The first wave of State College Spikes’ players arrived at Medlar Field on Saturday afternoon.
Six days before State College’s season opener, the players and coaching staff made the trip from Jupiter, Fla., where they just finished extended spring training at the St. Louis Cardinals’ facilities.
The Spikes will go through one more week of workouts before they start the season Friday at 7:05 p.m. on the road against the Williamsport Crosscutters.
“It’s exciting to be able to play them under the lights,” second-year manager Oliver Marmol said. “Extended spring training is a very important time for us. We take it very serious just like any other club does, but it’s a time where you really get to develop these guys and get after it and see what they’re capable of doing and starting to tap into what it is they need to do in order to to not only compete at this level, but have some success and compete a higher level.
“So we’re excited that process is done with, and now we’re here and we continue development here.”
Marmol led the Spikes to the New York-Penn League Championship series last season. He returns with pitching coach Dernier Orozco and hitting coach Ramon Ortiz along with pitchers Jacob Booden, Jeff Rauh, Josh Lucas and catcher Alex De Leon. State College’s preliminary roster lists 21 players, including 14 pitchers.
The Spikes will also feature players from the MLB First-Year Player Draft, which finished Saturday.
The opening day roster will be finalized by Friday at noon. State College’s home opener is Saturday at 7:05 p.m. against Williamsport.
Rauh is back in State College after going 3-2 with five saves and a 4.05 ERA for the Spikes last season. He’s hoping this group of Spikes can make another run to the league championship series after falling to Tri-City.
“Obviously, that’s our goal to win a championship here and we got a lot of the same pitchers at least coming back,” Rauh said. “And we’re looking forward to seeing our new draft guys we got and hopefully we can do it again.”
Rauh made two appearances for Class A Peoria this season in addition to working to improve in extended spring training.
Rauh said a typical day in Jupiter included practice at 7 or 7:30 a.m., followed by a workout.
On Friday, the Spikes will finally be playing under the lights again.
Said Rauh: “It's pretty much the opposite of here.”
Keeping tabs on the draft
Spikes general manager Jason Dambach said the team can usually guess which draft picks will land in State College.
“It gives us the opportunity for the first time to see some potential names,” Dambach said of the draft. “And usually have a pretty good idea, guys that are taken out of college in the first 15 or 20 rounds, generally, those are guys that are going to end up here in State College. So once we see a draft-pick name out of a four-year college, we try to familiarize ourselves with that person because chances are, they’re gonna make a stop here in State College.”
The Spikes usually learn who will be in State College within a few days of the draft.
The Cardinals drafted Florida State pitcher Luke Weaver with the 27th overall pick.
Other college players selected by St. Louis in the first 10 rounds include: University of California Irvine pitcher Andrew Morales, Florida Atlantic pitcher Austin Gomber, Western Michigan shortstop Andrew Sohn, St. Joseph’s catcher Brian O’Keefe, College of William and Mary right fielder Nick Thompson, Embry-Riddle University (Fla.) pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon and Stanford third baseman Danny Diekroeger.
No matter who suits up for the Spikes this season, Marmol will be ready for their addition.
“That’s the nature of this level,” Marmol said. “It’s kind of what you expect. You know that guys are going to come in halfway through, you’re going to have guys that come in early on and be here for the first game, but you just got to make sure that when they get here, you’re going over all the fundamentals.”
Marmol’s connection with Cards’ draft pick
Marmol has spent the past two offseasons living in Boston while training St. Sebastian’s School first baseman Justin Bellinger.
Bellinger could join him in the Cardinals organization after St. Louis selected him in the 11th round of the draft on Saturday. The 6-foot-6 slugger has also committed to play at Duke.
“I’ve played with a lot of guys throughout my career, and I’ve coached a lot of guys in the last few years that I’ve been managing and Justin’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen in my life,” Marmol said. “This kid knows how to compete, he knows how to get after it, he works really hard at it and it was exciting to kind of be able to give him a phone call after working with him for several years and being able to congratulate him and welcome him to the Cardinal family.”
Marmol connected with Bellinger through Palm Beach Cardinals hitting coach Roger LaFrancois. The Spikes manager has worked with Bellinger since he was 13.
Marmol and his wife moved to Boston for the last two offseasons, so he could train the first baseman.
“He’s an exciting player with a ton of power and who just has a dream to be a big leaguer,” Marmol said. “And he goes about his day every day making sure he’s getting closer to that, so it’s exciting when you get to train players like that, that take career serious and Justin is a player that does exactly that on a daily basis.”