The State College Spikes featured a lot of young pitching talent that has entered the Pirates’ farm system over the last two years. When looking at the stats of these players, it’s important to note that each pitcher is on a fastball heavy diet. The goal in State College is to pitch to contact, and work on fastball control and command. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to see a high ERA, a high WHIP, a low walk rate, and a decent strikeout rate.
Because of this approach, it’s hard to get a value of a player based on their stats. Obviously a guy with a big strikeout total will look like a strong prospect, as any pitcher recording a lot of strikeouts under a “pitch to contact” approach must have a good fastball. Walk rates are also important, as a high walk rate under a “just throw fastballs and throw strikes” approach means the pitcher has control issues. Other than that, you’re pretty much evaluating each player on their talent level and potential, rather than the results.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the New York Penn League is one of the most pitcher friendly leagues in the minors, which will not only keep the pitching numbers for State College low, but will also produce low hitting numbers for the offense. Here are the stats for all of the players who played at the level this year, broken down by age group:
This group is extremely rich with young pitching, and that trend looks to carry over to next year with all of the 2010 prep pitchers who were signed. Some of those 2010 pitchers already arrived, such as Casey Sadler and Vincent Payne from the JuCo ranks. The 2009 class populated this list, with top prospects like Zach Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Zack Dodson, Trent Stevenson, Brooks Pounders, and Zac Fuesser.
There were also some interesting arms from the international ranks, such as Australian pitchers Mitchell Fienemann and Jarryd Sullivan, and Venezuelan pitcher Joely Rodriguez, who made an appearance at the end of the season. I saw one of Rodriguez’s two starts, and was very impressed. Rodriguez, a left hander, was throwing 88-92 MPH, but mostly sticking around 90. He touched a bit higher than 92 this year, but has mostly been working in the 88-92 MPH range.
There are a few pitchers from this list who project as top pitching prospects at the lower levels. Von Rosenberg and Cain are the main guys, easily top 15 prospects in the organization, and both arguably top 10 prospects. Pretty much everyone the Pirates have from this list could grow to be a future top pitching prospect. All of them are a long way from the majors, so it’s hard to project which players will have success.
There are a few interesting position players here, although none have really broken out with good hitting. Part of that could be due to the pitching friendly New York Penn League. Mel Rojas Jr. has the biggest potential, as a five tool player who was drafted in the third round this year. Gift Ngoepe is the most interesting prospect considering his background. Gift was strong defensively at second, and has speed, but is still pretty raw, which led to low hitting totals. Walker Gourley is the only other prospect. He was pretty bad on both sides of the ball, but he’s very young and has room to improve.
This age group saw a lot of the 2010 draft picks. It featured top hitting prospects like Drew Maggi and Matt Curry, as well as top ten draft picks Tyler Waldron and Brandon Cumpton. With a lot of these players, and more college players like Adalberto Santos, it’s hard to take their numbers seriously. This level isn’t any better than the college level these players came from, and might actually be a step below. While it’s nice to see Curry and Santos put up strong numbers at the plate, the players shouldn’t be given too much credit until they do the same against a higher talent level.
There were two very interesting international pitchers on this list in Eliecer Navarro and Jhonatan Ramos. Navarro stopped briefly in State College before jumping up to West Virginia. Meanwhile, Ramos started in West Virginia, then was demoted to State College where he was lights out, before finishing in West Virginia and having much better results. Neither player projects as a top pitching prospect, but both are interesting guys to watch, as they’re both left handed, and both have strong numbers at the lower levels.
These guys are organizational depth, although Cole White adds an interesting story. White was drafted in 2008, but ended up serving in the Army after his brief State College debut. He was granted leave this year so that he could return and resume his professional baseball career. At this point White would have been in Bradenton at the least for the 2010 season. He’s behind schedule, but definitely a guy you root for, for obvious reasons.
Top Hitter: Matt Curry is the easy choice here. There weren’t a lot of hitting prospects at the level, but of the prospects, Curry has the best mixture of results, power, and potential. He will move up to full season ball next year, where he will hopefully continue to show some power. The Pirates have first basemen from the draft at almost every level, yet none have combined power with hitting for a decent average. Matt Hague hits for average, but his power is low. Aaron Baker has power, but his hitting suffers. Calvin Anderson has struggled in both areas. Curry could be the guy to buck that trend, or he could just be another in the line of first basemen drafted in the middle rounds by the Pirates.
