Halfway through the second half of the Southern League season, the Mississippi Braves sit in first place in the South Division. A walk-off win on a Levi Hyams base hit in the 12th inning on Saturday pushed the M-Braves’ record to 21-14, a game clear of the pack in the race for the second-half title. The M-Braves have won eight of their last 10. … Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland hit his second career game-ending home run on Saturday to give Texas a 2-1 win over Kansas City. It was his 17th homer of the year. … Former State star Jonathan Papelbon reportedly has said he is “on board’ with Washington’s acquisition of Mark Melancon, who’ll displace Papelbon (and his 4.41 ERA) as the Nationals’ closer. Papelbon’s role going forward is unclear. … Don’t look now, but former Jackson Mets catcher John Gibbons has his Toronto Blue Jays in first place in the American League East. The Jays beat Baltimore 9-1 on Saturday, the fifth straight loss for the Orioles, managed by ex-State standout Buck Showalter. The teams, separated by a half-game, play again today at Rogers Centre. … Boston’s trade for Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz hasn’t helped its cause in the AL East thus far. Pomeranz took another loss on Saturday (against the Los Angeles Angels) and is 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA in three starts for the BoSox. He was 8-7, 2.47 for San Diego, a non-contender. … Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, seems to do something good every day for the Chicago White Sox. The rookie went 3-for-5 on Saturday and scored twice, including the game-tying run in the ninth inning of a 6-5, 10-inning victory against Minnesota. Anderson is batting .275 with five homers, 12 RBIs, four steals and 25 runs in 43 games. Would love to see him in a 30-yard (90 feet) race against Billy Hamilton and Jarrod Dyson. … San Diego has cleared outfield space with the trades of Melvin Upton and Matt Kemp, but reports are that the Padres will wait until September to call up ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe, who is hitting .322 with 25 homers in Triple-A. … Seattle apparently is interested in acquiring Ole Miss product Zack Cozart from Cincinnati. The veteran shortstop is batting .267 with 15 homers. … For those wondering about impact bats in Atlanta’s minor league system, note that former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley is batting .263 with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs in 93 games at low Class A Rome.
Roy Oswalt, who won 163 games in the big leagues, second-most by a Mississippi native, is being inducted into the Round Rock Express Hall of Fame on Saturday in Texas. Next week, the 38-year-old former Weir High and Holmes Community College star is going to play again. Oswalt, who last pitched competitively in 2013, was recruited to play for the Kansas Stars, a collection of ex-big leaguers, in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. Others on the squad include 53-year-old Roger Clemens, Tim Hudson, Josh Beckett, Adam LaRoche, J.D. Drew and Dan Uggla. The field for the NBC is made up mostly of semi-pro teams and college summer league squads. “If you took 10 years off our ages, I guarantee we’d be pretty hard to beat,” Oswalt told the Austin American-Statesman. There is a distinct Mississippi flavor in the NBC event. The semi-pro Laurel Black Cats, champions of the Magnolia State Tournament, are slated to start play tonight. Mason Irby, former Jones County Junior College star who’ll suit up for Southern Miss in 2017, is on the roster of the NJCAA National Team, which opens next week. Oswalt, drafted by Houston out of Holmes CC in 1996, spent the 2000 season in Round Rock. That was the new home of the Texas League franchise that had been in Jackson from 1975-99. Oswalt went 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA for the Express, helping the team win the TL championship. Five years later, he helped the Astros reach the World Series.
The Texas Rangers look to Mitch Moreland for power. With Prince Fielder done for the year, perhaps now more than ever. Ex-Mississippi State standout Moreland delivered two solo home runs on Thursday night, powering the Rangers to a 3-2 win against Kansas City. “I know that’s what I’m looked upon as … hit the ball in the gap or drive it out of the ballpark,” Moreland told mlb.com, while humbly deflecting praise toward winning pitcher Cole Hamels. Texas, which once had a big lead in the American League West, is up 3 games on second-place Houston. Moreland enjoyed his best season in 2015 (.278, 23 homers, 85 RBIs) but has had his struggles this year. He is hitting just .237 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. But there are indications he has found a groove. In his last 38 at-bats, the lefty-hitting Amory native is batting .289 with five homers. Both of his homers on Thursday were to the opposite field at Globe Life Park, an approach that Rangers manager Jeff Banister made note of. “When he’s locked in like that it’s a huge plus for our offense,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. … Washington manager Dusty Baker went back to Jonathan Papelbon (see previous post) in a save situation on Thursday. The former State star lasted three batters. The struggling Papelbon, handed a three-run lead against San Francisco, got an out but then yielded a hit and a walk. Two other relievers closed out the Nationals’ 4-2 win. Papelbon was charged with a run that moved his ERA to 4.41.
Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, the keystone combo of the Mississippi Braves, check in at No. 5 and No. 19 in MLBPipeline’s refreshed ranking of the game’s Top 100 prospects. (Baseball America had them at seven and 17 in its midseason Top 100 released earlier this month.) Swanson, the shortstop and 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick (by Arizona), is batting .260 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs in his first Double-A Tour. Albies, who has shifted from short to second base, is batting a sweet .364. Both might be in line for a September appearance in Atlanta. Left-hander Sean Newcomb, 5-7 with a 4.57 ERA for the M-Braves, is ranked 60th in the chart published on mlb.com. Former Biloxi Shuckers Orlando Arcia (13) and Josh Hader (45) are also on the list, as is current Shuckers outfielder Brett Phillips (78). Mississippi State alum Hunter Renfroe, having a huge year at Triple-A El Paso (San Diego system), is ranked No. 52. Ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College star Cody Reed, currently pitching in the big leagues – and scuffling — with Cincinnati, is No. 59, and Harrison Central High product Bobby Bradley (in A-ball with Cleveland) is 82nd. P.S. Ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford, one of Toronto’s top prospects, isn’t in the mlb.com Top 100; he’s 86th in the BA ranking. He has had a rough year that has included two stints on the disabled list. But, the 22-year-old outfielder is heating up, batting .371 over his last 10 games. He had three hits (two triples and a double) for Class A Dunedin on Wednesday and is at .217 with four homers, 26 RBIs and 12 steals for the year. He batted .298 in 2015, his first full pro season. “This season has been a good learning season for me because I’ve never had to deal with failure,” the former Mr. Baseball told milb.com.
In what might be politely described as a transitional period for the Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman is a comforting constant. One of the few former Mississippi Braves stars still with Atlanta, Freeman enjoyed one of his best days of the season on Wednesday. He went 4-for-4 with a home run and five RBIs, powering the Braves past Minnesota 9-7 in a battle of MLB’s two worst teams. Freeman is batting .280 (slugging .517) with 18 homers and 41 RBIs in his seventh big league campaign, and he plays an excellent first base. Here’s hoping the Braves keep him around during this rebuilding phase (which might take a while). Jeff Francoeur, one of the original M-Braves of 2005, also had a good day against the Twins, going 2-for-5 with his sixth homer. Francoeur, quietly playing very well in his return to Atlanta, has been mentioned in trade rumors, so the happy homecoming may not last much longer. … Former M-Braves are everywhere these days, making their presence felt on a daily basis. On Wednesday: Martin Prado, batting .324 for Miami, went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run in the surging Marlins win over Philadelphia. … Brian McCann hit his 15th homer for the New York Yankees in a loss to Houston. (Evan Gattis, who didn’t play in that game, has 17 bombs for the Astros.) … Jason Heyward, having a tough first year with the bat in Chicago, went 1-for-3 with a walk in the Cubs’ big win over the White Sox. Tommy LaStella, batting .298 in a utility role for the Cubs, drew a walk as a pinch hitter. … Yunel Escobar, hitting .325, had a hit and Andrelton Simmons (.285) notched a pair in the Los Angeles Angels’ loss to Kansas City. … Christian Bethancourt had a 2-for-4 day with two RBIs for San Diego in a win at Toronto. He is batting .267 with five homers. … Randall Delgado (4.03 ERA) tossed two shutout innings in relief in Arizona’s win against Milwaukee. P.S. Former M-Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer, now a relief pitcher in the L.A. Dodgers’ system, has had mixed results. Overall, the lefty has a 4.58 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings. A recent rough patch has jacked his ERA from 1.35 to 3.44 at Double-A Tulsa. He also got some time in Triple-A, but it didn’t go well.
The adjustment to pro ball can’t be a snap for any player, but some make it look that way. Among the position players drafted out of the Magnolia State this year, none has come out swinging – and connecting – quite like Chuckie Robinson. The Southern Miss product, a catcher picked in the 21st round by Houston, is batting .355 through 17 games at short-season Class A Tri-City. He is in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak that includes six multi-hit games. Also on a tear is Ole Miss alum Errol Robinson (sixth round, Los Angeles Dodgers), who is batting .378 over his last 10 games and is at .261 with a homer and 13 RBIs at rookie-level Ogden. Ex-UM standout J.B. Woodman, the first position player picked out of the state (second round, Toronto), is hitting .289 with 15 RBIs and 15 runs in 32 games at short-season Vancouver. Former Mississippi State slugger Nathaniel Lowe (13th round, Tampa Bay) went 23 games without a home run at short-season Hudson Valley but has two in his last nine games and is batting .274 with 21 RBIs. And another ex-Bulldogs star, Gavin Collins (13th round, Cleveland), has gotten hot and boosted his average to .276 at short-season Mahoning Valley. Pearl River Community College alum Zach Clark (19th round, Milwaukee), who signed at the deadline, is batting .281 with two homers in eight games in the rookie Arizona League. Former Northwest Rankin High standout Daniel Sweet, picked out of Dallas Baptist in the 29th round by Cincinnati, is hitting a delicious .333 in 24 games at rookie-level Billings. There are those who have struggled. USM product Tim Lynch (ninth round, New York Yankees) is hitting .212 without a homer in 24 games at rookie-level Pulaski. Ex-UM star Henri Lartigue (seventh round, Philadelphia) is at .230 for short-season Williamsport. And Walker Robbins, the former George County High All-America who was drafted in the fifth round by St. Louis, is off to a .135 start in 14 games in the rookie Gulf Coast League.
