Atlanta made quite a few changes to its minor league field staff for 2019, but Jackson native Chris Maloney will be back for a second tour as manager of the Double-A Mississippi Braves. The formal announcement was made on Wednesday. Pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn and hitting coach Carlos Mendez will also return. Maloney, a longtime minor league manager and big league coach, is a former Mississippi State player and son of former Jackson Texas League franchise owner Con Maloney. The 2018 M-Braves, who endured a lot of roster changes, especially among pitchers, finished 67-71 overall but contended in the Southern League South into the final days in the second half. The team Maloney will manage this year won’t be settled until April, but there’s a good chance it’ll feature several intriguing prospects. Foremost among them is Cristian Pache, an outfielder who was with the M-Braves for 29 games last summer. The Braves’ No. 6 prospect, who played – and starred — in the 2018 Arizona Fall League, is a defensive whiz who is still developing as a hitter. He hit .260 with the M-Braves. William Contreras, the No. 13 prospect, is a 20-year-old catcher who reached high-A last year and might be on a fast track. The younger brother of the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras, he hit .285 with 11 homers in 2018. Then there’s Drew Waters, the No. 8 prospect. A switch-hitting outfielder, he reached high-A at age 19 in just his second pro season. Described by MLB Pipeline as a “veritable toolshed,” Waters batted .293 with nine homers and 23 steals last season. No. 3 prospect Ian Anderson, a right-hander, made it to Mississippi late last season and went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in four starts. He could be back, along with Thomas Burrows, a left-handed closer and ex-Alabama star who arrived in Pearl late and posted a 1.42 ERA and six saves. Worth mentioning, too, is Braxton Davidson, a big first baseman and former first-round pick who has fallen off the prospect charts but got an AFL assignment – and hit a walk-off home run in the league title game. He clubbed 20 homers at high-A Florida in 2018 but batted .171 and struck out over 200 times. P.S. The M-Braves will launch their 15th season, on the road, on April 4, taking on the Tennessee Smokies in the opener of a five-game series. The first home game is April 10. … The M-Braves have reached the postseason four times, most recently in 2016, since the franchise relocated from Greenville, S.C., to Pearl in 2005. The club won its only SL pennant in 2008 under Phillip Wellman. … The Braves will have new managers at Florida, Rome and Danville this season. Former M-Braves infielder Barrett Kleinknect is the new skipper of the high-A Fire Frogs.
The Josh Donaldson signing adds a potentially potent bat to the middle of Atlanta’s lineup and is a clear sign the Braves are eyeing more than just a division title in 2019. The move also could be seen as a signal that the Braves don’t think Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, is quite ready for everyday duty at third base. Riley spent the latter half of 2018 at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he batted .282 (.346 on-base percentage) with 12 home runs in 75 games. He has 71 bombs in four pro seasons. His defense reportedly is big league-caliber. But there’s no need to rush him. Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) is only 21 — he’ll be 22 in April – and isn’t yet on the 40-man roster. Riley struck out 95 times and walked 26 over 291 at-bats at Gwinnett, so there’s still room for improvement. It’s possible that if Donaldson struggles, as he did in an injury-plagued 2018, Riley could get a midseason call-up. Though he’s never played anywhere but third base, the Braves also could try Riley in left field at Gwinnett as a way of finding him a spot. Regardless, his time will come. Mississippi baseball aficionados will just have to wait a bit. P.S. Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Jacksonville by Miami. Lee, a speedy outfielder, hit .176 in eight big league games last season and .233 in the minors.
Brian McCann, the first player to advance from the Mississippi Braves to Atlanta, back in the summer of 2005, is coming back to the Braves for 2019 after several years in other uniforms. McCann, now 34, was a highly rated prospect when he arrived in Pearl for the M-Braves’ inaugural season and lived up to the hype in the big leagues, quickly rising to stardom and putting up numbers that may someday put him in the Hall of Fame. McCann hit .265 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 48 games for the ’05 M-Braves, typically hitting fifth behind Jeff Francoeur and Scott Thorman in the middle of a very good lineup under manager Brian Snitker. McCann had a lot of big hits in his short time with the M-Braves, but none was bigger than the one he produced on April 30, 2005, at Trustmark Park. West Tenn’s Rich Hill — yes, that Rich Hill — and three relievers had no-hit the M-Braves for 8 2/3 innings. The Diamond Jaxx held a 1-0 lead when McCann came up with a runner on to face lefty Yorkin Ferraras. As West Tenn manager — and Laurel native — Bobby Dickerson said after the game: “McCann is the one guy we didn’t want to face right there.” On a 2-2 pitch, Ferraras left a fastball out over the plate and McCann deposited it over the right-field wall for a 2-1 victory. “I’ve never had a feeling like that as long as I’ve been playing sports,” McCann said afterward. It still has to rate as one of the great moments in TeePee history. If you were there, you remember it.
