With the Mississippi Braves’ eighth season just a deep fly ball away — opening day at Trustmark Park is April 5 — it’s time to revisit the All-M-Braves team first presented in 2010 for the Double-A club’s fifth anniversary. At least two spots must change based on performances from a year ago. Ernesto Mejia’s monster season in 2011, when he batted .297 with team records for homers (26) and RBIs (99), displaces what Scott Thorman put up (.305, 15, 65) as the first baseman in 2005. And Tyler Pastornicky rates the nod at shortstop after batting .299 with six homers, 36 RBIs, 50 runs and 20 steals in 90 games last season. He was also as good or better defensively than Diory Hernandez, who batted .307 with seven homers, 59 RBIs and 22 steals in a full season in 2007. Brian McCann (.265, 6 homers, 26 RBIs in two months in 2005) still holds forth at catcher, though it’ll be interesting to see what young Christian Bethancourt does this summer. Second base still belongs to J.C. Holt, who hit .285 with 45 RBIs and 22 steals for the M-Braves’ 2008 Southern League championship club. Third base has not been a particularly hot corner for the M-Braves. Donell Linares batted .279 with seven homers and 62 RBIs last season. It’s a close call, but Wes Timmons’ overall production in 2005 was better. He was an on-base machine, hit .272 with 31 doubles, seven homers and 34 RBIs and played solid defense. In the outfield, the trio of Matt Young (.289, 10 triples, 81 runs, 42 steals in 2009), Brandon Jones (.293, 15 homers, 74 RBIs in 2007) and Jeff Francoeur (.275, 13 homers, 62 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in a half season in 2005) has not been unseated by anyone from 2010 or ’11. The All-M-Braves rotation also remains unchanged: Tommy Hanson, Todd Redmond, Chuck James, Jo-Jo Reyes and Matt Wright. And Luis Valdez (now known as Jairo Asencio) has not been eclipsed as the best closer since posting 28 saves in 2008. This all-time lineup is fluid, of course, and there are several players with the potential to break through in 2012.
Colorado optioned Drew Pomeranz to the minors on Friday. But the touted former Ole Miss star will only be gone from the big club for a short while. The Rockies, who open on April 6, won’t need a fifth starter until April 15, and Pomeranz is penciled in for that day. He was 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts for the Rockies last summer after being acquired from Cleveland. … In other recent moves: Kansas City optioned former Pillow Academy standout Louis Coleman to Triple-A; he pitched well for the Royals as a rookie in 2011. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson, a Southwest Mississippi Community College alumnus, also has been optioned out by KC. The New York Yankees sent Mississippi State product Craig Tatum to Triple-A; a waiver claim from Arizona, Tatum will await an emergency call-up as a reserve catcher. Cleveland reassigned veteran outfielder Fred Lewis, who has had an elbow injury, to minor league camp; the former Mississippi Gulf Coast CC standout finished last season in the minors with Cincinnati. Ole Miss product Matt Tolbert, in the Chicago Cubs’ camp as a non-roster invitee, has been shipped out to minor league camp.
Former Mississippi State standout Craig Tatum is on the move again, having been claimed off waivers late Wednesday by the New York Yankees. Tatum was in camp with Arizona, which was attempting to stash the defensive-minded catcher in the minors. In just a few months time, Tatum has gone from Baltimore (where he hit .195 in 2011) to Houston to Arizona to New York. The Yankees now have four catchers on their 40-man roster, including Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine. They reportedly were looking for some veteran insurance when they snatched Tatum from the Diamondbacks. Romine has had injury issues this spring.
P.S. Itawamba Community College, freshly ranked No. 6 in the nation, split a non-division doubleheader with formerly fourth-ranked Hinds on Wednesday in Raymond. ICC is now 21-5. Hinds, which fell out of the latest NJCAA Division II poll, is 20-7. Jones County JC moved into the Top 20 at No. 16.
Led by Brett Hightower’s six-RBI game, Mississippi College squared its Maloney Trophy Series record at 2-2 with a 13-10 win over Millsaps on Tuesday. The Majors are 1-2 and Belhaven is 2-1 in the small college round robin competition. (BU plays at Millsaps next Wednesday.) Hightower leads MC (13-13 in a rollercoaster season) with four homers and 29 RBIs and is batting a robust .340. And yet, he trails Mike Kerdock by over 100 points in the Choctaws’ batting stats. Kerdock, 2-for-4 on Tuesday, is raking at a .449 clip, with 16 RBIs and 18 runs. MC needs better pitching and defense.
