Baseball America liked the 2017 Mississippi Braves. They really liked them. Five M-Braves are in the top 10 in the magazine’s ranking of the Top 20 prospects in the Southern League. A sixth made the list, which was released today. The M-Braves’ record on the field wasn’t so great, but the talent Atlanta appears to be developing is impressive. Ronald Acuna, BA’s minor league player of the year, was rated No. 1 in the SL. Look for him in the outfield at SunTrust Park next season. Young pitchers Mike Soroka (ranked No. 4), Luiz Gohara (5), Kolby Allard (10) and Max Fried (19) could be key pieces in the Atlanta rotation in the not-so-distant future. Gohara and Fried already have big league wins on their resumes. Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, was ranked No. 6 by BA’s editors, who raved about his raw power. He hit eight homers in 178 at-bats as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He’ll challenge for Atlanta’s third-base job soon enough. … Two Biloxi Shuckers made the Top 20: right-handers Corbin Burnes (No. 8) and Luis Ortiz (11). Burnes was Milwaukee’s pick as its minor league pitcher of the year after going 3-3 with a 2.10 ERA for Biloxi and 5-0, 1.05 in A-ball.
On the last day of their season, the Mississippi Braves did the things a winning club must do. They battled back after falling behind. They scored early and added on. They played flawless defense. They got a quality start. The 8-3 win against Birmingham on Monday at Trustmark Park was an uplifting way to finish a season that was, record-wise, not much to celebrate. The M-Braves’ overall record was 58-80. They were third in their division in the first half, 6 games out, and dead last in the second. But this season will be remembered much more for the talent that came through. In fact, it was a veritable prospect parade. Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara and Touki Touissant are highly touted starting pitchers. Fried already has earned a big league win. Allard made the Southern League postseason All-Star team, and Soroka actually had a better season, leading the club with 11 wins. Touissant was the M-Braves’ winner on Monday, recovering from a shaky first inning to go seven, striking out eight with one walk. The marquee position player to come through, of course, was outfielder Ronald Acuna, who is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He hit .326 with nine homers in 57 games for the M-Braves and continued to rake in Triple-A. Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central star, came up from A-ball when Acuna left for Gwinnett and hit .315 with eight homers in 48 games. The 20-year-old third baseman had two hits and three RBIs on Monday and batted .382 over his last 10 games. Catching prospect Alex Jackson came up late in the season and hit .255 with five homers in 30 games. Infielder Travis Demeritte, also on Atlanta’s prospect charts, struggled at times (.231, 134 strikeouts) but finished strong and ended up with 15 homers. Under-the-radar types Jared James (.279, five homers, six triples) and Joey Meneses (.292, nine homers, 45 RBIs) also surged over the last couple weeks. James, an outfielder drafted in 2016 out of Cal Poly Pomona, went 3-for-5 with two runs on Monday. The M-Braves’ 13th season in Pearl may not have produced a pennant, but it did produce a feel-good glimpse of the future for Atlanta Braves fans.
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.