A wrist injury cost Matt Wallner some valuable time this season. The former Southern Miss star will get to make up some of the missed at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, which starts Oct. 13. Wallner, Minnesota’s 14th-rated prospect by mlb.com, is one of five Mississippi products bound for the AFL, a sort of select league for top minor leaguers. Grae Kessinger, Justin Foscue, James McArthur and Joe Gray Jr. also merited AFL assignments from their respective organizations, as did Shea Langeliers and several other Mississippi Braves alumni. Wallner, a lefty-hitting outfielder, hit .265 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 66 games in High-A ball in the Twins’ system; he’ll play for Scottsdale. Ole Miss alum Kessinger, an infielder, batted .209 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and 12 steals in Double-A for Houston. The Astros’ No. 23 prospect will play for Glendale. Ex-Mississippi State standout Foscue, another infielder, batted .275 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in three levels of Texas’ system. The 2020 draftee is rated the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect; he’s bound for Surprise. McArthur, a right-hander out of Ole Miss, went 2-6 with a 4.48 ERA for Philadelphia’s Double-A club. A 2018 draftee, he’ll pitch for Peoria. Gray, an outfielder from Hattiesburg High, hit .252 with 20 homers, 90 RBIs and 23 steals in A-ball in a long-awaited breakout season in Milwaukee’s chain. The Brewers’ No. 9 prospect is assigned to Salt River. … Langeliers, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, hit 22 homers and was a stalwart behind the plate for the Double-A South champion M-Braves. He’s on Peoria’s roster.
Mississippi native Norm Bass is one of the select few – roughly 70 – who have played both major league baseball and pro football. Born in Laurel in 1939 and raised in California, Bass spent parts of three seasons (1961-63) in the majors as a pitcher with the Kansas City A’s and then played defensive back in the AFL in 1964 with the Denver Broncos. But Bass did not stop there. Arthritis curtailed his ability to perform in baseball and football, so he turned to table tennis and became a prominent player on the international scene. He medaled in the 2000 Paralympics and is in the Table Tennis Hall of Fame. Bass, whose brother Dick was also a pro football player and Mississippi native, posted a 13-17 record with a 5.32 ERA in 65 MLB games. (He allowed one of Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961.) In a wonderful profile on Bass in an online publication called Sports Stories, the writer says, “No athlete I can think of has had a career like Norm Bass.” A film about his life reportedly was in the works in 2020.
Kirk McCarty’s work is complete in the Arizona Fall League, and it was a job well done. The ex-Southern Miss standout, in his third year in Cleveland’s system, finished 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA over 24 innings for Mesa in the prospect-filled AFL. The little left-hander struck out 19 and walked just six. In his final start on Monday, McCarty threw five shutout innings, reportedly displaying command of four pitches. “It’s good to build a lot of confidence back up going into the off-season,” he told mlb.com. “It’s absolutely vital to end on a good note.” McCarty got a late start on his 2019 season because of a minor injury and wound up 3-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 13 starts for high Class A Lynchburg. A seventh-round pick in 2017, the Oak Grove High product – a state champion as a senior in baseball and football (as a quarterback) – is 10-20 with a 4.12 ERA in his pro career. There are 12 pitchers – including USM product Nick Sandlin – currently listed among the Indians’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline and McCarty is not among them. At age 24, he needs to build on his AFL success with a strong 2020 season to stay on Cleveland’s radar.
October isn’t only for playoffs. There’s also the Arizona Fall League, a de facto select circuit for minor league players. It’s a feather in the cap to get an invite. The preliminary rosters for the AFL, which starts Oct. 9, include several Mississippi-connected players: Ole Miss product Errol Robinson, a shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system; ex-Delta State star Trent Giambrone, a second baseman in the Chicago Cubs’ system; Petal High alum Demarcus Evans, a pitcher in the Texas chain; former Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker, a first baseman/outfielder in Minnesota’s organization; Mississippi Braves outfielder Cristian Pache and shortstop Ray-Patrick Didder; and Biloxi Shuckers infielder Keston Hiura. The most intriguing member of this bunch might be the 21-year-old Evans, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander who has dominated in low-A ball this summer. Working as a closer at Hickory in the South Atlantic League, Evans has struck 101 batters in 55 innings with just 27 walks. He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and nine saves. He’ll face much better competition in the AFL, so it’ll be extremely interesting to see how he fares. He is on the Surprise roster. … Robinson, Giambroni and Rooker are all in Double-A. Giambroni, a 25th-round draft pick in 2016, has had an emergent season, batting .254 with 17 homers and 26 steals. Rooker has hit 22 bombs in his second pro season, while Robinson, a third-year pro, has 10 homers and 18 steals. Pache, a top Atlanta prospect, Didder and Hiura will be together on the Peoria club. P.S. Arizona has sent Jarrod Dyson on a rehab assignment, meaning the McComb native may be close to returning from his long stint on the disabled list.
Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss star from Picayune, went 3-for-5 in Thursday’s regular season finale to finish at .347, good for seventh in the Arizona Fall League batting race. Playing for Salt River, the Miami prospect had eight steals, which ranked fourth in the league. … Peoria takes on Mesa in Saturday’s AFL championship game (2 p.m., MLB Network). Peoria, managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar, features a bunch of M-Braves alumni, most notably ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and uber-prospect Ronald Acuna. Riley hit .300 with six homers. Acuna batted .325 and led the loop with seven bombs. Spencer Turnbull and Zac Houston, both Detroit farmhands, are on Mesa’s roster. Turnbull, a Madison Central product, went 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA as a starter. Houston, a Mississippi State alum, had a stellar AFL campaign: no runs allowed on four hits with 18 strikeouts and one walk in 11 1/3 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) was also outstanding: 0.00 ERA, league-best four saves and 18 K’s in 11 2/3 innings for Scottsdale. … Former Harrison Central standout Bobby Bradley, at 21 one of the younger players in the league, mostly scuffled, batting .230 with two homers and 32 strikeouts for Glendale. Bradley is one of Cleveland’s top prospects. … Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass (Los Angeles Angels), a late add to Scottsdale’s roster, went 1-for-24.
