23 Aug

catch as catch can

Who’s next? It might be Stuart Turner, the former Ole Miss star who is playing his second season at the Double-A level (Chattanooga) in the Minnesota system. Southwest Mississippi Community College product Kade Scivicque, now in high-A ball (Carolina) in the Atlanta organization, appears to be rising fast. Or it could be one of the five Mississippi-connected catchers who entered pro ball this summer. This much we know: There are no Mississippians (native or college alum) playing catcher in the big leagues in 2016. Ex-Mississippi State standout Ed Easley, who caught three games for St. Louis, was the only one to appear last season. He was released out of Triple-A in June. Mississippi has produced a few big league catchers of note – Jake Gibbs, Barry Lyons, Jerry Moses – but it is not a position of tradition for the state. Turner, who won the Johnny Bench Award at UM, was a third-round pick by the Twins in 2013 but isn’t currently listed among their Top 30 prospects by mlb.com. He is batting .237 with five homers at Chattanooga. It was interesting, to say the least, when MLB teams picked five catchers out of Mississippi in this year’s draft and inked another as a free agent. (Dustin Skelton of Magnolia Heights, a 36th round pick by Toronto, didn’t sign and is now at State.) Of those in the pro ranks, State alum Gavin Collins (13th round, Cleveland) and Southern Miss’ Chuckie Robinson (21st round, Houston) have had the most success, both in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. For the record, Collins has played mostly third base. UM’s Henri Lartigue, picked in the seventh round by Philadelphia, also is in the NYPL, and State’s Jack Kruger (20th round, L.A. Angels) is in the rookie Pioneer League. Jackson State’s Carlos Diaz, recently signed by the Chicago Cubs, is toiling in the Arizona League, the beginner’s level. One of the big surprises in recent drafts came in 2014, when West Lauderdale High catcher Blake Anderson was selected 36th overall by Miami. But Anderson has been injured most of this year and hasn’t played above short-season A-ball. There are a handful of other catchers in the pipeline. Ole Miss alum Will Allen also was drafted in 2014 – 13th round by Detroit – and is having a solid season (.263, four homers, 68 RBIs) at low Class A West Michigan. Delta State’s Carlos Leal was picked in 2014 as a pitcher and converted to catcher by Milwaukee. But after hitting .309 in low-A ball in 2015, he has missed all of this season with an injury. Meridian CC product Wade Wass is in Double-A, though he is batting just .191 in 36 games for the Los Angeles Angels’ Arkansas club. Keep an eye on Scivicque, a 2015 draftee (from LSU) recently acquired by Atlanta from Detroit. He was hitting .282 with six homers at the high-A level for the Tigers. Atlanta’s system is thin on catchers, so he might move quickly. Here in Mississippi, the watch is on.

22 Aug

standing tall

Amid the rubble of the Oakland A’s season, Kendall Graveman stands tall. The former Mississippi State right-hander, who tossed his first career shutout last Friday, is 8-2 with a 3.47 ERA over his last 15 starts. For the season, he is 9-8, 4.09 for an injury-riddled team that sits at 53-71 in the American League West. Graveman was a key contributor on State’s 2013 College World Series club, posting a 4-4 record and 2.81 ERA as a senior that year. Toronto picked him in the eighth round of the ’13 draft, and he blew through the minors to make his MLB debut in September of 2014. The Blue Jays then sent him to Oakland with three other players in the Josh Donaldson trade that off-season. Graveman’s 2015 season with the A’s was a bit uneven (6-9, 4.05) and 2016 got off to a wobbly start, as well. In mid-May, he was 1-6 with a 5.48 ERA. Then came the turnaround, which has included two wins against Houston, one against Baltimore and a complete-game W against Tampa Bay. And there is reason to believe the good times will continue for Graveman, a ground-ball pitcher who thrives on control. His shutout last week – a 98-pitch two-hitter against the Chicago White Sox — followed a phone conversation with his boyhood hero, Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, the ultimate craftsman. “I was like a kid in a candy shop. I was just asking him questions and he was very generous to talk to me for 15 or 20 minutes about the mental side of the game,” Graveman told the San Francisco Chronicle.

20 Aug

whatever happened to …

Ernesto Mejia, who had a monster year for the Mississippi Braves in 2011 (.297, 26 homers, 99 RBIs), is playing in Japan for the Seibu Lions and has hit 90 homers over the last three seasons. He is batting .262 with 26 bombs and 80 RBIs in 2016. … Tommy La Stella, who had a big year for the M-Braves in 2013 (.343), is back in the Double-A Southern League with Tennessee. La Stella was sent to the minors — despite his .298 average — by the Chicago Cubs when they acquired Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan at the trade deadline. La Stella initially refused to report but finally did so on Wednesday. He has a hit in his only at-bat for the Smokies. … Willie Cabrera, who played for the M-Braves from 2008-11, is in his fifth season in the independent American Association. Playing for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Cabrera is batting .326 with eight homers and 26 RBIs. He hit .281 during his tenure with the M-Braves and also got some time in Triple-A. … Jordan Schafer, the former M-Braves outfielder (and No. 1 prospect in Atlanta’s system in 2008), is currently on a rehab assignment in rookie ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now a pitcher, the left-hander has a 3.15 ERA over 31 games in Double-A Tulsa and an 11.81 in five games at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

19 Aug

patience, patience

Bobby Bradley homered again on Thursday, for the fourth time in his last seven games. The Harrison Central High product now has 26 homers and 94 RBIs, both totals leading the Class A Carolina League. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound lefty-hitting first baseman won the rookie Arizona League Triple Crown in 2014 and led the low-A Midwest League in homers in 2015 with 27. He is rated the No. 3 prospect in Cleveland’s system and No. 82 in all of the minors by mlb.com and has been anointed the Best Player in the Indians’ system this season by Baseball America. No doubt a lot of people are eagerly anticipating Bradley’s big league debut – and they might have to wait a while. His ETA is 2018, according to mlb.com. It might be later than that. Bradley is only 20. He still has things to work on. He is batting .249 against A-ball pitchers. He has struck out 152 times, which ranks third in the CL (Atlanta prospect Braxton Davidson leads with 165), though he is drawing some walks (.359 on-base percentage). Bradley is likely to play in Double-A next year, and that pivotal level will tell a lot more about how close he is to The Show. Patience isn’t so much a virtue in baseball as it is a requirement.

