Even though the State College Spikes failed to make the playoffs last season, this year’s team did not let its recent past effect the outcome of the 2016 season. A 50-26 regular season record broke the franchise’s single season wins record by two, then the club capped off the year with the Pinckney Division title and New York-Penn League championship.
“It’s incredible to be a part of such an amazing season,” manager Johnny Rodriguez said following the NYPL championship win. “These kids deserve everything, they’re champions. They’ve been grinders all year long with slow heart beats. It was truly a team effort. It’s a humbling experience. It’s an incredible thing for this team and for this organization, and I couldn’t be more proud of what they have done.”
State College started off the season with 10 returning players from 2015, along with other familiar faces, including Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez and members of the coaching staff. The 2016 season was Rodriguez’s second year as manager for the St. Louis Cardinals’ short-season single-A affiliate.
Although several players traveled throughout the minor league system by returning to rookie levels or being promoted, the Spikes managed to keep a consistent balance amid an ever-changing roster.
The Championship Series
After winning the NYPL semifinal series 2-1 over the Staten Island Yankees, the Spikes moved on to face Hudson Valley in the finals. State College took game one 3-0 on the road, a shutout made possible by strong pitching performances from Steven Farinaro and Max Almonte. State College broke open a 0-0 tie in the sixth when Vince Jackson tripled and Jeremy Martinez singled to score two runs. Andy Young plated the Spikes’ final run with his single in the seventh.
In game two, the Spikes had the edge playing in their home stadium and used it to their advantage. Both teams had tough pitching performances to keep the score low. Jordan DeLorenzo started and despite giving up Hudson Valley’s only run, struck out seven over four innings. Greg Tomchick tossed four scoreless innings and Brady Bowen struck out the side to end the game. Despite trailing 1-0 to Hudson Valley in the first, a two-run home run from Danny Hudzina blasted over the left field fence in the second gave the Spikes a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
The Spikes’ victory allowed them to sweep the series in just two games and clinch the NYPL title for the first time at their home field.
After a season as exciting and decorated as this, there were many highlights worth mentioning. Listed below are among the few that stand out the most in the general overview of the team’s success in 2016.
- The Spikes broke a franchise record after securing their 50th win, topping the previous record by two (48), which was set back in 2014. State College was the only team in the NYPL to reach 50 wins this season.
- State College broke another record during the team’s final home game on September 4th, hosting 6,111 fans in Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for the team’s largest crowd in franchise history.
- State College was the first team to clinch its division this season, after holding onto first place in the Pinckney division for almost the entire 2016 season. The Spikes gained complete control after the end of week 2 and never gave up their lead from that point forward.
- State College sent five players to the NYPL All-Star Game, including pitcher Eric Carter, catcher Jeremy Martinez and infielders Danny Hudzina, Tommy Edman and Elier Rodriguez. The All-Star selections marked the third time in the last four seasons that five Spikes players were picked to play in the game.
- The Spikes’ 2016 New York-Penn League Championship marks the second league title for the franchise in three years, the last having been in the 2014 season.
After a 41-35 record in 2015, the Spikes were looking to turn things up a notch and challenge the Spikes’ single season wins record of 48-28 from 2014. After a long 76 game season, State College managed to accomplish that goal and become the first team in franchise history to reach 50 wins. The 2016 regular season opened on the 17th of June and concluded on the 5th of September. State College won the NYPL championship on September 12th.
In the NYPL, there are three divisions: McNamara, Stedler and Pinckney. Both the McNamara and Stedler Divisions have four teams, while the Pinckney Division has six. The Spikes played each team from the other two divisions once and faced off against those from the Pinckney Division at least twice.
The other five teams from the Pinckney division include: the Williamsport Crosscutters (Phillies), the West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh), the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland), the Auburn Doubledays (Washington) and the Batavia Muckdogs (Miami). These five teams finished the season in the division standings in the above order, behind the first place Spikes.
Although State College opened up the season with a 1-4 loss in Williamsport on June 17th, the rest of the month was impressive. The Spikes won 10 of their 14 total games, putting them in first place after just two weeks of play.
State College held onto that first place ranking throughout the entire season, while gaining 18 wins in July against only 10 losses. The Spikes did face a four-game losing streak from July 12th through the 15th, but broke it with a 9-3 win over Mahoning Valley on the 16th.
The Spikes kept the momentum going well into August, recording 18 wins and 11 losses, to keep maintain their lead over the rest of the division and set themselves up for a real chance at the postseason.
September only included five regular season games, but the team won four in preparation for the postseason. State College’s season continued on with five post-season games, through the completion of game two of the finals, as they beat Hudson Valley 2-1 to take the championship.
Stats: Though the regular season, the Spikes ranked second highest in hits allowed and fifth in team ERA (3.06). Although the number is not as effective as it could be, it is an improvement on last season’s 3.20 mark. State College also finished seventh in runs allowed and third lowest in walks issued, while striking out 522 (the fourth lowest amount in the league).
