Congratulations to Phillip Wellman, the former Mississippi Braves manager who piloted the Amarillo Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship on Sunday, beating Tulsa 8-3 in the decisive fifth game. This is the team’s first year in Amarillo after the franchise – still a San Diego affiliate — moved from San Antonio. (Sod poodle is a pioneer nickname for prairie dog.) It was the second championship for Wellman in 19 seasons as a minor league skipper; he won the other in 2008 in the second of his four seasons with the M-Braves. … Condolences to the Biloxi Shuckers, who lost at Jackson, Tenn., on Sunday in Game 5 of the Southern League Championship Series. The Shuckers, a Milwaukee affiliate, have lost in the SL finals in three of their five seasons on the Coast. … It’s now been 11 years since Mississippi celebrated a pro baseball championship, which is beginning to feel like a drought. Over a 15-year span starting in 1981, Jackson’s Texas League clubs won five championships – the Mets in 1981, ’84 and ’85 and the Generals in ’93 and ’96. The independent Senators won a Central League crown in 2003, and five years later, the M-Braves won their lone Southern League title. Long before that, Jackson-based teams won league championships in 1908, 1913, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1940 and 1947, according to research in the Minor League Encyclopedia of Baseball. The 1913 team, known as the Lawmakers, posted an impressive 71-24 record (.747 winning percentage) in the old Cotton States League. Mississippi did not have a pro club from 1953, when the original Senators left town, to 1975, when the Mets moved into Smith-Wills Stadium.
Among the impressive pitching feats of 2019, this one deserves a special mention: Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Mike Minor and a pair of Texas relievers beat the New York Yankees 7-0 on Monday, handing the Bronx Bombers their first shutout in 221 games. The Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — have averaged 5.8 runs per game this season. Minor worked 7 1/3 innings, scattering five hits, walking one and fanning five. One of the Yankees hitters called Minor’s four-pitch repertoire “nasty.” “We mixed every pitch,” Minor told mlb.com. “We didn’t get into any patterns. I felt like we attacked.” Minor, an All-Star this year, is 12-8 with a 3.12 ERA. He was a first-round pick by Atlanta out of Vanderbilt in 2009 and pitched for the M-Braves in 2010. He was 2-6, 4.03 but showed his stuff by striking out 109 in 87 innings. He debuted in the big leagues later that season. His career was derailed by injuries in 2015, but he has made a strong comeback the last two years with Texas.
A pair of former Southern Miss pitchers will get some bonus work in the Arizona Fall League, the select circuit that begins its season on Sept. 18. Bradley Roney, currently with the Mississippi Braves in Atlanta’s system, and Kirk McCarty, pitching for Lynchburg in the Cleveland organization, are on the AFL’s initial rosters announced Wednesday. More names will be added soon. Roney is one of four current M-Braves on the Scottsdale roster, joined by outfielder Greyson Jenista, outfielder Trey Harris and pitcher Connor Johnstone. Roney returned in May from roughly two years on the injured list. The 26-year-old right-handed reliever has a 2.70 ERA, two saves and 34 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings for Double-A Mississippi. Drafted in 2014, he reached Triple-A in 2016 before stalling out with arm injuries. McCarty, a left-handed starter, was a seventh-round pick in 2017. He has spent two stints on the IL this season at high Class A Lynchburg, where he has posted a 3-6 record with a 5.37 ERA in 12 games. He has a 4.03 career ERA. He’ll pitch for Mesa. Lefty Clayton Andrews, a Milwaukee prospect currently on Biloxi’s roster, is slated to pitch for Glendale.
From the Sometimes This Game Ain’t Fair Dept.: Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack shut out the best team in baseball for seven innings on Thursday night. He wound up with a no-decision as his team — the Toronto Blue Jays – lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 via a ninth-inning walk-off hit. Waguespack, pitching his 10th big league game, allowed one hit, one walk and one HBP in a 95-pitch outing. He was pulled — with a 2-0 lead — because of stomach cramps. The Jays’ bullpen gave up three runs in the ninth. Waguespack is 4-1 with a 3.63 ERA this season. … Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier returned from paternity leave on Thursday and was back in the lineup for Washington. He went 0-for-3 in a win against Pittsburgh. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley is slated to begin a rehab assignment tonight for Class A Rome in the Atlanta system. Riley, coming back from a knee injury, has 17 homers with 45 RBIs in 66 games as a Braves rookie. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Nate Lowe is batting .375 over his last 10 games at Triple-A Durham, eagerly awaiting a recall by Tampa Bay. Lowe batted .295 with five homers during previous stints with the Rays this season. … Also hoping for a September call-up is Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central star now at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s chain. Bradley is hitting just .138 over his last 10 games. He leads all Mississippians in the minors with 30 homers; he hit one during his 15-game big league tour. … Behind the pitching of Claudio Custodio, the Mississippi Braves beat Pensacola 3-1 on Thursday at Pearl’s Trustmark Park to conclude a 4-7 homestand. At 27-33 in the second half, the M-Braves have an elimination number of 1 in the Southern League South. They have 10 games left, including an Aug. 29-Sept. 2 homestand that will end the season. … Former M-Braves star Mallex Smith, now with Seattle, will wear WATER on the back of his jersey for Players Weekend (which starts today). Why? “Because I flow anywhere.”
