07 Sep

thumbing through

It was a thumbs-down day for Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, who suffered a fractured thumb on Wednesday and likely will miss the rest of Cincinnati’s season. He is batting .248 with 58 steals, equaling his career-high. Hamilton missed a significant number of games in 2015 and ’16 because of injuries. … Give a thumbs up to Hamilton’s Reds teammate Zack Cozart. The former Ole Miss standout homered – his 18th of the season – to help Cincy beat Milwaukee 7-1 to complete a three-game sweep. … Another thumbs up goes out to Southern Miss product Brian Dozier, whose 29th homer leading off the game started Minnesota on its way to a 10-6 win against Tampa Bay in a battle of American League wild card hopefuls. Dozier also scored a go-ahead from first base on a bunt and throwing error in the seventh inning. … Thumbs down to Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star who took an 0-for-3 for Tampa Bay in that game. Dickerson, an All-Star who was hitting .342 on June 1, is now batting .284. … Thumbs up to Mississippi State alum Mitch Moreland, who went 1-for-3 with a run as Boston beat Toronto and extended its lead in the AL East to 4 games over New York. … Thumbs down to Richton High product JaCoby Jones, the rookie, and ex-UM star Alex Presley, the eight-year-vet, who were a combined 1-for-9 for Detroit in a 13-2 shellacking at the hands of Kansas City. … Give a thumbs up to Ronald Acuna, the Mississippi Braves alum who is a finalist for Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award. Acuna led all of the minors with 181 hits. The winner will be announced on Friday.

05 Sep

remember the names

On the last day of their season, the Mississippi Braves did the things a winning club must do. They battled back after falling behind. They scored early and added on. They played flawless defense. They got a quality start. The 8-3 win against Birmingham on Monday at Trustmark Park was an uplifting way to finish a season that was, record-wise, not much to celebrate. The M-Braves’ overall record was 58-80. They were third in their division in the first half, 6 games out, and dead last in the second. But this season will be remembered much more for the talent that came through. In fact, it was a veritable prospect parade. Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara and Touki Touissant are highly touted starting pitchers. Fried already has earned a big league win. Allard made the Southern League postseason All-Star team, and Soroka actually had a better season, leading the club with 11 wins. Touissant was the M-Braves’ winner on Monday, recovering from a shaky first inning to go seven, striking out eight with one walk. The marquee position player to come through, of course, was outfielder Ronald Acuna, who is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He hit .326 with nine homers in 57 games for the M-Braves and continued to rake in Triple-A. Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central star, came up from A-ball when Acuna left for Gwinnett and hit .315 with eight homers in 48 games. The 20-year-old third baseman had two hits and three RBIs on Monday and batted .382 over his last 10 games. Catching prospect Alex Jackson came up late in the season and hit .255 with five homers in 30 games. Infielder Travis Demeritte, also on Atlanta’s prospect charts, struggled at times (.231, 134 strikeouts) but finished strong and ended up with 15 homers. Under-the-radar types Jared James (.279, five homers, six triples) and Joey Meneses (.292, nine homers, 45 RBIs) also surged over the last couple weeks. James, an outfielder drafted in 2016 out of Cal Poly Pomona, went 3-for-5 with two runs on Monday. The M-Braves’ 13th season in Pearl may not have produced a pennant, but it did produce a feel-good glimpse of the future for Atlanta Braves fans.

