14 Aug

blast from past

Way back in 2014, he was a full-blown star at Columbia High and then a second-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers. On Tuesday, Ti’Quan Forbes was back on a ballfield in Mississippi, playing third base and banging out a couple of hits for the Double-A Birmingham Barons against the M-Braves at Trustmark Park in Pearl. He’s come a long way – but still has a ways to go on the big league highway. Forbes was the state’s Mr. Baseball as a rangy — and toolsy — shortstop at Columbia. He has filled out to 6 feet 3, 220 pounds and moved to third base but has yet to develop the power expected at that position. Batting .245 this year, his first in Double-A, Forbes has three home runs and a .332 slugging percentage in 103 games. He has a .251 career average and just 24 homers over six seasons, 11 of those bombs coming in A-ball in 2017. That was the year he was traded, in August, from Texas to the Chicago White Sox. His defense has been solid – 15 errors in 94 games at third this year – but the bat needs to perk up. Even though he is only 22 – he turns 23 on Aug. 26 – time may not be on his side much longer.

13 Aug

m-braves new world

In a span of six days starting July 31, the Mississippi Braves’ prospect-packed roster was gouged. Pitcher Joey Wentz, Atlanta’s No. 9 prospect (MLB Pipeline), was traded on deadline day. On Aug. 4, No. 7 Kyle Muller, also a pitcher, went on the injured list. On Aug. 5 — the final day of the last homestand — No. 1 Cristian Pache, No. 2 Drew Waters, No. 3 Ian Anderson and No. 13 Tucker Davidson (two outfielders and two more starting pitchers) were promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett. Boom. As the M-Braves begin a 10-game homestand tonight, you might be wondering, what’s left? Well, Atlanta does have one of the strongest farm systems, and there are several intriguing top 20 prospects on the current club. Start with Trey Harris, a former SEC (Missouri) outfielder promoted from A-ball last month. The No. 18 prospect, he is batting .310 in 20 games after blowing through low-A Rome (.366, eight homers) and high-A Florida (.303, four homers). William Contreras, No. 8, the younger brother of big leaguer Willson, is regarded as a strong defensive catcher and is batting .237 in 44 Double-A games. No. 11 Greyson Jenista is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound outfielder out of Wichita State who has four homers and 20 RBIs in 55 games. Another potential power bat belongs to C.J. Alexander, No. 19, a 6-5, 215 third baseman who has two homers in 20 games as he comes back from an injury earlier in the year. And Jassell De La Cruz, No. 14, is a hard-throwing right-hander with a 3-7, 4.41 ledger over 13 games. Bradley Roney isn’t on the top prospect charts, but the former Southern Miss star has been pitching like one: one earned run allowed in his last nine appearances, 3.26 ERA in 15 games all told. The team is in a period of adjustment – they went 1-4 on their recent road trip – but has enough pieces to put together a nice run over the next 10 days at Trustmark Park.
P.S. Biloxi High’s Colten Keith was invited to the USA Baseball 18-and-Under National Team Trials and Training starting today in California. The final 20-man 18U National Team will be named on Saturday and will compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup in Gijang City, South Korea, from Aug. 30-Sept. 8. Keith hit .527 with eight homers for Biloxi as a junior in 2019 after transferring from Arizona; he was Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year. … Oxford’s Tyrus Williams competed in the 15U National Team Trials held in July at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Two Mississippians took part in this summer’s 14U National Team Development Program in Cary: Keondre Fields of Nesbit and Keilon Parnell of Pascagoula.

27 Jun

flashback coming

Once upon a time, there was a Double-A team at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. Twenty years ago, the Jackson Generals, a Houston Astros affiliate in the Texas League, played their ninth and final season before bolting for Round Rock, Texas. Twenty years is a long time. No former Generals are still playing in the big leagues. There isn’t – or wasn’t — much left to remember them by here in central Mississippi. Until now. The Mississippi Braves will rekindle good memories for some old Smith-Wills fans on Friday night when they don throwback apparel and give away Generals replica jerseys at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Former Generals have been invited to attend. Con Maloney, former owner of the Texas League franchise, will throw out the first pitch. (Yes, the M-Braves are playing a team called the Jackson Generals, a Southern League club from Tennessee. Don’t let that confuse you.) The Mississippi-based Generals, who followed the Mets at Smith-Wills in 1991, won two league titles during their time at the ballpark on Lakeland Drive. Future big league stars such as Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman, Billy Wagner, Freddy Garcia and Richard Hidalgo played there. (There’s a long list.) Former big leaguers Rick Sweet, Gary Allenson and Sal Butera managed there. Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell rehabbed there for the Astros. If all goes well, maybe a Jackson Mets throwback game will be next — though the idea of putting Braves prospects in Mets unies seems a little weird.

