In 2021, Bradenton went 71-48 and then torched Tampa for the league title. With many of the same players, the 2022 Grasshoppers went 58-70. Lots of players performed below expectations, some far below. The pitching, in particular, could be pretty brutal. At the same time, several players had big seasons, although unfortunately for the record of the Hoppers, in some cases that led to shortened stays.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Pittsburgh Pirates 2022 Minor League Recaps
2022 Greensboro Grasshoppers Hitters
By weighted average, the Hoppers had the fourth-youngest hitters in the 12-team South Atlantic League. They were almost precisely league average in runs per game, a bit above average in OPS. They were fourth in slugging, but tenth in OBP, mainly due to being dead last in walks. Part of this — not the walks, obviously — is what you get at Greensboro. The Hoppers were third in longballs. It’s worth remembering, though, that the home park is a home run haven but not entirely a hitters’ haven, as BABIP tends to run low there.
This isn’t a situation you see a lot. The Hoppers started the season trying to juggle three legitimate catching prospects in Henry Davis, Endy Rodriguez and Abrahan Gutierrez. Time behind the plate was so tight that Eli Wilson, who’d be a perfectly good choice as the regular catcher on most minor league teams, could barely get any time there.
Davis opened the season in Greensboro, hammered the ball, and went on to Altoona (or, more accurately, Altoona’s injured list) for the rest of the season. Rodriguez had a good first half and, in the second half, was the best hitter in the minors. Two promotions didn’t slow him down at all. Just as significantly, his play behind the plate was so impressive that he forced the Pirates to slow down a bit on having him play other positions. Excluding DH starts, Rodriguez made 60% of his starts behind the plate, the rest coming at first, second and left. At Altoona and Indianapolis, that jumped to 89%. Not that the ability to play other positions is a bad thing, but a catcher with plus defense and offense is a rare gem.
Of the other two, Gutierrez continued to look like a very solid catching prospect. He put up a .767 OPS with good plate discipline and moderate power. It wasn’t the home park, as Gutierrez hit slightly better on the road. His defense appears to have been solid as well, and he threw out 26% of base stealers in a league where the norm was 23%. He also started 21 games at first. Gutierrez is Rule 5 eligible, as are Rodriguez and Blake Sabol, so the Pirates have some things to figure out.
Wilson, meanwhile, got only 22 starts at catcher, to go with 21 at third, a totally new position for him. When he wasn’t playing much, Wilson struggled at the plate, but he put up a .756 OPS in July and in August, when he finally started playing regularly (with Rodriguez promoted), he hit 312/368/475. If they’re both still around, Gutierrez and Wilson should make a very interesting catching tandem at Altoona.
This was a pretty eclectic group. The Hoppers had surprises, disappointments, and more or less straightforward prospects.
The surprises were Jacob Gonzalez, Francisco Acuna and Yoyner Fajardo. Acquired in the minor league Rule 5 draft, Gonzalez was a Giants’ prospect (and son of former star Luis Gonzalez) who never got the bat going. He got off to a wild start at Bradenton, though, posting a 1.128 OPS for a month, leading to a promotion. Gonzalez was the primary first baseman for the Hoppers the rest of the year, but he cooled off dramatically after a fast start, finishing with an OPS only a little above league average as a 24-year-old.
Acuna started the year as a utility player, but hit his way into regular playing time at short. He finished at 271/361/452. Unfortunately, “finished” may be the operative word here. Acuna got hit with a PED suspension late in the season, so he’ll the start of next year, too. After that he’s a free agent. Fajardo also hit his way into regular playing time, in his case split between second and right. A slump in July brought his numbers down quite a bit, but he still had a .700 OPS.
The disappointments were Maikol Escotto and Jackson Glenn. Escotto, a product of the Jameson Taillon trade, opened the season as the regular at short, struggled so much that the Pirates sent him to the FCL for a while, then moved him up to Bradenton. Escotto batted just .164 with the Hoppers, then put up a .724 OPS at Bradenton. Glenn was a fifth-round draft pick as a college senior in 2021. He was considered one of the better seniors available and hit very well at Bradenton last year. For Greensboro he hit just 216/297/328 while splitting his time evenly between second and third.
The most straightforward prospect was Dariel Lopez. He played over half the time at short, then divided the rest of his playing time between second and third. Lopez hit .286 with 19 home runs as a 20-year-old in Greensboro. Lopez comes with two big caveats: He hit 15 of his 19 longballs in his homer-happy home environs, and his plate discipline (21:107 BB:K) was bad. He’ll play all of next year at 21.
The Hoppers also had Ernny Ordonez, who played first, left and some at third, and Mike Jarvis, a late-season promotion who played second, short and third. Ordonez launched 14 longballs playing a little over half the time, but he batted only .212 and had a dismal K:BB of 106:13. Jarvis moved up late in the season after not hitting at Bradenton. He batted only .196 for the Hoppers, but he did go on a homerun tear, hitting five in an eight-game stretch near season’s end.
The big first-half story at Greensboro was Matt Gorski. He had a major breakout, bashing 17 home runs in 37 games while slugging .754. That got him a promotion to Altoona, where he continued raking until a quad injury cost him two months. Gorski adds a lot of value besides the bat. For the year he stole 21 bases in 24 tries, and he’s a legit center fielder. And the Pirates started using him at first, where he played some in college, before the injury got in the way.
The Hoppers’ outfield otherwise was largely characterized by different degrees of disappointment. One was Jack Herman getting hurt and missing all but 35 games, although he was struggling before the injury. Sammy Siani struggled, was sent to the development list, and continued to struggle after returning to the Hoppers. He finished with a .625 OPS and struck out in 40% of his at-bats. He did steal 25 bases in 30 tries. Hudson Head didn’t so much struggle as not break out. He continued his pattern of walks, strikeouts and modest power, batting 234/343/387 with ten home runs. He struck out in a third of his ABs.
