The St. Louis Cardinals have announced the 2017 coaching staff for the defending New York-Penn League champion State College Spikes. Joe Kruzel, who led the Single-A Peoria Chiefs for the past three years, will take over as the ninth manager in Spikes history.
Kruzel joins a trio of returnees in hitting coach Roger LaFrancois, pitching coach Darwin Marrero and athletic trainer Chris Whitman on the bench in 2017. Jordan Brown also joins the staff as the new strength and conditioning coach.
Johnny Rodriguez, who led the Spikes to a club record 50 regular season wins and the second NYPL championship in franchise history in 2016, will head west to become the manager for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals in Springfield, MO. Rodriguez won a total of 95 games in his two years at the helm, second-most for any manager in club history.
Kruzel takes the reins for his fifth season as a manager and tenth season coaching in the Cardinals organization. The Hamilton, OH resident guided the Chiefs to the Midwest League playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and led them to a first-half division title in 2016. Kruzel also managed the Rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals in 2013.
Before his time with Peoria and Johnson City, Kruzel served as the hitting coach for the Cardinals' Single-A affiliate in Quad Cities from 2008-13. During his stint there, the veteran baseball man tutored a 2012 squad that led the Midwest League in home runs and a 2011 team that led the league in slugging percentage.
Kruzel also managed the Cincinnati Reds' Rookie-level affiliate in Billings, MT in 2007 and served as hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Reds in 2006 before joining the Cardinals. Kruzel joined the professional ranks after coaching at the University of Toledo from 1989-2003, the last 11 seasons as head coach. During his time leading his alma mater, Kruzel won the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year award in 1999.
"We're excited to welcome Joe Kruzel and Jordan Brown to the Spikes family, and excited to welcome Roger, Darwin and Chris back to State College for another great season of Spikes baseball ," said Spikes General Manager Scott Walker.
LaFrancois returns to State College after helping the Spikes offense produce a league-leading 378 runs and 283 walks en route to the NYPL title in 2016. LaFrancois's tutelage greatly benefited a pair of rookies, as Tommy Edman led the loop with 61 runs scored and 48 walks, while Jeremy Martinez topped the loop with a .419 on-base percentage. In addition, Ryan McCarvel set a new Spikes record for home runs by a right-handed hitter with ten under the guidance.
A former catcher for the Boston Red Sox, LaFrancois brings over 25 years of professional coaching experience back to the Spikes.
Marrero also comes back to Central PA after Steven Farinaro set a new Spikes record with nine victories under his guidance in 2016. In addition, relievers Brady Bowen and Eric Carter tied for the league lead in saves with nine apiece, and Spencer Trayner led all NYPL relievers by allowing just 7.42 baserunners per nine innings.
Whitman returns to the Spikes for his second season as athletic trainer after being part of his second championship squad. The Downingtown, PA native also manned the training room for the 2014 Appalachian League champion Johnson City Cardinals.
Brown joins the Spikes staff after serving in the same role with Johnson City during another Appalachian League championship season in 2016. Frank Spinelli, who won the NYPL Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year award from the Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS) last year, will serve as the strength conditioning coach for Single-A Peoria in 2017.
The Spikes begin the defense of their New York-Penn League championship in 2017 on Monday, June 19, when they take on the Williamsport Crosscutters (Philadelphia Phillies). 2017 Season Ticket Memberships, Flex Books and group outings for all 38 home games through September 7 are currently available by calling (814) 272-1711. More information can be found at StateCollegeSpikes.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.