Top Pitcher: There were so many pitching prospects at the level, and the stats were good all around due to the pitching friendly league, making it hard to choose here. If I’m going off of talent, Zack Von Rosenberg wins this. ZVR had a strong season, especially towards the end of the year, and is arguably the top prospect at the level. If I’m going off of 2010 numbers, it would be Jhonatan Ramos, who was outstanding in his time with State College. Given the good numbers, and the better prospect status, I’d go with ZVR for this award.
Biggest Surprise: Eliecer Navarro was the big surprise for me. Adalberto Santos had a great hitting line, but it’s not a total surprise that a college player could come in and put up those numbers. There were no expectations for Navarro, and he was excellent, even if he only pitched three games and 8.2 innings with State College.
Biggest Disappointment: I was somewhat disappointed that Drew Maggi and Mel Rojas Jr. didn’t get off to better starts in their pro careers, but I have confidence that each player will perform much better than their early results. The biggest disappointment would be from Brooks Pounders. He didn’t do much to stand out as one of the top prospects this year, and with all of the pitching depth at the level, it’s going to be hard to stand out once you fall behind the other guys. The fact that Pounders was pitching in a lesser role than a 34th round pick last year, and a 5th round college pitcher this year, says a lot about how disappointing his season was.
Top five prospects:
1. Zach Von Rosenberg – I give Von Rosenberg the edge over Cain, although I have them both in the top 15 overall prospects. Von Rosenberg was always regarded as the better prospect between the two, and could be a “break out” pitcher next year with West Virginia.
2. Colton Cain – Cain had his start at the level delayed due to injury, but finally made it to the level, and while his ERA wasn’t special, his K/9, BB/9, and WHIP were all spectacular.
3. Mel Rojas Jr. – Rojas Jr got off to a bad start at the plate, but he’s a five tool guy, and easily the best offensive talent the team had. He’s a guy to watch next year in his first full season.
4. Drew Maggi – I went with Maggi over Curry, simply because a good hitting sophomore shortstop prospect out of college is more appealing to me than a good hitting junior first base prospect.
5. Matt Curry – I like what Curry did, but until I see otherwise, I can’t think of him as more than guys like Matt Hague or Aaron Baker. I’m not envisioning the All-Star first baseman who hits for average and power until I see Curry perform well at the higher levels.
The Spikes had an odd mix of players in 2010. The Pirates’ 2009 draft brought in primarily high school pitchers and they moved up as a group to State College. The hitters, on the other hand, were made up primarily of college players drafted this year, most of them probably destined to be organizational players.
Offensively, the Spikes started the season with a bang but soon began struggling. Most of the lineup was made up of late-round college players who were red hot in the early going. Once more of the 2010 draftees joined their opponents, however, the hitters largely stopped hitting. That included catcher Matt Skirving, firstbaseman Matt Curry and infielder Chase Lyles. Third round pick Mel Rojas, Jr., never started hitting. Fifteenth rounder Drew Maggi, who signed for above-slot money, joined the team for the last few weeks and struggled severely. The two exceptions were outfielder Adalberto Santos and, to a lesser extent, infielder Kelson Brown. The offense got so bad that it was the main culprit in a nine-game losing streak that the Spikes didn’t break until their very last game. The caveat to all this, though, is that short season results for college hitters can be very misleading, as most are getting used to hitting with wood bats.
The pitching, to some extent, went in the other direction, improving gradually. The Pirates restrict the use of breaking balls in the low minors in order to get pitchers to focus on fastball command. This probably skews the results for pitchers like Zach Dodson, whose best pitch is a curve, and Brooks Pounders, who relies on a mix of several average pitches. The team also carefully monitored the workload of its teenage pitchers. They were all erratic, but Zack von Rosenberg and Colton Cain, who was coming off back surgery, both made significant progress. College draftees Tyler Waldron and Kevin Decker also pitched reasonably well.
Top Hitter: Tie between Santos and Curry. The two put up very similar numbers, hitting for average and drawing walks, while Santos hit a lot of doubles and triples and Curry hit a lot of doubles and some HRs. Santos hit steadily throughout the season, while Curry slumped in August after a strong start in July. Being 23 and 22, respectively, both will have to move quickly to establish themselves as prospects.
