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Spikes join new MLB Draft League

State College is one of five founding teams

Sentinel file photo
State College Spikes’ first baseman Shane Benes tags out Staten Island’s Ezequiel Duran completing a pick-off attempt during a game on July 16, 2019, in State College.

UNIVERSITY PARK — The State College Spikes announced Monday that it will continue forward as an MLB affiliate with a unique twist as the Spikes will be a member of the newly-formed MLB Draft League, which will feature some of the best prospects around the country as they prepare for the draft each season.

The Spikes who were a short-season single A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, along with the rest of the New York-Penn League, were among the 42 teams to be eliminated as MLB has worked to realign and consolidate Minor League Baseball to 120 affiliated teams moving forward. The list of 120 affiliated teams is expected to be released this week.

The five founding members of the newly formed MLB Draft League include the Spikes, Williamsport Crosscutters, West Virginia Black Bears and Mahoning Valley Scrappers, formerly of the New York-Penn League, as well as the Trenton Thunder, formerly the Double A Eastern League affiliate of the New York Yankees. A sixth team is expected to be added.

The league will play a 68-game season that begins late in May and is expected to conclude in mid-August. The league will also pause for a break that coincides with MLB’s All-Star break and the draft.

“This is a very exciting day for the State College Spikes,” Spikes Chairman and Managing Partner Chuck Greenberg said. “When we brought the Spikes to the Happy Valley community in 2006, we had a simple vision. It was to bring fun, affordable baseball, make lifetime memories together, make deep and abiding contributions to the community and to do all of that within the contents of watching elite young athletes pursuing their dream of making it in Major League Baseball. Today with the announcement of the Major League Baseball Draft League, that vision not only continues, we believe that it will take it to the next level.”

Greenberg outlined the ways that the MLB Draft League will be a viable future for the club and despite becoming an amateur league, the league could have more talent moving forward than it did in short-season affiliated ball.

In Spikes history, 62 former players have reached the major leagues. Greenberg believes that the number will only increase with the new league.

“It’s everything that’s been great about Spikes baseball and more,” Greenberg said. “For the first time there will be a forum and a performance opportunity for draft eligible players to show what they can do in the most elite of circumstances competing against one another head-to-head in the months leading up to the draft. From a baseball standpoint, it’s everything that we have had with an even greater concentration of talent.”

Greenberg mentioned that the team believes in the new model and is not looking to use it as a stepping stone to return to affiliation with a major league team.

“In our minds it’s every bit as affiliated as the original supply system was, it’s just that instead of having players right after they were drafted, we’re gonna have them right before their draft,” Greenberg said. “We’re one of six teams in the country that are going to be a part of this format and that makes it really special and the composition of the league is really good.”

According to the league’s president, Kerrick Jackson, the league will provide a unique playing experience for the top college prospects along with high school players to showcase their talents for the MLB Draft.

“We wanted to create an opportunity for these kids to be able to play, specifically now that the draft has been moved back,” Jackson said. “Baseball fans know that you can’t take a layoff from the game and still be able to go out and produce. Now there is a window of about a month and a half where these kids are now getting themselves a chance to keep playing to prepare for the draft and this league holds substantial value with that.”

Republican Rep. Fred Keller, who represents Pennsylvania’s 12th District, which includes Mifflin, Juniata, Snyder and Perry Counties, as well as State College, spoke in support of the Spikes future. Keller was a founding member of the Protect Minor League Baseball Task Force that fought against MLB’s restructuring of the minor league system back in January.

“Our community knew losing the Spikes was not an option,” Keller said. “It has been outstanding to see Central Pennsylvania rally behind the Spikes, who have been an important community partner for a number of years. The news that the Spikes will retain MLB affiliation means that there is light at the end of the tunnel and minor league baseball will come back stronger than before.”

Pennsylvania House of Representatives Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, who represents a portion of Mifflin County as well as Centre County, also spoke in support of the Spikes.

“The State College Spikes are an integral part of the Centre County community and have served as a premier proving ground for many Major League Baseball players,” Benninghoff said. “I applaud Major League Baseball for adapting to these unprecedented times and utilizing outside-the-box thinking to ensure young baseball players can receive the development they need to become tomorrow’s stars while keeping baseball in State College. I look forward to seeing baseball played at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College this year and for years to come.”

The Spikes franchise, which was set to enter its 15th year before the pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, now has a viable future in State College.

“The last year has been pretty stressful in so many ways, even before the pandemic hit,” Greenberg said. “The questions about the future of the Spikes and the New York-Penn League weighed heavily. We were sure that no matter what, the Spikes would continue, but I was concerned about the platform we would have to do that. The creation of the MLB Draft League, the continuing affiliation with MLB, which I believe will now be a closer affiliation with MLB, and everything about the elements of the league are what I have hoped for and more. I truly believe this is a step forward for the Spikes.”

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