For Mitch Moreland, it was a milestone home run. For his Boston team, it was a lot more than that. Moreland, the former Mississippi State standout from Amory, blasted his 150th career homer on Sunday, a seventh-inning shot that lifted the Red Sox to a 1-0 win at Arizona in the finale of a brutal road trip. The defending world champs went 3-8 against Seattle, Oakland and the Diamondbacks. Their home opener is Tuesday vs. Toronto. “It’s going to be nice to get back home and get in front of our fans and get rolling,” Moreland told mlb.com. Unlike so many of his teammates, Moreland is off to a good start. He is batting .258 with club-leading numbers of three homers, nine RBIs and a .645 slugging percentage. Now in his 10th MLB campaign and third with Boston, Moreland made his first All-Star Game last year in addition to winning his first ring. He has 40 homers for Boston – plus one in last year’s World Series – plays a Gold Glove-caliber first base and has become a key part of an elite team. Moreland hit his first big league homer for Texas on Aug. 13, 2010, against Boston’s Josh Beckett. His 150 total puts him ninth on the career list of Mississippi natives; Bill Melton and Frank White are tied for seventh at 160.
While several Mississippians in the majors enjoyed shining moments on Friday, none had a brighter glow than Tim Anderson. The East Central Community College alum had three hits, drew a walk, drove in three runs and scored a career-high four as part of the Chicago White Sox’s wild 10-8 victory over Seattle in the ChiSox’s home opener. Anderson, just back from paternity leave (it’s a girl), belted his first home run of the year and boosted his average to .438. “Special week for me,” he told The Associated Press. Somehow, he was not the MLB Network DraftKings Fantasy Player of the Night. … Elsewhere, Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson, batting leadoff for Arizona, had a three-hit game, scored a run and drove in another as the Diamondbacks pounded struggling Boston 15-8. Dyson, in limited playing time, is hitting a nifty .429. … Mitch Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State star, hit his second homer and ran his RBI total to eight in the Red Sox’s loss, which dropped them to 2-7. … Former Bulldogs standout Adam Frazier was 1-for-4 with a double and an RBI for Pittsburgh, which beat Cincinnati 2-0. … And State product Hunter Renfroe, up as a pinch hitter, launched his third homer — in a span of nine at-bats — for San Diego, which spoiled St. Louis’ home opener. … The good vibe didn’t work for everybody with a Magnolia State connection, however. Ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart took an 0-for-3 that dropped his average to .038 for the Los Angeles Angels.
Hill Denson. You’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan in Mississippi who doesn’t know that name. In fact, a large percentage of them probably know him personally. He has been involved in the game here for much of his 75 years, playing it, coaching it and elevating it along the way. Belhaven University, where Denson has coached the last 19 years, is throwing a party Saturday at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium in honor of the Hall of Famer’s pending retirement. The Blazers will play Texas-Tyler at 1 p.m. The celebration will start well before that and won’t end ’til long after the game finishes. Denson played high school ball at Bay Springs, his hometown, then at Jones Junior College and Southern Miss. He is something of a state semi-pro legend. He coached high school ball, including 10 years at Callaway, before taking the job at USM, which he built into a first-rate program during a 14-year tenure. He’s also had tremendous success at Belhaven, winning more than 600 games. He’s part of the fabric of the game here, and Saturday’s celebration is richly deserved.
Drew Waters banged out three hits and C.J. Alexander went 1-for-4 with an RBI in their Double-A debuts on Thursday, and Ian Anderson yielded one run in four innings. But the Mississippi Braves couldn’t hold a late lead and lost their season opener at Tennessee 7-5. The M-Braves took the lead in the eighth with two runs against Smokies reliever Wyatt Short, the former Ole Miss closer from Southaven. But Short cherry-picked the win – in his 100th minor league game – when Tennessee rallied against the M-Braves bullpen. … Biloxi’s opener against Birmingham was rained out at MGM Park. Mississippi State product Daniel Brown, a lefty pitcher, is on the Shuckers’ roster, and former Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes, a third baseman, is with the Barons. … Back in Buffalo for the start of the minor league season, ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run to help Toronto’s Triple-A club beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 8-3. Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack pitched six innings for the win. Alford, up and down with the Blue Jays over the past three years, was in the majors on Tuesday and went 0-for-3. … If you watched it, you know this already: Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried was ridiculously good (one hit, no walks, five strikeouts in six innings) for Atlanta against the Chicago Cubs in a 9-4 victory. “The stuff is off the charts,” Braves catcher Brian McCann told mlb.com. … Ole Miss and M-Braves alum Chris Ellis was designated for assignment by Kansas City and, if he passes through waivers as expected, will be offered back to St. Louis. Ellis, on the Royals’ roster as a Rule 5 pick, worked a scoreless inning in his MLB debut last Saturday but was squeezed off the roster by other moves. “We liked his stuff,” said K.C. manager Ned Yost, the old Jackson Mets catcher. … On the subject of stuff, ex-Madison Central standout Spencer Turnbull struck out 10 and allowed just two earned runs in six innings Thursday for Detroit, which beat the Royals 5-4. … Brian Dozier and Zack Cozart, Mississippi college products itching to get off to good starts in 2019, have not. Former Southern Miss star Dozier is 2-for-22 for his new club, Washington, while Ole Miss alum Cozart, coming back from injury in 2018, is 1-for-23 for the Los Angeles Angels. … Pittsburgh put Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College standout, on the injured list with a shoulder issue. Richton High product JaCoby Jones, also on the IL with a shoulder injury suffered in spring training, isn’t close to a return to Detroit’s lineup, reports say.