Top Pitcher: Von Rosenberg. After three rough starts in June, he pitched well nearly every time out. His K total was low and he allowed a few too many hits, but he walked only a third as many as he fanned. His W/L record was bad due to a lack of support.
Biggest Surprise: There were no big surprises on the Spikes, not in the sense of breakout performances. Probably the most surprising development was the return of Cole White from the Army. He was drafted in 2008 out of West Point and batted .338 in 21 games before a change in Pentagon policy cut short his pro debut. Another change in policy allowed White to return to baseball this year. He didn’t hit quite as well as in his previous trial, but he did well enough to nail down a regular outfield spot.
Biggest Disappointment: Rojas. Easily the highest-ceiling position player, in fact arguably the only high-ceiling position player, in the Pirates’ 2010 draft, Rojas struggled badly, showing no power and doing little to put his speed to use on the bases. He did manage a good walk rate and his K rate was high but not alarming. Rojas was drafted as a freshman from a junior college that played in Illinois, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of baseball talent, so he was less experienced than most players at this level. He may have needed an adjustment period.
Top Five Prospects:
1. Zack von Rosenberg, RHP. The top above-slot signee from the Pirates’ 2009 draft class, he put together a solid season. He has a chance to break out once he starts going more with his full repertoire.
2. Colton Cain, LHP. Cain came on strong over the last few weeks, allowing very few hits and posting a good K rate. Considering that he was coming off back surgery, it was an excellent pro debut. He may have better stuff than von Rosenberg.
3. Mel Rojas, Jr., OF. Rojas had a bad debut, but he still has more potential than nearly any other position player in the lower half of the system.
4. Zach Dodson, LHP. Dodson struggled more than von Rosenberg or Cain, mainly due to control issues, but he posted good K numbers at times.
5. Brooks Pounders, RHP. Pounders had an uneven debut. One issue with him will be conditioning.
Honorable Mention: Adalberto Santos, Matt Curry, Zac Fuesser, Trent Stevenson, Tyler Waldron, Drew Maggi.
The Spikes opened the year loaded with experienced college hitters and a very young pitching staff. I liked the idea of putting experienced older players behind the young pitchers. In reality the older position players weren’t blocking any prospects as they made room for both Walker Gourley and Mpho Gift Ngoepe to play everyday, and no one else was ready for the NYPL. Later in the year they added more interesting players, such as 3rd round pick Mel Rojas Jr., Colton Cain, who was injured to start the year, 9th round pick Brandon Cumpton, and Andrew Maggi, the 15th round draft pick who played with Team USA over the summer. Once the GCL season ended they added pitchers Joely Rodriguez and India-born Rinku Singh. Unfortunately the team finished the season on a real down note, losing 9 straight before winning their finale, finishing seven games under .500 and having the 3rd worst NYPL record.
Top Hitter: Matt Curry, 1B – The big lefty power hitter 1B ended up as the team leader in OPS and finished 5th in the entire NYPL in that category. He also led the team in homers and walks and batted .333 off LHP. Drafted in the 16th round this year, Curry had a great college season batting .353 with 17 homers which included a nice run in the college world series before he joined the Spikes about 2 weeks into their season. He finished just short of .300 losing it in his last AB of the season.
Top Pitcher: Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP – His 1-6 record doesn’t back up the choice, but ZVR pitched very strong after a slow start and finished as the team’s leader in ERA and was 2nd in innings pitched. Making three starts in June, Zack had a 7.50 ERA with just 4 strikeouts and lost all three starts, but his final ten starts that followed over July and August he posted a 2.11 ERA while also dramatically improving his WHIP and K rates and establishing himself as the teams best starter.
Biggest Surprise: Adalberto Santos, OF – Drafted for the third time in his career as a college senior, I really didn’t expect much from him and to be honest I didn’t pay attention to him due to his age. Not only did he make the NYPL All-star team but he finished right near the top in OPS and was almost my choice for the teams best hitter. He showed good plate discipline, excellent baserunning and good defense while playing all three outfield positions during the year. Part of the reason I picked him over anyone else is because no one else really played better than I expected. Most of the young pitchers I thought would be on the Quinton Miller schedule from last year, a few starts at State College before being moved up. All the other regular hitters besides Gourley and Gift were college players and none did as well as Santos except Curry who was expected to do well at this level.
