19 Oct

eye on …

Daniel Brown, a left-hander out of Mississippi State, is making a strong impression in the Arizona Fall League. The third-year pro, not a highly rated prospect in Milwaukee’s system, has pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in three appearances in the prospect-packed AFL. He worked 2 1/3 innings for Peoria on Thursday, yielding two hits with three strikeouts. The 5-foot-10 Brown put up a 4.20 ERA, seven wins and two saves in 39 relief stints for Carolina in the Class A Carolina League in 2018. The Brewers picked Brown in the seventh round in 2016, when he was on an MSU staff that included Dakota Hudson, Konnor Pilkington, Zac Houston, Reid Humphreys and Jacob Billingsley. Brown was the NJCAA Division III pitcher of the year at Tyler (Texas) JC in 2014. … George County High product Justin Steele threw three hitless innings for Mesa in the AFL on Thursday, bouncing back from a rough first start last week. Steele, rated the Chicago Cubs’ No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had an abbreviated 2018 campaign – his fifth in pro ball — as he returned from arm surgery. P.S. Jackson native and ex-big leaguer Stan Cliburn has been named manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. Cliburn managed that team to a division title in 2015. The longtime minor league and indy league skipper worked as a coach in another independent league in 2018.

01 Oct

stealing the show

Javier Baez may be an MVP candidate, but the shortstop who most looked the part in today’s tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field was Orlando Arcia. Biloxi Shuckers fans will remember him. The former Shuckers star went 4-for-4 and scored twice as Milwaukee beat Chicago 3-1 to claim the National League Central title. For Arcia, it was the kind of performance Brewers fans – and brass — had thought they’d see more of. Arcia, 24, had a poor season in 2018, batting just .227 and spending time in the minors, but he was a full-fledged star as he rose through Milwaukee’s system. He batted .307 with eight homers, 69 RBIs and 25 steals on a good Biloxi team in 2015. He played in the All-Star Futures Game that summer. He was a Triple-A Pacific Coast League All-Star in 2016 and made his big league debut that year. Arcia hit .277 with 15 homers and 14 bags as the Brewers’ regular shortstop in 2017 but started so poorly this year that he went to the minors for much of June and July. It’s October now, and he looks like he belongs in The Show.

30 Sep

buckle up

Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central star who has pitched a total of 11 innings in the big leagues, gets the start today for Detroit against Milwaukee in one of the four huge games on the schedule for the last day of the regular season. The Brewers are tied atop the National League Central with the Chicago Cubs, who host St. Louis. The Los Angeles Dodgers, at San Francisco today, are tied atop the NL West with Colorado, which hosts Washington. Division titles, much preferable than wild cards, are on the line. Monday playoff games are possible. Seamheads live for stuff like this. Mississippi-connected players could have significant impact, particularly at Miller Park today. Turnbull, a 26-year-old right-hander, was called up mid-month and is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in three games. His last start, however, was outstanding: six innings, one run allowed vs. Minnesota. He’ll be opposed by veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez, who has 126 wins in 312 career games and has pitched in four different postseasons. Detroit’s lineup is likely to include former Richton High star JaCoby Jones, who went 1-for-4 with two runs in the Tigers’ loss on Saturday. Pillow Academy alum Louis Coleman has had a good year out of the Detroit bullpen. Milwaukee’s pitching staff includes several former Biloxi Shuckers, among them former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff. He pitched two clean innings in the Brewers’ win on Friday. … Mississippi Braves alum Alex Wood picked up the win out of the pen for the Dodgers against the hated Giants on Saturday and worked in their victory on Friday. The Dodgers also have ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who hasn’t played much of late but seems due for a big moment. … St. Louis, eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday, would like nothing more than to spoil any possible Cubs celebration at Wrigley Field today. Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson and Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers could see duty out of the Cardinals’ pen against a Cubs lineup that’ll most likely include ex-M-Braves star Jason Heyward.

