Boom. Bam. Pow. Home runs – in North Port, Fla., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Poplarville – are the theme here. At Atlanta’s new spring home in Florida – CoolToday Park – former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley hit a tape measure bomb in a Grapefruit League game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Riley’s second homer of the spring traveled an estimated 444 feet, crashing into the massive scoreboard in left-center field. “I’m pumped,” Riley said in an mlb.com story. “If we can just keep riding this out and stick with it, I think it’s going to be a good year.” The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Riley, hitting .316 this spring, is battling for the Braves’ third base job (see previous post). … At Scottsdale Stadium, San Francisco’s Cactus League home, Houlka native and Itawamba Community College alum Tyreque Reed crushed an opposite-field homer in his first at-bat of the spring for Texas. It came off big leaguer Shaun Anderson in the seventh inning and proved to be the game-winning hit. Reed, called over from minor league camp on Tuesday, homered in his lone big league spring game in 2019. An eighth-round pick by the Rangers in 2017, the 6-1, 250-pound Reed has 41 homers in his three minor league seasons. … At Dub Herring Park in Poplarville, Reece Ewing and Bryson Ware slugged two home runs apiece to power No. 2-ranked Pearl River Community College to a doubleheader sweep of Coastal Alabama-East. Ware, a Germantown High product and Auburn signee, has five homers on the year for 10-2 PRCC, while Ewing, a Southern Miss signee, now has three bombs.
Austin Riley got the start at third base for Atlanta on Monday and produced a mixed bag of results. The former DeSoto Central High standout went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI, his first of the Grapefruit League season. He is batting .313. The 22-year-old Riley also struck out once – for just the second time in 16 spring ABs – and committed a fielding error. Meanwhile, in the same game, Johan Camargo, the ex-Mississippi Braves star, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs as the DH. Camargo, 26, is batting .400 with a homer and five RBIs. And so, the most intriguing position battle in Atlanta’s spring camp carries on. Riley burst onto the big league scene in May of 2019, belting homers at a dizzying pace, but then slumped mightily down the stretch, suffering an injury along the way. Riley worked on his swing in the off-season and entered camp seemingly brimming with confidence. “I did have some success, and I know what I can do up here,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before camp opened, “so that’s a big positive for me, mentally, because this game is so hard on you, mentally.” Playing mostly outfield in 2019 with the since-departed Josh Donaldson entrenched at third, Riley batted .226 with 18 homers, 49 RBIs and 108 strikeouts in 274 at-bats. Camargo was the regular third baseman in 2018, before Donaldson arrived, and played well (.272, 19 homers). A .269 career hitter over three campaigns, Camargo is a switch-hitter and a good defensive player at multiple positions. Braves manager Brian Snitker has indicated that keeping both Riley and Camargo on the 26-man roster to open the season is unlikely. “If you’re not playing them every day, then you’re not going to do them justice,” he told mlb.com. The consensus seems to be that the younger Riley will start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. But spring training is far from over. Stuff happens. Stay tuned.
Pittsburgh reportedly is considering Billy Hamilton, among others, to fill its vacancy in center field after the trade of Starling Marte. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, a free agent, is coming off the worst of his six full big league seasons, but at age 29 can still fly. He batted .218 overall with 22 steals last season, .268 with four bags in 26 games for Atlanta, which used him primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement after grabbing him on waivers from Kansas City. Hamilton finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting in 2014 with Cincinnati but hasn’t progressed as a hitter. A switch-hitter, he has a woeful .297 career on-base percentage but also 299 steals and a .995 fielding percentage with 55 assists. Oddly enough, Hamilton has not won a Gold Glove or a stolen base crown.
Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, celebrates his 31st birthday today. Soon, he’ll be celebrating a sweet free-agent contract. Coming off a bounce-back finish to his 2019 season, left-hander Pomeranz is considered one of the top relief pitchers currently on the market. As a starter in San Francisco last season, Pomeranz was mostly awful. The Giants moved him to the bullpen, where something clicked. Milwaukee traded for him, and Pomeranz became one of the key pieces in the Brewers’ drive to the postseason. In 26 1/3 innings down the stretch, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and, suddenly throwing much harder, fanned 45 batters. He made $1.5 million last year on a free agent deal he signed with the Giants after a bad 2018 season in Boston, where he made $8M in the final year of his three with the Red Sox. … Pomeranz leads a long list of Mississippians on the free agent market: Corey Dickerson, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Kendall Graveman, Tony Sipp … . Petal High product Demarcus Evans (see previous post) was placed on Texas’ 40-man roster this week, and the big right-hander reportedly will compete for a big league bullpen job in the spring. … The Atlanta Braves have added outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer – all Mississippi Braves alumni – to their 40-man roster. (Outfielder Drew Waters, the Southern League MVP with the M-Braves last season, does not yet have to be protected on the 40-man.) … The Detroit Tigers re-signed former Southwest Mississippi Community College (and M-Braves) catcher Kade Scivicque to a minor league deal. He played at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2019. … In case you missed it, Hattiesburg-based Rodney Richardson of RARE Design handled the rebranding of the Brewers’ logo and uniforms for 2020, when the club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its move to Milwaukee. Richardson told mlb.com at Monday’s unveiling: “We want them to love it because we’ve fallen in love with their story, with their team, with what’s happening here. It’s not following any design trends or anything like that. It’s about representing this team and this place and their love for this game. We want to see that resonate.”
All that glitters isn’t gold – sometimes it’s silver. Three former Mississippi Braves were awarded their first Silver Slugger awards on Thursday: Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. Those three figure to represent the core of Atlanta’s lineup for years to come, something Braves fans, disappointed at how the 2019 season ended, can feel good about this winter. First baseman Freeman, 30, batted .295 with 38 homers, 121 RBIs and 113 runs, MVP-type numbers. (Hard to believe he hasn’t won a Silver Slugger before this.) Outfielder Acuna, at age 21, also had an MVP kind of season: .280, 41 homers, 101 RBIs, 127 runs and 37 steals. And all second baseman Albies, 22, did was bat .295 – leading the National League with 189 hits – with 43 doubles, 24 homers, 86 RBIs and 102 runs. … There may be more hardware coming for M-Braves alums. Mike Soroka, who went 13-4 for Atlanta this past season, is a finalist for NL rookie of the year honors, and Brian Snitker, manager of the inaugural M-Braves team in 2005, is a finalist for NL manager of the year, an award he won in 2018. The ROY winner will be announced on Nov. 11, the manager award on Nov. 12. … Cristian Pache, an M-Braves star last summer, has been pegged by mlb.com as the Braves’ best NL rookie of the year candidate for 2020. Pache, 20, a center fielder by trade, batted .278 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs in Mississippi before earning a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett. Pache could have “Acuna-like impact in 2020” – if the Braves can find a spot for him, of course. … Love this quote (in an mlb.com story) from Chuck James, a soft-tossing former M-Braves ace who went 24-19 over five big league seasons: “I grew up in a small town and my college (Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Alabama) had a picket fence in the outfield. I had no expectations, because I didn’t know what to expect. But I got to be a kid longer than most, and it was everything they make it out to be.”
