The Mississippi Braves, who faltered late in their chase for a first-half championship in the Southern League, may get a lift in the second half from the addition of Robby Hefflinger, an outfielder who was putting up big numbers at Class A Lynchburg. Hefflinger, who went 0-for-4 (with a couple of hard-hit balls) in his Double-A debut at Trustmark Park on Saturday, was leading the Carolina League in home runs with 21 and slugging percentage with a .579 mark. He was batting .286 with 52 RBIs. He’s a right-handed hitter with an Evan Gattis-like build (6 feet 4, 220 pounds) and reportedly is a pretty good outfielder. Hefflinger, 23, Atlanta’s No. 29-rated prospect entering 2013, was a seventh-round pick in 2009 out of Georgia Perimeter Junior College. Atlanta released outfielder Kyle Russell, a spring free agent signee who never really provided the left-handed power the M-Braves were hoping to get from him. … Meanwhile, ex-M-Braves standout Jeff Francoeur was designated for assignment by Kansas City, which essentially means he’s done there. The one-time Sports Illustrated cover boy, who seemed to have stardom written all over him back in 2005, was batting just .208 with three homers in 59 games for the Royals. He struck out in his last at-bat for them on Saturday. There is speculation that San Francisco and the New York Yankees might have an interest in Francoeur, who is still a very good right fielder. But he might have to go back to the minor leagues.
There was a whole lot of cheering going on at Atlanta’s Turner Field on Friday night, and not just because the Braves won another game. Surely you watched. Most of the noise was for the great Chipper Jones, whose No. 10 was formally retired. There was also applause, a lot of it at times, for Martin Prado, the ex-Mississippi Braves star who was making his return to the ATL for the first time since the trade to Arizona. Then there was that moment in the seventh inning when Tony Sipp took the mound for the Diamondbacks. The Pascagoula native, who played at Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, had some family and friends in town. He reportedly left 58 tickets at will call, and it appeared they all showed up. The TV cameras found the group as Sipp was working his third of an inning. He gave up a hit but no runs. The left-hander, acquired by Arizona from Cleveland in the off-season, has a 3-1 record (with two blown saves) and a 3.63 ERA in 33 appearances for the first-place D’backs. The more significant pitching work of the night was done by Braves starter Julio Teheran, the former M-Braves ace. He threw six shutout innings, allowing four hits and one walk with 10 strikeouts, out-pitching his former Mississippi teammate Randall Delgado, who allowed eight hits, three walks and two runs in his six innings for Arizona. Teheran is now 6-4 with a 3.12 ERA in 2013. Atlanta’s top-rated prospect for two years running, he’s living up to his billing. When Friday’s 3-0 victory was finished, Teheran should have gotten a curtain call.
Drew Pomeranz reportedly will return to the big leagues and start for Colorado on Sunday against visiting San Francisco. The left-hander out of Ole Miss, a former first-round pick by Cleveland, is 8-1 with a 4.20 ERA at Triple-A Colorado Springs. He leads the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts with 96. He spent part of 2012 with the Rockies and was 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA working under a stringent pitch limit. … Pomeranz joins Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt in the Rockies rotation. Oswalt is 0-2, 7.36 in his two starts, both on the road.
Congratulations to Bill Walberg, the radio voice of the Jackson Mets and Generals for 23 seasons, on being elected to the Texas League Hall of Fame. Walberg, who was really good at calling a game, also was a font of information on players and stats, as any sportswriter who ever covered a game at Smith-Wills Stadium could tell you. … Silento Sayles, the stolen base champ from Port Gibson High, was named a second-team prep All-American by Baseball America. Sayles batted .541 (no typo) and stole a record 103 bases in 2013. Sayles, drafted by Cleveland and now playing in the Arizona League, has one hit and no steals in two pro games. … Next month’s All-Star Futures Game will feature Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton and former Mississippi Braves first baseman Joey Terdoslavich on the U.S. team (managed by former Jackson Mets star Mookie Wilson) and current M-Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt with the World team. … Stone County product D.J. Davis, the first Mississippian picked in the 2012 draft (by Toronto), is batting .259 in six games at Bluefield in the short-season Appalachian League. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, drafted in the third round by the Blue Jays last year, is playing in the rookie Gulf Coast League (.222 in five games). The ex-Southern Miss quarterback spent the spring playing safety for Ole Miss and is expected to return in the fall. … Picayune’s T.J. House was sent down today by Cleveland after making two scoreless appearances in his first major league duty. … Former Ole Miss standout Matt Tolbert, injured most of the season, played for the Gulf Coast League Phillies today and hit a triple. Tolbert, 31, a onetime major leaguer, signed a minor league deal with Philadelphia in the off-season.
