22 May

comeback roads

Bradley Roney, the former Southern Miss standout who reached Triple-A in 2016 in Atlanta’s system, pitched in an official game on Tuesday for the first time in almost two years. Roney, 26, worked two scoreless innings for Class A Florida. “It feels so goooooood to be back,” he tweeted after he was activated from the injured list on Monday. Roney, a 2014 draftee by the Braves, last pitched in July 2017 for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He made 15 appearances that year, posting a 3.75 ERA, four wins and two saves out of the bullpen. If all goes well, he’ll likely get back to Pearl sometime this summer. … Ole Miss product and onetime big leaguer Aaron Barrett, who missed the 2016 and ’17 seasons with major arm injuries (see previous posts), has been effective in his ongoing comeback effort in Washington’s system. The 31-year-old righty has a 3.57 ERA and nine saves in 15 games at Double-A Harrisburg. He has 90 major league appearances on his resume, the last in 2015. … USM alum Cody Carroll, on the IL since the start of the season with a back issue, has begun throwing, according to reports. Carroll made his MLB debut with Baltimore in 2018, his fourth pro season. He was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk in spring training before he was shut down. … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, who is on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster, has struggled since returning from a stint on the IL at Double-A Tennessee. A 23-year-old lefty, Steele has a 9.33 ERA in six outings this season. Steele had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and was limited to 11 games last year, plus some work in the Arizona Fall League.

20 May

ode to freddie

Freddie Freeman already has achieved iconic status with the Atlanta Braves. The former Mississippi Braves first baseman is to the current generation of Braves fans what Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones were before him: the face of the franchise. Still, the occasion of Freeman’s 200th career home run – struck Sunday against Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff of Milwaukee – gives us a peg to celebrate what he has achieved in his 10 seasons in the big leagues. It has been a treat to watch. Freeman arrived in Pearl on July 4, 2009, as a highly rated prospect though not as celebrated as his buddy who arrived on the same day, Jason Heyward. Heyward put up better numbers as an M-Brave – Freeman, not fully healthy, hit .248 with two homers in 41 games that summer – and reached Atlanta first, famously homering in his first at-bat in 2010. But Freeman has clearly surpassed Heyward on the big league stage. Freeman is a career .294 hitter with 713 RBIs. He has made three All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and finished in the top six in National League MVP voting three times. He is just the ninth player ever to hit 200 homers for the Braves. He has the second-most homers by an M-Braves alum; Brian McCann has 273, 179 with Atlanta. Only Lance Berkman (366), Darryl Strawberry (335), Bobby Abreu (288), McCann and Kevin Mitchell (234) rank above Freeman on the list of career bombs by former Jackson area Double-A players. The current Braves team, sprinkled with so many young stars, revolves around Freeman — and will go as far as he leads them.

15 May

’bout time

In a move that seemed like a long time coming, Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High and Mississippi Braves star, will be promoted to Atlanta today, according to multiple reports. Riley, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2015 and has been ranked among the Braves’ top prospects ever since. He has been on a sizzling streak at the plate for Triple-A Gwinnett with seven homers in his last 10 games, including one – No. 15 on the season – Tuesday night. He hit 14 homers over parts of two seasons with the M-Braves and has 86 home runs in 463 pro games all told. Primarily a third baseman, he had played some left field recently for Gwinnett. The Braves are expected to put center fielder Ender Inciarte on the injured list.

14 May

he’s ‘the star’

