Cristian Pache arrived in Mississippi with modest fanfare last summer. If he starts 2019 with the Mississippi Braves, as he is expected to do, there will be much more hubbub. Pache, only 20, has been starring in Atlanta’s big league camp, batting .455 (10-for-22) with two homers and eight RBIs. He hit the bombs on Friday and Saturday in Grapefruit League action. And keep in mind that it’s his defense in center field that is considered to be his best skill. “This kid just keeps doing it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said in an mlb.com story. “He just keeps improving. It’s been a good camp for him.” The Dominican Republic native is rated Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect and No. 37 overall by MLB Pipeline. He was named to the Arizona Fall League’s All-Prospect team last fall and is a two-time organization All-Star for the Braves. He lists at 6 feet 2, 185 pounds and reportedly has added some weight. In 29 games for the Double-A M-Braves last year, Pache hit .260 with one homer, cooling off after a hot start. He figures to be the centerpiece of the 2019 club, which begins play April 4 on the road with the home opener slated April 10 at Trustmark Park. Pache might not be in Pearl very long. As Snitker said, “If you’re at Double-A, you’re in play.” P.S. Former DeSoto Central (and M-Braves) star Austin Riley played some first base in Atlanta’s game on Sunday. Riley, the team’s No. 5 prospect as a third baseman, also has been rumored to possibly see some outfield duty at Triple-A Gwinnett this season.
Cool idea by the Mississippi Braves to give a nod to the old Jackson Generals as part of the M-Braves’ celebration of the franchise’s 15th year in Pearl. The M-Braves will wear some throwback apparel when the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals (no relation to the other one) visit Trustmark Park from June 25-29. On June 28, the first 1,000 fans will receive a replica Jackson (Miss.) Generals jersey. As a refresher, the Generals were the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Houston Astros and played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-1999. That club produced a bevy of big league stars, including Billy Wagner, Lance Berkman, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia, Richard Hidalgo, Todd Jones, Julio Lugo, Daryle Ward, Melvin Mora, Brian Hunter and Scott Elarton, to name, well, more than a few. The Generals won two Texas League pennants (1993 and ’96). Of course, Jackson’s pro baseball legacy extends well beyond the Generals. The Mets – New York’s Double-A club – occupied Smith-Wills from 1975-1990, turned out an array of stars, as well (see Darryl Strawberry, Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, Kevin Mitchell, et al.), and won three TL titles. And before the Mets there were a number of minor league teams that played in a long-gone ballpark at the Fairgrounds for many years up until the early ’50s. Included in that group was a Boston Braves farm team. And let’s not forget that after the Generals departed for Round Rock, Texas, two independent pro teams played at Smith-Wills: the DiamondKats (2000) and the Senators (2002-05). The Senators also won a championship. Bottom line: When it comes to pro baseball in central Mississippi, there’s a whole lot to celebrate.
