Making the New York-Penn League All-Star Game likely was not a major goal for Milton Smith II — who has expressed a much bigger dream — but it’s a nice feather in his cap. Smith, a former Meridian Community College and Starkville High star, was named to the short season Class A league’s showcase event on Thursday. The game is Aug. 21 at Staten Island, N.Y. A 22nd-round pick by Miami out of MCC in 2018, Smith is batting .319 (sixth in the NYPL) with 27 runs and 17 steals in 47 games for Batavia. He hit .362 last year, playing at the rookie level plus five games in high-A. That followed his sophomore season at Meridian when he batted .381 and swiped 24 bags in 40 games. Smith, a 5-foot-10, left-handed hitting outfielder, has what his former high school coach called “elite” speed. That’s a valuable tool, one that could help him stand out in a Marlins system that currently features 11 other outfielders among its Top 30 prospects. Smith also possesses a high level of confidence. Three years ago, at a ceremony when he signed with MCC, Smith told The Dispatch of Columbus/Starkville that his goal in baseball was not just to make the major leagues but to make it to Cooperstown, i.e., the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Miami Marlins, headed for a 10th straight losing season, are counting on their farm system to get things turned around. At short season Class A Batavia, Milton Smith II is clamoring to be a part of that rebuilding process. Starkville native Smith is leading the New York-Penn League in hitting with a .416 average through 22 games. The lefty-hitting outfielder, a 22nd-round pick out of Meridian Community College in 2018, has 15 runs and four steals and recently rang up a five-hit game. He hit .362 in his debut season. Smith is one of several Mississippians playing in the low levels of the Marlins’ system. Also on that Batavia club is Dustin Skelton, an 18th-round pick from Mississippi State last month. The catcher is 4-for-17 since joining the Muckdogs. A step up at low Class A Clinton is former McLaurin High and MCC star Davis Bradshaw, an 11th-round pick in 2018 who batted .354 in his debut campaign. The lefty-hitting outfielder has found the going a bit tougher in the Midwest League, batting .222 in 29 games. At high-A Jupiter, former Southern Miss pitcher Taylor Braley, a sixth-rounder in 2017, has a 3.45 ERA in 15 appearances (and 3.96 in his career), and ex-Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes, a fourth-round selection in 2018, is hitting .212 with two homers and 18 RBIs. … Blake Anderson, a first-round pick out of West Lauderdale High in 2014 who converted from catcher to pitcher in 2017, is not currently listed on a Marlins minor league roster.
The Josh Donaldson signing adds a potentially potent bat to the middle of Atlanta’s lineup and is a clear sign the Braves are eyeing more than just a division title in 2019. The move also could be seen as a signal that the Braves don’t think Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, is quite ready for everyday duty at third base. Riley spent the latter half of 2018 at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he batted .282 (.346 on-base percentage) with 12 home runs in 75 games. He has 71 bombs in four pro seasons. His defense reportedly is big league-caliber. But there’s no need to rush him. Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) is only 21 — he’ll be 22 in April – and isn’t yet on the 40-man roster. Riley struck out 95 times and walked 26 over 291 at-bats at Gwinnett, so there’s still room for improvement. It’s possible that if Donaldson struggles, as he did in an injury-plagued 2018, Riley could get a midseason call-up. Though he’s never played anywhere but third base, the Braves also could try Riley in left field at Gwinnett as a way of finding him a spot. Regardless, his time will come. Mississippi baseball aficionados will just have to wait a bit. P.S. Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Jacksonville by Miami. Lee, a speedy outfielder, hit .176 in eight big league games last season and .233 in the minors.
Undrafted out of Ole Miss, where he was a solid if unspectacular pitcher for three years, Jacob Waguespack now finds himself on a major league 40-man roster. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander was added to Toronto’s protected roster on Tuesday and will go to the team’s big league camp for spring training. He might even contend for a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Waguespack, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2015, was traded to Toronto last summer for Aaron Loup. His numbers at Triple-A Buffalo weren’t great — 2-4, 5.03 ERA — but the Jays apparently are impressed with his stuff. Over his four years in pro ball, during which he has worked as both a reliever and starter, Waguespack is 19-20 with a 3.84 ERA. He put up a 3.44 ERA in 40 games over three years in Oxford. … In other recent roster moves, former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley was added to Cleveland’s 40-man and ex-George County standout Justin Steele made the Chicago Cubs’ protected roster. Braxton Lee, a Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss alum from Picayune, was removed from Miami’s 40-man and designated for assignment. He had a roller-coaster 2018 campaign that started in the big leagues.
