22 May

comeback roads

Bradley Roney, the former Southern Miss standout who reached Triple-A in 2016 in Atlanta’s system, pitched in an official game on Tuesday for the first time in almost two years. Roney, 26, worked two scoreless innings for Class A Florida. “It feels so goooooood to be back,” he tweeted after he was activated from the injured list on Monday. Roney, a 2014 draftee by the Braves, last pitched in July 2017 for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He made 15 appearances that year, posting a 3.75 ERA, four wins and two saves out of the bullpen. If all goes well, he’ll likely get back to Pearl sometime this summer. … Ole Miss product and onetime big leaguer Aaron Barrett, who missed the 2016 and ’17 seasons with major arm injuries (see previous posts), has been effective in his ongoing comeback effort in Washington’s system. The 31-year-old righty has a 3.57 ERA and nine saves in 15 games at Double-A Harrisburg. He has 90 major league appearances on his resume, the last in 2015. … USM alum Cody Carroll, on the IL since the start of the season with a back issue, has begun throwing, according to reports. Carroll made his MLB debut with Baltimore in 2018, his fourth pro season. He was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk in spring training before he was shut down. … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, who is on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster, has struggled since returning from a stint on the IL at Double-A Tennessee. A 23-year-old lefty, Steele has a 9.33 ERA in six outings this season. Steele had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and was limited to 11 games last year, plus some work in the Arizona Fall League.

20 May

ode to freddie

Freddie Freeman already has achieved iconic status with the Atlanta Braves. The former Mississippi Braves first baseman is to the current generation of Braves fans what Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones were before him: the face of the franchise. Still, the occasion of Freeman’s 200th career home run – struck Sunday against Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff of Milwaukee – gives us a peg to celebrate what he has achieved in his 10 seasons in the big leagues. It has been a treat to watch. Freeman arrived in Pearl on July 4, 2009, as a highly rated prospect though not as celebrated as his buddy who arrived on the same day, Jason Heyward. Heyward put up better numbers as an M-Brave – Freeman, not fully healthy, hit .248 with two homers in 41 games that summer – and reached Atlanta first, famously homering in his first at-bat in 2010. But Freeman has clearly surpassed Heyward on the big league stage. Freeman is a career .294 hitter with 713 RBIs. He has made three All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and finished in the top six in National League MVP voting three times. He is just the ninth player ever to hit 200 homers for the Braves. He has the second-most homers by an M-Braves alum; Brian McCann has 273, 179 with Atlanta. Only Lance Berkman (366), Darryl Strawberry (335), Bobby Abreu (288), McCann and Kevin Mitchell (234) rank above Freeman on the list of career bombs by former Jackson area Double-A players. The current Braves team, sprinkled with so many young stars, revolves around Freeman — and will go as far as he leads them.

15 May

’bout time

In a move that seemed like a long time coming, Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High and Mississippi Braves star, will be promoted to Atlanta today, according to multiple reports. Riley, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2015 and has been ranked among the Braves’ top prospects ever since. He has been on a sizzling streak at the plate for Triple-A Gwinnett with seven homers in his last 10 games, including one – No. 15 on the season – Tuesday night. He hit 14 homers over parts of two seasons with the M-Braves and has 86 home runs in 463 pro games all told. Primarily a third baseman, he had played some left field recently for Gwinnett. The Braves are expected to put center fielder Ender Inciarte on the injured list.

