31 Aug

wait till next year

The Oakland A’s are one of those teams that enters September thinking about next year. And one of the things the A’s must be thinking about is whether Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz can fill the bill as their closer in 2016. The big left-hander, a converted starter, has gotten some looks in that role in August and had some success. He is 2-for-4 in save chances for the month with a couple of holds and a 1.42 ERA in 11 games. “It seems like every time he’s out there he’s more and more comfortable,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin told mlb.com. For the year, in 43 games (34 relief appearances), Pomeranz has a 3.61 ERA, three saves, a 4-5 record and 75 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings. Pomeranz was the fifth overall pick by Cleveland in 2010 but hasn’t really blossomed over five tours as a big leaguer. Closing might be his calling, and next year might be his time. P.S. It has to have been a trying year for Roger McDowell, the former Jackson Mets star now in his 10th season as Atlanta’s pitching coach. The Braves’ pitching is a mess, and it’s not his fault. Trades and injuries have gutted the staff. The team has used 34 different pitchers, some of them very young, some way past their prime, very few effective. The staff ERA of 4.43 ranks 26th in baseball, and it’s 5.28 since the All-Star break. They’re second in the majors in walks. They’ve blown 21 saves, most in MLB. They just allowed 38 runs in three games at home against the New York Yankees. The Braves have been among the majors’ leaders in staff ERA every year under McDowell – first in 2013 and fifth in 2014 — and for many years before that. This is a shock to the system for Braves Nation and raises the question, Are they really going to be able to clean this up by 2017?

31 Aug

sign of the times

The Jackson Senators live. Well, the name lives. On the billboard out front of Smith-Wills Stadium. The Senators are 10 years gone from their short stay at the old ballpark, but the independent team’s name is still out there. It’s a safe bet that a lot of folks cruising by on Lakeland Drive are given to wonder: “Who the heck are the Jackson Senators?” For the uninitiated, they were the fourth pro team to occupy Smith-Wills, following the Mets, Generals and Bandits, uh, I mean, DiamondKats. The Senators reached the Central Baseball League championship series in their inaugural season in 2002 and won the pennant in Year 2. A pall was cast over the whole operation in 2004 when news broke that Atlanta was moving its Double-A club to Pearl for the 2005 season. By this time in ’05, the Sens were history. Nothing official had been announced by the local ownership group, but it seemed inevitable. The metro isn’t big enough for two pro baseball teams. The Central League split up after the 2005 season, and the Senators quietly faded away. Hill Denson managed the last Senators team, which finished 35-58. There were some good players on the roster, including Selwyn Langaigne, Josh Tranum, Gerard McCall, Fontella Jones, Rusty Camp, Jake Dickinson … . Erick Mejias hit a walk-off homer in the Senators’ last home game, on Aug. 13, 2005. And if you saw them play at all, you surely remember Vince Faison, the right fielder. Former No. 1 draft pick by the San Diego Padres. Also a prep football star in Georgia. He could flat-out play. Hit for the cycle in ’05. Hadn’t thought about him in years. But on a drive down Lakeland, there’s that billboard. The Jackson Senators live.

29 Aug

m-braves, hither and yon

It was a night for big home runs in Atlanta, Pearl and Danville, Va., a nice night for certain Mississippi Braves past, present and future. At Trustmark Park, where the M-Braves opened their final homestand on Friday battling for a second-half championship, third baseman Rio Ruiz smacked a three-run homer that propelled the home team to a 7-1 win over Biloxi. (Ruiz is legitimately hot, 16-for-40 with two homers and eight RBIs in his last 10 games. He is batting .237 for the year with four homers. Too bad the season is almost over.) At Turner Field, ex-M-Braves star Brian McCann returned to the ATL for the first time as a New York Yankee and, of course, launched a home run, his 23rd of the season, helping the Yanks crush the woeful Braves 15-4. (Former M-Braves star Freddie Freeman homered for the Braves, but so what? Atlanta is now 20 games under .500 and generally unwatchable.) And at Legion Field in Danville, where Atlanta’s rookie-level Appalachian League team holds forth, Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central standout, went yard for the 11th time this season. The 18-year-old third baseman, Atlanta’s top pick in June, blew through the Gulf Coast League and is batting .340 with four homers in 26 games at Danville. (Riley, if he progresses normally, could be at the TeePee by 2018. Something to look forward to.)