The MLB Manager of the Year awards will be announced today, and there’s a good chance former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker will win the National League honor. Snitker, skipper of the first M-Braves team in 2005, guided the 2018 Atlanta Braves to a division championship, exceeding most expectations. Ronald Acuna, a former M-Braves player, was a key piece on this year’s Braves club and won NL rookie of the year honors on Monday. Acuna is the third former Jackson area Double-A player to win the top rookie honor, following M-Braves alumnus Craig Kimbrel (2011) and former Jackson Mets star Darryl Strawberry (1983). Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan took that award in 2009. Four other Mississippi-connected managers have won the top managerial award. Ex-Mississippi State star Buck Showalter has won three American League awards; former Jackson Mets manager Davey Johnson owns two trophies (one from each league); and Clint Hurdle, another JaxMets manager, and former JaxMets player Ron Gardenhire have won once each. Former Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee and JaxMets alum Mike Scott won the Cy Young Award, which will be handed out on Wednesday. The MVP awards go out Thursday. Mississippi native Dave Parker claimed one of those, as did ex-JaxMets star Kevin Mitchell. For the record, adopted Mississippian Dizzy Dean also won an MVP, back in 1934.
Three Mississippi products reached the 20-home run plateau in the big leagues in 2018, and there’s more Magnolia State power on the way. Four Mississippi prep or college alumni are rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 1 power prospect in their big league organization. DeSoto Central High grad Austin Riley, Harrison Central product Bobby Bradley and ex-Mississippi State stars Brent Rooker and Nathaniel Lowe, each on the cusp of making the majors, made the list. MLB Pipeline’s writers note that the choices were made based on “usable” power, not just “raw” power. Atlanta prospect Riley hit 19 home runs in 2018, six for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before moving to Triple-A, and slugged .522. He could be the Braves’ third baseman by next spring. Bradley belted 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in Cleveland’s system and has 114 round-trippers in five pro seasons. Rooker hit 22 home runs in Double-A for Minnesota after blasting 18 in his pro debut in 2017. Lowe, a Tampa Bay prospect, hit 27 homers and slugged .568 over three levels of the minors, finishing in Triple-A in an amazing breakout season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all four of them in The Show at some point in 2019. P.S. In the 2018 All-Mississippi Home Run Derby in MLB, Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, led the way with 26 homers. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier hit 21 and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson whacked 20.
Curious to see what’s next for Jacob Lindgren, the ex-Mississippi State star from Biloxi who has been removed from Atlanta’s 40-man roster and outrighted to Triple-A. Lindgren had Tommy John surgery – his second one – last March and missed all of the 2018 season. The left-hander also missed all of the 2017 season and pitched just seven innings in 2016. The Braves signed him as a minor league free agent after the 2016 season. The future seemed so bright for Lindgren in 2014. After a dominant season at State (0.81 ERA, 100 strikeouts in 55 innings), he was picked in the second round of the draft by the New York Yankees. He made his big league debut in May of 2015. Shortly thereafter, the arm problems began. Some pitchers have returned from two Tommy John surgeries, but the odds aren’t great.
There are always some interesting names that pop up on the Caribbean winter league rosters. To wit: Anthony Lerew, who was the starting pitcher for the Mississippi Braves in their inaugural game in 2005, was back on the bump last week for La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League. The 35-year-old right-hander allowed three runs in five innings. Lerew, who was among the first wave of M-Braves to reach Atlanta, last pitched in the big leagues in 2010 with Kansas City and last worked in affiliated ball in 2014. Perhaps he is plotting a comeback. At least four other members of the M-Braves’ original 2005 roster played this year: Brian McCann, Blaine Boyer and Gregor Blanco in the big leagues and Iker Franco in the Mexican League. … Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, who made one appearance with the New York Mets this season, is wintering in the Mexican Pacific League with Hermosillo. Now a free agent, the 30-year-old Copeland took a loss on Sunday, yielding four runs in three innings. He pitched well between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. … Ex-Ole Miss star David Goforth has made two scoreless appearances for Culiacan, also in the MPL. The Meridian native and erstwhile big leaguer, 30, posted a 3.46 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse in Washington’s system this season. … Former Mississippi State standout Jacob (Jake) Robson, a rising prospect in Detroit’s system, is playing for Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League. Robson, a lefty-hitting outfielder from Canada, batted .295 with 11 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018.