14 May

he’s ‘the star’

If you saw Tommy La Stella play for the 2013 Mississippi Braves, you knew he could hit. The lefty-swinging infielder batted .343 in 81 games. The power he’s displaying in 2019 isn’t something anyone has seen before. Now with the Los Angeles Angels, La Stella belted his 10th home run of the season in a victory at Minnesota on Monday night. That’s as many as he had hit in his previous five MLB seasons combined. La Stella – which means “The Star” in Italian – has more homers this year than Angels stars Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. With 24 RBIs, he trails only Trout on the club. La Stella also has more homers than any other M-Braves alum in the majors; Ronald Acuna is second in that pack with eight. After his big year in Pearl in 2013 (when he hit four homers), La Stella made it to Atlanta the next season. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in November of 2014 for Arodys Vizcaino and spent four years with the Cubbies, winning a ring in 2016. The Angels acquired him last November. His emergence as a regular has taken at-bats away from Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, who is mired in a deep slump (.136, no homers). P.S. Former M-Braves star Dansby Swanson is the second-most improved hitter in the big leagues this year, behind only Cody Bellinger. That’s according to a detailed analysis by mlb.com’s Mike Petriello. After a couple of disappointing years in Atlanta, Swanson is currently batting .268 with six homers and 25 RBIs – plus, according to the mlb.com piece, striking out less, walking more and hitting the ball harder and higher.

06 May

what a day

Take a deep breath, Mississippi. On a Sunday that included Ole Miss’ all-time crazy win at LSU, Southern Miss’ huge walk-off win against Florida Atlantic, Delta State’s homer-fueled, elimination-game win in the Gulf South Tournament and the Mississippi Braves’ squeeze-bunt walk-off vs. Jacksonville, the scene-stealing moment from a state-connected player may well have been delivered by big leaguer Hunter Renfroe in San Diego. The former Mississippi State star hit a two-out, pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace closer Kenley Jansen 8-5. “This is my second walk-off home run, and there’s nothing like it in this world,” Renfroe, the pride of Crystal Springs, said in an mlb.com game story. It was the first pinch-hit walk-off slam in Padres history and salvaged the third game of the series for San Diego, which suffered tough losses in the first two. “These moments shape your season,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. The slam was Renfroe’s seventh homer of the season. Fighting a slump of late, he is batting .227 with 16 RBIs. He joins Tim Anderson – American League player of the month for April – and Jarrod Dyson as Mississippians with walk-off homers in MLB already in 2019. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday in his 2019 debut for Cincinnati but was returned to the minors on Sunday. Reed has been up and down with the Reds since 2016. He has a 3.21 ERA at Triple-A Louisville.

02 May

minor matters

It would be hard to find anyone in the minors swinging a hotter bat than Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum who is on a 13-for-24 roll with five home runs, nine RBIs and nine runs in this stretch. For the year at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system, Riley (see previous post) is batting .293 with seven homers, including a 492-foot blast he hit Wednesday. … At Double-A Mississippi, Drew Waters extended his hit streak to five games with a 2-for-4 effort and is at .327 with two homers, nine RBIs and 17 runs. Cristian Pache also went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .330 with two bombs and 17 RBIs. … Ole Miss product Chris Ellis may be experiencing a letdown back in Triple-A with St. Louis. After posting a scoreless inning in his MLB debut for Kansas City last month, the Rule 5 draftee was dropped from the Royals’ active roster and returned to the Cardinals. He has allowed nine earned runs in four relief appearances at Memphis. … Mississippi State product Hunter Stovall, traded by Colorado to Philadelphia last week, went 1-for-4 with a triple in his debut Wednesday at Class A Lakeland. He was batting .281 for Asheville in the same league. … Ex-UM and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee, who briefly made the big leagues with Miami in 2018, is hitting .296 in Double-A with the New York Mets. … MSU product Brent Rooker has been out of the lineup for several days at Triple-A Rochester (Minnesota), where the highly rated prospect is hitting .214 with four homers. … Former Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes has heated up for Double-A Birmingham (Chicago White Sox), hitting .303 over his last 10 games to get to .243 for the year. … Petal’s Demarcus Evans and Houlka’s Tyreque Reed, two rising young stars in the Texas system, are holding their own at high-A Down East. Evans has a 1.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 11 innings, while Reed is batting .314 with three homers in his last 10 games. … Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford is skidding in the wrong direction at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s organization. The onetime big leaguer is in a 2-for-32 slump that has dropped his average to .138. Also on that Buffalo club are UM alum Jacob Waguespack (2-2, 4.62 ERA as a starter) and ex-Southern Miss star Conor Fisk (6.00 ERA in 12 innings). … Stuart Turner, an Ole Miss product who spent the 2017 season in the big leagues with Cincinnati, was released this spring and then recently re-signed by the Reds. He is 2-for-16 in four games for Triple-A Louisville.

