In an earlier Bucs Dugout article, I introduced and highlighted the players that led the Greensboro Grasshoppers offense during the first half of the 2019 South Atlantic League season. I returned to First National Bank Field on August 16th for a double header between the Grasshoppers and Asheville Tourists. Entering that series, Greensboro was in contention for the wildcard card slot in the SAL postseason.
At that moment in time, the Delmarva Shorebirds (33-18) , who had won the Northern Division during the first half of the season, were in first place and appeared to be position to win the division during the second half as well. If that turned out to be the case, the team in the division with the next best overall season record would go to the postseason as the wildcard team. Greensboro opened that series in third place in the North with a 27 win, 24 loss second half season record and overall 71-49 record. They were in third place behind the Hickory Crawdads , who were 30-21 for the second half and 71-46 for the overall season. That made them 3 games behind the Crawdads and 6 games behind the Shorebirds for the second half, but just 1 and ½ games behind Hickory for the overall season runner up.
Over the remaining nineteen days of the season, the Hickory Crawdads got hot and won 12 of their remaining eighteen games. Meanwhile, the Shorebirds posted a 9-9 record for that period and the Grasshoppers went 8-10. The Crawdads moved up to win the Northern Division for the second half and gain entry into the postseason, while the Grasshoppers season ended as they slipped to finish in fourth place in the division.
In this article, I will look at the Greensboro Grasshopper players that finished the season leading the team in one or more of the thirteen traditional offense statistic categories listed on the team and South Atlantic League websites. In another earlier Bucs Dugout post, I highlighted three players that ranked number one on the team in those stat categories at the mid-season break. However, two of the team’s key offense leaders, first baseman Mason Martin and center fielder Lolo Sanchez, were promoted to Pittsburgh’s advanced A class team (Bradenton Marauders, Florida State League) soon after the mid-season break.
*Minimum of 373 plate appearances to qualify as team leader based on 138 games and an average of 2.7 plate appearances/game.
Since then a number of other players have taken over as the team leaders. The table above identifies the players that led the Greensboro Grasshoppers team in each of those thirteen traditional offense categories for the complete season. There are two holdovers from the mid season leader. One is first baseman Mason Martin. Even though he appeared in just 82 games before being promoted on July 9th, the table shows that the home run and runs batted in totals that he complied before departing were so good that they were not surpassed by any of the players that finished out the season with the Grasshoppers. In fact, his 23 home runs tied with one other player for number one in the South Atlantic League for the full season.
The other player is center fielder Fabricio Macias. At the mid season break, he only ranked #1 on the team in runs scored. The table shows that after the departure of Martin and Sanchez he remained the runs (72) leader, but took over the team lead in three other batting stats: hits (132), doubles (25-tied with one other player), and total bases (187). In fact, his end of season totals in three of those categories ranked him in the top 10 for the season among all players in the South Atlantic League: R (#5-tied with two other players), H (#4), and TB (#4).
Macias is a former Mexican League baseball player that was signed as an International free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 2018 season. Macias played part of the 2018 season for Pittsburgh’s South Atlantic League team—the West Virginia Power. He returned to the SAL for the 2019 season as a member of the opening day roster of their new team—the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Macias was a regular starter in the Grasshoppers outfield and closed out the season as their cleanup hitter.
The player that entered the team leaders group the latest and eventually ended the season leading the team in the most offense stat categories is shortstop/second baseman Ji-Hwan Bae. Bae is also an International player (South Korea) and was signed by the Pirates as a free agent prior to the 2018 season. He played at the rookie class with the GCL Pirates in the Gulf Coast League in 2018 and was assigned to Greensboro’s roster shortly after the start of the 2019 season.
Ji-Hwan Bae missed more than a month of play time during the early season and for that reason it was touch and go whether or not he would compile enough plate appearances to qualify as a team leader in the AVE, OBP, SLG, and OPS statistic categories. However, he just made it during the last few games of the season. Bae finished the season with a PA total of 380—just 7 more than the minimum of 373 needed to qualify as a team leader for those stats. The offense leaders table above shows that he tied Macias for the team lead in doubles (25), took over #1 in stolen bases (31), and upon reaching the minimum requirement of 373 plate appearances became the team leader in batting average (.323), on-base percentage (.403), slugging percentage (.430), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.833).
As the second half of the season evolved, Ji-Hwan Bae took over as the leader of the Greensboro Grasshoppers offense and ended the season typically hitting third in their batting order. As shown in the table, he ranked #1 or was tied for the team lead in six of the thirteen traditional offense statistic categories. Bae’s 380 plate appearances also met the league leader requirement for the 140 game South Atlantic League season, which is 378 PA, and he ranked #1 among all qualifying players in the league in batting average. .
The last member of the Grasshoppers offense leader group is shortstop Connor Kaiser. Kaiser is a former college baseball player, Vanderbilt University, and was a third round pick/signing of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2018 First Year Player Draft. That season he began his professional baseball career with the West Virginia Black Bears—the Pirates short-season class A team in the New-York Penn League. However, late in that season, Kaiser was promoted to their full-season class A team in the South Atlantic League—the West Virginia Power.
Connor Kaiser returned to the SAL for the start of the 2019 season and was the Greensboro Grasshoppers opening day shortstop and number two hitter. He was their regular starter at short, but missed more than one and a half months of the season due to stints on the injured list. Even though he only appeared in 79 of Greensboro’s 138 games, he reached base on an exceptional number of walks. The earlier table of team offense leaders shows that Kaiser led the Grasshoppers team for the season with 51 base on balls.
The photo at the top of this article shows the Greensboro Grasshoppers celebrating a walk-off win versus the Augusta GreenJackets on August 16th. Ji-Hwan Bae and Connor Kaiser played key roles in that victory. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Bae raced home from third base and beat the throw to the place to score the game winning run on an infield ground ball hit by Kaiser. Kaiser reach first safely on the play. The Grasshoppers players in the photo are surrounding Connor Kaiser at first base congratulating him on delivering the victory.
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.