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Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: First National Bank Field (Greensboro, NC)

Author Walter Triebel visits the Marlins Low-A affiliate and takes note of their most impactful prospects.

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Photo by Walter Triebel

Walter Triebel spent 15 years as an adjunct faculty member at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He has had an extensive career in business and as a textbook and reference book author. Triebel’s “Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League: A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks and Cities“ was published by McFarland in 2016. It’s available for purchase on their website as well as Amazon.

Earlier this month, Triebel visited First National Bank Field, home of the Marlins’ South Atlantic League affiliate. He shares that experience below. (An earlier version of this article appeared on the Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League Facebook page.)

2018 South Atlantic League Travel: Game #4 June 3, 2018—West Virginia Power versus Greensboro Grasshoppers at First National Bank Field, Greensboro, NC

I made my fourth stop of this season to see the teams of the South Atlantic League in action on the field on Sunday June 3, 2018. That day I traveled to First National Bank Field, Greensboro, NC to attend a home game of the Greensboro Grasshoppers—the class A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. That was a day game in which Greensboro played the Pittsburgh Pirates full-season A class team in the SAL—the West Virginia Power.

This was the deciding game of a 3 game series between Greensboro and West Virginia. The Grasshoppers had won game 1 and the Power game 2. At the start of the game, the Greensboro Grasshoppers record was 25W:28L and they ranked #5 in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League standings. On the other hand, the West Virginia Power were 26W:24L and stood 2.5 games above the Grasshoppers in 4th place in the Northern Division.

Ten players that are currently ranked as MLB top 30 prospects of the Miami Marlins were members of the Greensboro Grasshoppers roster. A look at the table shows that the list included five pitchers, two infielders, two outfielders, and three players that were ranked in the top 10 among Miami’s MLB Top 30 Prospects.

Courtesy of Walter Triebel

However, on the date of the game, four of those players were on the disabled list: #4 Braxton Garrett (LHP), #9 James Nelson (3B), #27 Tyler Kolek (RHP), and #28 Jordan Holloway (RHP). Among the active pitchers, left hander Trevor Rogers (#5) and righty Edward Cabrera (#11) are starters, while #24 prospect Colton Hock (RHP) is a reliever.

Relative to the active field player group, outfielder Isael Soto (#26) was the Grasshoppers opening day right fielder and #3 hitter. However, he went on the disabled list in early May and just returned for game two of this series with the West Virginia Power. On the other hand, both Jose Devers (#22) and Thomas Jones (#25) were assigned to the Greensboro roster after the season had started, but immediately took over starting roles. Jones typically plays center field for the Grasshoppers and bats in the leadoff slot, while Devers plays short and bats second.

At this point in the season, a number of players rank as leaders of the 2018 Greensboro Grasshoppers offense. Two of them are first basemen/third baseman Micah Brown and second baseman Samuel Castro. Brown was the Grasshoppers opening day third baseman and #7 batter. Entering the game, he ranked #1 or was tied for the team lead in 3 of the 13 traditional batting stat categories listed as Individual Stats on the Greensboro Grasshoppers website: R (20-tied with Thomas Jones), HR (5-tied with Marcos Rivera and Thomas Jones), and RBI (21). Samuel Castro made his debut in the Grasshoppers uniform in game 3 of the new season. On the day of this game, he ranked number 1 among all qualifying players on the team in 3 other offense stat categories: AVE (.259), OBP (.329) and OPS (.670).

However, another player, first baseman Lazaro Alonso, who was not assigned to the team until April 27th, appears to be positioned to take over the role of the teams batting leader. Alonso is now the team’s starting first baseman/designated hitter. Even though he had played in just 33 of Greensboro’s 53 games, Alonso ranks #1 on the team in H (46), 2B (13), and TB (68-tied with Marcos Rivera). In fact, his 13 doubles ranks him #4 (tied with 1 other player) in the South Atlantic League for the season in that batting stat category.

Greensboro slugger Lazaro Alonso
Photo by Walter Triebel

Moreover, Alonso’s batting average (.380), on-base percentage (.449), slugging percentage (.562), and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.011) are all higher than those of the current team leader. But, Alonso’s 136 plate appearances up to the date of the game are 7 shy of the number needed to qualify as the team leader in those four batting statistic categories. Within the next few games, he should reach the PA requirement to qualify as a team leader and at that point could lead the team in a total of six batting stat categories.

In the Sunday June 3rd game, Marlins’ MLB Top prospects Thomas Jones (#25) and Isael Soto (#26) as well as Grasshoppers team offense leaders Micah Brown, Samuel Castro, Lazaro Alonso, and Marcos Rivera were all in Greensboro’s starting lineup.

