Aberdeen 3, State College 2 (11 inn.)
State College 1, Aberdeen 0
State College split the first two games of a weekend series at Aberdeen, home of Billy Ripken and his late father, Cal, Sr. The Spikes lost the first game in 11 innings, 3-2, but came back the next night with a 1-0 win.
A couple asides here before I start. For one, the radar gun at Ripken Stadium sure seemed slow to me on Friday night. Either the pitchers set an all-time record for 84 mph fastballs, or all the other guns I’ve ever seen, including scouts’ guns and the ones at Pirate City, are calibrated too fast. The gun also went haywire from time to time. I went over to check the scouts’ guns during the Saturday game, though, and they were showing either the same as the scoreboard or, about half the time, one mph faster. So take the Friday velocities with some caution. Second, it was hard to get a read on secondary pitches because, as various sources have documented, the Pirates require their pitchers at the lower levels to focus heavily on fastball command. I just didn’t see many breaking balls or changeups, especially not from the real prospects.
The Friday game was not a good showing for the State College hitters. The Aberdeen starter, Tyler Sexton, is a soft-tossing lefty whose fastball topped out at 84 . . . so even if the radar gun was a little slow, he’s still a soft-tosser. Sexton came in with an ERA of 8.10 and an opponents’ BA of .324, but the Spikes’ hitters could do little with his slow fastballs and somewhat slower changeups. The Spikes hit only three line drives all night and their only extra-base hit was a groundball double just inside the first base bag by Adalberto Santos.
The Spikes’ bats weren’t much better on Saturday, but it mattered less because the pitchers took a no-hitter into the ninth. Unfortunately, the first hitter in the ninth rolled a cue shot just inside first for a double. Brooks Pounders recovered to keep the run off the board, thanks in part to the next hitter popping up a bunt attempt. The final out came on a diving catch of a soft liner by secondbaseman Kelson Brown.
Some comments about individual players:
Mel Rojas, Jr. – Rojas didn’t do much at bat. He wasn’t badly fooled for the most part, but he never made good contact. He mostly swung defensively and hit weak grounders. He has very good speed, although not Andrew McCutchen-class. He’s fairly big but has a stiff-legged stride in which he doesn’t seem to get extended. He plays very deep in center. Even with one out and a runner on third in the bottom of the 11th on Friday, he was reluctant to play shallow and had to be waved in repeatedly.
Gift Ngoepe – Good news, bad news. Gift is impressive defensively. He’s very fast and agile, and has remarkably quick feet. I’m willing to bet that last attribute stems from playing soccer. One thing he’s able to do is stop very abruptly when fielding balls in the hole, so he can plant himself and make a strong throw. He shows good range to both sides, comes in on slow grounders very well and throws easily on the run. He also has the arm for short. Unfortunately, the bat is a different story. Like some other State College hitters, he’s slumped over the last month or so. In his case, it appears that the league has figured out that he can’t get the bat on a breaking ball to save his life. He fanned seven times in nine at-bats between the two games, almost entirely on breaking balls. Even pitchers who threw primarily fastballs to other hitters threw Ngoepe offspeed stuff almost exclusively. Other than a few foul tips and one bunt, he never so much as laid the bat on the ball until his last at-bat. On that one he managed a bloop that dropped in right. He tried to stretch it into a double but was incorrectly called out.
Adalberto Santos – Santos reminded me of Jose Hernandez (the West Virginia Hernandez, not the Jim Tracy Hernandez). They’re both small guys who take big, uppercut swings. He’s another hitter who got off to a big start for the Spikes but who’s slumped as the league has adjusted to him and the better college draftees have started to appear. Aside from the groundball double he didn’t make good contact. He also had trouble tracking a drive hit over his head, costing Mitch Fienemann a run. He didn’t play on Saturday. Like Hernandez, Santos was drafted as a fifth-year senior, so he’s already almost 23.
