The State College Spikes may not have made the playoffs, but their season featured several highlights, plays and top moments. Here’s our look at the Spikes’ season.
Team MVP: Stanley Espinal INF/DH
Espinal was arguably the biggest surprise for the Spikes this season. He came into 2018 with a .243 career batting average and just 10 home runs in 159 career minor league games. Last season was a bit of a struggle as he hit just .191 for three different teams, which included going 2-for-14 in five games for the Spikes.
After coming to the Cardinals in a trade from the Boston Red Sox organization one year ago, the 21-year-old infielder set career highs in almost every category. Espinal batted .286 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs. His eight home runs led the Spikes and ranked tied for fifth in the New York-Penn League.
Espinal, who signed with the Red Sox out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, also posted an impressive .349 on-base percentage and .456 slugging percentage.
Best Starter: Franyel Casadilla RHP
Casadilla made two quick starts for the Spikes to begin the season before he was sent to the Peoria Chiefs on June 25. He was back in State College less than a month later after giving up 17 earned runs in 12 innings during three appearances for the Chiefs.
The righthander turned his season around when he got back to State College. He was 4-1 with a 1.59 ERA in 10 games with the Spikes. Casadilla ended the year with a 4-3 record and 3.84 ERA after giving up 17 earned runs in his last two appearances.
Jake Dahlberg also had an impressive season on the mound for the Spikes, posting a 2.15 ERA in 50.1 innings pitched. Dahlberg was sent to the Peoria Chiefs on Aug. 1 and went 4-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 47 innings.
Best Reliever: Kevin Hamann RHP and Michael Baird RHP
Baird and Hamann both played very different roles as part of the Spikes’ bullpen. Hamann was the team’s closer, while Baird performed more of a long-man role and even made four starts. However, both pitchers posted incredible seasons for the Spikes.
Hamann had a 1-1 record with a 1.95 ERA in 32.1 innings. He only allowed an earned run in four of his 25 appearances and finished the season with 10 straight games without giving up an earned run. The 2017 22nd-round pick tied with Williamsport’s Keylan Killgore as the league leader with 10 saves.
Baird made 12 appearances for the Spikes this season after being selected by the Cardinals in the 23rd round out of Southern Illinois. He went 2-2 with a 1.61 ERA in 44.2 innings. Opposing hitters batted just .179 against Baird, and he gave up just 0.74 walks and hits per inning pitched.
Best Hitting Performance: Lars Nootbaar’s 7-RBI game
In the greatest comeback in Spikes’ history (more on that later), an unlikely hero rose to the occasion. Nootbaar came into the Spikes’ game against the Auburn Doubledays on Aug. 24 with a .219 average and 13 RBIs.
The 20-year-old outfielder went 2-for-3 with a grand slam, which was the first home run of his professional career. He scored one run and tallied a franchise-record seven RBIs. Most importantly, Nootbaar’s performance gave the Spikes an 11-10 win as they tried to make a late-season playoff push.
Best Pitching Performance: Franyel Casadilla’s late-season gem
Casadilla allowed just one hit in seven shutout innings in a 6-1 win against the Williamsport Crosscutters on Aug. 22. He struck out 10 batters and allowed just one walk. The only hit was a bunt single in the fourth inning.
At the time, he tied the franchise record for strikeouts in a game, which was broken four days later when Jacob Schlesener struck out 11 hitters. Casadilla’s outing may have been even more impressive had it not been interrupted by rain in the eighth inning.
The performance was part of a stretch of three games in which Casadilla went at least seven innings and gave up one earned run or fewer.
Best Game: Spikes’ record comeback against the Doubledays
State College trailed by seven runs one inning into its game against the Auburn Doubledays on Aug. 22. Eight innings later, the Spikes were celebrating an 11-10 victory.
Alexis Wilson’s RBI double put the Spikes on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning. Lars Nootbaar’s grand slam in the fifth made it a 7-5 ball game. Four more runs in the sixth, including two more RBIs for Nootbaar, gave the Spikes a 9-7 lead entering the seventh.
Auburn tied the game in the top of the eighth, but the Spikes responded with two of their own to take an 11-9 advantage into the ninth. After Auburn scored one run, the Doubledays had the tying run on third and the potential winning run on second. Edgar Gonzalez induced a 5-2-3 double play to get out of the jam and complete the record comeback.
Best Moment: Cory Malcom proposes pre-game
Malcom, a 23-year-old from Arkansas-Little Rock, got down on a knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Kayla Turner, on the field before the Spikes’ home game against the Doubledays on July 22.
After such an emotional day, Malcom was not supposed to appear in that night’s game, but when the contest went to extra innings, the righthander was sent out to the mound. Malcolm gave up two runs in the top of the 10th, but he came away with the win after the Spikes walked it off with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Best Alum: Mike Shildt and Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
Two Cardinals rookies and former Spikes have made their impact at the big league level this season. Righthanded pitcher Jordan Hicks was invited to Cardinals’ spring training after spending last year with Palm Beach Cardinals.
The 22-year-old has dazzled with a blazing fastball in the back end of the Cardinals’ bullpen. He has a 3.01 ERA in 65 games just two years after going 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in State College. Hicks has the three fastest recorded pitches in the MLB this season according to Statcast. His sinker against the Phillies on May 20 went 105.1 miles per hour.
Shildt spent last season coaching in the big leagues, but he made his managerial MLB debut in mid-July when he took over for Mike Matheny as interim manager. Shildt has managed the Cardinals back into the National League Central and wild card races and earned himself the full-time gig.