The South Atlantic League regular season is partitioned into a first and second half and the teams that win of the Northern and Southern Divisions during each of those halves gain entry into postseason play. Each year, the SAL mid-season all-star break marks the transition from the first half to second half. The Greensboro Grasshoppers, who are the new full-season A class affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, had an excellent start to their 2019 season. They posted a very good 44-25 record for the first half. However, that record placed them 4.0 games behind the first-half Northern Division Champions—the Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles).
It is very interesting to look back at the players that led the offense and pitching staff of the Greensboro Grasshoppers and recognize the role they served in their team’s success at the end of the first half of the 2019 SAL season. That is because traditionally as the second half of the season unfolds the players in a team’s offense and pitching leaders group evolve and in some cases change dramatically. One of the key reasons is that players who had an outstanding first half season may get promoted within the Pittsburgh Pirates Minor League system.
Alternately, a team leading player may get injured and miss a large number of second half games or occasionally a player gets traded to another Major League Club. For those reasons, their team leading stat total might get passed up by other players that remain active as the South Atlantic League season continues or they might no longer meet the minimum qualifications required for statistic categories such as batting average (AVE), on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
*Minimum of 186 plate appearances to qualify (based on 69 games and an average of 2.7 plate appearances/game)
First, I will identify the players that ranked #1 on the Greensboro Grasshoppers team in one or more of thirteen traditional offense statistic categories listed on the team’s official website. Then, I will highlight a few of those players. The table of Figure 2 lists each of those stats and the Grasshoppers player that led the team in them at the close of the first half of the South Atlantic League season. The information provided in the table includes the name of the player that ranked #1 in the stat, the value of his team leading statistic, the position he played most frequently during the first half of the season, whether he throws right or left handed, bats from the right or left side of the plate, and which year the 2019 season is of his Minor League career.
As mentioned earlier the AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS stat categories have a minimum plate appearance requirement for a player to qualify as the team leader. The caption for Figure 2 identifies that the Greensboro Grasshoppers played 69 games during the first half of the 2019 season. Note that it indicates that a player must have averaged 2.7 plate appearances (PA) per team game, which gives a minimum requirement of 186. The Grasshopper website includes a player’s at bats (AB), not their PA. The formula for calculating a player’s plate appearances is: PA= AB (at bats) +BB (base on balls) +HBP (hit by pitches) +SF (sacrifice flies) +SH (sacrifice hits/bunts).
The table in Figure 2 clearly shows that first baseman Mason Martin was the leader of the Greensboro Grasshoppers offense during the first half of the season. Martin, who is just 20 years old, was selected and signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school in the 2017 First Year Player Draft. Therefore, as identified in the table, 2019 is his third season playing in the Pirates Minor League organization. The photo in Figure 3 shows Martin taking a cut at a pitch in a recent home game at First National Bank Field.
Mason Martin is a middle of the order power hitter in the Grasshoppers batting order. On opening day of the 2019 season, he was Greensboro’s starting first baseman and number 3 batter. As the season progressed, he continued to hit in that slot in their lineup. Note from the table that at the end of the first half, he led all qualifying players on the team in six of the thirteen traditional offense statistic categories: home runs (18), runs batted in (62), total bases (136), base on balls (33), slugging percentage (.576), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.930). Mason Martin was not ranked as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects at the start of the 2019 season. However, he moved into that group of elite players in a late June update. Currently Martin is ranked #27 among the Pirates top prospects.
At the mid season break, Martin was also a league batting leader. He ranked in the top five among all qualifying players in the South Atlantic League in seven stat categories: HR(#1), RBI(#1), TB(#1), R(#3-tied with 1 other player), BB(#4-tied with 5 others), SLG(#3), and OPS(#3). For his excellent performance during the first half of the season, Mason Martin was one of six players selected to represent the Greensboro on the Northern Division team in the 2019 South Atlantic League All-Star Game. In fact, he way the Northern team’s starting first baseman and number 5 hitter in the All-Star game.
A look back at the table in Figure 2 shows that center fielder Lolo Sanchez was another key leader of the Greensboro Grasshoppers first half season offense. Sanchez served the role of a table-setter in Greensboro’s batting order and took over as the leadoff batter in their lineup in mid-April He is an International player from the Dominican Republic and 2019 is his fourth season playing in the Pirates Minor League organization.
The table shows that Sanchez led the team in five stat categories most of which are typically associated with a top of the order table-setter. They are hits (68), triples (6), stolen bases (20), batting average (.301), and on-base percentage (.377). Like Mason Martin, Sanchez was a mid-season league offense leader. He was tied with one other player in the league for #1 in 3B hits; ranked in the top 5 in the league in SB(#2-tied with 2 others) and R(#3-tied with 1 other); and top 10 in H(9-tied with 2 others) and AVE(#9 tied with 1 other). Also similar to Martin, Sanchez was selected to represent the Grasshoppers in the 2019 SAL All-Star Game. He was the Northern Division team’s starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.
On the other hand, Lolo Sanchez was promoted on June 20th to Pittsburgh’s advanced A class team in the Florida State League—the Bradenton Marauders. Therefore, as the season progresses, he will be passed up in all of those stat categories by other active players on Greensboro’s roster and/or not have sufficient plate appearances to qualify as an end of season team offense leader.
Fabricio Macias is an International player from Mexico and played professional baseball in the Mexican League prior to being signed as a free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in February 2018. Therefore, 2019 is his second season playing in the Pirates Minor League system. Macias is listed as a center fielder, but has played all three outfield positions for the Greensboro Grasshoppers. The photo in Figure 4 shows Fabricio Macias at the plate in a recent Grasshoppers game. With Sanchez normally starting in center, he most frequently played left.
Macias opened the season as the Grasshoppers leadoff hitter. But, after getting off to a slow start at the plate, he move down in their batting order. However, in early May his offense picked up and then Macias began to typically hit in the #2 or #5 slot in their lineup. The table in Figure 2 shows that he finished the first half leading the Greensboro Grasshoppers team in runs scored (45). However, he also led the league in that important offense statistic category. With the departure of Lolo Sanchez, Fabricio Macias has taken over as the Grasshoppers starting center fielder and has been regularly hitting second in their batting order.
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.