Two straight rough outings have recharged the concerns about Jonathan Papelbon in Washington. The Nationals were reported to be looking for a closer even before the two meltdowns, a four-run outing against San Diego on Sunday followed by Tuesday night’s blown save against Cleveland. Former Mississippi State star Papelbon allowed two hits, two walks and two runs without recording an out – there was an error involved – as the Indians rallied from two runs down to walk off with a 7-6 victory. Papelbon, 35, who had seven straight scoreless outings in July before these last two, is 19 of 22 in save chances for the first-place Nats, but his ERA is now 4.18 and his WHIP 1.30. He went on the disabled list in June for the first time in his career. His fastball velocity is way down, though Papelbon himself is not. “My confidence in this game has never fluctuated, and it never will,” he told mlb.com after Tuesday’s outing. Washington manager Dusty Baker was non-committal on whether he was going to make a change from within at closer. Meanwhile, the Nats, who lost out on Aroldis Chapman, are rumored to be interested in Andrew Miller, Wade Davis and David Robertson. … Any hope that Aaron Barrett might rejoin the Nationals’ bullpen down the stretch has evaporated. The ex-Ole Miss star suffered a fractured elbow while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and has undergone more surgery. Barrett posted a 2.66 ERA in 50 games in 2014 and a 4.60 in 40 games last season before he was shut down. He had the Tommy John procedure last September and ankle surgery in December.
Mason Robbins is another one of those players who doesn’t show up on the prospect charts but keeps putting up numbers that can’t be ignored. Ex-Southern Miss star Robbins, a lefty-hitting outfielder, went 5-for-5 – his first career five-hit game — for Class A Winston-Salem in the Chicago White Sox’s system on Monday. Now at .318 for the year, the 23-year-old Robbins leads the high-A Carolina League in hitting. He is raking at .477 with 21 hits over his last 10 games. Robbins, 6 feet, 200 pounds, has four homers, four triples, 22 doubles, 42 RBIs and 43 runs in 86 games. He doesn’t walk (eight times all year) but doesn’t fan much either (57 in 355 at-bats). He has only 14 homers in 264 minor league games, but Robbins told milb.com he isn’t concerned about his homer totals: “I know I’m a gap-to-gap hitter who can hit a lot of doubles and triples.” He has 52 and 16 for his career. The former Mr. Baseball at George County High was also a highly decorated player at USM and was picked in the 25th round by the ChiSox in 2014. The White Sox’s Double-A Birmingham club is playing the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park this week. It’d sure be a nice time to move Robbins up.
Under the category of Gutsiest Performance of the Year, enter the name of Brandon Woodruff. Having buried his older brother just six days before, Woodruff, a former Mississippi State standout, threw six near-perfect innings and hit a home run for Biloxi in a 1-0 win over Pensacola on Sunday in the Southern League. Blake Woodruff died July 15 from injuries sustained in a four-wheeler accident near Wheeler, where both he and Brandon played high school ball. Brandon Woodruff was on leave from the Shuckers for eight days before taking the mound at Pensacola. Hard to imagine how difficult that must have been. A Pensacola player on Twitter called it “the most gutsy thing I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.” The 23-year-old right-hander is 5-6 with a 3.65 ERA for the Shuckers, Milwaukee’s Double-A club. P.S. Here’s hoping Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, who has a 60.75 ERA attached to his name, gets another opportunity in the big leagues. In his debut with St. Louis on Sunday, Mayers was rocked for nine runs in 1 1/3 innings by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has been sent back to Triple-A Memphis, where he had pitched well. … Former Southern Miss star Scott Copeland has re-signed with Toronto and is now at Triple-A Buffalo. He had been pitching in Korea, where he was 2-3 with a 5.54 ERA.
Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers is slated to make his major league debut for St. Louis tonight at Busch Stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, it’s the ESPN game. Mayers, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, was 3-3 with a 2.94 ERA at Triple-A Memphis. A third-round pick in 2013, he started this season at Double-A Springfield, going 5-2, 2.30. Mayers, who is not ranked among the Cardinals’ top 30 prospects by mlb.com, had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in 2015.