Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, can add another line to his resume. The Rome Braves, for which Riley was arguably the best player this past season, were named Baseball America’s minor league team of the year. Riley was a young player (19) on a young team that brushed off a weak first half to roll to the South Atlantic League championship. “That team is a microcosm of the rebuild within our entire farm system,” Atlanta general manager John Coppolella told BA. Riley, a third baseman, is one of the jewels of that system. In just his second pro season, he batted .271 with 20 homers, 80 RBIs, 39 doubles and 68 runs in 129 games for the low Class A R-Braves. He also belted two homers in the SAL Championship Series. There’s a chance he reaches Double-A Mississippi sometime next summer. Right-hander Patrick Weigel, who made it to Double-A last summer, went 10-4 with a 2.51 ERA as part of a loaded Rome rotation. Weigel put up a 2.18 ERA in three starts for the M-Braves and also pitched a gem in the Southern League playoffs. P.S. Former Murrah standout Zack Bird, who pitched for the M-Braves in 2015, is an unprotected prospect in Atlanta’s system who might be plucked in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Bird had a rough 2016 at high-A Carolina (8.87 ERA in 28 games).
If there were a Mount Rushmore of Mississippi baseball, the likeness of David Meadow “Boo” Ferriss would be on it. You could argue all day about the other three – and there are many worthy candidates – but Ferriss would be on there. Absolutely. He was a great player, but he was more than that. He was a great coach, but he was more than that. He was as nice and humble and accommodating a man as you could hope to meet. The list of lives he touched, on and off the field of play, would stretch from Southaven to Moss Point. Ferriss, or Coach Ferriss as many called him, left us on Thursday at the age of 94. He’ll never be forgotten.
Way out in Australia, D.J. Davis is searching for his game. The Wiggins native, a first-round draft pick by Toronto in 2012, endured a lost season in 2016, batting just .197 with 13 extra base hits in 83 games at the high-A level. He is wintering in the Australian Baseball League, where he is 1-for-8 with a stolen base in two games for Canberra. Scouting reports indicate that Davis, 22, remains a raw talent even in his fifth pro year. A lefty-hitting outfielder, he showed promise in low-A ball in 2015, hitting .282 with seven homers, seven triples, 59 RBIs and 21 steals. But 2016, which included a month-long stint on the disabled list, was a big step back. Once a top 10 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, Davis is getting a chance to reestablish himself in the ABL. Stay tuned. P.S. The Arizona Fall League season ended for the Mississippi contingent on Thursday. Ole Miss alum Chris Ellis, an Atlanta prospect, threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Salt River’s finale; he finished 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA. Future Mississippi Braves infielder Travis Demeritte went 2-for-4 with a homer, his fourth, in that game. Richton’s JaCoby Jones (Detroit) finished at .329 with a homer and 13 RBIs; 2016 M-Braves star Dustin Peterson (Atlanta) batted .324; and Southwest Mississippi Community College product Kade Scivicque (Atlanta) hit .378. Ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford (Toronto) didn’t play Thursday for Mesa and ended his AFL tour at .253 with three homers and 15 RBIs. He is expected to be added to the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster today. Mississippi State alum Chris Stratton (San Francisco) threw five shutout innings for Scottsdale, finishing 2-2, 3.12.
Spencer Turnbull should leave the Arizona Fall League feeling good. Ex-Madison Central High star Turnbull, a Detroit prospect pitching for Salt River, threw four shutout innings on Monday in what may have been his last outing. The 6-foot-3 right-hander had an injury-interrupted 2016 season and started slowly in the AFL but with back-to-back strong starts has trimmed his ERA to 3.60. He has 20 strikeouts in 20 innings and has not yielded a home run. Turnbull’s velocity reportedly has been a little down this fall, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I’m learning how to pitch with a little less velocity,” Turnbull said in an mlb.com article. “I’m sinking it and cutting it more than I used to rather than throwing heaters down the middle.” Turnbull, 24, is rated Detroit’s No. 12 prospect by mlb.com but is likely still a couple of years away from a big league shot. He is 12-7 with a 3.32 ERA in his three pro seasons and is expected to pitch in Double-A in 2017. It’s seems odd now that Turnbull was undrafted in 2011 out of Madison Central, where was a standout hitter and hurler. He went to Alabama and left in 2014 as a second-round pick by the Tigers. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Dustin Peterson hit his first AFL homer in support of Turnbull on Monday. Peterson is batting .328 for the Rafters after an MVP-caliber year in the Southern League (.282, 12 homers, 88 RBIs). Richton’s JaCoby Jones, also a Tigers prospect, had three hits for Salt River and is up to .370. … Petal High product Anthony Alford (Toronto) stole three bags for Mesa on Monday and now has eight this fall.