Kendall Graveman rolled into the free agent market on Monday when the Chicago Cubs declined a $3 million option on the former Mississippi State standout. He pitched – very briefly — in the Cubs’ minor league system last season on a one-year, $575,000 deal while recovering from 2018 Tommy John surgery. Graveman is 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA over five big league seasons, four with Oakland. … Taylorsville High alumnus Billy Hamilton also became a free agent after Atlanta declined a 2020 option on the 29-year-old center fielder. Hamilton finished the past season with the Braves after being waived by Kansas City, with whom he had signed as a free agent last off-season. He is sitting on 299 career steals. … Former Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers was claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Angels, where the new pitching coach is UM product Mickey Callaway, fired as the New York Mets manager after two seasons. Mayers, 27, a right-handed reliever, posted a 6.63 ERA for St. Louis in 2019 and was not on the Cardinals’ postseason roster. … Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz will sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and McComb native Corey Dickerson with San Diego, according to predictions by MLB Trade Rumors staff. Left-hander Pomeranz is ranked No. 23 among available free agents and outfielder Dickerson is No. 25. … MSU product Brent Rooker and Mississippi Braves alum Drew Waters helped Team USA advance out of group play in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament in Mexico. Rooker, a Minnesota prospect, and Waters both homered in a Game 1 win vs. the Netherlands on Saturday. In an elimination game win on Monday against the Dominican Republic, Waters played as a defensive replacement in center field, while Rooker did not get in the game. Team USA now goes to Tokyo next week for the Super Round of the Premier 12 event, a 2020 Olympics qualifier. … Grenada native Dave Parker is one of 10 candidates announced by the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday for inclusion on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era (1970-87) ballot. A 16-member panel will vote and announce potential electees on Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings. Candidates must receive votes from at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain election to the Hall. Parker– a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time batting champion, two-time World Series champ and one-time National League MVP — lasted the maximum 15 years on the baseball writers’ ballot before falling off in 2011. “(W)hen Parker was at his best, he was elite at just about everything a player can do on the field,” an ESPN writer recently noted.
With Game 1 of the World Series on tap tonight, the time is right to highlight some significant anniversaries with a quick trip through Fall Classics past. Ten years ago, in the 2009 Series, Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee made two starts for Philadelphia and notched the only wins the Phillies managed against the New York Yankees. Left-hander Lee threw a complete game in Game 1, a 6-1 victory, and pitched seven-plus in Game 5, an 8-6 win. He had a 2.81 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings. Lee won 143 games in his career and went 7-3 in the postseason, though he never won a ring. Twenty years ago, a Mississippi native appeared in the box score of Game 1 of the Yankees’ sweep of Atlanta. Ocean Springs’ Howard Battle was announced as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning but was replaced (by Keith Lockhart) when New York changed pitchers (bringing in Mariano Rivera). That would be the final MLB “appearance” for Battle, who played a couple more years in the minors. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Earthquake Series, a sweep by Oakland vs. San Francisco that involved three Mississippi-connected players. Grenada native Dave Parker, at age 38, went 2-for-9 with a homer (in Game 1) for Oakland. Will Clark was 4-for-16 for the Giants, and his former Mississippi State teammate Jeff Brantley posted a 4.15 ERA in three relief appearances. Ten years prior, Parker had a big impact in the ’79 Series, helping Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in seven games. He had four hits in Game 1 – a Pirates loss – and finished with a .345 average, four RBIs and two runs. Sixty years ago, West Point native and former Southern Miss two-sport star Bubba Phillips went 3-for-10 for the Chicago White Sox as they fell in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eighty years ago, in the ’39 Fall Classic, Harry Craft, an Ellisville native and Mississippi College alum, went 1-for-11 for Cincinnati in a four-game sweep at the hands of the mighty Yankees. Craft would win a ring with the Reds the next year but got only one at-bat in that Series. In the 1929 Series, Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, started and won Game 3 for the Chicago Cubs, who lost in five games to the powerful Philadelphia A’s. Bush also made a relief appearance in that series and finished with an 0.82 ERA. Two Mississippi natives – Fulton’s Brian Dozier, a second baseman for Washington, and Brookhaven’s Lance Barksdale, an umpire – will be suited up tonight in Houston. Something significant involving one or both seems almost bound to happen.
