Red-hot Alex Jackson banged out a couple more hits, including a home run, in the Mississippi Braves’ loss to Pensacola at Trustmark Park on Wednesday night. He is 10-for-23 with two bombs and seven RBIs in his last five games. If you follow the MLB draft – and who doesn’t, right? – you may remember the name Alex Jackson. In 2014, he was a high school phenom in San Diego, a big masher considered to be one of the best hitters available, a possible No. 1 overall pick. Seattle took him with the sixth selection, and for two years he sat atop their prospect chart. For whatever reason, the Mariners soured on Jackson. After the 2016 season, when he hit .243 with 11 homers and 103 strikeouts in low-A ball, the M’s traded Jackson to Atlanta in a minor league deal. Seattle had converted the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Jackson from catcher to the outfield; the Braves moved him back behind the plate, a switch Jackson reportedly was eager to make. He started 2017 at high-A Florida, hit .270 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 66 games and began to revive some of the old hype. He was promoted to Double-A on July 30. After a slow start, Jackson’s recent surge has raised his average to .239 in 12 games. … Also on fire for the M-Braves is Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star who was a first-round supplemental pick in 2015. The 20-year-old third baseman, who also started 2017 at Florida, is hitting .364 with two homers and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games and is at .276 with four homers in 29 Double-A games. … And up at Triple-A Gwinnett, Ronald Acuna, the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, is batting .341 with seven homers and is banging on the big-league door. The 19-year-old outfielder, who also started this season in A-ball, blew through Mississippi, hitting .326 with nine bombs in 57 games. P.S. Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull, pitching in the Detroit system, got roughed up in his Double-A debut on Wednesday night. He allowed six hits, five walks and six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings for Erie in the Eastern League. The 2014 second-round pick out of Alabama was 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA in high-A ball this season.
In Baseball America’s recent rankings of the Best Tools in the major leagues, Aaron Hicks, Kevin Kiermaier and Alex Gordon were 1-2-3 in the American League’s Best Outfield Arm category. In the NL, it was Yoenis Cespedes, Mississippi’s own Hunter Renfroe and Yasiel Puig. The MLB leader in outfield assists is … none of the above. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, tops that list with 11. The Seattle center fielder got one on Tuesday night, cutting down Baltimore’s Manny Machado at the plate in the Mariners’ 3-1 victory in a meeting of AL playoff contenders. Dyson has 47 assists in his eight-year career, and he hasn’t played regularly for much of that time. Dyson did show up in three of the Baseball America Best Tools rankings, which are based on a poll of managers, coaches and scouts. He was the AL’s Best Bunter – he put down a nice sacrifice on Tuesday – and ranked second in Best Baserunner and Fastest Baserunner. … It’s impressive that the names of four Mississippi natives show up in the rankings. In addition to Dyson and Crystal Springs’ Renfroe, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton was No. 1 in the NL’s Fastest Baserunner – duh – and Best Baserunner categories and No. 3 in Best Defensive Outfielder, and Amory’s Mitch Moreland was second in the AL’s Best Defensive First Baseman chart. P.S. East Central CC product Tim Anderson led off with a first-pitch home run against Alex Wood in Tuesday night’s Chicago White Sox-Los Angeles Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium. It was Anderson’s 14th homer and fifth in nine games. It was the only run former Mississippi Braves ace Wood would allow in seven innings, but he took a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 6-1 win. He is 14-1 for a team that is now a jaw-dropping 84-34. … Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles homered in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in York, N.Y. Bortles has only one homer in 35 regular season games for Connecticut in the Detroit system. A 2017 draftee, he is batting .273 with 15 RBIs.