30 Apr

spirit of ’99

Has it really been 20 years? The first home game of the final season of the old Jackson Generals was played on April 19, 1999, at Smith-Wills Stadium. It could’ve gone better, to say the least. Gov. Kirk Fordice bounced the ceremonial first pitch. The Generals, the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, then surrendered five first-inning runs and lost to Texas League rival Arkansas 9-2. Rick Ankiel got the win and also homered for the Travelers, who were managed by Jackson native and current Mississippi Braves skipper Chris Maloney. The loss dropped the Generals’ record to 3-8. Only 1,955 people turned out to see the lame-duck club, which had announced a year earlier that it was moving to Round Rock, Texas. The ’99 Gens would prove to be a pretty good team. Quite a few future big leaguers appeared on the roster, including Chris Truby (who hit 28 homers), Julio Lugo (.319, 25 steals), Keith Ginter, Brian Dallimore, Jeriome Robertson (15-game winner) and Wayne Franklin. They also occasionally started an all-Johnson outfield: A.J., J.J. and Ric. The Generals, managed by Jim Pankovits, finished 68-72 overall after making a run at the TL East second-half title. The championship actually came down to the last game of the season, also played at Smith-Wills. Alas, before the biggest crowd of the year (a turnstile count of 4,367), the Gens lost in heartbreaking fashion, 9-4 to Tulsa. It was 3-3 in the seventh inning when the Drillers’ Juan Pinella hit a grand slam that sucked the energy out of the old ballpark. The 25-year Texas League era at Smith-Wills began on April 19, 1975, with a pitch by the Jackson Mets’ Greg Pavlick. It ended on Sept. 8, 1999, on a pitch by Tulsa’s Matt Miller, a Delta State alum from Greenwood who would go on to pitch in the big leagues. … The M-Braves will pay tribute to the Generals and that bygone time during a series at Trustmark Park in Pearl from June 25-29.

17 Apr

big league chew

Forget Yelich, Grandal and Cain. The hottest hitter for Milwaukee is Brandon Woodruff, the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout who is raking at a .714 clip and had a big two-run double in an 8-4 win against St. Louis on Tuesday. According to his baseball card, Woodruff is a pitcher, and he’s been pretty good in that role, too. He went 5 2/3 innings vs. the Cardinals, yielding two runs and fanning six. He is 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA in four starts for the 12-6 Brewers, who lead the National League Central. It is said that Woodruff, who bats lefty and throws righty, puts on quite a show when he takes batting practice. And who can forget the bomb he hit off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs last year. … East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson went hitless for the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday but still leads the American League in batting with a .421 average. He slipped behind Cody Bellinger (.433) for the MLB lead. … After a good start with Kansas City, Billy Hamilton has skidded to .205 through 14 games. The Taylorsville High product has just three steals and six runs. … In the Ugly Numbers category, we find ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier (.152, one RBI in 46 at-bats for Washington) and Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart (.091, two RBIs in 44 ABs for the Los Angeles Angels). … Ugly also would describe the outing by the New York Mets’ Steven Matz, who gave up eight runs and failed to retire a batter vs. Philadelphia on Tuesday. He became just the fifth starter ever to do that. One of the others is McComb native Blake Stein, who suffered that indignity on Aug. 31, 1998, pitching for Oakland against Cleveland. To his credit, Stein (21-28, 5.41 ERA over five MLB seasons) struck out eight batters in a row in a 2001 game, also a remarkable feat. … Jacob Webb became the fourth Mississippi Braves alum to debut in the majors this season when he appeared in relief for Atlanta on Tuesday.

