Third baseman Stanley Espinal continues to be one of the biggest surprises for State College this season and a headache for opposing pitchers.
Espinal came to the St. Louis Cardinals organization from the Boston Red Sox last summer when he was traded for international amateur signing bonus pool space. He was hitting .185 in seven games with the Lowell Spinners, and things did not get much better after the trade.
In 22 games with the Johnson City Cardinals and five games with the Spikes last season, Espinal batted just .192 with two home runs.
Now, in his fourth year of pro ball since being signed out of the Dominican Republic for a $10,000 bonus in 2014, Espinal is having his best professional season to date. He is the Spikes’ leader in batting average (.304), slugging percentage (.486), RBIs (35), triples (4) and is tied for the team lead with six homers.
The 21-year-old ranks second in the New York-Penn League in batting average, tied for second in RBIs, tied for fourth in slugging percentage and tied for fifth in homers. He is the only player in the league to rank in the top five of each of those categories.
Espinal entered Monday on a nine-game hitting streak, his longest of the season. He has a .485 average in his last nine games. During that stretch, he has six games with two or more hits, including a 4-for-5 performance against West Virginia on Aug. 9.
This hasn’t been just a hot few games for Espinal. It’s been almost a month of swinging a really hot bat. In 15 games during the month of August, Espinal is batting .362 with a .621 slugging percentage and an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.043, an extremely impressive OPS.
Diaz stops slump
Spikes shortstop Imeldo Diaz broke out of a slump in a big way on Saturday. Diaz was hitless in his last 21 at-bats entering the game against Mahoning Valley. He came into the contest with a .087 average in 92 at-bats.
The State College infielder went 2-for-4 with a run scored in the 4-1 victory against Mahoning Valley. When Diaz singled in the top of the fifth inning, it was his first hit since July 28 and first two-hit game of the season.
Diaz came to the Cardinals from the Red Sox organization in the trade with Espinal last summer. While he hasn’t been an above average hitter in his minor league career, Diaz’ numbers have at least been serviceable in his previous three seasons.
The 20-year-old came into 2018 with a career .238 average. He hit .277 across two levels last season, going 7-for-27 in seven games when he joined the Spikes. Maybe Diaz’ two knocks on Saturday are what he needs to find his stroke at the plate.
Hamann once again a late-inning force
Spikes reliever Kevin Hamann started the season with a 10.61 ERA in six games for the Peoria Chiefs.
Hamann joined State College in June and allowed an earned run in his first appearance with the Spikes. He then went on a run of eight straight appearances for the Spikes, picking up four saves along the way.
The 24-year-old righthander gave up at least one earned run in three of his six appearances from July 16 to Aug. 2, when he was roughed up for four runs in two innings in a loss to the Auburn Doubledays.
Hamann made his return to the mound four days later, striking out the side in a shutout eleventh inning to lock down a 4-3 win and then picked up another save the next day. He has not allowed an earned run in his five relief appearances since Aug. 2, and is 4-for-4 in save opportunities during that stretch.
Last year’s 22nd-round pick out of Lewis Clark State has a 2.30 ERA in 27 innings for the Spikes this season. He is a perfect 8-for-8 in save opportunities. His eight saves lead the Spikes and rank third in the New York-Penn League.
What’s On Deck?
Following a resumed game and a seven-inning contest on Monday at home against the Williamsport Crosscutters, State College (29-31) will get back on the road on Tuesday and Wednesday with a two-game set in Williamsport.
The Spikes added to their franchise record with a 12th consecutive road victory on Sunday against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. They swept the three-game series against the Scrappers, who came into the weekend leading the New York-Penn League’s Pinckney division, and moved to 5.5 games back in the division and five games out of the wild-card.
State College will hope to add two more to their road win streak this week against the Crosscutters (25-35), who are 3-4 against the Spikes this season.
Outfielder Ben Pelletier has been one of the Crosscutters’ hottest hitters. Pelletier is second on the team this season with a .290 average and is hitting .467 with two home runs in his last four games.
Philadelphia Phillies first-round pick Alec Bohm is still on a rehab assignment and not with Williamsport. Righthander Francisco Morales (No. 13) and lefty Jhordany Mezquita (No. 27) are the other top 30 Phillies prospects, according to MLB.com.