The Biloxi Shuckers’ magic number for clinching the division title is 4. They finish the first half of the Southern League season with a five-game, promotion-packed homestand that starts tonight at MGM Park and runs through Father’s Day. Could be very festive. The potential party pooper here, as fate would have it, is their Magnolia State rival, the Mississippi Braves. The M-Braves (27-38) are in last place in the SL South and have been out of the title chase for some time. The All-Star break, which begins Monday, lays ahead. But perhaps the M-Braves will draw some incentive from playing the role of spoiler. The Shuckers (38-27) lead second-place Mobile (35-28) by 2 games; Mobile finishes the first half with a five-game series at Pensacola. The Shuckers are a well-balanced club with power and speed and the top closer in the league, Nate Griep, who has a ridiculous 21 saves. Biloxi had nine players chosen for the All-Star Game. One of them, Thomas Jankins, is on the mound for tonight’s series opener. The M-Braves will throw Kyle Wright, who, despite his mediocre 2018 numbers, is Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect. Mississippi also has highly regarded prospects starting Games 2 and 3: Touki Toussaint – the league strikeout leader – and recent addition Bryse Wilson. So give the M-Braves a puncher’s chance at taking the series and perhaps quelling the Shuckers’ celebration.
Today is one of those days when a Mississippi Braves fan scanning the previous day’s box scores might have to pause and think, Why did Atlanta let him go? Former M-Braves are scattered all over the big leagues now, and quite a few are having impactful seasons in places other than the ATL. The enigmatic Jason Heyward is suddenly crushing it for the Chicago Cubs; he went 3-for-6 with three RBIs in a big win against Milwaukee and is batting .387 with 10 RBIs in his last 15 games. For the year: .281, three homers, 28 RBIs. Jose Martinez, breaking out in St. Louis, went 3-for-4 with his 10th homer in a victory against San Diego. He is batting .327. Gorkys Hernandez, playing regularly in San Francisco, had a 2-for-3 game with two runs in the Giants’ loss to Miami. Hernandez, always a plus defender in center field, is hitting .293 with seven homers. Mallex Smith, another pretty good center fielder, was 2-for-4 with an RBI for Tampa Bay, which beat Toronto. Smith is batting .288 with 12 steals. Luis Avilan has fared well in his middle-relief role for the Chicago White Sox, who have been terrible. He worked a scoreless inning in a loss to Cleveland and trimmed his ERA to 3.26. And Craig Kimbrel just keeps throwing gas for Boston; he struck out the side in the 12th inning against Baltimore to preserve a 2-0 win and notch his 21st save in 23 chances. P.S. Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, who has one win this year for Boston after notching 17 in 2017, remains on the disabled list with no announced timetable for his return. The left-hander last pitched on May 31, when he yielded four runs in five innings and fell to 1-3, 6.81 as Boston lost to Houston 4-2. “I’ll take some positive moving forward and take it into the next one,” he said after that game. He went on the 10-day DL with biceps tendinitis two days later. Pomeranz, who started the season on the DL, has lasted more than five innings in only two of eight starts.
