Pirates Prospect Update: Showdown in Greensboro for all the marbles

Can the Greensboro Grasshoppers hold on to first place to win the first half North Division of the South Atlantic League?
SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

While much of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball world will be focused on the Pirates’ upcoming three-game series at home against Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers, an arguably more important series within the Pirates organization is happening this week in Greensboro.

The Greensboro Grasshoppers, the High-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, are in first place in the South Atlantic League North Division, 1.5 games ahead of the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, the Philadelphia Phillies' affiliate in the same league. On Tuesday, these two teams will begin a six-game series in Greensboro, with first place on the line. With the first half of the minor league season ending later this month, the outcome of this series could very well determine which team wins the first half and thus goes on to the playoffs later this summer.

As such, I thought it would be a good time to check in on the Grasshoppers to see what seems to be working for them.

The Grasshoppers play in the friendly confines of First National Bank Field. It is a hitter-friendly park, with dimensions of only 312 feet down the right field line and 315 down the left field line. The outfield juts out from there, but only to 362 and 365 feet respectively in the right and left field alleys. At its deepest, the park runs 400 feet to dead center field, but only to dead center.

With these inviting dimensions in mind, one must take the Grasshoppers' offensive numbers with a grain of salt. Think of it this way: First National Bank Field is the Coors Field of the South Atlantic League.

Greensboro Grasshoppers offense in Pirates' system is hot ahead of first-place showdown

Greensboro leads the South Atlantic League with 75 home runs. The next- closest team, Asheville, has 54 home runs. Greensboro also leads the league in runs scored with 293. The next-closest team is the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, with 255. Not surprisingly, the Grasshoppers also lead the league in team OPS at .754.

The Jersey Shore vs. Greensboro matchup presents a contrast in hitting styles. Jersey Shore leads the league in team batting average at .250. Greensboro clocks in with a .226 team batting average (eighth out of 12 teams). Fun fact: the average batting average in the South Atlantic League is .228. It is a sign of the times. Low batting averages are the norm and not the exception.

Greensboro has hit 75 home runs, while Jersey Shore has hit only 29.

Jersey Shore has struck out the fewest times in the League at 405. Greensboro hitters, meanwhile, have struck out more than all but two teams with 541 strikeouts.

And so, from a hitting perspective, you have a team in Jersey Shore that makes lots of contact and hits for average, using small ball to score runs. On paper, it looks old-school. Greensboro, on the other hand, swings for those First National Bank Field short fences. The Pirates' game is more in line with what is going on in baseball in general. Batting average takes a back seat to slugging. And if that means you strike out a lot to hit a few of those home runs, so be it. The matchup between these two teams should make for an interesting contrast.

But back to the Grasshoppers. What is working? 

One would expect that a successful first-place minor league team would be led by dominant players who are on the major league team’s top prospects lists. That is not necessarily the case here. Greensboro has seven of the Pirates' top 30 MLB Pipeline-ranked prospects on its roster. Those players are Termarr Johnson, Mitch Jebb, Lonnie White Jr., Hunter Barco, Jack Brannigan, Patrick Reilly, and Charles McAdoo. 

The pitchers - Barco and Reilly - are doing fine. The hitters - Johnson, White Jr., Brannigan, Jebb and McAdoo - have been a mixed bag.

If one were to judge these prospects by batting average only, only McAdoo (at .333) would pass muster.  The others, judged on batting average alone? One would question whether they were prospects at all, let alone in the top 30.


Batting Average

Jack Brannigan


Termarr Johnson


Mitch Jebb


Lonnie White, Jr.


Thankfully, what the above prospects do well at is get on base - especially Johnson, who has walked 41 times this year. He is walking at an extraordinary rate of 20.6% of all plate appearances. Johnson got off to a slow start this season, but his batting average has been on the rise of late. His walks made the early season batting average woes bearable. Now, as he begins to heat up, one can see that his overall offensive game has the potential to be elite. His on-base percentage sits at .383. As the batting average rises, the OBP should rise to above .400. As Billy Beane in Moneyball might say,  “Why do we like him? Because he gets on base.”

