23 Jun

the search

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.

22 Jun

bad times in birdland

At the outset of the 2018 season, a sports betting agency made Baltimore’s Buck Showalter the odds-on favorite to be the first manager fired. That dubious honor went instead to Cincinnati’s Bryan Price. Showalter, the former Mississippi State star in his 20th year as a big league manager, hangs on despite what has been a truly awful first three months on the heels of a bad 2017. The team Showalter brings to Atlanta for an interleague series starting tonight is 21-52, worst record in MLB. That’s a .288 winning percentage. Showalter’s previous worst finish was a .401 in 1998 with Arizona, which was playing its inaugural season. And these Orioles figure to get worse: Stars Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Zach Britton, pending free agents, are expected to be traded. Showalter, 62, is also in the final year of his contract, as is Dan Duquette, the O’s VP for baseball operations. As bad as things are in Birdland, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hue and cry about firing Showalter. Perhaps ownership is just going to let him go out with a whimper, a relatively dignified end. The Orioles are the fourth team Showalter has managed, and he was fired from the previous three jobs though he had good years at each one. This is his ninth season with Baltimore, far and away his longest stint. He has won over 1,500 games – 643 with the O’s — and three manager of the year awards. Despite a lack of postseason success, he should get Hall of Fame consideration someday. It would be sad to see his career end with such a dismal season, but it may be headed that way. P.S. At the start of the season, few would have bet Atlanta would be in first place in the National League East in late June. Yet Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves skipper and another of the seven Mississippi-connected managers in MLB, has steered this young club to a 43-30 mark. They’ve shown no signs of slowing down. M-Braves alum Sean Newcomb, an emerging ace, starts tonight. He is 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA; O’s starter Alex Cobb, one of team’s biggest disappointments, is 2-9, 7.14.

16 Jun

bark in park

It’s a Dog Day in Omaha, where Mississippi State plays Washington in a College World Series opener. Meanwhile, some former Dogs enjoyed a day of their own on Friday in the big leagues. Atlanta Braves TV broadcasters, Jeff Francoeur in particular, were effusively impressed with the arm of Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State star who made a couple of cannon-shot throws from deep right field to third base for San Diego. More impressive was the two-strike, two-out, two-run single Renfroe stroked in the seventh inning, putting the Padres up a run in a game they would go on to win 9-3. Renfroe has been in the throes of a skid and was batting just .229 at the time. He got another hit in the ninth and finished with a .245 average. At Yankee Stadium, Bulldogs alum Jonathan Holder pitched a scoreless sixth inning for his third hold of the year as New York beat Tampa Bay 5-0. Holder trimmed his ERA to 2.28. At Seattle’s Safeco Field, former State standout Mitch Moreland drove in a run and scored in Boston’s six-run third inning against Mariners ace James Paxton, but the Red Sox squandered a lead and lost 7-6. P.S. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier hit his 10th homer — off Cleveland’s Corey Kluber — to help Minnesota beat the Indians 6-3. It was Dozier’s 161st career bomb, moving him into sixth place alone on the all-time list of Mississippi natives. … Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart (shoulder) was placed on the 10-day disabled list by the Los Angeles Angels.

12 Jun

not forgotten

Today is one of those days when a Mississippi Braves fan scanning the previous day’s box scores might have to pause and think, Why did Atlanta let him go? Former M-Braves are scattered all over the big leagues now, and quite a few are having impactful seasons in places other than the ATL. The enigmatic Jason Heyward is suddenly crushing it for the Chicago Cubs; he went 3-for-6 with three RBIs in a big win against Milwaukee and is batting .387 with 10 RBIs in his last 15 games. For the year: .281, three homers, 28 RBIs. Jose Martinez, breaking out in St. Louis, went 3-for-4 with his 10th homer in a victory against San Diego. He is batting .327. Gorkys Hernandez, playing regularly in San Francisco, had a 2-for-3 game with two runs in the Giants’ loss to Miami. Hernandez, always a plus defender in center field, is hitting .293 with seven homers. Mallex Smith, another pretty good center fielder, was 2-for-4 with an RBI for Tampa Bay, which beat Toronto. Smith is batting .288 with 12 steals. Luis Avilan has fared well in his middle-relief role for the Chicago White Sox, who have been terrible. He worked a scoreless inning in a loss to Cleveland and trimmed his ERA to 3.26. And Craig Kimbrel just keeps throwing gas for Boston; he struck out the side in the 12th inning against Baltimore to preserve a 2-0 win and notch his 21st save in 23 chances. P.S. Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, who has one win this year for Boston after notching 17 in 2017, remains on the disabled list with no announced timetable for his return. The left-hander last pitched on May 31, when he yielded four runs in five innings and fell to 1-3, 6.81 as Boston lost to Houston 4-2. “I’ll take some positive moving forward and take it into the next one,” he said after that game. He went on the 10-day DL with biceps tendinitis two days later. Pomeranz, who started the season on the DL, has lasted more than five innings in only two of eight starts.