In its college preview issue back in February, Baseball America put UCLA at No. 12, a ranking based in part on the fact that the Bruins lost most of their best hitters from a 48-win team that reached the College World Series. The magazine’s editors summed up UCLA’s prospects: “The Bruins morphed into an offense-driven club in 2012. This year they should be balanced again, but their strength is pitching. It should be a winning formula.” It was – sort of. In the 2013 CWS, the Bruins didn’t hit much, but their pitching was nothing short of amazing, as Mississippi State (BA’s preseason No. 5) can attest. The Bulldogs, who trotted out a fairly potent attack that featured two MLB draftees, were held to 11 hits and one run in 18 innings as UCLA swept the championship series 2 games to none. Over five CWS games, all wins, UCLA’s staff ERA was 0.80. The Bruins threw MLB draftees Adam Plutko (the CWS’s Most Outstanding Player) and Nick Vander Tuig at the Bulldogs and both right-handers were as good as advertised. Sidearming closer David Berg was pretty tough, too. In today’s college game, with the toned-down bats, pitching has never been more important. UCLA had it, and now the storied program owns its first baseball national title, something State is still chasing. P.S. With Colorado playing Boston for the first time since the 2007 World Series, memories have been evoked of State alum Jonathan Papelbon fanning Ole Miss product Seth Smith for the final out of the Red Sox’s four-game sweep. Those two have moved on, but there are Mississippi connections in the current series. Ex-Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt started today for the Rockies, and Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson went 1-for-3 as the Colorado DH on Tuesday. … Former State standout Tyler Moore is back in the big leagues with Washington, though he did not play on Tuesday.
Antoan Richardson possesses speed, which, as they say, never goes into a slump. When the former Mississippi Braves outfielder is getting on base, he can be a force, which he has been at Triple-A Rochester in the Minnesota system. The 5-foot-8 Richardson, a Bahamas native who played at Vanderbilt, is batting .301 and has 15 stolen bases in 31 games at Rochester. He was promoted from Double-A New Britain after batting .336 with 14 steals in 33 games. Given a shot, Richardson might be able to help the Twins, who just can’t seem to get going. Richardson spent parts of two years with the M-Braves, batting .279 with 24 steals in 2010 and .283 with 17 bags in 2011, the year he got a brief stint in Atlanta. He was in the Baltimore system last season. … Matt Wright, who was in the rotation of the first M-Braves club in 2005, is 8-0 with a 2.74 ERA for the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters in the Atlantic League. Also with the Skeeters is former Jackson Generals ace and onetime big leaguer Scott Elarton (4-5, 4.75).
Maybe he has lost his edge because of the trade rumors. Maybe it’s his college team, Mississippi State, making a deep run at the College World Series that has distracted Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon. Probably not — but something’s going on. Papelbon has suffered four blown saves in his last five opportunities, including Monday night’s game, when the Phillies blew a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning and fell to San Diego 4-3 in 10. Papelbon gave up a hit that scored two inherited runners, and the tying run scored on a passed ball. “(Stuff) happens,” Papelbon told mlb.com. “He’s in a little funk,” Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee, who worked into the ninth, got the hard-luck no-decision on Monday. Papelbon, who has picked up two wins during his “funk,” has seen his ERA rise to 2.12. Over the last five appearances, he has yielded seven hits, two walks and three earned runs. He blew only four saves in all of 2012. P.S. Cleveland has called up former Picayune High standout T.J. House. The left-hander, who has been scuffling (1-7, 5.37 ERA) as a starter at Triple-A Columbus, is expected to work in relief for the Indians, who are in second place in the American League Central. House, a 16th-round pick in 2009, has a 4.05 career ERA in the minors and pitched very well in the 2012 Arizona Fall League.