If you saw Tommy La Stella play for the 2013 Mississippi Braves, you knew he could hit. The lefty-swinging infielder batted .343 in 81 games. The power he’s displaying in 2019 isn’t something anyone has seen before. Now with the Los Angeles Angels, La Stella belted his 10th home run of the season in a victory at Minnesota on Monday night. That’s as many as he had hit in his previous five MLB seasons combined. La Stella – which means “The Star” in Italian – has more homers this year than Angels stars Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. With 24 RBIs, he trails only Trout on the club. La Stella also has more homers than any other M-Braves alum in the majors; Ronald Acuna is second in that pack with eight. After his big year in Pearl in 2013 (when he hit four homers), La Stella made it to Atlanta the next season. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in November of 2014 for Arodys Vizcaino and spent four years with the Cubbies, winning a ring in 2016. The Angels acquired him last November. His emergence as a regular has taken at-bats away from Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, who is mired in a deep slump (.136, no homers). P.S. Former M-Braves star Dansby Swanson is the second-most improved hitter in the big leagues this year, behind only Cody Bellinger. That’s according to a detailed analysis by mlb.com’s Mike Petriello. After a couple of disappointing years in Atlanta, Swanson is currently batting .268 with six homers and 25 RBIs – plus, according to the mlb.com piece, striking out less, walking more and hitting the ball harder and higher.

10 May

pleasantville

The Arizona Diamondbacks, who exploited Atlanta’s bullpen for a comeback win on Thursday night, have been one of the top five pleasant surprises of this season, according to mlb.com. One of the pleasantly surprising individual performances for the D’backs has come from Jarrod Dyson. The 34-year-old McComb native, playing more regularly than anticipated, is batting .291 (.400 on-base percentage) with three homers, eight RBIs, 16 runs and seven steals in 28 games for a 16-12 club. Leading off and playing center field on Thursday, he was on base twice, stole two bags and threw a runner – Ozzie Albies – out at third base, his fourth assist of the season. Injuries limited Dyson to 67 games for Arizona in 2018, when he batted .189. He also had an injury in spring training this year. Projected to be primarily a spare outfielder and pinch runner this season, he has gotten 18 starts. This is Dyson’s 10th big league season – the first seven were with Kansas City – and he is batting .253 with 227 stolen bases in 756 career games. He also has a World Series ring. Not bad for a 50th-round draft pick out of Southwest Mississippi Community College. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, who coughed up seven runs in a 1 2/3 innings in his last start on Monday, went on the injured list for San Francisco with a lat strain. The big left-hander is 1-4 with a 5.93 ERA in his first season with the Giants.

09 May

delivering jolts

There has been a power surge of late among several Mississippians, notably Bobby Bradley, Austin Riley and Hunter Renfroe. Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, has begun to mash at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s system. The 22-year-old first baseman has four homers in his last four games, three in his last two. A .366 spurt over his last 10 games has boosted his average to .315 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his first full season at the Triple-A level. “It’s really a great experience, you learn so much from the veteran guys,” Bradley said in an milb.com story. Riley, the DeSoto Central product, hit two more bombs for Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta) on Wednesday. That’s 10 in his last 13 games, during which he has batted an absurd .469. He is at .315 with 12 homers and 32 RBIs. “Obviously, I’m seeing the ball well,” he told milb.com. “I’ve worked really hard on getting my swing where it is now.” Renfroe, the ex-Copiah Academy and Mississippi State standout, hit a go-ahead home run for the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. He also hit a tie-breaking bomb on Monday and a walk-off grand slam on Sunday. “He’s clutch. And he has been for a long time,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. Renfroe now has nine homers on the year, second to Mitch Moreland’s 10 among Mississippians in the majors. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is 2-for-8 (.125 for year) since coming off the injured list for the Los Angeles Angels, who also designated MSU product Chris Stratton for assignment on Tuesday. Stratton, who’ll likely land in Triple-A, has an 8.59 ERA in seven appearances. … Tony Sipp, the veteran reliever out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, went on the 10-day IL for Washington with a strained oblique.

