There are box scores in USA Today today. Is there anything better than drinking coffee and digesting box scores on a quiet morning? A few things jumped out: Matt Maloney (Ole Miss) threw two perfect innings for Cincinnati as the starting pitcher; Zack Cozart (Ole Miss) played shortstop for the Reds and had two hits; and Fred Lewis (Gulf Coast CC) went 1-for-2 as the DH for his new club. Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State) and Julio Borbon (Starkville) had a hit apiece for Texas. Desmond Jennings (Itawamba CC) played center field and led off for Tampa Bay; he stole a base and scored a run. Corey Wimberly (Alcorn State) played some center field for Pittsburgh, his new club, and scored a run. Marcus Thames (East Central CC) started in left field for the Los Angeles Dodgers, his new club, and went 1-for-2. Former Mississippi Braves star Jeff Francoeur homered for Kansas City, and ex-M-Brave Martin Prado, playing left field for Atlanta, was 2-for-3. In the Braves’ 5-4 loss to the New York Mets, Jesus Sucre — expected to be the 2011 M-Braves catcher — had a hit in the ninth inning; Tyler Pastornicky — expected to be the M-Braves shortstop this spring — pinch ran for Sucre and was thrown out stealing to end the game.
Mississippi’s best high school player of 2010, Richton’s JaCoby Jones, hasn’t had much trouble adjusting to college ball. In fact, he is flourishing. Jones, starting at second base for nationally ranked LSU, is hitting .550 with two home runs and eight RBIs in six games for the undefeated Tigers. Wow. It’s sort of a head-scratcher that Jones, who goes 6 feet 3, 195 pounds, wasn’t drafted last June until the 19th round (by Houston). He was wise to pass up whatever the Astros offered. He’s likely to do much better next time he’s picked.
P.S. Thirteen Mississippi Braves alumni appeared in Atlanta’s first spring training game on Saturday. Freddie Freeman went 3-for-3 and scored a run and Matt Young had a hit and a run in a 5-5 tie against the New York Mets. Pitchers Craig Kimbrel, Juan Abreu and Michael Broadway all got knocked around a little and were tagged with blown saves.
In recognition of their arrival together on the cover of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, let’s flash back to the arrival of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman together at Trustmark Park. It was a memorable occasion in Mississippi Braves history, to be sure. The promotion of the power-hitting pair from A-ball was announced the morning of July 4, 2009. The M-Braves already were expecting a big crowd, and the news of the newcomers didn’t hurt the draw a bit. An announced sellout of 7,036 showed up — and Jason and Freddie delivered on their scary potential. Hitting third and fourth in the order, they combined for three hits, two RBIs, two runs and two HBPs in an 8-6 win over Jacksonville, the Florida Marlins’ Double-A affiliate. In each of their first three at-bats, the left-handed hitting duo faced a lefty, Graham Taylor, who came in with a 3.56 ERA. He got them out only once, that coming on an RBI grounder by Freeman in the first inning. Heyward fell behind 1-2 in his first Double-A at-bat, but, showing his remarkable ability to stay patient, he worked a walk that loaded the bases. Freeman got ahead 3-1, then drove home the club’s first run with a ground ball to first. Heyward tripled off the right-field wall in the second inning, driving in a run. Freeman picked up his first hit in the fourth, knocking in a run with a sharp, two-out single to center. Heyward got a second hit in the sixth, an opposite-field single. For M-Braves fans, it was a glimpse of the future, a future that is now in Atlanta.