Earlier, Johnny Rodriguez spoke to the low amount of strikeouts from his staff.
“We don’t have a lot of strikeout masters,” the manager said after a game in August. “The bullpen works hard at what they do, but they don’t get a lot of strikeouts and it’s up to our defense to field the ball when they don’t.”
Standouts: Two key starting pitchers, Ronnie Williams and Steven Farinaro, set the tone for other starters on how to be efficient yet effective.
Although Williams was promoted to Peoria on July 31st, he did a lot of good for State College before he left. Williams tied two single-game Spikes’ records in June with 10 strikeouts and eight innings pitched. Overall, the Cardinals’ 2014 second round draft pick went 4-2 over seven starts, posting a 2.72 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. The 20-year-old gave up 37 hits but only 17 runs, 14 earned, and seven walks this season.
Farinaro’s success received a jumpstart following Williams’ promotion, enabling him to step up and replace Williams’ commanding presence on the mound. The right-hander broke the Spikes’ single-season wins record with his ninth win, closing out his season with a 9-1 record and 3.46 ERA. Farinaro was the only NYPL pitcher to record nine wins this season. Farinaro made 14 starts and struck out 53 in 83 1/3 innings pitched. He gave up 100 hits but walked only 18 and yielded 38 runs.
Eric Carter and Brady Bowen both made significant impacts on the Spikes roster as late game relievers and often closers.
Carter, who was selected for the NYPL All-Star Game, posted a 2-0 record, appearing in 17 games and pitching 22 2/3 innings. The right-hander posted a 2.38 ERA and struck out 26, while giving up just eight runs and four walks.
Bowen pitched in important, close games. He struck out 32 over 30 2/3 innings, with a 0-0 record and 3.23 ERA. The left-hander made an appearance in 18 games, giving up 30 hits and 11 runs. Rodriguez describes Bowen as “sharp” and “a pitcher with a slow heart beat” that “has had tough times, but always pushes through it and comes out better.”
Bowen and Carter tied at nine saves for the team’s lead this season.
Stats: State College had more at-bats than any team in the NYPL (2,586) and also scored the most runs (378). The Spikes finished the season ranked first in RBI and walks, while ranking second in hits and fourth in team batting average (.254). State College also ranked third in doubles (126) and home runs (35).
Standouts: Tommy Edman, Andy Young and Vince Jackson became the consistent top three for most of the final third of the season. All three hitters had incredible skills at the plate, enabling them to get on base consistently to score runs, but also get powerful and clutch hits when needed.
Edman finished the season ranked first in the league in walks (48) and runs scored (61), two key components for any leadoff batter. His average (.286) fluctuated throughout the season but was consistently very close to .300, if not over.
Young finished the season with a .261 average, recording 19 RBI, 42 hits and 26 runs in 42 games. Young homered three times in the regular season.
Jackson was often a power hitter for the Spikes, with 266 at-bats, the most of any player in the NYPL. The center fielder scored 39 runs and ranked second in RBI (45).
Ryan McCarvel also made history this season when he hit for the cycle on June 30 at home. The first baseman hit 10 home runs, the second most of any NYPL player this season. McCarvel tied with Jackson for the second most RBI (45) in the league, in addition to tallying 53 hits and 31 runs.
Final Team Stats - Regular Season
Six pitchers were among those returning from the 2015 season, including Max Almonte, Carson Cross, Jonathan Escudero, Dailyn Martinez, Greg Tomchick and Gerwuins Velazco. Two pitchers from the 2014 squad, Dewin Perez and Steven Farinaro, rejoined the Spikes after playing at different levels in 2015. Among other 2015 returnees were infielders Danny Martin and Elier Rodriguez.
Seven from the Spikes original roster were newly-drafted and making their first professional appearances, including two pitchers, two outfielders, two infielders and one catcher. Headliners included infielder Tommy Edman, catcher Jeremy Martinez, outfielder Vince Jackson and pitchers Spencer Trayner and Bob Wheatley.
The remaining players on the 2016 season opening roster spent their 2015 seasons on other teams, mostly at other levels within the Cardinals minor league system, from Palm Beach to the Gulf Coast League.
At the end of the season, the Spikes had 14 pitchers, three catchers, five infielders and five outfielders rostered.
The Spikes will return as the St. Louis Cardinals’ short-season single-A affiliate in the 2017 season, after two sides renewed the affiliation agreement in September for two more seasons. We will have to wait and see how the Spikes plan on topping the 50-26 record breaking season. Although no official information has been released, after the league title it seems likely that Rodriguez will return as manager in the 2017 season.
Link to master article with all 2016 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, coming soon.
Five Spikes have been invited to participate in the Cardinals fall instructional league camp that begins this month. Full details on instructs can be found here, with first-hand reports from Jupiter coming, both exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Take advantage of our seven-day free trial.
© 2016 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.