23 May

a little deja vu

The current configuration of the Atlanta Braves’ infield should look very familiar to Mississippi Braves fans. On June 30, 2016, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Johan Camargo – each one a natural shortstop — were in the same lineup for the first time. Albies had returned that day from a stint in Triple-A Gwinnett to play second base with Swanson at short and Camargo at third. It was a good mix. They combined to go 8-for-13 with two RBIs and two runs as the M-Braves won at Jackson (Tenn.) 6-5. On July 4 of that year, the infield trio hit 1-2-3 in the order in their first game together at Trustmark Park. Albies, who is tearing up the National League (.286, 14 homers, 34 RBIs) for the first-place Braves, was the M-Braves’ opening day shortstop in 2016 and hit .321 with four homers and 21 steals in 82 games in Pearl. The more-heralded Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick by Arizona in 2015, joined the M-Braves in late April of 2016 when Albies was promoted to Gwinnett. Swanson played 84 games, all at short, and batted .261 with four homers and 45 RBIs. He finished that year in the big leagues. Camargo was a jack-of-all-trades in 2016: 29 games at third, 32 at short and 64 at second. The switch-hitter batted .267 with four homers and 43 RBIs, spending the whole season in Pearl. That 2016 team made the Southern League playoffs. This has the makings of a special summer in Atlanta, and June 30, 2016, might have been one of the sparks that started this flame. P.S. Ole Miss product Alex Presley, in his 13th pro season, has signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox and is on the Triple-A Charlotte roster. Presley was granted his release by Baltimore last week. The lefty-hitting outfielder is a career .263 hitter in the big leagues and has batted .289 in the minors.

23 May

green machine

The scorebook has closed on Zack Shannon’s career at Delta State, which saw its season end with a loss to Mississippi College in the NCAA Division II regionals on Tuesday. In his two years with the green-and-white, the big man from Cincinnati stuffed that scorebook with some jaw-dropping numbers. Start with his home run totals – and take a deep breath. He hit his 31st of the season in the final game (Game No. 53); that’s not only a school record but also the most all-time by any player in any division in the state. That number also leads the nation, all divisions included. Shannon’s total of 50 career homers at DSU ranks second to Dee Haynes, who hit 69 over three seasons (1998-2000) in Cleveland. For the year, Shannon hit .406 with 93 RBIs (best in the nation) and a .955 slugging percentage (also No. 1). Also noteworthy, he struck out just 27 times and walked 35 times in 202 at-bats. Though he didn’t win a Ferriss Trophy, plenty of awards and accolades have poured in the last two years and more may be coming. Earlier this week, Shannon was named one of 25 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the nation’s best player. He is the first D-II player to be named a semifinalist. He won Gulf South Conference player of the year both this year and last and received several D-II national player of the year awards in 2017. Surely he’ll get picked in the MLB draft. Regardless, he won’t soon be forgotten in the Magnolia State. P.S. Before Shannon broke it, the state’s college homer record was shared by former Mississippi State stars Rafael Palmeiro and Bruce Castoria, according to John W. Smillie’s Mississippi Baseball Record Book. Castoria hit 29 in 1981, Palmeiro in 1984. Will Clark smacked 28 for MSU in 1984 (and got 25 the next year). DSU’s Haynes hit 26 in 1999. Three Southern Miss players cranked out 23: Fred Cooley (1989), Bill Selby (1992) and Jeff Cook (2003). The Ole Miss single-season mark is 21 by Brian Pettway in 2005. … MC’s remarkable season also ended on Tuesday with a loss to Tampa in the rain-soaked South Region tourney in Lakeland, Fla. The Choctaws, who made their first D-II regional appearance, finished 36-17.

22 May

he’s got numbers

Rafael Palmeiro went yard on Monday. At age 53. The former Mississippi State star, now playing for an independent league team in Texas, hit his first home run in an actual game since 2005, his last big league season. The blast came in his third game with the Cleburne Railroaders of the American Association and came against right-hander Trey McNutt, who was born three years after Palmeiro debuted with the Chicago Cubs in 1986.
Here’s some random Palmeiro home run numbers:
569 – Career MLB homers, 13th on the all-time list.
47 – Season-high in big league homers.
0 – Home run crowns in MLB.
21 – Age when he hit his first MLB bomb, on Sept. 9, 1986, at Wrigley Field against Kevin Gross.
38 – Age when he hit his 500th MLB homer, on May 11, 2003, at The Ballpark in Arlington against David Elder.
40 – Age when he hit his last MLB homer, on July 30, 2005, at Camden Yards against Jose Contreras.
4 – Postseason homers, all with Baltimore.
28 – Career minor league homers.
67 – Career college home runs, in three seasons in Starkville.
29 – Season-high in college homers, in 1984.

21 May

third?

Say it ain’t so: According to Statcast metrics, Billy Hamilton, the Taylorsville Tornado, is not the fastest man in baseball. In fact, per the story on mlb.com, there are two players in the big leagues who are faster: Byron Buxton and Delino DeShields Jr. Having seen Hamilton chase down fly balls and go first to third, it’s really hard to imagine someone faster. And yet, Hamilton’s best Statcast Sprint Speed clocking is 30.1 feet per second, compared to Buxton’s 30.7 and DeShields’ 30.4. Yes, it’s a slender reed, but third is third. That’s what the numbers say. The story listed the fastest player on each team. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, tops Arizona at 29.2. (Note: He’ll be 34 in August.) Former Mississippi Braves Ronald Acuna (29.8) and Mallex Smith (29.5) lead the pack in Atlanta and Tampa Bay, respectively. Perhaps they need to get some of these guys together at the All-Star Game for a little race.

