My Pittsburgh Pirates fan MiLB travel resumed last week with another stop at First National Bank Field in Greensboro, NC to see their class A team in the South Atlantic League—the Greensboro Grasshoppers. The Grasshoppers returned home to play a four game series against the Augusta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants) starting Thursday August 5th. In the Augusta GreenJackets, the Grasshoppers faced a tough opponent. Augusta (29W:23L) entered the series tied for first place in the South Division with the Asheville Tourists. I attended game 2 of that series on Friday August 16th.
In a recent Bucs Dugout article about a Grasshoppers double header against Asheville, I highlighted an exceptional pitching performance by the Tourists’ starter Nick Bush as kind of a unique Minor League game experience for me. Bush pitched a complete game for the win, allowed three hits, but faced only twenty two batters—one more than the minimum for a seven inning game. In fact, due to a pickoff and a double play, he faced the minimum (18 batters) over the first six innings. This game against Augusta offered me another first time Minor League baseball experience, which I will call the “Seven Player Pulled in Infield Defense.” The photo above shows that novel adventure. More details about that element of the game follow in the Game Highlights section of this post.
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 continues to evolve as the season progresses. The table above shows that the Grasshoppers current roster includes four members of the Pirates top 30. Since I attended games of the Tourists/Grasshoppers series on July 25th, shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae has moved up from number thirteen to number eight in the top thirty.
Also, another member of the Grasshoppers roster has moved into the Pirates top 30. That is outfielder Jack Herman. Herman was signed by Pittsburgh out of high school through the June 2018 First Year Player Draft and that year played his first season of pro-ball with the GCL Pirates (Gulf Coast League, Rk). He was assigned to Greensboro’s roster on May 30, 2019; took over as a regular starter in their outfield; and has most frequently played right field.
Currently center fielder Fabricio Macias stands out as the leader of the Greensboro Grasshoppers offense. At the mid season break, he just led the team in runs scored. However, as noted in one of my later Bucs Dugout posts, with the departure of Mason Martin in early July he took over as the team leader in hits and batting average before the end of that month. Entering this series, Macias still ranks number one on the team in those three offense stats.
Meanwhile, another player, shortstop/second baseman Ji-Hwan Bae has recently joined the Greensboro Grasshoppers team offense leaders list. Bae is an International player from South Korea that was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent in March 2018. Therefore, 2019 is his second season playing in the Pirates Minor League system. Bae was assigned to Greensboro’s roster on April 11, 2019. Since then, he has most frequently played second base; moved up in the Grasshoppers batting order; and recently has been hitting in the number three slot. Ji-Hwan Bae has taken over the team lead in doubles and stolen bases.
In this game, Pirates number seventeen prospect, Steven Jennings was Greensboro’s starting pitcher; Jack Herman (#29) played right field and hit cleanup, and team batting leader Fabricio Macias fielded center and batted in the number three slot in their lineup. Ji-Hwan Bae was not in the starting lineup, but eventually played a key role for the Grasshoppers in the game.
Augusta GreenJackets—San Francisco Giants MLB Top 30 Prospects/Team Offense Leaders
The table above shows that the Augusta Green Jackets’ current roster is stocked with players that are ranked as San Francisco Giants MLB Top 30 Prospects. Note that the list includes three pitchers and four field players. The highest ranked member of the group is left hand pitcher Seth Corry—the Giants number nine prospect. Corry opened the 2019 season on Augusta’s roster and is the leader of their starting rotation. Entering the series, his pitching record was 9 wins, 2 losses in 23 starts. Moreover, Corry ranked number one on the GreenJackets’ staff in wins, strikeouts, earned run average, and walks plus hits per innings pitched. He was the GreenJackets starting pitcher in the game. On the other hand, each of the four field players listed in the top 30 table were assigned to the Augusta GreenJackets roster on or after August 1st.
A check of the offense stats on the GreenJackets website shows that among the active players on their roster first baseman Frankie Tostado leads the team in five batting statistic categories. Tostado played college ball at Oxnard College before entering the 2017 draft, He was selected and signed by the San Francisco Giants, but began his pro career with the AZL Giants (Arizona League, Rk) in 2018.
On opening day of the 2019 season, Tostado was the GreenJackets starting first baseman and cleanup hitter. Since then, he has served the role of a middle of the batting order power hitter. Entering the series with the Grasshoppers, Frankie Tostado ranked number one among all qualifying Augusta players in triples, home runs, runs batted in, total bases, and slugging percentage.
