Baseball America liked the 2017 Mississippi Braves. They really liked them. Five M-Braves are in the top 10 in the magazine’s ranking of the Top 20 prospects in the Southern League. A sixth made the list, which was released today. The M-Braves’ record on the field wasn’t so great, but the talent Atlanta appears to be developing is impressive. Ronald Acuna, BA’s minor league player of the year, was rated No. 1 in the SL. Look for him in the outfield at SunTrust Park next season. Young pitchers Mike Soroka (ranked No. 4), Luiz Gohara (5), Kolby Allard (10) and Max Fried (19) could be key pieces in the Atlanta rotation in the not-so-distant future. Gohara and Fried already have big league wins on their resumes. Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, was ranked No. 6 by BA’s editors, who raved about his raw power. He hit eight homers in 178 at-bats as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He’ll challenge for Atlanta’s third-base job soon enough. … Two Biloxi Shuckers made the Top 20: right-handers Corbin Burnes (No. 8) and Luis Ortiz (11). Burnes was Milwaukee’s pick as its minor league pitcher of the year after going 3-3 with a 2.10 ERA for Biloxi and 5-0, 1.05 in A-ball.
A streak has been snapped in Bobby Bradley’s career. For the first time in four seasons in pro ball, the Gulfport native did not make Baseball America’s list of the Top 20 prospects in his league. Bradley, at age 21, batted .251 with 23 homers and 89 RBIs for Akron in the Double-A Eastern League. Not a bad year at all, but apparently there are questions, at least in the minds of some EL managers, about his plate discipline. As BA’s Josh Norris wrote in an online chat on Thursday: “There was a little bit of love for him, but nothing overwhelming. The power is there, but managers saw him as more of a mistake-type hitter than someone who belonged in the Top 20 in the league. There are holes in his swing, and he has work to do defensively as well.” Bradley, a lefty-hitting first baseman who was starring at Harrison Central a little more than three years ago, might use this “snub” as motivation as he heads into the Arizona Fall League, which starts next month. He’ll play for Glendale. Bradley is a career .261 hitter (.352 on-base percentage) with 87 homers. It’s worth noting, of course, that he is still rated No. 5 by BA on Cleveland’s prospect list and is No. 3 on MLB Pipeline’s list. He made the top 10 in the Arizona League, Midwest League and Carolina League on his way up the ladder, and he was the high-A Carolina League MVP in 2016. … Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, did make the EL Top 20, checking in at No. 9. Alford, who had a cup of coffee with Toronto in May, hit .302 with five homers, 24 RBIs and 18 steals in 245 at-bats for New Hampshire. The outfielder spent time on the disabled list with a wrist injury suffered shortly after he made his big league debut. … Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, a St. Louis prospect, was No. 10 on the Texas League chart.
Ronald Acuna didn’t waste much time producing a wow moment for the Mississippi Braves. First at-bat. First pitch. Boom. Home run. Acuna was named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year today, capping a season that saw the 19-year-old Venezuela native dominate at three levels of pro ball. He started at high-A Florida and finished at Triple-A Gwinnett, batting .325 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs combined. In his Double-A debut on May 9, he went 3-for-4 with that jaw-dropping homer and three RBIs. He played only 56 more games for the M-Braves, moving up after batting .326 with nine homers, 30 RBIs and 19 steals. He goes 6 feet, 180 pounds and can play center or right field. Atlanta will have to make room for him in its outfield in 2018. … This is the fourth time a Jackson area Double-A player (JADAP) has earned BA’s minor league POY award. Gregg Jefferies won it twice, in 1986 and ’87, after spending part of both of those seasons with the Jackson Mets. Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward, who blew through Pearl much like Acuna did, took the honor in 2009.
The sound of pads popping, whistles blowing and bands playing can mean only one thing: Fall ball is just around the corner. Returning Ole Miss players were all over Baseball America’s rankings of the top prospects in various summer leagues. Ryan Rolison, who went 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in the Cape Cod League, made BA’s list of the top prospects in that highly regarded circuit. UM’s Parker Caracci was tabbed as the best prospect in the Ripken Collegiate League, where he posted seven wins and a 0.70 ERA. First baseman Cole Zabowski also made the Ripken top 10. Pitcher Houston Roth was on the publication’s list of top prospects in the Perfect Game Collegiate League, and Dallas Woolfolk was a rather obvious standout (four saves, 0.87 ERA) for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. … Mississippi State left-hander Konnor Pilkington, who could be the first Mississippian picked in the 2018 draft, also pitched well for Team USA, and Bulldogs catcher Dustin Skelton made BA’s Perfect Game prospect rankings. … Mississippi College outfielder Blaine Crim was ranked among the top prospects in the Great Lakes Collegiate League, and Will Freeman, a sophomore right-hander at Jones County Junior College, was rated No. 1 in the Prospect League. Alabama native Freeman was 3-1 with five saves and a 1.80 ERA as a freshman for state champion JCJC. … Mississippi State’s new freshman class includes three members of Baseball America’s Top 500 draft prospects from 2017: outfielder Jordan Anderson, pitcher Chad Bryant and outfielder Owen Lovell. Ole Miss has two of the Top 500: pitcher Jordan Fowler and first baseman Tim Elko. … Southern Miss welcomes back standout closer Nick Sandlin, who showed good stuff in the Cape Cod League, and Matt Wallner, who won several national freshman player of the year awards last season. … Delta State returns a bunch of players from its NCAA Division II College World Series team, including slugger Zack Shannon, who earned a boatload of conference, regional and national honors. … Mississippi University for Women will have a fall program for its first class of recruits. MUW, which has applied for NCAA Division III membership, will launch its inaugural season in 2018. Coach Matt Wolfenbarger is a former Coahoma Community College pitching coach and Delta Academy head coach. The Owls announced 35 commitments from prep and juco players for the coming season and will hold an open tryout on Saturday at Columbus High, where the W will practice and play. The 2018 schedule includes games against Rust, Tougaloo, Blue Mountain and Belhaven.
It was a thumbs-down day for Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, who suffered a fractured thumb on Wednesday and likely will miss the rest of Cincinnati’s season. He is batting .248 with 58 steals, equaling his career-high. Hamilton missed a significant number of games in 2015 and ’16 because of injuries. … Give a thumbs up to Hamilton’s Reds teammate Zack Cozart. The former Ole Miss standout homered – his 18th of the season – to help Cincy beat Milwaukee 7-1 to complete a three-game sweep. … Another thumbs up goes out to Southern Miss product Brian Dozier, whose 29th homer leading off the game started Minnesota on its way to a 10-6 win against Tampa Bay in a battle of American League wild card hopefuls. Dozier also scored a go-ahead from first base on a bunt and throwing error in the seventh inning. … Thumbs down to Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star who took an 0-for-3 for Tampa Bay in that game. Dickerson, an All-Star who was hitting .342 on June 1, is now batting .284. … Thumbs up to Mississippi State alum Mitch Moreland, who went 1-for-3 with a run as Boston beat Toronto and extended its lead in the AL East to 4 games over New York. … Thumbs down to Richton High product JaCoby Jones, the rookie, and ex-UM star Alex Presley, the eight-year-vet, who were a combined 1-for-9 for Detroit in a 13-2 shellacking at the hands of Kansas City. … Give a thumbs up to Ronald Acuna, the Mississippi Braves alum who is a finalist for Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award. Acuna led all of the minors with 181 hits. The winner will be announced on Friday.
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.
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.