Braxton Lee’s work with the bat has been impossible to ignore this season. The Picayune native is hitting .316 — best in the Southern League – and has scored 69 runs – second in the SL — for Double-A Jacksonville. His work with the glove also has gotten some attention. Lee was rated the Best Defensive Outfielder in the league in Baseball America’s annual poll of managers. Lee, listed at 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, can really run, a skill he demonstrated at Picayune High, Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss. He was the leadoff batter and left fielder on the Rebels’ 2014 College World Series team, batting .281 with 56 runs and 30 steals in 69 games. He plays center field now and, from all indications, is playing it very well. A 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014, Lee seemed to have hit a wall when he reached Double-A in 2016. He batted .209 for Montgomery. This season has been an about-face. He has been among the league leaders in hitting all season and was named to the SL All-Star Game in June. “I wouldn’t say anything is better other than my mindset every single day,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. He was batting .321 on June 26 when Tampa Bay traded him to Miami in the Adeiny Hechavarria deal. Lee was SL player of the week in his first week with Jacksonville. Not yet on the Marlins’ list of top prospects, that likely will change this off-season. … Former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna, now at Triple-A Gwinnett, was ranked as the SL’s Best Batting Prospect and Most Exciting Player.
Competition was stiff for MLB Line of the Night, Mississippi Division. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton put up a 4223 (AB-R-H-RBI) on Tuesday, with a homer and a triple, his eighth, which ranks second in the big leagues. Ole Miss product Seth Smith had a 3223 with a double. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star, produced a 5221 with a stolen base, No. 24 on the year. Former Mississippi State standouts Hunter Renfroe (3220) and Adam Frazier (4030) also put up some numbers worthy of mention. But Line of the Night must go to State product Mitch Moreland, whose 5323 included a double, a homer, his 13th, and a “productive” out that figured prominently in Boston’s crazy 12-10 win against Cleveland. With two outs and one on in the ninth at Fenway Park, the Red Sox down a run, Moreland reached first on a wild-pitch third strike. Christian Vazquez followed with a three-run bomb that beat Indians closer Cody Allen and moved Boston back into first place in the American League East. P.S. Dyson’s stolen base was the 200th of his career. He has an amazing 85 percent success rate. The McComb native ranks third among Mississippians on the all-time steals list, behind Hamilton (228) and Gee Walker (223). … Smith’s big night helped Baltimore beat Kansas City and give Buck Showalter his 1,481st managerial victory. The former State star moved into sole possession of 24th place on the all-time list, ahead of Earl Weaver. … Former Mississippi Braves Lucas Sims and Ozzie Albies debuted for Atlanta on Tuesday. Sims took the loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing three runs in six innings. Albies went 0-for-2 with a run.
They have a pulse. Given up for dead two weeks ago when their record fell to 4-15, the Mississippi Braves have come alive on the current homestand. The 11-19 record still looks bad, and they’re in last place, but they’re just 3.5 games back of first-place Jacksonville in the Southern League South. After starting the second half 0-10 at Trustmark Park, the M-Braves have won five of six on this homestand, three by walk-off, including the victory against Jacksonville on Tuesday night. Those kind of wins can energize a team. They’ve got the starting pitching — always the key ingredient — to make a run at the division title. Mike Soroka – a true ace at 10-5, 2.32 ERA – Kolby Allard and Luiz Gohara rank in the top 10 in Baseball America’s recently updated Atlanta prospect chart. Max Fried is a prospect, too, his 2-11, 6.44 ledger notwithstanding. The bullpen has been a bit of a revolving door, with 11 different pitchers recording at least one save, but there are good arms out there. The lineup, on paper, doesn’t scare anybody. The averages, 1 through 8, from Tuesday: .220, .187, .244, .263, .273, .215, .269, .202. Mega-prospect Ronald Acuna is gone to Triple-A. Recent arrivals Austin Riley and Tyler Neslony, the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, would certainly help the cause if they can muster big finishes. Riley, the highly regarded former DeSoto Central High star, has power. Neslony, a 2016 draftee out of Texas Tech, hit .309 at Class A Florida before his promotion. Joey Meneses (.273), Jared James (.272) and Southwest Mississippi CC alum Kade Scivicque (.269) have been solid all season. Travis Demeritte and Connor Lien have struggled but do provide pop with 13 and nine homers, respectively. There are 40 games left in the half. The M-Braves have time. And, as they’ve shown these last few days, they have a pulse.
