01 Sep

good, bad and ugly

Yes, it was a Clint Eastwood/spaghetti Western kinda day for Mississippians in the majors. To wit:
Good: Brandon Woodruff threw six strong innings for Milwaukee in a 6-2 win Tuesday night at San Francisco in a matchup of first-place teams. Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, allowed five hits, three walks and one run with eight strikeouts in running his record to 9-7. He has 15 starts this season in which he has gone at least six innings and allowed one run or fewer. The win was the Brewers’ second straight against the Giants, who lead all National League clubs with an 84-48 mark. “Coming in here and winning the first two is huge against essentially the best team in baseball,” Woodruff said in an Associated Press article.
Bad: Ole Miss product Lance Lynn and former State star Mitch Moreland, both playing for postseason contenders, landed on the 10-day injured list. Lynn, who has 10 wins for the Chicago White Sox, has a knee problem but is expected to miss just one start for the first-place club. Moreland, who has struggled (.227) much of the season for Oakland, has a wrist injury (tendinitis) that had sidelined him since Aug. 26. He could be down for a while.
Ugly: Ex-State standout Kendall Graveman, facing the player he was traded for last month, gave up a grand slam that sunk Houston in a 4-0 loss to American League West rival Seattle. Capping an eight-pitch at-bat, Abraham Toro turned around a 98-mph sinker in the pivotal bottom of the eighth inning. “It’s crazy how this game, things work out and things line up …,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told mlb.com. Graveman (5-1), who retired just one of the five batters he faced, had allowed only five earned runs in 41 previous appearances (44 innings) with Seattle and then Houston. His ERA jumped to 1.79.

31 Aug

opportunity knocks

Mississippi college products Jordan Westburg, Reed Trimble and Anthony Servideo are part of what MLB Pipeline rates as the strongest farm system among major league clubs. Baltimore also has the worst record in the majors, which for the state trio could mean there is great opportunity for quick advancement. Westburg, a shortstop out of Mississippi State, was the 30th overall draft pick in 2020 and is rated the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect. He’s in Double-A. Servideo, a shortstop from Ole Miss, was picked in Round 3 in 2020 and is rated No. 27, while Southern Miss alum Trimble, a supplemental pick following Round 2 this year, checks in at No. 21. All three would appear to be at least two years away from the majors. Atlanta’s system is rated 23rd, though there are four overall top 100 prospects in the organization. Much of the Braves’ young talent already is in the big leagues. Former Smithville High right-hander Jared Johnson is No. 30 in the Braves’ chain. Milwaukee is No. 25. MSU alum Ethan Small (5), Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, Jr. (9) and ex-UM standout Thomas Dillard (25) are ranked in the Brewers’ Top 30. P.S. MSU product J.P. France, who threw seven shutout innings (one hit, nine strikeouts) for Sugar Land last Friday, was named the Triple-A West’s pitcher of the week. France, a 2018 draftee, is 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA for Houston’s top affiliate. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Brady Feigl made his Triple-A debut Monday for Oakland’s Las Vegas club, yielding two runs with five punchouts in 4 2/3 innings. Feigl, a 2018 draftee and the A’s No. 23 prospect, was 7-7, 3.96 in Double-A. Ex-State standout Ben Bracewell, an eighth-year pro, got the save in Las Vegas’ win over Oklahoma City; he has two saves, four wins, eight holds and a 4.18 ERA for the Aviators.

26 Aug

pitching in

Talk about your daunting tasks. Ole Miss product Chris Ellis got the ball Wednesday for his first start for his new team, the Baltimore Orioles, who happened to have lost 19 straight games. The opposing pitcher was none other than the modern-day Babe Ruth, Shohei Ohtani, who was also batting leadoff for the visiting Los Angeles Angels. So, of course, the Orioles won 10-6 in a Camden Yards slugfest. Ellis, in just his third MLB appearance, held his own. In three-plus innings, he allowed three runs. He struck out Ohtani both times he faced him. Ohtani was lifted after five innings, having allowed a career-high three homers and four runs. The O’s rallied against the L.A. bullpen. The atmosphere in the winner’s clubhouse was described as “electric.” … The honor of best pitching performance of the night by a Mississippian has to go to Brandon Woodruff. The ex-Mississippi State standout threw six shutout innings, fanning 10 and walking none, in Milwaukee’s 4-1 win vs. Cincinnati. Woodruff, now 8-7, had not won since June 29, despite pitching relatively well for the first-place Brewers. “I would say that Woodruff right there, that’s about as good of stuff as you’re going to have,” Reds manager David Bell told mlb.com. … Worthy of a shout-out also is State alum Kendall Graveman, who worked a clean inning and notched a win for Houston in its 6-5, 10-inning defeat of Kansas City. In 40 games between Seattle and Houston, Graveman is 5-0 with four holds, 10 saves (in 12 opps) and a 1.02 ERA. P.S. Jonathan Holder, out all season with a shoulder issue, may be close to making his Chicago Cubs debut. The 28-year-old reliever out of MSU made a rehab appearance at Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday.

