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Pirates minor league preview: Greensboro

The Pirates have a new affiliate in the South Atlantic League this year. They’ve replaced West Virginia with Greensboro. The makeup of the team will have some new aspects as well. The West Virginia team last year was very young, with the league’s third youngest hitters and (in a tie) pitchers. Some of those young players struggled, though, and will return this year. Having lower-level players repeat levels is something the Pirates haven’t done much in recent years, but the returning players will still mostly be good ages for the SAL.

Greensboro also will have more early round college draftees than the Pirates usually send to this level. That’s probably because most of their college players from the first ten rounds last year struggled in the New York-Penn League. Usually, most of the college draftees from the first ten rounds go to Bradenton for their first full seasons.

Even with a lot of players struggling last year, Greensboro will have a lot of potential breakout candidates. They should have a good group of position players and an unusually strong bullpen. The question is how many players will take steps forward, because there are no well established prospects.


The catchers will be three college draftees from 2018. Fifth-rounder Grant Koch was considered a potential power bat when drafted, but he showed little of that, or anything else at the plate, in a 188/304/263 debut. He also didn’t look very good behind the plate when I saw him. Twelfth-rounder Zac Susi has good defensive skills, but showed little with the bat while splitting his debut between Bristol and the NYPL. Ryan Haug was a 27th round pick and, like Susi, is a glove-first catcher. He played only briefly in the Gulf Coast League due to a concussion.

Corner Infield

Mason Martin will return at first base. As one of the league’s youngest players last year, he hit for good power at the beginning of the season, but the pitchers evidently figured him out within a couple weeks, as he stopped making contact almost entirely. The Pirates demoted him to Bristol, where largely the same thing happened. At least part of his problem has been trying to pull every single pitch and the Pirates have had him trying to go the other way in spring training. He still has a lot of power for his age, so the potential is there.

Third base may be shared between non-drafted free agent Pat Dorrian and 13th round pick Zack Kone. Dorrian has an interesting backstory. A 12th-round pick of Atlanta out of high school, he signed, but changed his mind and his contract was voided. That left him with no Division I eligibility, so he went to a Division II school. It also left him ineligible to be drafted, but the Pirates signed him ahead of several other interested teams. He raked both in the GCL and at Bristol. Third base is a fairly new position for him, so his defense is an unknown commodity yet. Kone is really a shortstop and will probably get some time there. He didn’t hit well in his NYPL debut last year until the last week and a half of the season, when he got red hot.

Middle Infield

The middle infield will have one returnee and two 2018 college draftees, plus whatever time Kone spends there. The returnee will be second baseman Rodolfo Castro. He mostly struggled last year, but started hitting for good power in the last couple months. Originally a shortstop, he also had a lot of defensive issues early but improved as the season went on. He’ll be starting at the keystone with third-rounder Connor Kaiser. In the NYPL last year, Kaiser played well defensively but struggled badly at the plate, although he picked it up in a brief, late-season stint at West Virginia. The backup will be late-round pick Chase Lambert, who’s played primarily at second. He debuted at Bristol last year, batting .348.


The outfield will have two returnees and two more 2018 college draftees. The former are Lolo Sanchez and Fabricio Macias. Sanchez features plus speed and defense, but had a weak season in 2018. He hit well in the season’s second half, though, and won’t turn 20 until several weeks into the 2019 season. He’s also currently blocked in center by Travis Swaggerty, who’s at Bradenton. Macias missed half the 2018 season due to MLB’s concerns over Mexican signings, then struggled enough at West Virginia to get demoted to the NYPL, where he hit 325.

The most interesting of all the 2018 draftees may be Jonah Davis (pictured), a 15th round pick who put up big numbers at Bristol, albeit with a lot of swing and miss. He got some attention by belting two home runs for the Pirates in an exhibition game. Seventh-rounder Brett Kinneman didn’t hit much for the first three-quarters of his debut season in the NYPL, but got very hot after that. He has some power potential, but fanned in a third of his at-bats. Davis played center in his debut, but Sanchez should get most of the time at that spot in 2019. Sanchez, Davis, Kinneman and Macias should all get more or less regular playing time, thanks to the DH. Davis is not on the roster right now, though; he turned his ankle at the end of spring training, but he’s expected to be at Greensboro.


The most prominent starters will be two former prep draftees, Steven Jennings and lefty Braeden Ogle. Jennings, selected in 2017, had a disappointing season last year at Bristol, including lower velocity than the team probably hoped to see. Scouts still seem to like him, though. The Pirates selected Ogle in 2016, but he made only four starts in the SAL last year due to shoulder inflammation. He throws in the mid-90s with a promising slider.

The other starters will be Osvaldo Bido, Brad Case and Alex Manasa. Bido was past 21 when he signed out of the Dominican Republic, but will reach full season ball in his third year. His performance has been erratic so far, but scouts like his stuff. Case was drafted in 2018 in round 17 out of Rollins College and fits the Pirates’ preferred template of tall (6’7” in his case) right-handers who pitch to contact and get a lot of groundballs. He pitched at three levels last year, getting good results without missing many bats. Manasa was a 2017 draftee out of junior college. He got just mediocre results in the NYPL last year and missed very few bats, but the Pirates are sticking with him as a starter.


“Relief prospect,” at this level, isn’t far from being an oxymoron, but Greensboro will have some promising arms in the bullpen. The most promising may be Logan Stoelke, a ninth round pick last year who was nearly unhittable in the NYPL, largely on the strength of a very good cutter. Maybe the most interesting reliever will be Nick Mears, who signed as a non-drafted free agent near the end of the 2018 season. Mears didn’t pitch in college last year, but got on the prospect track due to his performance in summer ball. He throws in the mid-90s with a good breaking ball, and fanned over half of the small number of hitters he faced after signing. Shea Murray is somewhat similar; an 18th round draft pick in 2017, he pitched very little in college and didn’t pitch in 2017 after signing due to an elbow injury. He’s a big guy who gets into the upper-90s, but had significant control problems in the literal handful of innings he finally threw in 2018.

Two other interesting pitchers are Pablo Reyes’ younger brother, Samuel, and Conner Loeprich. Reyes is small, like his brother, but throws in the low-90s with good control and breaking stuff. He’s returning to the level after pitching well there last year. I’m not sure whether that’s because the Pirates have doubts about his ceiling or because Bradenton has too many pitchers. Loeprich, a 20th round pick last year, doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but he got good results in the NYPL, including a good K rate.

The other relievers will be two lefties, Cam Alldred and Joe Jacques, and also Nick Economos. Alldred, a 20th round pick in 2018, doesn’t throw hard, but had a good debut in the NYPL. Jacques, a 33rd rounder in the same draft, also doesn’t throw hard and struggled quite a bit at Bristol. Economos was drafted way back in 2015 and has moved very slowly through short-season ball. He had his best season last year in the NYPL.


C: Koch
1B: Martin
2B: Castro
3B: Kone, Dorrian

SS: Kaiser
OF: Sanchez, Kinneman, Macias, eventually Davis
Rotation: Ogle, Jennings, Bido, Case, Manasa
Key Relievers: Stoelke, Mears, Loeprich

Top Prospects: Sanchez, Ogle, Jennings

Breakout Candidates: Nearly everybody