28 Aug

field notes

Hunter Renfroe isn’t a one-trick pony – he can run and throw a little, too – but his power just keeps grabbing attention. The ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs launched his fourth homer in nine games for Triple-A El Paso on Thursday. Renfroe, playing right field and hitting second for the Chihuahuas, is 12-for-36 with 11 RBIs and eight runs since San Diego promoted him to the Pacific Coast League on Aug. 19. … Southern Miss product Cody Carroll, drafted in the 22nd round in June by the New York Yankees, has a 1.82 ERA through 13 games for Pulaski in the rookie-level Appalachian League. Carroll notched the save, with three innings of work, in a division-clinching win earlier this week. He was 5-5 with a 3.08 ERA as a starter for USM last season. … Despite a recent slump, former Ole Miss standout Braxton Lee is batting .269 with 21 steals and 44 runs in 108 games for Tampa Bay’s Class A Port Charlotte team. The left-handed hitting center fielder, in his second pro season, got 12 bags in 51 games in 2014. … First-year pro Kalik May, a Mississippi Valley State alumnus, is holding his own in the Gulf Coast League, batting .257 with two homers, 12 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Toronto took May, a switch-hitting outfielder who goes 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, in the 33rd round. The Jays have three other Mississippi-produced outfielders playing at different levels in their system: Anthony Alford (Petal), D.J. Davis (Stone County) and Earl Burl III (Alcorn State).

28 Aug

into the wild

Joey Butler celebrated his return to The Show with a couple of hits, a game-tying RBI and the go-ahead run in Tampa Bay’s 5-4 win over Minnesota, which had won six straight. Pascagoula native Butler was recalled by the Rays on Thursday when Itawamba Community College alum Desmond Jennings went back on the disabled list. The Twins, along with the Rays two of the eight American League teams (excluding current division leaders) within 5 games of a wild card, got a 1-for-3 effort from ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who scored his 87th run. … In another battle of AL playoff contenders, Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland went 1-for-4 with an RBI (No. 67) to help Texas to a 4-1 victory over Toronto, the AL East Division leader managed by former Jackson Mets catcher John Gibbons. … Former State star Buck Showalter’s Baltimore club, another playoff hopeful, fell to AL Central leader Kansas City 5-3. Southwest Mississippi CC’s Jarrod Dyson had a tough day for ex-JaxMets star Ned Yost’s Royals: 0-for-4 with an error (just his second of the year). … In the slightly less crazy National League, Washington, which was supposed to run away with the East Division title, kept pace (though still 6.5 games out) with the first-place New York Mets by holding off San Diego 4-2. Former State standout Jonathan Papelbon notched his fourth save for the Nationals but yielded a run, a hit, a walk and a balk in his one inning. … Ex-JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle’s Pittsburgh Pirates grinded out a 2-1 win over Miami and tightened their grip on the first NL wild card spot. The Chicago Cubs lost 9-1 to San Francisco, another postseason contender, and dropped 4 games back of the Bucs, who are trying to keep NL Central leader St. Louis in range. … September is coming, and it’s only going to get better for MLB fans.

27 Aug

campus news

Mississippi State alumnus Mitch Moreland recently made a $100,000 donation toward the new Dudy Noble Field, the MSU Bulldog Club announced today. In recognition of his generosity, the indoor batting cages at the facility will be named for him. Moreland, now with the Texas Rangers, starred at State from 2005-07, batting .332 for his career and helping the Bulldogs reach the College World Series in his final season in Starkville. Moreland’s donation will go toward the $40 million renovation plan for venerable Dudy Noble. … Delta State will dedicate a statue honoring former coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss and unveil its new-look stadium on Oct. 3. The statue, crafted by Kim Sessums of Brookhaven, is located in front of Ferriss Field, which has undergone renovations. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be part of the annual Statesmen Baseball Reunion activities. … Fall ball will begin soon, and Alcorn State players will go to work under new coach Brett Richardson, who recently replaced Barret Rey. Richardson was a longtime assistant at Florida A&M, where he also played. The Rattlers won the MEAC championship this past season. Rey won a SWAC championship with the Braves in 2011, his second year at the helm, but wasn’t able to repeat that success. The Braves were 16-40, 7-18 SWAC, in 2015. … It will be interesting to track the progress of the four players from MAIS juggernaut Jackson Prep who signed with SEC schools back in November. Parker Caracci is at Ole Miss, Noah Hughes and Jake Mangum at State and Gene Wood at Alabama. … Ole Miss’ pitching staff should get a big boost from the return of Brady Bramlett, who was drafted by Oakland in the 22nd round in June. He was 7-4 with a 3.74 ERA for the Rebels in 2015. … New Mississippi College coach Jeremy Haworth has bolstered the Choctaws’ roster since his arrival. Recent additions include outfielder Will Elliott (an Alabama transfer from Oxford), outfielder Parker Thurman (Mississippi Valley State/Pearl), infielder/outfielder Chance Whitten (East Central Community College) and pitchers Perry Turner (Jones County JC), Scott Szush (Southeastern Louisiana) and Matt Payne (Volunteer State CC).

