Round 2 of Season 2 of Mississippi Braves vs. Biloxi Shuckers starts tonight at MGM Park on the Coast. Alas, the pitching matchup that would have been so cool to see apparently won’t happen in this series. Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff is set to make his third Double-A start tonight for the Shuckers. Rated Milwaukee’s No. 30 prospect by mlb.com, he is 0-2, 8.00 ERA. Ole Miss product Chris Ellis, Atlanta’s No. 13 prospect, is slated to go Wednesday for the M-Braves. Ellis, after two straight uneven starts, is 6-2, 3.00. Former Southern Miss star Bradley Roney, who has pitched well out of the M-Braves’ pen (2 saves, 2.95 ERA), surely will make an appearance or two during the five games. The Shuckers took three of five from the M-Braves in Pearl in April and lead the series 15-13. Biloxi is 29-21, second to Pensacola in the Southern League South by a game; the M-Braves are 22-28 and fourth, 8 games back of first. Perhaps Biloxi will see an attendance spike for this series. The club is averaging an announced 2,596 fans per game, which ranks eighth in the 10-team loop. The M-Braves are seventh at 3,097 per game at Trustmark Park.
The other Bulldogs in the Starkville Regional, the ones not wearing maroon, will have their fair share of fans around the state this weekend. Louisiana Tech, which came from out of nowhere this season to earn an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, is loaded with Mississippi connections. The third-seeded Bulldogs are coached by Greg Goff, a former Delta State player and assistant coach. Their pitching coach is Christian Ostrander, another ex-DSU player and coach who just last year was the head man at Jones County Junior College. There are seven Mississippi juco products on the LaTech roster, including former Clinton High and Hinds CC star Chase Lunceford, the team’s best hitter. Lunceford is batting .325 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs. Cody Daigle, an East Central CC alum, has 10 homers and 37 RBIs. Hinds CC product Casey Sutton is 7-1 with a 1.63 ERA. LaTech went 40-18 this year and reached the semifinal round of the C-USA Tournament in Hattiesburg last week. This is the school’s first NCAA appearance in 29 years. “We were picked 11th out of 12 teams in our league,” Goff said in a school release. “No one believed this would ever happen except for our guys.” LaTech, the 3-seed in the regional, plays Cal State Fullerton on Friday at Dudy Noble Field. Mississippi State, the No. 6 national seed, takes on Southeast Missouri State. P.S. Southern Miss’ opening round foe in the Tallahassee Regional is South Alabama, which counts five Mississippi jucos on its roster, including 2015 NJCAA Division II pitcher of the year Randy Bell. The right-hander is 6-1, 2.38 for the Jaguars.
For a hitter, this number isn’t good: .222. “You can’t really focus on the numbers,” Mitch Moreland told The Associated Press after Sunday’s game in Arlington, Texas. OK, but there are a few worth mentioning. Ex-Mississippi State star Moreland’s sixth home run of the season, which sailed an estimated 440 feet into the upper deck at Globe Life Park, helped spark Texas to a 6-2 win against Pittsburgh and moved the Rangers into first place in the American League West. Watch out for this team, especially if Moreland is heating up. The lefty-hitting first baseman snapped a 1-for-27 slump with a home run on Saturday. He now has 21 RBIs and 18 runs in 45 games. Moreland is coming off a season in which he hit .278 with 23 homers and 85 RBIs (and earned AMB’s Cool Papa Bell Award). Here’s another number of note: $5.7M, which is the contract Moreland agreed to for 2016; he’s a free agent after this year. … Also bolting into first place on Sunday was Ned Yost’s Kansas City Royals, who now lead the AL Central. The defending world champs, who’ve won 12 of 17, rallied to top the Chicago White Sox 5-4, with McComb’s Jarrod Dyson scoring the go-ahead run in a three-run eighth. Dyson, coming back from a spring training injury, is batting .264 with 12 runs, eight steals, seven RBIs and five outfield assists in 30 games. He does a lot of little things you gotta love.
