociology from Penn State University, and he lives in State College with his fiance Allison. Also, he hates the designated hitter rule.

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