Arodys Vizcaino’s line from his Double-A debut was not pretty: 7 innings, 4 hits, 5 runs, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts. The young right-hander also hit a batter and threw a wild pitch in the Mississippi Braves’ 14-0 loss to Mobile on Monday. If there was a silver lining in Vizcaino’s outing, it was this: All the damage came in one inning, the second, in which Mobile hit three homers, two by a pair of top-rated Arizona Diamondbacks prospects. Vizcaino, Atlanta’s No. 7 prospect, didn’t allow a hit in the other six innings. Tonight, the M-Braves throw Randall Delgado, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect. He is 4-2 with a 3.86 ERA. On Wednesday, lefty Brett Olberholtzer (3-4, 4.03), the No. 9 prospect, gets the call, followed Thursday by J.J. Hoover (2-3, 2.27), the No. 10 prospect, and then Paul Clemens (4-1, 2.08), who checks in at No. 26 in Atlanta’s chart, on Friday This series should provide a good test for the young hurlers. Mobile came in hitting .279 as a team, second in the Southern League, with 253 runs, third in the SL. If the M-Braves can get a few runs, this could be quite a good show.
Don’t look now, but Jones County Junior College is 2-0 in the NJCAA Division II World Series. Up next? Kellogg CC of Battle Creek, Mich., on Tuesday. The sixth-ranked Bobcats (44-15) took down No. 1 Heartland (Ill.) 10-5 today as Nick Ray homered and drove in three runs and Vito Perna and Ryan Waters combined on a six-hitter in very windy conditions. Perna won his 11th game. Jones, making its first trip to the juco World Series, seems unfazed by the big stage in Enid, Okla. The red-hot Bobcats have pitching depth, which is critical in a 10-team, double-elimination tournament.
You can never have too much pitching, or so they say. They might also say you can never have too much catching. Major league organizations are always on the hunt for catchers to stock their minor league system — and Atlanta may have found a good one in, of all places, Australia. Mississippi Braves catcher Matt Kennelly, a 22-year-old from East Freemantle in western Australia, is more than holding his own in his first Double-A season. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound backstop is hitting .288 with two homers and eight RBIs in 25 games. Signed as a free agent by the Braves in 2005, Kennelly’s minor league numbers were nothing to shout about until last year, when he batted .266 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in high-A ball. He made the M-Braves in the spring and has continued to swing it well. His cohort at catcher, Venezuelan Jesus Sucre, is considered the better defensive player, but Kennelly has been solid in that area. The two young catchers are charged with handling a pitching staff loaded with prospects. The staff ERA currently sits at 3.93, third in the Southern League, so they must be doing something right back there.
P.S. Newly arrived Arodys Vizcaino (see previous post) will make his Double-A debut tonight against Mobile. First pitch is 7:05 at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
The Mississippi Braves’ rotation just got a shot in the arm. Right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, Atlanta’s No. 7 prospect entering this season, has been promoted to the Double-A club from Class A Lynchburg. Vizcaino, a 6-foot, 189-pound Dominican, was 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings at Lynchburg. Entering this season, he had 179 K’s in 172 innings over three pro years. He reportedly throws a mid-90s fastball and an excellent hard curve. The M-Braves’ rotation was already pretty strong; with Vizcaino, the starting five now includes four of Atlanta’s Top 10 prospects. Can’t wait to see him work. The club is back in town Monday. If Vizcaino takes the demoted Matt Crim’s spot, he would pitch Thursday.
Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Chuck James is back in the big leagues for the first time since 2008. James was promoted by Minnesota on Saturday when Joe Nathan went on the disabled list. James, who relies heavily on location and off-speed stuff, was a sensation with the M-Braves in 2005 (9-1, 2.01 ERA) and posted some impressive results in Atlanta in 2006 (11-4, 3.78) and 2007 (11-10, 4.24). But things went south for him quickly in ’08; he was shipped to the minors with a 2-5 record and a 9.10 ERA. He never got back to Atlanta and was soon out of the Braves organization. Apparently, he has rediscovered his touch. He had a 1.57 ERA in Triple-A with the Twins. He’ll work out of their bullpen, probably getting some of the lefty-specific work that had been going to Delta State product Dusty Hughes, who has been spotty.
