30 Aug


The 2011 Southern League schedule is out. Finally. And it’s just as messed up as in years past. The Mississippi Braves open the season at home (they also play at home on Memorial Day and July 4) against West Tenn. They’ll play the Diamond Jaxx 24 times. West Tenn is in the North Division. The M-Braves, who are in the South, play South rivals Jacksonville and Montgomery a combined 25 times. They have only five home games against Montgomery, arguably Mississippi’s main rival. This makes no sense. This year, the M-Braves played Jacksonville, the best team in the South, only eight times. That makes the so-called division race a farce. Is there no way to create a more balanced schedule?
P.S. Still looking ahead, here’s a guess at the 2011 M-Braves lineup: C – Jesus Sucre; 1B – Mauro Gomez; 2B – Jordan Kreke or Cole Miles; SS – Tyler Pastornicky; 3B – Mycal Jones; OF – Cody Johnson, Adam Milligan, Cory Harrilchak or L.V. Ware. Pitchers – Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, J.J. Hoover, Jacob Thompson, Juan Abreu … who knows? The position players are actually harder to pick. There are no players at Class A Myrtle Beach having breakout seasons. And considering how many free agents the Braves brought in this year to fill holes at the Double-A level, it’s very likely they’ll do it again. The ranks seem to be thin again.

27 Aug

drawing close

The Mississippi Braves’ single-season record for home runs is 19, set by Matt Esquivel in 2007. Mauro Gomez has a real shot at the mark. The slugging first baseman has 16 bombs with 11 games to play — and it might help that seven of those are on the road. Trustmark Park isn’t kind to mashers. Gomez, a Dominican who turns 26 in September, might be a little past the prospect stage. But he has no doubt opened some eyes in his first Double-A season. He’s hitting .280 with 76 RBIs. His strikeout total is high (113 in 457 at-bats). He doesn’t run well, and he’s not a graceful first baseman. But he does have pop. He hit 28 home runs in the Class A California League in 2009, his last of six seasons in the Texas system. Gomez’s future might lie with an American League club, which would enable him to DH on a regular basis.
P.S. In Baseball America’s annual tools survey, former M-Brave Martin Prado is rated (by scouts) the second-best defensive second baseman in the National League. So why is it that, in Chipper Jones’ absence, Prado is playing third base and Omar Infante is playing second? Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to leave Prado at his best position? Infante plays third as well as Prado does.

25 Aug

it’s so true

Wondering when was the last time Roy Oswalt took the field at a position other than pitcher? Until he was forced into action in left field for Philadelphia on Tuesday night, he had never done it in pro ball. Surely he didn’t play the field at Holmes Community College. Maybe at Weir High on the field that his father carved out of the woods. Well, Oswalt looked like a natural out there, at least on the one play that he had to make. There’s an old truism in the game about the ball always finding a player trying to hide from it. And it found Oswalt. The first Houston hitter in the top of the 15th inning smacked a fly ball right to him; he caught it cleanly. And then in the bottom of the 16th, with the Phillies down 4-2 and the tying runs on, Oswalt, filling the ejected Ryan Howard’s cleanup spot, came to the plate. He worked the count to 2-2 before grounding to third base to end the game. Only in baseball.

24 Aug


Cody Johnson’s trip down to Class A Myrtle Beach apparently has helped the erstwhile Mississippi Brave find his stroke. In 12 games with the Pelicans, the 2006 first-round pick is hitting .286 with three homers and 13 RBIs. In 42 at-bats, he has 12 strikeouts and eight walks. Johnson was a mess when he was sent down (see previous posts). Maybe he’s regained some confidence, too. Look for him back in Pearl next spring. … Meanwhile, Jordan Schafer’s return to the disabled list — for a second stint here — is more bad news for the former top prospect (see previous posts). His left wrist and hand are reportedly hurting again. In 18 games for the M-Braves, he is hitting .175 with three extra-base hits, all doubles. It seems unlikely he will play again this season, and his career may truly be in jeopardy.
P.S. Yasser Gomez, who has taken over in left field for the M-Braves with the departure of Schafer (who followed Johnson), has performed well. The veteran former Cuban star is hitting .333 and plays with a lot of energy. He might nudge his way into Atlanta’s plans next year.

23 Aug


The Mississippi Braves have seven home games left, starting tonight against Jacksonville. Their playoff hopes are pretty much crushed. Players are still trying to put up numbers to secure spots for next season, either with the Braves or someone else. And the M-Braves’ front office is watching its numbers, too, mainly this one: 2,609. That’s the season attendance average at Trustmark Park, the $30-million stadium that can accommodate 7,000-plus. Attendance is down more than 300 per game from last year and more than 1,200 from the inaugural season of 2005. And keep in mind, the 2,609 represents tickets sold, not fannies in the seats. The real average is much lower, possibly under 2,000. And crowds for these last few games don’t figure to help the average. Is this a troubling trend? One would think so. Here are some other numbers to chew on: In 1996, the Jackson Generals’ average attendance peaked at 1,866 per game in 5,000-seat Smith-Wills Stadium. The Generals, who had a sweetheart lease agreement, were losing money even then. Their average attendance dropped in each of their last three seasons, hitting 1,416 (an actual crowd count!) in 1999. The Texas League franchise, sold by local owner Con Maloney in 1998, moved in 2000 to Texas. The independent Senators’ best average in their four years at Smith-Wills was 1,991 per game (tickets sold) in 2003, their championship season. The Senators averaged an announced 1,500 in their last season, 2005, when they were essentially driven out of business by the arrival of the M-Braves in Pearl. There was so much hullabaloo about landing Atlanta’s Double-A club, but all of that seems to have died down. Way down. Truth is, the M-Braves aren’t drawing much better than the Generals or Senators did. And neither of those clubs survived. That’s interesting, to say the least.
P.S. Weir’s Roy Oswalt has certainly delivered for Philadelphia, which pried the right-hander away from Houston to help it chase down Atlanta in the National League East. Oswalt won again Sunday, his third straight victory. Of course, Atlanta may have made a counter move by promoting former M-Braves lefty Mike Minor, who also won on Sunday while striking out 12 Chicago hitters. Minor is 2-0 in three starts.