02 May

minor matters

It would be hard to find anyone in the minors swinging a hotter bat than Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum who is on a 13-for-24 roll with five home runs, nine RBIs and nine runs in this stretch. For the year at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system, Riley (see previous post) is batting .293 with seven homers, including a 492-foot blast he hit Wednesday. … At Double-A Mississippi, Drew Waters extended his hit streak to five games with a 2-for-4 effort and is at .327 with two homers, nine RBIs and 17 runs. Cristian Pache also went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .330 with two bombs and 17 RBIs. … Ole Miss product Chris Ellis may be experiencing a letdown back in Triple-A with St. Louis. After posting a scoreless inning in his MLB debut for Kansas City last month, the Rule 5 draftee was dropped from the Royals’ active roster and returned to the Cardinals. He has allowed nine earned runs in four relief appearances at Memphis. … Mississippi State product Hunter Stovall, traded by Colorado to Philadelphia last week, went 1-for-4 with a triple in his debut Wednesday at Class A Lakeland. He was batting .281 for Asheville in the same league. … Ex-UM and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee, who briefly made the big leagues with Miami in 2018, is hitting .296 in Double-A with the New York Mets. … MSU product Brent Rooker has been out of the lineup for several days at Triple-A Rochester (Minnesota), where the highly rated prospect is hitting .214 with four homers. … Former Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes has heated up for Double-A Birmingham (Chicago White Sox), hitting .303 over his last 10 games to get to .243 for the year. … Petal’s Demarcus Evans and Houlka’s Tyreque Reed, two rising young stars in the Texas system, are holding their own at high-A Down East. Evans has a 1.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 11 innings, while Reed is batting .314 with three homers in his last 10 games. … Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford is skidding in the wrong direction at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s organization. The onetime big leaguer is in a 2-for-32 slump that has dropped his average to .138. Also on that Buffalo club are UM alum Jacob Waguespack (2-2, 4.62 ERA as a starter) and ex-Southern Miss star Conor Fisk (6.00 ERA in 12 innings). … Stuart Turner, an Ole Miss product who spent the 2017 season in the big leagues with Cincinnati, was released this spring and then recently re-signed by the Reds. He is 2-for-16 in four games for Triple-A Louisville.

17 Apr

big league chew

Forget Yelich, Grandal and Cain. The hottest hitter for Milwaukee is Brandon Woodruff, the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout who is raking at a .714 clip and had a big two-run double in an 8-4 win against St. Louis on Tuesday. According to his baseball card, Woodruff is a pitcher, and he’s been pretty good in that role, too. He went 5 2/3 innings vs. the Cardinals, yielding two runs and fanning six. He is 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA in four starts for the 12-6 Brewers, who lead the National League Central. It is said that Woodruff, who bats lefty and throws righty, puts on quite a show when he takes batting practice. And who can forget the bomb he hit off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs last year. … East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson went hitless for the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday but still leads the American League in batting with a .421 average. He slipped behind Cody Bellinger (.433) for the MLB lead. … After a good start with Kansas City, Billy Hamilton has skidded to .205 through 14 games. The Taylorsville High product has just three steals and six runs. … In the Ugly Numbers category, we find ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier (.152, one RBI in 46 at-bats for Washington) and Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart (.091, two RBIs in 44 ABs for the Los Angeles Angels). … Ugly also would describe the outing by the New York Mets’ Steven Matz, who gave up eight runs and failed to retire a batter vs. Philadelphia on Tuesday. He became just the fifth starter ever to do that. One of the others is McComb native Blake Stein, who suffered that indignity on Aug. 31, 1998, pitching for Oakland against Cleveland. To his credit, Stein (21-28, 5.41 ERA over five MLB seasons) struck out eight batters in a row in a 2001 game, also a remarkable feat. … Jacob Webb became the fourth Mississippi Braves alum to debut in the majors this season when he appeared in relief for Atlanta on Tuesday.