Brian McCann is special. He was the first of the now 70-something Mississippi Braves to advance to the big leagues, jumping to Atlanta eight years ago this month. A Georgia boy, he got a couple of hits in his debut at Turner Field, then homered in his second game. We’ve watched him become a six-time All-Star, producing countless big hits along the way. The clutch grand slam he belted in Sunday’s win at Milwaukee was the 10th of his career; only Hank Aaron (with 16) has more as a Brave. McCann is no longer the face of the Braves, but really he should be. In his ninth season, he is easily the team’s longest tenured position player. He is a gamer. He has battled injuries in recent years, the toll for catching all those games. A .278 career hitter, he had a tough 2012 (.230, 20 homers) and is batting just .246 in 2013, with eight homers and 21 RBIs. With rookie sensation Evan Gattis seemingly poised to take over at catcher, this may well be McCann’s last year in Atlanta. It was sad when Jeff Francoeur left the Braves. When McCann goes, it’ll be sadder still. P.S. Some happier notes: Edward Salcedo, whose bases-loaded triple keyed the M-Braves’ win over Birmingham on Sunday night, is batting .271 with nine bombs and 37 RBIs in his first Double-A campaign. He averaged .240 over his first three pro seasons. What’s more, the third-base prospect has played better defense, with 15 errors in 64 games (compared to 42 in 120 in 2012). Atlanta has to be pleased with his progress. … Mississippi State alum Paul Maholm won his eighth game for Atlanta on Sunday, then headed to Omaha to catch the Bulldogs in the College World Series. … Former Jackson Mets catcher John Gibbons, who was on a hot seat as Toronto’s manager, has seen his club win 11 straight now to join the frantic race in the American League East. … Southwest Mississippi Community College product Jarrod Dyson went 2-for-3 and homered as Kansas City beat the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. Dyson, one of the fastest players in the big leagues, is batting .295. … Ole Miss alum Seth Smith had three hits for Oakland, boosting his average to .284. … Ex-M-Braves star Gregor Blanco went 2-for-4 for San Francisco and is hitting .304 as the Giants center fielder. … Ed Lucas, who played shortstop for the M-Braves in 2011 and is now getting regular time with Miami, hit his first MLB homer on Saturday and is batting .301. … And in case you missed it, Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson had two doubles in his big league debut for Colorado on Saturday.
If Mississippi State wins the College World Series, it will be a first for the Magnolia State, which has never won a Division I baseball national championship. But don’t forget, the state does claim two national crowns: Delta State won a Division II title in 2004 and William Carey an NAIA title in 1969. State, 51-18 and unbeaten in Omaha, plays UCLA in the best-of-3 championship series starting Monday night. … State slugger Hunter Renfroe, who hit a big home run in Friday’s win over Oregon State, was a first-team All-America pick by Baseball America, as was Ole Miss catcher Stuart Turner. Bulldogs closer Jonathan Holder was a second-team selection. … Former East Central Community College star Tim Anderson is 2-for-9 with three runs and two RBIs in two games for Class A Kannapolis. And, yes, he is playing shortstop. Anderson was the Chicago White Sox’s first-round pick earlier this month. … Southern Miss product Brian Dozier belted his seventh home run for Minnesota on Friday, his fourth round-tripper in five games. … MSU alum Mitch Moreland returned to the Texas lineup on Friday after a stint on the disabled list and went 1-for-4. … Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson has been activated from the DL by Kansas City. … Former Mississippi Braves ace Zeke Spruill pitched a scoreless inning for Arizona on Friday in his big league debut. Spruill is the 76th M-Braves alum to advance to The Show. … Ex-M-Braves shortstop Brent Lillibridge is on the move yet again, having been traded from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Yankees. He was playing in Triple-A for the Cubs. … Former Ole Miss standout Alex Presley was recently sent back to Triple-A by Pittsburgh, the third time he has been optioned out this year. In 17 games over two stints with the Pirates, the outfielder is batting .293.
Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star from McComb, has been called up by the Colorado Rockies. Dickerson, an eighth-round pick in 2010, was batting .386 with nine homers, 19 doubles, 13 triples and 38 RBIs at Triple-A Colorado Springs. The left-handed hitting outfielder is not in the starting lineup for tonight’s game at Washington. P.S. Roy Oswalt’s first pitch was clocked at 92 mph. Strike one to Denard Span. Oswalt, in his 2013 debut for Colorado, would strike out Washington’s leadoff batter and 10 more Nationals on Thursday night. Oswalt had life on his fastball, and the Rockies, from all indications, were encouraged by the performance. But, of course, the right-hander from Weir and Holmes Community College did give up nine hits, including a homer, a triple and two doubles, and four earned runs in five innings. And he took the loss as the Rockies fell 5-1 at Nationals Park. The jury’s still out on what kind of impact Oswalt will have for the Rockies. It’ll be most interesting to see how he fares in his first start at hitter-friendly Coors Field, which likely will come during a June 28-July 4 homestand. Some MLB Network analysts suggested Oswalt’s stuff might not be well-suited to Coors.