The Cardinals’ short-season A affiliate State College Spikes have set their Opening Day roster.
In the lower rungs of Minor League Baseball, it is a widely accepted practice for teams to stock their “lesser affiliates” with so-so talent.
Historically, the St. Louis Cardinals buck that trend...to a degree. In recent years, the club has usually planted one or two Top 30-esque prospects among their Happy Valley charges.
Over the past few years, that meant seeing talents such as infielders Tommy Edman (currently number 21 according to MLB Pipeline) and Evan Mendoza (number 28) step into a Spikes uniform. Both did not enter their pro careers in anyone’s top XX lists, but took the advantage inherent in playing every day more or less immediately after the draft.
In 2017, the prospect du jour at State College was Bryce Denton. The former 2015 second round pick began his pro career that same year in rookie ball ranked as the club’s 14th best prospect by MLB Pipline. After a so-so professional debut season, Denton slipped to number 21 the following year, and was the club;’s 29th best farmhand by the time he opened up in State College in 2017. After another middling year, the Cards decided to promote him anyway to Peoria.
These two divergent paths seem to crop up often for those aspiring major leaguers lucky enough to call picturesque State College “home.” For all the billing that Double-A receives as a “rubber meets the road” level, Short Season A carries some “prove it or move it” as well. My apologies for the bad rhyming.
Players move back and forth quite often from Short Season. Oftentimes, organizations will want to see if a hot bat can produce at the next level right away, or if a high-velocity thrower‘s stuff can play against tougher competition, and thus can be fast-tracked such as, oh I don’t know, Jordan Hicks. (Hicks was in State College as recently as 2016.)
Other times the long approach is taken, such as with Tommy Edman, who dominated the 2016 season with the Spikes, yet was never called up until the beginning of next season. These types of decisions are what the club’s development minds get paid to do, and their track record stands as pretty good from this author’s view.
Sometimes you get lucky
It is pretty rare for a club in the lower levels to stay more or less intact throughout the year, but that’s exactly what happened in 2016 for manager Johnny Rodriguez’ squad. The Spikes powered their way to the New York Penn League championship that year on the backs of Edman and some free-swinging power hitters in Ryan McCarvel and Vincent Jackson. The club was fun to cover, and when it was all over I had a sparkling-grape juice soaked shirt to commemorate the championship by.
Remember, many prospects are under 18.
For all its intricacies and foibles, for all the extreme player movement and restrictions — pitchers are usually under strict guidelines in both what they can throw and how long they can throw it, for example — the game is still the game at its core. And the joy is still felt just the same when a group of players accomplish something together, as I was able to capture:
Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez comes in hot. I got soaked alsoPosted by Jason Rollison on Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Yes, that is a 50-some year old man rolling the clock back to his younger days to revel with his team. And yes, that is quite the potato quality video, I agree. Blame a severely damaged iPhone that forced me into a six-year old iPhone FOUR backup.
Anyway, let’s turn out attention to this year and point out there prospects to watch in the early stages of the Spikes’ season.
A familiar name
Headlining the group is 2016 first round pick, INF Delvin Perez.
MLB Pipeline’s 20th ranked Cardinals prospect (and our #13 pick) is likely out to go through a “boring” season. Having played just 77 games over the past two years due to injuries, Perez will look to build on the .294/.352/.393 slash he posted in his 43 debut games in the Gulf Coast League in 2016.
Perez carries 60-rated field and arm tools, with a 35 rated hit tool serving as the biggest question mark as to his ultimate baseball destiny. Still just 19 years old, there will be plenty of time for Perez to solidify his approach to pick up his bat.
The pitching staff is highlighted by 2018 sixth-round pick Edgar Gonzalez. The Fresno State product posted 110 strikeouts against just 31 walks in 2018 to go along with a 2.84 ERA. He may end up being one of those picks that the Cardinals are known for: solid but unspectacular. That rep may come from his average stuff (he can touch mid 90s on occasion but sits a tad lower at 92-93) and questions on whether he can stick in rotation.
These are the two headliners among pitchers and hitters as the Spikes open their season on Friday June 15th against the Williamsport Cross-Cutters. The wonderful thing about minor league baseball — and Short-Season in particular — is that there is ample opportunity for new storylines to emerge along with new faces.
I’m new here, btw, and I hope to be able to highlight some of those faces and shed light on those stories from an oft-overlooked neck of the minor league woods.
Full Media Day Roster for the State College Spikes (subject to change):
Image credit - Wikimedia Commons