At Trustmark Park, the prized arms just keep coming. Of Atlanta’s top 15 prospects (as ranked on mlb.com), 11 are pitchers. Seven of those 11 have climbed the bump at the TeePee in the past couple of years, and that number doesn’t include 2016 Mississippi Braves star Sean Newcomb, who has moved off the prospect chart and into Atlanta’s rotation. The marquee pitchers in 2017 were Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Luiz Gohara; Fried and Gohara already have made The Show. The centerpiece of the 2018 M-Braves staff is Kyle Wright, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect and the scheduled starter tonight in Pearl in the opener of a series against the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals. (Jon Duplantier, Arizona’s top prospect, is slated to start for Jackson.) Ex-Vanderbilt ace Wright was drafted fifth overall — $7M bonus – last June and worked only 17 innings in the low minors last summer. A 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander, he got his first Double-A win in his last outing, going six innings at Mobile. He is 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. Wright throws the requisite upper-90s fastball and two good breaking pitches, according to the MLB Pipeline scouting report. He is forecast to make the big leagues next year, as is Touki Touissant, another top 15 prospect on the current M-Braves staff. And remember the names Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller and Bryse Wilson. All are top 15 prospects pitching in A-ball who’ll be in Pearl soon. This wealth of pitching should pay dividends in Atlanta for years to come. P.S. Kudos to Jonny Venters, who toiled for the M-Braves in 2008-09, for making it back to the majors after a six-year absence. Venters, a star in Atlanta from 2010-12, has endured multiple arm surgeries and setbacks. He retired the only batter he faced for Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Both Kendall Graveman and Lance Lynn were saddled with another loss on Wednesday, but there was a difference in their outings. Former Mississippi State star Graveman may have found something; ex-Ole Miss standout Lynn is still searching. Graveman fell to 0-5 for 13-12 Oakland, allowing three runs in six innings of a 4-2 loss to Texas. But utilizing his changeup more frequently and effectively, he struck out seven batters and actually trimmed his ERA to 8.89. “I thought the changeup was really good,” Graveman told mlb.com. “Got a lot of swing-and-misses. For me, that’s a big plus, something I’m working on … .” Lynn, in his fourth start for Minnesota, was KO’d by the New York Yankees in the fourth inning of a 7-4 defeat, the 8-11 Twins’ sixth straight L. Lynn (0-2) yielded six runs – including two homers – and saw his ERA jump to 7.71. “When I made pitches, I would get outs, but I didn’t make them when it counted,” Lynn said in an mlb.com article. P.S. Cool to see five former Mississippi Braves combine for eight hits, three runs and three RBIs in Atlanta’s 5-4 victory at Cincinnati. Included was Ronald Acuna’s first big league hit and Ozzie Albies’ seventh homer. In addition, M-Braves alums Jesse Biddle tossed two scoreless innings and A.J. Minter notched his first save.
Dominant may not be a strong enough word to describe Will Freeman’s performance on Tuesday in Ellisville. The Jones County Junior College sophomore struck out 18 batters in a seven-inning, 2-0 win over Pearl River Community College. The Alabama signee is 6-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 57 innings. In the day’s second game, Jones’ Tyler Spring and Bryce Fagan combined on a three-hitter in a 4-1 win. This twinbill was a showdown for first place in the MACJC standings, which third-ranked Jones, 33-7 and winner of 14 straight, now leads at 18-4. Fourth-ranked PRCC is 17-5, 32-8. … It’s a midweek, neutral-site game that doesn’t count in the SEC standings, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone among the 8,500-plus in Pearl on Tuesday night who would dismiss the Governor’s Cup as just another game. Mississippi State’s dramatic walk-off win against Ole Miss was the Bulldogs’ third straight victory in the Cup series and eighth in the last nine games overall vs. the Rebels. Worth noting: Jake Mangum, the Jackson Prep product who had a two-run double for the Bulldogs and scored the game-winning run, is 22-for-51 (.431) against UM in his career. … Delta State, ranked as high as No. 3 in NCAA Division II, put up 20 runs in a win against Ouachita Baptist on Tuesday in Cleveland and is averaging 10 runs a game. How does DSU, 36-7, ever lose? … A hitter making his big league debut couldn’t pick a much better venue than Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, a masher’s paradise. Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star and Atlanta’s top prospect, is expected to be in the Braves’ lineup tonight at what some jokingly call “the Great American Small Park.” Acuna passed through Trustmark Park in Pearl last season en route to being named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year. The Reds’ scheduled starter is left-hander Brandon Finnegan. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier saw his 17-game hitting streak end as Minnesota suffered its fifth straight loss, 8-3, on Tuesday night against the New York Yankees. “Couldn’t care less about the streak,” Dozier told mlb.com. “The beautiful thing about it is, we play tomorrow.” Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, seeking his first win as a Twin, will get the start today at Yankee Stadium. … They’ve set a date in Laurel. Opening day for the city’s National Urban Professional Baseball League team is May 25. Tickets are on sale. The team will be called the Josh Gibson All-Stars in honor of the Hall of Famer from the Negro Leagues and will play at Wooten Legion Field. Tryouts are ongoing. (Visit nupbl.com for more information.) A number of Mississippians are expected to be on the Laurel team roster.