Jones County Junior College plays its first-ever NJCAA Division II World Series game today at approximately 3:55 p.m. It’s the third of four games set for today in Enid, Okla., where 10 teams will battle for the national title in a true double-elimination tournament. Jones, which won the MACJC and Region 23 titles, is very good. The Bobcats are ranked sixth with a 46-16 record. They’ve got a great pitching staff, with three 10-game winners and a collective ERA of 2.79. Zach Allen leads their attack with a .364 average, and Vito Perna (.358), Darion Hamilton (41 RBIs), Ryan Roberts (team-best six homers) and Chase Headrick also can rake. But it wouldn’t be a shock to see JCJC go out in two games. The field in Enid is loaded. JCJC opens with Des Moines Area, which is ranked fourth with a 46-16 record and features four sluggers with six or more home runs, including 17-homer man Gabby De Verona. The top seven teams in the NJCAA poll are there, and they didn’t just hop into those spots. Five of the seven were ranked in the top eight before last week’s regionals. No. 1 Heartland (Ill.) is 53-9. If Jones wins today, that’s probably its next opponent. Oh brother.
After its crushing, 14-inning loss to Houston that ended early this morning, Southern Miss cannot make the C-USA Tournament championship game. Neither can its opponent at Trustmark Park tonight, East Carolina. But this is hardly a “meaningless” game. USM, at 39-16, would certainly like to add a 40th win to its NCAA Tournament resume. ECU (38-19) is a quality foe, appearing in some national rankings. But tonight’s game will test the Golden Eagles’ resiliency, both the physical and mental varieties. In the 7-6 loss to Houston, which clinched a title game berth, the Eagles blew a save in the eighth inning on a two-out RBI triple. They lost it in the 14th on a two-base throwing error, a one-out single and a squeeze bunt. Hard to figure how USM, such a prolific scoring team, went seven straight innings (the eighth to the 14th) against a suspect Houston bullpen without scratching out a run. Sure, they missed Ferriss Trophy winner Tyler Koelling (hamstring injury), but the Eagles still have plenty of weapons. Plus, they had the crowd on their side. Wonder how many of those fans will be back tonight?
Desmond Jennings is listed in the new Sports Illustrated as one of five minor leaguers on the cusp of breaking through in The Show. The former Itawamba Community College standout, who had a brief trial with Tampa Bay in 2010, is hitting .271 with seven homers, 20 RBIs and nine steals in Triple-A. Yes, he’s ready, but he’s got company from several other Mississippi-connected players also banging at the big league door. In addition to Alex Presley (see previous post), Ole Miss product Zack Cozart, a shortstop, is hitting .282 with four homers in Triple-A for Cincinnati. Another ex-Rebel, Lance Lynn, is 4-3 with a 3.93 ERA with St. Louis’ Triple-A Memphis club. Another step back is Justin Henry, an Ole Miss alum who is batting .330 as a second baseman in Double-A for Detroit. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier, a middle infielder who was in big league camp with Minnesota, is batting .317 with 12 stolen bases in high-A ball. Drew Pomeranz, Cleveland’s first-round pick out of Ole Miss last June, is 1-1 with a 2.09 ERA in high-A. A power lefty, he’ll move up swiftly.
First, the good stuff from Wednesday. Former Mississippi Braves Mike Minor (one run over 5 2/3 innings), Jonny Venters (two scoreless innings), Craig Kimbrel (14th save) and Jordan Schafer (2-for-5 with a run) helped Atlanta beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in 11 innings. Venters, a hard-throwing lefty who was a starter in Pearl, has a jaw-dropping 0.59 ERA. Schafer, the fallen prospect thrust into the leadoff role because of Atlanta’s injury issues, has played well in his two starts; his speed at the top of the order is an asset — if he continues to get on base. Ex-M-Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is starting to look like he belongs in Boston’s star-studded lineup. Salty hit his fourth homer in six games and is up to .240 with 15 RBIs for the season. Ex-Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman had two hits for St. Louis and lifted his average to a National League-best .350. Former Generals ace Freddy Garcia improved to 3-4 with a 3.26 ERA for the New York Yankees by beating Toronto. And that brings us to the bad stuff. Ex-M-Braves lefty Jo-Jo Reyes took the loss for the Blue Jays, stretching his streak of winless starts to a major league record-tying 28. He last won with Atlanta in 2008. Reyes, who pitched well in spring training for the Jays, is 0-4, 4.70.
P.S. Delta State product Eli Whiteside might find himself playing more regularly for San Francisco for a while after starting catcher Buster Posey suffered an ankle injury on Wednesday. Posey’s injury reportedly is serious. Whiteside, the backup for the world champs last year, is hitting .208 with one homer in 25 at-bats this season.
Former Clinton High star Phillip Chapman had a pretty good day at the plate today for Memphis in the C-USA Tournament opener at Trustmark Park. Chapman, a senior catcher, went 2-for-5 with a bunt hit and a two-run homer. However, he wasn’t in a celebratory mood afterward; his Tigers were blasted 16-9 by Central Florida on a blustery day that featured 33 hits. (The TeePee is a pitcher’s park, but pitchers still have to make quality pitches to get outs.) Chapman, who also played at Northeast Mississippi Community College, is hitting .312 with five homers on the year.