18 Jun

a developing situation

The talent cultivated at Pearl’s Trustmark Park over the years has blossomed into something special in Atlanta. The surging Braves are 13-3 in June and 43-30 for the season, threatening to break away in the National League East. Former Mississippi Braves have led the way in this remarkable month, during which the big club has averaged 7.8 runs per game. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley – all have had productive months. “We’re so talented from top to bottom and we show up every night,” veteran catcher Brian McCann told mlb.com after Monday’s 12-3 blowout of the New York Mets. “This is a special team.” McCann, the first M-Braves alum to reach the big leagues back in 2005, has provided a boost on and off the field in his return to the ATL after several years away. He is batting .375 with four homers in 10 games this month. Acuna, moved back to the leadoff spot in mid-May, is hitting .378 with six homers and 18 RBIs in June. Albies is at .367 with four homers and 15 RBIs. Freeman: .333, six homers, 20 RBIs. Swanson: .279, three homers, 18 runs. Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star called up in May: four homers, 12 RBIs, 16 runs in June alone. Overshadowed has been the pitching of former M-Braves Julio Teheran (2-0, 0.53 ERA this month), Mike Soroka (3-0, 4.21), Sean Newcomb (0.93) and Jacob Webb (3.38). It’s been a fun time for old Braves fans, who can only hope the bloom holds into October.

15 May

pair of aces

And the National League leader in wins is – drumroll, please — former Wheeler High and Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, who notched his sixth on Tuesday. Not what anyone would have predicted for mid-May. The big right-hander threw six innings of one-hit ball as Milwaukee beat Philadelphia 6-1 in a matchup of two of the NL’s best clubs. Woodruff walked five but fanned five in winning his fourth straight start. “The fastball is really overpowering at times, it feels like,” Craig Counsell told mlb.com. “He’s using it well, he’s throwing his off-speed for strikes; it’s a good recipe for success.” Woodruff is 6-1 with a 3.72 ERA in nine starts this season, his third in the big leagues. He also got a hit in three at-bats Tuesday and is at .350 for the year. … Though he doesn’t have the win total to show for it, ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull actually has pitched better than Woodruff to date. The Detroit Tigers rookie right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.42 ERA, fourth-best in the American League, in eight outings. Over his last five starts, Turnbull is 2-0 with a 1.21. He last pitched on Sunday vs. Minnesota, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings and departing with a lead. He got a no-decision after the sub-.500 Tigers’ bullpen blew the save. P.S. Miguel Sano, who was at Trustmark Park in Pearl last week on a rehab assignment with Double-A Pensacola, has been activated by the Twins. Accompanying Sano on the rehab assignment was Sam Perlozzo, a Twins senior advisor who managed the Jackson Mets to back-to-back Texas League championships in 1984-85.

24 Apr

collision course

DeSoto Central High, the only Mississippi school appearing in the Collegiate Baseball and MaxPreps national rankings, starts its postseason journey against visiting Warren Central on Thursday in the second round of the MHSAA Class 6A North playoffs. The Jaguars are 26-2, ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball and 11th by MaxPreps. Sophomore third baseman Blaze Jordan leads the Jags’ attack with a .448 average, eight homers and 38 RBIs. The Mississippi State commit was the MaxPreps national player of the week for April 8-14, when he went 8-for-9 with three homers and nine RBIs (eight in one game). Junior outfielder Kyle Booker is batting .417 with 34 runs, and senior Colby Crocker (6-1, 1.09 ERA) leads a strong pitching staff. Warren Central, which beat Tupelo in the first round, is 20-9-1. … DeSoto Central may be on a collision course for the state championship with Biloxi (25-3), which is actually rated above the Jaguars in MaxPreps’ computer poll. Biloxi starts 6A South postseason play at home against Petal on Thursday. Senior catcher Nick Skaggs leads the Indians, batting .374 with four homers and 37 RBIs. … The 6A championship series is slated to start May 15 at Pearl’s Trustmark Park.

23 Apr

measuring cup

Two of the best leadoff hitters in the SEC will be at Trustmark Park in Pearl for tonight’s Governor’s Cup. Unfortunately, fans may see only one of them in the game, the 40th renewal of this classic clash that began as the Mayor’s Trophy at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1980. Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum, the school’s all-time hits leader, is expected to be atop the Bulldogs’ lineup, as usual, but Ole Miss’ Ryan Olenek sat out the Rebels’ weekend series at Auburn because of a lingering hip injury. Perhaps he’ll be back in the 1-hole for tonight’s game, which doesn’t count in the SEC standings but means an awful lot to everyone involved. Both Mangum and Olenek were first-team All-SEC picks and Ferriss Trophy finalists in 2018. Both were drafted last June – Mangum for the second time — but opted to return for their senior season. And both have been catalysts for outstanding clubs in 2019. Mangum is batting .383 with 47 runs, 32 RBIs and 19 steals in 41 games for the 32-9 Bulldogs. Olenek is batting .370 with 32 runs, 26 RBIs and six bags in 36 games for the 27-14 Rebels. He emerged as a potent leadoff man in the high-scoring sweep of Florida on April 5-6, going 7-for-11 in the three games. The Mangum-Olenek matchup would be a compelling sidebar, though this game seldom lacks for storylines. MSU leads the Trophy/Cup series 21-18, having won three straight before standing-room-only crowds at the TeePee.

