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Minor League look: Short season Spikes

Minor League look: Short season Spikes

Here is Part 5 in a seven-part series that will take an in-depth look at how each of the Pirates' Minor League affiliates fared during the 2009 season. Previously, we examined Triple-A Indianapolis, Double-A Altoona, high Class A Lynchburg, and Class A West Virginia. Up next is the short season State College Spikes:

Record: 38-38; third in New York Penn League Pinckney division

What went right?

-- Start with the 38-38 record, which was significantly improved over the 18-58 season that State College had a year earlier. The 2009 Spikes' record was the best it's ever been as a Pirates affiliate.

-- The pitching staff as a whole was a strong suit of this State College team, as it finished the year with a 3.27 ERA. That staff ERA ranked fifth out of the 14 teams in the New York Penn League. The Spikes also averaged just 2.72 walks per nine innings.

-- Highlighting that pitching staff was Kyle McPherson, who led the club with 75 1/3 innings pitched in 13 starts. The 2007 14th-round Draft pick went 4-3 with a 2.99 ERA. That number shows an improvement of nearly a run and a half over the ERA he posted with the Spikes in 2008. Also notable was the fact that McPherson limited opponents to just 11 walks all year.

-- On the offensive end, infielder Brock Holt was the standout on the Spikes' squad. He signed just days after being made a ninth-round pick this summer, which allowed Holt to get 66 games under his belt before the season ended. He led State College's everyday players with a .299 average and 23 extra-base hits. He also had 33 RBIs.

What went wrong?

-- Right-hander Maurice Bankston made nine starts for the Spikes, but he continued to struggle with health issues. After being limited to just nine appearances in 2008, Bankston dealt with muscle spasms in his back this year and continues to struggle to stay on the field. Bankston was an eighth-round pick in 2007.

-- The Spikes lacked some offensive punch in '09, ranking 13th in the 14-team league with a .233 batting average.

-- Both first baseman Aaron Baker and Evan Chambers -- each of whom were picks in this summer's First Year Player Draft -- had slow starts in their first taste of professional baseball. And both were forced to make some adjustments at the plate immediately. However, it is worth noting that Baker and Chambers each played well over the season's final few weeks once those adjustments were successfully made.

On the rise:

-- The Pirates believe they have some promising young arms that made brief appearances in the New York Penn League this summer. Victor Black posted a 3.45 ERA in 13 appearances (seven starts) after being picked in the first supplemental round of the 2009 Draft. There is also Phillip Irwin, a 21st-round selection, who went 1-2 with a 2.12 ERA in 10 appearances (seven starts).

Statistical leaders:
Batting average: Holt, .299
Doubles: Justin Byler, 19
Triples: Aaron Baker, 7
Home runs: Holt and Byler, 6
RBIs: Byler and Pat Irvine, 41
Stolen bases: Holt, 9
Wins: Tyler Cox, 8
ERA (starter, minimum 50 IP): Bankston, 2.34 ERA
ERA (reliever, minimum 20 IP): Zachary Foster, 1.24 ERA
Saves: Marc Baca, 6
Strikeouts: McPherson and Cox, 57

End of season awards:

Holt, Most Valuable Player; McPherson, Pitcher of the Year; David Rubinstein, Team Leadership Award

Outlook:

The New York Penn League is not a league that traditionally treats Latin players or recent high school graduates well. That said, it's a place where the Pirates are expected to send most of their Draft picks that have come out of college. With State College's season starting in June, next year's club will also be made up of some players who start the year in the Gulf Coast League and are ready for midseason step up.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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