UNIVERSITY PARK — The State College Spikes begin their seventh season today at Williamsport. Here are our annual answers to minor questions.
Is this the Spikes last year as a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate? A tricky one to start.
The Player Development Contract between the Spikes and Pirates expires after this season. Spikes general manager Jason Dambach said earlier this month the franchise will not extend the agreement during the season.
The decision will make the Spikes a free agent in September. They will have plenty of suitors because Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is a Double-A caliber venue.
The Spikes have struggled in their five years with the Pirates, compiling a 156-219
record since the affiliation started. The Pirates havent fielded a winning team in State College.
After six years, the Spikes front office has no idea if a contender would help attendance. The teams best record was a 39-36 mark in 2006, their lone season as a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate.
The best way to interpret the Spikes public plea for a competitive team:Hey Pittsburgh, weve treated you well, now do something major for us.
The Pirates appear to be reciprocating this season. Luis Heredia, a 17-year-old pitcher from Mexico, and supplemental first-round draft pick Barrett Barnes give the Spikes two intriguing prospects.
Our hunch is that this gets settled in September.
Medlar Field, after all, has the same outfield dimensions as PNC Park. This franchise wasnt created for another affiliation.
A 17-year-old pitcher? How does this happen?
The Pirates signed Heredia for $2.6 million in 2010. Theres no rush to receive an instant return on their investment.
But they want Heredia challenged, so they are bringing him north for the first time in his career. Heredia pitched before family, friends, scouts and instructors in the rookie Gulf Coast League last summer. The organization wants to see how he handles lights and crowds.
At 6-foot-6, 237 pounds, Heredia has an imposing and durable frame. He can throw a 90 mph fastball and spin a breaking ball.
But one thing to remember when watching Heredia this summer: Most 17-year-olds are preparing for their senior year of high school. Whos playing where?
Jacob Stallings, a seventh-round draft pick from North Carolina, and Ryan Hornback will catch, Jared Lakind is playing first base, Jodaneli Carvajal is at shortstop, and Samuel Gonzalez, Francisco Aponte, David Valesente and Walker Gourley are playing multiple infield positions.
Barnes is projected to play center field. Rodarrick Jones, Alex Fuselier and Raul Fortunato are corner outfielders.
Former Penn State standout Jordan Steranka will officially sign with the Pirates and join the team when he recovers from mononucleosis. The Pirates drafted Steranka as a first baseman.
Georgia Tech outfielder Brandon Thomas (fourth round), UC Irvine infielder D.J. Crumlich (ninth), North Carolina State infielder Chris Diaz (11th) and Kent State infielder Jimmy Rider (26th) might also help the Spikes when they sign.
Gonzalez, Gourley, Jones, and Fuselier are New York-Penn League veterans. Gonzalez, an all-star selection who hit .302 as a catcher last year, will play first and second base while recovering from shoulder surgery.
I like the combination, manager Dave Turgeon said. Guys are familiar with the league and the other thing is that they are out to prove something because this might be it. They have to prove they can do this or not. The college guys bring stability. The young guys will be balanced out.
Any changes around the ballpark? The Spikes are working with Professional Sports Catering to enhance their food and beverage options.
Medlar Fields concession stands have been re-branded. The Penn State Creamery, The Cove Pizzeria, The Gamble Mill and Ottos Pub are among the local establishments with ballpark offerings.
Flat-screen televisions were installed in the concourse and rest-rooms.
How are the nearby Williamsport Crosscutters looking? Young.
Infielders Roman Quinn, Tyler Greene and Mitch Walding, outfielder Larry Greene and catcher Chace Numata are 19.
The group is typical of a Philadelphia Phillies NY-PL team: Filled with youth (Remember 17-year shortstop Freddy Galvis in 2007?) and loaded with athletic ability (Remember toolsy outfielders Domingo Santana and Kyrell Hudson 2010?).
Similar players might emerge in Williamsport this summer.
Will this be the year the Spikes stay afloat in the Pinckney Division? Forget trying to answer that one.
The players are too young and the roster moves are too frequent to make predictions in this league.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy