Great to see Matt Young make the Atlanta Braves’ 40-man roster. The former (and longtime) Mississippi Braves standout deserves a shot at the big leagues, and the Braves did the right thing by protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. Young is small — 5 feet, 8 inches, at best — but he has skills. He doesn’t hit for power, but he has hit for average at every level. He can run, both on the bases and in the outfield. And he plays hard, every minute of every game. He’s also a good guy. He might actually help the Braves in 2011. … Also added to the 40-man roster were Cory Gearrin, a 2009 M-Braves reliever, and Randall Delgado, a starter who was here last summer and likely will be back in 2011. … The Braves gave up on former first-round pick Cody Johnson, the big left-handed slugger who struggled so painfully in Pearl last season. Johnson was traded to the New York Yankees; if he ever makes it to the big leagues, it’ll be a surprise. … And a belated congrats to former Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire, who not only won his first American League manager of the year award last week but got a well-deserved contract extension from the Minnesota Twins.
Ralph is his given name, but he’s known as Rocket, a reference to the hustle he displayed as a young player. Rocket Wheeler is 55 now. His pro playing career consisted of six minor league seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system. He’s devoted now to launching the careers of other players; he has been coaching or managing in pro ball since 1981, spending the last eight years in the Atlanta organization. He’ll spend his ninth as manager of the Double-A Mississippi Braves, it was announced today. Wheeler has won three minor league manager of the year awards at three different levels. In 2008, he was Baseball America’s choice for minor league manager of the year after his Class A Myrtle Beach club won 89 regular season games. That was the slugging bunch that included Brandon Hicks, Willie Cabrera, Eric Campbell, Concepcion Rodriguez, Ernesto Mejia and Tyler Flowers. Wheeler also knows the Southern League, having managed in it for three years while with Toronto. At this stage, it’s tough to predict what players Wheeler will have when the M-Braves open the 2011 season, though he’ll likely have a few that he managed at Myrtle Beach the last couple of years. As a veteran baseball man who has no doubt seen it all, you can bet Wheeler will get the best out of them.
Atlanta’s Jason Heyward had a very good rookie season. Maybe even a great season. But Buster Posey figures to win the National League rookie of the year award when it’s announced today. Former Mississippi Braves right fielder Heyward hit .277 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs, compared to Posey’s .305, 18 and 67. Heyward scored more runs (83-58) and drew more walks (91-30), but he played in 34 more games than Posey. And Posey played catcher — and hit cleanup. For a division winner. (San Francisco also won the World Series, but that’s not relevant here.) Heyward, who hit second (yes, he should have been hitting third by midseason — but that’s another debate), piled up his numbers early. He had 38 RBIs in April and May. He had just eight in September and October. He had exactly one RBI after Sept. 18 while the Braves were involved in a furious wild card battle. Posey was a rock down the stretch for the Giants, with eight homers, 15 RBIs and 18 runs in September and October. That’s money. And that’s why he should win out over the Jay-Hey Kid.
P.S. Former Delta State star Eli Whiteside, the Giants’ backup catcher, didn’t play in the World Series, but he did contribute to the cause. Or his wife, Amy, did. According to a San Francisco Chronicle report, Amy passed out home-baked chocolate oatmeal cookies during the team’s postseason flights. That might have been San Fran’s winning edge. … Props to ex-Jackson Mets manager Clint Hurdle on getting the Pittsburgh Pirates manager job. He’ll light a fire under the Bucs, for sure.
Kenshin Kawakami is now on the Mississippi Braves’ roster. But don’t look for the one-time Atlanta starter to pitch in Pearl in 2011. It seems much more likely the Braves will trade or sell him to a Japanese team, according to mlb.com. Kawakami, a star in Japan just a few short years ago, was 8-22 with a 4.32 ERA in two years with Atlanta, never living up to expectations. He was taken off the 40-man roster and outrighted to Double-A.
P.S. Still no word on the M-Braves manager for 2011, though it should be announced very soon. Former M-Braves standout Jonathan Schuerholz has been named to manage Atlanta’s Gulf Coast League club.
Eric Duncan, who was perhaps the Mississippi Braves’ steadiest player from start to finish in 2010, is among the minor league free agents cut loose by Atlanta. Duncan, a former New York Yankees first-round pick, settled in as the M-Braves’ second baseman early in the year and hit .267 with eight home runs and 64 RBIs. Also on the list as published by Baseball America are 2010 M-Braves Orlando Mercado, Michael Daniel, Luis Bolivar and Christian Colonel. Ex-M-Braves James Parr and Clint Sammons, who were on the roster at Triple-A Gwinnett, also became free agents. It’s now unlikely any of them will return to the organization in 2011. Mauro Gomez, who led the M-Braves with 16 homers and 80 RBIs, would have been a free agent but had previously re-signed with the Braves. … Four former Mississippi college players are on the free agent list: pitcher T.J. Beam (Ole Miss), pitcher Roy Corcoran (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College), infielder Edwin Maysonet (Delta State) and outfielder Jonathan Van Every (Itawamba CC).
Caught a portion of the classic movie “Field of Dreams” while channel surfing today. Just happened to be what is probably the most spell-binding scene, the one in which Ray takes Terrance Mann to Fenway Park and “Moonlight” Graham’s career stats pop up on the scoreboard while The Voice says, “Go the distance.” What’s the Mississippi connection? The baseball nut can’t help but notice what’s going on in the game during the scene. The Oakland A’s are batting, Boston’s in the field. On the mound for the Red Sox: Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, the Meridian native and former Jackson State star. His delivery and follow-through are unmistakable. Boyd won 78 games in the big leagues, 16 for the pennant-winning 1986 BoSox. He was still pitching in independent ball into his late 40s. His nickname is one of the best of all-time. Still, in a way, his appearance in the background of a scene in “Field of Dreams” could be the neatest part of Boyd’s legacy.
… while rummaging through a desk drawer, two scoresheets from Jackson Mets games, one from 1985, the other from ’87. A treasure trove for the true baseball fan. The past instantly comes alive on these sheets. In the ’85 game, the JaxMets beat Tulsa 3-2 in 16 innings. The game lasted 5 hours, 25 minutes and ended at 1:01 a.m. The Mets won it when a bases-loaded, one-out fielder’s choice ground ball by Randy “Moose” Milligan scored Stanley Jefferson. Unforgettable. Eight players who would reach the big leagues played for the Mets that night, including Barry Lyons, Greg Olson, Dave Magadan, Kevin Elster and Mark Carreon. Tulsa’s No. 3 hitter was Ruben Sierra, who went 0-for-5 with two walks. In the ’87 game, the JaxMets beat Tulsa (again) 6-5, scoring six runs in the bottom of the ninth. It was an incredible game, one easily recalled from a quick glance at the scoresheet. The Mets scored all their runs with two outs. They went into the ninth with just two hits; they got four in the final frame, including Marcus Lawton’s single that scored Dan Winters with the game-winning run. Other memorable players who suited up that night included Gregg Jefferies, Steve Phillips, Joaquin Contreras, Rick Lockwood and Ed “Smoke” Pruitt. Tulsa’s No. 6 hitter was Juan Gonzalez, who went 0-for-4. Keeping score at the ballpark has become a lost art. And that’s a shame. Finding two old scoresheets in a desk drawer tells you why.
The Atlanta Braves’ current 40-man roster — and it could change before the winter meetings — includes 17 Mississippi Braves alumni plus two others who are on the disabled list and don’t count against the limit. New to roster, sort of, are 2010 M-Braves pitchers Juan Abreu and Erik Cordier. Abreu was on the 40-man for a brief period last winter. Both had pretty good numbers in Pearl last summer, enough to gain protected status. Both could also be back with the M-Braves in 2011. One new name, sort of, on the list is Jairo Asencio. This is the pitcher formerly known as Luis Valdez. He reportedly was unable to get into the country this year from the Dominican Republic because it was discovered that he was not who he said he was. Luis Valdez, the closer for the 2008 Southern League champion M-Braves club, is actually named Jairo Asencio. He used the other name so that he could sign a pro contract (with the Pittsburgh Pirates) before he was actually old enough to do so (you have to be 16). Asencio, now 26, is expected to return to the Braves’ system in 2011.
P.S. The list of minor league free agents, which likely includes several 2010 M-Braves, should be available soon. Stay tuned.
Cliff Lee is fixin’ to get rich. He is one of the hottest free agents out there, coveted by the New York Yankees, among other big-market clubs. The lefty out of Meridian Community College is certainly the most high-profile Mississippi-connected player on the market, ranking No. 2 overall (behind Carl Crawford) among the 2010-11 free agents, as selected by a Sports Illustrated writer. Louisville’s Marcus Thames is also out there (see previous post), as well as Nettleton’s Bill Hall. Hall, whose option was not picked up by Boston, had an uneven year: .247, 18 homers. His versatility in the field gives him some value, but he was expected to hit better. He may be slipping — and his options may be limited. In fact, neither Thames nor Hall appears on the SI list of the top 50 free agents available. Also on the market is former Jackson General Lance Berkman, who helped the Yankees once he got healthy down the stretch but wasn’t retained. Berkman is 35, but he can still play. His .248 average in 2010 was an aberration.
P.S. Mississippi Braves alumnus Tyler Pastornicky went 0-for-2 in Saturday’s Rising Stars game in Arizona.
His overall numbers for 2010 certainly don’t blow you away, but what Roy Oswalt did for the Philadelphia Phillies in his 13 appearances for them was fairly sensational. The former Holmes Community College standout from Weir was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA for the National League East champs, a performance that is worthy of the second annual Cool Papa Bell Award. (The award is given here to recognize the best performance by a Mississippi-connected player in the major leagues. Ole Miss alumnus Chris Coghlan won the inaugural Bell.) Oswalt, who began the season with the Houston Astros, went 13-13 overall with a 2.76 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 211 2/3 innings. He beats out several other worthy candidates, including Fred Lewis, Marcus Thames, Jonathan Papelbon and even Cliff Lee. Down the stretch in the regular season, Oswalt was better than any of them, and he played a vital role in Philly’s division-winning charge.
P.S. Tyler Pastornicky, likely to be the Mississippi Braves’ shortstop in 2011, will play in the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars game on Saturday (8 p.m., MLB Network). Pastornicky, not highly rated on some of the early 2011 prospect charts, has done something to warrant Atlanta’s interest in his future. A recent slump has dropped his average in the AFL to .229, but he showed flashes of pop and a good glove during his time in Pearl last summer.