25 Sep

something wild

Mississippian Lance Barksdale had a great view of a wild and wooly affair in St. Louis on Monday night. The Brookhaven native was the home plate umpire in Milwaukee’s 6-4 win over the Cardinals, a game that had major postseason implications. This one turned when St. Louis right fielder Jose Martinez, who spent a year with the Mississippi Braves, misplayed an Eric Thames fly ball into a triple in the eighth inning. Thames scored the go-ahead run on an errant pickoff throw at first base. The game “featured” 16 pitchers, including an “opener” who threw three pitches. There were three home runs, one by Martinez, whose bat – certainly not his glove — keeps him in the lineup. Brewers bullpen ace and strikeout machine Josh Hader, the former Biloxi Shuckers star, yielded two homers, two walks and three runs, though he did manage two K’s. Ex-Shucker Corbin Burnes got two outs in the seventh and claimed the win; he is 7-0. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson walked in a run (on his first four pitches) and gave up a sac fly that put St. Louis behind in the sixth inning. Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers gave up a big RBI double in the ninth to Brewers star – and likely league MVP – Christian Yelich. Eighteen batters struck out all told, and — oddly — neither team got a hit with a runner in scoring position. There was a runner thrown out at the plate. There were two hit batsmen. There was even a rain delay. When all was said and done, the Brewers stood 1.5 games behind first-place Chicago in the National League Central. The Cardinals are 3 games back of the Brewers and just a half-game up on Colorado in the wild card standings. P.S. Jonathan Holder, the former State star from Gulfport, made his first career start – in his 103rd appearance — for the New York Yankees, serving as the “opener” against Tampa Bay. He walked a pair but didn’t allow a run in his one inning of work and the Yanks went on to beat the Rays 4-1, handing Oakland a postseason berth in the process.

24 Sep

central casting

All eyes – well, a lot of them — are on the National League Central and the two intra-divisional series that start today in Chicago and St. Louis. And, yes, Mississippi ties are all around. The first-place Cubs host fourth-place Pittsburgh – officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday – in a four-game series at Wrigley Field, while second-place Milwaukee – 2.5 games behind the Cubs – and the third-place Cardinals – 4.5 games behind the Cubs – tangle in a three-game set at Busch Stadium. The Brewers and Cardinals top the wild card standings, with Colorado lurking 1.5 games back. The Brewers’ roster includes former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff and several other former Biloxi Shuckers, notably pitchers Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams and shortstop Orlando Arcia. Brewers coach Carlos Subero is a former Shuckers manager. Ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers and State alum Dakota Hudson have been key contributors in St. Louis’ bullpen, and ex-Mississippi Braves John Gant and Chasen Shreve are also on the pitching staff. The Milwaukee-St. Louis season series is tied 8-8. The Cubs suit up a pair of M-Braves alums – Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella – and their pitching coach is former Jackson Generals coach Jim Hickey. The Cubs have the best record in the NL but they’re in no position to breathe easy against a Pirates lineup that usually features Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson, one of the league’s leading hitters, and ex-State standout Adam Frazier. Pittsburgh is managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, and the hitting coach is Waynesboro native Jeff Branson. P.S. Frazier hit his 10th home run on Sunday and joins Hunter Renfroe, Brian Dozier, Tim Anderson, Mitch Moreland, Dickerson and JaCoby Jones as Mississippians with double-digit bombs in the majors this season.

20 Aug

back on track

In his fifth year in pro ball, Justin Steele is still in the low minors, though he isn’t exactly spinning his wheels. George County High product Steele appeared to be having a breakout season at the advanced Class A level in 2017 when an arm injury sent him to the disabled list in early August. As it turned out, the left-hander needed Tommy John surgery. After a quicker-than-usual recovery, Steele seems to be humming along nicely back at Myrtle Beach, the Chicago Cubs’ high-A team. On Sunday, he went five innings, allowing two runs and fanning seven, to improve to 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts. He had a 1.47 ERA in the Arizona League to begin his comeback. Steele was a dominant hurler at George County, posting a 0.98 ERA and tossing two no-hitters as a senior. The Cubs picked him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, and he passed on a scholarship to Southern Miss to sign. Now 23, Steele is rated the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) and twice has made their organizational postseason all-star team, including last year when he went 6-7, 2.92 at Myrtle Beach before the injury detour. Though he has yet to be tested in Double-A, he appears to be part of the Cubs’ future plans.