Spring training games start Friday. Nuff said. Here’s the list of Mississippians (natives, high school alums and collegians) who are currently in big league camps as either 40-man roster members or official non-roster invitees:
Julio Borbon (Starkville), Texas; Chris Coghlan (Ole Miss), Florida; Zack Cozart (Ole Miss), Cincinnati; Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC), Kansas City; Bill Hall (Nettleton), Houston; Jarrett Hoffpauir (Southern Miss), San Diego; Desmond Jennings (Itawamba CC), Tampa Bay; Fred Lewis (Gulf Coast CC), Cincinnati; John Lindsey (Hattiesburg), Los Angeles Dodgers; Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State), Texas; Alex Presley (Ole Miss), Pittsburgh; Seth Smith (Ole Miss), Colorado; Craig Tatum (MSU), Baltimore; Marcus Thames (East Central CC), Los Angeles Dodgers; Matt Tolbert (Ole Miss), Minnesota; Eli Whiteside (Delta State), San Francisco
Dusty Hughes (DSU), Minnesota; Cliff Lee (Meridian CC), Philadelphia; Paul Maholm (MSU), Pittsburgh; Matt Maloney (Ole Miss), Cincinnati; Roy Oswalt (Holmes CC), Philadelphia; Jonathan Papelbon (MSU), Boston; Tony Sipp (Gulf Coast CC), Cleveland
Brian Dozier (USM), Minnesota; Edwin Maysonet (DSU), Milwaukee; Paul Phillips (Meridian CC), Cleveland; Jonathan Van Every (Itawamba CC), Washington; Corey Wimberly (Alcorn State), Pittsburgh
John Bale (USM), Detroit; Louis Coleman (Schlater/Pillow Academy), Kansas City; Tim Dillard (Itawamba CC), Milwaukee; Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), St. Louis; Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), Cleveland; Taylor Tankersley (Warren Central High), New York Mets; Donnie Veal (Jackson), Pittsburgh
Who’s hot? Mississippi State scored 13 runs in the first inning of Sunday’s win over Lamar. Nothing unlucky about that 13. Maybe John Cohen finally has the Bulldogs’ house in order. Nick Vickerson has been a spark at the top the order. He scored four of the 17 runs Sunday and is hitting .353 with eight runs in unbeaten State’s four games. Jarrod Parks is hitting a whopping .533 with six RBIs. … Hinds Community College is off to a 6-0 start; the Eagles scored 28 runs in just 10 innings in a doubleheader, run-rule sweep of Mississippi Delta on Saturday. … Belhaven’s Drew Dillard is hitting .438 with 13 RBIs in nine games for the 7-2 Blazers. … Millsaps’ Will Hawkins has 13 RBIs, two homers and a .455 average for the 7-1 Majors.
Who’s not? Mississippi College’s Daniel Cowart, counted on as a stalwart arm this spring, is 0-3 for the 2-3 Choctaws after giving up a walk-off grand slam at Rhodes on Sunday. … And then there’s Jackson State. Details remain sketchy about the fight that forced the cancellation of the Tigers’ own tournament over the weekend. Whatever happened, that’s utterly embarrassing for the school and a fiasco for what is expected to be a good team.
The new bats didn’t deter Mississippi’s Big 4 Division I schools from generating enough offense to win on opening day Friday. Far from it, in fact. To wit: Ole Miss scored 15 runs on 17 hits, Mississippi State 11 on 14, Southern Miss six on 11 and Jackson State 13 on 15. (The Tigers, perhaps tired or bored, scored just one run on five hits in a loss in their second game of the day.) Home runs are expected to be down with the new bats, but there were six hit by Big 4 players on Friday. MSU’s Nick Vickerson led off with a bomb. JSU’s Charles Epperson hit a pair of homers. Only USM didn’t hit one out. Bottom line: Power can still be a factor in the college game; there’s nothing like a three-run homer to turn a game on its ear. But power won’t be THE determining factor every day. Hitters will have to earn their homers. And the games sound better, too. The only pings seem to come on mis-hits.
Belhaven beat up on McKendree 7-1 at Smith-Wills Stadium today and did so with the help of three triples (plus some stout pitching by Brett Blaise). The Blazers, now 6-1, already have 10 triples as a team, but no one player has more than two. Smith-Wills is a big yard, but still … this is an amazing stat. The Blazers don’t appear to be a team of blazers, and yet BU has more triples than doubles (nine) or stolen bases (eight). And one of the team’s fastest players, Anthony Doss (DNP today with some kind of wrist injury), doesn’t even have a triple yet. Weird, wild stuff.
