16 May

tough sledding

He left the campus of Mississippi State last spring as the SEC Triple Crown winner, hit .282 with seven homers in a brief fling in rookie ball, then advanced to the high Class A level and cruised with a .280 average and 11 homers in 40 games there. Not surprisingly, the sledding has gotten a little tougher for Brent Rooker in his second pro season. The 23-year-old first baseman/left fielder, a supplemental first-round pick by Minnesota last June, is batting .235 at Double-A Chattanooga. He has three homers, 18 RBIs, 41 strikeouts and six walks in 136 at-bats. Baseball America ranked Rooker as the Twins’ No. 7 prospect entering this season, and MLB Pipeline has him at No. 8. He’s projected to make the majors in 2020. The Double-A level has humbled many hitters, even some as skilled as Rooker. In time, he’ll adjust. He went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in a Southern League game against Tennessee on Tuesday, extending his hitting streak to seven games. … Rooker, the 2017 Ferriss Trophy winner, is one of five former honorees currently playing pro ball. The others are Drew Pomeranz, Chris Stratton, Hunter Renfroe and Auston Bousfield. The 2018 winner will be announced on Monday.

06 Apr

make a toast

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ first playoff team. The ’78 JaxMets beat Arkansas in the Texas League East playoffs and then fell to El Paso in the title series. Mookie Wilson was the hub of the offense, batting .292 with seven homers, 15 triples and 72 RBIs. Kelvin Chapman, another future big leaguer, hit .266 and led the club with 84 runs. Juan Monasterio batted .289, and Bobby Bryant belted eight homers. Jeff Reardon was the ace, going 17-4 with a 2.54 ERA. Neil Allen led the league in ERA. Scott Holman won 11 games and Kim Seaman 10. The ’78 season was the fourth year the Mets’ Double-A club operated at Smith-Wills Stadium, an affiliation that lasted 16 years. The OJMs missed the playoffs in 1979 but then went on a rip where they made it eight straight years and won three league titles. The ’78 JaxMets were managed by Bob Wellman, no relation to Phillip Wellman, who, 30 years later, managed the Mississippi Braves to the Southern League pennant. That remains the only title claimed by the M-Braves, now entering their 14th year at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The ’08 M-Braves featured a great young pitching staff: Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Todd Redmond, James Parr, et al. Kala Ka’aihue led the team in homers (14) and RBIs (61) and swung a big bat in the postseason. But the club was defined more by the scrappiness of Matt Young and J.C. Holt, who combined for 52 steals. Wellman loved to get aggressive on the bases, and the M-Braves scored the pennant-winning run against Carolina on a walk-off double steal. … This season also marks the 25th anniversary of the first Jackson Generals team to win a Texas League title. The 1993 season was the third at Smith-Wills Stadium for the Houston Astros affiliate. Stars of that club, managed by Sal Butera, included Brian Hunter, Roberto Petagine, Jim Dougherty, Tom Nevers and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson.

20 Mar

down but not out

Miami has optioned Braxton Lee to the minors, which shouldn’t have come as a big surprise to the 24-year-old outfielder who hasn’t played above Double-A. At one stage in the off-season, when the Marlins were in the process of purging their 2017 roster, Ole Miss product Lee was the only center fielder on the depth chart. The club has since added Cameron Maybin and Lewis Brinson. Lee, a lefty hitter with outstanding speed, likely will start 2018 at Triple-A New Orleans. The Picayune native is coming off a breakthrough year in which he hit .309 to win the Southern League batting crown and raked at a .347 clip in the Arizona Fall League. Drafted in the 12th round in 2014 by Tampa Bay, Lee was traded last summer, moving from Montgomery to Jacksonville in the SL without missing a beat. He hit .219 with four steals in 20 MLB spring training games. Rated Miami’s No. 17 prospect by MLB Pipeline, he’ll be heard from again.

27 Sep

southern exposure

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.

05 Sep

remember the names

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.

11 Aug

tool time

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.

26 Jul

alive and kicking?

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.