In 2014, the State College Spikes won their first ever New York-Penn League title. In 2015, the Spikes couldn’t quite make it into the post season. The team – with only four returning members and the rest a mix of newly-drafted and veteran players, including a new manager (Johnny Rodriguez) and new staff – ended the season in third place with a .539 winning percentage (41-35).
Many Spikes players rotated between promotions to single-A Peoria, returning to rookie-level teams or circling back to State College throughout the season. The team consistently compensated for the changing roster and accepted the incoming talent.
Coming into the season, the Spikes looked to maintain a 48-28 regular season record, but fell short by seven games. In 2015, the Spikes played a total of 76 games, winning 41 and losing 35 between the 19th of June and the 7th of September.
In the NYPL, there are three divisions with two (McNamara and Stedler) having four teams and the Spikes’ division – Pinckney Division – with six teams. Throughout the season, the Spikes played a mix of all three. They played each team from the other two divisions once and were consistently pitted against the teams in their own division – single-A short season minors affiliates from the Phillies, Cleveland, Washington, Marlins and Pittsburgh.
In their division, the Spikes finished in third with their record of 41-35. Eventual league champion West Virginia Black Bears (PIT) and the Williamsport Crosscutters (PHI) came in second and first, respectively. Williamsport ran away with the division, with the best record in the league, leaving West Virginia and State College to battle others for the lone wild card berth.
The Spikes spent the first month struggling to get a rhythm. State College won only four of their 11 games played in June, with losses coming to Williamsport (PHI), Auburn (WSH) and Staten Island (NYY).
Moving into July, the Spikes seemed to be figuring out how to work as a team, winning 15 of their 28 games.
It was in the first half of August, however, that the team – motivated by that final playoff push – stepped it up and won 17 of their 31 games, including an eight game win-streak from August 8 to August 15. However, they dropped six of seven from the 24th through the 30th that put their wild card edge over West Virginia in jeopardy.
In September, the Spikes won five of seven, but it was too little too late. A loss to Williamsport – and a West Virginia win over Mahoning Valley – on Sunday, September 6, eliminated the Spikes. State College’s season officially ended with a win at Williamsport the next day.
New pitching coach Darwin Marrero coached the staff to a combined ERA of 3.20 – still third-best in the league, but higher than last season’s 2.97 ERA. This broke what would have been a third consecutive season of sub-3.00 ERAs.
The Spikes were just 10th in the league in strikeouts but issued the third-fewest walks.
Marrero aided in the development of newly drafted arms such as Jacob Evans, Latin products like Pedro Echemendia and coached returning standouts like Ian McKinney – before McKinney’s promotion to single-A Peoria.
New Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez slowly immersed the new arms onto the minor league mound. He theorized that since most of the players had just graduated from college where they were throwing all the time, they needed a rest and a small adjustment period before they were allowed on the mound. Early in the season, Rodriguez relied on veterans like Ian McKinney – who had been on the team the year before – to pitch.
“We let them feel their way in, because you know they’re going to be nervous,” Rodriguez said in a pre-season interview back in June. “This is their dream.”
As the season went along, pitchers like Evans and Carson Cross were introduced to the lineup and became regular starters as the season came to a close. Cross led the starters with a 2.70 ERA, but fell short of innings to qualify among the league leaders.
Landon Beck was the only starter to strike out more than one batter per inning (51 in 47 frames). Neither he nor Cross (43 1/3 innings) gave up a home run all season long.
The Spikes were seventh in runs scored with 322 and sixth in batting average at .256. They relied on big hitters like Casey Grayson, Ronnierd Garcia, Orlando Olivera and reliable hitters like Michael Pritchard, Jhohan Acevedo and Thomas Spitz during the season.
For almost a month, Grayson was consistently at the top of the NYPL batting leader board with Garcia then Olivera overtaking him in August. On the team, those three were always rotating between the top three spots – after Harrison Bader was promoted to single-A Peoria after only a week of being on the Spikes. Olivera ended first, with an average of .347, followed by Grayson’s .308 and Garcia’s .305. With enough at-bats, Olivera would have been the league leader.
They were the only three current Spikes members to log an average above .300. Daniel Martin left the Spikes with a .304 average after getting multiple muscle strains and pulls to the hip/groin area in August. He was sent back home and taken off the active roster.
In the NYPL, Grayson finished fourth in batting average and RBI with 38. He also was sixth in runs scored with 40 and tied for seventh in doubles with 18. Pritchard’s 44 runs were third-most while his 15 steals (in 18 attempts) tied for 10th.
Final Team Stats
The Spikes had only four returnees from the 2014 championship team: pitcher Ian McKinney, catcher Brian O’Keefe, shortstop Leobaldo Pina and outfielder Kenney Peoples-Walls. From Johnson City, Rodriguez brought with him pitchers Landon Beck, Dailyn Martinez and Juan Perez, as well as infielder Casey Grayson.
In addition to the returnees and the players brought up from Johnson City to start the season, the Spikes had even more players transferring in during the summer – six pitchers, three infielders and two outfielders (11 players total). Perhaps most important was the promotion of Olivera from the Gulf Coast League.
At the end of the season, the Spikes had 14 pitchers, three catchers, eight infielders and five outfielders rostered.
Five Spikes were named NYPL All-Stars and participated in the NYPL All-Star Game at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland on Tuesday, August 18. Outfielder Michael Pritchard, infielders Leobaldo Pina and Casey Grayson as well as pitchers Juan Perez and Landon Beck played for the South team.
Many other Spikes were key players throughout the season but were not selected to the game at Ripken Stadium – Ronnierd Garcia, Orlando Olivera and Pedro Echemendia to name a few. Garcia and Olivera were consistent – and big – hitters for State College and Echemendia accumulated 12 saves for his team as well as a team-high six wins.
After the conclusion of their season, the members of the 2015 team returned to their homes, including the State College staff. Seven Spikes have now reported to fall instructional league camp in Jupiter, Florida.
We will not know until the winter whether Rodriguez will be back at the Spikes’ helm in 2016.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the State College Spikes Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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