Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers get road tested to begin second half

Posted by Guest Columnist on June 25, 2015 at 4:15 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

Hoppers get road tested to begin second half
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

Sooner or later the Hoppers need to turn things around on the road.

They begin their quest to do just that when they open the second half of the South Atlantic League season at West Virginia tonight. It’s the first of nine straight road contests — five against the Power and four at Hagerstown. The Hoppers finally return home July 4 to begin a nine-game stand.

There are no guarantees that things will get better on the road. But if the Hoppers are to to improve their 29-40 showing from the first half, a better road record is mandatory. They were a league-worst 11-24 away from home in the first half. Pulling that up around .500, at least, would be a good place to start.

Why the Hoppers hitters, in particular, struggle on the road has been difficult to pinpoint. Andy Barkett, the Marlins’ hitting instructor for the lower minor leagues, said some of it may be the different routine. At home, hitters can get to the park early and spend extra time in the batting cage. On the road, they don’t have that luxury.

In Greensboro, the players feed off large crowds and a good atmosphere. There’s a certain amount of confidence that comes with just putting on the Grasshoppers uniform. It’s also a cozy park, conducive to hitting. Most other parks in the SAL are larger, turning some NewBridge Bank Park home runs into long outs.

“This is a good park to hit in, and that gives you confidence,” Barkett said. “So when you get to a place that’s a big yard, mentally maybe you’re beat before you get in the batter’s box because you’re thinking it’s hard to get a hit in this place.”

The hitters are young, many of them just a year out of high school, which plays a part in their performance. The first half was full of growing pains, including an introduction to playing baseball on an everyday basis.

“I’ve learned you have to come to the park mentally locked in and be ready to play every day,” said third baseman Brian Schales, who is 19.

Another 19-year-old, shortstop Justin Twine, is learning that he doesn’t have to be the guy who drives in every run. He walked just twice in the first half, something he’s looking to improve.

“I need to get on base and let the big dogs drive me in,” said Twine. “My on base percentage (just .227) needs to be better. I want to draw more walks and get deeper into counts. I have to be patient, wait for my pitch and don’t rush things.”

The players have learned a lot in 70 games. Now they need to translate those lessons into better results.

“We just need to play better baseball — defense, hitting and pitching,” said manager Kevin Randel. “We have to start showing improvement. I want them to win every pitch, win every play and win every day.”

There’s another component, too. The Marlins organization will be watching closely to see who has a strong second half and who doesn’t. Whether or not a player moves up a level in 2016 can depend on the next 70 games.

“You want to continue the development process,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “but it’s time to get better and show you can get out of this league. A strong second half bodes well going into next year.”

One hitter going into the second half on a positive note is first baseman K.J. Woods. In the SAL All-Star game in Asheville on Tuesday, Woods hit a two-run homer and a single to help the North Division beat the South 7-5. Arturo Rodriguez collected a single and scored a run and Austen Smith reached on an error and scored a run.

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