GREENSBORO — When the second half of the season started, South Atlantic League All-Stars Rodolfo Castro and Lolo Sánchez were right back in the starting lineup.
Only in Bradenton, Fla.
That’s roughly 700 miles south and one step up the minor-league ladder from Greensboro.
Sánchez and Castro both went 0-for-4 in their debuts with the Bradenton Marauders of the Advanced Class-A Florida State League on Thursday night in a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Tarpons.
But the two 20-year-olds had certainly earned the promotions.
Sánchez, rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 14 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system, batted .301 with 20 stolen bases in 61 games for the Hoppers.
It was his second tour of duty in the Sally League, and he made the most of it.
“He’s got a mission, and that mission is to go on to the next level,” Hoppers manager Miguel Pérez said earlier this season. “He’s showing it to everybody. He’s repeating the league, and the fact he’s repeating is not affecting his performance. It’s actually encouraged him. He’s on the right track.”
Sánchez became one of the toughest batters in the league to strike out, fanning 28 times in 263 plate appearances. That was a big improvement over last season, when he struck out 72 times in 378 at-bats, which is still not bad in this age of launch-angle hitters.
But it’s bad for a contact hitter who makes his living with his legs.
“You know how it is at this level,” Pérez said. “I went through it, too. You come in and think, ‘I’m going to hit this way; I’m going to approach this way.’ It was hard for (hitting coach Chris) Peterson to get it in his head to work on different things. But Lolo opened his mind, opened his heart, and he’s been doing it. He’s always been a great fastball hitter, and now he’s staying back on the breaking balls. He’s playing his game. He’s getting better.
“He’s got to continue to hit the ball on the ground or line drives,” Pérez added. “He’s got to stay away from flyballs. That’s one thing we harp on. That’s the main thing, to let him run and use his speed. … He needs to stay away from hitting the ball in the air.”
It was the opposite for Castro, a switch-hitting middle infielder with power.
He hit his way out of Greensboro — and into the No. 27 spot in MLB Pipeline’s Pirates prospect rankings — by putting the ball in the air.
Castro, who singled, walked twice and scored a pair of runs at the Sally League All-Star game, finished his time in Greensboro with a .242 average, 14 home runs and 46 RBIs in 61 games.
Castro showed good pop from both sides of the plate, hitting nine home runs in 168 at-bats left-handed, and five homers in 47 at-bats right-handed.
He also showed versatility, starting games at second base, shortstop and third base depending on where the Hoppers needed him most.
Opening day of the second half, without Sánchez and Castro in the lineup, the Hoppers played with just 24 men on the active roster.
And they blew leads of 8-0 and 11-2, losing 12-11 in 10 innings to the Delmarva Shorebirds at First National Bank Field.
The bullpen, solid in the first half, got lit up. Delmarva scored four runs in the seventh inning, four in the eighth, one in the ninth and one in the 10th.
Five relievers struggled to get anyone out and squandered a fine start from Luis Nova, who retired the side in order in five of six innings pitched.
It looked as if the Hoppers would still win when Pat Dorrian hit a long drive to right field with two out in the bottom of the 10th and a runner at second base. But Delmarva’s Doran Turchin made the catch up against the fence, about 3 feet short of a home run.
Sánchez’s promotion opens up a full-time outfield spot that should belong to 19-year-old Jack Herman, who joined the team May 30th. Herman was a Gulf Coast League All-Star last summer, batting .340 with 22 RBIs in 37 games. Herman had four home runs and 10 RBIs through 13 games with the Hoppers.
Castro’s promotion likely creates an everyday infield of Mason Martin at first, Ji-Hwan Bae at second, Connor Kaiser at shortstop and Dorrian at third, with Kyle Mottice as the utility backup.
On Friday, the Hoppers added 20-year-old outfielder Germin Lopez and 19-year-old right-handed pitcher Wander Romero to the roster.