P.S. Here’s a weird, wild idea: What if the Mississippi Braves were to hold a Retro Night … at Smith-Wills? They could wear the old Jackson Generals uniforms, perhaps play the new Jackson Generals, the Southern League club in Tennessee. Or they could don Jackson Senators garb; the Braves once had a minor league club in Jackson that used the nickname before the independent team came along. Such a game would be well-attended. Absolutely. Of course, it’ll never happen. But it sure would be fun.
There are 29 Mississippi Braves alumni in camp with the Atlanta Braves — 22 on the 40-man roster and seven others there as official non-roster invitees. Among the 29 are several who haven’t yet played in a major league game, including Matt Young, Erik Cordier, Cory Gearrin and Mycal Jones. The next M-Braves alum to crash The Show will be the 49th to do so since the Double-A club moved to Pearl in 2005. Of course, the next one might not currently be in Atlanta’s camp. Left-hander Scott Diamond, a Rule 5 pick by Minnesota in December, might have a real shot at making the Twins’ club out of spring training. He showed good stuff and poise during his time in Mississippi. And then there’s this darkhorse candidate: outfielder Yasser Gomez. The Cuban defector, signed by Atlanta last year, played 38 games for the M-Braves in 2010. Batting leadoff at times (mostly after Antoan Richardson’s late promotion) and playing left field, the 30-year-old Gomez hit .323 with three doubles and nine RBIs. He’s solid in the field, runs well and knows how to play the game. He was a star in his native country, and you could tell when you watched him. There’s a fair chance Atlanta will be looking for a left fielder and possibly a leadoff batter, as well, early on this season. Gomez, who should get into some big league spring games, might get an opportunity in the ATL. It’s something to watch for.
Jones County Junior College lost its debut in its new home last week, but that doesn’t appear to have been an omen. The Bobcats have won four straight since at the $2.8 million Community Bank Park in Ellisville. And there seemed to be some home-field magic at work on Tuesday, when JCJC beat Faulkner (Ala.) State with a run in the bottom of the ninth (extra innings) in Game 1 and with a run in the bottom of the seventh in Game 2. Jones went 38-12 last season and won the MACJC South Division while playing essentially nothing but road games. With a brand new house to protect, expect the Bobcats to be a factor in the MACJC again this spring.
P.S. Hinds CC and Pearl River CC opened the season with doubleheader sweeps on Tuesday. Nationally ranked Hinds got solid pitching from Division I transfers Chase Wroten (Southern Miss) and Cullen Babin (Nicholls State) in beating Baton Rouge. Josh Hoffpauir, a former Southern Miss and Jackson Senators standout, got a nice launch to his coaching career at Pearl River as the Wildcats took two from Bishop (Ala.) State.
Phillip Wellman will serve as a hitting coach at the Double-A level this season, but it won’t be long before the former Mississippi Braves manager is running a club again. Wellman, who was not retained after four years at the helm of the M-Braves, will work for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Springfield, Mo., team in the Texas League in 2011. Wellman was the M-Braves’ hitting coach in 2005 under Brian Snitker and in 2006 under Jeff Blauser. He did a fine job in that role, but he seemed much better suited for the captain’s chair. He won two division titles and a Southern League crown as the Mississippi manager and, more importantly, helped send a ton of players to the big leagues. The reason he was not retained by Atlanta has never been made public — it had nothing to do with his infamous blow-up in Chattanooga in 2007 — but Wellman indicated near the end of the 2010 season that he might need a fresh start somewhere else. He’d spent a lot of years in the Southern League. There’s little doubt he’d make a good major league manager; he’s just got to get his foot in the door at that level, possibly as a hitting coach. Maybe it’ll happen with St. Louis. Too bad it won’t happen with the Braves.