So, former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis is off to a third organization in three years, traded on Thursday by Atlanta to St. Louis in the Jaime Garcia deal. Ellis, who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, his only year in the Braves system, started his pro career with the Los Angeles Angels. A bunch of other Mississippians could be changing teams this off-season. The current list of free agents (at both the major and minor league levels) includes position players Joey Butler, Chris Coghlan, Desmond Jennings, Tyler Moore, Mitch Moreland and Alex Presley and pitchers Aaron Barrett, Scott Copeland, David Goforth (designated for assignment by Milwaukee on Nov. 23), T.J. House and Jonathan Papelbon. D.J. Davis and Zack Bird have been mentioned as possible Rule 5 draft picks, and there are trade rumors swirling around Zack Cozart. P.S. Among the players feeling a little more secure is Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, recently added to Oakland’s 40-man roster. Wahl is on a list – longer than you might think – of pitchers who hit 100 mph or better in the minors this past season, when he notched 14 saves between Double-A and Triple-A. Over his four pro years, the right-hander has a 3.90 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 161 2/3 innings. He is viewed as a potential big league closer.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, can add another line to his resume. The Rome Braves, for which Riley was arguably the best player this past season, were named Baseball America’s minor league team of the year. Riley was a young player (19) on a young team that brushed off a weak first half to roll to the South Atlantic League championship. “That team is a microcosm of the rebuild within our entire farm system,” Atlanta general manager John Coppolella told BA. Riley, a third baseman, is one of the jewels of that system. In just his second pro season, he batted .271 with 20 homers, 80 RBIs, 39 doubles and 68 runs in 129 games for the low Class A R-Braves. He also belted two homers in the SAL Championship Series. There’s a chance he reaches Double-A Mississippi sometime next summer. Right-hander Patrick Weigel, who made it to Double-A last summer, went 10-4 with a 2.51 ERA as part of a loaded Rome rotation. Weigel put up a 2.18 ERA in three starts for the M-Braves and also pitched a gem in the Southern League playoffs. P.S. Former Murrah standout Zack Bird, who pitched for the M-Braves in 2015, is an unprotected prospect in Atlanta’s system who might be plucked in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Bird had a rough 2016 at high-A Carolina (8.87 ERA in 28 games).
If there were a Mount Rushmore of Mississippi baseball, the likeness of David Meadow “Boo” Ferriss would be on it. You could argue all day about the other three – and there are many worthy candidates – but Ferriss would be on there. Absolutely. He was a great player, but he was more than that. He was a great coach, but he was more than that. He was as nice and humble and accommodating a man as you could hope to meet. The list of lives he touched, on and off the field of play, would stretch from Southaven to Moss Point. Ferriss, or Coach Ferriss as many called him, left us on Thursday at the age of 94. He’ll never be forgotten.
Way out in Australia, D.J. Davis is searching for his game. The Wiggins native, a first-round draft pick by Toronto in 2012, endured a lost season in 2016, batting just .197 with 13 extra base hits in 83 games at the high-A level. He is wintering in the Australian Baseball League, where he is 1-for-8 with a stolen base in two games for Canberra. Scouting reports indicate that Davis, 22, remains a raw talent even in his fifth pro year. A lefty-hitting outfielder, he showed promise in low-A ball in 2015, hitting .282 with seven homers, seven triples, 59 RBIs and 21 steals. But 2016, which included a month-long stint on the disabled list, was a big step back. Once a top 10 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, Davis is getting a chance to reestablish himself in the ABL. Stay tuned. P.S. The Arizona Fall League season ended for the Mississippi contingent on Thursday. Ole Miss alum Chris Ellis, an Atlanta prospect, threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Salt River’s finale; he finished 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA. Future Mississippi Braves infielder Travis Demeritte went 2-for-4 with a homer, his fourth, in that game. Richton’s JaCoby Jones (Detroit) finished at .329 with a homer and 13 RBIs; 2016 M-Braves star Dustin Peterson (Atlanta) batted .324; and Southwest Mississippi Community College product Kade Scivicque (Atlanta) hit .378. Ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford (Toronto) didn’t play Thursday for Mesa and ended his AFL tour at .253 with three homers and 15 RBIs. He is expected to be added to the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster today. Mississippi State alum Chris Stratton (San Francisco) threw five shutout innings for Scottsdale, finishing 2-2, 3.12.
