30 Jul

breaking through

Check out these stats: .331 average, .401 on-base percentage, 10 doubles, two triples, a homer, 21 RBIs and 19 runs in 49 games. Oh yeah, and a 17-game hitting streak that’s alive today. Those impressive stats belong to Tommy La Stella, the left-handed hitting second baseman who typically bats third for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. Now check out Baseball America’s 2013 Prospect Handbook, a brilliantly researched guide to the top players in the minor leagues. It doesn’t list Tommy La Stella among Atlanta’s top 31 prospects. That’s an indication of what an inexact science the rating of prospects can be. And La Stella’s performance this season, despite a spate of injuries, is an indication of how an ostensibly overlooked player can work his way into an organization’s plans. He’ll be in that top 30 next year for the Braves, who need some young position players to step up. La Stella was an All-American at Coastal Carolina in 2011, when he batted .398 with 14 homers and 70 RBIs. The Braves took him in the eighth round that summer. He batted .311 with 15 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a top 30 (No. 28) prospect entering 2012. Somehow he slipped despite his good production at high Class A Lynchburg, where he hit .302 despite missing six weeks with a broken leg. He started this season back at Lynchburg – but again on the disabled list (elbow injury). He batted .550 in seven games for the Hillcats before Atlanta promoted him to the M-Braves on May 6. He’s been on a roll ever since, a 12-day stay on the DL (hamstring) notwithstanding. His current hot streak has helped fuel the M-Braves, who are 18-17 and just 1.5 games out of first in the Southern League South. They play Montgomery at Trustmark Park tonight in the third game of a 5-game series. P.S. Former M-Braves outfielder Todd Cunningham has been called up by Atlanta; he is No. 78 on the list of M-Braves who have advanced to The Show.

30 Jul

back on track?

While Oakland has been pulling away from Texas in the American League West, Seth Smith has been feeling a little left out. The former Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss star was in a career-worst 0-for-29 skid entering Monday’s game against Toronto. “Winning is nice,” Smith told mlb.com, “but you still want to be part of winning. You don’t want to just be the out in the lineup.” Smith broke out in Monday’s 9-4 win, doubling in the third inning and finishing 2-for-3 with an RBI. For the year, the left-handed hitting outfielder/DH is batting .250 with six homers and 33 RBIs for the A’s, who have won four in a row, seven of 10 and 19 of 30 to lead the Rangers by 6 games. Smith hit just .240 in 2012, his first year with Oakland, but had been swinging it much better this year. On June 23, he was at .284. However, his power has been down a bit. Smith hit 14 home runs last season and averaged 15 over the previous three years. Perhaps he has snapped out of his slump and the power will start to come back, as well. His last bomb was on June 16. P.S. Pittsburgh recalled UM alum Alex Presley, just in time for its huge home series against St. Louis, its National League Central rival. Presley was 1-for-4 with an RBI in the Bucs’ 9-2 win on Monday night. Another ex-Rebels star, right-hander Lance Lynn, is slated to start for the Cardinals at PNC Park today in the opener of a doubleheader.

29 Jul

george scott, 1944-2013

Sad news: One of Mississippi’s all-time greats, George Scott, has died. The Greenville native was 69. A large and colorful character who was nicknamed Boomer, Scott played 14 years (1966-79) in the big leagues, most famously as a member of the Boston Red Sox. He was on the Impossible Dream team of 1967. A three-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner as a first baseman, Scott batted .268 for his career with 271 homers — “taters,” he called them — and 1,051 RBIs. He led the American League in RBIs with 109 in 1975 and tied for the lead that same year with 36 homers. “I was born poor, I was born black, and I was born in Mississippi. When you’ve been through that, you can deal with anything,” he once told Sports Illustrated.

28 Jul

scatter shots

Mark it down. Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star from McComb and Brookhaven Academy, belted his first career home run today for Colorado. He’ll hit more. He’s got serious thump — the left-handed hitting outfielder has 78 homers in his four minor league seasons — plus he gets to play home games in Coors Field, where the Rockies slugged four bombs today in a 6-5 win over Milwaukee. Dickerson was recalled for his second big league stint a couple of days ago when Colorado put former Ole Miss pitcher Drew Pomeranz on the disabled list. … Former Pillow Academy standout Louis Coleman has not allowed a run in 10 2/3 innings for resurgent Kansas City, now a .500 team. … Trade rumors continue to swirl about Meridian CC alum Cliff Lee, who was pulled from a scheduled start for fading Philadelphia on Saturday. Reports say St. Louis, Cleveland and Boston are among the most likely destinations for the veteran lefty, who is having a strong year (10-4, 3.05 ERA). … Isn’t it ironic that Atlanta finds itself looking for pitching help at a time when so many of its onetime prospects — and ex-Mississippi Braves standouts — are starting for other clubs: Randall Delgado in Arizona, Charlie Morton in Pittsburgh, Scott Diamond in Minnesota, Tommy Hanson in Anaheim and Todd Redmond in Toronto. (In addition, Matt Harrison is on the DL in Texas and Houston has plans to work Paul Clemens into its rotation soon.) … Ole Miss alum Bobby Wahl, picked in the fifth round by Oakland, has a 3.12 ERA in 8 2/3 innings of work in the low minors. The A’s are said to be very high on Wahl.