Three of the four Augusta field players ranked as top 30 prospects, Logan Wyatt (#14), Franklin Labour (#20), and Tyler Fitzgerald (#29) and team batting leader Frankie Tostado were in the GreenJackets starting lineup for the game.
The Greensboro Grasshoppers opened the scoring with a solo run in the bottom of the first inning. Seth Corry walked the first batter he faced, Grasshoppers leadoff hitter, second baseman Kyle Mottis. Then, Mottis crossed the plate on a two out double by cleanup hitter Jack Herman (RF).
That 1-0 lead stood up until the top of the third inning. After recording two outs in that inning, Steven Jennings walked the GreenJackets leadoff hitter, second baseman Simon Whiteman. Next, he fielded a ball hit by the next batter shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald, but committed an error on the throw to first. That put runners on first and third and brought Augusta batting leader Frankie Tostado (DH) to the plate. Tostado connected with Jennings 2 ball, 0 strike pitch and drove it over the right field wall for a three-run homer that put the GreenJackets on top 3-1.
The Grasshoppers rallied for a single run in the bottom of the fifth to close the scoring gap to 3 runs to 2. Again, Kyle Mottis led off, but this time reached first base when hit by a pitch. He then stole second and scored his second run of the game on a RBI double by number two hitter, shortstop Connor Kaiser.
Seth Corry departed the game in the fifth inning after giving up the run scoring double to Kaiser while Steven Jennings left after completing the fifth. They turned the game over to their team’s relief corps with Augusta still holding a 3-2 lead over Greensboro. That score held until the bottom of the seventh. But then, an unusual, but interesting series of events began to unfold that eventually changed the outcome of the game.
It was again Kyle Mottis that got the Greensboro rally going, but this was an unusual one. Mottis hit a leadoff single. Next, Connor Kaiser and Fabricio Macias both flied out to center for outs one and two of the inning. That brought Jack Herman to the plate. With Herman at the plate, things began to oddly change. Mottis stole second; moved to third on a passed ball; and scored his third run of the game on a wild pitch The Grasshoppers had tied the game at 3-all without getting another hit.
The game remained tied at 3-3 through the top of the ninth. In fact, Greensboro’s relievers that followed Jennings, Cristofer Melendez and Yerry De Los Santos, shut down the GreenJackets offense without giving up a hit or run in the sixth through eighth innings and ninth, respectively.
But, in the bottom of the ninth an even more interesting series of events took place. First the Hoppers number eight hitter, catcher Grant Koch, walked. Pirates number eight prospect Ji-Hwan Bae, who had been on the bench up to that point in the game, replaced Koch as a pinch runner. Bae is the speedster on Greensboro’s roster. That brought number nine hitter Zach Kone (3B) to the plate. Concerned about Bae trying to get into scoring position by stealing second, GreenJackets reliever Bryce Tucker immediately threw to first to try to keep him close to the base. With Kone still batting, Bae first advanced to second on a pass ball and then took third on a wild pitch. Kone walked on four pitches to set up the Grasshoppers with runners on first and third with no outs.
Faced with that situation, a runner on third fast enough to score on almost anything and the top of the Grasshoppers batting order coming to the plate, Augusta’s manager Carlos Valderrama made an unusual move. He pulled in the infielders close to the infield grass for a play at the plate, but also made another fielding change. He bought center fielder Jose Layer into the infield and positioned him at the point of the infield grass diamond in front of second base. That gave them the “Seven Player Pulled in Infield Defense” shown in the photo at the top of this post. As mentioned earlier, an infield defense configuration that I and probably a lot of other baseball fans had not seen before. .
It almost worked! First, leadoff batter Kyle Mottis hit a sharp grounder to shortstop. On that play, Bae was held at third, Kone advanced to second, and Mottis was out on the throw to first. That brought Connor Kaiser to the plate. He hit the first pitch delivered to him up the middle. The grounder was fielded cleanly—yes by center field Jose Layer. But on that play, Ji-Hwan Bae had taken off for the plate. Layer fired the ball to the catcher, but Bae slid in and avoided the tag.
The Greensboro Grasshoppers had accomplished a come from behind 4-3 walk-off win without having gotten another hit after Mottis’ leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh inning. Grasshoppers players streamed onto the field to celebrate their win, while fans stood and loudly cheered their team after experiencing this exciting finish of the game.
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.