Greensboro just finished a four-game series in Hagerstown, of which I got to the Thursday, Saturday and Sunday games — happily, the three that the Grasshoppers won. After struggling severely on offense previously, Greensboro suddenly broke out, scoring 41 runs in the four games. The outburst vaulted them from near the bottom in the 14-team South Atlantic League in runs per game to second, and from 12th in team OPS to 7th.
A few caveats about this. First, the Suns’ pitching appeared to be very bad. Their staff especially seemed to have a lot of trouble throwing strikes. Second, there was a stiff breeze blowing out during the Saturday and part of the Sunday game. Greensboro hit ten home runs in those games; at least three, and as many as five, were wind-blown.
A couple other notes. Greensboro’s hitters are putting up large walk and strikeout numbers. The former is probably due in part to the Grasshoppers having a number of hitters drafted out of college last year. They should be more advanced than some of the pitchers they’re facing, many of whom won’t have good control yet, so the walk totals may not say much about the hitters’ skill level. Whether or not that’s the reason, Grasshopper batters are walking in 10.2% of their plate appearances, well above the league average of 9.0%. On the strikeouts, the SAL has seen a sharp increase this year. Every staff in the league is averaging over one per inning. The SAL as a whole has a K/9 of 10.2, up from 8.9 last year. Greensboro’s hitters are striking out in 26.5% of their plate appearances, which seems alarming, but that’s below the SAL average of 26.8%.
Numbers in parentheses are draft rounds from 2018.
Greensboro’s two best position prospects are probably center fielder Lolo Sanchez and first baseman Mason Martin. Both are repeating the level, but both are still a good age, with Sanchez turning 20 a few days ago and Martin still 19 until June. Sanchez is slightly built and doesn’t figure to hit for a lot of power. I saw him in two games and he seems to have toned down his swing, although he still has a .230 ISO. He struggled some with offspeed stuff and went after pitches out of the zone, although he generally makes contact. He didn’t make a lot of hard contact in the two games, but with his speed he’ll get on base a lot as long as he’s putting the ball in play. He hasn’t translated that speed into base stealing ability. He’s 6-for-12 as a base stealer this year; in his one attempt that I saw, he started too soon and got picked off.
Martin got demoted from this level last year due to massive contact issues. That hasn’t gone away, but he’s made progress. He’s a patient hitter, maybe too much. The strikeouts don’t come from him chasing, but from him taking a lot of strikes and swinging through pitches. The latter problem may be due partly to a practice of trying to pull every single pitch, making him vulnerable to anything away. The Pirates have tried to get him to go the other way and he did line two hits to center in the three games I saw. But his reluctance to go after pitches he doesn’t think he can drive led to a lot of called strikes. Defensively, he’s improved a lot. He made several good scoops and a nice grab on a hard grounder down the line. He dropped a popup, but gusting winds had the entire infield scrambling to track the ball, so it was a very tough play.
The other most interesting of the hitters was second baseman Rodolfo Castro. He’s also repeating the level and is also not quite 20. Apart from Martin, Castro showed the most power on the team, ripping home runs that definitely weren’t windblown on Saturday and Sunday, along with a couple of long drives that were caught. He’s a switch hitter and the ball jumps off his bat from both sides (he hit one homer from each side). He seems to be heating up, as all four of his longballs on the season have come in his last six games and he has his ISO up to .305 (only four of his 14 hits are singles). He’s not a disciplined hitter, though, and chases off-speed stuff. In the field, he seems to lose focus. On one routine grounder, he took his time and the batter beat the throw.
The Grasshoppers have a number of position players who were drafted out of college last year and they’ve all been struggling mightily, except for utility infielder Chase Lambert (31), who continued to hit line drives in this series. Some of the others started making some progress, particularly shortstop Connor Kaiser (3). He’s a tall (6’4″), lean shortstop, somewhat similar in build to Jordy Mercer. Scouts consider him to have some raw power and he started showing it in this series, hitting two home runs, one of them windblown, on Saturday. His swing is a bit long and he takes a lot of pitches, sometimes looking tentative at the plate. He’s had a high strikeout rate and an extremely high walk rate this year and he had a four-walk game in the one I didn’t see. Defensively, he doesn’t have the athleticism and fluid actions of Cole Tucker, but he showed good range and a strong arm.
Two other early round draftees, catcher Grant Koch (4) and right fielder Brett Kinneman (7), have struggled even more than Kaiser. Koch’s main tool when he was drafted was supposedly power potential, but he’s shown very little as a pro, with a career ISO of just .068. He seldom strikes out and does make some hard contact, but in this series it was all on the ground and he doesn’t seem to generate any loft. Because he has well below average speed, the lack of elevation probably doesn’t bode well for his ability to get on base. Defensively he looked better at receiving than when I saw him last year, when he was just stabbing at pitches rather than getting in front of them, but he still lacks athleticism behind the plate. I saw only one steal attempt against him, so I don’t have much sense of his arm. Kinneman, on the other hand, has had serious trouble making contact, fanning in over a third of his plate appearances. He did better at it in this series, but didn’t make a lot of good contact. Kinneman has a strong arm, but his two throws in the series weren’t accurate.