24 Jul

central casting

Nice line put up by Zack Cozart on Tuesday night: 4 3 4 2. The ex-Ole Miss standout matched his career-high with the four hits (raising his average to .243), belted his eighth homer and padded his RBI total to 36. Not bad numbers for a guy who plays regularly for the Cincinnati Reds primarily because of his defense, which is steady if unspectacular. Cozart is among the small but significant cast of Mississippi-connected characters involved in the “pennant race” in the National League Central. With two wild cards available, the top three teams in that division are basically jostling for three playoff spots. Winning the division is a plum, yes, but when all three teams already appear bound to make the playoffs, it takes a little drama out of the so-called “pennant race.” Regardless, Cozart and the Reds are currently in third place, chasing St. Louis and Pittsburgh. In the Reds’ bullpen is former Mississippi Braves hurler J.J. Hoover. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cincy bring up former Taylorsville High flash Billy Hamilton as a base-stealing weapon down the stretch. St. Louis’ vaunted rotation includes former Rebels star Lance Lynn, who has struggled of late but has abundant experience under pressure. And coaching first base for the Cardinals is Jackson native and onetime Mississippi State first baseman Chris Maloney. The Pirates’ rotation features former M-Braves standout Charlie Morton, and Ole Miss product Alex Presley, a quality lefty hitter, is toiling in Triple-A. Of course, Pittsburgh is managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, who steered the last edition of OJMs into the Texas League playoffs in 1990. P.S. Port Gibson product Silento Sayles, the prep stolen base king, got his first bag as a pro on Tuesday; he’s with Cleveland’s rookie team in the Arizona League. … Onetime Mississippi State player and coach Jimmy Bragan is one of the three inaugural inductees into the Southern League Hall of Fame. Bragan was president of the SL in the 1980s.

23 Jul

game of the weak

In this corner, Drew Pomeranz, the former first-round draft pick out of Ole Miss, now pitching for the Colorado Rockies. And in this corner, the Miami Marlins, a two-time world champion. Well, Monday night’s matchup in Coors Field could have been hyped that way, but in reality it didn’t figure to be much of a fight. The Marlins, currently one of the worst teams in baseball, went into that game in the throes of a 37-inning scoreless drought. Pomeranz, recalled from the minors on Sunday, had an 0-3 record and an 8.76 ERA in three big league starts this season. Ding. The Marlins came out swinging, scored in the first inning (former Mississippi Braves shortstop Ed Lucas tallied the run) and won the game 3-1. Pomeranz lasted just 4 1/3 innings and took the loss. The big left-hander, drafted by Cleveland in 2010, was rushed to the majors by the Rockies after they got him in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade in mid-2011. The results have been disappointing. Entering this season, Pomeranz was 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA in 26 big league starts. He seemingly has gone backwards in 2013. P.S. Possible defining moment for Atlanta’s season: Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward’s diving catch in center field in the pouring rain to close out Monday’s 2-1, come-from-behind win over the New York Mets. If you didn’t see the play, look for it.

21 Jul

lost weekend

It started in Chicago, spread to St. Louis and wound up in New York. A bug bit the three Mississippi-connected starting pitchers in the big leagues this weekend, leaving all three feeling a little sick. Mississippi State product Paul Maholm, pitching for Atlanta, lasted just three-plus innings against the White Sox on Saturday. He gave up seven earned runs, took the loss in a 10-6 defeat and left the game with some kind of problem in his left (pitching) wrist. Maholm, hot and cold much of the season, is now 9-9 with a 4.41 ERA. His spot in the rotation might be in jeopardy with former Mississippi Braves star Brandon Beachy seemingly ready for his 2013 debut after the Tommy John surgery layoff. In St. Louis on Saturday, Lance Lynn, the former Ole Miss star, was knocked around by San Diego, allowing four runs in five innings in a 5-3 loss. Lynn (11-5 overall) is now 1-4 with a 6.30 in his last five starts; that has to be troubling for the Cardinals, who are in a heated battle in the National League Central with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Finally, today at Citi Field in the Big Apple, Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee gave up three homers and five runs in Philadelphia’s 5-0 loss to the Mets. Lee (10-4) has surrendered seven homers in his last two outings – and in between he gave up a run in one inning of work in the All-Star Game.