Drew Waters, who grew up in Woodstock, Ga., rooting for the Atlanta Braves, is living the dream – and it’s moving fast. In the span of a few weeks in 2017, Waters led Etowah High School to a state championship, was drafted by the Braves in the second round (41st overall) and started his pro career with the Gulf Coast League Braves. He started 2018 at the low Class A level, finished it in high-A and will begin his second full season, at age 20, with the Double-A Mississippi Braves.
“I’m a little surprised (to be here),” the 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder said at the team’s media day. But know this: He isn’t the least bit intimidated by the big jump. “I feel confident in my ability, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I know the pitching is good. You’ll see 95 to 100 (miles per hour) with plus breaking stuff here. It gets better at every level. … But my belief in myself is strong.”
A switch-hitter, Waters batted .303 with nine homers and 20 steals at low-A Rome last year, then hit .268 in 30 games at high-A Florida. The Braves invited him to big league camp this spring, and he went 4-for-13 with a double and an RBI. “He had a great spring,” said M-Braves manager Chris Maloney. “He’s an exciting player. Plus defender. He’s got a lotta life in his bat. He’s a good runner. He can steal a base, a tough base. We’re glad he’s here.”
Waters is one of nine players on the 2019 M-Braves roster rated in the Top 30 of Atlanta prospects by mlb.com. He checks in at No. 8. Right-hander Ian Anderson, slated to start tonight’s opener at Tennessee, is No. 3 and outfielder Cristian Pache is No. 4. The others are outside the top 10. Pache, who finished 2018 with the M-Braves, is considered one of the best defensive outfielders in the minors. Like Waters, he profiles as a center fielder.
“I’ll do some switching between center and right is what they’ve told me,” Waters said. “That’s fine with me. Just getting the opportunity to play with Pache is going to be awesome. He’s an 80-grade defender (on the scouts’ 20-80 scale), and you don’t see that too often. It’ll be awesome.”
Maloney said he had his team together long enough this spring to get a good feel for it. “I think we’re a pretty strong defensive team,” he said. “We’re solid up the middle, at the corners and behind the dish. I like the defense a lot.”
The development of the prospect-loaded rotation, which will include Anderson, Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson, looms as another key to the M-Braves’ success. “We’ve got some young guys that we like,” Maloney said. “I expect them to improve as we go along. Last year we had Touki (Toussaint), Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson. They struggled early but figured it out and wound up in the big leagues. As a young player, that’s what you want to do. We’ve got some experience in the bullpen. I like this club. There’s good spirit on this team. I like the vibe.”
There are M-Braves veterans like Ray-Patrick Didder, Luis Valenzuela and Alejandro Salazar among the established hitters on this team, and 30-year-old Andy Wilkins has 150 professional homers, one in the major leagues. Pache showed needed improvement with the bat in his brief Double-A fling last season and in big league camp.
But the catalyst of the offense very well could be Waters, the likely leadoff batter. From MLB Pipeline: “He has the chance to be a dynamic, elite-level performer, and seeing a young outfield of (Ronald) Acuna, Pache and Waters … in Atlanta should excite all Braves fans.”
“I don’t set many goals,” Waters said of his expectations for 2019. “I’ll play hard and try to win.”
When Toronto traded Kevin Pillar to San Francisco, it opened the door for ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford to return to the Blue Jays’ big league roster. He started in center field and went 0-for-3 Tuesday in a loss to Baltimore. … You might have heard that Bryce Harper went 3-for-5 with a homer in his return to Washington, but in other news: Southern Miss product Brian Dozier got his first hit as a member of the Nationals in their loss to Philadelphia. Dozier is 1-for-13. … Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe hit his first homer of 2019, then hit another in San Diego’s loss to Arizona. … Mississippi Braves alum Dustin Peterson, now with the Detroit Tigers, got his first big league hit. An RBI double. In the ninth. In a tie game. Against Aroldis Chapman. In Yankee Stadium. “I will never forget it. That’s for sure,” Peterson told mlb.com after the Tigers beat New York 3-1. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves introduced a roster on Tuesday that includes nine of Atlanta’s top 30 prospects (per MLP Pipeline). Five of them are pitchers, led by No. 3 Ian Anderson, who’s slated to start Thursday’s season opener at Tennessee. “It’s going to be exciting with the young staff we have here,” the 20-year-old right-hander said at Tuesday’s media day at Trustmark Park. “I’ll try to set the tone on Thursday.” M-Braves manager Chris Maloney said he likes “the vibe” he’s getting from this club. … The Double-A Biloxi Shuckers tuned up for their Thursday opener by bashing William Carey University 15-1 at MGM Park. Six Shuckers pitchers held Carey hitters, using wood bats, to one hit. The NAIA Crusaders (10-19) will try to return to normalcy today when they host West Alabama in Hattiesburg. … Go figure: Ole Miss, 20-9 and rising in the polls, lost to fledgling Division I North Alabama 10-6 in Oxford. The Rebels went deep into their bullpen to call on seven pitchers, who yielded 14 hits to the Lions, now 6-21. … The new NJCAA Division II poll came out Tuesday and seven Mississippi schools were in the Top 20. No. 4 Pearl River Community College celebrated by sweeping a doubleheader from No. 18 Mississippi Gulf Coast, knocking the Bulldogs out of first place in the league. Itawamba is ranked sixth, Jones County seventh, Meridian eighth, Hinds 13th and Northwest 16th. But what do the polls really mean in the MACJC jungle? Suddenly scuffling Jones got swept by East Central on Tuesday, and Hinds took a pair from Meridian.