So, if the Grasshoppers are not being led offensively by their so-called top prospects, where is the success coming from?

Success for the Grasshoppers comes from a group of complimentary players who do not appear on top prospects lists but are putting up top prospect-type numbers. They include a former catcher who is being converted to a first baseman, a former shortstop who is being converted into a catcher, the little brother of a major league pitcher, and a bullpen of no-name prospects who are mowing down the opposition.

Perhaps the most eye-opening season is being had by Luis Peralta, the little brother of Milwaukee Brewers’ starting pitcher, Freddy Peralta.  At 5’11”, Luis Peralta does not exactly pass the eye test of what MLB pitchers look like these days (6’2” or taller).   But he is getting elite results, nonetheless.

In 21 innings pitched, he has struck out 41 batters, which is exactly half of all batters he has faced.  His ERA currently sits at 0.43, and the league is batting .116 against him. I'm guessing that a promotion to Altoona is in his near future.

But he is not the only reliever putting up elite numbers.  Here are a few other relievers who are impressing even if they aren't on any prospect lists.



K / IP

Opp BA

Emmanuel Chapman


23 / 18


Dominic Perachi


25 / 25.2


Cy Nielson


26 / 22.1


Jaden Woods


28 / 19.1


None of these pitchers are considered top prospects for the Pirates, but without them, the Grasshoppers would not be in first place.

I have mentioned that Charles McAdoo, who only last week moved into the Pirates' top 30 prospects list, is batting .333. His OPS is .944.  He has been a major contributor to the Grasshoppers' offense this season. But his .944 OPS is not the highest on the team.

That belongs to P.J. Hilson, a left fielder.  He was acquired in the minor league Rule 5 draft from the San Francisco Giants.  He played in the Low-A California League last year for the Giants.  Having toiled in the minor leagues for five years and advancing no further than A-ball, Hilson seemed an odd draft choice. But the Pirates must have seen something in him. He is batting .339 with six home runs and an OPS of 1.070. This has occurred in only 18 games.

The second-highest OPS belongs to Nick Cimillo.  Cimillo was a 16th-round draft choice in 2022 out of Rutgers University, where he was a catcher.  With the Grasshoppers, he is playing primarily first base and DH while still doing some limited catching. In limited playing time, he has hit seven home runs, is batting .339, and has an OPS of 1.039.  These results have forced manager Blake Butler to pencil Cimillo’s name more and more into the starting lineup.

And then there is catcher Shawn Ross.  He leads the team in home runs with eight.  He was signed by the Pirates in 2022 out of the Pioneer League, where he was a shortstop.  Before toiling in the Pioneer League, Ross played at Faulkner University and went undrafted. He grew up in Puerto Rico.  And the Pirates are now converting him to a catcher.  While his batting average is only .153, he is slugging .439 and has an OPS of .770. And did we mention those 8 home runs?

The starting pitching has been pretty good for Greensboro.  Hunter Barco, the Pirates' #13 prospect, is 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA.  He has struck out 51 batters in 42.1 innings of work.  The league bats .209 against him.

Patrick Reilly, the #20 prospect, has been done in by some control issues.  He has walked 24 batters in 41.1 innings of work, leading to an ERA of 4.79.  However, he has struck out 57 batters in those 41.1 innings of work, and the league has only hit .197 against him.

Jersey Shore comes into the series ranked third or fourth in most pitching categories, including ERA, strikeouts, runs allowed, and batting average against.  The ace of the staff seems to be starting pitcher Samual Aldegheri, the Phillies' 23rd-ranked prospect.  He is 3-3 with an ERA of 2.51.  The league bats just .144 against him.  He has struck out 55 batters in just 43 innings worked.

So that's the matchup this week. Six games against the second-place Blue Crabs. The small-ball Blue Crabs vs. the swing-for-the-fences Grasshoppers.

When a team is rebuilding, as the Pirates are, the first sign of success is often with their minor league affiliated teams. 

Greensboro has an opportunity to distance itself from its nearest competitor this week.  If they do so, it could be interpreted as another sign that the Pirates are on the right path to turning things around.