In a dugout interview during ESPN’s coverage of Thursday night’s game, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon sang the praises of former Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward, calling his first-half performance a key ingredient in the team’s charge into first place. Heyward rose to the occasion with a three-hit, two-RBI game as the Cubs beat St. Louis 9-6 to begin the second half. After a couple of seasons of scuffling in Wrigleyville, Heyward is hitting .290 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 2018. Resurgent seasons by Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez, All-Star campaigns by Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and the unyielding brilliance of Craig Kimbrel give rise to the idea that you could put together a competitive team of former M-Braves now in the big leagues. An infield of Freeman, Albies, Andrelton Simmons and Martin Prado is pretty darn solid. At catcher, there’s the seven-time All-Star Brian McCann, backed by Jesus Sucre. In the outfield, Heyward, Hernandez and either Ronald Acuna or Mallex Smith would be outstanding defensively. Evan Gattis is a scary man at DH. On the bench: Choose from Johan Camargo, Jose Peraza, Dansby Swanson, Tommy La Stella, Jose Martinez. Charlie Morton, also a 2018 All-Star, would head up a rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb and Mike Minor. All-Star Kimbrel would be the closer in a bullpen with some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Jesse Biddle, A.J. Minter, Chasen Shreve, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin. Such a team could probably win the American League Central this year.
Zack Shannon, whose 31 home runs for Delta State this past season were the most ever hit by a Mississippi collegian, is in a long-ball dry spell in rookie ball. Shannon has three homers in 25 games for Missoula in the Arizona chain but hasn’t gone yard since July 2. This is not to say he is slumping, however. The big first baseman, a 15th-round pick in June by the Diamondbacks, is batting .291 (.406 on-base) and has 11 extra-base hits all told, good for a .500 slugging percentage. … Shannon may not have been the top power prospect in the state this year. Simon Landry of Pearl River Community College set a Wildcats record with 19 home runs in 2018 and apparently impressed the Los Angeles Dodgers in a pre-draft workout. “It’s probably the best raw power we’ve ever seen at a workout,” the Dodgers’ scouting director told Dodgers Insider. The Dodgers took the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Landry in the 22nd round. He has played just one official pro game, going 1-for-1 with a double and a walk in the Arizona League. Landry hit .392 for PRCC this year while breaking the school mark for homers set by Wildcats assistant – and ex-big leaguer – Rhyne Hughes. … While neither Shannon nor Landry homered on Thursday, there were long balls to celebrate around the minors. To wit: Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley hit No. 20 – his third in five games – at Double-A Akron (Cleveland system). Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker belted his 16th for Double-A Chattanooga (Minnesota); he is hitting .261 with 56 RBIs in his second pro season. Ex-Itawamba CC star Tyreque Reed bopped his seventh homer for Class A Hickory (Texas). And the red-hot Hunter Stovall hit his fourth in nine games for rookie-level Grand Junction (Colorado). MSU product Stovall, a 21st-rounder this year, has 17 hits and a .447 average.