The full breadth of 15 years of Mississippi Braves baseball was on display at SunTrust Park on Monday night when Atlanta played its home opener. There was Brian McCann, the first M-Braves player to get the big league call back in 2005, starting at catcher and delivering a big hit in his much-anticipated return to Atlanta. There was Freddie Freeman, M-Braves Class of 2009, manning first base as he has pretty much every day since he arrived in the ATL in 2010. (And over in the other dugout was Freeman’s M-Braves cohort Jason Heyward, now a Chicago Cubs outfielder but once a Braves star himself.) And also making their presence felt in the lineup was the Braves’ array of new stars: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, all M-Braves of more recent vintage. Each of them drove in a run in the 8-0 victory, Acuna, the reigning National League rookie of the year, with his first homer of 2019. And the five pitchers who combined to shut out the Cubs are all M-Braves alums, from recent big league arrivals Sean Newcomb, Wes Parsons, Jesse Biddle and Chad Sobotka to the relatively old hand, Arodys Vizcaino. The Double-A M-Braves, who have sent more than 140 players to The Show, begin their 15th season on Thursday at Tennessee. The home opener is April 10 at Trustmark Park in Pearl. There will be more highly rated prospects on the roster, prepping for the big leagues, waiting their turn. The beat will go on.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College sits alone at the top of the MACJC standings after completing a pair of sweeps last week and surely will break into the NJCAA Division II poll this week. The surging Bulldogs improved to 9-1 in the league by rolling past Copiah-Lincoln and Mississippi Delta and are 17-5 overall. Freshman Dee Hawthorne has swung a hot bat for Gulf Coast. After a big day against Delta on Saturday, including a grand slam, he is batting .500 with five homers and 22 RBIs. The league standings got a little shaken up after some showdowns last week, and national poll positions will be affected. “That’s MACJC baseball. It’s a battle and a grind,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. No. 2 Jones County stumbled, splitting a twinbill with No. 14 Hinds before being swept by 10th-ranked Itawamba. ICC, 21-4 and second in the league at 8-2, got a grand slam from Kyle Crigger and stellar pitching from Houston Harding, Austin King and Daniel Rowland in Saturday’s sweep of Jones. No. 5 Pearl River and No. 9 Meridian battled to a split on Saturday, with PRCC winning the opener 20-18 behind Matt Taylor’s six RBIs and MCC taking the nightcap 5-4 thanks to a timely homer by Kace Garner and clutch pitching from Braden Forsyth. MCC is 6-2 in the league, as is Hinds. PRCC is 5-3, a notch behind No. 18 Northwest (7-3) and in a virtual tie with Jones (6-4). Northwest took twinbills from East and Southwest last week, notching coach Mark Carson’s 400th win in the process. The aptly named Hammer Franks had five hits and four RBIs in the Southwest games. Not to be overlooked: East’s Jaxen Forrester threw a no-hitter against East Central on Friday, striking out nine and walking two over seven innings in a 10-1 victory, which was the Lions’ first league win of the year.
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Fans of the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers might remember Dylan Moore. He was the M-Braves’ regular shortstop much of 2017 and spent part of last season with the Shuckers, not garnering much attention at either stop. He got some on Saturday when he made his first major league start. Playing third base for Seattle, Moore committed errors on three consecutive ground balls in the ninth inning, allowing Boston to score three runs and close to within 6-5 of the Mariners. Fortunately for Moore — who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as a hitter — and the M’s, that’s how it ended. To his credit, Moore didn’t hide or make excuses for his tough day. “I’ll be the first to tell you I have to make all three of those plays every single time,” he told the Seattle Times. Seattle signed the veteran minor leaguer, 26, to a big league contract in the off-season after he put up some good numbers at Triple-A in Milwaukee’s system. He can run, has some pop in his bat and can play several positions. He’ll have better days.