St. Louis right-hander Dakota Hudson, the ex-Mississippi State star, told reporters after Monday’s game that he wasn’t surprised when he was pulled in the seventh inning with a lead because he knew his pitch count was running high. The surprise, Hudson said, came when he got into the Cardinals’ clubhouse and learned that he had not allowed a hit to the Milwaukee Brewers. Alas, the no-hitter was broken up in the eighth, but St. Louis won 3-0 to take sole possession of first place in the National League Central. The hyper-focused Hudson went 6 2/3, walking four and fanning seven, to improve to 12-3, 3.63 ERA. He had thrown 111 pitches when he departed. “He had more than done his job,” manager Mike Shildt told mlb.com. Hudson’s last no-hitter was in high school in Tennessee. … No Mississippian, native or college alum, has thrown a solo no-no in the big leagues. Roy Oswalt worked the first inning of a six-man no-hitter for Houston in 2003, and Jonathan Papelbon finished off a four-man no-no for Philadelphia in 2014. … A day after belting two homers in a big win for Washington, Fulton native and Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier went on paternity leave to return home for the birth of his first child. … Curious to see what kind of impact Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton will have with Atlanta. The Braves, who have three outfielders on the injured list, claimed the light-hitting but fast-running center fielder on waivers Monday. His likely roles are pinch runner and late-inning defensive replacement. Hamilton has 295 career MLB steals, most ever by a Mississippian, and swiped an all-time pro record 155 in the minors in 2012. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Travis Demeritte, traded to Detroit in the Shane Greene deal, has quietly gotten off to a nice start: .292, two homers, 10 runs, three doubles, two triples and three steals in 18 games for the Tigers. He is one of eight M-Braves products to debut in the majors in 2019. … DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan is ranked the No. 11 high school prospect for the 2020 draft by mlb.com’s Jim Callis. An MSU commit, Jordan hit .440 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs in 37 games for the MHSAA Class 6A state champs last season.
In a span of six days starting July 31, the Mississippi Braves’ prospect-packed roster was gouged. Pitcher Joey Wentz, Atlanta’s No. 9 prospect (MLB Pipeline), was traded on deadline day. On Aug. 4, No. 7 Kyle Muller, also a pitcher, went on the injured list. On Aug. 5 — the final day of the last homestand — No. 1 Cristian Pache, No. 2 Drew Waters, No. 3 Ian Anderson and No. 13 Tucker Davidson (two outfielders and two more starting pitchers) were promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett. Boom. As the M-Braves begin a 10-game homestand tonight, you might be wondering, what’s left? Well, Atlanta does have one of the strongest farm systems, and there are several intriguing top 20 prospects on the current club. Start with Trey Harris, a former SEC (Missouri) outfielder promoted from A-ball last month. The No. 18 prospect, he is batting .310 in 20 games after blowing through low-A Rome (.366, eight homers) and high-A Florida (.303, four homers). William Contreras, No. 8, the younger brother of big leaguer Willson, is regarded as a strong defensive catcher and is batting .237 in 44 Double-A games. No. 11 Greyson Jenista is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound outfielder out of Wichita State who has four homers and 20 RBIs in 55 games. Another potential power bat belongs to C.J. Alexander, No. 19, a 6-5, 215 third baseman who has two homers in 20 games as he comes back from an injury earlier in the year. And Jassell De La Cruz, No. 14, is a hard-throwing right-hander with a 3-7, 4.41 ledger over 13 games. Bradley Roney isn’t on the top prospect charts, but the former Southern Miss star has been pitching like one: one earned run allowed in his last nine appearances, 3.26 ERA in 15 games all told. The team is in a period of adjustment – they went 1-4 on their recent road trip – but has enough pieces to put together a nice run over the next 10 days at Trustmark Park.
