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.
Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star and Atlanta prospect, is 6-for-21 since he returned to Triple-A Gwinnett from a rehab assignment in rookie ball. Riley, out roughly a month with a knee injury, is hitting .285 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 31 games for the Stripers. He was promoted from Double-A Mississippi in early May. … The hits keep coming for Jacob Robson, the former Mississippi State standout now at Triple-A Toledo in Detroit’s farm system. Robson is hitting .414 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 15 games for the Mud Hens. Also at Toledo is ex-State star Zac Houston, a big right-hander who has a 2.08 ERA and three saves in 16 appearances. … Southern Miss alum Mason Robbins went into last week’s Triple-A All-Star break with a 12-game hitting streak for Charlotte (Chicago White Sox). He is 0-for-12 since play resumed. Overall, the lefty-hitting outfielder is at .269 with two homers and 24 RBIs in 54 games. … Former State star Reid Humphreys notched his 20th save on Sunday for Lancaster, Colorado’s high Class A affiliate. Humphreys, who leads the California League in saves, has a 1.67 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. … USM product Chuckie Robinson has started to hit at high-A Buies Creek in Houston’s system. An 11-for-33 surge has boosted his average to .204 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 53 games. Robinson, a catcher, was a Midwest League All-Star in 2017, when he batted .274 with 15 homers and 32 doubles for a championship club at Quad Cities. … LeDarious Clark, the East Mississippi Community College alum from Meridian, has hit in six straight games since he returned to the Down East (Texas Rangers) lineup from an extended rehab stint. He is batting .266 with three homers for the high-A club in the Carolina League. He hit 13 homers and stole 20 bases there last year. … One of the more interesting picks in this year’s draft was Dallas Woolfolk, taken by Oakland in the 13th round. Right-hander Woolfolk, who had some struggles at Ole Miss late last season and ultimately left the team, has been up and down for the Arizona League A’s. In five games (six innings), he has two saves and a win with a 6.00 ERA, seven strikeouts and seven walks.
Nostalgia is thick in the air at Trustmark Park when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos come to call. The field staff for the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A club, which began a five-game series with the Mississippi Braves on Thursday, is replete with big league stars of another era. Fans of a certain age know the names well. Hitting coach Mike Devereaux, who won a ring with the 1995 Atlanta Braves, and bench coach Lenny Harris debuted in the majors in the late 1980s, and pitching coach James Baldwin broke in in 1995. And then there’s Blue Wahoos manager Jody Davis. Not only is he a former big leaguer, he is also a former Jackson Met. Davis made his MLB debut in 1981. Surely there are a few fans around who recall that two years before that, Davis had a breakout season for the Double-A JaxMets, who made their home at Smith-Wills Stadium. Davis batted .296 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs in 1979, playing on a team that included Hubie Brooks and Wally Backman. Davis also refined his catching skills that year and was named a Texas League All-Star. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals (for big leaguer Ray Searage) following that season, then taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs in December 1980. The next April he launched a 10-year MLB career during which he made two All-Star teams. Davis coached and managed in the Cubs’ system for several years and took the reins in Pensacola this season.
The preseason magazines didn’t give Mitch Moreland much attention. Sports Illustrated’s Boston Red Sox preview didn’t mention him at all. The Amory native and former Mississippi State standout had re-signed as a free agent with the Red Sox in mid-December with no guarantee of a spot in the lineup. But Moreland did what he does: Keep grinding. And on Sunday, Moreland got a spot on the American League All-Star roster, voted in by his fellow players. It’ll be the first trip to the Midsummer Classic for the humble nine-year veteran. Funny how things work out. Boston had five players make the All-Star squad. When Boston manager Alex Cora informed the team of this news, his announcement of Moreland’s selection reportedly got the loudest response. “Out of all of them — I’m very proud of all of them — but to tell the team that he’s an All-Star, that was amazing,” Cora said in an mlb.com article. Moreland wasn’t in the lineup for Games 1 or 2 of the season, coming in late as a defensive replacement at first base for Hanley Ramirez. When his at-bats did come, Moreland started slowly. But by mid-May, he had taken the everyday job. Ramirez was released at the end of that month. As a 17th-round draft pick, Moreland said he always felt like he had to battle for everything he got in the game. “I might not be the fastest or have the quickest hands or whatever, but I’m going to work as hard as anybody out there,” he told masslive.com on Sunday. That lunch-pail mentality has served him well. He reached the big leagues with Texas in 2010 – his fourth pro season — and has been in The Show ever since. He’s had some good years. He has 143 career homers. He has a Gold Glove. And, hey now, he’s an All-Star. P.S. Props also to former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Craig Kimbrel and Biloxi Shuckers alum Josh Hader for making the All-Star rosters.
The drought has ended for Corey Dickerson, who homered for the first time since May 4 in Pittsburgh’s 7-5 win against San Diego on Sunday. The RBI was the first since June 1 for the ex-Meridian Community College star. Dickerson, reportedly working on a new approach at the plate, has hit just .196 over his last 15 games, dropping his average to .296. The homer, his sixth of the year, might have been a good sign. “I was just glad he didn’t forget his trot,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said in an mlb.com story. “He pulled off his trot like he’d hit a bunch of them. Guys have always got that trot in the back pocket, waiting to bust it out.” Dickerson does have 96 career homers. … Hunter Renfroe, who has been swinging the bat well of late (.300 in his last 15 games), went deep for San Diego, his fifth of the year, and two other Mississippians also homered on Sunday: Brian Dozier and JaCoby Jones. Southern Miss alum Dozier hit No. 12 for Minnesota, and Richton High product Jones got No. 6 for Detroit. Tim Anderson, the former East Central CC star, still leads the Magnolia State pack with 13. … Four former Mississippi Braves got into the long-ball act on Sunday. Mallex Smith hit his first for Tampa Bay, Jose Peraza his fifth (a grand slam) for Cincinnati, Freddie Freeman his 16th for Atlanta and Evan Gattis his 16th and 17th for Houston. After a slow start in 2018, Gattis has 11 bombs in his past 30 games.
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.
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.