After winning both halves of their division race, the Biloxi Shuckers will begin pursuit of an elusive pennant tonight when the Southern League South playoffs start at MGM Park. The Shuckers went 82-55 overall in 2019. They play wild card qualifier Pensacola in the best-of-5 division series. Biloxi made the postseason in 2015, its first year on the Coast, and again last year but did not capture the league title. Milwaukee’s Double-A club last won the SL pennant in 2001, when it was in Huntsville. (The Mississippi Braves, who just completed their 15th year in Pearl, have won one SL pennant, that coming in 2008.) Biloxi will be without league pitcher of the year Trey Supak, who was promoted in July, and All-Star first baseman Patrick Leonard, who is injured. All-Star closer Nate Griep (1.98 ERA, 22 saves) is still around, as is the power-hitting foursome of Weston Wilson (19 homers), Cooper Hummel (17), Jake Gatewood (13) and Dillon Thomas (13). C.J. Hinojosa is the leading hitter at .280, and Luis Aviles Jr. stole 27 bags. Alec Bettinger (5-7, 3.44) is slated to start Game 1. Former Mississippi State standout Daniel Brown (3.19) works out of the Biloxi pen, as does Clayton Andrews (2.59), who also plays some outfield (.281). … The M-Braves finished 62-74 overall and, despite a prospect-filled roster, didn’t seriously challenge in either half in the South. The M-Braves also had three players make the All-Star team: pitcher Ian Anderson and outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, who was the league’s MVP. Waters became the fifth Jackson area Double-A player to win a player of the year honor. Tim Leary, a pitcher for the Jackson Mets, won the Texas League award in 1980, a year when the league did not have a separate award for pitchers. Darryl Strawberry (1982) and Gregg Jefferies (1987) also won the TL award as JaxMets, and Roberto Petagine won it in 1993 with the Jackson Generals. Javy Lopez in 1992 was the last Braves prospect to win the SL MVP; the team was in Greenville, S.C., at that time.
Fans of Double-A baseball in the Jackson area have seen some great hitters put up some great numbers over the years. Think Darryl Strawberry in 1982 or Roberto Petagine in 1993 or Ernesto Mejia in 2011. Picking one particular season as THE best is a very subjective exercise, but suffice it to say that current Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters belongs in the conversation. Waters, 20, leads the Southern League in hitting at .324. He also leads in doubles (35), triples (nine) and runs (62). He is third in on-base percentage (.369), fourth in slugging (.490) and has five homers, 41 RBIs and 13 steals in 105 games. Those numbers compare favorably to the luminaries of the past. Strawberry, playing for the Jackson Mets at Smith-Wills Stadium in ’82, put on a show worthy of the hype he was already receiving as the No. 1 overall draft pick of 1980. He hit a modest .283 but slugged .602 with 34 homers, 19 doubles and nine triples. He also stole 45 bases and drove in 97 runs. He was the Texas League’s player of the year. Gregg Jefferies won the TL award in 1987 after a season that topped Strawberry’s in some respects. Jefferies hit a ridiculous .367 with a .598 slug; he added 20 homers, 48 doubles and five triples while also stealing 26 bases and driving in 101 runs. Petagine, playing for the Jackson Generals in ’93, also was a TL POY and won the league batting title with a .334 average. He hit 15 homers and 36 doubles (.529 slug) and drove in 90 runs. A year later, Bobby Abreu put up a .303 average with 16 homers, 73 RBIs, 25 doubles, nine triples and 12 steals. Mejia, playing for the M-Braves at Trustmark Park in 2011, batted .297 with 26 homers, 99 RBIs and 37 doubles. He slugged .531. He did not win Southern League MVP, however. That went to some guy named Paul Goldschmidt. In 2013, Tommy La Stella of the M-Braves hit .343 but didn’t have the other big numbers (21 doubles, four homers, seven steals). In 2016, the M-Braves’ Dustin Peterson enjoyed an MVP-caliber season (Tyler O’Neill won the award) with a .282 average, 12 homers, 88 RBIs and 38 doubles. Waters doesn’t have the big homer and RBI totals, but he should certainly be in the running for league MVP. (The last Atlanta prospect to win it was Javy Lopez in 1992, when the franchise was in Greenville, S.C.) Win it or not, Waters has had an unforgettable season.
