It’s the type of headline that compels you to click: “The best hitter you know nothing about.” The mlb.com story is a statistical analysis of the very fine 2017 season put together by St. Louis rookie Jose Martinez, a hitter whom Mississippi Braves fans actually do know something about. Martinez played right field for the 2013 M-Braves, and he stood out – and not just because he is 6 feet 6. Martinez was one of the best hitters on that team, batting .285 with six homers and 39 RBIs. He became a minor league free agent after that year, his eighth in pro ball. The Venezuela native briefly returned to the Atlanta organization – playing in A-ball — in 2014. He finally made his MLB debut in 2016 with the Cardinals – at age 28 – then broke out last summer after a swing change, batting .309 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs in 106 games. P.S. Atlanta had eight players – including No. 1 Ronald Acuna (see previous post) — in Baseball America’s new Top 100 prospects rankings, most of any organization. … Four Mississippi products made BA’s list: Austin Riley (Braves) at 54, Anthony Alford (Toronto) at 60, Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee) at 61 and Brent Rooker (Minnesota) at 92. … Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, is the No. 6 third base prospect in mlb.com’s position rankings. … Ex-Picayune High star T.J. House has signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox; the veteran left-hander got some big league time with Toronto in 2017 but spent most of the season in Triple-A.
There are no reports of Braves fans dancing in the streets of Atlanta today, but there is cause for some excitement. Ronald Acuna has been ranked the No. 1 minor league prospect for 2018 by Baseball America. The 20-year-old outfielder, who starred for the Mississippi Braves last summer, should make his MLB debut early this season, maybe even on opening day. Acuna blew through three levels of the minors last season, from A-ball to Triple-A, and batted .325 with 28 homers, 98 RBIs, 46 steals and seven assists. It’s hard to find any report on him that is less than glowing. There’s also this for Atlanta fans to chew on: Three Braves pitchers, all M-Braves alums, were ranked among the top 10 left-handed prospects by mlb.com entering 2018. Luiz Gohara is No. 4, Kolby Allard No. 7 and Max Fried No. 10. (Sean Newcomb was on this list in 2017.) Gohara, who reached Atlanta last year, has been pegged by Peter Gammons as a potential breakout player for the coming season. Fried also debuted with Atlanta last season. The 20-year-old Allard is expected to start at Triple-A Gwinnett this year. You have to believe that at some point, some of these young guns the Braves have stockpiled are going to lead a resurgence in the ATL.
The acclaimed writer Joe Posnanski, in an article posted on mlb.com on Tuesday, ranked the top 25 nicknames in baseball history and did an admirable job with this truly daunting task. Two Mississippians made his list: Oil Can Boyd at No. 21 and Cool Papa Bell at No. 2 (behind only Babe Ruth). Magnolia State natives have inspired so many colorful nicknames, having just two make such a list doesn’t really do the state justice. After all, we’ve had a Boo (Ferriss), a Bubba (Phillips), a Buddy (Myer), a Boomer (Scott) and a Boob (McNair, who also answered to Rabbit). We’ve had four Walkers make The Show, each with a catchy nickname: The Hat (Harry), Gee (Gerald), Hub (Harvey) and Chico (Cleotha). We’ve had a Nook (Logan), a Sport (McAllister) and a Reb (Russell). Then there’s Cobra (Dave Parker), Popeye (Harry Craft, also known as Wildfire), Vinegar Bend (Wilmer Mizell), The Jet (Chet Lemon, a.k.a. Juice), The Rope (Bob Boyd) and the Mississippi Mudcat (Guy Bush). That’s not all, but it seems enough to make the point. P.S. Former Picayune High standout T.J. House became the 28th Mississippi-connected player to appear in an MLB game this season when he worked a scoreless inning for Toronto on Tuesday night. It was the Blue Jays debut for House, who previously pitched in the big leagues for Cleveland. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum from McComb, hit his 23rd home run of the season for Tampa Bay in its win against Toronto. Dickerson trails Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) by three in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his previous eight starts for St. Louis, gave up four runs in six innings against San Diego, the worst hitting team in the majors. Lynn got a no-decision in the Cardinals’ 12-4 loss.
Bobby Bradley homered again on Thursday, for the fourth time in his last seven games. The Harrison Central High product now has 26 homers and 94 RBIs, both totals leading the Class A Carolina League. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound lefty-hitting first baseman won the rookie Arizona League Triple Crown in 2014 and led the low-A Midwest League in homers in 2015 with 27. He is rated the No. 3 prospect in Cleveland’s system and No. 82 in all of the minors by mlb.com and has been anointed the Best Player in the Indians’ system this season by Baseball America. No doubt a lot of people are eagerly anticipating Bradley’s big league debut – and they might have to wait a while. His ETA is 2018, according to mlb.com. It might be later than that. Bradley is only 20. He still has things to work on. He is batting .249 against A-ball pitchers. He has struck out 152 times, which ranks third in the CL (Atlanta prospect Braxton Davidson leads with 165), though he is drawing some walks (.359 on-base percentage). Bradley is likely to play in Double-A next year, and that pivotal level will tell a lot more about how close he is to The Show. Patience isn’t so much a virtue in baseball as it is a requirement.