Jeff Francoeur turns 34 today. He was a mere 21 when he arrived in Mississippi in 2005 as one of the game’s top-rated prospects. At 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, he looked like a ballplayer on the field, and he had the kind of infectious personality that made him a presence in the Mississippi Braves’ clubhouse, too. “Frenchy” debuted in Atlanta later that same year and famously made the cover of Sports Illustrated after an impressive start. But his star turn was short-lived. He was found wanting in Atlanta by 2009 and was traded away. He played for seven other MLB clubs before retiring to the broadcast booth – with the Braves – last year. There are plenty of haters out there who’ll dismiss Francoeur’s career as a big bust. True, he was never an All-Star and didn’t lead Atlanta to a championship. But he hit .261 with 160 home runs over a 12-year period. Those aren’t table-scrap numbers. He hit 29 bombs in one season and twice drove in more than 100 runs. He hit .293 one year and .285 in another. Twice he had 40 or more doubles in a season. He had a 22-steal season. He won a Gold Glove in right field and three times led his league in outfield assists. On this day, his birthday, he deserves some props.
Luis Hernandez, who was the starting shortstop for the Mississippi Braves for their inaugural opening day in 2005, is currently playing second base for Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League. (Yes, it’s amazing the number of familiar names one runs across while scanning winter league box scores.) Hernandez, a Venezuela native, is one of the six members of the M-Braves’ opening day lineup to make the big leagues and one of just a handful from that team still playing at any level. He is 33 now and has been in pro ball since 2002; his last stint in affiliated ball was with the Los Angeles Angels’ Triple-A club in 2015. Hernandez played for 14 different minor league clubs and four different MLB teams. The 5-foot-10 switch-hitter batted .243 (with five triples) for the 2005 M-Braves and .268 the next season. He reached the majors in 2007 with Baltimore. P.S. From looking back to looking ahead: Alay Lago is a name to watch for when the M-Braves’ 2018 roster is announced. Lago, a second baseman/third baseman, led the Class A Florida State League in hitting at .303 last season for the Florida Fire Frogs. A Cuba native, Lago is 26 but will be playing just his second season in the States in 2018. He played in Mexico in 2016. Other 2017 Fire Frogs who could arrive in Pearl next April include first baseman Carlos Castro (.283, 10 homers); outfielder Anfernee Seymour (.280, 17 steals); catcher Brett Cumberland (.269); and outfielder Braxton Davidson, a onetime touted prospect who hit just .217 with seven homers last year.
Atlanta would appear to have hit a home run with its new hire for manager of the Mississippi Braves. As baseball resumes go, it’s hard to beat what Chris Maloney brings to the table. The newly named skipper of the Double-A M-Braves is not only a local boy, but he has a wealth of managerial experience highlighted by championships and awards. Maloney, nicknamed “Hammer,” is a Jackson native and former Mississippi State star who played pro ball in the New York Mets and St. Louis systems. His father, local businessman Con Maloney, was a longtime owner of Jackson’s Texas League franchise. Chris Maloney was in his sixth year on the Cardinals’ major league staff when he was suddenly removed as third-base coach and reassigned back in June in a rather odd move. Maloney managed in the St. Louis system for 17 years, winning a Triple-A Pacific Coast League title with Memphis in 2009. He was manager of the year in the Texas League in 1998 while at Arkansas and was Baseball Weekly’s minor league manager of the year in 1993 when he was at Class A Savannah. He also managed in Houston’s system. He’s a great choice to run the M-Braves. Maloney succeeds Luis Salazar as the Southern League club’s seventh manager since it moved to Pearl in 2005. P.S. For the record, there are now seven Mississippi-connected managers in the big leagues: Ex-Mississippi State standout Buck Showalter (Baltimore), Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway (New York Mets), former Jackson Mets players Ned Yost (Kansas City), John Gibbons (Toronto) and Ron Gardenhire (Detroit), former JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh) and former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker (Atlanta).
Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss star from Picayune, went 3-for-5 in Thursday’s regular season finale to finish at .347, good for seventh in the Arizona Fall League batting race. Playing for Salt River, the Miami prospect had eight steals, which ranked fourth in the league. … Peoria takes on Mesa in Saturday’s AFL championship game (2 p.m., MLB Network). Peoria, managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar, features a bunch of M-Braves alumni, most notably ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and uber-prospect Ronald Acuna. Riley hit .300 with six homers. Acuna batted .325 and led the loop with seven bombs. Spencer Turnbull and Zac Houston, both Detroit farmhands, are on Mesa’s roster. Turnbull, a Madison Central product, went 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA as a starter. Houston, a Mississippi State alum, had a stellar AFL campaign: no runs allowed on four hits with 18 strikeouts and one walk in 11 1/3 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) was also outstanding: 0.00 ERA, league-best four saves and 18 K’s in 11 2/3 innings for Scottsdale. … Former Harrison Central standout Bobby Bradley, at 21 one of the younger players in the league, mostly scuffled, batting .230 with two homers and 32 strikeouts for Glendale. Bradley is one of Cleveland’s top prospects. … Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass (Los Angeles Angels), a late add to Scottsdale’s roster, went 1-for-24.
Alas, ex-Harrison Central High standout Bobby Bradley did not win in the fan voting for the final two rosters spots in Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game. Bradley, a top-rated Cleveland prospect with 87 home runs in four pro seasons, is batting .273 with two homers in 11 games for Glendale. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley and fellow Mississippi Braves alum Ronald Acuna, who are in the Fall Stars Game, homered for Peoria on Tuesday, the fourth for each. That’s one off the league lead, which belongs to M-Braves alum Alex Jackson. Riley is batting .342, Acuna .377 with an amazing 18 runs in 15 games. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll, who is not in the Fall Stars Game, leads the AFL with four saves for Scottsdale. The New York Yankees prospect has not allowed a run in nine innings of work and has 14 strikeouts. … Mississippi State product Zac Houston, a Detroit farmhand, struck out three batters in 1 1/3 innings for Mesa on Tuesday, running his AFL total to 11 in 6 1/3. He has yielded three hits and no runs. … Former Meridian Community College standout Wade Wass was a late addition to the Los Angeles Angels’ AFL team and is 1-for-9 in two games for Scottsdale. Wass, a catcher, hit .257 with 11 homers for Double-A Mobile this past season but was injured in late July and didn’t play again.
Winning a World Series ring as a member of the Houston Astros should propel Brian McCann a little farther down what the MLB Network guys call “the Hall of Fame Highway.” McCann was the first Mississippi Braves player to earn a promotion to the big leagues back in 2005 and will almost certainly be the first M-Braves alumnus to make the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The 33-year-old catcher has a lifetime average of .264 (1,481 hits) with 263 home runs, 950 RBIs and a 30.2 WAR. He has hit 20 or more homers in 10 seasons and smacked 18 for the Astros in 2017. He is a seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner. He is also pretty good behind the plate. … Big props to Charlie Morton, M-Braves Class of 2007, for his World Series work: 10 1/3 innings, two runs allowed in two appearances. Notching the Game 7 win with four innings in relief puts Morton in select company. … The Jackson Generals were the Astros’ Double-A affiliate from 1991-99, and one connection to that era was in a Houston uniform on Wednesday night: hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who served in the same capacity for the Gens in 1993, when the team won a Texas League championship. … Houston was in the postseason six times between 1997 and 2005, and a large number of ex-Generals were on those teams, including the likes of Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman, Billy Wagner and Richard Hidalgo. Mississippi natives Roy Oswalt, Jay Powell, Dave Clark and Charlie Hayes also suited up the Astros during that time, which preceeded some lean years, including a 10-year playoff drought. … It has to be noted also that the first manager of the Houston franchise, born the Colt .45s in 1962, was Harry Craft, a native of Ellisville who managed the team for three seasons. He died in 1995. … Mississippi native Tony Sipp will get a ring, his first in a nine-year MLB career. Though he wasn’t active for the postseason, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product pitched in 46 games for the Astros this season, his fourth with the club.
Need a break from football on Saturday? Check out the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game, which will air at 7 p.m. on MLB Network and features several Mississippi connections. Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley, who spent part of 2017 with the Mississippi Braves, is on the West roster, along with fellow Braves prospects and M-Braves alums Ronald Acuna and Touki Touissant. Riley is having a great AFL campaign, batting .345 with three homers and 13 RBIs; the third baseman hit for the cycle in game for Peoria last week. Braxton Lee, an Ole Miss product from Picayune, is on the East roster. Lee, a Miami prospect and Southern League All-Star this past season, is batting .333 in 10 games for Salt River. Also making the East squad is 2017 Biloxi Shuckers infielder Jake Gatewood, a supplemental first-round pick by Milwaukee in 2014.