Seven Mississippi-connected men are managing in the big leagues this season – and not one of them holds the reigns of a club expected to be a strong contender for the postseason. Can any of them pull off a playoff appearance? It’s a race within the races that will be interesting to watch. Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss standout, is debuting as the New York Mets’ manager, but the others are veterans at this thing: Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter in Baltimore; ex-Jackson Mets Ned Yost in Kansas City, John Gibbons in Toronto and Ron Gardenhire in Detroit; former JaxMets manager Clint Hurdle in Pittsburgh; and ex-Mississippi Braves skipper Brian Snitker in Atlanta. Showalter and Gibbons have talented clubs but must contend with American League East heavyweights New York and Boston. Callaway’s Mets were picked by Sports Illustrated as a National League wild card team but coming off a 70-win campaign, that might be a stretch. Yost’s Royals have slipped quite a bit since their 2015 championship season, and both the Pirates and Tigers appear to be in rebuild mode. The Braves, in their second full year under Snitker, could make a push if their young talent (see former M-Braves Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Luiz Gohara, Ronald Acuna) steps up. That’s a significant if.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ first playoff team. The ’78 JaxMets beat Arkansas in the Texas League East playoffs and then fell to El Paso in the title series. Mookie Wilson was the hub of the offense, batting .292 with seven homers, 15 triples and 72 RBIs. Kelvin Chapman, another future big leaguer, hit .266 and led the club with 84 runs. Juan Monasterio batted .289, and Bobby Bryant belted eight homers. Jeff Reardon was the ace, going 17-4 with a 2.54 ERA. Neil Allen led the league in ERA. Scott Holman won 11 games and Kim Seaman 10. The ’78 season was the fourth year the Mets’ Double-A club operated at Smith-Wills Stadium, an affiliation that lasted 16 years. The OJMs missed the playoffs in 1979 but then went on a rip where they made it eight straight years and won three league titles. The ’78 JaxMets were managed by Bob Wellman, no relation to Phillip Wellman, who, 30 years later, managed the Mississippi Braves to the Southern League pennant. That remains the only title claimed by the M-Braves, now entering their 14th year at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The ’08 M-Braves featured a great young pitching staff: Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Todd Redmond, James Parr, et al. Kala Ka’aihue led the team in homers (14) and RBIs (61) and swung a big bat in the postseason. But the club was defined more by the scrappiness of Matt Young and J.C. Holt, who combined for 52 steals. Wellman loved to get aggressive on the bases, and the M-Braves scored the pennant-winning run against Carolina on a walk-off double steal. … This season also marks the 25th anniversary of the first Jackson Generals team to win a Texas League title. The 1993 season was the third at Smith-Wills Stadium for the Houston Astros affiliate. Stars of that club, managed by Sal Butera, included Brian Hunter, Roberto Petagine, Jim Dougherty, Tom Nevers and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson.
A rookie outfielder appears poised to crack Atlanta’s opening day roster, but it’s not top prospect Ronald Acuna. Dustin Peterson, who had a huge year for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, has had an outstanding spring for the Braves and is in the mix for playing time in left field. Peterson, 23, is batting .318 with two homers and six RBIs. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-handed hitter, acquired from San Diego in 2014, was a Southern League MVP candidate two years ago when he batted .282 with 12 homers, 88 RBIs and 38 doubles for an M-Braves team that played for the league title. Peterson played well in big league camp last year but suffered a broken hand that pretty much wrecked his 2017 season. “It’s a shame he got hurt because who knows what his story would be right now, the way he was swinging the bat last year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Peterson batted .248 with one homer in 87 games at Triple-A Gwinnett, but indications are he’s got his power back this spring. P.S. Seven other M-Braves alums are currently projected by mlb.com to make the initial 25-man roster: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter.
Don’t look now, but Austin Riley – who has been getting advice from Chipper Jones this spring – is starting to hit. The ex-DeSoto Central High star went 2-for-3 with a homer today in Atlanta’s 5-1 Grapefruit League win over Toronto. After an 0-for-8 start in Florida, the 20-year-old third baseman is now 4-for-19 with two bombs, four RBIs and four runs. Riley graciously gives some credit to Jones. “It’s been an honor to be around that type of player and pick his brain about, really, the mental side of hitting and the importance of trying to get inside the pitcher’s head,” Riley told mlb.com. Riley, a top 10 Braves prospect, is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He’ll likely play at Triple-A Gwinnett this season and could make the majors in 2019. He hit .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs overall last season at high Class A Florida and Double-A Mississippi. For what it’s worth, he looks the part of a third baseman: 6 feet 3, 220 pounds. And he has the arm to play there.