03 Aug

one step closer

Bobby Bradley has taken another step toward the big leagues, moving from Double-A to Triple-A in the Cleveland system. The lefty-hitting first baseman out of Harrison Central High went 0-for-4 in his debut with Columbus on Thursday night. He had 24 homers at Akron, though he was hitting just .214 with 105 strikeouts in 389 at-bats. Still only 22 years old, Bradley is rated the Indians’ No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline. Power is his calling card; in five pro seasons he has 111 bombs. … The Indians also bumped Nick Sandlin up a level, from low Class A Lake County to high-A Lynchburg. The Southern Miss product, a second-round pick in June, had a 1.74 ERA in 10 games at Lake County after making three scoreless appearances in the rookie Arizona League. He has 19 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings and has not walked a batter. Sandlin won a national pitcher of the year award and was the C-USA pitcher of the year in addition to claiming the Ferriss Trophy. P.S. Sandlin’s 2018 USM teammate Luke Reynolds, a 10th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs, has caught fire in the short-season Northwest League, batting .400 over his last 10 games and .358 in 15 games overall for Eugene. The C-USA hitter of the year has a homer and nine RBIs. … While things are looking up for former Golden Eagles Sandlin and Reynolds, Mason Robbins may have reached a dead end. The 25-year-old outfielder is currently out of the game, having been released by the Chicago White Sox on July 22. Robbins was hitting .265 at Triple-A Charlotte in his fifth pro season. He is a .283 career hitter but apparently lacks the power and/or speed to be a corner outfielder. … The Ugly Stat of the Day – maybe the year – in MLB goes to Jonathan Holder, who faced seven batters and saw all seven score in the New York Yankees’ 15-7 loss to Boston on Thursday. Former Mississippi State star Holder’s ERA jumped from 2.06 to 3.50.

20 Jul

ties that bind

In a dugout interview during ESPN’s coverage of Thursday night’s game, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon sang the praises of former Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward, calling his first-half performance a key ingredient in the team’s charge into first place. Heyward rose to the occasion with a three-hit, two-RBI game as the Cubs beat St. Louis 9-6 to begin the second half. After a couple of seasons of scuffling in Wrigleyville, Heyward is hitting .290 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 2018. Resurgent seasons by Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez, All-Star campaigns by Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and the unyielding brilliance of Craig Kimbrel give rise to the idea that you could put together a competitive team of former M-Braves now in the big leagues. An infield of Freeman, Albies, Andrelton Simmons and Martin Prado is pretty darn solid. At catcher, there’s the seven-time All-Star Brian McCann, backed by Jesus Sucre. In the outfield, Heyward, Hernandez and either Ronald Acuna or Mallex Smith would be outstanding defensively. Evan Gattis is a scary man at DH. On the bench: Choose from Johan Camargo, Jose Peraza, Dansby Swanson, Tommy La Stella, Jose Martinez. Charlie Morton, also a 2018 All-Star, would head up a rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb and Mike Minor. All-Star Kimbrel would be the closer in a bullpen with some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Jesse Biddle, A.J. Minter, Chasen Shreve, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin. Such a team could probably win the American League Central this year.

08 Jul

on this date

On July 8, 1941, Ted Williams hit perhaps the most famous All-Star Game home run. His two-out, three-run, walk-off bomb at Briggs Stadium in Detroit gave the American League a 7-5 win over the Nationals. The victimized pitcher was Waynesboro native Claude Passeau. Passeau wore No. 13 most of his big league career and wore it well. The right-hander won 162 games – third-most ever for a Mississippi native – and threw a one-hitter in the 1945 World Series for the Chicago Cubs. He earned five All-Star Game nods. But luck frowned on the Millsaps College alumnus in the Midsummer Classic. In the ’41 game, his first, a botched double play would have ended the game before Williams batted. In 1942, he worked two scoreless innings in relief in a game the NL lost 3-1. He didn’t get in the ’43 game and the ’45 game wasn’t played. In 1946, Passeau, now 37 years old, got the start and went three innings, yielding just two hits. One of them, however, was a two-run homer in the first inning by Charlie Keller. The NL never scored and Passeau was saddled with another loss.

06 Jul

into the record book

Move over, Jose Canseco. Pardon, Jake Marisnick. Trent Giambrone, the former Delta State star, has joined Canseco, Marisnick and three others as the only players in the long history of the Southern League to drive in nine runs in a single game. Giambrone hit three home runs as part of a 4-for-5 performance on Thursday night as he led Double-A Tennessee to a 16-3 victory over Jackson. Batting in the 3-hole for the Chicago Cubs affiliate, Giambrone, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound middle infielder, hit a solo homer, a two-run homer, a grand slam and a two-run double. The grand slam came in the ninth inning. He also had a hand in two double plays. He is batting .264 with 14 homers, 37 RBIs and 19 steals for the year. Giambrone was an All-Gulf South Conference player and GSC Tournament MVP in 2016 at Delta State. He batted .386 with nine homers and 11 steals as a senior for the Statesmen that year. The Cubs drafted Giambrone in the 25th round, and he has moved up swiftly. He’s had some good nights, but none like Thursday.