Though there is no opening at third base in Atlanta at the moment, former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley continues to build his resume, prepping for an opportunity that can’t be far off. Riley, 21, one of the Braves’ highest-rated prospects, is batting .283 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. He extended his hitting streak to nine games on Thursday with a 3-for-5, five-RBI effort that included his fourth homer in his last eight games. He has 18 bombs this season, including six he hit at the start of the year in Double-A Mississippi. Riley’s progress this season, his fourth in pro ball, was stalled by a knee injury in early June. It took a while, but he seems fully recovered now. “I think the biggest thing was trusting that my leg was 100 percent … and being able to put all my weight on it pressure-wise, whether it’s a swing or defense,” Riley said in an milb.com story. “Just being able to trust that it’s 100 percent.” Riley isn’t on the Braves’ 40-man roster – and M-Braves alum Johan Camargo is handling third base very well — so a September call-up isn’t a foregone conclusion. But Riley stands ready. “I think he’s more than capable of helping that club win right now,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill told the Gwinnett Daily Post. P.S. Former M-Braves pitcher John Gant homered for St. Louis — while also throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings to notch a win – and is now 2-for-36 in his MLB career, both hits homers. His other bomb came earlier this month and was the first since high school for the eight-year pro.
Count Hunter Renfroe among those who’ll hate to see August end. The ex-Mississippi State star has had that kind of a month for the San Diego Padres. He hit his ninth homer of August — 17th of the season — in the Padres’ 8-3 win against Seattle on Wednesday. The big outfielder is batting .299 this month with 26 RBIs. He is at .253 with 53 RBIs for the season, which included a sluggish start, an injury and a stay in the minors. One writer called Renfroe’s resurgence “astounding.” The Padres, in the throes of a rebuild, surely must like what they’ve seen of late. … Fours were wild for Billy Hamilton on Wednesday in Cincinnati’s crazy 13-12 loss to Milwaukee at Great American Ballpark. The ex-Taylorsville High standout — the recent subject of trade speculation — hit his fourth career leadoff homer, which was his fourth bomb of the season, and matched a career-high with four hits. He also scored three times, though he departed the game after a headfirst slide into home. Hamilton is batting .243 with 28 RBIs, 66 runs and 29 steals, way down from his average (58) the previous four seasons. He was caught stealing for the eighth time on Wednesday. … Drew Pomeranz, whose turn in Boston’s rotation in 2018 had been largely terrible, has fared better in the bullpen. The big lefty from Ole Miss threw a scoreless ninth in the Red Sox’s wild 14-6 win over Miami. In seven relief appearances, he has a win and a 3.97 ERA. He won just once in his 11 starts. His season ERA is still an ugly 5.89. P.S. And one more thing: Cody Reed gets his second start of 2018 today as the Reds play Milwaukee again. The Northwest Mississippi Community College product has pitched well in relief since returning from the minors (see previous post) and has a 3.68 ERA in 11 MLB games all told this season.
Yankee Stadium must be an awesome place to call home when you’re winning. On the other hand, when things aren’t going well … . The boo birds were out in force in the sixth inning on Tuesday night. The central object of their derision was Jonathan Holder, the ex-Mississippi State standout who has pitched exceedingly well of late. He hadn’t allowed a run in eight straight appearances when he replaced Lance Lynn, the former Ole Miss star, in the sixth inning with two outs, two runners on and New York down 1-0 to the awful Chicago White Sox. Holder promptly gave up two hits. Three runs scored. Yankees fans were not happy. To his credit, Holder endured. He got out of the sixth and followed with two scoreless frames. And, yes, mystique and aura showed up and the Yankees came back. Two in the sixth, two in the eighth, a walk-off homer by Neil Walker in the ninth. Yankees fans were happy. The stadium rocked. And, hey, it’s only going to get crazier from here. … Lynn, coming off two rocky starts, is 1-1 with a 3.98 ERA in his six games with the Yankees. Holder now has a 3.05 ERA in 49 appearances. P.S. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier hit his 20th homer of the year, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers, also in a fevered playoff race, beat Texas. Dozier has reached the 20-homer level in each of his last five big league seasons. He hit a grand total of 16 homers in four minor league seasons.
Jerrion Ealy, Jackson Prep’s two-sport star, checks in at No. 10 on mlb.com’s new list of the top 10 high school prospects for the 2019 draft. (Just think: It’s less than 10 months away!) The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Ealy, an outfielder who has signed with Ole Miss in football, is widely hailed for his speed. He stole 18 bases and legged out five triples at Prep this past season while hitting .364 in 77 at-bats, according to MaxPreps. Ealy participated in both the Under Armour and Perfect Game all-star contests and the East Coast Pro Showcase this summer. Perfect Game rates Ealy the No. 4 prep prospect. … Southern Miss outfielder Matt Wallner was ranked No. 8 by mlb.com on the 2019 college prospect list published last week. Wallner, a lefty hitter who also pitches, batted .351 with 16 homers for the Golden Eagles in 2018 and spent time with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League over the summer.
Tim Anderson went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs on Monday night, but ESPN analysts Tim Kurkjian and Eduardo Perez were singing the praises of the shortstop’s defense during the network’s game coverage. The former East Central Community College standout made two highlight-worthy plays in the Chicago White Sox’s 6-2 win over the New York Yankees. On the first, he went deep into the hole and made a jump-and-throw play to nail the batter at first base. On the second, playing in with a runner at third, he short-hopped a hard-hit grounder and cut down the runner at the plate. Defense has been an issue for Anderson, a relative latecomer to baseball, during his three years in the big leagues. He made 28 errors in in 145 games in 2017. But, by all accounts, he is improving. He has just 15 errors in 125 games this year and reportedly is making more plays like the ones he pulled off Monday. “He’s growing and maturing,” Perez said. “He’s a great athlete learning to play baseball,” Kurkjian said. A basketball star in high school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Anderson didn’t play baseball until his junior year. East Central was his only baseball scholarship offer. In his second year with the Warriors, he batted .495 with 10 homers and 41 steals for a state championship team and was named an NJCAA All-American. Intrigued by his raw skills, the White Sox drafted him 17th overall in 2013. There was speculation then that Anderson might have to move to center field in pro ball, but he has stuck at short. He is also making strides as an offensive threat; he’s at .249 with 17 homers, 58 RBIs and 25 steals in 2018. The White Sox have seen enough that they signed him last year through the 2022 season. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Chris Stratton threw a career-high eight innings on Monday as San Francisco shut out Arizona 2-0. Stratton (9-7, 4.99 ERA) allowed five hits, no walks and fanned six in his second straight quality start since returning from a second pit stop in the minors. … In recent MLB moves: Richton High alum JaCoby Jones has been activated from the disabled list by Detroit; Southern Miss product Cody Carroll was sent to the minors by Baltimore; former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers has landed on the DL for St. Louis; and UM alum Bobby Wahl is eligible to come off the DL for the New York Mets but there’s been no word on when that might happen.
Thanks to a run of brilliant pitching, the Mississippi Braves are enjoying a new view today. They’re on top of the Southern League South with a division title perhaps coming into focus. M-Braves pitchers have yielded exactly one run while powering a sweep of the first three games of their showdown series with Biloxi at Trustmark Park. Dominant starts from Michael Mader on Friday, Kyle Muller on Saturday and Ian Anderson on Sunday – plus quality relief work across the board – have carried the M-Braves (34-26) to a half-game lead on the Shuckers, with third-place Pensacola a game behind. Anderson, Atlanta’s No. 3 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), got his first win in three Double-A starts, going 6 2/3 innings and fanning nine in a 2-0 victory. Jason Hursh pitched the ninth for his seventh save. The Shuckers, the first-half champs in the division, are in town for two more games. Lefty Ricardo Sanchez (2-4, 4.44 ERA), who won his last start with a strong outing at Mobile, gets the ball tonight for the M-Braves. They finish with a six-game series at last-place Jacksonville. The club is chasing its fifth postseason appearance in its 14th year in Pearl. This year marks the 10th anniversary of its lone SL pennant.
Topps Baseball 2018 Series 2 Card No. 383. That card is not likely to be a hot commodity among big-time collectors, but any Mississippi baseball aficionado will get a charge out of seeing it. It’s a JaCoby Jones base card – but there’s a bonus. The card features an action shot of Jones, the young Detroit Tigers outfielder from Richton, as he rounds third base in an apparent home run trot. He is about to get a low-5 hand-slap from the Tigers’ third-base coach, Dave Clark, the former Shannon High slugger. Two Magnolia State prep legends on one card. Jones was Mr. Baseball in the state in 2010 before going off to LSU. He was a third-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2013 and debuted in the majors with the Tigers in 2016. Way back in 1980, Clark set a state record for homers with 23 at Shannon. He went on star at Jackson State and was drafted 11th overall by Cleveland in 1983. He played 13 seasons in the majors, batting .264 with 62 homers and earning a reputation as one of the game’s top pinch hitters in his heyday. He is in his fifth season as a Detroit coach. P.S. Jones, aka “Juicy J,” is currently on an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo. He is batting .204 with eight homers this season for the Tigers.
