13 Aug

helping hands

Mississippi college products Mike Mayers and Dakota Hudson, middle relievers for St. Louis, have played their roles well for the Cardinals, who – don’t look now – have won five straight, eight of 10 and jumped into the National League playoff race. Mayers, an Ole Miss product in his third big league campaign, notched his sixth hold on Sunday with a spotless seventh inning in an 8-2 win against Kansas City. He has allowed just one run in his last seven appearances and trimmed his ERA to 3.43 over 37 games. Hudson, a rookie out of Mississippi State, was called up on July 27 and has yielded just one run in seven appearances. He has an 0.96 ERA, two wins and three holds and has allowed only three hits in 9 1/3 innings. This comes on the heels of an excellent season at Triple-A Memphis (13-3, 2.50 as a starter). The Cardinals, playing better (16-9) under interim manager Mike Shildt, are 63-55 and just 5.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. P.S. Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty tossed six shutout innings Sunday – but got a no-decision — in his high Class A debut in Cleveland’s system. Lefty McCarty was 4-9, 4.29 with a league-best 132 strikeouts in the low-A Midwest League. … Touki Toussaint, who started this season with the Mississippi Braves, is slated to make his MLB debut today for Atlanta against Miami. Toussaint was 4-6, 2.93 for the Double-A M-Braves and 2-0, 2.01 at Triple-A Gwinnett.

31 Jul

all about pitching

So much news involving Mississippi-connected pitchers … where to start? Lance Lynn, the ex-Ole Miss star, will be in pinstripes today, having been traded from Minnesota to the New York Yankees. “It’s going to be a different experience,” the veteran right-hander told mlb.com. Lynn was erratic with the Twins, going 7-8 with a 5.10 ERA. Overall, including his years in St. Louis, he is 79-55, 3.54. Primarily a starter, Lynn said he is open to working out of the pen for the Yankees. … Former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton will rejoin San Francisco’s rotation, taking the spot of the disabled Johnny Cueto. Stratton, recently back from a stint in Triple-A, is 8-6, 4.93 this year for the Giants. … Bulldogs alum Dakota Hudson notched his first MLB win on Monday, working a scoreless 10th inning for St. Louis, which beat Colorado 5-4 on a Marcell Ozuna homer. … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz goes to the bump for Boston against Philadelphia tonight seeking his second win of the season. Pomeranz took an L last week in his first outing off the DL and is an ugly 1-4, 6.91 for the team with the best record in baseball. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Kolby Allard is scheduled for his big league debut tonight with Atlanta, and in a corresponding move, Kyle Wright departs from the M-Braves for Triple-A Gwinnett. Allard is rated Atlanta’s No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline, and Wright is No. 2. Former M-Braves ace Touki Toussaint, the No. 7 prospect now at Gwinnett, may also be in line for big league look, according to reports. … Former State standout Reid Humphreys is now in Double-A in the Colorado system and worked a scoreless inning for Hartford over the weekend. Humphreys posted 22 saves and a 1.83 ERA at Class A Lancaster.

29 Jul

chipper — and other stuff

The career path that took Chipper Jones to the Hall of Fame veered through Mississippi in 2006. Anyone who was there for those two days in August surely has not forgotten. Jones’ visit to Trustmark Park in Pearl on a rehab assignment created a hoopla that hasn’t been matched by any other Mississippi Braves games played there in the 14 years of the stadium’s existence. The announced crowds on Aug. 11 and 12, 2006, were 7,577 and 7,652 — and those are legit figures. To his everlasting credit, Jones signed autographs for fans and did pre- and postgame media sessions. He was engaging. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy reminiscing about his previous Double-A days in 1992, when he crushed it in Greenville. They played his signature walk-up song, “Crazy Train,” on the P.A. when he batted, and the crowd went nuts when he got his one hit in the six at-bats he took. Fellow Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine also made rehab appearances with the M-Braves — Smoltz threw one inning in a road game — and HOFer Jeff Bagwell did a rehab stint with the Jackson Generals at Smith-Wills Stadium. But they didn’t generate the excitement that Jones did. Fernando Valenzuela’s visit to Smith-Wills in 1991 drew a standing-room only throng, but he came in with the visiting team, the Midland Angels. There was a very different vibe for Jones, a former No. 1 overall pick by Atlanta whose ascendance had been tracked for years by the many Atlanta Braves fans in the area. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson worked a 1-2-3 inning in his MLB debut for St. Louis on Saturday, striking out the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. … Richton High alum JaCoby Jones, batting .122 over a 15-game stretch, needed a highlight moment and produced one on Saturday, belting a two-run homer in Detroit’s 2-1 win against Cleveland. Jones is hitting .208 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 95 games for the Tigers. He left Saturday’s game with an apparent injury that he later deemed “nothing serious.” … Former State star Mitch Moreland returned to Boston’s lineup after missing two games with a minor ailment; he contributed a hit and an RBI in the Red Sox’s 10-4 victory over Minnesota. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College product from McComb, went on the 10-day disabled list for Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury. Dickerson is hitting .318 with 11 bombs and 44 RBIs. … Former M-Braves Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna grace the cover of the latest issue (Aug. 3-24) of Baseball America, which has a feature piece on the “Baby Braves” behind Atlanta’s resurgent season.

28 Jul

talent will out

Baseball is hard. Even for those among us who are very good at it, the game can be humbling. On a recent steamy night at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Brett Cumberland stepped to the plate for his first at-bat with the Mississippi Braves, his first at-bat in Double-A. Keep in mind that just getting to this level of the game is an accomplishment; many a good player never gets to play pro ball, and many a pro player never gets out of A-ball. Cumberland cleared that hurdle. As the 23-year-old switch-hitter dug in on the left side for that first AB, there was no special announcement on the P.A. system. Just “Brett Cumberland.” The great majority of the fans in attendance had no idea who he is. There was no noticeable reaction when he was introduced and none when that first AB ended in a strikeout. Cumberland went 0-for-3 in that debut game and is 0-for-8 in two games since. Baseball is hard, but Cumberland is very good at it. Two years ago, unbeknownst to much of the TeePee crowd, Cumberland, a catcher, was the Pac-12 player of the year. He hit .344 with 16 home runs and 51 RBIs for Cal-Berkley. He was a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist. The Atlanta Braves, looking for catching help in their system, drafted him in the supplemental phase of the second round in 2016, 76th overall. He immediately became one of Atlanta’s rated prospects. But his pro debut didn’t go so well. He hit .216 in rookie ball that summer. The Braves sent him to low-A Rome to start 2017, and he hit .263 with 10 homers in a half-season there before moving up to high-A Florida. He batted .269 at the new level but managed just one homer. Overall last year, he showed enough promise, including a .400 on-base percentage, that he was rated the No. 22 prospect in the Braves’ system entering 2018. Back in Florida to start the year, he put up decent numbers — .236 (.367 OBP), 11 homers, 39 RBIs — before his promotion to the M-Braves, who desperately need catching help. Still, Cumberland dropped out of MLB Pipeline’s recently updated ratings of the Braves’ Top 30 prospects. Baseball can be humbling. But here Cumberland is, in Double-A, the make-or-break level, with a chance most never get. Baseball is hard, but talent will out.

23 Jul

eye on …

Travis Demeritte is one of the most intriguing players on the Mississippi Braves’ roster. He is a former first-round draft pick. He has played in an All-Star Futures Game and two minor league all-star games. He has hit as many as 28 homers in a season and swiped as many as 17 bases in a season. He stands 6 feet, weighs 180 pounds and can play second base, third and left field. MLB Pipeline rates him the 19th-best prospect in a strong Atlanta system. Yet many M-Braves fans must be wondering, When is Demeritte going to break out? With roughly a month and a half left in his second Double-A campaign, Demeritte is hitting .221 with 11 homers and four bags. He has struck out an even 100 times in 308 at-bats. If the M-Braves, currently 15-14 and 6 games out of first, are going to make any kind of run at a playoff spot in the Southern League South, more production from the 23-year-old Demeritte would be a big help. When the Braves acquired him from Texas (for two pitching prospects) in the summer of 2016, the trade generated some buzz. Demeritte was batting .272 with 25 homers and 13 steals in 88 games in the Class A California League. He added three homers and four steals in 35 games for the Braves’ high-A club. But he did punch out a bunch, and that trend continued in his Double-A debut last year. He hit 15 homers in 124 games – and made the SL All-Star Game – but all in all, it was a disappointing year. There hasn’t been much to shout about in 2018, either, but there is still time – for him and his club. The M-Braves begin a stretch of 10 straight home games tonight, facing Mobile at Trustmark Park. P.S. One of Mobile’s hottest hitters is Jack Kruger, the ex-Mississippi State star drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2016. Kruger, a catcher, has hit .333 his last 10 games and is at .308 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 25 games. He was promoted to Double-A Mobile on June 21, when Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass, also a catcher, retired and opened a roster spot.

20 Jul

ties that bind

In a dugout interview during ESPN’s coverage of Thursday night’s game, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon sang the praises of former Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward, calling his first-half performance a key ingredient in the team’s charge into first place. Heyward rose to the occasion with a three-hit, two-RBI game as the Cubs beat St. Louis 9-6 to begin the second half. After a couple of seasons of scuffling in Wrigleyville, Heyward is hitting .290 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 2018. Resurgent seasons by Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez, All-Star campaigns by Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and the unyielding brilliance of Craig Kimbrel give rise to the idea that you could put together a competitive team of former M-Braves now in the big leagues. An infield of Freeman, Albies, Andrelton Simmons and Martin Prado is pretty darn solid. At catcher, there’s the seven-time All-Star Brian McCann, backed by Jesus Sucre. In the outfield, Heyward, Hernandez and either Ronald Acuna or Mallex Smith would be outstanding defensively. Evan Gattis is a scary man at DH. On the bench: Choose from Johan Camargo, Jose Peraza, Dansby Swanson, Tommy La Stella, Jose Martinez. Charlie Morton, also a 2018 All-Star, would head up a rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb and Mike Minor. All-Star Kimbrel would be the closer in a bullpen with some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Jesse Biddle, A.J. Minter, Chasen Shreve, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin. Such a team could probably win the American League Central this year.

27 Jun

odds and ends

Atlanta has called up pitcher Wes Parsons, who becomes the sixth former Mississippi Braves player to be promoted to the big club this season. The others are Jesse Biddle, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, Dustin Peterson and Evan Phillips (who didn’t get into a game). Parsons was 1-2 with a 1.23 ERA in eight games for the Double-A M-Braves this season before being bumped to Triple-A Gwinnett in late May. He also pitched for the M-Braves last year. Over 130 M-Braves alums have risen to the majors since the team moved from Greenville, S.C., to Pearl in 2005. … Drew Pomeranz was slated to throw a simulated game today at Fenway Park as he tries to work his way back to Boston’s rotation. The lefty out of Ole Miss has missed most of June with arm and neck pain. A 17-game winner for the Red Sox in 2017, he is 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA this season. He’s also a pending free agent, which he says is not something on his mind these days. “I’m focused on just getting my stuff right and just being myself and we’ll see what happens,” he told masslive.com. … Bryce Brown, the former Jackson State star now in the Tampa Bay system, had an interesting box score line on Tuesday: 0-3-0-0. Brown walked three times and stole second base each time, scoring half of Hudson Valley’s runs in a 6-1 victory against Connecticut in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. Brown is hitting .208 with seven steals in 10 games in his second pro season. … Justin Henry, ex-Ole Miss standout from Vicksburg and a longtime minor league player, is the Southeast area scout for Detroit and spent many hours observing overall No. 1 pick Casey Mize, the right-hander out of Auburn who signed Monday with Detroit for $7.5 million. … D.J. Davis, the Stone County High product and former first-round draft pick (see previous posts), was released earlier this month by Toronto. The 23-year-old outfielder was batting .239 in 36 games at Class A Dunedin. He hit .242 in seven pro seasons, never rising above A-ball. … Pearl River Community College alum Jacob Taylor, a fourth-rounder in 2015, retired in May. Dogged by injuries, the right-hander appeared in only 25 games in four years in Pittsburgh’s system, seven games in A-ball this year. … The Bray brothers from Vancleave also are out of the game. Tyler Bray, a pitcher who reached Triple-A in 2017 with St. Louis, was released in April. Outfielder Colin Bray was in high-A last year with Arizona but missed most of the season with injuries. He retired in March.

25 Jun

hot topics

Cincinnati is on a tear, and so is Billy Hamilton. The ex-Taylorsville High standout has a seven-game hitting streak that coincides with the seven-game winning streak the Reds take into Atlanta tonight. Hamilton is 11-for-25 over that streak with nine runs, a homer, three RBIs and four steals. Batting .187 overall on June 16, he’s now at .214 (.300 on-base percentage), still not good but, along with the defense he provides in center field, good enough to keep him in the lineup. He has three homers, 17 RBIs, 40 runs and 15 bags on the season. … Mitch Moreland, the Mississippi State product from Amory, also has a seven-game hit streak, which he extended on Sunday with his 11th homer in Boston’s big win against Seattle. Moreland is 12-for-27 during this roll, with a homer, seven RBIs and nine runs. Sunday’s bomb was his first since June 3. He is batting .299 for the year. … And then there are the Mississippi Braves, who set a franchise record with an 11-run inning in a 17-1 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The big fifth frame included a two-run homer by Brandon Downes (his first as an M-Brave), two-run doubles by Travis Demeritte, Alex Jackson and Luis Marte, an RBI double by winning pitcher Touki Toussaint and a run-scoring single by Alay Lago. The Double-A M-Braves produced an eight-run inning in an 11-2 win against Jacksonville on Thursday and are 3-1 in the second half of the Southern League season. They limped in with a 29-41 mark in the first half.

24 Jun

touki time

If you’re a fan of pitching – and of strikeouts, in particular – tonight’s the night to make the trek to Trustmark Park. Touki Toussaint is starting for the Mississippi Braves. Toussaint leads the Southern League – and all of Double-A baseball – in punchouts. He’s got 92 in 74 innings. Three times in his 14 starts he has K’d 10 batters, including in his most recent outing against the first-half champion Biloxi Shuckers. But, hey, he’s more than just a hard thrower. MLB Pipeline, which rates Toussaint the No. 11 prospect in Atlanta’s well-stocked minor league system, raves about his “pure stuff.” He has an outstanding curveball and a good changeup. He’s a long and lean 6 feet 3, 185 pounds with a smooth delivery. It’s fun to watch him work. Toussaint – given name Dany Gilbert Kiti – was the 16th overall pick by Arizona out of a Florida high school in 2014. The Braves got him in a 2015 trade – with quickly discarded veteran Bronson Arroyo – for Phil Gosselin. Toussaint, who just turned 22 on Wednesday, made Double-A last year and went 3-4 with a 3.18 ERA. He also pitched well in the Arizona Fall League. He is 3-6, 3.41 for the scuffling M-Braves this season. He goes against Jacksonville tonight (5 p.m.), his second outing against the Jumbo Shrimp. He struck out 10 of them in six innings the first time.

22 Jun

bad times in birdland

At the outset of the 2018 season, a sports betting agency made Baltimore’s Buck Showalter the odds-on favorite to be the first manager fired. That dubious honor went instead to Cincinnati’s Bryan Price. Showalter, the former Mississippi State star in his 20th year as a big league manager, hangs on despite what has been a truly awful first three months on the heels of a bad 2017. The team Showalter brings to Atlanta for an interleague series starting tonight is 21-52, worst record in MLB. That’s a .288 winning percentage. Showalter’s previous worst finish was a .401 in 1998 with Arizona, which was playing its inaugural season. And these Orioles figure to get worse: Stars Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Zach Britton, pending free agents, are expected to be traded. Showalter, 62, is also in the final year of his contract, as is Dan Duquette, the O’s VP for baseball operations. As bad as things are in Birdland, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hue and cry about firing Showalter. Perhaps ownership is just going to let him go out with a whimper, a relatively dignified end. The Orioles are the fourth team Showalter has managed, and he was fired from the previous three jobs though he had good years at each one. This is his ninth season with Baltimore, far and away his longest stint. He has won over 1,500 games – 643 with the O’s — and three manager of the year awards. Despite a lack of postseason success, he should get Hall of Fame consideration someday. It would be sad to see his career end with such a dismal season, but it may be headed that way. P.S. At the start of the season, few would have bet Atlanta would be in first place in the National League East in late June. Yet Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves skipper and another of the seven Mississippi-connected managers in MLB, has steered this young club to a 43-30 mark. They’ve shown no signs of slowing down. M-Braves alum Sean Newcomb, an emerging ace, starts tonight. He is 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA; O’s starter Alex Cobb, one of team’s biggest disappointments, is 2-9, 7.14.