23 Aug

around the horn

Not so long ago, New York Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star, was on a hot seat, as was manager Aaron Boone. For the better part of three months, the club struggled to score, foundering with runners in scoring position, frequently striking out or hitting into double plays. Well, that seems like ancient history now. The Yankees, finally fit and fortified with new additions to the lineup, are sizzling hot as they head into Truist Park in Atlanta, where the eyes of the baseball world will be on a two-game series between the hottest teams in the game. Both have won nine straight. The Yankees have climbed to 72-52, second in the American League East. The Braves are 68-56, first in the National League East. … Atlanta’s Mississippi connection, third baseman Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, is batting .342 during the win streak, with four homers, six RBIs and nine runs. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman, now with Houston, faced his former team, Seattle, for the first time on Sunday. He gave up a run in his one inning but maintained the lead, which the Astros later squandered en route to a 6-3, extra-inning loss. Graveman has allowed two runs in nine innings for the Astros; he had a 0.82 ERA in 30 appearances for the Mariners. Graveman was upset when Seattle traded him in late July. … In his third game at Low-A Salem, former DeSoto Central star Blaze Jordan hit his second homer, this one a grand slam. The first-year pro is 3-for-11 for Salem after hitting .362 with four homers for Boston’s Florida Complex League team. … Just in time for the start of fall classes, Alcorn State has hired a new coach. Reggie Williams, a former major league outfielder, was named last Friday to fill the post previously held by Brett Richardson. He was not retained after a 7-20 season. Williams is a Southern University alum who played in the big leagues in the 1980s. He previously worked as an instructor and coach in the Cincinnati and Milwaukee organizations and was also an educator in the Memphis school system. Three of the state’s HBCUs will have new coaches in 2022. Stanley Stubbs moves from Rust College to Mississippi Valley State, and John Bates was promoted from Stubbs’ staff to replace him as Bearcats coach. … Three Mississippians were on the West roster for Sunday’s Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego: outfielder Emaarion “Mari” Boyd of South Panola, outfielder Dakota Jordan of Jackson Academy and catcher Ross Highfill of Madison Central. All are 2022 seniors. The West was no-hit by the East in a 9-1 defeat at Petco Park.

31 Jul

smooth moves

He didn’t want to leave Seattle, but Kendall Graveman made himself right at home in Houston’s bullpen on Friday night. In his Astros debut, the former Mississippi State standout retired all four batters he faced, striking out the side in the eighth inning, to help Houston beat San Francisco 9-6 in a clash of first-place teams. Graveman lowered his ERA to a ridiculous 0.79. He has yielded only 15 hits in 34 1/3 innings this season. He has four wins, 10 saves and five holds. MLB Network’s Tom Verducci called Houston’s acquisition of Graveman “a big-time move” and raved about his stuff, particularly the movement on his power sinker. Graveman was upset about leaving the Mariners, still a wild card contender in the American League, but with the Astros he’ll have a much more legitimate chance at making the World Series. P.S. A move up to Triple-A has gone smoothly for Ole Miss product Nick Fortes. A catcher now in his third pro season, Fortes is 5-for-11 with two home runs and five RBIs in three games at Jacksonville in Miami’s system. He was batting .251 with three homers in 57 games at Double-A Pensacola. … Bidding for a move up is ex-State star Justin Foscue, who hit his 11th home run Friday in 24 games at High-A Hickory. He was a 2020 draft pick by Texas. … Foscue’s former keystone partner in Starkville, Jordan Westburg, also homered Friday for High-A Aberdeen (Baltimore) and is batting .303 with seven bombs and 37 RBIs in 49 games. He began his first pro season in Low-A. … Ex-Bulldogs lefty Christian MacLeod has signed with Minnesota, becoming the last of the 12 2021 draft picks out of state schools to join a pro club. Former Jackson Prep star Will Warren, drafted by the New York Yankees out of Southeastern Louisiana, also has signed.

