2015 State College Spikes Preview

The State College Spikes will open the 2015 New York-Penn League season against Williamsport at home on Friday night.

As the State College Spikes prepare to open the 2015 season against the Williamsport Crosscutters, they opened the diamond to members of the press on Wednesday for their annual Media Day.

Almonte answering questions

Representatives from local print, online and television outlets gathered on the field while the Spikes took their 2015 team picture and individual shots before splitting up for interviews. The team seemed relaxed, but the air of anticipation and excitement for their Friday opening game hung in the air.

In December 2014, Johnny Rodriguez – formerly of the rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals – was named the eighth manager in the history of the State College Spikes. Rodriguez led Johnson City to the Appalachian League championship last year and will be spending the 2015 season – his sixth in the Cardinals organization – in State College, Pennsylvania.

“It was a different extended spring,” Rodriguez said. “We probably had the best record, and it was a very good extended. Most of these kids were with me last year at Johnson City, and I think that’s going to be helpful.”

Along with Rodriguez, pitchers Landon Beck (No. 21), Dailyn Martinez (No. 29) and Juan Perez (No. 47), as well as infielder Casey Grayson (No. 38) were brought up to State College from Johnson City. Beck and Grayson were 25th and 21st round picks, respectively, in the 2014 draft, while Martinez and Perez were signed within a month of each other in 2011 as international free agents.

Players joining State College from other teams include:
o Tyler Bray, No. 56 (Peoria Chiefs – A, 26th: 2014)
o Pedro Echemendia No. 25 (los Tigres de Ciego de Ávila – (DSL, Rookie), Int. FA: 2/24/15)
o Nick Frey, No. 34 (Peoria Chiefs – A, 33rd: 2013)
o Jorge Rodriguez, No. 11 (GCL Cardinals – Rookie, Int. FA: 2/2/12)
o Jery Then, No. 33 (GCL Cardinals – Rookie, NDFA: 7/4/14)
o Kender Villegas, No. 57 (Peoria Chiefs – A, Int. FA: 5/13/10)
o Ronnierd Garcia, No. 40 (Peoria Chiefs – A, Int. FA: 9/8/09)
o Cole Lankford, No. 3 (Palm Beach Cardinals – AA, 27th: 2014)
o Elier Rodriguez, No. 19 (GCL Cardinals – Rookie, 14th: 2013)
o Jhohan Acevedo, No. 28 (Palm Beach Cardinals – AA, Int. FA: 2/6/10)
o Michael Pritchard, No. 5 (GCL Cardinals – Rookie, NDFA: 6/18/14)

Not only are managers and players transferring in from other teams, the Spikes have nine freshly-minted college draftees joining them from around the country. These players include:
o Max Almonte, No. 44 (Villanova University, 16th round)
o Carson Cross, No. 43 (University of Connecticut, 14th round)
o Jacob Evans, No. 37 (University of Oklahoma, 6th round)
o Luke Harrison, No. 50 (Indiana University, 35th round)
o Brennan Leitao, No. 53 (Sacramento State, 26th round)
o Greg Tomchick, No. 27 (Old Dominion University, 27th round)
o Jesse Jenner, No. 15 (University of San Diego, 7th round)
o R.J. Dennard, No. 32 (Armstrong State University, 39th round)
o Daniel Martin, No. 4 (Azusa Pacific University, 24th round)

As opposed to the faster-paced introduction for the players who have been with minor league teams before, the college graduates are immersed more slowly.

“We let them feel their way in, because you know they’re going to be nervous,” Rodriguez said. “This is their dream.”

Four 2014 Spikes are returning: pitcher Ian McKinney (No. 16), catcher Brian O’Keefe (23), infielder Leobaldo Pina (No. 13) and outfielder Kenny Peoples-Walls (No. 22). McKinney, as officially announced during Media Day, will be the starting pitcher for Friday’s opening game against the Williamsport Crosscutters.

“Last year I was here and I saw they had, like 6,000 fans,” McKinney said. “I’m really pumped to be pitching for that.”

Scheduled to follow McKinney in the Spikes’ rotation are Jorge Rodriguez, Martinez and Perez.

The Spikes won the 2014 New York Penn League Championship – their first NYPL Championship – under former manager Oliver Marmol, capping it off with an 11-2 finals win over the host team, the Tri-City Valley Cats. The year before that, the Spikes lost to the Valley Cats in the 2013 NYPL Championship Series.

In 2014, State College posted a 48-28 record in the regular season which sealed the NYPL-Pinckney Division. They led the league with a team .269 average, with 55 homers, 357 RBI and 398 runs. On the mound, the Spikes were second with a 2.97 ERA and third with 644 strikeouts.

“I would characterize [the team] as grinders: guys who will go out there and just give everything they have,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what the Cardinal way is.”

Update: We inadvertently omitted St. Louis' 32nd-rounder, outfielder Thomas Spitz from the above article. The Spikes were also assigned another player on Friday, right-handed pitcher Jonathan Escudero. The latter was reassigned from Palm Beach but because the club is off for the Florida State League all-star break, his replacement may not be named until Monday.

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