Courtesy of Walter Triebel

The West Virginia Power’s current roster has seven players that are ranked as MLB Top 30 Prospects of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Table 2 (click on table to enlarge image) lists each of those players. Note that the list includes two pitchers #24 Travis MacGregor (RHP) and #27 Braeden Ogle (LHP); however, both of them were on the disabled list on the date of the game. On the other hand, the five field players, center fielder Lolo Sanchez (#9), shortstop Oneil Cruz (#13), right fielder Calvin Mitchell (#15), first baseman Mason Martin (#25), and catcher Deon Stafford (#30), were all active and available to play in the game.

One of those top prospects, #15 Calvin Mitchell, is off to a great start with the bat and is clearly the leader of the Power’s offense. Entering the game, he ranked number one (or tied for #1) on the team in nine traditional batting stats: H (60), 2B (14), HR (7-tied with Oneil Cruz), RBI (32), TB (101), AVE (.321), OBP (.380), SLG (.540), and OPS (.920). Mitchell also ranked in the top 10 in the SAL in all but one of those batting stat categories: hits (#4), doubles (#3-tied with one other), runs batted in (#3-tied with 1), total bases (#4), batting average (#6), on-base percentage (#10), slugging percentage (#7), and on-base plus slugging percentage (#5).

West Virginia right fielder Calvin Mitchell
Photo by Walter Triebel

Three of the five field players that are ranked as Pittsburgh Pirates MLB top 30 prospects, Oneil Cruz (#13), Calvin Mitchell (#15), and Mason Martin (#25), were in the West Virginia Power’s starting lineup. Moreover, Deon Stafford (#30) entered the game in the 2nd inning as a pinch hitter and then took over as their catcher.

Game Summary

In the June 3rd game at First National Bank Field, Greensboro, NC, the Greensboro Grasshoppers starting pitcher and his relievers dominated the West Virginia Power offense. Right hand starting pitcher Brandon Miller gave the Grasshoppers a quality start. He went 6 complete innings and allowed just 1 run on 3 hits. Moreover, he walked just 1 West Virginia batter, while striking out 7. In fact, Miller opened the game by throwing 3 and 2/3 innings of no-hit ball.

Meanwhile, the Greensboro offense quickly got on the scoreboard. With 1 out in the bottom of the first inning, #2 hitter, left fielder Jhonny Santos and #3 batter, first baseman Micah Brown hit back to back singles to right field. That brought cleanup hitter Lazaro Alonso (DH) to the plate with runners on first and third base. The Power’s starting pitcher delivered a wild pitch to Alonso that enabled Santos to cross the plate with the Grasshoppers first run and advanced Brown into scoring position at second. Then, Brown advanced to 3rd on Alonso’s 6-3 ground out. Next, Greensboro’s #5 batter, shortstop Marcos Rivera lined an RBI single to right that scored Brown and put Greensboro up 2 runs to 0 at the end of 1 inning of play.

Greensboro outfielder Jhonny Santos has been enjoying a breakout year in 2018.
Photo by Walter Triebel

In the bottom of the 5th inning, the Grasshoppers rallied for 3 more runs to break out to a 5-0 lead. With 1 down, number 8 hitter, catcher Michael Hernandez walked. That brought #9 batter Will Allen to the plate. Allen doubles to put runners in scoring position at second and third base. Then, leadoff batter Thomas Jones hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring in Hernandez from third base with the first run of the inning. Next, Jhonny Santos got his second hit of the game—an RBI double to the left field corner. On that hit, Allen raced home with run 2 of the inning. Finally, Santos crossed the plate with run 3 on Micah Brown’s second hit of the game—and RBI single.

When Brandon Miller came out to pitch the top of the six inning, he had pitched five shutout innings during which he allowed just two base runner—one on a BB and the other on a single. However, with one down, West Virginia’s #9 hitter left fielder Chris Sharpe took him deep. Sharpe homered over the right center field wall—his 3rd of the season. Then, Power’s leadoff batter Oneil Cruz tripled to left. But, Miller retired the next two batters to shut down West Virginia’s rally without allowing another run. He departed the game after that inning with Greensboro up 5 runs to 1.

RHP Brandon Miller pitched arguably his best game of the season against West Virginia.
Photo by Walter Triebel

Grasshoppers’ relievers Nestor Bautista and Vincenzo Aiello held the West Virginia Power offense scoreless in the 7th and 8th innings. They recorded 5 of those 6 outs via strikeouts. Then in the top of the 9th the Power attempted to rally. With one out, #4 batter, third baseman Brett Pope walked and advanced to third base on a double by the next batter—catcher Deon Stafford (Pirates #30 prospect). That brought Pirates #25 prospect, first baseman Mason Martin to the plate. He grounded out first baseman to pitcher covering for out 2, but on that play Pope crossed the plate with West Virginia’s second run of the game. Then, reliever Travis Neubeck shut down the rally by retiring the next batter on a fly to right field.

The Grasshoppers won 5-2 and Brandon Miller had notched his second win of the season. With their win, the Grasshopper took the series 2 games to 1; improved their record to 26W:28L; and closed to within 1 and 1/2 games of the Power for fourth place in the Northern Division.