31 Jul

stepping up

The San Francisco Giants apparently wanted to give Chris Stratton a new challenge. They should be pleased with his response. Stratton, the former Mississippi State ace from Tupelo, made his Double-A debut on Wednesday and allowed one run on seven hits (one home run) and two walks in five innings. He struck out three for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, who ultimately lost to Harrisburg in 13 innings. Stratton, 23, a 6-foot-3 right-hander rated the No. 4 prospect in the Giants’ system by mlb.com, seemed to be treading water this year, his second full pro season. He was just 7-8 with a 5.07 ERA in 19 games at high Class A San Jose before his promotion. At low-A Augusta in 2013, Stratton went 9-3, 3.27. He was the SEC pitcher of the year in 2012 and was drafted 20th overall that year by the Giants.

30 Jul

in transition

The search is on for a new coach at Southwest Mississippi Community College, where Lee Kuyrkendall resigned earlier this week after six seasons in Summit. One has to wonder if Kuyrkendall’s top assistant during his tenure, Ken Jackson, might be a logical candidate to replace him. Jackson is, like Kuyrkendall, a former Bears player and had a good track record as head coach at Parklane Academy. Southwest, which produced current Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, went 15-27 overall in 2014 and was 9-15 in the MACJC South Division, missing the postseason. Kuyrkendall previously coached at Mississippi College.

28 Jul

hot and cold

No hitter in the majors has been hotter in July than Seth Smith. But the Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss alumnus took a chilly 0-for-4 today as San Diego fell to Atlanta 2-0 at Turner Field. Smith is batting .385 this month. He hit .203 in June, .354 in May and .246 in April. That is the definition of mercurial. For the year, the left-handed hitting outfielder is at .295 with 11 home runs, 31 RBIs and 42 runs, numbers that have to thrill the punch-less Padres. He batted just .240 and .253 in Oakland the previous two years. Smith went 3-for-8 in the Atlanta series, with all three hits coming in Friday’s opener, the only one of the four games the Padres won. He struck out three times today, twice against Ervin Santana, then again against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth. … Former Mississippi Braves star Evan Gattis belted his 17th homer for the Braves today; it was his first since June 18. He spent a spell on the disabled list during that time.

28 Jul

stealing the show

Silento Sayles is starting to get on base with more regularity. That’s bad news for catchers in the Arizona League. The former Port Gibson High star, who set a national high school stolen base record in 2013, swiped seven bags in seven tries in a recent four-game stretch for the AZL Indians, Cleveland’s rookie club. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Sayles is batting .295 (.413 on-base percentage) with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts and 16 runs through 17 games. Though he still has a long way to go, the 19-year-old Sayles is certainly an intriguing prospect. He has shown improvement in his second pro season; he batted just .186 in 31 games in the AZL last season and was 5-for-8 in steals. Cleveland picked Sayles, an outfielder, in the 14th round in 2013 after his amazing senior year at Port Gibson. He batted .541 and stole 103 bases, including a hard-to-imagine 12 in one game. Even Billy Hamilton didn’t do that.

26 Jul

need for speed

The Mississippi Braves are slumping. Even with their big comeback victory in Friday’s series finale at Tennessee, they’ve won just four of their last 12. They are 18-17 in the second half, fourth in the Southern League South, 3 games behind first-place Mobile. They’ve got a 10-game homestand ahead, starting tonight against Pensacola. Mobile comes in for five following the Blue Wahoos series. Can the M-Braves get the knots out of their rope during this stretch and launch a playoff push? Well, one thing you have to like about this club is its ability to run; that’s a weapon that generally plays well at Trustmark Park, where the long ball is hard to come by. The M-Braves lead the league with 107 stolen bases. Jose Peraza, batting .356 in his 30 games with the M-Braves, leads the team in steals with 18. Kyle Kubitza has 17 (plus an amazing nine triples), as does Mycal Jones. Kyle Wren has eight bags in 24 games. Speed could be the key to getting over this funk. P.S. Who’s hot? The Tampa Bay Rays, who have won eight straight games and climbed back into the American League playoff picture. Itawamba Community College product Desmond Jennings, often the Rays’ leadoff batter, has contributed to their rise, batting .292 (7-for-24) with six runs over his last six games. He belted his ninth homer of the year on Friday. … Who’s not? The Cincinnati Reds, who are 0-7 since the All-Star break. Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton, the Reds’ tablesetter, is hitting .222 (6-for-27) during the skid and has managed to cross home plate just three times for a run-starved club. Hamilton did get his 41st stolen base Friday (and, yes, that is a record for a Mississippi native in MLB).