No big surprise here: Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High All-Stater, was named Atlanta’s minor league hitter of the year by MLB Pipeline. The 21-year-old third baseman hit .294 with 19 homers at two levels (Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett). “The sky is the limit for this guy,” Braves assistant farm director (and former M-Braves second baseman) Jonathan Schuerholz told Baseball America, which also named Riley the Best Player in Atlanta’s system. Touki Toussaint, who started 2018 in Pearl and rose all the way to the big leagues, was named the system’s pitcher of the year by MLB Pipeline and BA. … Ole Miss product David Parkinson was named Philadelphia’s pitcher of the year. A 12th-round pick in 2017, he went 11-1 with a 1.45 ERA in A-ball this past season. His ERA was the lowest in the minors among qualifying pitchers. … Ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe was Tampa Bay’s hitter of the year after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs between A-ball and Triple-A. … In the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, Ole Miss alum Errol Robinson (Los Angeles Dodgers) debuted with a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort for Glendale, and in the same game Petal’s Demarcus Evans (Texas) threw two scoreless innings for Surprise. Delta State product Trent Giambrone (Chicago Cubs) banged out four hits in his debut for Mesa, while ex-George County High standout Justin Steele did not have his best stuff in that same game. He gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings as Mesa’s starter. The Cubs’ No. 8 prospect yielded five hits, a walk, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. Former DSU star Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay) worked two hitless innings for Peoria on Wednesday, and Daniel Brown (Milwaukee), a left-hander out of MSU, tossed 2 1/3 hitless innings for the same club on Tuesday. … Starkville native and ex-big leaguer Julio Borbon won a Mexican League championship with Monterrey, which wrapped up the pennant on Tuesday. Borbon went 8-for-26 with three runs and an RBI in the title series. He hit .301 with 14 steals during the season. A former first-round pick out of Tennessee by Texas, the 32-year-old Borbon last played in the majors in 2016. … Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of ex-big leaguer and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, won a minor league Gold Glove award at third base for the second straight year. The younger Hayes, a first-round pick out of a Texas high school by Pittsburgh in 2015, played at Double-A Altoona in 2018. … On this date in 2010, the Texas Rangers scored a landmark victory, thanks in large part to former Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee. Lee threw a six-hitter with 11 strikeouts to beat Tampa Bay (and David Price) in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, giving the Rangers their first playoff series victory. Texas would go on to the World Series, losing to San Francisco. Lee, incidentally, was 7-3, 2.52 ERA with three complete games in 11 postseason starts but never won a ring.
Opening Day is here – for the Arizona Fall League. Several Mississippians are on the rosters, including one labeled as a “top prospect” and two as “sleeper prospects” by mlb.com. Brent Rooker, the Mississippi State product, is regarded as the best of Minnesota’s AFL group. The first baseman/outfielder, in his second pro season, hit 22 homers and drove in 79 runs in Double-A this past season. He’ll play for Salt River. Left-hander Justin Steele, a former George County High star, is a “sleeper prospect” out of the Chicago Cubs’ system. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, he started just 11 games over three levels, finishing in Double-A. He had a 2.89 ERA. He is on the Mesa club, along with Delta State alum and fellow Cubs farmhand Trent Giambrone. Petal’s Demarcus Evans is the “sleeper” to watch from Texas’ organization. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound right-hander, who’ll pitch for Surprise, had a 1.77 ERA as a reliever in low A-ball this season. He might not be a sleeper for long. Ex-Ole Miss standout Errol Robinson, a shortstop from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system, is on the Glendale roster. … Atlanta and Milwaukee are among the feeder clubs for Peoria, and there are a handful of Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers alums on that team, including Cristian Pache, Ray-Patrick Didder, Kyle Muller and Keston Hiura.
Boston would no doubt like to have Mitch Moreland in the lineup tonight for the American League Division Series Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, but it could be a game-time decision. The former Mississippi State star, who carries a .350 average against expected New York starter Luis Severino, has been getting “aggressive treatment” for a hamstring issue that surfaced during Saturday’s game. Moreland went 1-for-3 in the Red Sox’s loss, which evened the best-of-5 series at 1-all. Moreland, an outstanding first baseman, is 6-for-16 in the postseason for Boston the last two years and is a .239 hitter with three homers in 39 career postseason games. He batted .245 with 15 homers this year. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn worked two scoreless innings for the Yankees in their Game 1 loss in his 25th career postseason appearance. He has a 4.33 ERA in those games, the first 24 of which were with St. Louis. Former State standout Jonathan Holder, who had a 3.14 ERA for the Yankees this year, is yet to pitch in the ALDS and has no career postseason appearances. … Tony Sipp, the Pascagoula native and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product, did not work in either of Houston’s two wins in the ALDS vs. Cleveland. The veteran lefty has six career postseason appearances, all with the Astros in 2015. Indians batters are 1-for-9 against Sipp this year. Game 3 is today. … Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, got a hit Sunday night in his first at-bat this postseason for Los Angeles but also struck out to end Game 3 of the National League Division Series, a crazy 6-5 win by Atlanta. The win, the loss and the save went to former Mississippi Braves: Touki Toussaint got the W, Arodys Vizcaino the save and Alex Wood – who yielded Freddie Freeman’s clutch home run – took the L. Game 4 is today. … Former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes got the win in relief Sunday for Milwaukee as it wrapped up its NLDS against Colorado. Ex-Shuckers star Orlando Arcia homered in the 6-0 victory. Former State standout Brandon Woodruff, also a former Shuckers hurler, started the Brewers’ NLDS roll with three hitless innings as the “opener” in Game 1. “(T)hat kind of set the tempo for everybody,” said Game 3 starter Wade Miley, a veteran whose 2018 season began on a minor league deal in Biloxi. “We kind of went from there.” Colorado scored just two runs in the series.