10 Apr

familiar refrain

The Mississippi Braves will trot out a highly rated prospect to start their home opener tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Tucker Davidson, whose scheduled Double-A debut was washed out on Monday, is Atlanta’s No. 22 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), a hard-throwing left-hander coming off a solid season in A-ball (7-10, 4.18 ERA). But here’s the thing: This M-Braves staff has three other starters rated more highly than Davidson, yet another example of just how rich Atlanta’s system is in quality arms. Opening day starter Ian Anderson, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect and the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, is slated to start Thursday’s game. The right-hander worked four innings at Tennessee last week, allowing three hits and a run with seven strikeouts. Drawing the opening day start for the M-Braves has been a harbinger of big things. The rather impressive list from the previous 14 seasons includes Anthony Lerew, Sean White, Matt Harrison, Jonny Venters, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan, Jason Hursh, Lucas Sims, Max Fried and Kyle Wright, all of whom made the big leagues. P.S. Joey Wentz (No. 12 prospect) and Kyle Muller (No. 13) also pitched well in limited innings on the 1-3 road trip, but the bullpen was a little leaky. … Jonathan Morales hit .364 and drove in five runs, and No. 8 prospect Drew Waters batted .316. Veteran minor leaguer Andy Wilkins hit the team’s lone homer. … Tonight’s game against Mobile starts at 6:35, the new weekday starting time for 2019.

09 Apr

in long run

Forget WAR, BABIP and FIP for a moment. Baseball is about runs, primarily scoring them. As Ole Miss demonstrated in its weekend sweep of Florida, score a bunch and you’re likely to win a bunch. The Rebels tied a school record with 40 runs in the three-game series against the Gators, who just couldn’t keep pace. The Rebels are averaging 8.4 runs per game and boast a 23-10 record heading into today’s rivalry clash with Southern Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Thomas Dillard, who scored seven runs in the Florida series, and Grae Kessinger, who tallied five times, are the Rebels’ leading scorers with 38 each. Leading scorers in baseball aren’t as celebrated as those in basketball and football. That just ain’t right. USM’s top scorer is Gabe Montenegro, who has 32 runs. The Golden Eagles (20-9) are averaging a healthy 6.6 runs per game and coming off a three-game C-USA sweep of Marshall in which they put up 25 runs. Preventing runs is the other part of the equation, and both Ole Miss and USM have had some issues on the bump. But their scoring punch has generally allayed those problems. The Rebels have outscored their opponents 276-158, the Eagles 192-134. Bottom line: Don’t expect a pitchers’ duel at the TeePee. … For the record, Mississippi State is even more prolific than Ole Miss, averaging 8.9 runs a game in its 27-6 start. Jake Mangum, the Bulldogs newly anointed hit king, leads the way with 38 runs, a figure matched by Jordan Westburg. Jackson State’s leading scorer is Equon Smith, who has 30 runs for the 17-18 Tigers, who are one of the higher scoring teams in the SWAC (231 runs). Mississippi Valley State, on the other hand, has scored just 89 runs (4.0 per game) while yielding 190. Hence, the 6-16 record. Delta State’s leading scorer is Jake Barlow with 28 runs for the 26-10 Statesmen, and Blaine Crim and Dylan Duplechain have crossed the plate 35 times each for Mississippi College (22-12).

02 Apr

reelin’ in the years

The full breadth of 15 years of Mississippi Braves baseball was on display at SunTrust Park on Monday night when Atlanta played its home opener. There was Brian McCann, the first M-Braves player to get the big league call back in 2005, starting at catcher and delivering a big hit in his much-anticipated return to Atlanta. There was Freddie Freeman, M-Braves Class of 2009, manning first base as he has pretty much every day since he arrived in the ATL in 2010. (And over in the other dugout was Freeman’s M-Braves cohort Jason Heyward, now a Chicago Cubs outfielder but once a Braves star himself.) And also making their presence felt in the lineup was the Braves’ array of new stars: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, all M-Braves of more recent vintage. Each of them drove in a run in the 8-0 victory, Acuna, the reigning National League rookie of the year, with his first homer of 2019. And the five pitchers who combined to shut out the Cubs are all M-Braves alums, from recent big league arrivals Sean Newcomb, Wes Parsons, Jesse Biddle and Chad Sobotka to the relatively old hand, Arodys Vizcaino. The Double-A M-Braves, who have sent more than 140 players to The Show, begin their 15th season on Thursday at Tennessee. The home opener is April 10 at Trustmark Park in Pearl. There will be more highly rated prospects on the roster, prepping for the big leagues, waiting their turn. The beat will go on.