25 Jul

20 candles

He’s not a teenager anymore, but in baseball terms, D.J. Davis is still a kid — and still raw. The former Stone County High standout, the first Mississippian drafted in 2012, turned 20 today. He is celebrating, we presume, in Peoria, if that is possible, where he and his Lansing Lugnuts teammates are scheduled for a Midwest League game. Davis, a left-handed hitting outfielder, was the 17th overall pick as a 17-year-old by the Toronto Blue Jays, who reportedly loved his speed. He is rated the No. 4 prospect in that system by mlb.com but obviously still has room to grow. Davis, 6 feet 1, 180 pounds, has shown some pop this season with 11 doubles and seven home runs, and his wheels have produced five triples and 12 steals. He’s got 40 RBIs and 45 runs in 88 games. But he is hitting just .213 (.271 on-base percentage) and has fanned 124 times in 367 at-bats with only 28 walks. And this is in low-A ball. The pitching will only get better as he advances. But again, at 20, Davis is young. He’s got time.

24 Jul

whatever happened to …

Matt Tolbert, three years removed from his last big league appearance, is toiling in Double-A in the Philadelphia system. The former Ole Miss star from McComb (and Centreville Academy) has battled injuries for a couple of years. He spent some time in Triple-A this season but is currently with Reading and hitting .172 in 21 games. A switch-hitting infielder, Tolbert, 32, was drafted by Minnesota in the 16th round in 2004 and once looked to have a bright future. He played in the 2007 All-Star Futures Game and made his MLB debut in ’08, batting .283 in 41 games for the Twins. But he just couldn’t hit enough to stick. He played parts of the next three years in the majors, never getting into more than 87 games. His career average is .230. Tolbert’s chances of getting back to The Show don’t look good, even if the Phillies gut their roster before 2014 is over. P.S. Jonathan Papelbon blew a save on Tuesday when he allowed a home run for the first time this year. On Wednesday, the ex-Mississippi State star melted down, rankled by a controversial ball call, and suffered a loss. So what’d he do today? The enigmatic Phillies closer worked a perfect ninth for his 24th save. Papelbon, who wants off of Philadelphia’s sinking ship, has only three blown saves to go with a 1.91 ERA. But reports say he is generating little trade interest.

23 Jul

worth another look

Jeff Francoeur is expected to be in a San Diego Padres uniform tonight when they play the Cubs in Chicago. The former Mississippi Braves star reportedly has been called up from Triple-A El Paso, where he was batting .294 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs. He also posted a 4.26 ERA in seven pitching appearances. Francoeur was the right fielder for the inaugural M-Braves club in 2005 and made a big splash in Atlanta that summer. If you’re counting, San Diego will be the sixth MLB team for which Francoeur has played in a career that took a downturn in 2008. He is a career .263 hitter with 140 homers.

23 Jul

passion for the game

It’s not always about numbers in Major League Baseball. The MLB Players Alumni Association announced its annual Heart & Hustle Award winners on Tuesday, and Mississippi natives Brian Dozier and Corey Dickerson and ex-Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward were among the 30 honorees (one for each club). The award recognizes players “who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game.” An overall winner will be announced on Nov. 18. Each of the honored Mississippi three went out Tuesday night and, as if to celebrate, put up some numbers. Tupelo native and former Southern Miss star Dozier went 3-for-5 and belted his 19th home run — topping his career-high 18 of 2013 — for Minnesota. Dickerson, from McComb and Meridian Community College, went 2-for-5 and hit homer No. 12 for Colorado. And Heyward, M-Braves Class of 2009, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs for Atlanta. Unfortunately for all three, they wound up on the losing end of their games.

23 Jul

in the crystal ball

Trying to picture Cliff Lee in an Atlanta Braves uniform. … Not seeing it. The former Meridian Community College star would certainly be an upgrade for the Braves’ rotation, taking the spot of either struggling Mike Minor or young swingman Alex Wood. Atlanta is one of the nine teams Philadelphia can send Lee to without the left-hander’s approval. (Washington is another.) And the Braves have some expendable prospects they could deal, including former or current Mississippi Braves like Elmer Reyes, Aaron Northcraft, Kyle Kubitza, Phil Gosselin and Todd Cunningham. But Lee makes a lot of money, and the Braves just swallowed Dan Uggla’s big contract. That’s a snag. Lee is going to go somewhere, just don’t see Atlanta as a destination. Lee, 35, has already been traded four times in his 15-year pro career and been with five organizations, including Montreal, which drafted him out of Arkansas in 2000. That’s a lot of movement for a pitcher with his pedigree. Lee had a rough return Monday from a two-month stint on the disabled list, but his career record is 143-91 with a 3.52 ERA. He is 7-3, 2.52 in 11 postseason games, including two wins in the 2009 World Series, which his Phillies lost to the New York Yankees. Lee is going to go somewhere — and he is going to help somebody make a run at the playoffs.