The second stop planned for the Bristol Pirates leg of my Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip was to see the Grasshoppers play a home game at First National Bank Field. Per the Grasshoppers July home schedule I provided in Part 1 of my earlier BUCS Dugout blog post Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip, Greensboro was also playing at home during the three day period that Bristol was visiting Burlington, NC. That three game series was versus the Asheville Tourists, who are the Colorado Rockies full-season A class team in the South Atlantic League and was to start on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. However, the Tuesday game was rained out and rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Thursday July 25th.
I attended games two and three of the Tourists/Grasshoppers series on the evening of July 25th. The Greensboro Grasshoppers had won game one the prior afternoon to make their second half season record 17W:14L and they were in third place five games behind the Northern Division leader—the Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore Orioles).
Greensboro Grasshoppers—Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects/Team Offense Leaders
The list of Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Top 30 Prospects on the Greensboro Grasshoppers roster has changed dramatically since Part 1 of the Pittsburgh Pirates Fans—Greensboro Grasshoppers MiLB Road Trip was posted on Bucs Dugout. Three of their top 30 prospects/team leaders, Mason Martin, Lolo Sanchez, and Rodolfo Castro, were promoted to Pittsburgh’s advanced A class team in the Florida State League—the Bradenton Marauders. The table above identifies the four PIT MLB Top 30 Prospects on their current roster. New to the list is outfielder Conner Uselton, who is ranked number nineteen among the Pirates top thirty. He was assigned to the Grasshoppers roster on June 24th, but on the date of the games was on the seven-day injured list.
At the mid-season break, Mason Martin and Lolo Sanchez were the leaders of the Greensboro Grasshoppers offense. Since they departed, the offense leaders list has been evolving and two other players, outfielder Fabricio Macias and shortstop Connor Kaiser, are moving into leadership roles. Macias, who has taken over as the Grasshoppers starting center fielder and moved up to the middle of their batting order, now leads all qualifying players on the team in runs scored, hits, and batting average. Entering the series with the Tourists, he ranked number two to Martin in runs batted in, total bases, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. However, Martin will soon not have enough plate appearances to qualify as a team leader in SLG and OPS and Fabricio Macias is presently positioned to take over as the team leader in those two stat categories.
Connor Kaiser is new to the Greensboro Grasshoppers team offense leaders list. Kaiser, who is a former college player (Vanderbilt University), was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round of the 2018 First Year Player Draft and signed by them to a professional baseball contract. He began his pro career with the Pirates short-season A class team in the New York-Penn League—the West Virginia Black Bears. However, he was promoted in mid-August of that season to Pittsburgh’s full-season A class team in the South Atlantic League—the West Virginia Power. For that reason, 2019 with the Greensboro Grasshoppers is his second season in which he took the field for the Pirates class A team in the SAL.
Entering game 1 of the series, Kaiser, who also moved up to the middle of the Grasshoppers batting order, had taken over number one in on-base percentage from Lolo Sanchez. In that case, Sanchez no longer had enough plate appearances with the Grasshoppers to qualify as a team leader in that stat category. Moreover, he ranked number two behind Martin in base on balls and will soon take over the team lead in that stat.
Pittsburgh Pirates number thirteen prospect Ji-Hwan Bae (SS) and emerging Grasshoppers offense leaders center Fabricio Macias and Connor Kaiser were in Greensboro’s starting lineup for both games of the doubleheader. Also, Pirates number ten prospect Steven Jennings was the starting pitcher in game one.
Asheville Tourists—Colorado Rockies MLB Top 30 Prospects/Team Offense Leaders
The Asheville Tourists current roster is loaded with players that are ranked as MLB Top 30 Prospects of the Colorado Rockies. The table above lists eight Tourists’ players, three pitchers and five fielders, that are members of the Rockies top 30. In fact, that group includes two of Colorado’s top 10 prospects— first baseman Grant Lavigne (#4 prospect) and right hand relief pitcher Riley Pint (#6).
One of the field players in the Pirates’ top 30 list is having an exceptional season at the plate and is dominating the Tourists’ offense leader’s board. That is number twelve prospect, shortstop Terrin Vavra. After playing college baseball at the University of Minnesota, Vavra entered the June 2018 First Year Player Draft and was Colorado’s third round selection. The table shows that after signing with the Rockies he played his first pro season with their A- class team in the Northwest League—the Boise Hawks. Entering the series with the Grasshoppers, Terrin Vavra ranked or was tied for number one among all qualifying players on the Asheville Tourists team in ten of the thirteen traditional offense stats listed on their website: R, H 2B, HR (tied with 1 other player), TB, SB, AVE, OBP, SLG, and OPS.
All five of the field players in the Rockies MLB top 30 prospect list above were in the Asheville Tourists starting lineup for game one of the doubleheader I attended on July 25th. However, just three of them, Grant Lavigne, Terrin Vavra, and Niko Decolati, played in game two. Moreover, they played key roles in the Asheville Tourists offense during the games.