The list of Mississippians in the majors who will or could be free agents after this season reads like a who’s who of the state’s best: Brian Dozier of the World Series-bound Washington Nationals, Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Drew Pomeranz and Jarrod Dyson. Billy Hamilton and Kendall Graveman have options in their deals that could also make them free agents. If the market is as sluggish as it was last year, one has to wonder how much attention any of them will get. Dozier, 32, hit .238 with 20 homers in his eighth MLB season; the Southern Miss product has been displaced as the Nationals’ second baseman by Howie Kendrick. Ex-Mississippi State star Moreland, 34, hit .252 with 19 homers for Boston in an injury-interrupted season, his 10th in the big leagues. Dickerson, 30, also had injury issues; the Meridian Community College alum batted .304 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in his seventh MLB campaign. Ex-Ole Miss star Pomeranz, 30, a nine-year vet, posted a 2.39 ERA as a reliever for Milwaukee after being traded from San Francisco, where he struggled as a starter. Southwest CC alum Dyson, 35, hit .230 with a career-high seven homers and 30 steals for Arizona in his 10th season. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, 29, hit .218 (with 22 steals) overall though he perked up after moving from Kansas City to Atlanta, which likely will buy out the final year of his contract. Ex-MSU standout Graveman, signed by the Chicago Cubs after last season, made just two minor league appearances rehabbing from 2018 Tommy John surgery. The team figures to pick up the option for 2020 — but nothing is certain. Graveman, 28, is 23-29, 4.38 ERA for his five-year career, spent mostly with Oakland.
There will be holes in Atlanta’s roster next season, and the Braves may well have the talent in their minor league system to fill them. The club’s Organization All-Stars squad, selected by the good folks at milb.com, features six prospects who played at Double-A Mississippi or higher in 2019, three of whom rank among the top 31 prospects in all of the minors. (M-Braves fans know these names.) Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who moved off the prospect list and into the big leagues this summer, could be in line for the third base job if Josh Donaldson isn’t re-signed. Riley showed flashes of brilliance in Atlanta, with 18 homers and 49 RBIs in 80 games (playing mostly as a left fielder). He blasted 33 homers between Triple-A and the majors. Alex Jackson, another former M-Braves star, should be in the mix at catcher, where Brian McCann’s retirement opens a door. Jackson, who also got some big league time this summer, hit 28 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett. In the outfield, where there could be two starting jobs available next spring, there’s Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, the Nos. 11 and 23 overall prospects. Both started and excelled this season with the M-Braves before moving to Gwinnett. Waters was the Southern League MVP and batted .309 with 40 doubles and 16 steals between the two levels. Pache, whose forte is defense in center field, batted .277 with 12 bombs on the year. A step behind those two is outfielder Trey Harris, who played at three levels in 2019, finishing in Mississippi, and hit .323 overall, earning organization player of the year honors from Atlanta. “Trey probably had about as good a year as a player could have … on both sides of the ball,” Braves farm director Dom Chiti told milb.com. The two pitchers on the milb.com Organization All-Star team are right-hander Ian Anderson and lefty Tucker Davidson, both of whom starred for the M-Braves before moving to Gwinnett. Anderson, the No. 31 overall prospect, had a hand in the no-hitter in June, and Davidson made the SL All-Star team at season’s end. So, when do pitchers and catchers report?
Atlanta hosts St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Division Series today, 14 years to the day after one of the most painful losses in Braves history. Atlanta lost 7-6 at Houston in an NLDS game that lasted 18 innings – at the time the longest in postseason history – and eliminated the Braves. The Oct. 9, 2005, game also featured the first postseason intersection of players from two different eras of Jackson-area Double-A baseball. Atlanta’s lineup included Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, both of whom started that season with the Mississippi Braves in Pearl. Lance Berkman, who played for the Jackson Generals in 1998, started for Houston, and Raul Chavez, another ex-Gen, also played that day. McCann hit a home run as the Braves built a 6-1 lead. But Berkman belted a grand slam in the eighth and Brad Ausmus hit a solo homer in the ninth – both shots coming off Kyle Farnsworth — to tie it. Among the parade of pitchers in the extra frames was Vicksburg native John Thomson, who worked two scoreless innings for Atlanta. Weir’s Roy Oswalt was on the Houston roster but didn’t pitch; he had started and won Game 3 the day before. Roger Clemens pitched the last three innings for the Astros and got the win when Chris Burke took M-Braves alum Joey Devine deep for the walk-off winner 5 hours, 50 minutes after first pitch. Rest assured, no Braves fan has forgotten that game.