UNIVERSITY PARK — Talk to enough baseball minds and you’ll eventually hear that it’s a game of failure. Round ball, round bat and swings with so many moving parts that the slightest dissonance breaks them down.
And that doesn’t even include the unnatural arm motion a pitcher must master to manipulate a ball hitters are trained to mash.
So with the game’s difficulties as the backdrop, it’s a good time to look at the State College Spikes’ offense to see who’s hot, who’s not and who’s ready to break out, because by next week — who knows.
Valera,Washington on fire
If you’re a 21-year-old shortstop desperately trying to make it to the majors, and coming off a 4-for-23 stint with 11 strikeouts in eight games at Advanced-A Palm Beach — greed is good.
But Cesar Valera, the newly named New York-Penn League Player of the Week, isn’t lusting after dollars. Well, not directly. However, he is after knowledge.
“He’s greedy,” said Spikes’ hitting coach Ramon “Smokey” Ortiz after Valera went 2-for-4 — his sixth multi-hit game in his last 10 — in a 4-3 victory over Mahoning Valley on Monday.
“He’s greedy to learn. He’s greedy to get better everyday and his work ethic is outstanding.”
Valera, a 2008 signee from Venezuela, hit .478 last week with five doubles, a triple and a home run. He’s also reached base safely in 18 consecutive games, the second longest streak currently in the NY-PL, though it ended Tuesday night.
Entering Tuesday, the Spikes’ offense led the NY-PL in hits (200) and doubles (52), and was second in RBIs (104) and batting average (.279). Valera led in hits (27) and doubles (nine), and was second in RBIs (13) and batting average (.370).
St. Louis Cardinals minor league hitting coordinator Derrick May, who is currently in town, said Valera is probably one of the top prospects at short in the team’s system.
“He’s got so much confidence now it seems, and that’s a good thing when you hit,” May said. “But he’s been using the whole field and that’s what’s making him successful I think.”
David Washington, 22, is also swinging well. The 6-foot-5 lefty entered Tuesday with a nine-game hitting streak, leading the league in RBIs (20) and having driven in at least one run in eight straight. In his last five games he is 7-for-20 with three home runs and eleven RBIs.
“I feel more relaxed,” said Washington, a 15th-round pick in 2009. “I’m not thinking about the home run, which is good. And I’m just trying to keep building.”
Some extra work in the batting cage with Ortiz helped Washington Monday as he blasted a two-run homer to center in the first inning.
De Leon is lukewarm
It’s too early to say Alex De Leon is heating up. Going 4-for-8 with a homer in two games does not a streak make, especially considering he was 0-for-22 in the previous eight. His overall .171 batting average suggests he’s cold, but his coaches all agree his swings are improving.
“I’ve been getting here early and working with Smokey,” said De Leon, a 23rd-round pick in 2013 from Kansas. De Leon said they are working on shortening his swing and getting his front foot down sooner, which should help timing and pitch recognition.
The 22-year-old catcher has spilt time so far with Luke Voit, a 22nd-round pick in 2013 from Missouri State. Both have been good defensively, but Voit is batting .270. De Leon, who also plays first, could be further pressed for time with the addition of Dante Rosenberg, a catcher who signed Tuesday as a free agent from the University of South Carolina.
Ramos heating up
After coming off a 1-for-14 four-game stint in Peoria earlier this year, Steven Ramos, who turned 23 on July 4, has found his stroke in State College.
The 22nd-round pick in 2010 has a .347 batting average, good for third behind Valera (.370) and Ronald Castillo (.381).
He has 12 hits in his last 10 games and has punished left-handed pitching (7-for-14).
“I’m feeling real good right now,” Ramos said. “I’m comfortable at the plate and actually figured out a lot this year so far.”
Ramos, who went to Ohlone Community College in California, attributes his improvement to coaches adjusting his approach to the ball.
He got away with a high leg kick in college, but that slowed his bat speed against harder-throwing minor league pitchers.
“Once I got to the minor leagues it caught up to me,” Ramos said. “They were throwing it by me and I wasn’t catching up to fastballs.”