OK, so Dansby Swanson is hitting again. The Atlanta shortstop went 2-for-3 on Saturday and, as The Associated Press dutifully reports, is batting .400 over his last 40 at-bats. But is this just an anomaly? Remember, the ex-Mississippi Braves star hit .302 in 129 MLB at-bats at the end of 2016. He was handed the starting shortstop job to start this season and struggled mightily, so much so that he was sent to the minors in late July. He was only recalled because Johan Camargo, who was playing very well, got hurt. For the year, Swanson is batting .227 with six homers and 42 RBIs. We have seen 13 M-Braves shortstops pass through Trustmark Park these last 13 years on their way to the big leagues, from Luis Hernandez (2005) to Ozzie Albies (2016). The best of the bunch, without question, is Andrelton Simmons, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in the fall of 2015. Think the Braves’ brass has any seller’s remorse at this point? They should. Simmons is, of course, a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player who has become an offensive force. He blasted a game-winning homer for the Angels on Saturday, his 14th of the year. He is batting .289 (.342 on-base percentage) with 31 doubles, 60 RBIs and 66 runs for a playoff contender. The players Atlanta got from the Angels in the Simmons trade? Erick Aybar, a veteran shortstop, and prospect pitchers Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Swanson hadn’t been acquired from Arizona when the Braves made that deal; Albies, who has since moved to second base, was seen as the shortstop of the future. Aybar was a total flop in his short time in Atlanta, and Ole Miss alum Ellis was shipped out in another trade. Newcomb, the prize of the deal, is 2-7 with a 4.36 ERA for the Braves this season. Swanson, a former No. 1 overall pick, may yet prove to be a solid big league shortstop. But it doesn’t appear that he’ll ever surpass Simmons.
Wade Wass first commanded attention at Meridian Community College, where the Florida native crushed 34 homers and hit .400 over two seasons (2011 and ’12). After two unspectacular years at Alabama, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Angels in the summer of 2014. After two seasons in pro ball, the burly catcher (6 feet, 210 pounds) is commanding attention again. Wass has earned a non-roster invitation to the Angels’ big league camp. Scout.com has labeled Wass as “someone the Angels will be forced to take notice of” after a 2015 season that saw him hit .261 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs at two levels of A-ball. He also is reported to have made big strides defensively. Joining Wass as an invitee in the Angels’ Arizona camp will be former Ole Miss star Alex Yarbrough, a second baseman who had a disappointing 2015 season at Triple-A Salt Lake (see previous posts). P.S. A.J. Brown, the two-sport star from Starkville High, has signed with Ole Miss as a wide receiver. Brown, also a center fielder, could be a pro baseball draftee in June. He is one of only two players to ever participate in Under Armour All-America Games for both football and baseball.
Alex Yarbrough has some work to do in 2016. The Ole Miss alum, a highly rated prospect in 2015, has fallen out of the top 30 in Baseball America’s rankings of the Los Angeles Angels’ best minor leaguers. Yarbrough, a switch-hitting second baseman, hit .236 with three homers, 48 RBIs and 56 runs in 128 games at Triple-A Salt Lake City last season, not a disaster but less than what was forecast for the 2014 Texas League player of the year. “It now looks like most of the industry was too high on Yarbrough coming into the 2015 season, when he didn’t make adjustments after struggling at the plate in Triple-A and struck out far too often,” BA’s Bill Mitchell wrote on the magazine’s web site. “That’s a big issue since he’s not a good defensive second baseman (14 errors in 2015) and is a below-average runner (one steal).” Yarbrough, 24, a fourth-round pick by the Angels in 2012, is expected to get another shot in Triple-A this season. Sometimes it takes two tours at the same level for things to click.
Ole Miss product Alex Yarbrough and former Mississippi State star Chris Stratton are among a bushel of mlb.com-rated prospects who could be exposed to next month’s Rule 5 draft. MLB teams must make 40-man roster decisions by 11:59 p.m. EST Friday. Other clubs can draft – and potentially keep (it’s a bit complicated) — eligible players who aren’t protected on a big league roster. Yarbrough, drafted in 2012, had a down year in the Los Angeles Angels’ system, batting .236 with three homers, 48 RBIs and 56 runs in 128 games at Triple-A Salt Lake. The second baseman was the Texas League player of the year in 2014, when he batted .285 with five homers and 77 RBIs at Arkansas. He well could be exposed and not drafted. Stratton, a 6-foot-3 right-hander also drafted in 2012, figures to be protected by San Francisco. The Tupelo native went 4-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Sacramento. P.S. Former Hinds Community College star Travious Relaford reportedly has been suspended for 50 games for a drug of abuse violation. Relaford, a 44th-round pick in 2011, played at Class A Augusta in the San Francisco system in 2015, batting .237.
If the reports are true, former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis, a fast-rising pitching prospect, is changing organizations. Ellis is reported to be part of the package the Los Angeles Angels are sending to Atlanta in the eye-opening deal for Andrelton Simmons, the ex-Mississippi Braves shortstop. Erick Aybar, a veteran shortstop, and Sean Newcomb, another pitching prospect, are also said to be joining the Braves. Ellis, a third-round pick by the Angels in 2014, made it to Double-A last summer and handled that key level very well. He was 7-4 with a 3.92 ERA. The 6-foot-4 right-hander started 2015 at Class A Inland Empire, going 4-5, 3.88 before getting the bump to Arkansas. He was rated the No. 9 prospect in the California League by Baseball America.
