Nostalgia is thick in the air at Trustmark Park when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos come to call. The field staff for the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A club, which began a five-game series with the Mississippi Braves on Thursday, is replete with big league stars of another era. Fans of a certain age know the names well. Hitting coach Mike Devereaux, who won a ring with the 1995 Atlanta Braves, and bench coach Lenny Harris debuted in the majors in the late 1980s, and pitching coach James Baldwin broke in in 1995. And then there’s Blue Wahoos manager Jody Davis. Not only is he a former big leaguer, he is also a former Jackson Met. Davis made his MLB debut in 1981. Surely there are a few fans around who recall that two years before that, Davis had a breakout season for the Double-A JaxMets, who made their home at Smith-Wills Stadium. Davis batted .296 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs in 1979, playing on a team that included Hubie Brooks and Wally Backman. Davis also refined his catching skills that year and was named a Texas League All-Star. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals (for big leaguer Ray Searage) following that season, then taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs in December 1980. The next April he launched a 10-year MLB career during which he made two All-Star teams. Davis coached and managed in the Cubs’ system for several years and took the reins in Pensacola this season.
Billy Hamilton’s name popped up all over the box score from Friday’s game between Cincinnati and the Chicago Cubs. The former Taylorsville High star went 3-for-3 with a walk, scored a run, was caught stealing and picked off. Hamilton is batting .222 (.304 on-base percentage) with 45 runs in 84 games for the resurgent Reds; he has 16 steals and has been caught four times. He has averaged 58 steals the past four years. … Richton High alum JaCoby Jones hit his seventh home run of the season for Detroit, taking Texas’ ageless Bartolo Colon deep in the Tigers’ 3-1 win. Jones, in his third MLB season, now has 10 career homers. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn, subject of trade rumors, threw six strong innings for Minnesota in a 6-2 win against Baltimore and moved his record to 6-7. He has a 5.21 ERA. … Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed, recalled from the minors by Cincinnati on Wednesday, was sent down on Thursday without making an appearance. … Southwest Mississippi CC alum Jarrod Dyson went on the 10-day disabled list with what was called a “lower core” injury. Reports seemed to indicate that the veteran outfielder could be out long-term. He is batting .189 with 16 bags in his first year with Arizona. … Former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland (back spasms) was held out of Boston’s game on Friday but is expected to play today. He is batting .288 with 11 homers. … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz, on the DL for Boston since the end of May, is slated for a second rehab start tonight at Triple-A Pawtucket. Pomeranz’s first rehab start did not go well: four homers and two walks allowed in 2 2/3 innings of work. … Down on the farm, ex-DeSoto Central standout Austin Riley, on the DL at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system since early June, has played two rehab games in the Gulf Coast League. The third base prospect is 2-for-6 with two RBIs. He was hitting .284 with four homers and 18 RBIs when he went down with a knee injury at Gwinnett.
Whirlwind is a great word. Sounds like what it means: energetic, dizzying, a little bit chaotic. There may be no better word to describe the last few weeks for Mississippi State. Walk-off wins. Trip to Omaha. Disheartening finish. Top 10 rankings. Jake Mangum’s coming back. Gary Henderson’s not. Chris Lemonis is coming in. Konnor Pilkington and Jacob Billingsley are going pro. J.T. Ginn isn’t. When the Ginn news dropped late Thursday, it was truly a wow moment. Ginn, the state’s player of the year from Brandon and the 30th overall pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers, turned down big bucks – slot value of $2 million-plus – to follow a dream of playing for the Bulldogs. The centerpiece of a recruiting class that includes a slew of the state’s top players, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Ginn can both pitch and hit. He could have a major impact in 2019. And there’s also the possibility that signee Carter Stewart, the big right-hander from Florida drafted in the first round by Atlanta, will be coming to Starkville. Stewart was the eighth overall pick but hasn’t signed, reportedly because of concerns about a wrist problem. Signing deadline is today. Stay tuned. There’s already much anticipation for fall ball in Starkville. Most of the position players responsible for State’s amazing postseason run – including Mangum, the team leader and best hitter – are back. Lemonis and Ginn are in. The whirlwind goes on. P.S. Former State standouts Dakota Hudson (now in St. Louis’ system) and Nathaniel Lowe (Tampa Bay) have been named to the U.S. roster for the July 15 All-Star Futures Game. Also on the U.S. team are current Mississippi Braves pitcher Kyle Wright, Biloxi Shuckers infielder Keston Hiura (Milwaukee) and Ke’Bryan Hayes (Pittsburgh), son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes.