21 Aug

the frontrunner

Lots of games left, of course, but Fred Lewis, the former Stone County High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, may have moved to the front of the pack in the competition for the second Cool Papa Bell Award. Lewis, found wanting in San Francisco after a poor 2009 season, has blossomed as Toronto’s leadoff batter. He’s hitting .275 with 31 doubles and eight home runs for a team that might yet make a playoff run. Hot on Lewis’ heels is Texas lefty Cliff Lee, the Meridian CC product who is 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA for the playoff-bound Rangers. Edge goes to the position player.
P.S. Former Jackson General Billy Wagner has tied former JaxMet Jesse Orosco for No. 1 on the all-time strikeouts list for lefty relievers with 1,169. … If the New York Mets make a managerial change in the off-season — a pretty safe bet — a strong candidate might be former Jackson Mets infielder Wally Backman. The feisty Backman is currently managing the Mets’ short-season Class A Brooklyn club. He’d be a good fit in Queens. … Former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland is showing some staying power with the Rangers. The lefty-hitting first baseman belted his third home run Friday night and is batting .292 since Texas called him up a couple weeks back; he might make the postseason roster.

18 Aug

standing by

If Cincinnati is looking to add a little juice to its lineup for the last few weeks of the playoff push, Zack Cozart appears to be primed for duty. The former Ole Miss star is hitting .263 with 16 home runs, 60 RBIs and 29 stolen bases for the Reds’ Triple-A Louisville club. The surprising Reds, currently in first place in the National League Central, have Orlando Cabrera (on the disabled list) and Paul Janish at shortstop, but neither is having a great season with the bat. Cozart could provide a nice change of pace there. Wonder if Tampa Bay might be considering Desmond Jennings for much the same purpose. The former Itawamba Community College standout is hitting .290 with 32 steals at Triple-A Durham. Center fielder B.J. Upton has struggled much of the year for the Rays; it couldn’t hurt to give Jennings a shot there as Tampa tries to keep pace in the AL East.
P.S. Drew Pomeranz is going to play in a bright spotlight for Cleveland whenever his pro career gets started. The Ole Miss product, signed for $2.65 million late Monday as the fifth overall pick in the draft, was the Indians’ highest draft selection since 1992, when they took pitcher Paul Shuey No. 2 overall. Cleveland is in a rebuilding mode, and Pomeranz, a left-handed power thrower, may be a big part of that project.

15 Aug

a step back

Cody Johnson homered Saturday. For Class A Myrtle Beach, where the erstwhile Mississippi Braves left fielder is now playing. Atlanta’s No. 9 prospect was a disaster during his stay in Double-A. He hit 10 homers, but the last of those was on May 15. When he departed on Monday, he was hitting .189 with 114 strikeouts in 233 at-bats. And he spent a long time on the shelf with a hamstring injury. With Jordan Schafer — another scuffling one-time prospect — back (from a sore wrist) to man left field, there really was no place for Johnson in Pearl. Besides, he needed to go somewhere else. “It was time,” said M-Braves manager Phillip Wellman. “He wasn’t making progress. You can’t keep running into a brick wall. He was as frustrated as anybody. I told him sometimes you have to take a step back to get moving forward again. He understood. Hopefully, he’ll get back on track. He was going to have to repeat here next year anyway.” Johnson had some success (.242, 32 homers) at Myrtle Beach in 2009, and through four games there he is hitting .308 with five K’s in 13 ABs.
P.S. Happened to see where Hattiesburg native Joey Gathright, who had been in Triple-A with Baltimore much of the season, is now in independent ball, playing for the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League.

13 Aug

trouble ahead

The shelf life of a big league closer can be short, the careers of Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner notwithstanding. Maybe the once-dominant Jonathan Papelbon really is showing signs of decline. He blew a save Thursday night as Boston melted down in the ninth inning and lost at Toronto. (Former Mississippi Gulf Coast CC standout Fred Lewis, having a heckuva year with the Blue Jays, got the game-winning sac fly.) Former Mississippi State star Papelbon has six blown saves this year, already matching his career-high from 2006. His ERA has ballooned to 3.26. He posted a 1.85 in 2009. He has nine decisions (4-5), way too many for a closer. Boston has withstood all kinds of injuries to stay in the American League playoff race, but they won’t get into the postseason if Papelbon’s struggles continue. Worst of all, he seems to have lost his fearsome aura; it might be hard to get that back.

12 Aug

eyes on linares

The news about Chipper Jones — possible torn ACL, maybe done for the year, maybe done forever — suddenly shifts more attention to Mississippi Braves third baseman Donell Linares. Is he the Atlanta third baseman of the future? Tough call. He has handled himself well in his first Double-A season, as a 26-year-old who’ll be 27 in October. The Cuba native is hitting .253 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs, but he lacks speed. Doesn’t strike out a lot, but doesn’t walk much. He makes the routine plays at third and has a good arm. He’s made 14 errors in 96 games at the hot corner. It’s been a good season, not a great one. Consistent, but not a breakthrough. The M-Braves are home tonight; check out Linares. See what you think.