While Braves Nation stews and awaits more news on Ronald Acuna’s injured arm, here’s something to cheer them up: Cristian Pache. Acuna – recklessly drilled by Miami’s Jose Urena on Wednesday night – is the current big thing in Atlanta; Pache, now playing center field and leading off for the Mississippi Braves, might be the Next Big Thing. The 19-year-old Pache, rated the Braves’ No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is batting .327 in 12 games for the Double-A M-Braves. He drew a bases-loaded walk in the 10th inning on Wednesday to give the team a 3-2 win over Chattanooga at Trustmark Park. He has yet to homer or steal a base but those will come. Pache is 6 feet 2, 185 pounds with plus speed (32 stolen bases in A-ball in 2017) and developing power (eight homers in A-ball this season). Some consider the Dominican Republic native the best defensive center fielder in the minors. The Braves’ prospect chart is dominated by an armada of arms that seems to get most of the hype, but there are some position players of note. In addition to Pache, there’s former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley at Triple-A Gwinnett and outfielder Drew Waters and catcher William Contreras at Class A Florida. All in all, it’s a good time to be a Braves fan.
Brian Dozier took an 0-for-4 on Tuesday night, but the more significant news was that the ex-Southern Miss star was in the lineup for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dozier declared himself “healthy like an ox” to reporters a day after he left a game early with dizziness. An EKG on Monday night showed an irregular heartbeat, but Dozier said he has always had that. He was given a clean bill of health prior to Tuesday’s game. He told mlb.com the dizziness might have resulted from medication he took for sinus issues. Dozier is the ultimate gamer, never having been on the disabled list in a big league career that goes back to 2012. And the Dodgers, who have lost five straight and fallen to third place in the National League West, certainly need a healthy Dozier. He is batting .256 with three homers, 11 RBIs and five runs in 13 games since coming to L.A. from Minnesota. For the year, he is at .230 with 19 homers. P.S. With JaCoby Jones (hamstring) going on the DL Monday for Detroit, the list of Mississippians on the shelf grew to three. Zack Cozart (shoulder surgery) is out for the year, while Jarrod Dyson (groin) has been out since July 5 with no announced timetable for a return. Drew Pomeranz and Hunter Renfroe spent extended time on the DL this year but are active now.
For any fan of the game, this is a pretty cool confluence of events: Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker comes to Trustmark Park in Pearl, where, assuming he is in tonight’s lineup for Chattanooga, he’ll likely face Ian Anderson, the No. 3 prospect in Atlanta’s system who is expected to make his Double-A debut for the Mississippi Braves. Rooker, in his second pro season after a decorated career at State, is batting .271 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He is rated the No. 7 prospect in Minnesota’s system, primarily based on his power potential. He hit 18 homers at two levels in the lower minors in 2017. Anderson, 20, a slender right-hander, was the third overall pick in the 2016 draft out of a New York high school. He was 2-6 with a 2.52 ERA at Class A Florida with 118 strikeouts in 100 innings and a .198 batting average against. In his last six games, he posted a 0.77 ERA. Hence, the promotion. Rooker is hitting just .200 with one homer over his last 10 games. He went 4-for-17 with five strikeouts in a series against the M-Braves in Chattanooga Aug. 2-6. The M-Braves’ rotation has been a revolving door much of the season, caused mainly by top prospects moving up. (See: Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright.) And yet the current group can be quite formidable. Left-hander Ricardo Sanchez, Wednesday’s probable starter, has been on the prospect radar for several years and is currently the Braves’ No. 27. Enderson Franco (5-7, 3.89), slated for Thursday, was the Southern League pitcher of the week for July 30-Aug. 5. And recent addition Kyle Muller, expected to start Friday, is the Braves’ No. 11 prospect. He has won both of his Double-A starts. P.S. Toussaint, who got the win for Atlanta in his MLB debut on Monday, is the 10th M-Braves alum to make the big leagues this year. The others: Jesse Biddle, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, Dustin Peterson, Evan Phillips (now with Baltimore), Wes Parsons, Willians Astudillo (Minnesota), Michael Reed (previously up with Milwaukee) and Kolby Allard.