10 Apr

familiar refrain

The Mississippi Braves will trot out a highly rated prospect to start their home opener tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Tucker Davidson, whose scheduled Double-A debut was washed out on Monday, is Atlanta’s No. 22 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), a hard-throwing left-hander coming off a solid season in A-ball (7-10, 4.18 ERA). But here’s the thing: This M-Braves staff has three other starters rated more highly than Davidson, yet another example of just how rich Atlanta’s system is in quality arms. Opening day starter Ian Anderson, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect and the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, is slated to start Thursday’s game. The right-hander worked four innings at Tennessee last week, allowing three hits and a run with seven strikeouts. Drawing the opening day start for the M-Braves has been a harbinger of big things. The rather impressive list from the previous 14 seasons includes Anthony Lerew, Sean White, Matt Harrison, Jonny Venters, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan, Jason Hursh, Lucas Sims, Max Fried and Kyle Wright, all of whom made the big leagues. P.S. Joey Wentz (No. 12 prospect) and Kyle Muller (No. 13) also pitched well in limited innings on the 1-3 road trip, but the bullpen was a little leaky. … Jonathan Morales hit .364 and drove in five runs, and No. 8 prospect Drew Waters batted .316. Veteran minor leaguer Andy Wilkins hit the team’s lone homer. … Tonight’s game against Mobile starts at 6:35, the new weekday starting time for 2019.

05 Apr

just stuff

Drew Waters banged out three hits and C.J. Alexander went 1-for-4 with an RBI in their Double-A debuts on Thursday, and Ian Anderson yielded one run in four innings. But the Mississippi Braves couldn’t hold a late lead and lost their season opener at Tennessee 7-5. The M-Braves took the lead in the eighth with two runs against Smokies reliever Wyatt Short, the former Ole Miss closer from Southaven. But Short cherry-picked the win – in his 100th minor league game – when Tennessee rallied against the M-Braves bullpen. … Biloxi’s opener against Birmingham was rained out at MGM Park. Mississippi State product Daniel Brown, a lefty pitcher, is on the Shuckers’ roster, and former Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes, a third baseman, is with the Barons. … Back in Buffalo for the start of the minor league season, ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run to help Toronto’s Triple-A club beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 8-3. Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack pitched six innings for the win. Alford, up and down with the Blue Jays over the past three years, was in the majors on Tuesday and went 0-for-3. … If you watched it, you know this already: Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried was ridiculously good (one hit, no walks, five strikeouts in six innings) for Atlanta against the Chicago Cubs in a 9-4 victory. “The stuff is off the charts,” Braves catcher Brian McCann told mlb.com. … Ole Miss and M-Braves alum Chris Ellis was designated for assignment by Kansas City and, if he passes through waivers as expected, will be offered back to St. Louis. Ellis, on the Royals’ roster as a Rule 5 pick, worked a scoreless inning in his MLB debut last Saturday but was squeezed off the roster by other moves. “We liked his stuff,” said K.C. manager Ned Yost, the old Jackson Mets catcher. … On the subject of stuff, ex-Madison Central standout Spencer Turnbull struck out 10 and allowed just two earned runs in six innings Thursday for Detroit, which beat the Royals 5-4. … Brian Dozier and Zack Cozart, Mississippi college products itching to get off to good starts in 2019, have not. Former Southern Miss star Dozier is 2-for-22 for his new club, Washington, while Ole Miss alum Cozart, coming back from injury in 2018, is 1-for-23 for the Los Angeles Angels. … Pittsburgh put Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College standout, on the injured list with a shoulder issue. Richton High product JaCoby Jones, also on the IL with a shoulder injury suffered in spring training, isn’t close to a return to Detroit’s lineup, reports say.