And the National League leader in wins is – drumroll, please — former Wheeler High and Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, who notched his sixth on Tuesday. Not what anyone would have predicted for mid-May. The big right-hander threw six innings of one-hit ball as Milwaukee beat Philadelphia 6-1 in a matchup of two of the NL’s best clubs. Woodruff walked five but fanned five in winning his fourth straight start. “The fastball is really overpowering at times, it feels like,” Craig Counsell told mlb.com. “He’s using it well, he’s throwing his off-speed for strikes; it’s a good recipe for success.” Woodruff is 6-1 with a 3.72 ERA in nine starts this season, his third in the big leagues. He also got a hit in three at-bats Tuesday and is at .350 for the year. … Though he doesn’t have the win total to show for it, ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull actually has pitched better than Woodruff to date. The Detroit Tigers rookie right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.42 ERA, fourth-best in the American League, in eight outings. Over his last five starts, Turnbull is 2-0 with a 1.21. He last pitched on Sunday vs. Minnesota, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings and departing with a lead. He got a no-decision after the sub-.500 Tigers’ bullpen blew the save. P.S. Miguel Sano, who was at Trustmark Park in Pearl last week on a rehab assignment with Double-A Pensacola, has been activated by the Twins. Accompanying Sano on the rehab assignment was Sam Perlozzo, a Twins senior advisor who managed the Jackson Mets to back-to-back Texas League championships in 1984-85.
One hundred years ago – in September of 1919, to be precise – Ray Roberts of Cruger made his big league debut, a rather impressive stint of 6 2/3 innings for the Philadelphia A’s against the Chicago White Sox at Shibe Park. Roberts entered the game in the first inning after Lefty York had made a mess of things. Six runs were charged to York. Facing a lineup of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Chick Gandal and others from the infamous Black Sox scandal, Roberts allowed just one run in his time on the hill that day. The A’s lost 7-0. The Mississippi State alumnus made two more appearances that season and got roughed up in both, finishing with a 7.71 ERA. He never pitched in the majors again. At the plate, Roberts was 1-for-4 with a steal and a run. Maybe he missed his calling. … This year marks the debut anniversary of several Magnolia State names of note, among them Willie Mitchell (1909), Sam Leslie (1929), Luke Easter (1949, as the first black Mississippian to break in), Marshall Bridges (1959), Bob Didier (1969) and Marcus Lawton (1989). Lawton, from Gulfport, came up through the New York Mets’ system and established a reputation as a base-stealing machine, notching 111 steals in A-ball in 1985 and 44 the next year with the Double-A Jackson Mets. He finally reached the majors with the Yankees but got into only 10 games and swiped just one bag. That was it. Making The Show is certainly something to celebrate, but as is often noted, staying there is harder to do. Ten years ago, six Mississippi natives made their big league debut: Julio Borbon, Roosevelt Brown, Jarret Hoffpauir, Tony Sipp, Craig Tatum and Donnie Veal. Only Sipp, a Pascagoula native now with Washington, had a sustained MLB career.
Cool idea by the Mississippi Braves to give a nod to the old Jackson Generals as part of the M-Braves’ celebration of the franchise’s 15th year in Pearl. The M-Braves will wear some throwback apparel when the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals (no relation to the other one) visit Trustmark Park from June 25-29. On June 28, the first 1,000 fans will receive a replica Jackson (Miss.) Generals jersey. As a refresher, the Generals were the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Houston Astros and played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-1999. That club produced a bevy of big league stars, including Billy Wagner, Lance Berkman, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia, Richard Hidalgo, Todd Jones, Julio Lugo, Daryle Ward, Melvin Mora, Brian Hunter and Scott Elarton, to name, well, more than a few. The Generals won two Texas League pennants (1993 and ’96). Of course, Jackson’s pro baseball legacy extends well beyond the Generals. The Mets – New York’s Double-A club – occupied Smith-Wills from 1975-1990, turned out an array of stars, as well (see Darryl Strawberry, Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, Kevin Mitchell, et al.), and won three TL titles. And before the Mets there were a number of minor league teams that played in a long-gone ballpark at the Fairgrounds for many years up until the early ’50s. Included in that group was a Boston Braves farm team. And let’s not forget that after the Generals departed for Round Rock, Texas, two independent pro teams played at Smith-Wills: the DiamondKats (2000) and the Senators (2002-05). The Senators also won a championship. Bottom line: When it comes to pro baseball in central Mississippi, there’s a whole lot to celebrate.
