The Greensboro Grasshoppers get their season started on Friday night, and just like the other three full-season affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates, they will be loaded with prospects. This ballpark provides a nice test for the pitchers moving up to this level, who are going from a pitcher-friendly league to a hitter-friendly ballpark. You should expect to see some improvements in the stats from the hitters as well, though you have to keep both things in mind when judging these prospects.
I’m starting with the catching position because the Pirates have decided to put three of their top four catching prospects at the same level to start the season. Henry Davis ranks as the second best prospect in the system, with some sources putting him as the top prospect. Either way, he’s one of the best prospects in the game, rating in the top 50 for everyone, and much higher for some people. The 2021 first overall pick probably won’t last long at the level, especially if he gets off to a strong start.
The seventh ranked prospect in the system is Endy Rodriguez, and he will do some catching, while also getting reps all around the field. He has the athleticism to play anywhere and the bat to get him to the majors. Abrahan Gutierrez is the best third-string catcher for a team ever, as most teams don’t even put two catching prospects on the same team. He’s an intriguing bat as well, with an .869 OPS last year in Low-A and more walks than strikeouts. Besides Rodriguez getting starts elsewhere, I assume these three will all some DH time for as long as the Pirates decide to keep them all together.
The infield will include Dariel Lopez, Maikol Escotto and Jackson Glenn. Lopez is a potential upside bat, putting up big numbers in the DSL in 2019, then he had a solid season in Bradenton last year at 19 years old, posting a .735 OPS that was 21 points over league average. The Pirates had him splitting time between shortstop and third base, while also getting some time at second base. He missed development time due to Tommy John surgery and the lost 2020 season, but it doesn’t show at the plate. He’s the #27 prospect in the system.
Escotto got off to a great start last year, then put up numbers well below league average for the last 3/4 of the season, which included a high strikeout rate as well. However, he is still 19 years old until June, so he will be among the youngest players in the South Atlantic League this year. He mostly played shortstop last year, with some time at second base. He’s the #30 prospect in the system. Glenn turned 24 back in October, so he’s old for the league, but his experience level is minimum with him being a 2021 draft pick. He also did great at the plate after signing, putting up a .944 OPS in 30 games.
The outfield will include four prospects who didn’t have great seasons last year, but all have upside. Hudson Head, Sammy Siani, Matt Gorski and Jack Herman will split time in the outfield, and all should see regular time. None of them made our top 30 list, but all have the potential to join the list. All but Herman were high bonus players, and he showed the most since signing, though his 2021 season was rough in Greensboro, before he settled in with an .818 OPS in 54 games for Bradenton. Head showed nice power and drew plenty of walks last year with Bradenton, though he also struck out a ton. Siani showed a little less power, a better walk rate, and a much better contact rate than Head, but he also finished with a .215 batting average. Gorski has received some strong reviews this spring after a mediocre season with Greensboro last year. He showed some power and nice speed, but a .711 OPS while playing in a hitter-friendly park is the reason he returns to the level.
We don’t have the full rosters yet, but we know some of the top pitchers who will be here. Jared Jones is the highest ranked pitcher on the team (8th in the system), but they also have Adrian Florencio, who was the top pitcher in the system last year, getting our Pitcher of the Year recognition. Jones has huge potential upside, but he needs to work on his control and a third pitch to avoid becoming a power reliever. He has possibly the best strikeout stuff in the system, though the combo of that and his control leads to huge pitch counts. Florencio put up the best stats in the system last year on the mound and now he has to try to repeat that performance in a hitter-friendly park. If he approaches those numbers from last year, you’ll see him move up prospect charts.
The other top pitchers (among the known) are Nick Garcia, Logan Hofmann, Santiago Florez and Grant Ford. Hofmann really excelled at Bradenton last year, though he probably should have been kicked up to Greensboro around mid-season. Florez pitched great at Bradenton, then did awful for Greensboro, as his breaking ball heavy approach didn’t have the same results against better hitters. He still has a good fastball though, so we could see better things this year. Garcia was a third round pick in 2020, who started off decent, but he had a 4.67 ERA over the last three months, and he really struggled at home, which isn’t something you’d expect in Bradenton. Ford was a fifth round pick in 2019, who could never get going last year. He had nice results for Morgantown in 2019, but was hit hard at home and on the road last year.
These six pitchers should get the majority of the starts this season for Greensboro.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.