15 Jul

remembering abreu

MLB’s Home Run Derby can get a little tedious, but it does provide a few unforgettable exploits. For instance, who doesn’t remember Bobby Abreu’s 41-homer performance in winning the 2005 contest at Detroit’s Comerica Park? Former Jackson Generals star Abreu, who isn’t playing in 2013 (but isn’t retired either), showed some pop in his lengthy big league career, belting 287 homers. But the most he hit in one season was 31 with Philadelphia in 2001. He caught lightning in a bottle that July day in 2005, hitting a record (since broken) 24 bombs in the first round of the competition. The 41 total is still the record. Years from now, more people are likely to remember that power display than they will the fact that Abreu was a career .292 hitter who could also draw walks (1,456) and steal bases (399). For the record, he hit 16 homers for the 1994 Generals. More impressive in those days was his throwing arm in right field.

14 Jul

‘lighting the way

Expect some highlights today from Billy Hamilton, who is scheduled to play in the All-Star Futures Game (1 p.m., ESPN2) at Citi Field in New York. The former Taylorsville High star, making his second appearance in the showcase event that launches MLB’s All-Star festivities, is batting just .243 (.300 on-base percentage) at Triple-A Louisville in the Cincinnati system. But the switch-hitting center fielder has scored 52 runs, driven in 29 (with five homers!) and — oh yeah — stolen 52 bases in 83 games. He stole a pro record 155 in 2012. A longtime scout said in a recent interview that Hamilton is “the most exciting player I’ve ever scouted.” … Also making his second appearance in the game will be Mississippi Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, a .262 hitter who has one of the best arms in the minors. … Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe, the 13th overall pick last month by San Diego, is 7-for-12 with a home run in three games at short-season Class A Eugene in the Northwest League. … Former Ole Miss standout Matt Tolbert is 15-for-31 in his rehab work in the low minors in Philadelphia’s system. Tolbert could get back to the big leagues in the second half, especially if the Phillies start cleaning house. … A big home run by State alum Mitch Moreland on Saturday helped Texas hand Detroit ace Max Scherzer his first loss of the year after 13 wins. Moreland belted his 13th homer and picked up RBIs 36 and 37 in the Rangers’ 7-1 victory. … Itawamba Community College product Desmond Jennings bunted a run home Saturday for Tampa Bay, which rallied to beat Houston 4-3 for its ninth win in 10 games. Jennings is batting .265 and has 36 RBIs. … Jackson native Donnie Veal, a lefty reliever, has been recalled to the majors by the Chicago White Sox. Meanwhile, Colorado sent UM alum Drew Pomeranz and Meridian CC product Corey Dickerson to Triple-A. … Former M-Braves standout Jeff Francoeur was summoned to the big leagues by San Francisco on Saturday, arriving just in time to witness and then celebrate Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter. … A lowlight of note: Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, who was St. Louis’ best pitcher the first couple of months of 2013, suffered one of his worst career outings, yielding 11 hits and six runs in 4 1/3 innings Saturday against the Chicago Cubs. Once 10-1, Lynn is now 11-4 with a 4.00 ERA.

13 Jul

looking ahead

Three straight wins on the current homestand have put the Mississippi Braves in position to climb above .500 heading into the All-Star break. Behind left-hander Ian Thomas (six shutout innings), the M-Braves beat Chattanooga 2-0 on Friday night to move to 11-12 in the second half. They have two more games against the Lookouts at Trustmark Park before the 3-day break. The schedule sets up well for the M-Braves to make a charge at a half-season championship that eluded them in the first half. Mississippi has a 5-game series at Jackson, Tenn., following the break but then plays 15 of its next 20 at home, including a 10-game homestand July 23-Aug. 1. The M-Braves are 25-23 at the TeePee. They need to improve on that during the stretch ahead. And this is certainly a club with the talent to do it. They’ll send five players to the July 17 Southern League All-Star Game in Jacksonville: Starter Gus Schlosser (6-2, 2.36 ERA), catcher Christian Bethancourt (.262, five homers), third baseman Edward Salcedo (.257, 10 homers, 44 RBIs), right fielder Jose Martinez (.306) and shortstop Jaime Pedroza (.287). Closer Mark Lamm was selected to the South squad but has been promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett. Second baseman Tommy La Stella, batting .315 since his May 6 call-up, might have gotten more All-Star attention had he played in more games (37 to date). Still getting his feet wet at the Double-A level is left fielder Robby Hefflinger, batting just .196 with three homers in 13 games since coming up from Class A Lynchburg. Hefflinger, who blasted 21 homers for the Hillcats, made Baseball America’s Midseason Minor League All-Surprise team. He could be a difference-maker down the stretch. The M-Braves have also gotten 2012 SL ERA champ Gary Moran back from injury and could yet see highly rated J.R. Graham (shoulder woes) return to their rotation.