There is a large gaggle of former Mississippi Braves currently with Atlanta, but eight was enough on Saturday to help the upstart Braves claim their first National League East title since 2013. Eight M-Braves alums got in the box score in the 5-3 win against Philadelphia at SunTrust Park. Freddie Freeman and Johan Camargo drove in two runs each, Ronald Acuna scored twice and Arodys Vizcaino notched his 16th save. What a bonus it’ll be for the Braves if Vizcaino can deliver consistently as a closer in the postseason. Freeman ought to get some MVP consideration, and Acuna is certainly a top rookie of the year candidate. And then there’s Brian Snitker, the 2005 M-Braves manager who has been in the Braves’ organization for 40 years. By all that is right, he should be named NL manager of the year. … Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, hit his 20th home run on Saturday, becoming the first Chicago White Sox shortstop to post a 20 homer-20 steal season. Anderson has 26 stolen bases and is batting .242 with 63 RBIs. ChiSox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson said watching Anderson’s development this season has been one of his “greatest joys in baseball,” which covers a lot of ground. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe hit his 25th homer for San Diego on Saturday and leads all Mississippians in the majors in that category. Of Renfroe’s last 13 hits, six have left the park. He is hitting just .215 over his last 15 games. … Former Bulldogs star Jonathan Holder worked a scoreless inning for the New York Yankees, who beat Baltimore 3-2 in 11 innings and then celebrated clinching a postseason berth. Holder has a 2.97 ERA, a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. … Going the other way is Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, who failed to retire a batter in the 11th inning for Boston and took the loss in Cleveland’s walk-off win. Pomeranz has an ERA of 9.00 in his last seven appearances and a 6.37 for the year. He is a pending free agent. … Kudos to Jesus Sucre, one of the five ex-M-Braves catchers currently in the big leagues. A part-timer for Tampa Bay, he hit his first homer of the season for the Rays, whose surprising late playoff push is going to come up short.
The high of his first career double, which drove home three runs, did not last for Chris Stratton. The Mississippi State alum, whose primary job is pitcher, gave all the runs back and more in the bottom of the same inning and took a loss as San Francisco fell to San Diego 8-4 on Wednesday night. It’s been a season of highs and lows – including two trips to the minors — for Stratton, now 10-10 with a 4.88 ERA. In his previous start, he threw a two-hit shutout against Colorado. The start before that he yielded four runs in five innings vs. Milwaukee. “That’s baseball. You have to battle with what you have that day,” the Tupelo native told mlb.com. … Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier got a lift from his first RBI since Sept. 4, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Colorado and tighten their grip on first place in the National League West. The scuffling Dozier is batting .218, .189 for the Dodgers. … Former State standout Adam Frazier hit his ninth homer and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson went 2-for-3 with a run as Pittsburgh beat Kansas City 2-1. Dickerson is on an 8-for-20 roll, lifting his average to .294, 12th in the NL. … Wednesday was a blend of high and low for Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High star who made his first big league start for Detroit. After a clean first inning, he gave up four runs in the second inning and six all told in four innings of work against Minnesota, which won 8-2. “I’m sure I’ll get better from it,” Turnbull said in an mlb.com story. He was 24-21, 3.59 ERA in 90 starts in the minors. P.S. The 2016 Mississippi Braves’ roster included the likes of Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, A.J. Minter and Mallex Smith. It’s easy to forget that Willians Astudillo was also on that club – and batted .267 with four homers and 30 RBIs as one of the primary catchers. Astudillo is now getting a lot of attention in the big leagues with Minnesota. Nicknamed “El Tortuga” (The Turtle), the 5-foot-9, 225-pound Astudillo is hitting .317 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Twins. He has hustled his way into several popular highlights.
As the Cincinnati Reds look ahead to 2019, they’re surely giving strong consideration to making Cody Reed a part of their starting rotation. The ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College standout from Horn Lake showed his potential on Saturday against the Chicago Cubs. Going head-to-head with Cubs ace Jon Lester, Reed threw five scoreless innings, yielding just two hits and striking out 10. Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart told mlb.com that it was the best he’d ever seen Reed throw and could be a “springboard outing” for the 25-year-old left-hander. Reed got a no-decision — the Reds ultimately lost 1-0 to the first-place Cubs — but trimmed his ERA to 4.32 in his 15th appearance and fifth start this season. He was recalled from Triple-A Louisville in mid-August and given a spot in the rotation shortly thereafter. In 16 career starts spread over three seasons, Reed is still looking for his first win. His lone MLB victory came as a reliever. Based on Saturday’s performance, that breakthrough W could be coming soon. P.S. Four Mississippians earned spots on Baseball America’s Classification All-Star teams, one at each of the top four levels of the minors. Mississippi State alum Dakota Hudson, now pitching in the big leagues with St. Louis, made the Triple-A team; former Bulldogs star Nathaniel (Nate) Lowe (in Tampa Bay’s system) is the first baseman on the Double-A team; MSU product Reid Humphreys (Colorado) is the closer on the high Class A team; and ex-Ole Miss standout David Parkinson (Philadelphia) made the low-A team as a starter. Lowe, named to the all-classification All-Stars second team after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs across three levels, is on the Triple-A Durham team that just won the International League pennant. Mississippi Braves 2018 alums Touki Toussaint and Ian Anderson, both hurlers, were chosen as first-team all-classification All-Stars by BA.
