An Early Look at the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Lolo Sanchez’s Chances of a Breakout

Every year we do an early projection of the full-season minor league clubs for the Pittsburgh Pirates as prep for the Prospect Guide. While the Prospect Guide prep focuses on where individual players will play, this exercise is also useful to see where the system has depth, and where they need to add during the offseason. You can pre-order the 2019 Prospect Guide here.

We published our projection for the Pirates, Indianapolis, Altoona, and Bradenton. The final look is at the Pirates’ full-season Low-A team in West Virginia uh, Greensboro. This team is always the hardest to project, and only got more difficult when the Pirates added an extra short-season team a few years ago. This creates a crunch at the back of the roster for relievers and bench players, which means that no big prospects are at risk of losing playing time. The result is that this is where we start to see some of the non-prospects and fringe prospects fighting for a spot on the team and to remain in the system.

Here is our early breakdown of the projected Opening Day roster for the Greensboro Grasshoppers:

C – Grant Koch

1B – Mason Martin

2B – Rodolfo Castro

SS – Connor Kaiser

3B – Mike Gretler

OF – Lolo Sanchez, Brett Kinneman, Jonah Davis

Bench – Fabricio Macias, Zac Susi, Zack Kone, Daniel Amaral, Raul Siri, Luke Mangieri, Robbie Glendinning, Ben Bengtson, Kyle Watson, Edison Lantigua

Analysis: This is the level where we typically see the breakout prospects, due to the Pirates often having high upside guys on the roster. That trend is typically the result of the Pirates aggressively pushing their younger position players. However, this year that doesn’t seem likely to happen. The two GCL guys who would be the biggest candidates to make the jump are shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae and outfielder Jack Herman. However, the Pirates have other options to play in Greensboro, and Bae and Herman aren’t in the same class as guys like Cole Tucker and Ke’Bryan Hayes, which will probably lead to a more conservative path for those two.

Connor Kaiser, last year’s third round pick, would be the shortstop option. The outfield would include last year’s seventh round pick, Brett Kinneman. Both guys were drafted with good power potential, and the Pirates will hope to see that come through this year. Jonah Davis, who was taken in the 15th round last year, had a great debut in Bristol, and we project him getting priority playing time in Greensboro this year.

The projected lineup also includes two other 2018 picks — catcher Grant Koch (5th round) and third baseman Mike Gretler (10th). Out of the bench group, we expect catcher Zac Susi (12th round), shortstop Zack Kone (13th), and outfielder Daniel Amaral (14th) to have an inside track. Fabricio Macias should also have an inside track not only for a bench role, but for a lot of playing time, splitting between outfield and DH.

The best talent from the group comes from Lolo Sanchez, who was my prediction for breakout prospect last year, and who still has the talent to have that breakout season in 2019, despite a poor year at the same level in 2018. Sanchez is the only guy from this position player group who could have an impact upside.

Two other interesting guys from this group are first baseman Mason Martin and second baseman Rodolfo Castro. Both are returning to the level. Martin will need to show his usual power and walks, while being able to limit strikeouts and hit for average. Castro has some good offensive tools, but needs that to consistently show up in games.

As for the rest of the bench, there will probably be a lot of guys from that group who will either retire/get released during Spring Training, or be saved for early season depth.

Starting Rotation – Cody Bolton, Braeden Ogle, Osvaldo Bido, Aaron Shortridge, Roger Santana, Michael Flynn, Colin Selby, Zach Spears, Alex Manasa

Analysis: The bulk of the talent on this team, and the biggest breakout potential, comes from the rotation. However, that could change if the Pirates get aggressive and send Cody Bolton and Braeden Ogle to Bradenton, rather than keeping them back for more innings in Low-A.

We’ve got a lot of starters listed here, with the Pirates likely to piggyback starters, and give long relief roles to some of the fringe starting candidates. All nine of these guys should be on the team. A normal pitching staff has 12 pitchers. However, the Pirates would be able to make paper moves, sending some of these guys off the roster to extended Spring Training until they were needed to start again. This approach in the past has allowed the Pirates to carry a lot more pitchers at this level.

Bullpen – Logan Stoelke, Sergio Cubilete, Joel Cesar, Francis Del Orbe, Drew Fischer, Ryan Valdes, John Pomeroy, Dylan Prohoroff, Nicholas Economos, Cam Alldred, Mike LoPresti, Will Gardner

Analysis: Because the pitching staff would be projected with a lot of piggyback guys and long relievers, there wouldn’t be a lot of room for typical relievers. Logan Stoelke and Sergio Cubilete seem like the safest bets to make the team. The rest of the group will have a shot at rotating in and out of the bullpen throughout the year, with a chance to win a long-term role. Relievers in A-ball don’t usually turn into relievers in the majors, and anyone on this list would need to show strong progress and move quickly to higher levels to be the exception.

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