Mississippi college products Mike Mayers and Dakota Hudson, middle relievers for St. Louis, have played their roles well for the Cardinals, who – don’t look now – have won five straight, eight of 10 and jumped into the National League playoff race. Mayers, an Ole Miss product in his third big league campaign, notched his sixth hold on Sunday with a spotless seventh inning in an 8-2 win against Kansas City. He has allowed just one run in his last seven appearances and trimmed his ERA to 3.43 over 37 games. Hudson, a rookie out of Mississippi State, was called up on July 27 and has yielded just one run in seven appearances. He has an 0.96 ERA, two wins and three holds and has allowed only three hits in 9 1/3 innings. This comes on the heels of an excellent season at Triple-A Memphis (13-3, 2.50 as a starter). The Cardinals, playing better (16-9) under interim manager Mike Shildt, are 63-55 and just 5.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. P.S. Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty tossed six shutout innings Sunday – but got a no-decision — in his high Class A debut in Cleveland’s system. Lefty McCarty was 4-9, 4.29 with a league-best 132 strikeouts in the low-A Midwest League. … Touki Toussaint, who started this season with the Mississippi Braves, is slated to make his MLB debut today for Atlanta against Miami. Toussaint was 4-6, 2.93 for the Double-A M-Braves and 2-0, 2.01 at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Another day, another amazing catch by Cincinnati center fielder Billy Hamilton. The former Taylorsville High star made a long run and a leaping catch just in front of the wall to rob an Arizona batter of an extra-base hit on Saturday. Not close to his best — but amazing just the same. It’s equally amazing that Hamilton has never won a Gold Glove. Perhaps this, his fifth full season in the majors, will be the year. Gold Glove selections can be a little confusing. (Rafael Palmeiro won one in a year when he rarely played in the field.) Jackson native Chet Lemon was one of the best center fielders of his era. In four different seasons he made more than 400 putouts, including an American League record 512 in 1977. And yet, he couldn’t snag a Gold Glove. Fulton’s Brian Dozier does have a Gold Glove, just one, which he won last year with Minnesota. Dozier, a second baseman known for his power, is an underrated defensive player, a point that was underscored by a play he made on Saturday for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He dove to his right to spear a hard-hit grounder and, while flat on the dirt, flipped the ball with his glove hand to second base to start a double play. Amazing. Dozier was primarily a second baseman at Southern Miss, but Minnesota drafted him as a shortstop and played him there all through the minors. He got a brief trial at that position in his rookie MLB season of 2012 but was converted back to second base that off-season. Smart move. Dozier may have more Gold Gloves in his future, though he has a ways to go to match Frank White, the Greenville native who won eight during his star-studded career as the Kansas City Royals’ second baseman. Monstrous home runs and 100-mph pitches get so much attention these days, but defense still matters. A first baseman who makes all the plays, like Amory’s Mitch Moreland (Gold Glove, 2016), is vital to winning games. Moreland’s defense is one of the main reasons he wrested the first-base job from Hanley Ramirez in Boston this season. Great plays, like the ones Hamilton and Dozier made on Saturday, can energize a team. Can you imagine an outfield of ex-Magnolia State prep stars Hamilton, JaCoby Jones and Jarrod Dyson? Would any fly ball ever hit the ground? Hunter Renfroe can’t cover ground like those three, but the Crystal Springs native has one of the best outfield arms in the game. He has made throws from right field that bring to mind Dave Parker, the Grenada native with the legendary cannon who won three Gold Gloves in his prime. His throw in the 1979 All-Star Game — look it up — is still talked about. So cheer if you must for bombs and punchouts but don’t forget to give some love to glove.
Anthony Alford has been on the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospect lists for several years. That’s kind of a problem. You don’t want to be on those lists for too long. You want to be in the big leagues. Former Petal High star Alford turned 24 in July. The right-handed hitting outfielder, who has a total of 22 MLB at-bats, is currently at Triple-A Buffalo and not exactly tearing it up. In 83 games, he is batting .223 with five homers, 24 RBIs, 43 runs and 13 steals. The launch of his pro baseball career was delayed while he played college football, and he has endured a variety of injuries, including a setback this spring in big league camp. When MLB Pipeline updated its top 100 prospects chart last month, Alford dropped from No. 47 to No. 94. Other young outfielders have emerged in the Blue Jays’ system: Teoscar Hernandez, Dwight Smith Jr., Dalton Pompey and Jonathan Davis. Alford is still on the 40-man roster, so one assumes he’ll get a call-up when rosters expand in September. He’ll need to show something.
The NJCAA National Team, featuring five MACJC players, has made the semifinals of the National Baseball Congress World Series. The NJCAA stars, who rallied to win their quarterfinal 9-8 in a game that ended at 1:40 a.m. local time today, play the Wellington Heat tonight at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita, Kan. Brant Blaylock, a Southern Miss signee out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, is hitting .294 with three RBIs and four runs. Hinds CC coach Sam Temple is an assistant on the team. … The get-off-my-lawn segment of traditionalists may cringe, but Players Weekend is back in the big leagues. “Bull,” “C-Dizzle,” “Bone” and “Juicy J” are nicknames that will adorn the distinctly non-traditional jerseys of Mississippians in the majors during the second annual event that starts Aug. 24. Brian Dozier is “Bull,” Corey Dickerson “C-Dizzle,” Billy Hamilton “Bone” and JaCoby Jones “Juicy J.” Mitch Moreland again will wear “2 Bags,” and Hunter Renfroe will be “Froe.” Lance Lynn will wear “Mia,” his daughter’s name. … Milwaukee visits Atlanta for a big weekend series that matches the parent clubs of the state’s two Double-A teams. The Braves have a much more homegrown roster, with 10 former Mississippi Braves among the 25 players. That tally includes five regulars: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo and Ronald Acuna. There are four Biloxi Shuckers alums with the Brewers, none of them position regulars. Tonight’s starter, Freddy Peralta, is one of three pitchers who played in Biloxi. … Saturday is National Baseball Card Day, a reminder to search the attic one more time for those lost cardboard treasures. How much is a George Scott rookie worth, anyway? … Four Mississippians are on the East roster for Sunday’s Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego: Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy, Pearl River Central’s Hayden Dunhurst, George County’s Logan Tanner and Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, who attends IMG Academy in Florida.