The Mississippi Braves’ rotation was gutted in the organization’s recently completed trade for Houston’s Michael Bourn, a left-handed hitting center fielder with speed. (Is that really what the Braves needed?) M-Braves Paul Clemens (6-5, 3.73 ERA) and Brett Oberholtzer (9-9, 3.74 with five straight W’s) are off to the Astros, along with former M-Braves reliever Juan Abreu and outfielder Jordan Schafer. Curious to see what the M-Braves’ new rotation will look like for the five-game series at Jackson, Tenn., that begins today. Perhaps Arodys Vizcaino and/or J.J. Hoover will switch back from the bullpen to starting spots, or maybe there are some arms at Class A Lynchburg ready to make the jump. At 16-19, 10 games out of first place at the midpoint of the second half, the M-Braves were going nowhere with Clemens and Oberholtzer. Losing them doesn’t help but doesn’t really hurt, either.
Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss star and 2010 first-round pick of the Cleveland Indians, was one of the key pieces in one of the biggest MLB trades today. The big left-hander will be moving to the Colorado Rockies’ organization as part of the Tribe’s deal for Ubaldo Jimenez. Pomeranz was 3-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 15 starts in A-ball and 0-1 with a 2.57 in three starts in Double-A. He was pulled from a scheduled start tonight. Someday soon, Pomeranz will be pitching in Coors Field, which may or may not be something to get excited about.
After a rough start in the month of July (see previous post), Mitch Moreland appears to have found his stroke in the month’s last week. Since Monday, the former Mississippi State standout is 10-for-25 (.400). He homered today, his 13th of the year and 22nd career, off Toronto left-hander Brad Mills, propelling the first-place Rangers to a 3-0 victory. It was the left-handed hitting Moreland’s first “official” homer off a lefty hurler. He hit one in the World Series last year and another, a grand slam, that was washed out by a rainout earlier this season. His recent tear has lifted his season average to .274.
There is no white flag flying over Trustmark Park today, but the Mississippi Braves certainly don’t appear to have much fight left in them. They dropped their third straight game to Mobile on Thursday night, ensuring that the BayBears will win what had begun as a crucial five-game series for the M-Braves. The M-Braves entered the series at 15-15, 7 games back of the first-place BayBears. They’re now 15-18 and 10 games out. Poor pitching and shoddy defense cost the M-Braves in a 14-6 loss in the series opener. In Game 2, they wasted a strong pitching performance by Paul Clemens and lost 2-1 when Mobile got the clutch hits in the ninth inning. On Thursday, they squandered a lead in the seventh inning and fell 5-3. The M-Braves have lost eight in a row to Mobile overall and are 5-17 against the BayBears this season. What’s worse, they play Mobile seven more times. The M-Braves have some talent, but the sum of the parts is not adding up to a championship in 2011. What’s Lynchburg got?
P.S. Wise career choice by Desmond Jennings. The Itawamba Community College product, once a budding football star bound for Alabama, has been given his first real chance to play in the big leagues and is showing out for Tampa Bay. He hit his first career homer on Thursday and is batting .500 with seven RBIs and four steals since arriving from Triple-A on Saturday. At 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, Jennings has the power/speed package that could make him a true star in what some considered his second-best sport. … Ole Miss alumnus Matt Tolbert was recalled by Minnesota on Thursday and responded with two hits. … Nettleton’s Bill Hall has been designated for assignment by San Francisco, a likely precursor to his being released for the second time this season. Sadly, he may be done at 31.
For the Mississippi Braves, it’s time to make a move. The M-Braves, 15-15 in the second half of the Southern League season, are hosting a five-game series against SL South Division leader Mobile. Game 1 is tonight at 7:05 at Trustmark Park. Mobile, an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, is 22-8, 7 games up on the M-Braves. There are 40 games left in the second half, so there’s time for the M-Braves to climb in the standings. But this is a big series, one the M-Braves can ill afford to lose. They are just 5-14 against the BayBears and were swept in a four-game set at Mobile just a couple of weeks ago. At the very least, the M-Braves need to show they can play with these guys. Ernesto Mejia has swung a hot bat for the M-Braves lately; he’s up to .302 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs. Antoan Richardson (.302) also has been heating up. But the M-Braves still need more production from the likes of Willie Cabrera (.269), Donell Linares (.265) and Cory Harrilchak (.243). The M-Braves’ rotation isn’t the prospect-packed group it once was, with J.J. Hoover and Arodys Vizcaino having moved to the bullpen. But Randall Delgado, Atlanta’s No. 3 prospect who goes tonight, Brett Oberholtzer (No. 9) and Paul Clemens (No. 26) still provide a solid core. Luis Avilan and Jose Lugo are filling the other two spots. Pitching will be huge in this series for the M-Braves. Mobile leads the league in runs scored; the M-Braves are dead last.