27 Aug

time to shine

Some games in the minors simply matter more than others. Performance in those games is magnified. With first place in the Southern League South on the line Wednesday night, Cody Reed pitched like an ace for Pensacola. The Northwest Mississippi Community College product from Horn Lake threw six innings, allowing one run and punching out eight, as the Blue Wahoos topped the visiting Mississippi Braves 3-1. The Wahoos (33-26) climbed a half-game ahead of the M-Braves (32-26) in the battle for the second-half title in the SL South. “I love having that pressure of being the guy they give the ball to,” Reed said in a story on the team’s web site. Reed’s star is surely rising in the Cincinnati organization. The bespectacled, 6-foot-5 left-hander, acquired from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto deal, is 4-2 with a 3.03 ERA in six starts for the Wahoos. He was 2-2, 3.45 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and 5-5, 2.14 in A-ball in the Royals’ system. The lone run the M-Braves scored was knocked in by Rio Ruiz, who is finally beginning to play like the prospect Atlanta thought it was getting from Houston in the Evan Gattis trade. Ruiz has an 11-game hit streak and is batting .368 with a homer, five RBIs and six runs in his last 10 games. For the year, his first in Double-A, the lefty-hitting third baseman is at .232 with three homers and 38 RBIs. In the finale of the Pensacola series tonight, the M-Braves send Greg Ross (7-9, 3.59) to the bump. More games that matter are ahead: Mississippi comes home on Friday for a series against Biloxi, the first-half champ in the SL South.

26 Aug

showing flashes

At MLB draft time in 2014, he was 17 and a strapping 6 feet 3, 180 pounds with a quick bat, good speed and a strong arm. Ti’Quan Forbes, the former Columbia High star, looked like a rough draft of a big league player. He turns 19 today, and his form is still not well-defined. A second-round pick in 2014 by Texas, Forbes is hitting .251 with no homers, 34 RBIs and 11 steals in 96 games over two seasons at the entry levels of the minors. A shortstop at Columbia, he is now playing mostly third base and has made 35 errors. He is ranked the No. 21 prospect in the Rangers’ system, and his estimated time of arrival is listed at 2018 by mlb.com. That would seem optimistic but not unrealistic. “Everything about his game is projection-based because he flashes you things that you want to see,” a scout told Baseball America a few weeks before the 2014 draft. In his debut summer, Forbes hit .241 in the Arizona League with just five extra base hits. At short season Class A Spokane this year, he’s at .260 with 10 extra base hits, 18 RBIs and one stolen base in 48 games. He recently put together a seven-game hit streak and is batting .361 over his last 10 games. A flash, you might say.

25 Aug

tough crowd

Midwest League managers apparently are hard to impress. Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High standout, leads the Class A league in home runs (27), RBIs (88) and slugging percentage (.538). But MWL skippers – there are 16 of them — did not see fit to vote Bradley to the postseason All-Star team at either first base or DH, much less name him the MVP. Ryan McBroom, hitting .324 with 11 homers, 82 RBIs and a .496 slugging average, took all three of those categories. The 23-year-old McBroom plays for Lansing in the Toronto system. The lack of league honors notwithstanding, the 19-year-old Bradley has had a heckuva year for Cleveland’s Lake County club in his first full pro season. He is currently rated the Indians’ No. 7 prospect by mlb.com, so he’s impressing somebody. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound lefty hitter was the Arizona League MVP last year, when he led the rookie loop in average (.367), homers (eight) and RBIs (50).

24 Aug

touching the bases

Sikes Orvis, the power-hitting prospect out of Ole Miss, has belted two home runs in his last three games at rookie-level Great Falls in the Chicago White Sox’s system. He now has four homers for the season in 34 games and is batting .240. … Mississippi State product Chris Stratton, a first-round pick by San Francisco in 2012, has won three of his last five starts at Triple-A Sacramento. He is 3-4 with a 3.78 ERA. … Silento Sayles, the record-setting base stealer from Port Gibson High, recently earned a promotion from Cleveland, moving up to Class A Lake County in the Midwest League. Sayles is 2-for-8 with a steal in three games. … Jackson State alum and 2015 SWAC player of the year Melvin Rodriguez is batting .211 through 29 games at Auburn in the short season Class A New York-Penn League in Washington’s system. … West Lauderdale High product Blake Anderson, the first Mississippian drafted in 2014, is 3-for-11 since coming off the disabled list for Miami’s Batavia club in the NYPL. He is batting .226. … James McMahon, the 2015 Ferriss Trophy winner from Southern Miss, has a 3.60 ERA over his last 10 appearances, all in relief, at Grand Junction in the rookie Pioneer League. He has four holds and a 6.55 ERA on the season for the Colorado farm team. … JaCoby Jones, a former Mr. Baseball from Richton, has six homers in 21 games (76 at-bats) for Double-A Erie in the Detroit system. … Alcorn State alum Angel Rosa, in his third pro season, is getting a look at Triple-A in the Los Angeles Angels’ system. The infielder is 2-for-6 in two games for Salt Lake; he was hitting .252 in A-ball. … Auston Bousfield, one of the stars of Ole Miss’ strong 2014 team, is 1-for-18 at Double-A San Antonio since San Diego promoted him. Bousfield was batting .273 in A-ball.