It was an attention-grabber as the words crawled along the bottom of the TV screen on Wednesday night. “The Los Angeles Angels have selected the contract of Jo-Jo Reyes from Triple-A Salt Lake … .” Jo-Jo Reyes? Where’s he been? Left-hander Reyes, Mississippi Braves fans may recall, was an ace for the M-Braves in 2007, going 8-1 with a 3.56 ERA as the team won the first-half championship in the Southern League South. He made his MLB debut with Atlanta that same year and rattled around the big leagues for much of the next four years without great success (12-26, 6.05 ERA in 70 games). He spent all of 2012 in the minors, went to Korea for a time in 2013 and ’14 and began this year in Mexico. The Angels signed him in June and, still only 30 years old, he went 4-5, 4.76 at Salt Lake. Then came Wednesday’s call from the big league club, which is embroiled in a battle to make the postseason. “We need arms,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. P.S. Reyes did not pitch on Wednesday, but seven other former M-Braves did, with Williams Perez getting a win and Arodys Vizcaino a save for Atlanta and Randall Delgado a win (his eighth) for Arizona. Charlie Morton, who was on that ’07 M-Braves club with Reyes, started for Pittsburgh in Game 2 of a twinbill and got knocked around by St. Louis in its National League Central Division-clinching victory.
With the spotlight on the American League West on Monday night, a couple of Mississippians took star turns. At Arlington, Texas, former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland hit his 20th home run to help Texas beat Houston 5-3 and move within a half-game of the first-place Astros. The Rangers also kept their grip on the second AL wild card. In Seattle, ex-Ole Miss star Seth Smith hit his 11th homer and drove in three runs as the Mariners routed the Los Angeles Angels 10-1 and knocked L.A. 4.5 games behind Houston and 4 games back of Texas in the wild card race. (Minnesota, of the AL Central, also won and remained a game back of Texas for the second wild card.) P.S. State alum Jonathan Papelbon returned to Philadelphia, made a few controversial pregame comments about his time there — “I was one of the few (Phillies) to actually want to win” — and blew a save for the first time this season. He did get to win, however, as Washington prevailed 8-7 in extras. The Nationals are 20-24 since trading for Papelbon.
The Toronto Blue Jays surely like what they’re seeing from Anthony Alford, who is 6-for-22 in his first five games in the high Class A Florida State League. The former Mr. Baseball from Petal began his first full pro season in the Midwest League, hitting .293 with 14 doubles, 16 RBIs, 12 steals and 49 runs in 50 games at Lansing. The righty-hitting outfielder, a third-round pick in 2012, already has two doubles, a triple, a homer, three RBIs and four runs for Dunedin. … The Los Angeles Angels surely like most of what they’ve seen from Alex Yarbrough in his last five games. The switch-hitting second baseman out of Ole Miss is 9-for-19 (.473), lifting his average at Triple-A Salt Lake to .247. He has 19 doubles, 29 RBIs and 36 runs in 73 games. However, Yarbrough has struck out six times in his last five games, giving him 81 in 299 at-bats. That’s an area where the 2014 Texas League player of the year needs to improve. P.S. Jacob Taylor, the Pearl River Community College alum from Picayune, pitched two scoreless innings (no hits, three walks, two strikeouts) in his pro debut today. Taylor, a fourth-round pick by Pittsburgh and the second Mississippian drafted this year, is with the Gulf Coast League Pirates.
Chris Ellis, one of the stars on Ole Miss’ 2014 College World Series team, is now glowing brightly in the Los Angeles Angels’ system. Promoted to Double-A in early June, he is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts at Arkansas of the Texas League. He goes again today against Springfield. Ellis was drafted in the 50th round by the Dodgers out of an Alabama high school in 2011. After three years in Oxford, he came out last summer as a third-round pick by the Angels. He already is rated their No. 9 prospect by mlb.com and Athlon. The 6-foot-4 right-hander, 22, started 4-5 with a 3.88 ERA this year at Class A Inland Empire, where he had 70 K’s in 62 2/3 innings. He pitched only 15 2/3 innings in his first pro season.
Kyle Kubitza, who had a most impressive year for the Mississippi Braves in 2014 and then was traded in the off-season, made his big league debut tonight for the Los Angeles Angels. Kubitza is the seventh M-Braves product to debut this season, joining Brandon Cunniff, Cody Martin, J.R. Graham (Twins), Sean Gilmartin (Mets), John Cornely and Williams Perez. Kubitza was named Atlanta’s Double-A player of the year after hitting .295 with eight homers, 55 RBIs, 11 triples, 31 doubles and 21 steals. He is easily the best third baseman to play for the M-Braves in their 10-plus years. P.S. Randy Bell, the Hinds Community College right-hander, was named the NJCAA Division II pitcher of the year, adding to the first-team All-America honors he had already received.