16 Aug

mad skills

In Baseball America’s recent rankings of the Best Tools in the major leagues, Aaron Hicks, Kevin Kiermaier and Alex Gordon were 1-2-3 in the American League’s Best Outfield Arm category. In the NL, it was Yoenis Cespedes, Mississippi’s own Hunter Renfroe and Yasiel Puig. The MLB leader in outfield assists is … none of the above. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, tops that list with 11. The Seattle center fielder got one on Tuesday night, cutting down Baltimore’s Manny Machado at the plate in the Mariners’ 3-1 victory in a meeting of AL playoff contenders. Dyson has 47 assists in his eight-year career, and he hasn’t played regularly for much of that time. Dyson did show up in three of the Baseball America Best Tools rankings, which are based on a poll of managers, coaches and scouts. He was the AL’s Best Bunter – he put down a nice sacrifice on Tuesday – and ranked second in Best Baserunner and Fastest Baserunner. … It’s impressive that the names of four Mississippi natives show up in the rankings. In addition to Dyson and Crystal Springs’ Renfroe, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton was No. 1 in the NL’s Fastest Baserunner – duh – and Best Baserunner categories and No. 3 in Best Defensive Outfielder, and Amory’s Mitch Moreland was second in the AL’s Best Defensive First Baseman chart. P.S. East Central CC product Tim Anderson led off with a first-pitch home run against Alex Wood in Tuesday night’s Chicago White Sox-Los Angeles Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium. It was Anderson’s 14th homer and fifth in nine games. It was the only run former Mississippi Braves ace Wood would allow in seven innings, but he took a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 6-1 win. He is 14-1 for a team that is now a jaw-dropping 84-34. … Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles homered in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in York, N.Y. Bortles has only one homer in 35 regular season games for Connecticut in the Detroit system. A 2017 draftee, he is batting .273 with 15 RBIs.

11 Aug

tool time

Braxton Lee’s work with the bat has been impossible to ignore this season. The Picayune native is hitting .316 — best in the Southern League – and has scored 69 runs – second in the SL — for Double-A Jacksonville. His work with the glove also has gotten some attention. Lee was rated the Best Defensive Outfielder in the league in Baseball America’s annual poll of managers. Lee, listed at 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, can really run, a skill he demonstrated at Picayune High, Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss. He was the leadoff batter and left fielder on the Rebels’ 2014 College World Series team, batting .281 with 56 runs and 30 steals in 69 games. He plays center field now and, from all indications, is playing it very well. A 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014, Lee seemed to have hit a wall when he reached Double-A in 2016. He batted .209 for Montgomery. This season has been an about-face. He has been among the league leaders in hitting all season and was named to the SL All-Star Game in June. “I wouldn’t say anything is better other than my mindset every single day,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. He was batting .321 on June 26 when Tampa Bay traded him to Miami in the Adeiny Hechavarria deal. Lee was SL player of the week in his first week with Jacksonville. Not yet on the Marlins’ list of top prospects, that likely will change this off-season. … Former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna, now at Triple-A Gwinnett, was ranked as the SL’s Best Batting Prospect and Most Exciting Player.

31 Jul

around the horn

Trade chatter has not distracted Lance Lynn. The Ole Miss product registered his fifth straight quality start for St. Louis on Sunday, going six innings to beat Arizona 3-2. “I told you guys all along, I’m not going anywhere,” Lynn said in an Associated Press story. “So, I’m not worried about anything.” Lynn, a pending free agent, is 9-6 on the season and now has 70 career MLB victories. Former Mississippi Braves outfielder Jose Martinez drove in all three Cardinals runs. … Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier had a hot-and-cold kinda day for Minnesota. He led off the game at Oakland with his 17th homer – 23rd career leadoff blast – then struck out five times in the 12-inning loss. … Former Mississippi State standout Dakota Hudson made his first Triple-A start in the St. Louis system and yielded four runs in seven innings. He was 9-4, 2.53 ERA at Double-A Springfield. … Petal High product Anthony Alford went 3-for-5 with a home run for Double-A New Hampshire. It was his fourth homer of the year for the Fisher Cats, first in nine games since he returned to the team. Alford made his big league debut with Toronto in May but was injured and sent back to the minors. He is batting .312 in 42 games all told at New Hampshire. … Ex-State star Ryan Gridley, a 2017 draftee by Oakland, has a nine-game hitting streak in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. He is batting .302. … The North Delta Dealers beat the Tallahatchie Rascals 7-6 to win the Cotton States League title in New Albany. Beau Simpson drove in three runs and Delta State’s Sam Williams two for the Dealers, who got six strong innings from Collin McPherson. The Rascals’ four-run rally in the bottom of the seventh came up just short. … Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn was recognized by Baseball America for having the “best fastball” in Saturday’s Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Ginn hit 97 mph during his two-inning scoreless stint. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray took an 0-for-4 but impressed with his throwing arm in the outfield.

