State College Spikes

Notebook: Acevedo honing skills with bat in return to State College Spikes

Jhohan Acevedo has never climbed past Advanced-A during his six-year career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

He’s spent the majority of the last two seasons with short-season Class A State College, making 67 of his 99 appearances for the Spikes. Acevedo started this year in State College before quickly being promoted to Single-A Peoria, but the center fielder is back in a Spikes uniform going into the final full month on the minor league baseball calendar.

State College manager Johnny Rodriguez said Acevedo could play center field in Triple-A right now, but his ability at the plate has held him back.

“When we were together in extended (spring training), I said, ‘If you ever get your offense up to the level of your defense, you’re going to be a major leaguer,’ ” Rodriguez said. “And he’s starting to do that. I really love the way he’s playing.”

Acevedo’s newfound confidence offensively can be traced back to his 24-game stint in Peoria. The center fielder hit .317 in his first 19 games with the Chiefs, but he fell into a 1 for 17 slump in his final five games before being sent back to State College. Acevedo broke out of the slump immediately, going 7 for 21 (.333) since rejoining the Spikes on July 24.

The Venezuela native said Peoria hitting coach Jobel Jimenez helped him make an adjustment with his hips.

“I think that helped me a lot,” Acevedo said. “You can tell now I’m hitting the ball really well and constantly. I’m glad that I can help the team a lot more than I was doing before.”

Acevedo went 2 for 16 with two singles in five games for State College before his promotion June 24.

One month later, he returned as a threat at the plate.

Acevedo has two doubles and a triple in five games with plate appearances. He’s generating more power as a result of the small adjustment he made in Peoria, something on display when he drilled a triple into left-center field to drive in two runs in State College’s 10-1 win over Vermont on Thursday night.

“Before I couldn’t get the ball that far,” Acevedo said.

Rodriguez said Acevedo believes in himself as a hitter now. And the manager believes in him at the plate, too.

After hitting in the bottom third of the order in the previous eight games he started for State College, Acevedo hit second Thursday against the Lake Monsters, who started left-hander Evan Manarino.

It’s an option Rodriguez now has against lefties, and the manager thinks Acevedo can make a difference for the Spikes down the stretch, barring another promotion.

“He was here last year but he wasn’t ‘the guy,’” Rodriguez said. “He might be ‘the guy’ here this year.”

In the last two years, Acevedo has played in eight games for Advanced-A Palm Beach. He enjoyed some success in 24 games with Peoria.

But for now, he’s back in State College and focused on getting better.

“I’m going to do my job wherever I go,” Acevedo said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m here or Peoria, Palm Beach. This is my job, this is what I love to do and wherever they’re going to send me, I’m going to put all my effort in it and give my 100 percent every single day.”

League leaders

The Spikes had a handful of players among the statistical leaders in the New York-Penn League going into Saturday.

Casey Grayson was tied with Williamsport’s Brendon Hayden for the league lead in batting average at .336 and tied with Brooklyn’s Vincent Siena for first in hits with 44. Grayson ranked third in on-base percentage (.429), third in walks (22) and was tied for fourth in RBIs (24).

Mike Pritchard ranked second in the league in runs scored (27), and Leobaldo Pina was tied for third in hits (43).

Pitchers Juan Perez (2.27) and Ian McKinney (2.43) ranked tied for fifth and seventh in ERA, respectively. Reliever Pedro Echemendia was tied for the league-lead in appearances with 13. Landon Beck was fifth in the league with 36 strikeouts.

Early playoff picture

Heading into August, the Spikes were one of nine teams in the mix for the New York-Penn League’s wild card spot.

The Staten Island Yankees (20-18), Lowell Spinners (21-19) and West Virginia Black Bears (21-19) were in a three-way tie for first place in the wild-card standings.

Hudson Valley sat a half game back, while State College and Aberdeen were both 1 1/2 games back. Connecticut and Mahoning Valley were two games behind the leaders, and Auburn was 2 1/2 games out.

Williamsport led the Pinckney Division with a league-best 26-14 record, Brooklyn (22-17) led the McNamara Division and Tri-City (22-18) led the Stedler Division.

The three division champions and wild-card winner make the playoffs.

State College and the rest of the wild-card hopefuls went into Saturday with plenty of time to make a run. The Spikes (19-20) were just past the midway point of the season with 37 games remaining.