18 Aug

lists

Dansby Swanson, Luis Hernandez, Yunel Escobar, Diory Hernandez, Brandon Hicks, Brent Lillibridge, Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons, Ed Lucas, Daniel Castro – Former Mississippi Braves shortstops who advanced to the big leagues.

Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Houston, Milwaukee, Detroit – MLB uniforms worn by former Ole Miss star Alex Presley, called up today by the Tigers.

Chris Coghlan, Desmond Jennings, Louis Coleman, Aaron Barrett, Lance Lynn – Mississippians currently on the disabled list in MLB.

21, 20, 28 – Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe’s home run totals in his three full minor league seasons, the latter leading all of Triple-A in 2016.

Tim Anderson (East Central), Corey Dickerson (Meridian), Jarrod Dyson (Southwest), Desmond Jennings (Itawamba), Cody Reed (Northwest), Tony Sipp (Gulf Coast) – Mississippi junior college products who have played in the majors this season.

Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville), Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Ty Cobb, Ron LeFlore, Tim Raines, Maury Wills – MLB players since 1913 who have stolen at least three bases in a game six times in one season.

18 Aug

playing the market

From the You Never Know Department: In the 2015 MLB draft, Pittsburgh picked Pearl River Community College right-hander Jacob Taylor, considered by some the best prospect in Mississippi that year, in the fourth round. In the 25th round, Texas took Demarcus Evans, a right-hander from Petal High. Taylor, who was committed to LSU, signed with the Pirates for a reported $500,000. Evans, bound for Hinds CC, inked with the Rangers for $100,000, a nice sum for a 25th-rounder. Some 14 months later, the Pirates still can’t be sure what they have in Taylor. The Rangers, on the other hand, must be thrilled with their investment in Evans. Such is the nature of baseball – and the draft. Taylor has pitched in just three official minor league games. In August of last year, two months after the draft, he made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League and left after two innings. He went on the disabled list with an elbow injury, then had Tommy John surgery a short time later. Taylor, 21, made his 2016 debut, also in the GCL, on Aug. 3, faced three batters and left after yielding a three-run homer. He didn’t pitch again until Monday, when he worked 2 2/3 innings and allowed another homer, though he did fan four batters. Taylor was All-State at Picayune High in 2013 and was a good if not great player at PRCC, posting a 3.14 ERA as a freshman and a 3.90 as a sophomore while also playing some outfield. He is 6 feet 3 with an upper 90s fastball and may yet do great things in pro ball. But at the moment, Evans has passed him on prospect road. At Petal, Evans could be dominant, fanning almost two batters per inning as a senior, and he is tapping into that same power as a pro. Pitching at short-season Class A Spokane, the 6-4, 240-pound 19-year-old struck out eight batters in a start on Tuesday and has 17 K’s in 13 2/3 innings. He fanned 44 in 29 innings in the rookie Arizona League. Evans’ walk totals are a little high, but batters have hit just .180 against him and his ERA at Spokane is 1.98. Not yet a ranked prospect, he is certainly one to watch.

17 Aug

then came swanson

Brian McCann was the first to get the call. It was June 10, 2005, but it seems like yesterday. McCann jumped from the Double-A Mississippi Braves to Atlanta. “He might be there two weeks; he might be there 20 years,” then M-Braves manager Brian Snitker said. McCann got two hits in his debut, homered in his second game and has been in the big leagues ever since. It was exciting. A similar buzz was generated when the likes of Jeff Francoeur, Martin Prado, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andrelton Simmons and Alex Wood jumped directly from Pearl to The Show. Now it’s Dansby Swanson’s turn. The former No. 1 pick (in the 2015 draft by Arizona) is expected to make his Atlanta debut at shortstop tonight at Turner Field. If you’re a Braves fan, you’ll be watching. Swanson can play the game. As one MLB Network analyst said recently, he’s not an “aircraft carrier.” But, in the mold of a Martin Prado, he can do a lot of things to win games, something the Braves need help with. Swanson hit .261 with eight homers, 45 RBIs and six steals during his too-short time with the M-Braves. He is smooth on defense. Atlanta might be a couple of years away from contending again, but Swanson, like McCann in his day, is a key building block going forward. … Meanwhile, the team Swanson left behind starts a homestand tonight bearing down on a second-half title in the Southern League South. Swanson’s departure could be a tough break for the M-Braves, reminiscent of the time (1987) when the New York Mets took Gregg Jefferies from the Jackson club just before the Texas League postseason. But the M-Braves still have the player who might fit the bill as their “aircraft carrier.” Outfielder Dustin Peterson, who has been in Pearl all season, is a legit league MVP candidate, batting .292 (.450 slugging percentage) with 11 homers and 81 RBIs. P.S. Kade Scivicque, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College standout picked up by Atlanta in the Erick Aybar trade, is a nice addition to the system. A solid defensive catcher with a good bat, Scivicque was playing at high Class A Lakeland for Detroit and should be ready for Double-A soon.