If he produces a typical season, Brian Dozier will easily top 1,000 career hits in the big leagues in 2019. The Fulton native and former Southern Miss star is the active leader in hits among Mississippi-born players in MLB with 954 through six-plus seasons. Notching a thousand career hits is an impressive feat, requiring a combination of skill, opportunity and longevity. Dozier, 32 in May, will need another six or so productive seasons to reach 2,000 hits, which only four Mississippi-born players have managed to do. Grenada native Dave Parker tops that list with 2,712, followed by Ellisville’s Buddy Myer (2,131), Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks (2,107) and Greenville’s Frank White (2,006). Dozier, who’ll play second base for the Washington Nationals in 2019, could also reach another hits milestone this season. The record for a USM alum is 1,142, by Jim Davenport. Kevin Young is second with 1,007. … Former Mississippi State star Rafael Palmeiro is among the 32 players with 3,000 hits; his 3,020 are by far the most by a Mississippi college alumnus. Ex-Bulldogs great Will Clark had 2,176. The most by an Ole Miss product is 1,991 by Gee Walker, a Gulfport native who played in the 1930s and ’40s. Don Kessinger had 1,931. Dave Clark leads Jackson State alums with 518. … Amory’s Mitch Moreland, another Mississippi State product, is No. 2 on the state’s active hits list with 857. (Jackson’s Seth Smith, presumably retired, is sitting on 934.) Moreland, Boston first baseman, probably won’t get to 1,000 this year – his career-high for a season is 131 – but should make it in 2020. … … Bobby Abreu, who played for the Jackson Generals in the mid-’90s, is the leader, with 2,470 hits, among former Jackson area Double-A players. Hubie Brooks leads former Jackson Mets with 1,608, and Brian McCann, still active, is tops among ex-Mississippi Braves with 1,521.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s 14-letter surname was the longest in MLB history. He also had a few distinguishing moments on the field. “Salty” was Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect when he arrived in Double-A Mississippi in 2006, and though the switch-hitting catcher didn’t really live up to that heady billing, he did play parts of 12 seasons in the majors and won a World Series ring. He announced his retirement on Monday. He batted .232 with 110 home runs and 381 RBIs for seven different clubs. He hit 25 homers for Boston in 2012 and drove in 65 runs for the Red Sox the next year, helping them win the championship. With the M-Braves in 2006, Saltalamacchia batted .230 with nine homers. He returned in 2007 and hit .302 with six bombs in 22 games before being called to the big leagues. … Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna, the 2018 National League rookie of the year with the Braves, was selected in a fan vote to appear on card No. 1 in Topps’ 2019 basic set. Other recent recipients of this honor include Mike Trout, Aaron Judge and Kris Bryant, each of whom was on the ballot for 2019, along with Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper. Acuna, who homered in his first at-bat for the M-Braves in 2017, was honored with a Bobblehead Night at Trustmark Park last summer. … Twenty-four of the 40 players on Atlanta’s current roster are M-Braves alums, and 10 of the 20 non-roster invitees to spring camp played in Pearl the last couple years. Former DeSoto Central standout Austin Riley – one of eight Top 100 prospects (by mlb.com) in Atlanta’s system – received a non-roster invite for the second straight year. He spent parts of 2017 and ’18 in Pearl.
Atlanta made quite a few changes to its minor league field staff for 2019, but Jackson native Chris Maloney will be back for a second tour as manager of the Double-A Mississippi Braves. The formal announcement was made on Wednesday. Pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn and hitting coach Carlos Mendez will also return. Maloney, a longtime minor league manager and big league coach, is a former Mississippi State player and son of former Jackson Texas League franchise owner Con Maloney. The 2018 M-Braves, who endured a lot of roster changes, especially among pitchers, finished 67-71 overall but contended in the Southern League South into the final days in the second half. The team Maloney will manage this year won’t be settled until April, but there’s a good chance it’ll feature several intriguing prospects. Foremost among them is Cristian Pache, an outfielder who was with the M-Braves for 29 games last summer. The Braves’ No. 6 prospect, who played – and starred — in the 2018 Arizona Fall League, is a defensive whiz who is still developing as a hitter. He hit .260 with the M-Braves. William Contreras, the No. 13 prospect, is a 20-year-old catcher who reached high-A last year and might be on a fast track. The younger brother of the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras, he hit .285 with 11 homers in 2018. Then there’s Drew Waters, the No. 8 prospect. A switch-hitting outfielder, he reached high-A at age 19 in just his second pro season. Described by MLB Pipeline as a “veritable toolshed,” Waters batted .293 with nine homers and 23 steals last season. No. 3 prospect Ian Anderson, a right-hander, made it to Mississippi late last season and went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in four starts. He could be back, along with Thomas Burrows, a left-handed closer and ex-Alabama star who arrived in Pearl late and posted a 1.42 ERA and six saves. Worth mentioning, too, is Braxton Davidson, a big first baseman and former first-round pick who has fallen off the prospect charts but got an AFL assignment – and hit a walk-off home run in the league title game. He clubbed 20 homers at high-A Florida in 2018 but batted .171 and struck out over 200 times. P.S. The M-Braves will launch their 15th season, on the road, on April 4, taking on the Tennessee Smokies in the opener of a five-game series. The first home game is April 10. … The M-Braves have reached the postseason four times, most recently in 2016, since the franchise relocated from Greenville, S.C., to Pearl in 2005. The club won its only SL pennant in 2008 under Phillip Wellman. … The Braves will have new managers at Florida, Rome and Danville this season. Former M-Braves infielder Barrett Kleinknect is the new skipper of the high-A Fire Frogs.
