STATE COLLEGE - Two weeks ago, Dave Turgeon was set to start his inaugural season as the State College Spikes manager.
On June 12, those plans were changed when the Pittsburgh Pirates announced Turgeon as the pitching coach of the Class A West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League.
Kimera Bartee will take over as the manager of the Spikes after spending the last four years as an outfield/baserunning coordinator in the Pirates organization. His familiar ties to State College should lead to a smooth transition for the 38-year-old manager.
Sentinel photo by JEFF?FISHBEIN
State College Spikes general manager Jason Dambach looks on as Spikes manager Kimera Bartee talks to reporters at the team’s annual media day Thursday.
Sentinel photo by JEFF?FISHBEIN
State College Spikes’ outfielder Justin Bencsko enjoys a personal moment outside the bullpen during the team’s media day Thursday at Medlar Field.
"I have a relationship with all these guys," Bartee said. "These are guys that I've worked with. I have a relationship with the guys that were drafted last week because they found out they were a Pirate about the same time I found out I was manager."
The Spikes strength may lie on the pitching mound this year. One of the top prospects in the Pirates organization is Stetson Allie. Last year's second-round draft choice for the Pirates will make his pro debut for State College Monday. During his senior season of high school, Allie posted a 1.29 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 60 innings.
State College pitching coach Justin Meccage is not only working with Allie on his pitching, but also how to deal with becoming a professional pitcher.
"It's very difficult for anyone at the pro level for a lot of different reasons," Meccage said. "It's a grind every single day. He has so many eyes on him that we've been trying to help him deal with that. It's all about controlling what you can control and that's yourself."
Bartee said Allie has all the intangibles physically, but the adjustment will have to be made mentally.
"He was blessed with a right arm," Bartee said. "There are a lot of kids that are blessed with talent. Getting them to figure out that talent and how to mentally deal with the attention, that might be the biggest adjustment."
Allie was named the Pirates' third-best prospect by Baseball America, which said he has the best slider in the system.
Making tonight's opening day start against the Williamsport Crosscutters will be Nick Kingham. Kingham was a fourth-round pick last year, and the highest draft pick on the Spikes roster after Allie. The 19-year-old spent last season making his pro debut with the Gulf Coast League Pirates.
"It's definitely an honor to get the opening day nod," Kingham said. "We have so many talents in our pitching staff and it's an honor to be able to open up the season."
The Spikes will return eight players from last year, only three of which are position players. Catcher Matt Skirving returns after posting a .217 batting average in 43 games. Also returning in the infield is Walker Gourley. Gourley hit only .168 last year while playing shortstop. Justin Bencsko appeared in only 19 games last year, hitting .188.
Bartee's plan this year is to not only develop his players physically for a chance to reach the next level, but he emphasized the long-term for these young players.
"It's about honestly and it's about about humility and it's about humor," Bartee said. "We want them to be truthful with themselves and their teammates and respect everything out here."
Also on the radar for the new manager is the fun of the game. Bartee said baseball is a game that is meant to be fun and that's exactly what he'll try and accomplish with the Spikes.
"They understand it's gotta be fun and they gotta have a little bit of humor," Bartee said. "If they are locked in on those three things (honestly, humility, humor), we're going to be successful not only here, but in life."
The Spikes will be back for their fifth season participating in the New York Penn League's Pinckney Division. Last year, the Spikes finished 33-42, good enough for fifth in the six-team division. A new year is upon the Spikes with aspirations of competing for a title.
"It's exciting," Meccage said. "There is a lot of talent in this pitching staff overall. It's exciting to develop all these guys. We have a bunch of exciting guys and it's an exciting time for them."
Kingham said he expects the Spikes to be vying for a championship.
"Talented 1-9 we're really stacked and hopefully we get a winning season and I think we'll be in contention for the championship this year."