10 Apr

familiar refrain

The Mississippi Braves will trot out a highly rated prospect to start their home opener tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Tucker Davidson, whose scheduled Double-A debut was washed out on Monday, is Atlanta’s No. 22 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), a hard-throwing left-hander coming off a solid season in A-ball (7-10, 4.18 ERA). But here’s the thing: This M-Braves staff has three other starters rated more highly than Davidson, yet another example of just how rich Atlanta’s system is in quality arms. Opening day starter Ian Anderson, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect and the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, is slated to start Thursday’s game. The right-hander worked four innings at Tennessee last week, allowing three hits and a run with seven strikeouts. Drawing the opening day start for the M-Braves has been a harbinger of big things. The rather impressive list from the previous 14 seasons includes Anthony Lerew, Sean White, Matt Harrison, Jonny Venters, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan, Jason Hursh, Lucas Sims, Max Fried and Kyle Wright, all of whom made the big leagues. P.S. Joey Wentz (No. 12 prospect) and Kyle Muller (No. 13) also pitched well in limited innings on the 1-3 road trip, but the bullpen was a little leaky. … Jonathan Morales hit .364 and drove in five runs, and No. 8 prospect Drew Waters batted .316. Veteran minor leaguer Andy Wilkins hit the team’s lone homer. … Tonight’s game against Mobile starts at 6:35, the new weekday starting time for 2019.

04 Apr

fast forward

Drew Waters, who grew up in Woodstock, Ga., rooting for the Atlanta Braves, is living the dream – and it’s moving fast. In the span of a few weeks in 2017, Waters led Etowah High School to a state championship, was drafted by the Braves in the second round (41st overall) and started his pro career with the Gulf Coast League Braves. He started 2018 at the low Class A level, finished it in high-A and will begin his second full season, at age 20, with the Double-A Mississippi Braves.
“I’m a little surprised (to be here),” the 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder said at the team’s media day. But know this: He isn’t the least bit intimidated by the big jump. “I feel confident in my ability, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I know the pitching is good. You’ll see 95 to 100 (miles per hour) with plus breaking stuff here. It gets better at every level. … But my belief in myself is strong.”
A switch-hitter, Waters batted .303 with nine homers and 20 steals at low-A Rome last year, then hit .268 in 30 games at high-A Florida. The Braves invited him to big league camp this spring, and he went 4-for-13 with a double and an RBI. “He had a great spring,” said M-Braves manager Chris Maloney. “He’s an exciting player. Plus defender. He’s got a lotta life in his bat. He’s a good runner. He can steal a base, a tough base. We’re glad he’s here.”
Waters is one of nine players on the 2019 M-Braves roster rated in the Top 30 of Atlanta prospects by mlb.com. He checks in at No. 8. Right-hander Ian Anderson, slated to start tonight’s opener at Tennessee, is No. 3 and outfielder Cristian Pache is No. 4. The others are outside the top 10. Pache, who finished 2018 with the M-Braves, is considered one of the best defensive outfielders in the minors. Like Waters, he profiles as a center fielder.
“I’ll do some switching between center and right is what they’ve told me,” Waters said. “That’s fine with me. Just getting the opportunity to play with Pache is going to be awesome. He’s an 80-grade defender (on the scouts’ 20-80 scale), and you don’t see that too often. It’ll be awesome.”
Maloney said he had his team together long enough this spring to get a good feel for it. “I think we’re a pretty strong defensive team,” he said. “We’re solid up the middle, at the corners and behind the dish. I like the defense a lot.”
The development of the prospect-loaded rotation, which will include Anderson, Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson, looms as another key to the M-Braves’ success. “We’ve got some young guys that we like,” Maloney said. “I expect them to improve as we go along. Last year we had Touki (Toussaint), Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson. They struggled early but figured it out and wound up in the big leagues. As a young player, that’s what you want to do. We’ve got some experience in the bullpen. I like this club. There’s good spirit on this team. I like the vibe.”
There are M-Braves veterans like Ray-Patrick Didder, Luis Valenzuela and Alejandro Salazar among the established hitters on this team, and 30-year-old Andy Wilkins has 150 professional homers, one in the major leagues. Pache showed needed improvement with the bat in his brief Double-A fling last season and in big league camp.
But the catalyst of the offense very well could be Waters, the likely leadoff batter. From MLB Pipeline: “He has the chance to be a dynamic, elite-level performer, and seeing a young outfield of (Ronald) Acuna, Pache and Waters … in Atlanta should excite all Braves fans.”
“I don’t set many goals,” Waters said of his expectations for 2019. “I’ll play hard and try to win.”