P.S. Former Mississippi Braves outfielder Gregor Blanco had two hits on Tuesday to lift his spring average to .356 with San Francisco. As ESPN analyst Aaron Boone said, Blanco has “kicked in the door” to the Giants’ outfield. A non-roster invitee to camp, he may be starter when the season begins next week. The speedy Blanco hit .252 with 12 triples for the M-Braves in 2005 and batted .287 in a half-season in Pearl in 2006. He had some success in Atlanta but was traded to Kansas City in mid-2010. He spent all of last season in the minors, batting .203 with Washington’s Triple-A club. What a comeback. … Ole Miss alum Seth Smith went 1-for-4 today in his Oakland debut as the A’s fell to Seattle 3-1 in 11 innings in Japan.
They start playing for keeps in MLB on Wednesday morning (Mississippi time), when Oakland and Seattle tangle in Japan. Seth Smith, the ex-Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss standout, is expected to make his A’s debut — probably at DH, not left field. Oakland announced some time back that Yoenis Cespedes, the prized (and high-priced) Cuban defector, would start in center field, with Coco Crisp moving to left. Josh Reddick is slated to start in right. That leaves the DH role for Smith, a lefty hitter who should be in the opening lineup against Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez. Smith is hitting .286 this spring, above his career average of .275. He hasn’t homered, but he’ll get some. He belted 15 for Colorado in 2011 and should get more at-bats with Oakland, though many of them will come in a park that’s tougher for hitters than Coors Field. Smith, a good athlete, will get some outfield time, as well. … Former Mississippi Braves third baseman Wes Timmons did not make the A’s roster for the two-game series in Japan. Timmons, who was on the inaugural M-Braves club in 2005, has played 998 minor league games without a taste of the majors.
P.S. Former Mississippi State left-hander Paul Maholm threw five shutout innings for the Chicago Cubs on Monday and lowered his spring ERA to 0.90 in 10 innings. The Greenwood native is slated to be the Cubs’ No. 5 starter, which is fine by him. “I’ll take the ball every fifth day and expect to win that day,” he told mlb.com. “The day you’re pitching, you’re the No. 1 guy.” It’s refreshing to hear an attitude like that.
Here’s a picture of the weekend in Magnolia State college baseball:
30 — Runs by Southern Miss in its C-USA opening series against Houston. Somehow, the Golden Eagles only won two of three.
15 — Strikeouts by USM’s Andrew Pierce in Friday’s 8-0 win over Houston.
5 — Hits by Ole Miss’ Alex Yarbrough, helping the Rebels take two of three at Alabama. Yarbrough now has 37 hits on the year and a .407 average, both team-highs.
5 — Wins on the season, against no losses, for Mississippi State’s Chris Stratton. He beat Arkansas on Friday, the only win for the Bulldogs in the SEC series.
9 — Saves for Belhaven’s Josh Clarke, including one in Friday’s victory over Spring Hill. BU (25-12) swept the series to get to 10-8 in the SSAC.
8 — Errors by Mississippi College in its series opening loss against Louisiana College. The Choctaws were error-free in Saturday’s doubleheader sweep that moved them to 5-4 in the American Southwest Conference.
8 — Home runs this season for Jackson State’s Kendall Logan, who hit two as the Tigers took two of three in a non-league series at Florida A&M.;
4 — RBIs by Delta State’s Jonathan Andrews in a much-needed 10-5 win on Sunday against Valdosta State; the Statesmen lost the first two games of the GSC series.
3 — Straight losses by William Carey in a home SSAC series against Faulkner. The Crusaders fell to 8-9 in the league.
37 — Points by which Millsaps’ Wes Perkins lifted his batting average (to .337) as the Majors took two of three at Oglethorpe to start their final SCAC season.