Biggest Disappointment: Brooks Pounders, RHP – I thought about putting Walker Gourley, who had a horrible season, or Gift Ngoepe, who started off strong then really struggled badly to finish the year, but neither has the experience or reputation to expect a whole lot from them just yet. Brooks Pounders, on the other hand, was drafted with a reputation that he was polished for a high school pitcher and he got in a lot of GCL work last year. I expected him to be in West Virginia this year and to be in better shape when he got there. Instead he’s just been average in every aspect except his above average weight. His stats regressed from last year and like last season his control got worse as the season wore on. He also had a horrible groundball rate and the strikeouts aren’t there. I really expected a full workload from him, but he’s been pitching in relief now for most of the year. For a pitcher who was supposed to have command of four pitches when drafted, he’s really moving slowly through the system. I didn’t think he would be on the same schedule as someone like Trent Stevenson who was raw and undersized when drafted.
Top five prospects:
1. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP – He came in to the year as my top prospect on this team and after that slow start he showed why he was ranked so high. I was hoping his stay at State College would be a short one, but now next year’s West Virginia staff looks to be a very strong one and it’s very possible he could again be the teams’ best pitcher. I would expect Jameson Taillon to be there as well for most of the year but ZVR will have more innings to work with and Taillon will probably encounter some struggles his first time through the pros, especially with a full season team. If you look past the overall numbers and just look at the last ten starts you’ll see how well he pitched and you also have to figure in once they let the reins loose he will be able to use his breaking pitches more often and not get hit hard by batters sitting fastball. His season suggests they either let him do that already this year or he will just get better once they’re not just stressing fastball command with him. He’s the only player from this team in my personal top 10 but many others will be ranked 11-30.
2. Mel Rojas Jr, CF – He and Colton Cain could’ve easily flipped places on my list and basically Cain’s performance the last game of the year is what I based their spots on, because before that I just couldn’t commit to one or the other at number two on this list. It was so close I changed my mind in the last two innings of Cain’s four inning stint. Rojas didn’t put up the best numbers but what you need to realize is he started off pretty good, and before joining the Spikes and playing 43 games he had already played 62 college games and 24 games in a collegiate summer league so there’s a good chance he was drained by the end of the NYPL season. Scouts may have been split on him but I heard enough of them call him a five tool player that I know I like what he brings to the table. His speed is definitely a plus tool, stealing 80 total bases in 88 attempts on the whole year and with any player they call “raw” you have to give them plenty at-bats before you make any harsh judgement of them.
3. Colton Cain, LHP – Big hard throwing lefty basically had a lost season due to back surgery over the winter. He wasn’t throwing full speed even late into the year and mostly this season was just about getting him healthy and getting some innings on his arm. With a good showing this year he could’ve easily moved to the top of this list but he’s had some bad results that includes a high ERA and horrible groundball rate. He did have a very good BAA(.163) and a nice strikeout rate over 8 per 9 IP. Next year he will be just 20, hopefully healthy, and we should see what he can really do.
4. Matt Curry, 1B – I almost left him off the list because he’s 22 in short season ball, but I have a thing for big power hitting lefties who have a good Division-I track record and perform well in the pros the year they were drafted. Curry was my choice for the team’s best hitter on the year and I think he will be the cleanup hitter for West Virginia next year. He could probably handle Bradenton with his college experience but I think the Bucs want to keep the 1B line moving promoting Matt Hague, Calvin Anderson, Aaron Baker and Curry all one step at a time. It seemed to work well for Hague this year and Anderson coming from a small college with a huge strike zone can use all the at-bats he can get each year. In a system short on power,they could really use a player like Curry and his 24 combined homers.
5. Zac Fuesser, LHP – He basically beat out Zack Dodson based on his strikeout rate alone and honestly he may just be better right now because he has a year of college ball and joined the pros sooner than Dodson despite being the same age. Both are LHP, same exact size and born just four days apart. They had very similar seasons with the only difference being Fuesser having 6 more strikeouts in 3 less IP’s so I gave him the nod. I also saw Fuesser pitch once and he had good velocity with a huge breaking ball, looked the best of the three young pitchers I saw that day so that also helped his case.
6. Zack Dodson, LHP
7. Trent Stevenson, RHP
8. Brooks Pounders, RHP
9. Gift Ngoepe, INF
10. Drew Maggi, SS
Historically, State College (and Williamsport before that) has been my least favorite team to follow in the Pirates’ system. Under Littlefield, there were very few intriguing high school players drafted, so the short-season team in the New York-Penn League was typically stocked with college seniors or over-age organizational soldiers filling a roster spot. But then Neal Huntington became sheriff and it was suddenly cool again to have high-school talent and draft college JUNIORS that were age-appropriate for the level. I will admit that I was disappointed that some of the 2009 HS pitching class didn’t make it to West Virginia, but it sure makes doing a writeup for State College fun.
Top Hitter: Adalberto Santos, OF — Yeah, I expected to see Matt Curry here too, but Santos had the better all-around season. Curry tailed off in August while Santos was consistent the whole year. His lowest batting average and OPS by month was in July when he hit .313 and had an 830 OPS. For the year, Santos went .319/.406/.479 (885 OPS) with 15 doubles, 7 triples, 3 home runs, and 17 for 24 in steals. He also had more walks (33) than strikeouts (31). In the matter of fair and balanced, he was a college senior in the league, but his performance should be recognized.
Top Pitcher: Colton Cain, LHP — Yes, the ERA is an ugly 5.03, but in 34 IP Cain had 32 K’s and a 1.09 WHIP. Plus, he’s a lefty and was coming off of an offseason back injury, which limited his fastball velocity.
Biggest Surprise: There wasn’t a true surprise player or development on this team, so I’ll say I was surprised that Zack Von Rosenberg (or 1 or 2 others from the 2009 HS class) did not make the jump to West Virginia at any point. While there would be no developmental advantage as they will be there all year in 2011, there would be the symbolic gesture of having then in Low A at 19 for a portion of the year to get acclimated.
Biggest Disappointment: Again, there wasn’t a true disappointment, so I’ll say I was disappointed that Gift Ngeope fell off the map in August/Sept. In August he had a triple slash line of .132/.190/237 (427 OPS) with a 6 BB/31 K ratio in 76 AB’s. This was on the heels of two very respectable months, especially with K/BB ratios, earlier in the year. I hope he was just tired from the season and it was just a stamina problem.
Top 5 Prospects
1. Colton Cain, LHP — I have said this many times before…I love lefties that can gas it and when fully healthy in 2011, I expect Cain to display the mid-90’s fastball he was touted to possess. His extreme flyball tendencies are a touch worrisome, but we’ll see how 2011 plays out.
2. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP — Statistically, he had the better season than Cain. He had the better hype on draft day 2009. But right now, he is “projected” to have 3 plus pitches in the future. The buzz is that his fastball is only sitting in the high 80’s right now, which is just not good enough long term.
3. Matt Curry, 1B — Curry started out in State College like a house on fire with a July line of .364/.448/.556 (1004 OPS) in 99 AB’s. He cooled slightly in August/Sept, but still finished with a very nice .299/.421/.477 (898 OPS) with a 20% BB rate and 25% K rate. It would be very intriguing if the Pirates felt strongly enough about Curry to skip him to High-A to start 2011.
4. Mel Rojas, OF — This is a purely projection pick, which I try not to do too often. Rojas is said to be a 5 tool talent that is raw right now. His season line of .207/.309/.250 (559 OPS) reinforces the raw part. His frame and baseball genes speak to greater glories down the road. For now, at least, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
5. Zach Fuesser, LHP — I think Wilbur feels that Fuesser is a LOOGY long-term, but it seems a year or two too early to make that determination. Right now, I see a lefty with 47 K’s in 54 IP with a halfway decent 0.83 GB/FB ratio. With all of the emphasis on fastball command at the lower levels, you have to sort of read the tea leaves with the stats and try to divine if the player has the command aspect down for the strikeouts which may preclude further success down the road.
Top 10 Prospects at the Level
I didn’t include some of the pitchers who pitched limited innings, like Navarro and Brandon Cumpton for example. I mostly went with guys who were at the level all season, or who couldn’t be ignored from this list.
1. Zach Von Rosenberg
2. Colton Cain
3. Mel Rojas Jr.
4. Drew Maggi
5. Matt Curry
6. Zack Dodson
7. Zac Fuesser
8. Trent Stevenson
9. Brooks Pounders
10. Tyler Waldron