Matt Curry – Curry was one of the few State Colleges hitter who seemed to go to the plate with a plan in mind. He’s similar to Aaron Baker; they’re both stocky LH hitters who mostly try to pull the ball. I didn’t see him swing the bat much as he walked four times in the two games. He has far better plate discipline than Baker, but may not have quite as much raw power. For some reason, the only two steal attempts the Spikes made in the two games were by Curry. He was thrown out easily both times.
Miguel Mendez – He hasn’t hit much and will probably be an organizational player, but he’s very good behind the plate. His ability to block pitches stood out for anybody who’s been watching Ryan Doumit try to do it this year.
Gerlis Rodriguez – He played first on Friday and was the DH on Saturday. He was the only State College hitter to do much at the plate, with two singles—only one well hit—in the first game and an RBI triple in the second. Otherwise, though, he struggled with offspeed stuff. He saved Mendez, who likes to attempt pickoffs, from two throwing errors on Friday and also made an acrobatic catch of a popup that appeared headed into the stands.
Kelson Brown – He had an odd college career, sitting on the bench for three years before breaking out as a senior. He played second in both games after previously playing third. After Curry, he showed probably the best strike zone judgment on the Spikes, which isn’t saying much, but I’m not sure he’ll hit the ball with much authority. Physically, he reminds me a lot of Eddie Prasch. He played a very solid secondbase, turning the double play well.
Zach Fuesser – Fuesser started Friday and allowed only one run, on a long HR by a backup catcher, in 4.2 IP. Fuesser is Exhibit A for my case that the Aberdeen radar gun was slow Friday night, because he blew an amazing number of ostensible 87 mph fastballs by hitters. According to the gun, his fastball sat at 85-87, except for a brief stretch in the first inning when he was reaching 90-91. His control of it was poor, resulting in four walks and a lot of three-ball counts that might have been walks had the Aberdeen hitters not helped him out. He tends to get pitches up, which isn’t desirable. He threw only a few curves, although that’s supposedly his out pitch, and maybe a few more changeups. The latter pitch didn’t look to me like it had much separation from his fastball, but the curve looked tight. Despite the purported weak velocity, the HR was the only hard-hit ball off Fuesser, so either he has a lot of movement or deception, or the gun was wrong. On the whole, he struck me as having good potential but needing a lot of work on his command.
Mitch Fienemann – One of the Pirates’ Australian recruits, Fienemann also appeared to be a victim of a slow gun, as it registered his fastball only in the 85-87 range. He threw a few sliders and changeups, neither of which appeared to have real good break/sink.
Jhonathan Ramos – Ramos has had impressive numbers this year, but you always have to be cautious about the “crafty lefty” who dominates at the low levels. He threw mainly in the mid-80s on the Aberdeen gun, with the occasional curve or change. He has a quick, jerky motion that may make it difficult for hitters to pick the ball up.
Tyler Waldron – Waldron started Saturday and faced the minimum over five innings. The only baserunner was the first hitter he faced, who reached first when catcher Matt Skirving couldn’t handle a third strike. Waldron’s fastball ranged from 88-92 and sat at 90-91. His velocity stayed consistent throughout his five innings. He commanded the pitch well and got some swings and misses, but only two strikeouts. He threw a few sliders and changeups, and didn’t seem to control his secondary pitches as well as the fastball.
Brooks Pounders – After Ryan Beckman pitched the sixth inning, Pounders finished the Saturday game with three scoreless innings. He impressed me the most of any of the pitchers I saw in the two games. He works quickly, but seemed to be rushing when he first got in the game. His fastball was sailing high and he walked two in the inning, prompting a visit from pitching coach Mike Steele. That seemed to get him settled and he kept the fastball mostly down afterwards. He threw a few more sliders than some of the other pitchers, and threw it for strikes rather than just using it as a chase pitch. He also threw a changeup that was good enough to fool Aberdeen’s best hitter, the lefty Kipp Schutz, twice in the ninth. Pounders’ fastball sat at 90-91 and he was able to throw it by hitters at times. He’s been an extreme flyball pitcher so far this year and Saturday was no exception, as he got seven outs in the air and none on the ground.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.