Figures to be a lot of buzz at Ferriss Field in Cleveland tonight when Delta State and Mississippi College meet with a berth in the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship game on the line. The old rivals are both 2-0 in pool play. The winner advances to Wednesday’s title game. Top-seeded DSU (40-8) is 16-4 at home this season, but 4-seed MC (31-15) took one from the Statesmen in a three-game set last month. Clay Casey went 2-for-3 with his 16th home run of the year in DSU’s 7-5 win against North Alabama on Monday, while Billy Cameron and Blaine Crim combined for eight hits and seven RBIs in the Choctaws’ 11-1 win over West Alabama. … Southern Miss’ remarkable Nick Sandlin earned a fourth national player of the week award from Collegiate Baseball on Monday. He threw a six-hit shutout against UAB last week, improving to 7-0 with an 0.88 ERA. The Golden Eagles (35-12) have cracked the top 10 – at No. 9 – in d1baseball.com’s weekly rankings. Baseball America has USM 13th for the second straight week. (Ole Miss is sixth and fifth in those two polls.) … DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley, one of Atlanta’s top prospects, went 1-for-5 in his Triple-A debut on Monday, rapping a single in his first at-bat for Gwinnett. Riley was hitting .333 with six homers and 20 RBIs for the Double-A Mississippi Braves when he was promoted. The top position player prospect left on the M-Braves’ roster is catcher Alex Jackson, rated No. 14 by MLB Pipeline. Jackson is batting .221 with a homer and seven RBIs. … It’s time again, boys and girls, for Red Sox-Yankees. Tonight, at Yankee Stadium (6:05 p.m., MLB Network), former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz pitches for Boston against New York’s emergent ace Luis Severino. Pomeranz is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA but pitched well in his last start. The left-hander has a 3.12 career ERA at Yankee Stadium. Neither Aaron Judge nor Giancarlo Stanton has homered off Pomeranz – but Gary Sanchez has taken him deep three times. Mississippi State alum Mitch Moreland, who figures to be in Boston’s lineup, is 4-for-12 career vs. Severino.
That noise you hear might be Austin Riley revving his engine. The former DeSoto Central High star, who was just named Atlanta’s Double-A player of the month for April, appears ready for the move to the next level. Some would say the 21-year-old third baseman appeared ready after last season. But Riley remains with the Mississippi Braves at the moment while Atlanta continues its confounding Jose Bautista experiment. Atlanta signed the 37-year-old free agent late last month and is playing him at third base at Triple-A Gwinnett, prepping him for the big league job, where Ryan Flaherty and Johan Camargo have looked more than capable. Bautista last played third base with any regularity in 2011. And, again, he’s 37. Bautista, who has 331 big league homers (and almost as many controversial bat-flips), is hitting .250 with one homer in 36 at-bats for Gwinnett. He has made two errors in nine games at third. It’s just hard to fathom how Bautista fits with the Braves and their recent emphasis on young players from their well-stocked farm system. Riley fits. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound fourth-year pro is batting .318 with five homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs this season. He hit .315 with eight homers for the M-Braves in 48 games in 2017. He has 57 homers in his brief pro career. His defense is solid. “Love the guy,” M-Braves manager Chris Maloney said in a recent TV interview. “Plays hard. Plays smart. Does all the little things, plus he has a lot of talent.” Riley is the future – and he certainly looks ready to be tested in Triple-A.
At Trustmark Park, the prized arms just keep coming. Of Atlanta’s top 15 prospects (as ranked on mlb.com), 11 are pitchers. Seven of those 11 have climbed the bump at the TeePee in the past couple of years, and that number doesn’t include 2016 Mississippi Braves star Sean Newcomb, who has moved off the prospect chart and into Atlanta’s rotation. The marquee pitchers in 2017 were Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Luiz Gohara; Fried and Gohara already have made The Show. The centerpiece of the 2018 M-Braves staff is Kyle Wright, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect and the scheduled starter tonight in Pearl in the opener of a series against the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals. (Jon Duplantier, Arizona’s top prospect, is slated to start for Jackson.) Ex-Vanderbilt ace Wright was drafted fifth overall — $7M bonus – last June and worked only 17 innings in the low minors last summer. A 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander, he got his first Double-A win in his last outing, going six innings at Mobile. He is 1-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. Wright throws the requisite upper-90s fastball and two good breaking pitches, according to the MLB Pipeline scouting report. He is forecast to make the big leagues next year, as is Touki Touissant, another top 15 prospect on the current M-Braves staff. And remember the names Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller and Bryse Wilson. All are top 15 prospects pitching in A-ball who’ll be in Pearl soon. This wealth of pitching should pay dividends in Atlanta for years to come. P.S. Kudos to Jonny Venters, who toiled for the M-Braves in 2008-09, for making it back to the majors after a six-year absence. Venters, a star in Atlanta from 2010-12, has endured multiple arm surgeries and setbacks. He retired the only batter he faced for Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Both Kendall Graveman and Lance Lynn were saddled with another loss on Wednesday, but there was a difference in their outings. Former Mississippi