31 Jul

end of an era

It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but Lance Berkman is gone from Houston. He’ll be suiting up for the New York Yankees possibly as soon as tonight. And so … the last former Jackson General still playing for the Astros has moved on. Kinda sad, in several ways. Berkman, arguably the best position player produced in Jackson’s 25-year Texas League era, looked to be one of the those rare players who would finish his career with the organization he came up with. It’s hard to imagine him in a uniform other than the Astros’. “I’m from Texas. Heck, I played at Rice. This city is like the womb. … To think about the possibility of going anywhere else is kind of scary,” Berkman told The Associated Press on Friday. He has had a sluggish season to date, but don’t be surprised if the Big Puma picks it up with the Yankees.
P.S. On this date in 1997, McComb native Blake Stein, an otherwise obscure big league pitcher, was involved in a trade that may forever keep his name in the news on deadline day. He and two others were shipped from St. Louis to Oakland for Mark McGwire. … Keep an eye out for Corey Wimberly’s big league debut. The former Alcorn State star is leading the Pacific Coast League in stolen bases and hitting .290 for Oakland’s Triple-A club. As the A’s fade from the American League West chase, they may want to take a look at Wimberly, who plays the outfield and second base.

30 Jul

going places

Mason Robbins of George County High and Brandon Woodruff of Wheeler are on the rosters (on opposing teams) for the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field. Robbins, an outfielder/left-handed pitcher who is committed to Southern Miss, and Woodruff, an outfielder/right-hander headed for Mississippi State, are rising seniors. The Under Armour game is set for Aug. 14 at noon CDT and will be televised by MLB Network.

30 Jul

remember the time

Freddy Garcia and Ramon Castro got back in sync on Thursday night, when Castro hit a pair of homers and Garcia went six innings for the win as the first-place Chicago White Sox beat Seattle 9-5. Castro has become Garcia’s personal catcher this season, reestablishing a relationship spawned when both were coming up in the Houston system. They were paired together with the Jackson Generals in 1998, when both showed their big league potential. Garcia is 10-4 in a bounce-back year. With Castro calling his games, Garcia won six straight starts before suffering a couple of rough outings on July 18 and 24. On Thursday, the big right-hander was sharp again (7 hits, no walks, 3 runs and 3 strikeouts). Castro is hitting .327 with five homers in limited time. … Former Jackson Mets star Gregg Jefferies is among the featured athletes in Sports Illustrated’s latest “Where Are They Now?” issue (Aug. 2-9). Jefferies is a hitting instructor and high school coach in his native California. His 1987 season with the OJMs still rates as one of the best by any who have played for the JaxMets, Gens or M-Braves. Jefferies, then a shortstop, batted .367 with 20 homers, 48 doubles and 101 RBIs. He was the Texas League MVP and Baseball America’s minor league player of the year for the second year in a row. It still must gnaw at OJMs fans that Jefferies was summoned to New York before the TL Championship Series, which the Mets lost.
P.S. Mississippi State alumnus Mitch Moreland got a single in his first major league at-bat Thursday night and went 2-for-4 for the Texas Rangers.

29 Jul

debut alert

Former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland was promoted to the big leagues by Texas late Wednesday. The Rangers play the Oakland A’s tonight, and Moreland reportedly is in the lineup. “Since I could walk, this is what I’ve wanted to do,” he told The Associated Press. Moreland, a first baseman, was drafted by the Rangers in the 17th round in 2007 and has zipped through their system. He was their minor league player of the year in 2009 and was hitting .289 with 12 homers at Triple-A Oklahoma City this season. MSU’s sports information office reports that Moreland will be the 46th Bulldogs alumnus to play in The Show. Moreland’s status was clouded a bit today when the Rangers traded for Florida’s Jorge Cantu, who can also play first base, a position of need in Texas.
P.S. Philadelphia’s acquisition today of former Holmes CC star Roy Oswalt was bad news for Atlanta in its quest to win the National League East. The race just got a whole lot tougher. But there is this ray of sunshine for Braves fans: Oswalt is 0-3 with a 7.58 ERA in seven career starts against the Braves.

27 Jul

watch closely now

The window is still open for Jordan Schafer. But he has reached a critical stage in his career, to be sure. He’s going to play everyday in left field — not center, where Antoan Richardson is entrenched — for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, where Atlanta sent the former No. 1 prospect after he hit .201 in 52 games at Triple-A Gwinnett. Schafer is 2-for-8 with a pair of RBIs in two games here. M-Braves manager Phillip Wellman said Schafer’s attitude is good. “He told me, ‘I’ve got to get back on track,'” Wellman said. “Sometimes a change of scenery helps. I told him that I’ll make him one promise: We, as a staff, will do everything we can to get him back where he needs to be.” Schafer helped the M-Braves win the 2008 Southern League title with a good if unspectacular season that was disrupted by a 50-game drug policy suspension. All seemed to be good when Schafer made Atlanta’s opening day roster in 2009 and homered in his first at-bat. But a steady decline followed, then a demotion to Gwinnett, then wrist surgery in September. After a slow recovery, Schafer went 5-for-17 in a rehab stint with the M-Braves in May. In hindsight, he probably should have remained in Double-A. The M-Braves needed a center fielder at that time. But he went to Gwinnett. And now he’s back, hoping to regain his prospect status against Double-A pitching, which is only somewhat less sophisticated than the Triple-A variety. At 23, Schafer’s still young. He can run and throw. If he starts to hit again, he could still help the Braves, who need a center fielder. It doesn’t look like it’ll happen this year, but you never know. The window is still open.
P.S. Schafer’s arrival in Mississippi means less playing time for another scuffling prospect, Cody Johnson, the erstwhile left fielder. Johnson came off the disabled list Sunday and promptly notched his 100th strikeout of the season. He fanned again Monday as a pinch hitter.