Recalled from Triple-A earlier in the day, Chris Stratton jumped right into the fray for San Francisco on Tuesday and registered a rare four-inning save in an 11-3 win against Pittsburgh. The ex-Mississippi State star relieved Madison Bumgarner – who earned his first win of the year – in the sixth and yielded six hits and two runs the rest of the way for his first career save. Stratton has a 7.71 ERA in 14 big league innings in 2017. … Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, the subject of trade rumors, worked six-plus innings for St. Louis but got no decision in a 3-2 win over Colorado. Lynn, who allowed one run Tuesday, has yielded just two runs in his last four starts. He has a 3.21 ERA for the year, though he has given up 21 home runs. … UM product Drew Pomeranz labored through five innings (105 pitches), allowing three runs on four hits and four walks, for Boston at Seattle. Pomeranz left with a lead, but the Red Sox didn’t hold it and fell 6-5 in 13 innings. Pomeranz is 10-4 with a 3.59 ERA for the first-place BoSox. … Tony Sipp, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum from Pascagoula, retired one of the two hitters he faced – one reached on an error – in first-place Houston’s 5-0 win against Philadelphia. Former Mississippi Braves standout Charlie Morton went seven innings for his eighth win. Veteran left-hander Sipp has a 5.16 ERA in 35 appearances, few of those in high-leverage situations. … Former State star Brandon Woodruff was reinstated from the disabled list by Milwaukee and sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Woodruff, still awaiting his MLB debut, was roughed up in a rehab start for Colorado Springs on Monday. … Kendall Graveman, another former Bulldogs hurler, will make at least on more rehab start for Triple-A Nashville before returning to Oakland, according to reports. Ole Miss alum Bobby Wahl, also on the DL for the A’s, was assigned to Nashville for rehab work. P.S. Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs was ejected from a game on Tuesday for the first time in his big league career. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale was the umpire who ran Bryant for barking about a called third strike.
Only one player in the majors was hotter than Alex Presley over the last seven days. The former Ole Miss standout went 13-for-25, including a 3-for-5 on Sunday, for Detroit. His .520 average was second to Chris Taylor’s .542 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Journeyman Presley, who is with his fifth major league team, is batting .344 on the year for the Tigers, who appear to have waved the white flag on 2017. … Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton was hot, too, batting .385 over the last seven days for Cincinnati, another scuffling team. “Billy is hitting the ball on the screws again,” Reds manager Bryan Price said in an Associated Press story. Hamilton (.258 on the season) had three hits and stole two bases on Sunday; he leads the majors with 43 bags. … Southern Miss product Brian Dozier is riding a nine-game hit streak for Minnesota, still contending in the American League Central. He hit his 16th homer on Sunday, his third during the streak. … Former Ole Miss star Bobby Wahl, on a rehab assignment with Oakland, has fanned six batters in two innings of work at Class A Stockton. He has eight K’s in 7 2/3 MLB innings this year; he has been on the disabled list since May 24. … USM alum Dylan Burdeaux, a 20th-round pick by Detroit last month, is batting .294 in four games at Class A West Michigan; the first baseman hit .319 in 13 games at the short-season A level. Burdeaux led NCAA Division I in hits this season with 102 (six more than Mississippi State’s Brent Rooker). … Kirk McCarty, also drafted out of USM in June (seventh round), has a 0.59 ERA in six appearances for Cleveland’s short-season Mahoning Valley club. Left-hander McCarty tossed three hitless innings on Sunday. … Ex-State star Jake Robson, a second-year pro, is batting .340 in 24 games at high-A Lakeland in the Detroit system. The lefty-swinging outfielder is hitting .432 over his last 10 games. … Highly rated Atlanta prospect Kolby Allard yielded a grand slam and a three-run bomb in the Mississippi Braves’ 7-0 loss to Biloxi at Trustmark Park on Sunday. Allard (5-9) has allowed six homers in his last three starts and seen his ERA jump from 2.88 to 3.75. … Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison got the win with a 1-2-3 inning in Saturday’s Cape Cod League All-Star Game. Rolison, 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA for Orleans this summer, also got rave reviews from Baseball America, which reports that the left-hander is looking like a first-round pick in 2018.