01 Sep

attention, please

The must-see prospects on the Birmingham Barons’ roster include outfielder Eloy Jimenez, catcher Zack Collins and pitchers Alec Hansen and Spencer Adams. As the Barons visit the Mississippi Braves for a regular season-ending series, a fair number of fans in the seats will have an eye on Birmingham’s No. 20, Mason Robbins, the right fielder. A former Mr. Baseball at George County High and All-C-USA pick at Southern Miss just a few short years ago, Robbins comes to Trustmark Park swinging a hot bat. Though he is not among the Chicago White Sox’s top-rated prospects, Robbins, 24, is a .286 hitter over four pro seasons, including a .314 mark in A-ball in 2016. In his Double-A debut this year, Robbins has been up-and-down, but he is batting .300 over his last 40 at-bats and is currently at .270 with three homers, 36 RBIs and 47 runs in 120 games. The main knock on the 6-foot, 220-pound lefty hitter continues to be his lack of power as a corner outfielder: 18 homers in pro ball. But if keeps making contact (only 46 strikeouts all year), the power may yet come. Not that Robbins seems to be stressing over it. “Any time you get to wake up every morning and play baseball, it’s a fun opportunity,” he recently told Biloxi’s WLOX. P.S. Jacob Lindgren has begun throwing live batting practice, the Biloxi Sun-Herald reports. The Biloxi native and former Mississippi State standout, now in the Atlanta system, had Tommy John surgery last August. Drafted in the second round by the New York Yankees in 2014, lefty Lindgren blew through their system to reach the big leagues in 2015. He missed most of 2016 with the arm injury. The Yankees did not offer him a contract after last season, and he signed with the Braves. He has a career minor league ERA of 1.83 with 85 strikeouts in 54 innings.

30 Aug

down on the farm

Four Mississippians appear on the early rosters of Arizona Fall League teams. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley (Atlanta) is on the Peoria roster, along with current Mississippi Braves teammate Touki Touissant and former M-Braves Ronald Acuna and Max Fried. Gulfport native Bobby Bradley, a highly ranked Cleveland prospect, will play for Glendale; Ole Miss product and Picayune native Braxton Lee (Miami) is on Salt River’s roster; and Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull (Detroit) will pitch for Mesa. Turnbull pitched in the AFL last year. … Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2016, was named pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League after going 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA for Springfield; he is now at Triple-A Memphis. Former M-Braves skipper Phillip Wellman, now at San Antonio, was the TL’s manager of the year. M-Braves pitcher Kolby Allard and outfielder Johnny Davis of Biloxi made the Southern League’s postseason All-Star team, Davis as the “best hustler.” Second-year pros Chuckie Robinson from Southern Miss and Wyatt Short out of Ole Miss earned All-Star honors in the Class A Midwest League. Robinson, a catcher, is batting .280 with 15 home runs and 75 RBIs for Quad Cities in the Houston system. Short, a left-handed closer, is 4-3 with 15 saves and 3.25 ERA for South Bend, a Chicago Cubs affiliate. … Itawamba Community College product Tyreque Reed, a 2017 draftee by Texas, is 2-for-6 in two games after being out for three weeks in the rookie Arizona League. The Rangers’ minor league player of the month for July, Reed is batting .349 with five homers. … Ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe had three hits and two RBIs for Triple-A El Paso on Tuesday and is now 17-for-31 (.548) in eight games since San Diego sent him down. … State alum Brent Rooker, a 2017 draftee by Minnesota, saw his three-game homer streak end on Tuesday at Class A Fort Myers. Rooker has 11 homers and is batting .281 in 38 games in the Florida State League. … The move from catcher to pitcher has not paid immediate dividends for Blake Anderson, the former West Lauderdale High standout who was a supplemental first-round pick by Miami in 2014. The oft-injured Anderson has yielded six runs on eight hits and six walks in nine innings of work in the rookie Gulf Coast League.