Spencer Turnbull should leave the Arizona Fall League feeling good. Ex-Madison Central High star Turnbull, a Detroit prospect pitching for Salt River, threw four shutout innings on Monday in what may have been his last outing. The 6-foot-3 right-hander had an injury-interrupted 2016 season and started slowly in the AFL but with back-to-back strong starts has trimmed his ERA to 3.60. He has 20 strikeouts in 20 innings and has not yielded a home run. Turnbull’s velocity reportedly has been a little down this fall, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I’m learning how to pitch with a little less velocity,” Turnbull said in an mlb.com article. “I’m sinking it and cutting it more than I used to rather than throwing heaters down the middle.” Turnbull, 24, is rated Detroit’s No. 12 prospect by mlb.com but is likely still a couple of years away from a big league shot. He is 12-7 with a 3.32 ERA in his three pro seasons and is expected to pitch in Double-A in 2017. It’s seems odd now that Turnbull was undrafted in 2011 out of Madison Central, where was a standout hitter and hurler. He went to Alabama and left in 2014 as a second-round pick by the Tigers. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Dustin Peterson hit his first AFL homer in support of Turnbull on Monday. Peterson is batting .328 for the Rafters after an MVP-caliber year in the Southern League (.282, 12 homers, 88 RBIs). Richton’s JaCoby Jones, also a Tigers prospect, had three hits for Salt River and is up to .370. … Petal High product Anthony Alford (Toronto) stole three bags for Mesa on Monday and now has eight this fall.
Brian Dozier. Hands down. The former Southern Miss star is the winner of the 2016 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the Mississippian (native or college alum) who had the best season in the big leagues. The 29-year-old Dozier, in his fifth MLB campaign with Minnesota, hit .268 with 42 homers, 99 RBIs, 104 runs and 18 steals in 155 games. He also played a solid second base (eight errors, .989 fielding percentage). Several Mississippians had nice years – see Drew Pomeranz, Kendall Graveman, Tim Anderson, Billy Hamilton, Seth Smith — but none approached Dozier’s numbers or impact. The Twins announced on Oct. 19 the winners of their annual Diamond Awards, and Dozier took three of them, including the Calvin R. Griffith Award as the Most Valuable Twin. He was also the recipient of the Charles O. Johnson Award for Most Improved Twin and the Bob Allison Award given to the Twins player who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field. … Dozier follows Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan as Cool Papa Bell Award winners. The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Kudos to Mitch Moreland for winning the first Gold Glove of his career. The ex-Mississippi State star, now a free agent, led American League first basemen in fielding percentage (.998) playing for Texas in 2016. He committed just two errors in 1,103 chances. (And it didn’t hurt that he hit 22 home runs.) … Former Harrison Central High standout Bobby Bradley is rated the No. 5 prospect (again) and best power hitter in Cleveland’s system in Baseball America’s new rankings. Bradley, a lefty-hitting first baseman, was the Class A Carolina League MVP this past season, when he belted 29 homers and drove in 102 runs. He hit just .235 but had a .344 on-base percentage. … Picayune High product T.J. House, Itawamba Community College alum Tim Dillard and former Southern Miss star Scott Copeland are on the list of minor league free agents published by Baseball America. A host of former Mississippi Braves are also on the market, including Matt Lipka, Daniel Castro, Brandon Cunniff, Willians Astudillo, Madison Younginer, Joey Terdoslavich, Brandon Hicks, Jordan Schafer and David Hale. … Richton’s JaCoby Jones had another big hit on Tuesday for Salt River, boosting his Arizona Fall League average to .333 and RBI total to 11 in 16 games. Ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull, another Detroit prospect with Salt River, worked strong four innings in that game, allowing one unearned run and fanning five. His ERA in five AFL starts is now 4.50.