Itawamba Community College, the little baseball factory in Fulton, announced today that one of its star alums, Jonathan Van Every, will be the speaker at the Indians’ annual leadoff banquet on Jan. 29. Van Every, 30, also a former University Christian standout, will head to spring training in February with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who signed him to a minor league deal in November. Van Every hit his first major league home run in 2009, but injuries were the predominant story of his season. He was hurt in spring training and again in the summer — and ultimately was released by the Boston Red Sox, the second organization for which he has played. Van Every will get a chance to revive his career with the forever-rebuilding Pirates, who might be able to use his power bat.
The two pitching prospects Atlanta acquired from the New York Yankees today in the Javier Vazquez deal won’t have a direct impact on the 2010 Mississippi Braves’ roster. Left-hander Mike Dunn reached the majors last summer for the Yankees; he figures to be a Triple-A Gwinnett player in the Braves’ system. Arodys Vizcaino, a 19-year-old Dominican, will be entering just his third year of pro ball, having spent 2009 at the short-season A level. He’s at least a couple years away from Pearl. But he does have the potential to get here. Note his 100 strikeouts in 86 1/3 pro innings. … The Braves recently released a couple of players who have spent some time with the M-Braves, including outfielder Jon Mark Owings. That was a bit of a surprise. He looked to be a good candidate for the M-Braves’ opening day lineup. Infielder Chad Lundahl might have been here next season, too, but didn’t figure to be a regular.
The Seattle Mariners are one of the three. Three current major league franchises have never played in the World Series: the Mariners, the Texas Rangers (nee Washington Senators, 1961) and the Washington Nationals (nee Montreal Expos, 1969). The Mariners have been around since 1977. They’ve played for the American League pennant three times but never gotten beyond that point in the postseason. Well, they might be charting a new course this off-season. The Mariners’ deal for left-hander Cliff Lee, the former Meridian Community College star, gives them a terrific 1-2 punch (along with Felix Rodriguez) in their rotation. That’s the foundation of any Series team. Lee appears to be entering his prime. He is 90-52 with a 3.97 ERA in eight seasons, 36-16 the last two, including a Cy Young season with Cleveland in 2008. This past year, after moving to Philadelphia, he was dominant in the postseason: 4-0, 1.56 in five starts. Phillies fans would have loved to see him get a crack at New York in the Game 7 that never happened. The M’s might only have Lee for one year; if they make the Series, that would be enough.
If you admire perseverance as a human trait — and who doesn’t? — then you have to admire John Lindsey. The Hattiesburg native can currently be found playing for Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific League. He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 1995 and has been playing, at some level, ever since. He has logged 1,463 professional games (not including winter league or instructional league or other off-the-charts organized activities) but has not spent one day in the majors. Though his window of opportunity is closing fast, very fast, Lindsey hangs on at age 32. He is hitting .317 with 11 home runs in 54 games in Mexico. Last season with Triple-A New Orleans in the Florida organization, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound first baseman hit .251 with 19 homers. In his last three pro seasons, he has blasted 75 of his 194 career homers. Lindsey’s still got something in the tank, something more than just the capacity to persevere, which he has in abundance.
The Atlanta Braves like stability. Bobby Cox’s long tenure as manager is evidence of that. Here’s more: They made only two changes to the field staffs of their entire minor league system for 2010. Phillip Wellman will be back for a fourth year as manager of the Mississippi Braves. It’s like a presidential term. The old Jackson Mets and Generals changed managers like they changed undies. They never had the same manager for more than two years, and that happened only a few times. For those associated with the M-Braves, Wellman’s return should be welcomed. He’s a good manager and a good guy. The players like him and respect him. He’ll get the best out of them. The 2010 season will be Cox’s last in Atlanta. It’ll probably be Wellman’s last in Pearl. He’s likely to be among the candidates to replace Cox — and certainly will get consideration for the big-league staff, whoever the manager might be.
Went to an Atlanta Braves game a few years back. Billy Wagner was on in relief for the Houston Astros, attempting to nail down one of the 385 saves he has today. He threw a fastball, and the board that registers pitch speed hit 100. Never had seen that before. Never will forget it. The Braves signed the former Jackson Generals left-hander to be their closer for 2010. Good move. He is an old-school warrior and an upgrade over Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, both of whom were shaky last season. Wagner showed last year with Boston that he can still bring it after Tommy John surgery in 2008, posting a 1.98 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings. He’s 38, so he’s not a long-term solution. But he’ll man the post capably until one of the ex-Mississippi Braves, Luis Valdez or Craig Kimbrel, is ready to take it over, probably in 2011.
He played 18 years in the big leagues and hit .291. He had 2,107 hits, blasted 352 homers, drove in 1,206 runs and even stole 181 bases. Make no mistake, Vicksburg native Ellis Burks has numbers. He was on the Topps All-Rookie team in 1987, when he broke in with Boston, and was third in the National League MVP voting in 1996, when he hit .344 with 40 homers and 128 RBs for Colorado. He also made two All-Star Games. So he made an impression. Whether he made a Hall of Fame-worthy impression, well, we shall see. Burks is on the ballot, for the first time, for 2010. The new inductees will be announced on Jan. 6. It would be a big surprise if Burks got the necessary votes, but he might get more than a few. He’s the best candidate since Dave Parker (who’s still on the ballot himself) to become the first Mississippi native elected to Cooperstown. It’s unlikely Parker will make it this time either.