State star Graveman may have found something; ex-Ole Miss standout Lynn is still searching. Graveman fell to 0-5 for 13-12 Oakland, allowing three runs in six innings of a 4-2 loss to Texas. But utilizing his changeup more frequently and effectively, he struck out seven batters and actually trimmed his ERA to 8.89. “I thought the changeup was really good,” Graveman told mlb.com. “Got a lot of swing-and-misses. For me, that’s a big plus, something I’m working on … .” Lynn, in his fourth start for Minnesota, was KO’d by the New York Yankees in the fourth inning of a 7-4 defeat, the 8-11 Twins’ sixth straight L. Lynn (0-2) yielded six runs – including two homers – and saw his ERA jump to 7.71. “When I made pitches, I would get outs, but I didn’t make them when it counted,” Lynn said in an mlb.com article. P.S. Cool to see five former Mississippi Braves combine for eight hits, three runs and three RBIs in Atlanta’s 5-4 victory at Cincinnati. Included was Ronald Acuna’s first big league hit and Ozzie Albies’ seventh homer. In addition, M-Braves alums Jesse Biddle tossed two scoreless innings and A.J. Minter notched his first save.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ first playoff team. The ’78 JaxMets beat Arkansas in the Texas League East playoffs and then fell to El Paso in the title series. Mookie Wilson was the hub of the offense, batting .292 with seven homers, 15 triples and 72 RBIs. Kelvin Chapman, another future big leaguer, hit .266 and led the club with 84 runs. Juan Monasterio batted .289, and Bobby Bryant belted eight homers. Jeff Reardon was the ace, going 17-4 with a 2.54 ERA. Neil Allen led the league in ERA. Scott Holman won 11 games and Kim Seaman 10. The ’78 season was the fourth year the Mets’ Double-A club operated at Smith-Wills Stadium, an affiliation that lasted 16 years. The OJMs missed the playoffs in 1979 but then went on a rip where they made it eight straight years and won three league titles. The ’78 JaxMets were managed by Bob Wellman, no relation to Phillip Wellman, who, 30 years later, managed the Mississippi Braves to the Southern League pennant. That remains the only title claimed by the M-Braves, now entering their 14th year at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The ’08 M-Braves featured a great young pitching staff: Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Todd Redmond, James Parr, et al. Kala Ka’aihue led the team in homers (14) and RBIs (61) and swung a big bat in the postseason. But the club was defined more by the scrappiness of Matt Young and J.C. Holt, who combined for 52 steals. Wellman loved to get aggressive on the bases, and the M-Braves scored the pennant-winning run against Carolina on a walk-off double steal. … This season also marks the 25th anniversary of the first Jackson Generals team to win a Texas League title. The 1993 season was the third at Smith-Wills Stadium for the Houston Astros affiliate. Stars of that club, managed by Sal Butera, included Brian Hunter, Roberto Petagine, Jim Dougherty, Tom Nevers and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson.
A rookie outfielder appears poised to crack Atlanta’s opening day roster, but it’s not top prospect Ronald Acuna. Dustin Peterson, who had a huge year for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, has had an outstanding spring for the Braves and is in the mix for playing time in left field. Peterson, 23, is batting .318 with two homers and six RBIs. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-handed hitter, acquired from San Diego in 2014, was a Southern League MVP candidate two years ago when he batted .282 with 12 homers, 88 RBIs and 38 doubles for an M-Braves team that played for the league title. Peterson played well in big league camp last year but suffered a broken hand that pretty much wrecked his 2017 season. “It’s a shame he got hurt because who knows what his story would be right now, the way he was swinging the bat last year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Peterson batted .248 with one homer in 87 games at Triple-A Gwinnett, but indications are he’s got his power back this spring. P.S. Seven other M-Braves alums are currently projected by mlb.com to make the initial 25-man roster: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter.
It’s the type of headline that compels you to click: “The best hitter you know nothing about.” The mlb.com story is a statistical analysis of the very fine 2017 season put together by St. Louis rookie Jose Martinez, a hitter whom Mississippi Braves fans actually do know something about. Martinez played right field for the 2013 M-Braves, and he stood out – and not just because he is 6 feet 6. Martinez was one of the best hitters on that team, batting .285 with six homers and 39 RBIs. He became a minor league free agent after that year, his eighth in pro ball. The Venezuela native briefly returned to the Atlanta organization – playing in A-ball — in 2014. He finally made his MLB debut in 2016 with the Cardinals – at age 28 – then broke out last summer after a swing change, batting .309 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs in 106 games. P.S. Atlanta had eight players – including No. 1 Ronald Acuna (see previous post) — in Baseball America’s new Top 100 prospects rankings, most of any organization. … Four Mississippi products made BA’s list: Austin Riley (Braves) at 54, Anthony Alford (Toronto) at 60, Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee) at 61 and Brent Rooker (Minnesota) at 92. … Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, is the No. 6 third base prospect in mlb.com’s position rankings. … Ex-Picayune High star T.J. House has signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox; the veteran left-hander got some big league time with Toronto in 2017 but spent most of the season in Triple-A.