It went in the box score as a hold (H, 20 to be precise), but that designation doesn’t do justice to what former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader did for Milwaukee on Monday night. In a huge game at Wrigley Field, Hader struck out all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings, preserving the Brewers’ one-run lead in what ended as a 3-2 win against the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers cut the Cubs’ lead in the National League Central to 1 game heading into tonight’s contest, the second of the three-game set. In the eighth inning, Hader cut down Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. That’s big time. A lefty with vicious stuff, Hader now has 127 punchouts, a Brewers record for relievers. “To have any type of record is a great feeling,” he told mlb.com. Hader pitched, as a starter, in Biloxi in 2015 and ’16. In the latter season he gave a preview of what was to come in The Show, posting a 0.95 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 57 innings. … In San Francisco, the fingerprints of former Mississippi Braves were all over Atlanta’s 4-1 win against the Giants, which moved the Braves 5 games ahead of Philadelphia atop the NL East. Ozzie Albies went 2-for-4 (with a triple) and scored twice, driven in both times by Dansby Swanson (sac fly, squeeze bunt). More significant perhaps was the pitching of three left-handers, all M-Braves alums. Sean Newcomb worked six innings for the W, moving to 12-8 with a 3.82 ERA. Jonny Venters tossed a scoreless eighth inning for his 12th hold, and A.J. Minter closed it out for his 14th save. Though he has had some notable hiccups, his ERA is now 3.36. Minter was in Mississippi in 2016 and ’17, pitching mostly in middle relief. He had only two saves in his minor league career.
The Mississippi Braves started their 2018 season with a win in April and ended it with a win on Labor Day. But there weren’t enough W’s in between for the Double-A club, in its 14th season in Pearl, to make the Southern League playoffs. A late run in the second half came up short of what would have been a fifth playoff appearance. Managed by Jackson native Chris Maloney, the M-Braves finished 67-71 overall. A bunch of prospects appeared on the roster: 13 of Atlanta’s Top 30 as rated by MLB Pipeline, five of the top seven. Most came and went quickly. Pitching once again was the M-Braves’ calling card. The team finished second in the SL in ERA, allowed the fewest homers and ranked fourth in strikeouts. Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, among others, took star turns on the bump. But Trustmark Park can be tough on hitters, and they didn’t hit well on the road, either, which is a bad combination. The M-Braves’ .308 on-base percentage ranked 10th — last — in the league, as did their home run total. They were ninth in runs. Luis Valenzuela, at .282, was the only M-Braves batter to rank in the league’s top 20 in batting average. Travis Demeritte had the most interesting numbers: 17 homers, 22 doubles, 63 RBIs with a .222 average and 140 strikeouts. Tyler Marlette, Tyler Neslony and Ray-Patrick Didder had some moments. Cristian Pache, a top 10 prospect added late in the season, showed promise and might be a centerpiece of the 2019 team. … Meanwhile, Biloxi has enjoyed a big year, sweeping both halves in the SL South and claiming the MVP, pitcher and manager of the year awards. The Milwaukee-affiliated Shuckers, managed by Mike Guerrero, are slated to host Pensacola tonight at MGM Park in Game 1 of the South Division Series. Corey Ray, who led the league in homers and steals, was the MVP, and Zack Brown, the ERA champ, was voted top pitcher. If there were a closer of the year award, Nate Griep (34 saves) would’ve won it.
October isn’t only for playoffs. There’s also the Arizona Fall League, a de facto select circuit for minor league players. It’s a feather in the cap to get an invite. The preliminary rosters for the AFL, which starts Oct. 9, include several Mississippi-connected players: Ole Miss product Errol Robinson, a shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system; ex-Delta State star Trent Giambrone, a second baseman in the Chicago Cubs’ system; Petal High alum Demarcus Evans, a pitcher in the Texas chain; former Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker, a first baseman/outfielder in Minnesota’s organization; Mississippi Braves outfielder Cristian Pache and shortstop Ray-Patrick Didder; and Biloxi Shuckers infielder Keston Hiura. The most intriguing member of this bunch might be the 21-year-old Evans, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander who has dominated in low-A ball this summer. Working as a closer at Hickory in the South Atlantic League, Evans has struck 101 batters in 55 innings with just 27 walks. He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and nine saves. He’ll face much better competition in the AFL, so it’ll be extremely interesting to see how he fares. He is on the Surprise roster. … Robinson, Giambroni and Rooker are all in Double-A. Giambroni, a 25th-round draft pick in 2016, has had an emergent season, batting .254 with 17 homers and 26 steals. Rooker has hit 22 bombs in his second pro season, while Robinson, a third-year pro, has 10 homers and 18 steals. Pache, a top Atlanta prospect, Didder and Hiura will be together on the Peoria club. P.S. Arizona has sent Jarrod Dyson on a rehab assignment, meaning the McComb native may be close to returning from his long stint on the disabled list.
Though there is no opening at third base in Atlanta at the moment, former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley continues to build his resume, prepping for an opportunity that can’t be far off. Riley, 21, one of the Braves’ highest-rated prospects, is batting .283 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. He extended his hitting streak to nine games on Thursday with a 3-for-5, five-RBI effort that included his fourth homer in his last eight games. He has 18 bombs this season, including six he hit at the start of the year in Double-A Mississippi. Riley’s progress this season, his fourth in pro ball, was stalled by a knee injury in early June. It took a while, but he seems fully recovered now. “I think the biggest thing was trusting that my leg was 100 percent … and being able to put all my weight on it pressure-wise, whether it’s a swing or defense,” Riley said in an milb.com story. “Just being able to trust that it’s 100 percent.” Riley isn’t on the Braves’ 40-man roster – and M-Braves alum Johan Camargo is handling third base very well — so a September call-up isn’t a foregone conclusion. But Riley stands ready. “I think he’s more than capable of helping that club win right now,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill told the Gwinnett Daily Post. P.S. Former M-Braves pitcher John Gant homered for St. Louis — while also throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings to notch a win – and is now 2-for-36 in his MLB career, both hits homers. His other bomb came earlier this month and was the first since high school for the eight-year pro.