Greensboro Grasshoppers will have to move on in the 2nd Half without their two aces:Fernandez and Conley headed to Jupiter

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

Hoppers to move on without two aces

Part of minor league baseball is seeing players come and go and that’s the case with the Hoppers.

Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley, who combined for 14 wins to help Greensboro win the Northern Division’s first-half pennant, have both been told they have been promoted to Jupiter in the Florida State League.

It hasn’t been officially announced because they are part of the Northern Division team for tonight’s South Atlantic League All-Star game in Charleston, S.C. The parent Miami Marlins wanted to reward them for their performance and let them enjoy the festivities. Fernandez is scheduled to start the game, but after pitching 8 innings Saturday night he may be held out.

It’s a bittersweet event for Hoppers fans. On one hand, you don’t often get to watch two starting pitchers of that caliber on the same team in low A baseball. On the other, they had proven what they could do here and earned the promotion.

Back in May I talked with Brian Chattin, the Marlins’ Director of Player Development, about how promotions work.

“It goes back to that general theme of which comes first, winning or development?” he said. “What do you put the bigger emphasis on? We try to do both here. We’re in the business of developing major-leaguers and if they need a new challenge then that’s what we’ll provide them.”

A lot of factors are considered, regardless of a player’s age or experience. Fernandez is just 19 and Conley is 22. There are players older than they are still on the Hoppers’ roster. First baseman Matt Smith is 24 and third baseman Josh Adams is 23 and both have played well enough to move up.

Then there’s center fielder Brent Keys, who will turn 22 next month. He’s the league’s top hitter with a .358 average, he’s second with a .430 on-base percentage and tied for third with 53 runs scored.

But with position players, it’s not that simple. There’s got to be room at the level above. In Keys’ case, the Hammerheads have former Hoppers Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Isaac Galloway in their outfield with Danny Pertusati and Dallas Poulk also playing. Yelich is currently on the DL with a concussion and Galloway has been limited to 31 games. Still, Keys would likely be just an extra outfielder there unless, say, Ozuna is promoted to Double-A Jacksonville.

“If we don’t have a clear opportunity, or limited at-bats (at Jupiter), then maybe you keep him here so he can play regularly and be part of a nice environment that you have here,” Chattin said.

With pitchers it’s a little easier because you can shift their roles. Fernandez and Conley aren’t going to Jupiter to pitch out of the bullpen. They will likely join the rotation that consists of Rob Rasmussen, Edgar Olmos and Chad James (Conley will be the fourth left-handed starter).

What should fans expect out of the pair? Fernandez, the Marlins’ No. 1 pick last summer, was 7-0 and was first in ERA (1.59), strikeouts (99) and WHIP (0.87). Conley, drafted in the second round, was 7-3, third in strikeouts (84) and fifth in ERA (2.78). As good as they are, though, there’s no guarantee of immediate success.

“To me, the better the hitters get, the better you’re going to get,” said Wayne Rosenthal, the Marlins’ pitching coordinator. ”So who wants it more? If you don’t want it more, it’s going to be a big adjustment for you.

“Going up to high A you’re going to face some better hitters, more disciplined hitters, but you need to grow and adjust with them. There might be some growing pains. They might go up there and struggle just a little bit but figure it out and get better.”

There will be an adjustment for the Hoppers’ rotation without their aces. One effect will be splitting the piggyback tandem of Jose Urena and Austin Brice. That worked unusually well but now each pitcher gets his own spot in the rotation. Josh Hodges and Charlie Lowell will continue as starters and the new man will be right-hander Scott Lyman. He made one appearance for the Hoppers, pitching four innings of relief and picking up a victory.

The Hoppers will begin the second half of play Thursday at Hickory. After four games there, they will return home for nine games, the longest stand of the season.

(Note: I didn’t travel to Charleston for the All-Star game, but Jordan Stowe, who writes the Hoppers Fan blog, is there. Here’s a link to his piece on the home run derby aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown: