This weekend’s Subway Series is the first for Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway as New York Mets manager. The scuffling Mets, losers of six straight, host the rampaging Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — for three games at CitiField, all coming to a TV network near you. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder (2.75 ERA) has done good work out of the Yankees’ bullpen. … An injury to Andrelton Simmons has meant a return to shortstop for Zack Cozart. The Ole Miss alum, signed by the Los Angeles Angels in the off-season to man third base, actually has moved about quite a bit on the dirt for L.A. He has 32 starts at third, 15 at second and five at short, the position he played for seven seasons with Cincinnati. Simmons, who could be out 2-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, might be the best defensive shortstop in the game, but Cozart is no slouch. In fact, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called him an “incredible shortstop.” What the Angels would like to see is a little more offense from their $38 million free agent, who is batting .229 with five homers and 18 RBIs. … Tonight, Cozart and the Angels will face Minnesota’s Lance Lynn, another former Rebels star. Lynn, also an off-season free agent signee, is 4-4 with a 5.46 for the Twins and has won three starts in a row. Worth noting: Cozart is .128 career vs. Lynn. … Arizona’s acquisition of outfielder Jon Jay might cut into Jarrod Dyson’s playing time. McComb native Dyson is hitting just .206 (with 10 steals) overall but is at .318 in his last seven games. And his defense is top-drawer. … Tonight marks a homecoming of sorts for Daniel Sweet, the Flowood native and former Northwest Rankin High star who plays for Pensacola, which is in Pearl for a five-game Southern League series against the Mississippi Braves. Sweet, a switch-hitting outfielder, is in his third season in the Cincinnati organization after being drafted out of Dallas Baptist. He is hitting .148 in 25 games for the Blue Wahoos in his first taste of Double-A. He was batting .284 in A-ball when he was promoted. … Tyler Marlette has been on a tear for the M-Braves, batting .382 in his last 10 games and .296 with six homers for the year. First baseman Marlette, 25, named to the SL All-Star Game on Wednesday, signed with Atlanta in the off-season after seven years in the Seattle organization. He is a career .272 hitter with 68 homers.
While Atlanta hitters were piling up 18 hits and 14 runs against San Diego on Tuesday night, Sean Newcomb was on the mound continuing to build his case as a horse to ride on the long road ahead for the first-place Braves. The former Mississippi Braves star improved to 7-1 and trimmed his ERA to 2.49 with six shutout innings against the Padres. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound left-hander doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, but his off-speed stuff has been outstanding. “Every time he goes on the mound, you’re pretty confident we are going to get the win that day,” Freddie Freeman said in an mlb.com article. “He’s been lights-out for a long time.” Newcomb was up-and-down during his 2016 campaign as a highly rated prospect with the M-Braves, finishing 8-7 with a 3.86 while going to the post 27 times. The 15th overall pick out of Hartford by the Los Angeles Angels in 2014, he was moved to Atlanta in the Andrelton Simmons deal in 2015. Of all the former M-Braves starting pitchers who’ve gone on to the big leagues – and there are quite a few – Julio Teheran has had the most sustained success. He is 62-57 with a 3.64 ERA in 178 appearances the last eight years for Atlanta. (Charlie Morton, now with Houston, has the most wins with 67 – and a World Series ring – but his career has been more spotty — 79 losses, 4.30 ERA.) Teheran has been an All-Star, but is he truly an ace? He has a 4.31 ERA this year and just went on the disabled list. Mike Foltynewicz is 5-3 with a 2.22 ERA but has an erratic track record. Veteran Brandon McCarthy is a back-end guy. Yes, the Braves have a great lineup, but their rotation is a concern. Newcomb’s emergence as a potential ace could be huge as the Braves wait for more of their young guns to develop.
Kris Medlen had what might be called plus-enthusiasm, not an official tool in the baseball parlance but a good one to have. You could see it in the way he pitched back when he first passed through Trustmark Park with the Mississippi Braves, and you could hear it in the way he talked about the game. The vibrant right-hander’s career came to a somber end on Saturday when he announced his retirement, at age 32, in the midst of his 13th pro season. He made one appearance with Arizona this year and was 0-5 with a 5.03 ERA at Triple-A Reno when he decided to call it quits. Two Tommy John surgeries — one in 2010, the second in 2014 — took a heavy toll on Medlen’s arm and his career, which at times was brilliant, drawing Greg Maddux comparisons. Medlen helped the M-Braves to their only Southern League pennant in 2008. He went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA for Atlanta in 2012 and won 15 games for the Braves the next season. After missing the entire 2014 season, he signed with Kansas City and won a World Series ring with the Royals in 2015. Released by KC in 2016, Medlen got another shot with the Braves in 2017. He made a couple of appearances for the M-Braves that summer but didn’t get back to Atlanta. Arizona signed him this spring. His career MLB record is 41-26 with an ERA of 3.33 over parts of eight seasons. Nothing to hang your head about — and surely Medlen isn’t doing that.
The current configuration of the Atlanta Braves’ infield should look very familiar to Mississippi Braves fans. On June 30, 2016, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Johan Camargo – each one a natural shortstop — were in the same lineup for the first time. Albies had returned that day from a stint in Triple-A Gwinnett to play second base with Swanson at short and Camargo at third. It was a good mix. They combined to go 8-for-13 with two RBIs and two runs as the M-Braves won at Jackson (Tenn.) 6-5. On July 4 of that year, the infield trio hit 1-2-3 in the order in their first game together at Trustmark Park. Albies, who is tearing up the National League (.286, 14 homers, 34 RBIs) for the first-place Braves, was the M-Braves’ opening day shortstop in 2016 and hit .321 with four homers and 21 steals in 82 games in Pearl. The more-heralded Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick by Arizona in 2015, joined the M-Braves in late April of 2016 when Albies was promoted to Gwinnett. Swanson played 84 games, all at short, and batted .261 with four homers and 45 RBIs. He finished that year in the big leagues. Camargo was a jack-of-all-trades in 2016: 29 games at third, 32 at short and 64 at second. The switch-hitter batted .267 with four homers and 43 RBIs, spending the whole season in Pearl. That 2016 team made the Southern League playoffs. This has the makings of a special summer in Atlanta, and June 30, 2016, might have been one of the sparks that started this flame. P.S. Ole Miss product Alex Presley, in his 13th pro season, has signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox and is on the Triple-A Charlotte roster. Presley was granted his release by Baltimore last week. The lefty-hitting outfielder is a career .263 hitter in the big leagues and has batted .289 in the minors.
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 Toussaint, 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.