P.S. Biloxi High’s Colten Keith was invited to the USA Baseball 18-and-Under National Team Trials and Training starting today in California. The final 20-man 18U National Team will be named on Saturday and will compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup in Gijang City, South Korea, from Aug. 30-Sept. 8. Keith hit .527 with eight homers for Biloxi as a junior in 2019 after transferring from Arizona; he was Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year. … Oxford’s Tyrus Williams competed in the 15U National Team Trials held in July at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Two Mississippians took part in this summer’s 14U National Team Development Program in Cary: Keondre Fields of Nesbit and Keilon Parnell of Pascagoula.
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.
Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star, won’t be the only Mississippi-connected player vying for a Home Run Derby crown tonight in Cleveland. DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan is in the final of the High School Home Run Derby, which is slated to be held between rounds 1 and 2 of the big league event at Progressive Field. Jordan hit 20 homers in Sunday’s competition to advance to the final against A.J. Vukovich from Wisconsin. Jordan, a Mississippi State commit, has reclassified to be eligible for the 2020 MLB draft and is expected to go high. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound corner infielder hit 10 homers in 37 games for DeSoto as a sophomore this season. He gained a measure of fame as a 14-year-old 8th-grader when he belted a 504-foot homer to win a national contest at Marlins Park in Miami. … For the record, Ole Miss’ Tyler Keenan finished second in the College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., on June 29. Keenan led the Rebels with 15 homers in 2019. … Acuna, who has 21 homers this year and 47 all told in his two MLB campaigns, famously homered in his first at-bat for the M-Braves in 2017. He faces Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell in tonight’s first round. … An mlb.com article rated Bobby Abreu’s victory in the 2005 Home Run Derby as the No. 9 “best moment” in Derby history, which dates to 1985 (when Mississippi native Dave Parker won the inaugural event). Former Jackson Generals star Abreu, who was with Philadelphia at the time, blasted 41 bombs to win the ’05 Derby at Detroit’s Comerica Park. He hit 288 career home runs over 18 MLB seasons. P.S. Current M-Braves star Drew Waters, who somehow didn’t make the roster for the All-Star Futures Game that was played in Cleveland on Sunday night, put on a show at Trustmark Park in Pearl with his fourth four-hit game of the season in a 10-1 win against Biloxi. Waters, 20, a switch-hitting outfielder, is batting .335 with five homers, 31 RBIs, 53 runs, 29 doubles and nine triples.
Bradley Roney, drafted by Atlanta out of Southern Miss in 2014, reached Triple-A in 2016 and put up nice numbers as a closer there. But his rapid progress was suddenly derailed by injuries that cost him a big chunk of the 2017 season, all of 2018 and some of this season. He may be getting back on track. Roney, 26, was promoted to the Double-A Mississippi Braves on Thursday after a dominating stint at Class A Florida, where he worked 14 1/3 scoreless innings with 18 strikeouts and three walks. Roney pitched for the M-Braves in 2016 and ’17. He had 30 career saves at USM and is 20-for-25 with a 13-7 record and 3.38 ERA in his six minor league campaigns. … The M-Braves, currently playing a series in Biloxi, return to Trustmark Park on June 25. P.S. Blast from the past: Among the handful of players still active from the first M-Braves team in 2005 is Iker Franco, who was the backup catcher to Brian McCann. Franco, now 38 and in his 20th year of pro ball, is playing for Oaxaca in the Mexican League. Franco batted .296 with three homers in 48 games for the M-Braves before earning a brief promotion to Triple-A. A native of Mexico, he has played in the Mexican League since 2008 and was the championship series MVP in 2011. He is currently batting .260 with three homers, including a walk-off shot on May 28.
The talent cultivated at Pearl’s Trustmark Park over the years has blossomed into something special in Atlanta. The surging Braves are 13-3 in June and 43-30 for the season, threatening to break away in the National League East. Former Mississippi Braves have led the way in this remarkable month, during which the big club has averaged 7.8 runs per game. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley – all have had productive months. “We’re so talented from top to bottom and we show up every night,” veteran catcher Brian McCann told mlb.com after Monday’s 12-3 blowout of the New York Mets. “This is a special team.” McCann, the first M-Braves alum to reach the big leagues back in 2005, has provided a boost on and off the field in his return to the ATL after several years away. He is batting .375 with four homers in 10 games this month. Acuna, moved back to the leadoff spot in mid-May, is hitting .378 with six homers and 18 RBIs in June. Albies is at .367 with four homers and 15 RBIs. Freeman: .333, six homers, 20 RBIs. Swanson: .279, three homers, 18 runs. Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star called up in May: four homers, 12 RBIs, 16 runs in June alone. Overshadowed has been the pitching of former M-Braves Julio Teheran (2-0, 0.53 ERA this month), Mike Soroka (3-0, 4.21), Sean Newcomb (0.93) and Jacob Webb (3.38). It’s been a fun time for old Braves fans, who can only hope the bloom holds into October.