This weekend’s Subway Series is the first for Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway as New York Mets manager. The scuffling Mets, losers of six straight, host the rampaging Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — for three games at CitiField, all coming to a TV network near you. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder (2.75 ERA) has done good work out of the Yankees’ bullpen. … An injury to Andrelton Simmons has meant a return to shortstop for Zack Cozart. The Ole Miss alum, signed by the Los Angeles Angels in the off-season to man third base, actually has moved about quite a bit on the dirt for L.A. He has 32 starts at third, 15 at second and five at short, the position he played for seven seasons with Cincinnati. Simmons, who could be out 2-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, might be the best defensive shortstop in the game, but Cozart is no slouch. In fact, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called him an “incredible shortstop.” What the Angels would like to see is a little more offense from their $38 million free agent, who is batting .229 with five homers and 18 RBIs. … Tonight, Cozart and the Angels will face Minnesota’s Lance Lynn, another former Rebels star. Lynn, also an off-season free agent signee, is 4-4 with a 5.46 for the Twins and has won three starts in a row. Worth noting: Cozart is .128 career vs. Lynn. … Arizona’s acquisition of outfielder Jon Jay might cut into Jarrod Dyson’s playing time. McComb native Dyson is hitting just .206 (with 10 steals) overall but is at .318 in his last seven games. And his defense is top-drawer. … Tonight marks a homecoming of sorts for Daniel Sweet, the Flowood native and former Northwest Rankin High star who plays for Pensacola, which is in Pearl for a five-game Southern League series against the Mississippi Braves. Sweet, a switch-hitting outfielder, is in his third season in the Cincinnati organization after being drafted out of Dallas Baptist. He is hitting .148 in 25 games for the Blue Wahoos in his first taste of Double-A. He was batting .284 in A-ball when he was promoted. … Tyler Marlette has been on a tear for the M-Braves, batting .382 in his last 10 games and .296 with six homers for the year. First baseman Marlette, 25, named to the SL All-Star Game on Wednesday, signed with Atlanta in the off-season after seven years in the Seattle organization. He is a career .272 hitter with 68 homers.
While Atlanta hitters were piling up 18 hits and 14 runs against San Diego on Tuesday night, Sean Newcomb was on the mound continuing to build his case as a horse to ride on the long road ahead for the first-place Braves. The former Mississippi Braves star improved to 7-1 and trimmed his ERA to 2.49 with six shutout innings against the Padres. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound left-hander doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, but his off-speed stuff has been outstanding. “Every time he goes on the mound, you’re pretty confident we are going to get the win that day,” Freddie Freeman said in an mlb.com article. “He’s been lights-out for a long time.” Newcomb was up-and-down during his 2016 campaign as a highly rated prospect with the M-Braves, finishing 8-7 with a 3.86 while going to the post 27 times. The 15th overall pick out of Hartford by the Los Angeles Angels in 2014, he was moved to Atlanta in the Andrelton Simmons deal in 2015. Of all the former M-Braves starting pitchers who’ve gone on to the big leagues – and there are quite a few – Julio Teheran has had the most sustained success. He is 62-57 with a 3.64 ERA in 178 appearances the last eight years for Atlanta. (Charlie Morton, now with Houston, has the most wins with 67 – and a World Series ring – but his career has been more spotty — 79 losses, 4.30 ERA.) Teheran has been an All-Star, but is he truly an ace? He has a 4.31 ERA this year and just went on the disabled list. Mike Foltynewicz is 5-3 with a 2.22 ERA but has an erratic track record. Veteran Brandon McCarthy is a back-end guy. Yes, the Braves have a great lineup, but their rotation is a concern. Newcomb’s emergence as a potential ace could be huge as the Braves wait for more of their young guns to develop.
All the news wasn’t great for Mississippi State on Monday. The Tallahassee Regional champs saw two of their top recruits for 2019 picked in the first round of the MLB draft, which likely means they’ll never wear the maroon and white. Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn, the state Gatorade player of the year, went to the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 30th pick and Carter Stewart, a highly touted pitcher from Florida, was taken eighth overall by Atlanta. Three other players from Mississippi schools were chosen among the 78 players drafted on Monday: Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison 22nd by Colorado, Hattiesburg High’s Joe Gray 60th by Milwaukee and Southern Miss’ Nick Sandlin 67th by Cleveland. … We could be seeing Gray – an Ole Miss commit who, per Baseball America, “has plus raw power, plus speed and a plus throwing arm” — in a Biloxi Shuckers uniform in a few short years. Atlanta’s second-round pick on Monday – 49th overall — was Wichita State first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-handed hitter with power who was the Cape Cod League MVP last summer. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him move quickly and arrive in Mississippi by 2019. … Day 2 of the draft includes Rounds 3-10. State’s Konnor Pilkington, expected to go on Day 1, and Jake Mangum and Ole Miss’ Ryan Olenek and Nick Fortes are among the names to watch for. P.S. Keep in mind that you don’t even have to be drafted to make the major leagues. Greenville native Frank White wasn’t. As the story goes, White was playing at a junior college in Missouri when he was recruited by the Kansas City Royals to attend their newly created baseball academy in 1970. Three years later, he made The Show and went on to enjoy an All-Star career that lasted 18 years. Former Ole Miss star Bobby Kielty, who played seven years in MLB, was signed as an undrafted free agent by Minnesota in 1999 after leading the Cape Cod League in hitting in the summer of ’98. He debuted with the Twins in 2001.