Brian McCann, the first player to advance from the Mississippi Braves to Atlanta, back in the summer of 2005, is coming back to the Braves for 2019 after several years in other uniforms. McCann, now 34, was a highly rated prospect when he arrived in Pearl for the M-Braves’ inaugural season and lived up to the hype in the big leagues, quickly rising to stardom and putting up numbers that may someday put him in the Hall of Fame. McCann hit .265 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 48 games for the ’05 M-Braves, typically hitting fifth behind Jeff Francoeur and Scott Thorman in the middle of a very good lineup under manager Brian Snitker. McCann had a lot of big hits in his short time with the M-Braves, but none was bigger than the one he produced on April 30, 2005, at Trustmark Park. West Tenn’s Rich Hill — yes, that Rich Hill — and three relievers had no-hit the M-Braves for 8 2/3 innings. The Diamond Jaxx held a 1-0 lead when McCann came up with a runner on to face lefty Yorkin Ferraras. As West Tenn manager — and Laurel native — Bobby Dickerson said after the game: “McCann is the one guy we didn’t want to face right there.” On a 2-2 pitch, Ferraras left a fastball out over the plate and McCann deposited it over the right-field wall for a 2-1 victory. “I’ve never had a feeling like that as long as I’ve been playing sports,” McCann said afterward. It still has to rate as one of the great moments in TeePee history. If you were there, you remember it.
The MLB Manager of the Year awards will be announced today, and there’s a good chance former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker will win the National League honor. Snitker, skipper of the first M-Braves team in 2005, guided the 2018 Atlanta Braves to a division championship, exceeding most expectations. Ronald Acuna, a former M-Braves player, was a key piece on this year’s Braves club and won NL rookie of the year honors on Monday. Acuna is the third former Jackson area Double-A player to win the top rookie honor, following M-Braves alumnus Craig Kimbrel (2011) and former Jackson Mets star Darryl Strawberry (1983). Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan took that award in 2009. Four other Mississippi-connected managers have won the top managerial award. Ex-Mississippi State star Buck Showalter has won three American League awards; former Jackson Mets manager Davey Johnson owns two trophies (one from each league); and Clint Hurdle, another JaxMets manager, and former JaxMets player Ron Gardenhire have won once each. Former Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee and JaxMets alum Mike Scott won the Cy Young Award, which will be handed out on Wednesday. The MVP awards go out Thursday. Mississippi native Dave Parker claimed one of those, as did ex-JaxMets star Kevin Mitchell. For the record, adopted Mississippian Dizzy Dean also won an MVP, back in 1934.