Brian Dozier. Hands down. The former Southern Miss star is the winner of the 2016 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the Mississippian (native or college alum) who had the best season in the big leagues. The 29-year-old Dozier, in his fifth MLB campaign with Minnesota, hit .268 with 42 homers, 99 RBIs, 104 runs and 18 steals in 155 games. He also played a solid second base (eight errors, .989 fielding percentage). Several Mississippians had nice years – see Drew Pomeranz, Kendall Graveman, Tim Anderson, Billy Hamilton, Seth Smith — but none approached Dozier’s numbers or impact. The Twins announced on Oct. 19 the winners of their annual Diamond Awards, and Dozier took three of them, including the Calvin R. Griffith Award as the Most Valuable Twin. He was also the recipient of the Charles O. Johnson Award for Most Improved Twin and the Bob Allison Award given to the Twins player who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field. … Dozier follows Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan as Cool Papa Bell Award winners. The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Kudos to Mitch Moreland for winning the first Gold Glove of his career. The ex-Mississippi State star, now a free agent, led American League first basemen in fielding percentage (.998) playing for Texas in 2016. He committed just two errors in 1,103 chances. (And it didn’t hurt that he hit 22 home runs.) … Former Harrison Central High standout Bobby Bradley is rated the No. 5 prospect (again) and best power hitter in Cleveland’s system in Baseball America’s new rankings. Bradley, a lefty-hitting first baseman, was the Class A Carolina League MVP this past season, when he belted 29 homers and drove in 102 runs. He hit just .235 but had a .344 on-base percentage. … Picayune High product T.J. House, Itawamba Community College alum Tim Dillard and former Southern Miss star Scott Copeland are on the list of minor league free agents published by Baseball America. A host of former Mississippi Braves are also on the market, including Matt Lipka, Daniel Castro, Brandon Cunniff, Willians Astudillo, Madison Younginer, Joey Terdoslavich, Brandon Hicks, Jordan Schafer and David Hale. … Richton’s JaCoby Jones had another big hit on Tuesday for Salt River, boosting his Arizona Fall League average to .333 and RBI total to 11 in 16 games. Ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull, another Detroit prospect with Salt River, worked strong four innings in that game, allowing one unearned run and fanning five. His ERA in five AFL starts is now 4.50.
It’s not the ballot people are talking about today, but, hey: Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter is a candidate for Manager of the Year in the American League. He is a finalist, along with Terry Francona and Jeff Banister, for the award given by the baseball writers. The winner will be announced next Tuesday. Showalter, who has won the award three times (including 2014), steered Baltimore to a wild card berth out of the hyper-competitive AL East, exceeding the expectations of virtually every preseason prediction. Showalter has been with Baltimore for seven seasons, longer than he stayed at any of his previous three managerial stops. With 547 wins, he trails only the legendary Earl Weaver on the Orioles’ list of winningest managers. Showalter hasn’t had a lot of playoff success, but in the current state of MLB, just getting in is a big deal. P.S. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College star Kade Scivicque is batting .346 (9-for-26) with three RBIs in the Arizona Fall League. Scivicque, acquired by Atlanta from Detroit late last season, finished 2016 with the Mississippi Braves and could be back with the Double-A club next spring. The 6-foot, 225-pound catcher batted .282 with six homers in high-A for the Tigers. … David Goforth, the Ole Miss alum from Meridian, is pitching for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League. Goforth, who has made 30 MLB appearances with Milwaukee the past two years, had a 4.91 ERA in Triple-A in 2016.
