Playoff Preview: Hickory vs. Greenville

South Atlantic League Division Series (best-of-three)
Hickory Crawdads (70-55) vs. Boston-affiliated Greenville Drive (63-69)

Season Run Differential: Hickory +51, Greenville -44
Last 20 Games: Hickory 12-8, Greenville 7-13
Season Series: Greenville 8-7

How They Got Here
In Hickory’s case, weirdly. During the first half, the Crawdads lost 13 consecutive games but were 27-21 otherwise. They won three straight to close the first half and 12 more to open the second, opening a lead that would never dwindle below 2.5 games. Additional win streaks of seven and a season-closing six resulted in a 43-21 second-half record and 5.5-game margin.

Greenville won the first half with a reasonable 36-30 record but only a +14 run differential. The Drive had a half-game lead with three to play and lost all three, but so did railing Winston-Salem. Greenville lost six straight at the end to finish 27-39 in the second half.  

Hickory is back in the playoff for the first time in three years in the high-A classification. The Crawdads lost the low-A Sally league finals to Lexington in 2019. A game-ending homer off Tyree Thompson would be the last action by a Texas affiliate in a real game for 19 months, and Lexington would be relegated to indy status in the Great Reorganization. Hickory won the Sally in 2015.

Greenville won the league championship in 2017 but was one the worst teams in three of the next four years. The Drive also won in 1998 under the helm of current Round Rock manager Doug Davis.

Top 30 Prospects on Active Roster per / Baseball America

3 / 3. IF Sebastian Walcott (on development list)
9 / 12. RHP Kumar Rocker (hurt)
13 / 10. IF Cam Cauley
14 / 19. 1B Abimelec Ortiz
16 / 17. RHP Aidan Curry
17 / 22. LHP Mitch Bratt
22 / 20. RHP Emiliano Teodo
23 / 27. RHP Jose Corniell
27 / NR. RHP Winston Santos
29 / NR. OF Alejandro Osuna

7 / 19. IF Mikey Romero (hurt)
10 / 7. RHP Luis Perales
21 / 16. IF Eddinson Paulino
22 / 29. RHP Yordanny Monegro
27 / NR. LHP Dalton Rogers
30 / 27. OF Allan Castro

Offense / Position Players
Hickory: 2% above average runs scored, .250/.329/.391, 96 OPS+, 97 wRC+
Greenville: 3% above average runs scored, .260/.342/.411, 103 OPS+, 105 wRC+

C Cody Freeman
1B Abi Ortiz
2B Max Acosta
3B Ben Blackwell
SS Cam Cauley
LF Yosy Galan
CF Daniel Mateo
RF Alejandro Osuna
Also IF Jayce Easley, OF Geisel Cepeda, C Cooper Johnson

Hickory had several exciting individual performers, but on the whole, the offense was surprisingly average. Abi Ortiz (.290/.363/.624) lords over the Carolinas, raking third in homers in all of minor league ball through last week. Alejandro Osuna (.259/.381/.385) returned recently, and relative newcomers Cam Cauley (.248/.336/.424) and Ben Blackwell (.290/.355/.406) have helped.

C Ronald Rosario / Kyle Teel
1B Tyler Miller
2B Brainer Bonaci
3B Karson Simas
SS Eddinson Paulino
LF Nick Decker
CF Allan Castro
RF Gilberto Jimenez
Also OF Kristian Campbell, IF Cutter Coffey, OF Bryan Gonzalez

Greenville is missing some firepower (Roman Anthony, e.g.); the active roster has a slugging percentage 25 points lower than the team as a whole. Statistical standouts are Allan Castro (.283/.355/.446), Eddinson Paulino (.257/.338/.420), and Nick Decker (.218/.325/.422).

Pitching / Possible Rotation
Hickory: 6% better than avg. runs allowed, .244/.337/.392 oppo line, 99 OPS+, 13% BB/HBP, 25% SO
Greenville: 10% worse than avg. runs allowed, .254/.335/.427, 105 OPS+, 11% BB/HBP, 27% SO

1: Jose Corniell (3.09 ERA, .208/.274/.363 oppo line, 9% BB/HBP, 27% SO)
2: Emiliano Teodo (4.52 ERA, .231/.337/.410, 14%  BB/HBP, 21% SO)
3: Winston Santos (6.29 ERA, .295/.360/.500, .10% BB/HBP, 20% SO)

Corniell emerged as the staff ace. Teodo is wildly erractic and erratically wild, but he was on more often than not down the stretch and is the team’s most dominant pitcher when in form. Santos had a tough year, and I’d expect someone (perhaps Mitch Bratt) to be ready at the first sign of trouble.

Hickory’s 19 second-half saves were spread amongst 12 pitchers, with hard-to-hit but walk-prone Seth Clark (1.78 ERA) earning a small plurality of chances. Anthony Hoopii-Tuionetoa should see a high-leverage inning or two. The bullpen as a whole is okay and misses plenty of bats, but everyone has a weakness, usually wildness.

1: Zach Penrod (2.18 ERA, .205/.303/.256, 12% BB/HBP, 22% SO)
2: Yordanny Monegro (1.80 ERA, .222/.317/.333, 12% BB/HBP, 32% SO)
3: Luis Perales (4.95 ERA, .275/.371/.493, 14% BB/HBP, 26% SO)

Penrod was an undrafted free agent out of Idaho who pitched for the Rangers in 2018. Boston grabbed him out of the indy Pioneer League only last month. Monegro joined the team only 11 days ago after throttling low-A (2.43 ERA, 34% SO). Perales jumped from low-A in mid-July and saw his homer rate skyrocket.

Greenville hasn’t had many leads to protect lately, but Felix Cepeda has four second-half saves since joining in mid-July, holding opponents to a .152/.219/.242 with a 28% K rate. Beyond him, Brock Bell, and Robert Kwiatkowski, the bullpen looks distressingly thin.

Hickory is so-so on turning double plays and holding runners but solid in other respects. Greenville committed more errors (although they were fine at turning batted balls into outs ), didn’t stifle runners as well, surrendered more wild pitches and passed balls. Roughly, I’d put Hickory in the top third of the league and Greenville in the bottom third.

Park Factor
Hickory — 1.00
Greeneville – 1.01

Advantages / Outlook
Offense – Even
Pitching – Hickory
Defense – Hickory

Hickory doesn’t grade out quite as well statistically as you might expect given the exceptional second-half record, but the Crawdads have several advantages over the Drive and are more likely to advance to the finals.