He won the Southern League batting title, made the league’s postseason All-Star team and was named the best defensive outfielder by SL managers. He received a coveted spot in the Arizona Fall League and through five games there is batting .500, including a 3-for-4 effort on Thursday. Oh, and he took a few days off last week to return to Mississippi and get married. Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss standout from Picayune, is riding the wave, as the saying goes. Lee was a 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014 and was traded to Miami this past summer in the midst of a breakout year. After scuffling in Double-A in 2016, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound lefty hitter batted .309 this season with 81 runs and 20 stolen bases in 127 games split between Montgomery and Jacksonville. He has shown no sign of letdown in the AFL. What’s next? “I’m hoping I’ll be a big league invite (to Marlins spring camp) where I’ll be there and they can see me play and see what they think of me,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald.
Alex Jackson, who made a nice impression in a 30-game stint with the Mississippi Braves this summer, is back at it in the Arizona Fall League. The 21-year-old catcher went 4-for-5 with a home run on Wednesday as Peoria beat Surprise 6-4. Jackson is hitting .381 with two homers and seven RBIs in five AFL games. He is one of several 2017 M-Braves on the Peoria club – and one who might be back in Pearl in 2018. In his first year in the Braves’ system, the former first-round draft pick (Seattle, 2014) moved from the outfield to catcher, his high school position. “I enjoy being back behind the plate, it’s fun,” Jackson said in an mlb.com story. Jackson batted .255 with five homers for the M-Braves; he hit .272 with 14 bombs at high Class A Florida before moving to Double-A. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back with the M-Braves next April, continuing to hone his catching skills. Jared James, a lefty-hitting outfielder, and right-handed starter Touki Toussaint are two other possible returnees for the 2018 M-Braves who have also put up good numbers in the highly competitive AFL. James is 4-for-12 and Toussaint has eight strikeouts in four scoreless innings.
After making a strong finish in his 2017 season, Cody Carroll got off to a similar start in his Arizona Fall League debut on Tuesday. The ex-Southern Miss star worked two scoreless innings to notch the save in Scottsdale’s 7-4 win against Mesa. Drafted in 2015 by the New York Yankees, 6-foot-5 right-hander Carroll reached Double-A this summer and posted a 2.66 ERA with five saves in 39 games at Trenton. Carroll did not allow an earned run over his last eight appearances, registering four saves and a win. He has a 2.73 ERA in 79 career pro games with 205 strikeouts in 184 1/3 innings. … Elsewhere in the AFL, which opened on Tuesday, four 2017 Mississippi Braves pitchers combined for 16 strikeouts in eight innings in Peoria’s 4-3 victory over Glendale. Max Fried, who made it to Atlanta this summer, fanned seven in three innings. Touki Toussaint, Josh Graham and Corbin Clouse joined Fried in the punchout parade. Among their victims was former Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley (a Cleveland prospect), who went 0-for-4 with three K’s for Glendale. DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, also a 2017 M-Brave, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts for Peoria. Picayune native Braxton Lee (Miami), who played at Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss, was 1-for-4 with a run for Salt River, which beat Surprise 4-3.
It’s opening day in the Arizona Fall League, which is sort of a select circuit for minor league prospects. Peoria, which hosts Glendale today, is managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar and features several M-Braves players from this past season. Most notable among that group are Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout; Ronald Acuna, Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect; Max Fried, today’s scheduled starter; and Alex Jackson. Ex-Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley (Cleveland) is on the Glendale roster. Southern Miss alum Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) pitches for Scottsdale, which is hosting Mesa. On Mesa’s roster are Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull and ex-Mississippi State standout Zac Houston, both Detroit farmhands. Former Ole Miss star Braxton Lee (Miami) plays for Salt River, which visits Surprise. Delta State product Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay) is on the Saguaros’ pitching staff. The AFL season runs through Nov. 16. P.S. Boston was knocked out of the American League playoffs by Houston on Monday, but ex-State standout Mitch Moreland went down swinging. Moreland, in perhaps his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform, was 5-for-13 (.385) with two doubles in the four games, raising his career postseason average to .236 (26-for-110).
Four current Mississippi Braves are scheduled for duty in the Arizona Fall League, according to an mlb.com report. Outfielder Kyle Wren, shortstop Daniel Castro and pitchers Ryne Harper and Brandon Cunniff are on the early roster for Peoria. The prospect-packed AFL begins on Oct. 7. Also slated for the league are ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe, now in Double-A for San Diego, and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, in Double-A for the Chicago White Sox. Anderson hit his first Double-A home run on Tuesday night at Trustmark Park. Wren, son of Atlanta GM Frank Wren, is batting .262 with 11 steals in 52 games for the M-Braves. Castro is at .277 in 47 games. Harper is 8-5 with a 2.65 ERA in 46 relief appearances, and Cunniff has a 2.13 in 32 games. Two former M-Braves, right-hander Aaron Northcraft — having a good year at Triple-A Gwinnett — and third baseman/outfielder Edward Salcedo — having a rough year at Gwinnett — also are on the Peoria roster. M-Braves second baseman Jose Peraza, hitting .341 but currently on the disabled list, is reportedly going to play in his native Venezuela this winter instead of in the AFL.