26 Jul


Sent down to Triple-A Norfolk by Baltimore on Saturday, Craig Tatum didn’t like it one bit. “It (stinks),” the former Mississippi State star from Hattiesburg told mlb.com. “But what can you do?” Tatum was hitting .271 and by all accounts had played good defense, which is his forte. The lousy Orioles actually were better, record-wise, in games Tatum started. But when No. 1 catcher Matt Wieters came off the DL, Tatum was the odd man out. He could be optioned to the minors without passing through waivers. The other catcher, Jake Fox, could not. So the O’s kept Fox. Tatum likely will get another chance. Maybe he can blame his bad fortune on the Sports Illustrated jinx. Tatum wasn’t on the cover, but he did make an inside photo spread in the current (July 26) issue. The pic shows him catching a bat flung by former Mississippi Brave Yunel Escobar. One question: What does that tattoo on Tatum’s left arm spell out?

25 Jul

crowded yard

Leave town for a few days and all heck breaks loose with the Mississippi Braves’ roster. A recent flurry of moves has seen the addition of two Top 10 pitching prospects — Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado — plus outfielders Yasser Gomez and Jordan Schafer. As of this moment, the M-Braves have six active outfielders plus prospect Cody Johnson on the DL. Double-A clubs can get by with four outfielders; six is way too many. Where will Schafer, the former No. 1 prospect, play? Center? Why didn’t Atlanta just leave him with the Mississippi club after his rehab ended? He played really well in that brief stint, then scuffled at Triple-A Gwinnett. What happens to Antoan Richardson, who has done so well out there since being re-signed? Gomez, a Cuban defector, is considered a player on the rise. He’s gotta play. Willie Cabrera is having a standout season; he needs to play, too — or get promoted. And the power-hitting Johnson needs to get back on the field soon. Michael Daniel and Concepcion Rodriguez must be on edge. There’s not room for all those guys.

17 Jul

prospect sighting

The Mississippi Braves — and the Atlanta minor league system — needed a young shortstop with a high ceiling, and they may have landed one: Tyler Pastornicky. Acquired from Toronto in the Yunel Escobar deal, Pastornicky made his M-Braves debut on Friday night at Huntsville and got a pair of hits. Luis Bolivar is a capable shortstop, sure, but he’s 29 years old. Pastornicky, only 20, a fifth-round pick in 2008, has a future in the system. He’s small at 5 feet 11, 170 pounds, but he showed some pop at Class A Dunedin, hitting six homers in 77 games this season. And he figures to get stronger. He’s a .264 career hitter and a good glove man from all indications. Plus, his dad, Cliff, played in the big leagues with Kansas City. Tyler’s progress will be interesting to watch over the rest of the summer at Trustmark Park.
P.S. If you get a chance, check out the Hattiesburg Black Sox team playing in the state semi-pro tournament at Smith-Wills Stadium this weekend. The Black Sox are loaded with talent, including former pros Tony Phillips, Tootie Myers and Walter Young. They play at 4 p.m. today in a winners bracket game.

16 Jul

just win, baby

Meridian Community College might be the closest thing the state has to a baseball dynasty. The Eagles have been to the junior college World Series seven times. They’ve won 11 Miss-Lou Conference titles (including 2010) and 10 region titles. They also won the MACJC championship three times during the six years they played in the state association. Regardless of whatever recruiting advantages MCC might enjoy over other state schools, this is an impressive resume. And now Chris Curry sits in the captain’s chair. The former MCC and Mississippi State standout was named as Chris Rose’s replacement today. Rose, 186-93 in five years at the helm, took the East Mississippi CC job in June. Rose succeeded Scott Berry, now the Southern Miss coach. Berry followed Corky Palmer at both MCC and USM. Curry, who had been an assistant at SEC power Arkansas, has a powerful legacy to uphold in the Queen City.

16 Jul

life’s a beach

Atlanta Braves fans might want to remember the name Brandon Beachy. He’s coming. The Mississippi Braves right-hander was brilliant again on Thursday night, though he got no decision when the bullpen blew a lead. For the record, Beachy, moved from the pen to the rotation on June 18, is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his five starts for the Double-A club. He has 44 strikeouts — 13 on Thursday vs. Huntsville — in 30 innings and just six walks. He’s got three quality pitches, nothing overpowering but everything sharp. Manager Phillip Wellman has already forecast that Beachy, 23, will make The Show. It’s only a matter of time, really. The M-Braves can only hope he stays the rest of this summer. Remarkably, the 6-foot-3 Indiana native was undrafted out of Indiana Wesleyan. He was a third baseman/first baseman who closed on occasion in college. Atlanta signed him after seeing him pitch in the Virginia Valley League, a college summer loop, and he pitched mostly in relief his first three years in the system. Shades of Kris Medlen in 2008, Beachy has emerged as an ace since shifting to the rotation last month.