Catching up on many fronts in pro ball: Chris Coghlan, the ex-Ole Miss star and veteran big leaguer, signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs earlier this month but has not yet been assigned to a club. Coghlan, who played for the Cubs during their championship run in 2016, was released by Toronto last summer. … UM product Drew Pomeranz is expected to be activated from the disabled list by Boston on Friday; the Red Sox will be at Oakland, facing former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman of the A’s. … Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, is 4-for-14 in five games on a rehab assignment with Class A Dunedin in the Toronto system. Alford, who made his big league debut last year, was injured in spring training. … Southern Miss alum Scott Copeland, Starkville native Julio Borbon and Hattiesburg’s Robert Carson have signed with teams in the independent Atlantic League. Copeland and Borbon, both ex-big leaguers, are with Somerset, Carson with York. A number of former Mississippi Braves also have signed on in the league, which opens next weekend. … Southwest Mississippi Community College product Kade Scivicque, released by Atlanta last week, signed with Detroit, the club that drafted him out of LSU in 2015. Scivicque, who played for the M-Braves in 2016-17, had just four at-bats with Triple-A Gwinnett this season. The Tigers sent him to Double-A Erie. … Rehabbing big leaguer Luiz Gohara, expected to be a key rotation piece in Atlanta, worked 3 1/3 innings (62 pitches) for the M-Braves against Pensacola on Tuesday night and yielded five hits, three walks and five runs (one earned). … Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna hit his first homer and picked up his first two RBIs of 2018 for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday. Acuna is batting just .175 after having a huge spring with the big league Braves. … Jacob Nottingham became (by unofficial count) the 18th Biloxi Shuckers alum to advance to the big leagues when he debuted with Milwaukee on Monday. … Former Jackson Generals ace and ex-big leaguer Freddy Garcia, at age 41, is pitching for Yucatan in the Mexican League; he’s 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA. The right-hander has logged more than 3,000 innings in a pro career that started in 1995.
It was a night of firsts, some more significant than others, for Mississippians in the majors. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart sat Thursday for the first time this season and watched as his Los Angeles Angels teammates beat Kansas City 7-1 to improve to an MLB-best 11-3. Cozart is hitting .254 with a five-game hitting streak for his new club. … Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State product, hit his first home run of the season in Pittsburgh’s 6-1 win against the Chicago Cubs. Frazier is batting .292 for the first-place Pirates. … Mike Mayers, the ex-Ole Miss star just recalled from the minors by St. Louis, registered his first career save by tossing three shutout innings in the Cardinals’ 13-4 rout of Cincinnati. … Last but hardly least, former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton notched his first win of 2018 with seven scoreless innings for San Francisco in a 7-0 victory against San Diego. It was a career-long outing for Stratton, who whacked his ERA to 2.60. P.S. In the minors, former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley blasted his first two homers of the year for the Mississippi Braves in a 6-5 loss at Biloxi’s MGM Park. Riley, a highly rated Atlanta prospect, is hitting .346 with eight RBIs in his second Double-A stint.
Seven Mississippi-connected men are managing in the big leagues this season – and not one of them holds the reigns of a club expected to be a strong contender for the postseason. Can any of them pull off a playoff appearance? It’s a race within the races that will be interesting to watch. Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss standout, is debuting as the New York Mets’ manager, but the others are veterans at this thing: Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter in Baltimore; ex-Jackson Mets Ned Yost in Kansas City, John Gibbons in Toronto and Ron Gardenhire in Detroit; former JaxMets manager Clint Hurdle in Pittsburgh; and ex-Mississippi Braves skipper Brian Snitker in Atlanta. Showalter and Gibbons have talented clubs but must contend with American League East heavyweights New York and Boston. Callaway’s Mets were picked by Sports Illustrated as a National League wild card team but coming off a 70-win campaign, that might be a stretch. Yost’s Royals have slipped quite a bit since their 2015 championship season, and both the Pirates and Tigers appear to be in rebuild mode. The Braves, in their second full year under Snitker, could make a push if their young talent (see former M-Braves Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Luiz Gohara, Ronald Acuna) steps up. That’s a significant if.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ first playoff team. The ’78 JaxMets beat Arkansas in the Texas League East playoffs and then fell to El Paso in the title series. Mookie Wilson was the hub of the offense, batting .292 with seven homers, 15 triples and 72 RBIs. Kelvin Chapman, another future big leaguer, hit .266 and led the club with 84 runs. Juan Monasterio batted .289, and Bobby Bryant belted eight homers. Jeff Reardon was the ace, going 17-4 with a 2.54 ERA. Neil Allen led the league in ERA. Scott Holman won 11 games and Kim Seaman 10. The ’78 season was the fourth year the Mets’ Double-A club operated at Smith-Wills Stadium, an affiliation that lasted 16 years. The OJMs missed the playoffs in 1979 but then went on a rip where they made it eight straight years and won three league titles. The ’78 JaxMets were managed by Bob Wellman, no relation to Phillip Wellman, who, 30 years later, managed the Mississippi Braves to the Southern League pennant. That remains the only title claimed by the M-Braves, now entering their 14th year at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The ’08 M-Braves featured a great young pitching staff: Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Todd Redmond, James Parr, et al. Kala Ka’aihue led the team in homers (14) and RBIs (61) and swung a big bat in the postseason. But the club was defined more by the scrappiness of Matt Young and J.C. Holt, who combined for 52 steals. Wellman loved to get aggressive on the bases, and the M-Braves scored the pennant-winning run against Carolina on a walk-off double steal. … This season also marks the 25th anniversary of the first Jackson Generals team to win a Texas League title. The 1993 season was the third at Smith-Wills Stadium for the Houston Astros affiliate. Stars of that club, managed by Sal Butera, included Brian Hunter, Roberto Petagine, Jim Dougherty, Tom Nevers and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson.