Atlanta has called up pitcher Wes Parsons, who becomes the sixth former Mississippi Braves player to be promoted to the big club this season. The others are Jesse Biddle, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, Dustin Peterson and Evan Phillips (who didn’t get into a game). Parsons was 1-2 with a 1.23 ERA in eight games for the Double-A M-Braves this season before being bumped to Triple-A Gwinnett in late May. He also pitched for the M-Braves last year. Over 130 M-Braves alums have risen to the majors since the team moved from Greenville, S.C., to Pearl in 2005. … Drew Pomeranz was slated to throw a simulated game today at Fenway Park as he tries to work his way back to Boston’s rotation. The lefty out of Ole Miss has missed most of June with arm and neck pain. A 17-game winner for the Red Sox in 2017, he is 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA this season. He’s also a pending free agent, which he says is not something on his mind these days. “I’m focused on just getting my stuff right and just being myself and we’ll see what happens,” he told masslive.com. … Bryce Brown, the former Jackson State star now in the Tampa Bay system, had an interesting box score line on Tuesday: 0-3-0-0. Brown walked three times and stole second base each time, scoring half of Hudson Valley’s runs in a 6-1 victory against Connecticut in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. Brown is hitting .208 with seven steals in 10 games in his second pro season. … Justin Henry, ex-Ole Miss standout from Vicksburg and a longtime minor league player, is the Southeast area scout for Detroit and spent many hours observing overall No. 1 pick Casey Mize, the right-hander out of Auburn who signed Monday with Detroit for $7.5 million. … D.J. Davis, the Stone County High product and former first-round draft pick (see previous posts), was released earlier this month by Toronto. The 23-year-old outfielder was batting .239 in 36 games at Class A Dunedin. He hit .242 in seven pro seasons, never rising above A-ball. … Pearl River Community College alum Jacob Taylor, a fourth-rounder in 2015, retired in May. Dogged by injuries, the right-hander appeared in only 25 games in four years in Pittsburgh’s system, seven games in A-ball this year. … The Bray brothers from Vancleave also are out of the game. Tyler Bray, a pitcher who reached Triple-A in 2017 with St. Louis, was released in April. Outfielder Colin Bray was in high-A last year with Arizona but missed most of the season with injuries. He retired in March.
Cincinnati is on a tear, and so is Billy Hamilton. The ex-Taylorsville High standout has a seven-game hitting streak that coincides with the seven-game winning streak the Reds take into Atlanta tonight. Hamilton is 11-for-25 over that streak with nine runs, a homer, three RBIs and four steals. Batting .187 overall on June 16, he’s now at .214 (.300 on-base percentage), still not good but, along with the defense he provides in center field, good enough to keep him in the lineup. He has three homers, 17 RBIs, 40 runs and 15 bags on the season. … Mitch Moreland, the Mississippi State product from Amory, also has a seven-game hit streak, which he extended on Sunday with his 11th homer in Boston’s big win against Seattle. Moreland is 12-for-27 during this roll, with a homer, seven RBIs and nine runs. Sunday’s bomb was his first since June 3. He is batting .299 for the year. … And then there are the Mississippi Braves, who set a franchise record with an 11-run inning in a 17-1 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The big fifth frame included a two-run homer by Brandon Downes (his first as an M-Brave), two-run doubles by Travis Demeritte, Alex Jackson and Luis Marte, an RBI double by winning pitcher Touki Toussaint and a run-scoring single by Alay Lago. The Double-A M-Braves produced an eight-run inning in an 11-2 win against Jacksonville on Thursday and are 3-1 in the second half of the Southern League season. They limped in with a 29-41 mark in the first half.
If you’re a fan of pitching – and of strikeouts, in particular – tonight’s the night to make the trek to Trustmark Park. Touki Toussaint is starting for the Mississippi Braves. Toussaint leads the Southern League – and all of Double-A baseball – in punchouts. He’s got 92 in 74 innings. Three times in his 14 starts he has K’d 10 batters, including in his most recent outing against the first-half champion Biloxi Shuckers. But, hey, he’s more than just a hard thrower. MLB Pipeline, which rates Toussaint the No. 11 prospect in Atlanta’s well-stocked minor league system, raves about his “pure stuff.” He has an outstanding curveball and a good changeup. He’s a long and lean 6 feet 3, 185 pounds with a smooth delivery. It’s fun to watch him work. Toussaint – given name Dany Gilbert Kiti – was the 16th overall pick by Arizona out of a Florida high school in 2014. The Braves got him in a 2015 trade – with quickly discarded veteran Bronson Arroyo – for Phil Gosselin. Toussaint, who just turned 22 on Wednesday, made Double-A last year and went 3-4 with a 3.18 ERA. He also pitched well in the Arizona Fall League. He is 3-6, 3.41 for the scuffling M-Braves this season. He goes against Jacksonville tonight (5 p.m.), his second outing against the Jumbo Shrimp. He struck out 10 of them in six innings the first time.
If he could bottle it, he surely would. Anthony Alford flashed his remarkable potential on Friday night, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, a triple, two runs and an RBI for Triple-A Buffalo in an 8-3 loss to Lehigh Valley. The performance earned the former Petal High star a mention on the Prospect Report segment of MLB Network’s Quick Pitch. But that kind of performance has been rare for Alford this season. He is batting just .217 with a homer, 10 RBIs and eight steals in 42 games for the Toronto affiliate. During a brief stint in the big leagues, the powerfully built outfielder hit .143. Alford has been one of Toronto’s top-rated prospects for several years but, due in part to myriad injuries, has been fighting to find consistency. That search is the key to advancement for every minor leaguer, the key to moving off the prospect chart and into a big league job. Former Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley, a highly regarded Cleveland prospect, is scuffling in his second tour of Double-A ball. The lefty-hitting first baseman had a three-hit game for Akron on Thursday night that included his 12th homer. His power is not an issue; he now has 99 bombs in his five-year minor league career. Consistent contact is what he seeks; he is batting just .196. Former Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker, playing Double-A ball in just his second pro season, has been hot and cold for Minnesota’s Chattanooga club. He struggled much of the first two months, found a groove at the start of June, then fell into another funk. He has hit just .211 in his last 10 games — and is at .263 for the season — but did begin the second half on Thursday with a home run, No. 10 on the year. Sometimes, it’s just tough luck that stalls a prospect’s upward mobility. Ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley was playing well at Triple-A Gwinnett after his promotion from Mississippi, hitting .284 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 26 games for the Stripers. But Atlanta’s third baseman of the future suffered a knee injury that has kept him out since June 3. It’s unclear when he might get back on track.