Game 1 Highlights
As mentioned earlier, Pittsburgh’s number ten MLB top 30 prospect Steven Jennings was the starter for the Greensboro Grasshoppers in game 1 of the doubleheader. On the other hand, the Tourists sent right hander Jake Bird, who is one of the regulars out of their bullpen, to the hill for a start.
Asheville opened the scoring with a two run rally in the top of the 3rd inning. With one down, Tourists number eight hitter, third baseman Kyle Datres connected with a Jennings pitch and drove the ball over the right center field wall for a solo home run. Next, number nine batter Cole Harris (RF) walked and stole second base. Then, later in the inning, Harris crossed the plate with run two on and RBI single by number three hitter, Rockies’ number twelve prospect Terrin Vavra
Asheville’s pitcher Jake Bird made an excellent start; however, he went just four innings. When he departed, the Tourists were up 2-0. Jennings also had a solid outing. He went five complete innings and did not give up any additional runs. His pitching line for the day was IP(5), H(5), R(2), BB(2), and SO(5).
The Tourists added two insurance runs in the top of the sixth. Number 2 batter, designed hitter Niko Decolati (#22 prospect) lead off and singled; moved to second when number 3 hitter, second baseman Terrin Vavra walked; and then both runners moved into scoring position at second and third base on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Coco Montes. That brought Rockies #4 prospect Grant Lavigne (1B) to the plate. He singled to drive in Decolati with run one and advance Vavra to third. Next, Colorado’s #27 prospect, catcher Willie Maclver hit a sacrifice fly to score Vavra with run 2 and put the Tourists up 4 runs to 0 after five and one-half innings of play.
The Greensboro Grasshoppers did rally in the bottom of the seventh inning. Pirates’ number thirteen prospect and Hoppers leadoff batter Ji-Hwan Bae (2B) lead off with a double. But, then Tourists reliever Jacob Bosiokovic retired the next two batters. That brought cleanup hitter, first baseman Luke Mangieri to the plate. He doubled to drive in Bae. But, that turned out to be Greensboro’s only run as Bosiokovic struck out the next batter to close out the game for an Asheville Tourists 4-1 victory.
Game 2 Highlights
In game 2 of the doubleheader, Asheville’s pitching continued to dominate the Greensboro Grasshoppers offense, while the Tourists’ offense again built a 4-0 lead. Asheville opened the scoring with an unearned run in the top of the third. Number six hitter, first baseman Danny Edgeworth led off and single to right field. The next batter, third baseman Robert Metz also singled to right, but Edgeworth came all the way around to score when an E6 occurred on the relay of the throw from the outfield.
The score remained Tourists 1, Grasshoppers 0 until the top of the fifth inning. Again Edgeworth led off and this time doubled. Next, Metz advanced him to third base with a sacrifice bunt. Then, Edgeworth crossed the plate with run two of the game on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Cade Harris.
In the top of the sixth, Asheville posted their final two runs on the scoreboard. With one down, number three hitter Terrin Vavra singled and stole second base. The next batter, second baseman Coco Montes, walked to put runners on first and second. After both runners moved up a base on a 5-3 ground out, catcher Max George came to the plate. George doubled to knock in Vavra and Montes with the Tourists third and fourth runs.
But this game was really about the exceptional pitching of Asheville Tourists starter, left hander Nick Bush. Bush opened the game by pitching three and two-thirds perfect innings. However, with two down in the third he gave up a single to Grasshoppers number three batter, Jonah Davis. But Bush then picked Davis off first base to retire the side. So through four innings of play he had faced the minimum of just twelve Greensboro Grasshoppers batters.
Bush pitched a 1, 2, 3 fifth inning, but then gave up a leadoff single to Tourists number seven hitter Justin Harrer (LF) in the sixth. This time the base runner was erased on Bush’s next pitch when Grasshoppers catcher Zac Susi grounded into a 3-6-3 double-play. Then, he struck out the next batter to retire the side. Even though Bush had surrendered two hits through six innings. He had still only faced the minimum possible number of batters—eighteen.
In the bottom of the seventh, Bush stuck out the first batter he faced, but then gave up his third hit of the game as Hoppers team batting leader Fabricio Macias lined a single to right. The next batter, Jonah Davis hit an infield grounder. I thought it could be a game ending double play, however, they only got Macias at second on the play for the second out. But, then Bush closed out the game for an Asheville Tourists 4-0 victory by getting Grasshoppers cleanup hitter Luke Mangieri to ground out to first baseman Danny Edgeworth unassisted. Nick Bush had pitched a complete game, faced only twenty two batters (one more than the minimum for a seven inning game); and notch his fifth win of the season. His pitching line for the day was IP(7), R(0), H(3), BB(0), and SO(7).
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.