Give it up for “Bull” and “TA7” for their contributions in winning efforts on the official opening night of Players Weekend in MLB. “Fraz” had three hits Friday in a losing cause. “CC” got rocked and took a loss. “Bone” had a quiet night, and “C-Dizzle” struck out in a pinch-hit appearance. “2-Bags” sat, resting a sore knee, and “Juicy J” and “Zoombiya” are, unfortunately, on the DL. Easy to overlook was the performance by “Goggles,” who escaped a major jam to keep his club in a game it would go on to lose. “Goggles” is the nickname worn by Cody Reed, the former Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake. Working in relief for Cincinnati, the bespectacled Reed — can’t miss those thick, black rims — came on in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and one out in a 1-1 game vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field. The left-hander got Anthony Rizzo to bounce into a 1-2-3 double play on a 3-2 pitch. Reed then pitched a scoreless seventh, but the Cubs would ultimately win the game 3-2 on a David Bote walk-off homer. Reed, recently recalled from the minors, has now made three straight scoreless appearances for the Reds, cutting his season ERA to 3.95. He was a starter in Triple-A; maybe the Reds will finally give him another shot in their rotation. Nickname key: Bull is Brian Dozier, TA7 Tim Anderson, Fraz Adam Frazier, CC Cody Carroll, Bone Billy Hamilton, C-Dizzle Corey Dickerson, 2-Bags Mitch Moreland, Juicy J JaCoby Jones and Zoombiya Jarrod Dyson. (Tony Sipp, who notched a hold for Houston, is “Sipp,” in case anyone was confused.)
From a promotional standpoint, they couldn’t ask for much better than this: The Mississippi Braves, making a postseason push, play their final homestand of the season against one of the teams in front of them in the standings, that team down south, the Biloxi Shuckers. The five-game Southern League series opens tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves are 31-26, in third place in the SL South, 2.5 games behind first-place Biloxi, which won the first-half title. In the overall standings, which come into play if the Shuckers also win the second half, the M-Braves are 60-67, trailing Mobile by 3.5 games and Pensacola by 3. The M-Braves aren’t exactly surging but have won seven of their last 10. They’ve been led at the plate by Luis Valenzuela, 7-for-13 in four games at Mobile and a .287 hitter on the year, and Travis Demeritte, .323 over his last 10 games and the club leader in homers (16) and RBIs (58). Cristian Pache, the 19-year-old prospect added earlier this month, is at .311 with five extra-base hits, six RBIs and eight runs in 19 games. The brilliance of the starting rotation has been well-documented, but don’t overlook the contributions of closer Jason Hursh, who has saves in each of his last four appearances and a 2.13 ERA in 10 games. Biloxi features two of Milwaukee’s top hitting prospects, former first-round draftees Corey Ray (.242, 27 homers, 72 RBIs, 33 steals) and Keston Hiura (.278), and league ERA leader Zack Brown (2.33 with a 9-0 record). P.S. The M-Braves are averaging just over 2,200 a game (announced attendance). … The M-Braves have reached the postseason four times since the franchise relocated to Pearl in 2005, most recently in 2016. The club won its only SL pennant in 2008.
He may have been the fourth player chosen out of Mississippi in the June draft, but Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin has taken a back seat to no one on the field this summer. Sandlin is the only Mississippian drafted this year to reach the Double-A level. The right-hander, picked in the second round by Cleveland, debuted for Akron on Wednesday with – what else? – a scoreless inning. In 21 games and 20 1/3 innings spread over four levels, Sandlin has a 1.31 ERA and 30 strikeouts with just two walks. He has two wins and five saves. “He’s uber-competitive and he trusts that he’s better than any hitter that steps in the box,” Kirk McCarty, Sandlin’s former USM teammate and fellow Indians farmhand, recently told milb.com. … There were two first-rounders from the state this year but only Ryan Rolison signed. (Brandon High star J.T. Ginn is now at Mississippi State.) Left-hander Rolison, tabbed 22nd overall by Colorado out of Ole Miss, has pitched well at the rookie level: 1.96 ERA over 23 innings. Second-rounder Joe Gray, taken by Milwaukee out of Hattiesburg High, is batting .182 (.347 on-base) with two homers and nine RBIs in the Arizona League. He hasn’t played in a game since last week. Ex-State ace Konnor Pilkington (third round, Chicago White Sox) has worked just 10 innings at two rookie levels and has a 9.00 ERA. Ex-Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes (fourth round, Miami) also has scuffled, batting .212 with no homers in the Gulf Coast League. (Marlins late-rounders Davis Bradshaw and Milton Smith Jr., both Meridian Community College alums, have excelled, Bradshaw hitting .444 in short-season A-ball and Smith .343 in the GCL.) UM alum Brady Feigl, a fifth-round pick by Oakland, is currently injured but has a 1.73 ERA in 11 games at two levels. Luke Reynolds, a USM, State and Hinds CC alum, has had a solid debut season; a 10th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs, the third baseman is at .293 with a homer and 13 RBIs in 27 games at the short-season A level. Madison Central’s Regi Grace, a 10th-rounder by Minnesota, is 2-1, 2.70 in the GCL.