Just as he was getting hot, the curtain fell on Braxton Lee’s season. The Picayune native, who has endured a rollercoaster campaign, hit .324 over his final 10 games at Triple-A New Orleans and had a four-hit game in Monday’s season finale. Though he is on Miami’s 40-man roster – and on the club’s Top 30 prospect chart – Lee didn’t get a September call-up, at least he hasn’t yet. He batted .235 in 47 games at New Orleans. Lee’s career took off last year, when he won the Southern League batting title and made the All-Prospect team in the Arizona Fall League. He made the Marlins’ roster for opening day and debuted on March 30, the first Mississippian to break in in 2018. He played in only eight big league games. He was sent down, struggled, got hurt, rehabbed in A-ball, spent time in Double-A – it was just that kind of season. For the year, he batted .233 over three minor league levels. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound outfielder has always been a grinder, relying on speed and defense to succeed, from Picayune High to Pearl River Community College to Ole Miss and into pro ball. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2014 and traded to Miami last summer. “I’ve never thought, “What if it didn’t work?’” Lee told the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel back in the spring. “I’m going to make it work regardless of what happens.” You have to admire that mindset. This season might be over, but Lee will fight again another day.
Adam Frazier earned a prominent place in the spotlight on Sunday, hitting an 11th-inning walk-off home run for Pittsburgh. But there’s a crowd of Mississippians deserving at least a slice of the attention. Mississippi State alum Frazier’s fifth homer of the year and second career game-winner gave the Pirates a 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs. He said in an mlb.com story that it was “probably the most excited I’ve ever gotten going around the bases.” Frazier has been swinging a hot bat since returning from a trip to the minors; he is batting .386 in his last 15 games. Former Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, also with the Bucs, went 2-for-5 to boost his average to .308, best among Mississippi-connected players in the big leagues. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier had a three-hit game and scored twice for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 12-1 rout of Seattle. Dozier is batting .250 with three homers, 12 RBIs and eight runs in 17 games for the Dodgers. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton had a stat sheet-stuffing day for Cincinnati, banging out two triples, drawing a walk, driving in three runs and scoring one in an 11-4 victory vs. San Francisco. Ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with his 14th home run and three RBIs for San Diego in a 4-3 loss to Arizona. East Central CC product Tim Anderson had only one hit but it left the park for his 16th homer, helping the Chicago White Sox beat Kansas City 7-6. And down on the farm, Meridian CC and McLaurin High product Davis Bradshaw produced a 5-for-5 game for short-season Class A Batavia in the Miami system. The speedy Bradshaw, an 11th-round pick in June, bunted for his fifth hit and stole two bases. He is 7-for-16 in four games at Batavia after batting .376 with 15 steals in the Gulf Coast League.
In his first start with Class A Greensboro in almost two months, ex-Southern Miss star Taylor Braley threw the first five innings of a seven-inning no-hitter against Kannapolis on Sunday. Braley, now 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA for the Miami Marlins’ low-A club, went on the disabled list (shoulder) in late June and made two rehab appearances in the Gulf Coast League before returning to the Grasshoppers. He struck out four and walked two, throwing 66 pitches, on Sunday. “He just kind of lived up in the strike zone today and he got a lot of weak contact,” Grasshoppers manager Mike DiFelice told milb.com. Braley, a two-way standout at USM and Oak Grove High before that, was a sixth-round pick by the Marlins in 2017. He posted a 2.66 ERA in limited innings last summer. Greensboro’s catcher for the no-no was Will Allen, the Ole Miss product who is hitting .244 with seven homers in his fourth pro season. He was originally drafted by Detroit in 2014.
