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.
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.
Billy Hamilton and Zack Cozart were a combined 7-for-12 in Cincinnati’s 4-3, 11-inning win over Arizona on Wednesday. Taylorsville’s Hamilton scored the game-winning run and stole his MLB-leading 40th bag, while Ole Miss product and 2017 All-Star Cozart hit his 11th home run. … Ex-UM star Drew Pomeranz won his fourth straight decision and 10th game overall as Boston beat Toronto 5-1. He has trimmed his ERA by almost two runs to 3.51 over his last 12 outings for the first-place Red Sox. … In the minors, former Mississippi State standouts Kendall Graveman and Brandon Woodruff made rehab starts in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Oakland’s Graveman, on the DL since May 29, allowed four earned runs in 2 1/3 innings for Nashville. Milwaukee’s Woodruff, out since his aborted big league debut on June 13, yielded three runs in 3 2/3 innings for Colorado Springs. … The Mississippi Braves won at home for the first time in the second half, beating Biloxi 3-2 on Kade Scivicque’s walk-off hit in the ninth. The M-Braves are 1-10 at Trustmark Park and 7-18 overall in the Southern League South. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College star Scivicque is batting .270 with three homers and 23 RBIs. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley went 2-for-4 in his home debut for the M-Braves, and Mike Soroka struck out 12 in seven innings. … Ole Miss alum and Picayune native Braxton Lee leads the Southern League in hitting at .326 for Jacksonville. Traded from Tampa Bay to Miami a few weeks back, Lee is hitting .348 in 18 games for the Marlins’ affiliate. … Errol Robinson, another UM product, has climbed from low-A ball to Double-A this season in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system. The shortstop, in his second pro season, is batting .307 in 18 games for Tulsa in the Texas League. … Ex-Itawamba CC star Tyreque Reed, a .500 hitter for the Indians this year, continues to rake in the rookie Arizona League. The eighth-round pick by Texas homered on Wednesday and is at .317 with three bombs and 18 RBIs in 17 games.
Playing ball in Myrtle Beach, S.C., comes with certain built-in distractions, but Magnolia State products Justin Steele and Trent Giambrone have found their focus in the popular vacation destination. Steele, a left-hander out of George County High, and Giambrone, a second baseman/outfielder from Delta State, were key figures in the Pelicans’ first-half championship in the Class A Carolina League. The Chicago Cubs’ high-A affiliate went 43-27 to claim the South Division title in a walk last month. Steele, who took a loss against Buies Creek on Thursday night, is 6-5 with a league-best 2.40 ERA in 16 starts. He has a 1.93 ERA over his last 10 outings. A fifth-round pick in 2013 and currently rated the Cubs’ No. 22 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Steele, 21, has made mechanical adjustments this year that appear to be paying off. Giambrone, a 25th-round selection just last year, hit .292 in rookie ball in his debut season and was jumped to high-A to start 2017. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone, 23, is batting .262 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and 49 runs for the Pelicans. He is batting .385 over his last 10 games. The next stop for Steele and Giambrone, probably in 2018, would be a very different kind of vacation destination. Kodak, Tenn., up in the Great Smoky Mountains, is the home of the Tennessee Smokies, the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.
29 – Stolen bases, a total which leads the majors, by ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton, who got one Sunday to end a 13-game drought. Hamilton also had three hits, two runs and an RBI in fading Cincinnati’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
4 – Home runs allowed, a career-high, by Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn in 4 2/3 innings in St. Louis’ 8-5 loss to Baltimore. Lynn (5-4) yielded seven runs all told.
7 – Homers on the year for ex-UM star Seth Smith, who hit a leadoff bomb for Baltimore, the first of the four Lance Lynn allowed for St. Louis. Smith, batting .271, had two other hits and scored three times.
91 – Hits, most in the American League, by Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson, who tallied three on Sunday. He is batting .330.
7 – Runs allowed in four games at Target Field by Cleveland in a sweep of Minnesota that moved the Indians into first place in the AL Central. Former Ole Miss star Mickey Callaway, the Indians’ pitching coach, saw his staff’s ERA drop to 3.93, tied for third-best in the AL.
3 – Hits in 13 at-bats in the Cleveland series by ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier, who had a homer and two RBIs for Minnesota, which had a 2-game division lead before the Tribe arrived in town.
34 – Wins in 70 games for the Mississippi Braves, who completed the first half of the Southern League season with a 6-3 win against Montgomery at Trustmark Park. The M-Braves will send seven players to the SL All-Star Game in Pensacola on Tuesday.
6 – Strikeouts in five scoreless innings by USM’s Nick Sandlin in his Cape Cod League debut for Hyannis.
The stars came out – a couple of them, at least – in the Mississippi Braves’ 5-4, 12-inning win against Biloxi on Wednesday night at Trustmark Park. Two of the M-Braves’ seven Southern League All-Star selections – announced on Wednesday — played key roles in the victory, which moved the team to 30-29. The M-Braves are 3 games back of first-place Pensacola in the SL South with 11 games left in the first half. The amazing Ronald Acuna went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and fellow All-Star Joey Meneses put up a 2-for-4, including a single to open the 12th and start the winning rally. Acuna, 19, is batting .367 with four homers, 20 RBIs and 14 steals in 28 Double-A games. Of the other star picks, Travis Demeritte – the team’s home run leader — had an off-night (0-for-6), and Luis Valenzuela, who’s been sidelined for several days, walked as a pinch hitter. Catcher Kade Scivicque, the Southwest Mississippi Community College product, got a night off, and 19-year-old aces Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka had already worked in the series. After tonight’s game against the Shuckers, the M-Braves travel to Pensacola for five. … Atlanta had 19 players picked for minor league All-Star Games, including DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley in the Florida State League. The third baseman is batting .248 with eight homers and 35 RBIs for the Florida Fire Frogs.
Quite a few must-see players have passed through Trustmark Park over the 13 seasons the Mississippi Braves have called it home. Francoeur, McCann, Saltalamacchia, Schafer, Heyward, Freeman, Simmons, Gattis, Peraza, Swanson — to name a few of the position players who’ve come along on their way to the big leagues. Ronald Acuna belongs on the must-see list. The 19-year-old Venezuelan-born outfielder, promoted from A-ball on May 9, homered in his first at-bat – first pitch, actually – for the M-Braves and has been wearing it out ever since. He is batting .389 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 12 steals through 24 Double-A games. He is already a two-time Southern League player of the week selection and was named Atlanta’s Double-A player of the month for May. The M-Braves are back home today for the start of a five-game homestand against the Biloxi Shuckers, second in the SL South with a 30-25 record. The M-Braves (27-28) are 4 games back in third with 15 left in the first half. P.S. While eyeing Acuna, don’t overlook Joey Meneses, a 25-year-old outfielder/first baseman from Mexico who is batting .349 with six homers and 23 RBIs. He isn’t on the Braves’ prospect charts, but perhaps he should be. … Erstwhile big leaguer Kris Medlen is slated to start tonight for the M-Braves as he attempts to work his way back to Atlanta. Medlen, a member of the 2008 M-Braves title team, allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings in his first appearance with the current team. He is 41-25, 3.25 ERA in his big league career. … Props to former M-Braves star Alex Wood, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was named the National League pitcher of the month for May. He went 5-0, 1.27 ERA and has a streak of 23 1/3 scoreless innings he’ll take into his next start, which is expected to be next weekend. The left-hander with the funky delivery is currently on the disabled list with a minor injury.