As they blow by the Memorial Day checkpoint, Brian Snitker holds the lead, with Clint Hurdle running second and Mickey Callaway third. Buck Showalter and Ned Yost appear to have fallen off the lead lap. Of the seven Mississippi-connected managers at the wheel of a big league club, only Atlanta’s Snitker, Pittsburgh’s Hurdle and the New York Mets’ Callaway reached Memorial Day with a winning record. Showalter’s Baltimore team, after losing on Monday, is 20 games under .500. Yost’s Kansas City team is 18 under. Toronto, under John Gibbons, is hanging tough at 25-29, and Ron Gardenhire has steered Detroit to a 24-29 mark, exceeding expectations in his first year there. To be fair, expectations weren’t high for any of these seven clubs. The first-place Braves, under former Mississippi Braves skipper Snitker, are a relatively young bunch running ahead of schedule. It’s a solid team – currently ranked No. 5 in mlb.com’s latest power poll — but they’ll be challenged in the National League East to hold off Washington, Philadelphia and perhaps even the Mets, who are in the charge of ex-Ole Miss star Callaway, brand new to the job. Despite a spate of adversity (check their disabled list), the Mets are 26-25 and just 4 games back of Atlanta. Former Jackson Mets manager Hurdle has done a fine job with the Pirates, who are contending in the NL Central even after trading away stars Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson, acquired in a preseason trade, has been one of the Bucs’ best hitters. Gardenhire, a former Jackson Mets shortstop and veteran MLB manager, has the outmanned Tigers just 3½ games off the pace in the American League Central. Former JaxMets catcher Gibbons’ Blue Jays, while just 4 games under .500, are 12 games back of Boston in the AL East. It’s already been a long season for Mississippi State product Showalter and JaxMets alum Yost, both of whom could use an extended pit stop to make repairs. P.S. Ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, out over a month with an elbow issue, returned to San Diego’s lineup on Monday and went 1-for-4 with an RBI.
Kris Medlen had what might be called plus-enthusiasm, not an official tool in the baseball parlance but a good one to have. You could see it in the way he pitched back when he first passed through Trustmark Park with the Mississippi Braves, and you could hear it in the way he talked about the game. The vibrant right-hander’s career came to a somber end on Saturday when he announced his retirement, at age 32, in the midst of his 13th pro season. He made one appearance with Arizona this year and was 0-5 with a 5.03 ERA at Triple-A Reno when he decided to call it quits. Two Tommy John surgeries — one in 2010, the second in 2014 — took a heavy toll on Medlen’s arm and his career, which at times was brilliant, drawing Greg Maddux comparisons. Medlen helped the M-Braves to their only Southern League pennant in 2008. He went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA for Atlanta in 2012 and won 15 games for the Braves the next season. After missing the entire 2014 season, he signed with Kansas City and won a World Series ring with the Royals in 2015. Released by KC in 2016, Medlen got another shot with the Braves in 2017. He made a couple of appearances for the M-Braves that summer but didn’t get back to Atlanta. Arizona signed him this spring. His career MLB record is 41-26 with an ERA of 3.33 over parts of eight seasons. Nothing to hang your head about — and surely Medlen isn’t doing that.