Atlanta made quite a few changes to its minor league field staff for 2019, but Jackson native Chris Maloney will be back for a second tour as manager of the Double-A Mississippi Braves. The formal announcement was made on Wednesday. Pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn and hitting coach Carlos Mendez will also return. Maloney, a longtime minor league manager and big league coach, is a former Mississippi State player and son of former Jackson Texas League franchise owner Con Maloney. The 2018 M-Braves, who endured a lot of roster changes, especially among pitchers, finished 67-71 overall but contended in the Southern League South into the final days in the second half. The team Maloney will manage this year won’t be settled until April, but there’s a good chance it’ll feature several intriguing prospects. Foremost among them is Cristian Pache, an outfielder who was with the M-Braves for 29 games last summer. The Braves’ No. 6 prospect, who played – and starred — in the 2018 Arizona Fall League, is a defensive whiz who is still developing as a hitter. He hit .260 with the M-Braves. William Contreras, the No. 13 prospect, is a 20-year-old catcher who reached high-A last year and might be on a fast track. The younger brother of the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras, he hit .285 with 11 homers in 2018. Then there’s Drew Waters, the No. 8 prospect. A switch-hitting outfielder, he reached high-A at age 19 in just his second pro season. Described by MLB Pipeline as a “veritable toolshed,” Waters batted .293 with nine homers and 23 steals last season. No. 3 prospect Ian Anderson, a right-hander, made it to Mississippi late last season and went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in four starts. He could be back, along with Thomas Burrows, a left-handed closer and ex-Alabama star who arrived in Pearl late and posted a 1.42 ERA and six saves. Worth mentioning, too, is Braxton Davidson, a big first baseman and former first-round pick who has fallen off the prospect charts but got an AFL assignment – and hit a walk-off home run in the league title game. He clubbed 20 homers at high-A Florida in 2018 but batted .171 and struck out over 200 times. P.S. The M-Braves will launch their 15th season, on the road, on April 4, taking on the Tennessee Smokies in the opener of a five-game series. The first home game is April 10. … The M-Braves have reached the postseason four times, most recently in 2016, since the franchise relocated from Greenville, S.C., to Pearl in 2005. The club won its only SL pennant in 2008 under Phillip Wellman. … The Braves will have new managers at Florida, Rome and Danville this season. Former M-Braves infielder Barrett Kleinknect is the new skipper of the high-A Fire Frogs.
As the Arizona Fall League season winds down, two former Delta State players have clearly stepped up as the best of the Mississippi contingent in the highly regarded off-season loop. Second baseman Trent Giambrone, a Chicago Cubs prospect, and left-hander Dalton Moats, a Tampa Bay farmhand, have put up nice numbers on the heels of their first Double-A campaign. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone is hitting .348 with two home runs and six RBIs for Mesa and has had two three-hit games. At Tennessee in the Southern League in 2018, he batted .251 with 17 homers and 20 steals. Moats (see previous post) has a 0.84 ERA in seven appearances for Peoria, which will play in the AFL Championship Game on Saturday on MLB Network. (Several Atlanta and Milwaukee prospects are also on that Peoria club.) Moats put up a 5.34 ERA in 41 games at Montgomery in the SL last season. Ex-Petal High star Demarcus Evans (Texas) has a 6.30 ERA as a late-inning reliever in the AFL and George County product Justin Steele (Cubs) is 1-1, 5.79 in six starts. Both have shown flashes of good stuff. Former Ole Miss standout Errol Robinson (Los Angeles Dodgers) is batting .186 with eight runs in 12 games. P.S. The NAIA’s preseason coaches poll is out, and William Carey University is not ranked for the first time in three years. Bobby Halford’s Crusaders entered the 2018 season ranked No. 6 and finished 36-25 (and unranked). … In some way-too-early recruiting rankings for the Class of 2019 (and the 2020 college season), Pearl River Community College’s 16-player haul is listed at No. 4 among all jucos by Perfect Game. Jones County JC checked in at No. 12. Mississippi State is No. 6 and Ole Miss No. 10 in the NCAA Division I rankings.