As major league baseball slips into its “off-season,” here are a few Mississippi-related things to ponder over the coming weeks:
1. Where will Mitch Moreland land? The former Mississippi State standout, who has been with Texas his entire career, is a free agent. A good-fielding first baseman with left-handed power (110 career home runs), he should have plenty of suitors, including the Rangers.
2. Will Jonathan Papelbon find a new team? The ex-State star, released in August by Washington, remains a free agent. His numbers from 2016 (19 saves, 4.37 ERA) weren’t bad, but he is about to turn 36 with a lot of miles on his arm. And there’s that other stuff.
3. How will Lance Lynn’s comeback go? The Ole Miss product, who had Tommy John surgery last November, pitched a handful of innings in the minors in 2016 but was never activated by St. Louis. The Cardinals need a good year from the 29-year-old Lynn, who has a 61-39 career record.
4. Is Hunter Renfroe ready for duty? The former State star looked great during his late call-up with San Diego, batting .371 with four homers and winning a National League player of the week award. The expectations will surely ramp up heading into next season for a Padres organization that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2006.
5. Can Brian Snitker keep Atlanta on the right track? The former Mississippi Braves manager, a really good guy who has been in the Braves’ organization since 1977, steered the team to a 37-35 record after the All-Star break. “Snitker is baseball’s version of the guy who started in the mail room and became chairman of the board,” wrote Baseball America’s Tracy Ringolsby. It feels like Atlanta made a good choice for 2017.
P.S. Mississippians Chris Stratton (Mississippi State) and Anthony Alford (Petal High) are slated to play in tonight’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game, which will be televised by MLB Network at 7 p.m.
In announcing the trade of Cameron Maybin on Thursday, Detroit officials said there would be “a wide-open competition” for the center field job in spring training. Former Richton High star JaCoby Jones will be in the mix. Jones, who can also play the infield, is playing center field in the Arizona Fall League and batting .318 with a homer, eight RBIs and five steals in 13 games for Salt River. He went 6-for-28 in a big league trial this summer. In four minor league seasons, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Jones is hitting .269 with 47 homers and 58 bags. The Tigers acquired him in 2015 from Pittsburgh, which drafted Jones in the third round in 2013 out of LSU. … Seattle picked up the 2017 option on Seth Smith’s contract. The Jackson native and Ole Miss alum, a lefty-hitting outfielder, batted .249 with 16 homers for the Mariners in 2016, his second year with the club and 10th in the majors. … Chris Maloney, a Jackson native and ex-Mississippi State standout, will be back for a sixth year on the St. Louis coaching staff in 2017. Maloney coached third base for manager Mike Matheny this past season.
Control issues that plagued Chris Ellis this past season at Triple-A Gwinnett cropped up in the Ole Miss product’s Arizona Fall League outing on Wednesday. Ellis, pitching for Salt River, allowed four walks, four hits and seven runs in 3 1/3 innings and watched his ERA soar to 8.25. The 6-foot-5 right-hander is a top 20 prospect in Atlanta’s system and was outstanding (8-2, 2.75) for the Double-A Mississippi Braves to begin 2016. Promoted to Gwinnett, he scuffled, going 4-7 with a 6.52. He walked almost as many batters (52) as he struck out (65). He did rebound with 13 scoreless innings in two starts in the International League playoffs but hasn’t carried that success over to the AFL. He has yielded 15 hits and 11 walks in 12 innings. Ellis figures to be among the gaggle of young pitchers vying for jobs in Atlanta in 2017, but he’ll have some things to prove in the spring. P.S. The day after becoming a World Series champion, Chris Coghlan became a free agent. The ex-Ole Miss standout is on the long list of players declaring their freedom. Coghlan, 31, went 0-for-7 in the postseason for the Chicago Cubs, making one start in the Series. He batted .188 with six homers between Oakland and the Cubs this season. … Also on the new MLB free agent list: Jeff Francoeur, Blaine Boyer, Gregor Blanco, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Charlie Morton, all former M-Braves stars.