06 Jun

saddle up

While Atlanta hitters were piling up 18 hits and 14 runs against San Diego on Tuesday night, Sean Newcomb was on the mound continuing to build his case as a horse to ride on the long road ahead for the first-place Braves. The former Mississippi Braves star improved to 7-1 and trimmed his ERA to 2.49 with six shutout innings against the Padres. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound left-hander doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, but his off-speed stuff has been outstanding. “Every time he goes on the mound, you’re pretty confident we are going to get the win that day,” Freddie Freeman said in an mlb.com article. “He’s been lights-out for a long time.” Newcomb was up-and-down during his 2016 campaign as a highly rated prospect with the M-Braves, finishing 8-7 with a 3.86 while going to the post 27 times. The 15th overall pick out of Hartford by the Los Angeles Angels in 2014, he was moved to Atlanta in the Andrelton Simmons deal in 2015. Of all the former M-Braves starting pitchers who’ve gone on to the big leagues – and there are quite a few – Julio Teheran has had the most sustained success. He is 62-57 with a 3.64 ERA in 178 appearances the last eight years for Atlanta. (Charlie Morton, now with Houston, has the most wins with 67 – and a World Series ring – but his career has been more spotty — 79 losses, 4.30 ERA.) Teheran has been an All-Star, but is he truly an ace? He has a 4.31 ERA this year and just went on the disabled list. Mike Foltynewicz is 5-3 with a 2.22 ERA but has an erratic track record. Veteran Brandon McCarthy is a back-end guy. Yes, the Braves have a great lineup, but their rotation is a concern. Newcomb’s emergence as a potential ace could be huge as the Braves wait for more of their young guns to develop.

05 Jun

draft doodles

All the news wasn’t great for Mississippi State on Monday. The Tallahassee Regional champs saw two of their top recruits for 2019 picked in the first round of the MLB draft, which likely means they’ll never wear the maroon and white. Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn, the state Gatorade player of the year, went to the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 30th pick and Carter Stewart, a highly touted pitcher from Florida, was taken eighth overall by Atlanta. Three other players from Mississippi schools were chosen among the 78 players drafted on Monday: Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison 22nd by Colorado, Hattiesburg High’s Joe Gray 60th by Milwaukee and Southern Miss’ Nick Sandlin 67th by Cleveland. … We could be seeing Gray – an Ole Miss commit who, per Baseball America, “has plus raw power, plus speed and a plus throwing arm” — in a Biloxi Shuckers uniform in a few short years. Atlanta’s second-round pick on Monday – 49th overall — was Wichita State first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-handed hitter with power who was the Cape Cod League MVP last summer. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him move quickly and arrive in Mississippi by 2019. … Day 2 of the draft includes Rounds 3-10. State’s Konnor Pilkington, expected to go on Day 1, and Jake Mangum and Ole Miss’ Ryan Olenek and Nick Fortes are among the names to watch for. P.S. Keep in mind that you don’t even have to be drafted to make the major leagues. Greenville native Frank White wasn’t. As the story goes, White was playing at a junior college in Missouri when he was recruited by the Kansas City Royals to attend their newly created baseball academy in 1970. Three years later, he made The Show and went on to enjoy an All-Star career that lasted 18 years. Former Ole Miss star Bobby Kielty, who played seven years in MLB, was signed as an undrafted free agent by Minnesota in 1999 after leading the Cape Cod League in hitting in the summer of ’98. He debuted with the Twins in 2001.

29 May

checkpoint

As they blow by the Memorial Day checkpoint, Brian Snitker holds the lead, with Clint Hurdle running second and Mickey Callaway third. Buck Showalter and Ned Yost appear to have fallen off the lead lap. Of the seven Mississippi-connected managers at the wheel of a big league club, only Atlanta’s Snitker, Pittsburgh’s Hurdle and the New York Mets’ Callaway reached Memorial Day with a winning record. Showalter’s Baltimore team, after losing on Monday, is 20 games under .500. Yost’s Kansas City team is 18 under. Toronto, under John Gibbons, is hanging tough at 25-29, and Ron Gardenhire has steered Detroit to a 24-29 mark, exceeding expectations in his first year there. To be fair, expectations weren’t high for any of these seven clubs. The first-place Braves, under former Mississippi Braves skipper Snitker, are a relatively young bunch running ahead of schedule. It’s a solid team – currently ranked No. 5 in mlb.com’s latest power poll — but they’ll be challenged in the National League East to hold off Washington, Philadelphia and perhaps even the Mets, who are in the charge of ex-Ole Miss star Callaway, brand new to the job. Despite a spate of adversity (check their disabled list), the Mets are 26-25 and just 4 games back of Atlanta. Former Jackson Mets manager Hurdle has done a fine job with the Pirates, who are contending in the NL Central even after trading away stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson, acquired in a preseason trade, has been one of the Bucs’ best hitters. Gardenhire, a former Jackson Mets shortstop and veteran MLB manager, has the outmanned Tigers just 3½ games off the pace in the American League Central. Former JaxMets catcher Gibbons’ Blue Jays, while just 4 games under .500, are 12 games back of Boston in the AL East. It’s already been a long season for Mississippi State product Showalter and JaxMets alum Yost, both of whom could use an extended pit stop to make repairs. P.S. Ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, out over a month with an elbow issue, returned to San Diego’s lineup on Monday and went 1-for-4 with an RBI.