The Hoppers got some outfield help from Bradenton in the form of Luke Brown at mid-season and Jase Bowen late in the season. Brown wasn’t hitting much before the move up and batted only .165 after it. Bowen had a good season with the Marauders but managed only a .535 OPS in 27 games with Greensboro.
2022 Greensboro Grasshoppers Pitchers
The mound wasn’t exactly a strong point for Greensboro, but the Hoppers did have the league’s youngest pitchers. They ranked tenth in staff ERA, which isn’t quite as bad as it seems because they led the league in home runs allowed. Life on the mound in Greensboro isn’t for the faint-hearted. They were also tenth in WHIP. Wildness was a recurring problem; the Hoppers ranked 11th in BB/9, with 4.9. They had the second-most wild pitches with 147; average was 109. They were 9th in K/9 at 9.6.
The Greensboro rotation was a bit more stable than you’d expect from a low-minors team that largely scuffled with its pitching. Five guys made 15+ starts. The two prominent starters, Jared Jones and Nick Garcia, started 26 and 23 games, respectively. Jones worked 122.2 IP and Garcia 113, which is a plus by itself. Jones had an uneven season but it was very much in character. He showed the premium stuff, hence the 10.4 K/9. His control (3.7 BB/9) was pretty good, too, maybe a little surprisingly. He got hit harder than you’d expect, leading to a 4.62 ERA. He had a gopher ball problem and it wasn’t really the home park (11 HRs there, 8 on the road), as he was a little more effective at home than on the road. I’d characterize it as a “work-in-progress” season.
Garcia made a lot of progress, improving over 2021 despite moving to a tougher environment. The Greensboro park got him more than Jones, as 11 of his 15 longballs allowed came there, but as with Jones, opponents had a slightly better OPS against him on the road. (The H/R split issue at Greensboro is more complicated than the usual hitters-park situation.) Anyway, Garcia didn’t miss a ton of bats, but his control improved and he cut his ERA to 3.66 in a league where average was 4.48. He was hurt a lot, stat-wise, by one bad month (July).
A couple pitchers who opened in the rotation had problems. Adrian Florencio was our minor league pitcher-of-the-year last year. This year, he went 1-10, 8.07. No idea why, but he just got bombed. Opponents obliterated him to the tune of 328/422/592, and it was much worse on the road, so no blame to the ballpark.
Domingo Gonzalez was nearly as bad as a starter, but he found a way out. He had an ERA of 6.55 in 11 starts, but in 18 relief appearances it was 3.64. In fact, after he moved full-time to relief in July, his ERA was 2.47. Oddly, it wasn’t because he was pitching in shorter stints, because he wasn’t. He averaged four innings per start and about three and a third per relief appearance. Gonzalez did suffer from the home park, showing a big split in both home runs and opponents’ OPS. He also led the entire system with nine wins. No pitcher on the ostensible major league team topped six.
The other regular starters were Justin Meis and Sean Sullivan. Meis moved up from Bradenton in June and had had a bizarre tendency to alternate dominant and disastrous starts. In his first two Hopper starts, he retired just two total batters and gave up eight runs. In his third, he threw six three-hit, shutout innings and fanned eight. In two starts near the end of the season, he threw seven shutout innings each time, allowing no hits in one game.
Sullivan, an 8th-round pick in 2021, mostly struggled, with a 4.68 ERA. He had good walk (3.2 BB/9) and K (10.1 K/9) rates, but was plagued by gopher balls, 11 of the 16 coming at home. His ERA was 5.52 at home and 3.38 on the road, so Altoona’s probably looking very inviting to him.
The Hoppers’ bullpen saw a lot of struggles. A couple of the team’s regular relievers even got released late in the season. Among the players who struggled were Eddy Yean, from the Josh Bell trade; Jack Carey, an 11th-round pick in 2021; Santiago Florez, who looked like a good prospect at one time; and Logan Hofmann, a 5th-rounder from 2020.
A pair of relievers with excellent arms couldn’t make progress with the strike zone. Oliver Mateo fanned 30 in 19 innings, but he walked 25 and was sent to the development list. Michell Miliano, who came in the Adam Frazier trade, spent some time in the FCL. While in Greensboro, he fanned 37 in 25.2 IP, but walked 28.
Some pitchers were more of a mixed bag, thankfully. Cameron Junker had a bad month of May, but pitched very well after that, finishing with four games for Altoona. He had a huge H/R split, doing far better at home, so it wasn’t bad for everybody. Junker finished with a K/9 of 11.9.
Ricky DeVito, from the Richard Rodriguez trade, started in six of his 35 games, but overall had some poor numbers: 5.40 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 5.7 BB/9. He finished the season on a strong note, moving into the rotation at the end of the year. The stuff is there; he fanned 90 in 70 innings.
The Hoppers’ best relievers were too good to hang around long. Tyler Samaniego gave up just three hits and one earned run in 17 innings, then departed for Altoona. Nick Dombkowski, an NDFA, got a quick promotion from Bradenton, then had a 1.76 ERA and 12.9 K/9 for the Hoppers before following Samaniego upward.
The Hoppers got a couple additions late in the season who helped out. Mitchell Miller is a lefty like Samaniego and Dombkowski, and signed as an NDFA like Dombkowski. He pitched well for Bradenton and finished with a half dozen games and 2.70 ERA for Greensboro. Cristian Charle did very well for the Marauders, then made a good showing in a dozen games for Greensboro. He’s probably a guy to watch going forward.
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.