The play at the plate – following two relay throws – long will be remembered in Hattiesburg. Southern Miss won its first Conference USA Tournament title since 2010 today, cutting down a Rice runner at home to preserve a 3-2 victory at Taylor Park. And so this remarkable season for Magnolia State baseball barrels ahead. USM’s tournament title is the second for the state in 2016; Delta State won the Gulf South Conference crown. Mississippi State won the regular season title in the SEC, and the Bulldogs will join the Golden Eagles and Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament, all three possibly hosting regionals. And don’t forget that Jones County Junior College, which claimed its region tournament, is still playing in the NJCAA Division II World Series, having won its opener on Saturday. DSU reached the championship round of the NCAA Division II South Region tourney, and William Carey did the same in its NAIA regional, both coming up just short of the World Series in their divisions. P.S. In case anyone was wondering: There were 18 former Jackson Mets who played for the New York Mets during the 1986 championship season, which was celebrated at Citi Field this weekend. The Mets’ Double-A club had been in Jackson for 12 years by 1986 and would play at Smith-Wills Stadium for four more. … In case anyone hadn’t noticed: Jeff Francoeur, the former Mississippi Braves star, was batting .292 for Atlanta heading into today’s game. It’s good to see – and hear – Francoeur getting cheers again at Turner Field. … Debut alert: Former MSU standout Chris Stratton from Tupelo, now in the big leagues with San Francisco, will be the 18th Mississippian (native or college alum) to play in MLB this year when he makes his first appearance.
Seven Mississippi-connected players show up in Baseball America’s latest list of the top 200 draft prospects – but only one of them rates among the top 100. Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson checks in at No. 14, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the right-hander will be a first-round pick next month. The rankings are an assessment of talent, not a draft projection. You have to scroll all the way down to No. 113 to find George County High star Walker Robbins, a lefty-hitting first baseman. Oxford High products Thomas Dillard (catcher) and Grae Kessinger (shortstop) are listed at 141 and 144. Outfielder J.B. Woodman, who has had a huge year for Ole Miss, is No. 171, while teammate and shortstop Errol Robinson, having an off year, is rated 182. No. 199 is State outfielder/pitcher Reid Humphreys. Hudson will likely be the first Mississippian picked; an mlb.com mock draft has him going 13th to Tampa Bay. But you never know. Some team might take a shine to Kessinger’s defense — he is the grandson of ex-big leaguer Don Kessinger — or Humphreys’ power — he is the brother of erstwhile big leaguer Tyler Moore — or the athletic ability of some junior college player no one’s talking about. The surprises — that’s the coolest aspect of the MLB draft. P.S. BA’s draft prospects list runs 500 deep on its web site. Pearl River Community College’s Zach Clark (shortstop/pitcher), Itawamba CC’s Delvin Zinn (shortstop), Ole Miss’ Henri Lartigue (catcher) and State’s Daniel Brown (lefty pitcher) rank in the 200s. … The top pick from Mississippi last year was Austin Riley, taken 41st overall by Atlanta out of DeSoto Central. Riley, recently featured in BA (June 3-17 issue), is batting .229 with three homers and 19 RBIs at Class A Rome.
Based on their numbers, the Scots of McHenry County College have fast legs and power arms. The team that Jones County Junior College will face in its opener Saturday in the NJCAA Division II World Series has swiped 140 bases in 57 games and rolls out three starting pitchers who average 10 or more strikeouts per game. McHenry, located in Illinois, is 44-13 and won the Region 4 championship to advance to Enid, Okla. JCJC, the Region 23 champ, is 49-8. This is the first World Series appearance for McHenry, the second for Jones. The Scots are led offensively by the speedy duo of Riley Richarz (35 steals, .406) and Nick Vasic (31, .413). Clay Brinkman (.373, six homers, 64 RBIs) and Brett Stratinsky (nine homers) supply some thunder. The pitching staff, which has a collective 3.42 ERA, features Andrew Reisinger (10-0), Jack Granath (8-0) and Reilly Peltier (7-2). Third-ranked Jones, which took out No. 1 LSU-Eunice and No. 10 East Central in its regional, can also run and pitch a little, among other things. Top players for the Bobcats are Mason Irby (.410, seven homers, 72 RBIs, 30 steals), Erick Hoard (.397, 17 HRs, 72 RBIs), Clint Sasser (.389, 47 steals), Mason Strickland (10-0, 2.85) and Calder Mikell (9-1). The 10-team World Series field includes No. 2-ranked Mercer County from New Jersey and No. 5 Sinclair of Ohio as well as teams from New York to North Carolina to Arizona.