Delta State fans will not have forgotten Dalton Moats. In 2016, his one season in Cleveland, the left-hander went 12-3, including three postseason wins, for a Gulf South Conference champion and NCAA Division II regional team. In 2018, after two solid seasons as a 15th-round pick in Tampa Bay’s organization, things went a little sideways for the Missouri native. He is currently in the Arizona Fall League – and appears to be getting some things straightened out. Moats has yet to allow a run in 7 2/3 innings of relief work for Peoria. He got the win in Saturday’s Fall Stars Game, notching the last two outs in the top of the ninth before his West team rallied in the bottom half for a 7-6 victory. Though Moats is not rated among the Rays’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, the organization must see some promise to give him an AFL assignment. He had a 1.86 ERA and 13 saves at two levels in 2017. He spent the 2018 season with Double-A Montgomery in the Southern League, making 41 appearances, including 10 short starts, and posting a 5.34. Moats punched out a lot of hitters at DSU and has continued to do that in pro ball, though walks and home runs were a sore spot last season.
Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley recently made Cleveland’s minor league organization all-star team and will almost certainly make the Indians’ 40-man protected roster this off-season. When the fifth-year pro will make his big league debut is less certain. Bradley, a left-handed hitting first baseman with impressive power, reached Triple-A Columbus this past season at age 22. The Indians’ No. 7 prospect hit 27 homers and drove in 83 runs between Double-A and Triple-A. He batted just .224, however, and reportedly still needs to polish up his defense. “He’s just a kid, so he’s got plenty of time,” Indians farm director James Harris recently told milb.com. “We’re confident he’ll become an all-around better player.” The Indians have veteran Yonder Alonso at first base and under contract for 2019. Bradley figures to get significant playing time in spring training and then return to Triple-A, where he’ll wait in the wings. Four Mississippians debuted in the big leagues last season: Braxton Lee, Dakota Hudson, Cody Carroll and Spencer Turnbull. Bradley could be first up in 2019. P.S. Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High star, is on the East roster for Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game, a showcase event for the showcase league. Evans is a power-armed pitching prospect in the Texas Rangers’ system. Also on the East squad are Atlanta prospects Cristian Pache, an outfielder, and Kyle Muller, a pitcher, and Milwaukee prospect Keston Hiura, an infielder. Pache and Muller played for the Mississippi Braves in 2018, and Hiura was with Biloxi. MLB Network will televise the Fall Stars Game at 7 p.m. … Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna is on the team of big leaguers headed overseas next week for the MLB Japan All-Star Series. The first game is Nov. 8 in Tokyo. MLB Network will carry all the games live.
Errol Robinson, the former Ole Miss standout, got the best of Petal High product Demarcus Evans on Wednesday in one of those Arizona Fall League matchups that scouts surely love to see. Robinson, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ No. 20 prospect, banged a one-out, walk-off single against Evans, a rising star in the Texas system, giving Glendale a 3-2 win against Surprise. Robinson, coming off an injury at the end of the regular season, is batting just .188 in the AFL but is excited about the opportunity he is getting in the showcase league. “It’s just another level up. It’s great stuff,” he told milb.com. Robinson hit .247 with 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 18 steals at Double-A Tulsa this season. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Evans averaged a ridiculous 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings this year at Class A Hickory. In four games and five innings against the stiffer competition in the AFL, he has nine punchouts while yielding four hits, four walks and three runs. Evans, moved from starter to reliever this year, told an mlb.com writer that he wasn’t happy initially about the shift but decided it was an “opportunity for me to get better.” That, he did, posting a 1.77 ERA, four wins and nine saves in the South Atlantic League. … Justin Steele, the Lucedale native and George County High alum, made a second straight solid start for Mesa on Wednesday, yielding a run on four hits with four K’s in four innings. The left-hander, a Chicago Cubs prospect, is 1-0, 5.19 ERA in three AFL outings. Former Delta State standout Trent Giambrone, another Cubs prospect with Mesa, didn’t play Wednesday but leads the club with a .412 average. … Mississippi State product Daniel Brown (a Milwaukee farmhand) and DSU alum Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay), both pitching for Peoria, are among the handful of AFL hurlers yet to allow a run. Brown has worked 6 2/3 innings, Moats 5 1/3. … Ex-State star Brent Rooker is not going to play in the AFL because of a sprained ankle suffered during a mini-camp. The Minnesota Twins prospect hit .254 with 22 home runs at Double-A Chattanooga this season.