21 May

college stuff

Not so long ago, Mississippi State was a .500 team starved for runs and searching for answers. Today, State cracked the Top 25 in Baseball America’s new poll and, as the magazine’s editors suggest, may have “lifted itself off the NCAA bubble.” BA’s projected NCAA field last week didn’t have State among the 64 teams. The Bulldogs (31-24) swept No. 1-ranked Florida at Dudy Noble Field over the weekend, putting up 31 runs against a Gators team that, it should be noted, had already clinched the SEC title and a Top 8 national seed for the NCAA Tournament. Still, it has been an impressive late surge by State, which was 19-19 on April 18 after a loss to Memphis. While the Bulldogs’ NCAA regional fate may already be determined, it would certainly help their cause if they beat LSU in the SEC Tournament opener on Tuesday. State is not in the d1baseball.com Top 25, also released today. … Ole Miss (42-14) held steady at No. 4 in the BA poll and appears assured of hosting an NCAA regional. Southern Miss (39-15) finished the regular season with a flourish, scoring 35 runs in a sweep at Marshall, and is ranked 17th. The C-USA champions are the top seed headed into this week’s conference tournament in Biloxi and are a lock for the NCAAs. … Rain has made a mess of the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament, which started last Thursday in Lakeland, Fla. Delta State, which beat Mississippi College in the first round, is scheduled to play Tampa in a winner’s bracket game today. MC is slated for a loser’s bracket game today vs. Albany State. The D-II World Series starts Saturday in Cary, N.C. … Jackson State, the last Mississippi team standing in the SWAC Tournament, bowed out Saturday when Jose Tirado, the league’s relief pitcher of the year, yielded a game-tying run in the ninth and a game-winner in the 10th of a 10-9 loss to Texas Southern. … The last state juco team standing was Meridian Community College. The Eagles upset No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice in the NJCAA Region 23 championship round on Saturday but were eliminated by the Bengals on Sunday. MACJC champion Pearl River was eliminated by Meridian on Friday. … Rust College has transitioned from NCAA Division III to NAIA and formally becomes the eighth member of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference this fall. The Bearcats will be the fourth GCAC school with a baseball team, joining in-state rival Tougaloo, Talladega and Edward Waters. Rust, coached by Aurby Burdine, went 0-2 against Tougaloo and 0-4 vs. Talladega in 2018. Founded in 1866 in Holly Springs, Rust is one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges and universities.

19 May

tall order, but …

Here’s what Meridian Community College is up against: the No. 1 team in the nation, a five-time national champion, playing on its home field. LSU-Eunice has lost only five games all year, and MCC has to beat the Bengals twice to claim a berth in the NJCAA Division II World Series. Can it be done? Well, as the saying goes, that’s why they play the games. And MCC has been playing the game rather well of late. Dillon Sudduth’s Eagles whipped No. 2-ranked Jones County twice to end the regular season, then took a win-or-go-home Game 3 against Northeast in the MACJC playoffs. After losing their opener in the Region 23 Tournament at Bengal Field, the Eagles bounced back with big wins over Mississippi Gulf Coast and Pearl River to reach the championship round and today’s game against LSU-E. If the Eagles win, they’ll play a deciding game on Sunday. MCC’s hitting display against PRCC might have been enough to worry the host Bengals just a bit. The Eagles won 25-13, putting up eight runs in the second inning and, after blowing the big lead, 12 more runs in the sixth. Milton Smith homered and drove in six runs, Trace Jordan and Davis Bradshaw picked up four RBIs each and Sam McWilliams homered. It’s a team with many weapons. Bradshaw, from McLaurin, is a .450 hitter. Smith, from Starkville, bats .390 and has 34 steals. Jordan, from Sumrall, hits .380 and has 15 homers. McWilliams, from Magee, is a .400 hitter with 26 bags. Brandon’s Blake Morris has nine homers. If the Eagles — whose staff ERA is over 5.00 — can pitch a little bit the next two days, they could take down the giant.

18 May

one step away

It’s a small sample size but still worth noting: Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley is batting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and 11 RBIs through his first 10 games in Triple-A. He has hit safely in eight of those games, including a four-hit, three-homer performance on Sunday, and has yet to make an error at third base. He also has two hat tricks (three-strikeout games) for Gwinnett. “It’s all about adjustments,” Riley told the Marietta Daily Journal. “Each level you move up, the pitchers get better. You never stop learning in this game.” Riley, one of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, batted .333 with six homers in 27 games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before his promotion. At 21, Riley is the same age as Ozzie Albies and a year older than Ronald Acuna, who are leading the “Baby Braves” contingent that has helped revitalize the big league club. Most projections have Riley making the majors in 2019, but he could force the Braves’ hand this summer. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson is also in Triple-A and knocking on the MLB door. St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2016, right-hander Hudson is 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA in seven starts for Memphis. He is rated the Cardinals’ No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline. … Hunter Renfroe, the State alum who is hoping to get back to the big leagues, went 1-for-5 with an RBI double and three K’s Thursday in his first game after being sent to Triple-A El Paso. Renfroe was batting .200 with two homers for San Diego when he went on the disabled list in mid-April. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, sent down by Toronto earlier this week, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts at Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday. … Also itching for another shot in The Show is Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, who has a 1.50 ERA, two saves and 26 punchouts in 18 innings for Triple-A Nashville in Oakland’s system. Wahl made seven appearances for the A’s last year before suffering a shoulder injury. He was dropped from the 40-man roster in the fall. … Braxton Lee, the ex-UM standout from Picayune who started this season in the majors with Miami, is currently on the DL at Triple-A New Orleans. He hit .176 in eight MLB games and is at .186 in 12 games for the Baby Cakes. … Ole Miss alum and onetime big leaguer Alex Presley, who had been at Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore’s system, has been granted his release and is now a free agent.