The recent 50-game suspension he served for a drug of abuse violation may have been a lesson learned for JaCoby Jones. In eight games since he returned to the field with Double-A Erie, the former Richton High standout is batting .343 with three homers (all in his last three games) and nine RBIs. Jones, a top 10 prospect in Detroit’s system, worked out in extended spring camp in Florida while serving the suspension, imposed last fall. Primarily a shortstop during his four-year pro career, he has been playing center field of late. … Ole Miss product Chris Ellis, coming off his first loss of the season, goes to the bump for the Mississippi Braves tonight against Jacksonville at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Ellis is 6-1 with a 2.89 ERA in nine starts; he has a win against the Suns under his belt. … Despite a recent slump, Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High star, still leads the high Class A Carolina League in home runs and RBIs. Bradley, playing for Lynchburg in Cleveland’s system, is batting .228 with 10 bombs and 40 RBIs. He has hit just .167 with one homer over his last 10 games. … Longtime Jackson-area fans will remember Joe Mikulik, who starred on the first Generals team at Smith-Wills Stadium back in 1991. Now a minor league manager known for his epic tirades, Mikulik, currently in Frisco (Texas Rangers), went on another after a disputed call on Tuesday. If you haven’t seen the video, you must find it. The Washington Post called Mikulik “the Laurence Olivier of minor league freakouts.” Wonder if former M-Braves manager Phillip Wellman, also managing in the Texas League at San Antonio, is jealous?
Of the four young players Atlanta got from San Diego in the Justin Upton trade in 2014, the least heralded was Dustin Peterson. Jace Peterson, Mallex Smith and Max Fried were the attention-grabbing names in the deal, but Dustin Peterson has begun to garner his share. Now playing left field for the Mississippi Braves, and playing in the shadow of top prospect Dansby Swanson, Peterson is leading the team in homers and RBIs with five and 25. He heads into tonight’s game at Trustmark Park in Pearl with six hits in his last 14 at-bats, boosting his average to .262. Peterson, listed at 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, appears to have legit right-handed power. Four of his homers have come at the TeePee, where right-handed hitters especially have trouble knocking the ball out. Peterson was a second-round pick by San Diego out of high school in Arizona in 2013. Originally a third baseman, he was shifted to the outfield by Atlanta. At high Class A Carolina in 2015, he hit .251 with eight homers and 62 RBIs, and he entered this season rated the Braves’ No. 21 prospect by mlb.com. Only 21, Peterson is holding his own in his first tour of Double-A ball. P.S. The M-Braves are 20-25 with a three-game win streak entering the five-game homestand against Jacksonville. Trailing first-place Biloxi by 6½ games in the Southern League South, the M-Braves have plenty of time to make up ground – the first half ends June 19 – but need to step it up at home, where they are 8-12.
Guy Bush, the “Mississippi Mudcat” from Aberdeen, finished his major league career in 1945 with some nice numbers: 176 wins (most ever by a Mississippi native), 542 appearances, 151 complete games. He also allowed 151 home runs, a total that happened to include the last two – Nos. 713 and 714 — hit by Babe Ruth. It happened on May 25, 1935, at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. Bush, who spent most of his career with the Chicago Cubs, was pitching for the Pirates. Ruth, who made his legend with the New York Yankees, was in his only season with the Boston Braves. He hit three homers that day in Pittsburgh, the first off of Red Lucas, who was replaced by Bush in the first inning. The last homer of Ruth’s career cleared the right-field roof at Forbes Field, the first ever to do that. May 25, 1935, truly was Ruth’s last hurrah. He played only five more games in the big leagues without getting another hit. Meanwhile, it was a tough day all around for Bush. He logged six innings in relief and the Pirates prevailed 11-7, but he didn’t get the win. Waite Hoyt blew the save after replacing Bush in the seventh inning.
In a 3-for-27 skid that has dropped his average to .199, Brian Dozier was given a day off on Monday and might get extended downtime. “We’ve got to fix Brian Dozier,” Minnesota GM Terry Ryan said in a piece on mlb.com. “It’s not working right now, so we’ve got to adjust.” The Southern Miss product was an All-Star in 2015, when he batted .236, belted 28 homers, drove in 77 runs and scored 101. In 39 games this year, he has four homers, 14 RBIs and 18 runs. He hasn’t driven in a run since May 4. Dozier seems at a loss to explain the slump. “To be honest, I feel better than I probably have my whole career,” he told mlb.com after Sunday’s game. It doesn’t help that the Twins have sunk to 11-33, worst record in MLB. … This slump thing is going around among a bunch of Mississippians in the majors. Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan is in a 1-for-21 funk that has dropped his average to .152 for Oakland. Mississippi juco products Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC) and Desmond Jennings (Itawamba CC) are scuffling for Tampa Bay. Dickerson, 4 for his last 23 heading into today’s play, is at .179; Jennings, 6 for his last 40, is hitting .178. Ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland is batting .191 with one homer in his last 15 games for Texas. He’s at .230 for the year with four homers and 16 RBIs; he put up .278, 23, 85 last season. And a 3-for-17 slump has dropped former Ole Miss standout Seth Smith’s average to .236 for Seattle.