Daniel Brown, a left-hander out of Mississippi State, is making a strong impression in the Arizona Fall League. The third-year pro, not a highly rated prospect in Milwaukee’s system, has pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in three appearances in the prospect-packed AFL. He worked 2 1/3 innings for Peoria on Thursday, yielding two hits with three strikeouts. The 5-foot-10 Brown put up a 4.20 ERA, seven wins and two saves in 39 relief stints for Carolina in the Class A Carolina League in 2018. The Brewers picked Brown in the seventh round in 2016, when he was on an MSU staff that included Dakota Hudson, Konnor Pilkington, Zac Houston, Reid Humphreys and Jacob Billingsley. Brown was the NJCAA Division III pitcher of the year at Tyler (Texas) JC in 2014. … George County High product Justin Steele threw three hitless innings for Mesa in the AFL on Thursday, bouncing back from a rough first start last week. Steele, rated the Chicago Cubs’ No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had an abbreviated 2018 campaign – his fifth in pro ball — as he returned from arm surgery. P.S. Jackson native and ex-big leaguer Stan Cliburn has been named manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. Cliburn managed that team to a division title in 2015. The longtime minor league and indy league skipper worked as a coach in another independent league in 2018.
No big surprise here: Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High All-Stater, was named Atlanta’s minor league hitter of the year by MLB Pipeline. The 21-year-old third baseman hit .294 with 19 homers at two levels (Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett). “The sky is the limit for this guy,” Braves assistant farm director (and former M-Braves second baseman) Jonathan Schuerholz told Baseball America, which also named Riley the Best Player in Atlanta’s system. Touki Toussaint, who started 2018 in Pearl and rose all the way to the big leagues, was named the system’s pitcher of the year by MLB Pipeline and BA. … Ole Miss product David Parkinson was named Philadelphia’s pitcher of the year. A 12th-round pick in 2017, he went 11-1 with a 1.45 ERA in A-ball this past season. His ERA was the lowest in the minors among qualifying pitchers. … Ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe was Tampa Bay’s hitter of the year after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs between A-ball and Triple-A. … In the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, Ole Miss alum Errol Robinson (Los Angeles Dodgers) debuted with a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort for Glendale, and in the same game Petal’s Demarcus Evans (Texas) threw two scoreless innings for Surprise. Delta State product Trent Giambrone (Chicago Cubs) banged out four hits in his debut for Mesa, while ex-George County High standout Justin Steele did not have his best stuff in that same game. He gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings as Mesa’s starter. The Cubs’ No. 8 prospect yielded five hits, a walk, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. Former DSU star Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay) worked two hitless innings for Peoria on Wednesday, and Daniel Brown (Milwaukee), a left-hander out of MSU, tossed 2 1/3 hitless innings for the same club on Tuesday. … Starkville native and ex-big leaguer Julio Borbon won a Mexican League championship with Monterrey, which wrapped up the pennant on Tuesday. Borbon went 8-for-26 with three runs and an RBI in the title series. He hit .301 with 14 steals during the season. A former first-round pick out of Tennessee by Texas, the 32-year-old Borbon last played in the majors in 2016. … Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of ex-big leaguer and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, won a minor league Gold Glove award at third base for the second straight year. The younger Hayes, a first-round pick out of a Texas high school by Pittsburgh in 2015, played at Double-A Altoona in 2018. … On this date in 2010, the Texas Rangers scored a landmark victory, thanks in large part to former Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee. Lee threw a six-hitter with 11 strikeouts to beat Tampa Bay (and David Price) in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, giving the Rangers their first playoff series victory. Texas would go on to the World Series, losing to San Francisco. Lee, incidentally, was 7-3, 2.52 ERA with three complete games in 11 postseason starts but never won a ring.