If he produces a typical season, Brian Dozier will easily top 1,000 career hits in the big leagues in 2019. The Fulton native and former Southern Miss star is the active leader in hits among Mississippi-born players in MLB with 954 through six-plus seasons. Notching a thousand career hits is an impressive feat, requiring a combination of skill, opportunity and longevity. Dozier, 32 in May, will need another six or so productive seasons to reach 2,000 hits, which only four Mississippi-born players have managed to do. Grenada native Dave Parker tops that list with 2,712, followed by Ellisville’s Buddy Myer (2,131), Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks (2,107) and Greenville’s Frank White (2,006). Dozier, who’ll play second base for the Washington Nationals in 2019, could also reach another hits milestone this season. The record for a USM alum is 1,142, by Jim Davenport. Kevin Young is second with 1,007. … Former Mississippi State star Rafael Palmeiro is among the 32 players with 3,000 hits; his 3,020 are by far the most by a Mississippi college alumnus. Ex-Bulldogs great Will Clark had 2,176. The most by an Ole Miss product is 1,991 by Gee Walker, a Gulfport native who played in the 1930s and ’40s. Don Kessinger had 1,931. Dave Clark leads Jackson State alums with 518. … Amory’s Mitch Moreland, another Mississippi State product, is No. 2 on the state’s active hits list with 857. (Jackson’s Seth Smith, presumably retired, is sitting on 934.) Moreland, Boston first baseman, probably won’t get to 1,000 this year – his career-high for a season is 131 – but should make it in 2020. … … Bobby Abreu, who played for the Jackson Generals in the mid-’90s, is the leader, with 2,470 hits, among former Jackson area Double-A players. Hubie Brooks leads former Jackson Mets with 1,608, and Brian McCann, still active, is tops among ex-Mississippi Braves with 1,521.
Roy Oswalt, recently elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, is arguably the best major league pitcher the Magnolia State has ever produced. The right-hander from Weir won 163 games, posted two 20-win seasons, won an ERA title, made three All-Star teams, won an LCS MVP award and pitched in the World Series. His career ERA was 3.36, and he had over 1,800 strikeouts. For what it’s worth, his career WAR is 50.1, which is higher than that of Jack Morris, who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last summer. Oswalt was on the ballot for the first time for the 2019 class. As good as he was – and his stuff was unhittable at times — his Hall chances probably aren’t so good. The numbers just don’t rise to that level. Consider this: Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, won 176 games – most by a Mississippi native — from 1923-38 and added another 34 saves. Four times he won 18 or more games. His ERA was 3.86, and he played in a hitters’ era. He pitched in two World Series, including 1929, the year he won 18 games and saved eight for the Chicago Cubs. Bush was on the HOF ballot one year and got 1 percent of the vote from the writers. Tough crowd, those writers. There are no Mississippi-born major league players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame – Cool Papa Bell and William Foster were Negro Leagues stars – and while Oswalt will get some voter support, that’s likely to remain the case in 2019. … The HOF ballots were due Dec. 31, and the announcement of new electees will be made on Jan. 22. P.S. Former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia were first-timers on the ballot for 2019 and ex-Gens star Billy Wagner was a notable returnee. A case can be made for both Wagner and Berkman making the grade at some point. No ex-Gens (or Jackson Mets, for that matter) are enshrined in Cooperstown.
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.
Atlanta ended a four-year playoff drought under Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves manager, and ex-Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle kept Pittsburgh in contention well into September. That’s the good. For the other five Mississippi-connected managers in the big leagues, 2018 was mostly bad – if not downright ugly. Toronto, two years removed from a playoff berth, collapsed, and it has already been announced that former JaxMets catcher John Gibbons won’t be back as skipper in 2019. Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway’s first year as New York Mets manager was undermined in large part by injuries. Long out of contention, the team is 75-84. Ex-JaxMets infielder Ron Gardenhire, a veteran manager but new to Detroit, kept an undermanned club afloat for a while, but the Tigers (64-95) ultimately sank. Then there’s Ned Yost. Yost’s Kansas City club is a ghastly 57-102 in the former JaxMets catcher’s ninth season at the helm. Yost is the franchise’s all-time winningest manager and won the World Series just three years ago. He survived a terrible fall from a tree stand last November, and he apparently will survive the team’s plummet in the standings this season. No team has fallen harder than Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles, and the former Mississippi State star won’t be back in 2019, according to several credible reports. The second all-time winningest manager in Baltimore history, Showalter watched the Orioles tumble – and tumble and tumble — to 46-112. This is his ninth season with the O’s, the fourth team he has managed. His contract expires next month. He said in a session with the media on Thursday that he hasn’t been told anything about his future, isn’t thinking about it right now and is simply grateful to the organization for the opportunity he’s been given.
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.