18 Jul

sneak preview

Austin Riley is projected by Baseball America to be Atlanta’s third baseman by 2020. The former DeSoto Central High star has climbed the minor-league ladder at a good pace, reaching the Double-A level midway through his third pro season at age 20. He’ll make his much-anticipated Trustmark Park debut on Wednesday as the Mississippi Braves open a 10-game homestand during which Riley will have a chance to display the power bat and rifle arm that enticed the Braves to draft him 41st overall in 2015. Riley, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, is 4-for-18 for the M-Braves to date; he hit his first Double-A homer on Monday at Pensacola. He doesn’t arrive in Pearl with quite the same pizzazz that accompanied Ronald Acuna, but Riley is rated among the top 18 prospects in Atlanta’s loaded system by three different publications. He has already had a decorated minor league career, making Baseball America’s rookie-level All-Star team in 2015 and low Class A team in 2016. He was a midseason All-Star pick in the high-A Florida State League last month and was batting .252 with 12 homers for Florida at the time of his promotion. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report notes that Riley, like many young sluggers, needs to be more selective at the plate, cut down on strikeouts and draw more walks. But his raw power excites, and how that tool plays at Trustmark Park will be something to watch for. … Riley, who was born in Memphis but grew up in Southaven, joins the list of Mississippians to play for the M-Braves that includes Zack Bird, Jay Powell, Michael Rosamond, John Thomson, Van Pope and Brent Leach.

07 Jul

movers and shakers

Ronald Acuna, who has been raking for the Mississippi Braves, jumped 52 spots to No. 10 on Baseball America’s new Midseason Top 100 Prospects chart. Acuna, a 19-year-old outfielder, is batting .314 with seven homers, 26 RBIs and 18 steals through 53 Double-A games. The M-Braves return to Trustmark on Sunday, but Acuna will be in Miami for the All-Star Futures Game. Also going to Miami is Mike Soroka, one of the three M-Braves starting pitchers in the new Top 100 released today on BA’s website. Soroka is No. 33, just behind Kolby Allard (23) and ahead of Luiz Gohara (76). Former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff of Wheeler jumped from 74 to 43. Slated to make his big league debut for Milwaukee on June 13, Woodruff injured a hamstring in warmups and went on the disabled list. He’ll be back with the Brewers soon. Petal High alum Anthony Alford is No. 38 on the list, down from 34 in the previous chart. He is also on the DL, having suffered a wrist injury in May, a day after getting his first MLB hit for Toronto. He was batting .325 in Double-A. Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High standout, moved into the Top 100 at 93. The lefty-hitting first baseman is batting .270 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs for Cleveland’s Double-A club. P.S. Former Pillow Academy star and veteran big leaguer Louis Coleman has posted a 2.57 ERA in six games for Triple-A Reno in the Arizona organization. Coleman reportedly opted out of his minor league contract with Cincinnati last month and then signed with the Diamondbacks. He had a 2.21 ERA in 25 games at Triple-A Louisville.

21 Jun

knight moves

West Lauderdale, the MHSAA Class 4A champion, is ranked No. 6 in Baseball America’s final high school poll. The Knights, who finished 33-3, are the only state school in the Top 40. The 2017 title, accomplished in a three-game battle against Corinth at Trustmark Park in Pearl, is the 14th for West Lauderdale and legendary coach Jerry Boatner. “This is probably one of the best teams we’ve had, especially in a good while,” Boatner told the Meridian Star on the eve of the state finals. “This bunch can beat you with hitting, bunting, stealing, pitching.” Boatner’s program has produced three major league players – Jay Powell, Paul Phillips and Jamie Brown – and many other pros, including 2014 first-round pick Blake Anderson (now in Miami’s system) and Jody Hurst, the former Mississippi State star whose son Cole was one of the best players on the 2017 Knights team.

20 Jun

two-way star turn

Former Ole Miss star Stephen Head got a little love from Baseball America in its latest issue. The magazine, as part of a feature on Louisville’s Brendan McKay, listed the 10 best seasons by a two-way college player, and Head’s tremendous 2004 campaign at Ole Miss made the list. The former Hillcrest Christian standout, a sophomore that year, batted .346 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs as a first baseman/outfielder and posted a 6-3 record with five saves and a 2.82 ERA as a left-handed starter/reliever. Head was named the SEC player of the year (and Ferriss Trophy winner), outshining a group of teammates that included future big leaguers Seth Smith, Chris Coghlan, Alex Presley, Matt Tolbert and Matt Maloney. Drafted in the second round as a position player by Cleveland in 2005, Head’s pro career peaked in Triple-A. He played seven years all told, batting .263 with 73 homers and posting a 6.00 ERA in eight games as a pitcher in his final season in the Colorado system.