On Saturday, the day after St. Louis announced that ace Chris Carpenter would open the season on the disabled list, former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn endured a rather rocky outing against the New York Mets. Lynn, likely to fill Carpenter’s spot in the rotation for the defending world champions, yielded four runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings. He walked two and allowed two home runs. In 15 2/3 spring innings, Lynn’s ERA is a solid 2.87. But suddenly he has a larger role and, along with it, more pressure to excel. The Cardinals don’t know how long Carpenter (nerve irritation in his right shoulder) will be out. Lynn was a starter at Ole Miss and in the minors, but the Cardinals used him mostly in relief when they brought him up last summer. In 18 appearances (just two starts), he notched a win, a save and a 3.12 ERA. The big right-hander also pitched very well in the postseason. A wild card in this Carpenter development might be unsigned free agent Roy Oswalt. The Weir and Holmes Community College product most recently has been linked to the Los Angeles Angels. But, remember, St. Louis was one of the teams he was said to be most interested in during the off-season. Might be something to keep an eye on.
Millsaps begins its last Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference campaign today when the Majors take on Oglethorpe in Atlanta. The Majors, who have won six SCAC baseball championships, will move next fall into the Southern Athletic Association, an eight-team NCAA Division III league made up mostly of current SCAC members, including Oglethorpe. Jim Page’s 24th edition of Majors is off to a 13-8 start and, interestingly enough, is 10-2 away from home. Stephen Gates leads the Millsaps hitters with a .427 average and has two homers, half the team’s total. Ryan Zemke is at .383 with a team-best 19 RBIs, and Samuel Doucet is batting .349 with 18 RBIs. Doucet doubles as a relief pitcher and has posted a sterling 1.59 ERA in 22 2/3 innings. The ace of this staff is Will Edwards, an East Mississippi Community College transfer who is 3-2 with a 2.92. Will Elmore is 1-3, 3.57.
P.S. The SAA was formed last summer when Millsaps, Birmingham-Southern, Centre, Hendrix, Oglethorpe, Rhodes and Sewanee announced they were leaving the SCAC, effective June 30, 2012. Berry College of Georgia will join them in the new league. Wonder why Mississippi College wasn’t invited? Hmmm.
Southern Miss and Houston, who meet in a Conference USA opening series this weekend in Hattiesburg, might just see the direction of their respective seasons determined by what happens at Pete Taylor Park. In many ways, they are sitting in the same boat. USM, relying heavily on newcomers, is 12-9 and coming off a blowout win at Ole Miss. Houston, also rebuilding to an extent, is only 9-10 but just won two of three at Oklahoma State. The Eagles and Cougars have played 52 times all-time; the series is deadlocked at 26-all. The last time they met was in the C-USA Tournament last May in Pearl, with Houston winning 7-6 in 14 innings. Freshmen Mason Robbins (.442 with an 18-game hit streak) and Connor Barron (.355) and juco transfer Blake Brown (.342, four homers, 24 RBIs) lead the Eagles’ attack. They’ll face a senior left-hander tonight: Jordan Lewis, who is 3-2, 2.81. The Cougars’ pitching looks decent on paper. Their hitting doesn’t scare anyone. Chase Jensen leads the offense with a .303 average. USM will open with Andrew Pierce, a sensation at Jones County Junior College in 2011 who is 2-1 with a 2.30 this year. This figures to be a tight series, and the winner should head off with wind in its sails.
P.S. Hinds CC, which is 18-5, has had some rather remarkable hitting performances to date. Beau Wallace is hitting .464, Caleb Baucum .493 (with four homers) and Tyler Atkins .507 (with three homers and 22 RBIs). Amazing.
Jones County Junior College, which wobbled a bit to begin its campaign, is off to a 4-0 start in division play in the MACJC. The defending state and Region 23 champion Bobcats (16-8) swept Pearl River on Tuesday and hold a one-game lead on Southwest in the South Division. The Bears have a losing overall mark but are 3-1 in the division heading into a key series with Hinds on Saturday. The Eagles, ranked No. 4 in the most recent NJCAA Division II poll, are 18-5 overall but just 3-3 in the division, having been swept by East Central on Tuesday. In the North Division, Itawamba and Northeast are tied at 5-1. ICC (18-4) won a pair of one-run games against Northwest on Tuesday, while Northeast, which has a losing record, swept Holmes as freshman Kyle Robbins got a win and a save.
P.S. We are two weeks out from opening day at Trustmark Park. The Mississippi Braves play Mobile on April 5 to launch their eighth season in Pearl. Rosters aren’t settled yet but still expect to see top 10 prospects Andrelton Simmons (if he doesn’t make the Atlanta roster), Christian Bethancourt and Zeke Spruill on this year’s club, along with Cory Harrilchak, Joe Terdoslavich, Todd Cunningham and possibly 2011 top pick Sean Gilmartin. It could be a very good team.