27 Aug

in hindsight …

OK, so Dansby Swanson is hitting again. The Atlanta shortstop went 2-for-3 on Saturday and, as The Associated Press dutifully reports, is batting .400 over his last 40 at-bats. But is this just an anomaly? Remember, the ex-Mississippi Braves star hit .302 in 129 MLB at-bats at the end of 2016. He was handed the starting shortstop job to start this season and struggled mightily, so much so that he was sent to the minors in late July. He was only recalled because Johan Camargo, who was playing very well, got hurt. For the year, Swanson is batting .227 with six homers and 42 RBIs. We have seen 13 M-Braves shortstops pass through Trustmark Park these last 13 years on their way to the big leagues, from Luis Hernandez (2005) to Ozzie Albies (2016). The best of the bunch, without question, is Andrelton Simmons, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in the fall of 2015. Think the Braves’ brass has any seller’s remorse at this point? They should. Simmons is, of course, a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player who has become an offensive force. He blasted a game-winning homer for the Angels on Saturday, his 14th of the year. He is batting .289 (.342 on-base percentage) with 31 doubles, 60 RBIs and 66 runs for a playoff contender. The players Atlanta got from the Angels in the Simmons trade? Erick Aybar, a veteran shortstop, and prospect pitchers Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Swanson hadn’t been acquired from Arizona when the Braves made that deal; Albies, who has since moved to second base, was seen as the shortstop of the future. Aybar was a total flop in his short time in Atlanta, and Ole Miss alum Ellis was shipped out in another trade. Newcomb, the prize of the deal, is 2-7 with a 4.36 ERA for the Braves this season. Swanson, a former No. 1 overall pick, may yet prove to be a solid big league shortstop. But it doesn’t appear that he’ll ever surpass Simmons.

25 Aug

three stars

Time to play three stars again, a minor league version.
Austin Riley: The former DeSoto Central High standout is crushing it for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He had two hits on Thursday at Chattanooga, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and raising his average to .305 in 37 games. He is batting .457 during his streak. The 20-year-old third base prospect has six homers and 20 RBIs for the M-Braves and 18 homers on the season. He has 50 career home runs in three pro seasons. Riley still needs to polish up his defense, but his star is definitely rising.
Brent Rooker: The Mississippi State product, drafted 35th overall by Minnesota in June, went 2-for-4 with his ninth home run in 35 games for Class A Fort Myers. Rooker is now batting .274 at the high-A level after hitting .282 with seven bombs in 22 games in rookie ball. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder should make Double-A next year.
Hunter Renfroe: The MSU and Copiah Academy alum went 3-for-4 and is now 7-for-12 in three games at Triple-A El Paso since his demotion by San Diego. Renfroe, who had 20 homers for the Padres, hasn’t gone yard for the Chihuahuas yet but has three doubles, a triple and five runs. Surely the woeful Padres will bring him back in September.

17 Aug

hot stuff

Red-hot Alex Jackson banged out a couple more hits, including a home run, in the Mississippi Braves’ loss to Pensacola at Trustmark Park on Wednesday night. He is 10-for-23 with two bombs and seven RBIs in his last five games. If you follow the MLB draft – and who doesn’t, right? – you may remember the name Alex Jackson. In 2014, he was a high school phenom in San Diego, a big masher considered to be one of the best hitters available, a possible No. 1 overall pick. Seattle took him with the sixth selection, and for two years he sat atop their prospect chart. For whatever reason, the Mariners soured on Jackson. After the 2016 season, when he hit .243 with 11 homers and 103 strikeouts in low-A ball, the M’s traded Jackson to Atlanta in a minor league deal. Seattle had converted the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Jackson from catcher to the outfield; the Braves moved him back behind the plate, a switch Jackson reportedly was eager to make. He started 2017 at high-A Florida, hit .270 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 66 games and began to revive some of the old hype. He was promoted to Double-A on July 30. After a slow start, Jackson’s recent surge has raised his average to .239 in 12 games. … Also on fire for the M-Braves is Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star who was a first-round supplemental pick in 2015. The 20-year-old third baseman, who also started 2017 at Florida, is hitting .364 with two homers and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games and is at .276 with four homers in 29 Double-A games. … And up at Triple-A Gwinnett, Ronald Acuna, the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, is batting .341 with seven homers and is banging on the big-league door. The 19-year-old outfielder, who also started this season in A-ball, blew through Mississippi, hitting .326 with nine bombs in 57 games. P.S. Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull, pitching in the Detroit system, got roughed up in his Double-A debut on Wednesday night. He allowed six hits, five walks and six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings for Erie in the Eastern League. The 2014 second-round pick out of Alabama was 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA in high-A ball this season.