A few other hitters:
Zack Kone (13) is similar in build to Kaiser. Although he was drafted as a shortstop, he’s been serving strictly as DH for about a week, evidently in deference to Pat Dorrian, who’s played third. Like Kaiser, his swing is a little long and he has some power potential that hasn’t shown up much so far. In this series it did a little, as he had a long double to center and a home run on an opposite field fly ball that may or may not have had some assistance from the wind.
Dorrian was impressive playing third. He had quite a few difficult plays in the three games, mostly on slow choppers or bunts that required him to throw on the run. He handled it very well, except for one throw that sailed on him. He has a lefty swing with something of an uppercut that looks like it should produce some power, and he does have a .167 ISO on the year. He’s been very impatient so far, with bad walk and K rates, but he did better in this series and drew three of his four walks on the season.
Jonah Davis (15) made a lot of noise last year at Bristol, but he’s struggled very badly this year, with strikeouts in half of his ABs. Davis is very similar to Martin at the plate, as he’s a left-handed hitter who looks to pull every pitch. I only saw him in one game and he had less trouble making contact, striking out just once in six times up and connecting for a grand slam to center. Unsurprisingly, given his approach, he pulled three grounders right at the first baseman. Davis played center and didn’t appear to have good range, with a couple balls dropping that somebody like Sanchez would likely have caught.
Outfielder Fabricio Macias signed out of Mexico and appeared to have good potential as a hitter. He struggled at this level last year, though, and got demoted. He’s struggling just as much this year. He takes a big cut and doesn’t take a lot of pitches. He did drive several balls in this series, including two home runs Saturday, although one was windblown.
Nick Economos started Thursday. He showed a roughly average fastball (I could only get radar gun readings for a couple of pitchers) with only fair command, and relied heavily on changing speeds. He also threw a curve that he didn’t seem to have a feel for over his first three innings, although it got sharper in his last two. Economos had some control issues and didn’t get a lot of swings and misses, but kept the hitters off-balance just enough that there wasn’t a great deal of hard contact. I’m not sure how well his stuff will work at higher levels.
Osvaldo Bido started Saturday and was the most impressive of the pitchers I saw. He had a rough start, with the first four batters hitting the ball hard, leading to two runs. After that, Bido allowed little beyond easy grounders and popups, and he lasted seven innings. He showed good fastball velocity at times; I think he was mixing in a cutter. Although he was 21 when he signed, he was very skinny and is still filling out, so he could still gain velocity, although he’s 23. He varied his speeds a lot, leading to a great deal of weak contact. Bido didn’t get a great many swings and misses, but was able to get hitters to swing through high fastballs at times. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t move up by mid-season, assuming he keeps pitching like he has so far.
The Sunday started was Alex Manasa. He showed better stuff than Economos, with at least average fastball velocity, including some ability to blow high fastballs by hitters, along with a good slider and an occasional change. He got hit harder than Economos, but he threw strikes and was able to last seven innings. Like Bido, he’s still very lean, and he wasn’t very experienced when he signed; he’s made a lot of progress the last couple years and could still get stronger, and he’s only 21.
The most interesting reliever I saw was Nick Mears. The Pirates signed him late last season as a non-drafted free agent (he was hurt and didn’t play in college last year), and he’s fanned nearly two hitters per inning since then. I didn’t see a lot of him, though, because he blew through his one inning on ten pitches, nine of them strikes, getting a grounder and two whiffs. He has plus fastball velocity and misses bats with the pitch. He threw one slider that also produced a swing and miss.
Logan Stoelke (9) pitched on Thursday and Sunday. He relies heavily on a cutter that comes in about 90-92, along with an occasional slider. He didn’t miss many bats with the cutter, which was surprising because he was nearly unhittable in the New York-Penn League last year. He gave up some hard contact, including a home run Sunday.
Samuel Reyes, Pablo’s brother, pitched on Saturday. Like Pablo, he’s a small guy, but his fastball edges into the low-90s and he has a nasty curve that repeatedly had hitters lunging after it as it broke down into the dirt. I’m not sure why he’s still in the SAL, as he did very well there last year.
Joe Jacques (33) is interesting because he’s a lefty submariner. He throws an upper-80s fastball and a change that fades away from right-handed hitters. It tends to end up well off the plate, though, and doesn’t get swung at. He’s had a lot of control problems and that happened again on Sunday, although he managed to leave the bases loaded on a line out.