Opening Day is here – for the Arizona Fall League. Several Mississippians are on the rosters, including one labeled as a “top prospect” and two as “sleeper prospects” by mlb.com. Brent Rooker, the Mississippi State product, is regarded as the best of Minnesota’s AFL group. The first baseman/outfielder, in his second pro season, hit 22 homers and drove in 79 runs in Double-A this past season. He’ll play for Salt River. Left-hander Justin Steele, a former George County High star, is a “sleeper prospect” out of the Chicago Cubs’ system. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, he started just 11 games over three levels, finishing in Double-A. He had a 2.89 ERA. He is on the Mesa club, along with Delta State alum and fellow Cubs farmhand Trent Giambrone. Petal’s Demarcus Evans is the “sleeper” to watch from Texas’ organization. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound right-hander, who’ll pitch for Surprise, had a 1.77 ERA as a reliever in low A-ball this season. He might not be a sleeper for long. Ex-Ole Miss standout Errol Robinson, a shortstop from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system, is on the Glendale roster. … Atlanta and Milwaukee are among the feeder clubs for Peoria, and there are a handful of Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers alums on that team, including Cristian Pache, Ray-Patrick Didder, Kyle Muller and Keston Hiura.
October isn’t only for playoffs. There’s also the Arizona Fall League, a de facto select circuit for minor league players. It’s a feather in the cap to get an invite. The preliminary rosters for the AFL, which starts Oct. 9, include several Mississippi-connected players: Ole Miss product Errol Robinson, a shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system; ex-Delta State star Trent Giambrone, a second baseman in the Chicago Cubs’ system; Petal High alum Demarcus Evans, a pitcher in the Texas chain; former Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker, a first baseman/outfielder in Minnesota’s organization; Mississippi Braves outfielder Cristian Pache and shortstop Ray-Patrick Didder; and Biloxi Shuckers infielder Keston Hiura. The most intriguing member of this bunch might be the 21-year-old Evans, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander who has dominated in low-A ball this summer. Working as a closer at Hickory in the South Atlantic League, Evans has struck 101 batters in 55 innings with just 27 walks. He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and nine saves. He’ll face much better competition in the AFL, so it’ll be extremely interesting to see how he fares. He is on the Surprise roster. … Robinson, Giambroni and Rooker are all in Double-A. Giambroni, a 25th-round draft pick in 2016, has had an emergent season, batting .254 with 17 homers and 26 steals. Rooker has hit 22 bombs in his second pro season, while Robinson, a third-year pro, has 10 homers and 18 steals. Pache, a top Atlanta prospect, Didder and Hiura will be together on the Peoria club. P.S. Arizona has sent Jarrod Dyson on a rehab assignment, meaning the McComb native may be close to returning from his long stint on the disabled list.
Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss star from Picayune, went 3-for-5 in Thursday’s regular season finale to finish at .347, good for seventh in the Arizona Fall League batting race. Playing for Salt River, the Miami prospect had eight steals, which ranked fourth in the league. … Peoria takes on Mesa in Saturday’s AFL championship game (2 p.m., MLB Network). Peoria, managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar, features a bunch of M-Braves alumni, most notably ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and uber-prospect Ronald Acuna. Riley hit .300 with six homers. Acuna batted .325 and led the loop with seven bombs. Spencer Turnbull and Zac Houston, both Detroit farmhands, are on Mesa’s roster. Turnbull, a Madison Central product, went 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA as a starter. Houston, a Mississippi State alum, had a stellar AFL campaign: no runs allowed on four hits with 18 strikeouts and one walk in 11 1/3 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) was also outstanding: 0.00 ERA, league-best four saves and 18 K’s in 11 2/3 innings for Scottsdale. … Former Harrison Central standout Bobby Bradley, at 21 one of the younger players in the league, mostly scuffled, batting .230 with two homers and 32 strikeouts for Glendale. Bradley is one of Cleveland’s top prospects. … Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass (Los Angeles Angels), a late add to Scottsdale’s roster, went 1-for-24.