The Miami Marlins did some shopping in Mississippi during draft season and might just have found a couple of real bargains in the lower rounds. After nabbing highly regarded catcher Nick Fortes out of Ole Miss in the fourth round, the Marlins picked up Meridian Community College outfielder Davis Bradshaw in the 11th and his Eagles teammate Milton Smith Jr. in the 22nd. Both MCC alums signed for modest bonuses, and both are off to great starts in pro ball. Playing in the rookie Gulf Coast League, Bradshaw took a few games to heat up but is currently batting .362, with 17 hits in his last nine games. This probably should come as no surprise. The left-handed hitting Bradshaw batted a crazy .756 as a senior at McLaurin High in 2017 and followed that with a .442 season at MCC. He can also run. He is seven-for-seven in steal attempts and has three triples. Smith, also a lefty-swinging outfielder, hit .349 in his first 15 games with the GCL Marlins and was promoted to high Class A Jupiter, where he went 5-for-11 in five games before being sidelined by an injury. The former Starkville High standout returned to the GCL club on Saturday and got a knock in his first game back. … Fortes, who got a $400,000 bonus as the 117th player drafted last month, is on the roster of the short-season Class A Batavia team but has appeared in only one game. He hit. .319 with 11 homers for the Rebels in 2018.
There has not been an official announcement, but St. Louis is expected to add former Mississippi State standout Dakota Hudson to its big league roster today. Right-hander Hudson, the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2016 and their No. 4 prospect, was pulled from a start in the second inning at Triple-A Memphis on Wednesday and reportedly was getting hugs from teammates. He is 13-3 with a 2.50 ERA for the Redbirds. He pitched in both the All-Star Futures and Triple-A All-Star games this month, and he was the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2017. Hudson is in line to be the second Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in The Show in 2018. The other is Braxton Lee, the Ole Miss product from Picayune who made it with Miami in April. … Lee’s season has been a topsy-turvy one. He has played at four levels of the game, but the moves have not come in a desirable sequence. Rated the No. 29 prospect in Miami’s system, Lee is currently with Double-A Jacksonville in the Southern League. After a breakout 2017 season in the minors, the speedy, lefty-hitting outfielder was on Miami’s big league roster for opening day on March 29 and made his debut the next day. As they say, getting to the big leagues is easier than staying there. Lee was optioned out to Triple-A New Orleans on April 1, recalled on April 5, then optioned out again on April 13. On May 1, he landed on the disabled list. A month later, he was assigned to A-ball for a rehab stint. On June 15, he joined the Jacksonville club and on June 18 returned to New Orleans. On July 13, he was sent back to Double-A. If Lee is having trouble finding a rhythm, it’s little wonder. He hit .202 during his time in New Orleans. He went 3-for-17 in his two big league stints. This after hitting .309 in the Southern League in 2017 and shining in the Arizona Fall League. Maybe the return to Jacksonville will help him rediscover what he has lost. But, in 16 games with the Jumbo Shrimp, he is batting .215.
The first – and so far, only – Mississippian to make a big league debut this season is Braxton Lee, the Ole Miss alum from Picayune who played his first game back on March 30 for Miami. Next man up might be Zac Houston, the ex-Mississippi State star who has reached Triple-A in Detroit’s system in just his third pro season. Houston, 6 feet 5, 250 pounds, has posted a 1.59 ERA in nine relief appearances with one save and 18 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings for Toledo. He began 2018 at Double-A Erie and earned the promotion after putting up a 2.60 ERA in 13 games there. Houston dominated in the Arizona Fall League last year, allowing no earned runs with 18 punchouts in 11 1/3 innings. Rated the Tigers’ No. 14 prospect by Perfect Game, the former 11th-round draft pick has fanned 183 batters in 116 1/3 career innings, an average of 14.2 per nine. He appears to be ready for a shot with the Tigers, though they’d have to clear a 40-man roster spot for him. P.S. If Houston isn’t the next to make it, it could be Cody Carroll, the former Southern Miss star from Tennessee (not to be confused with the Cody Carroll from Florida who is currently at USM). Tennessee Cody Carroll is having a fine season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the New York Yankees’ system. He has a 2.76 ERA, three wins and seven saves for SWB. Featuring an upper 90s fastball, he has punched out 44 hitters in 32 2/3 innings. Drafted in 2015, the 6-foot-5 Carroll has a 2.74 career ERA with 20 saves. The depth of the Yankees’ big league bullpen might make it tough for Carroll to get a promotion this summer, but stuff happens. And he’s surely opened some eyes.