01 Feb

looking ahead

A familiar visage will occupy the third-base coaching box during Mississippi Braves’ home games this season. Atlanta’s Double-A club announced Friday that Chris Maloney, a natural fit for the Pearl-based club, will return for a third season as M-Braves manager. Maloney grew up in Jackson and played at old St. Joseph High and Mississippi State; in 22 years as a minor league skipper, he has won 1,481 games. Ex-big leaguer Einar Diaz will serve as hitting coach; David Chavarria, son of an ex-big leaguer, will be the pitching coach; and Nestor Perez Jr. will be the third coach. So, with the field staff situation settled, the focus turns to players. Who’ll be in Pearl in 2020? The highest rated position player prospect likely will be catcher William Contreras, No. 8 in MLB Pipeline’s ranking of Atlanta’s top 30. Contreras, younger brother of the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras, made his Double-A debut last summer and batted .246 with three homers in 60 games. Like his brother, he has good defensive skills. Also likely to return from the 2019 club are outfielders Trey Harris and Greyson Jenista, third baseman C.J. Alexander and shortstop Braden Shewmake, all top 30 prospects. Shewmake, a 2019 first-round draftee from Texas A&M and the No. 9 prospect, arrived in Mississippi very late in the season and played in just 14 games. He hit .300 in A-ball. Jenista, ranked 11th in the system, is a big lefty hitter who batted .243 with five homers in 74 Double-A games. Harris, rated No. 18, hit .282 in 41 games for the M-Braves after a late promotion. He batted .323 with 14 homers over three levels and was named Atlanta’s minor league batter of the year. Alexander, No. 19, started 2019 with the M-Braves but was injured much of the year, batting .103 in 24 games. At second base, No. 24 prospect Riley Delgado figures to be a candidate after batting .282 at high Class A Florida. The third outfielder could be Jefrey Ramos. Rated No. 28 in the system, he hit .241 with nine homers and 56 RBIs at the advanced A level. Drew Lugbauer, who mashed 16 homers for the Florida Fire Frogs, is a possible first baseman for 2020, with Braxton Davidson, out all of 2019 after a 20-homer season at Florida in ‘18, also in the mix there. The pitching staff could include two top 15 prospects: Jaseel de la Cruz and Freddie Tarnok. De la Cruz went 4-7, 3.83 ERA for the M-Braves last summer. The team’s 16th season at Trustmark Park launches on April 9.

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