Three Mississippi products reached the 20-home run plateau in the big leagues in 2018, and there’s more Magnolia State power on the way. Four Mississippi prep or college alumni are rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 1 power prospect in their big league organization. DeSoto Central High grad Austin Riley, Harrison Central product Bobby Bradley and ex-Mississippi State stars Brent Rooker and Nathaniel Lowe, each on the cusp of making the majors, made the list. MLB Pipeline’s writers note that the choices were made based on “usable” power, not just “raw” power. Atlanta prospect Riley hit 19 home runs in 2018, six for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before moving to Triple-A, and slugged .522. He could be the Braves’ third baseman by next spring. Bradley belted 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in Cleveland’s system and has 114 round-trippers in five pro seasons. Rooker hit 22 home runs in Double-A for Minnesota after blasting 18 in his pro debut in 2017. Lowe, a Tampa Bay prospect, hit 27 homers and slugged .568 over three levels of the minors, finishing in Triple-A in an amazing breakout season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all four of them in The Show at some point in 2019. P.S. In the 2018 All-Mississippi Home Run Derby in MLB, Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, led the way with 26 homers. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier hit 21 and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson whacked 20.
Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley recently made Cleveland’s minor league organization all-star team and will almost certainly make the Indians’ 40-man protected roster this off-season. When the fifth-year pro will make his big league debut is less certain. Bradley, a left-handed hitting first baseman with impressive power, reached Triple-A Columbus this past season at age 22. The Indians’ No. 7 prospect hit 27 homers and drove in 83 runs between Double-A and Triple-A. He batted just .224, however, and reportedly still needs to polish up his defense. “He’s just a kid, so he’s got plenty of time,” Indians farm director James Harris recently told milb.com. “We’re confident he’ll become an all-around better player.” The Indians have veteran Yonder Alonso at first base and under contract for 2019. Bradley figures to get significant playing time in spring training and then return to Triple-A, where he’ll wait in the wings. Four Mississippians debuted in the big leagues last season: Braxton Lee, Dakota Hudson, Cody Carroll and Spencer Turnbull. Bradley could be first up in 2019. P.S. Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High star, is on the East roster for Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game, a showcase event for the showcase league. Evans is a power-armed pitching prospect in the Texas Rangers’ system. Also on the East squad are Atlanta prospects Cristian Pache, an outfielder, and Kyle Muller, a pitcher, and Milwaukee prospect Keston Hiura, an infielder. Pache and Muller played for the Mississippi Braves in 2018, and Hiura was with Biloxi. MLB Network will televise the Fall Stars Game at 7 p.m. … Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna is on the team of big leaguers headed overseas next week for the MLB Japan All-Star Series. The first game is Nov. 8 in Tokyo. MLB Network will carry all the games live.
Quite a few atta boys to pass out to the Mississippi connections after Tuesday’s league championship games. Who better to start with than:
Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product from Fulton, making his first postseason start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, went 1-for-4 with a walk and an HBP and drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a two-out single in the first inning in the National League Championship Series. “For him to spark us, and get a point early, I thought that was huge,” LA manager Dave Roberts told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. After the 2-1, 13-inning, series-squaring win over Milwaukee, it’ll be interesting to see if Dozier gets another start in Game 5 today at Dodger Stadium.
Alex Wood. The ex-Mississippi Braves star threw a clean 11th inning with one strikeout for the Dodgers.
Orlando Arcia. The Biloxi Shuckers alum went 1-for-5 and scored Milwaukee’s lone run. After an uneven regular season, Arcia is batting .280 with three homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the postseason.
Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader. The former Shuckers chuckers worked a combined six scoreless innings in relief duty and punched out 11 for the Brewers.
Mitch Moreland. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory picked up his second RBI for Boston in the American League Championship Series when he was hit by a Roberto Osuna pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. That run extended the visiting Red Sox’s lead to 4-2, and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed with his game-breaking grand slam as Boston rolled to an 8-2 win and a 2-1 series lead over Houston.
Tony Sipp. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Moss Point closed out the sixth inning for the Astros after Joe Smith yielded Steve Pearce’s go-ahead homer. Sipp, making just his second postseason appearance, walked the first batter he faced but got a strikeout and a ground out to end the inning.
Charlie Morton. The M-Braves product will get the ball for his first postseason start of 2018 for Houston in tonight’s Game 4, a virtual must-win for the Astros. Morton, 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA this season, was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of both the World Series and the ALCS in 2017.