Tim Anderson picked the wrong opening day to go off. The former East Central Community College star hit two home runs for the Chicago White Sox on Thursday but was topped by teammate Matt Davidson, who launched three round-trippers in a 14-7 win against Kansas City. Davidson joins Vicksburg native Dmitri Young and two others as the only players with three homers on an opening day. For Anderson, it’s a good start as he attempts to bounce back from a trying 2017 season (see previous posts). … Southwest Mississippi CC alum Jarrod Dyson had a sweet debut for Arizona, going 2-for-4 with a triple, a stolen base, two runs and an RBI in an 8-2 win vs. Colorado. … Ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart delivered three hits, including a homer, in his first game with the Los Angeles Angels, who lost to Oakland 6-5 in 11 innings. Cozart went deep against former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman, who also had the dubious distinction of surrendering the first hit by the Angels’ touted Japanese import Shohei Ohtani. … UM alum Mickey Callaway got a win in his debut as New York Mets manager, and ex-East Central CC standout Marcus Thames, now the Yankees’ hitting coach, watched his club – and new addition Giancarlo Stanton — whip Toronto. … Former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies homered as Atlanta rallied to beat Philadelphia, and Biloxi Shuckers alum Orlando Arcia got the game-winning hit in the 12th inning as Miwaukee topped San Diego. … Ole Miss product Braxton Lee was added to Miami’s 25-man roster on Thursday but did not make his big league debut in the Marlins’ loss to the Chicago Cubs. Stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, Northwest CC alum Cody Reed was recalled by Cincinnati on Thursday; the Reds’ game with Washington was postponed until today.
A rookie outfielder appears poised to crack Atlanta’s opening day roster, but it’s not top prospect Ronald Acuna. Dustin Peterson, who had a huge year for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, has had an outstanding spring for the Braves and is in the mix for playing time in left field. Peterson, 23, is batting .318 with two homers and six RBIs. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-handed hitter, acquired from San Diego in 2014, was a Southern League MVP candidate two years ago when he batted .282 with 12 homers, 88 RBIs and 38 doubles for an M-Braves team that played for the league title. Peterson played well in big league camp last year but suffered a broken hand that pretty much wrecked his 2017 season. “It’s a shame he got hurt because who knows what his story would be right now, the way he was swinging the bat last year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Peterson batted .248 with one homer in 87 games at Triple-A Gwinnett, but indications are he’s got his power back this spring. P.S. Seven other M-Braves alums are currently projected by mlb.com to make the initial 25-man roster: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter.
Don’t look now, but Austin Riley – who has been getting advice from Chipper Jones this spring – is starting to hit. The ex-DeSoto Central High star went 2-for-3 with a homer today in Atlanta’s 5-1 Grapefruit League win over Toronto. After an 0-for-8 start in Florida, the 20-year-old third baseman is now 4-for-19 with two bombs, four RBIs and four runs. Riley graciously gives some credit to Jones. “It’s been an honor to be around that type of player and pick his brain about, really, the mental side of hitting and the importance of trying to get inside the pitcher’s head,” Riley told mlb.com. Riley, a top 10 Braves prospect, is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He’ll likely play at Triple-A Gwinnett this season and could make the majors in 2019. He hit .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs overall last season at high Class A Florida and Double-A Mississippi. For what it’s worth, he looks the part of a third baseman: 6 feet 3, 220 pounds. And he has the arm to play there.