Louis Coleman, the pride of Schlater and Pillow Academy, notched his first major league win on Monday night. The rookie right-hander tossed two scoreless innings as Kansas City topped Boston 3-1 in a 14-inning affair at Fenway Park. Coleman, up with the Royals for two months now, is 1-2 with a 1.88 ERA and a save in 32 appearances. He has fanned 43 in 38 1/3 innings. That’s good work for a mediocre team.
P.S. Seth Smith has got to be looking over his shoulder. It’s been a tough year for Ole Miss products in the majors. With Alex Presley going on the disabled list on Monday, there are now four ex-Rebels sidelined with injuries. Zack Cozart, Chris Coghlan and Matt Maloney are the others. Coghlan, the 2009 rookie of the year in the National League, is rehabbing in the minors for Florida and could be close to returning.
Time to issue a record watch at Trustmark Park. Ernesto Mejia has 17 home runs, two shy of the Mississippi Braves’ single-season record of 19, set by Matt Esquivel in 2007. The M-Braves start a five-game homestand on Tuesday. The TeePee isn’t a homer-friendly yard as a rule, but Mejia, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound right-handed slugger, hasn’t had much trouble reaching the fences there. Nine of his bombs have come at home. The record could fall there this week. Mejia, a 25-year-old Venezuelan in his seventh pro season, isn’t listed among Atlanta’s top prospects. He strikes out a lot (100 times already in 2011), and his defense at first base is average at best. But he has to have raised some eyebrows this year — and not just with his power. He’s hitting .302 overall and has 64 RBIs (the team record is 80) and 57 runs. He left the Braves’ organization in 2010 and played in the Kansas City system before re-signing with Atlanta last off-season. The Braves have Freddie Freeman at first base in the big leagues and Mauro Gomez, another right-handed slugger, at that position in Triple-A, so Mejia’s chances of advancement with Atlanta appear slim. But he might make a valuable trading piece down the road. In the meantime, fans at the TeePee will be digging the long ball.
Baseball is holding its Hall of Fame induction ceremonies today, so it seems like an appropriate time to point out — again — that there are no Mississippi-born former major leaguers in Cooperstown. Cool Papa Bell is in, but he never played in the major leagues, only the Negro Leagues. Red Barber was a broadcaster. With apologies to the likes of Guy Bush and Dave Parker and Frank White, no Mississippi native has a stronger case for inclusion in the HOF than Buddy Myer, a 1930s era infielder. Born in Ellisville in 1904, Myer played in the majors, primarily at second base, from 1925-41 and batted .303 for his career with 850 RBIs and 1,174 runs. He won a batting title in 1935, when he hit .349 with 100 RBIs and 115 runs for the Washington Senators. He also won a stolen base title. He had nine .300 seasons and was considered a standout on defense. And for what it’s worth, his 2,131 hits are the most ever by a Jewish big leaguer. There really ought to be a place in Cooperstown for a guy with those credentials.
Life as a backup catcher in the big leagues has to be a tough job. You prepare everyday like everyone else, but when the game starts, you spend most of your time watching from the bench or the bullpen. You know you’ll only get to play once every five or six days. It ain’t easy to find a rhythm in that routine. But some do. Hattiesburg native Craig Tatum is making it work this season, his second as the backup to young Baltimore star Matt Wieters. Tatum has played in just 15 games and had only 36 at-bats. But he’s hitting .333 with three RBIs and five runs. On Saturday, Tatum went 2-for-3 and scored the go-ahead run in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels. He also threw out two runners attempting to steal. That’s one thing a backup catcher must be good at: defense. And Tatum is. He’s nailed 4 of 15 runners attempting to steal this year with no passed balls and just one error. Drafted by Cincinnati in the third round out of Mississippi State in 2004, Tatum rose through the minor leagues — even passing through Trustmark Park as a Chattanooga Lookout — on the strength of his catching abilities. He made it to the big leagues with the Reds in 2009 and was claimed on waivers by the Orioles prior to the 2010 season. He got into 43 games last year and hit .281, though his defensive stats weren’t as good as this year’s. The Orioles have had a tough season, another in a series, but Tatum has filled his difficult role quite capably.
Desmond Jennings filled up the box score tonight in his 2011 debut with Tampa Bay. The Itawamba Community College product led off the game against Kansas City with a triple, then added a double and two walks, scored twice, drove in a run and stole a base. He even made an error in left field. Alas, the Rays blew a ninth-inning lead and lost to the Royals in 10. … Former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart, playing so well for Cincinnati since his call-up this month, suffered a hyperextended elbow against Atlanta today. He left the game in a lot of pain. According to reports, X-rays were “negative” but it was unclear how long Cozart might be out.