GREENSBORO — They posted the second-best record in the 14-team South Atlantic League in the first half of the season, but didn’t earn a playoff spot because they were stuck in the same division as the best.
And now the Greensboro Grasshoppers start the second half Thursday at home against the first-half champion Delmarva Shorebirds.
The Hoppers went 44-25 in the first half, a record that would’ve won the Southern Division by seven games. Instead, they finished four back of Delmarva in the North.
But today, they are 0-0, just like everyone else in the Sally League.
Also like everyone else, there is certain to be player movement and roster shuffling in the wake of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. How much movement could determine the course of the 70 games to come.
In the meantime, here are the Hoppers’ grades from their mid-term report card.
STARTING PITCHING: A-minus
Right-handers Osvaldo Bido (8-4, 3.06 ERA) and Brad Case (7-1, 2.45 ERA) lead the Sally League in victories, and outfielder-turned-pitcher Alex Manasa (6-1, 3.31 ERA) used his sinking two-seam fastball to make the All-Star team. Opening-day starter Steven Jennings (5-6, 5.14 ERA) is rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 10 prospect in Pittsburgh’s farm system, highest on the team. Jennings, a 20-year-old right-hander picked in the second round of the 2017 draft, got off to a rough start but turned a corner in May. He’s 3-1 with a 3.25 ERA in his last five starts, with five walks and 28 strikeouts in 27⅔ innings. Case was promoted two weeks before the All-Star game, but right-hander Colin Selby (3-1, 3.31 ERA) has picked up the slack in seven starts.
Most of the roster moves involving the Hoppers in the first half involved the bullpen, starting with uber-hard-throwers Nick Mears and Shea Murray heading up the ladder. Samuel Reyes (1-0, 0.52 ERA, 3 saves) and Logan Stoelke (4 saves) followed not long after. But each has been replaced by a quality arm, and nine different relievers have notched saves so far. Right-hander Yerry de los Santos (2-0, 1.73 ERA, 3 saves) has walked four and struck out 22 in 15⅔ innings since joining the team in May. And maybe the most intriguing guy in the bullpen is hard-throwing lefty Braeden Ogle (1-1, 3.82 ERA, 4 saves), a converted starter who has walked 10 and struck out 34 in 30⅔ innings.
Grant Koch, a fifth-round draft pick out of SEC powerhouse Arkansas in 2018, is the starter and made the All-Star team as a reserve after batting .233 with 11 extra-base hits in the first half. He’s a solid receiver who has handled a pitching staff that’s No. 2 in the league with a 3.23 ERA. Hit 13 homers as a sophomore at Arkansas, but has just five HRs in 87 pro games. He’s thrown out just nine of 50 base stealers (18 percent, about 10 points below MLB average). Backup Zac Susi, a fine defender, is batting just .176.
All-Star first baseman Mason Martin (.263, 18 HRs, 62 RBIs) leads the Sally League in home runs and RBIs, and fellow All-Star starter Rodolfo Castro (.242, 14 HRs, 46 RBIs) has flourished as a switch-hitter while playing second, third and shortstop. Middle infielder Ji-Hwan Bae (.292, 9 steals) has excelled in 24 games, but also served a 30-game suspension for an assault conviction in South Korea last year. Shortstop Connor Kaiser (.367 on-base percentage), a third-round pick out of Vanderbilt last year, is a top-notch defender who missed time with an oblique injury. MLB Pipeline rates No. 13 Bae, No. 27 Castro and No. 28 Martin among Pittsburgh’s top-30 prospects. Castro and Martin both turned 20 years old during the first half, and Bae’s 20th birthday is July 26. Kaiser is just 22. It’s a very good group. And Pat Dorrian (.260, 6 HRs in 58 games) has been valuable in a utility role.
All-Star center fielder Lolo Sánchez (.301, 20 steals) turned 20 in April and has flourished in his second tour of duty in the Sally League. He has adjusted to breaking balls and offspeed pitches, and become one of the toughest hitters in the league to strike out (28 in 263 plate appearances). MLB Pipeline rates the speedy outfielder as Pittsburgh’s No. 14 prospect. Left fielder Fabricio Macías (.252, 7 HRs, 33 RBIs, 8-for-8 SBs) of Mexico started the season 5-for-60 (.083) in his first 16 games, but has batted .318 with 10 doubles and all seven HRs since April 20. Right fielder Brett Kinneman (.160, 5 HRs), an N.C. State alumnus, was sent down after 44 games and replaced by 19-year-old Jack Herman (.242, 3 HRs, 9 RBIs in 12 games), who was a Gulf Coast League All-Star last summer.