28 Jul

star quality

Charlie Morton, the veteran Atlanta pitcher, gives an endearing assessment of Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum and current Braves third baseman. “He’s easy to root for,” Morton said in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story. “He’s great in the clubhouse. Just an all-around really good dude.” Riley also has become an all-around really good player, a blossoming star, in fact. The 24-year-old, third-year big leaguer smacked two home runs, one a grand slam, and drove in six runs to power the Braves to a 12-5 win against the first-place New York Mets on Tuesday night at CitiField. The two homers went deep into the left-field seats and covered a combined 850 feet-plus. “The power’s unbelievable,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told The Associated Press. “He’s still figuring things out. … Still a lot of upside in this guy.” Riley is batting .288 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs. Over the last 15 days, mostly spent in the cleanup spot, Riley is batting .372 (second among all MLB third basemen) with 16 hits (first), a .791 slugging percentage (first), five homers (tied for the most) and 14 RBIs (first). And, he hasn’t made an error since June 20. P.S. Adam Frazier fit seamlessly into San Diego’s lineup on Tuesday, going 2-for-5 and scoring twice as the leadoff batter (and left fielder) in a 7-4 win over Oakland. The 2021 All-Star out of Mississippi State was traded on Monday from Pittsburgh. Frazier is hitting .325. … Former MSU standout Kendall Graveman, traded from Seattle to Houston in the midst of a series between the two American League West rivals, was in an Astros uniform but did not pitch in Tuesday’s game, an 8-6 Houston win. Graveman, a bit surprised by the trade, got visibly emotional in a TV interview discussing the move. The right-handed reliever is 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA and 10 saves. … Ex-State star Nate Lowe stuffed the stat sheet in helping Texas stop a 12-game losing streak with a 5-4 win against Arizona. Lowe, batting .251 with the Rangers, had two hits, a walk, two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. … And down in Double-A, the Mississippi Braves, powered by a club-record seven homers, stopped an eight-game skid with a resounding 9-3 win at Pensacola. Shea Langeliers, who could be Atlanta’s catcher next season, hit two bombs, raising his season total to 17.

06 May

put it on the board

The key for Matt Wallner, as it is for many power-hitting prospects, is making enough contact for the power to play. The former Southern Miss standout made contact in three of his four at-bats on Wednesday night for High-A Cedar Rapids – and the results were very good. Wallner, Minnesota’s No. 13-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, went 3-for-4 with two home runs and a career-best six RBIs. He has 10 homers – and 82 strikeouts — over his 67-game pro career. The 6-foot-5, left-handed-hitting outfielder tied the USM single-season record for homers in 2019 with 23 and finished his three years in Hattiesburg with a school-record 58. … It was a big night for big flies among Mississippians in the minors. Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, back in Triple-A for Minnesota, hit one out for St. Paul. The Twins’ No. 12 prospect is 3-for-29 with one homer in eight big league games this season. Ex-Ole Miss star Grae Kessinger homered for Double-A Corpus Christi in Houston’s system. Columbia High product Ti’Quan Forbes went deep for Birmingham (Chicago White Sox) in its season-opening win over Biloxi in the Double-A South. He also stole a base and committed an error at third base. And at the White Sox’s Low-A Kannapolis club, former Loyd Star standout James Beard, known more for his speed than his power, hit a grand slam. … Also of note: Ole Miss alum Nick Fortes, in his Double-A debut, had two hits for Pensacola (Miami Marlins) in its 2-1 win against Mississippi in the M-Braves’ home opener. Former Ole Miss standout Anthony Servideo and ex-State star Jordan Westburg made their pro debuts for Low-A Delmarva (Baltimore Orioles) in a doubleheader against Salem. Servideo was 1-for-5 with four walks, Westburg 2-for-8 with an RBI.

18 Apr

remember the time

There was no joy in Jackson when the New York Mets moved their Double-A team to the Eastern League after the 1990 season, ending the team’s 16-year stay. But jubilation was back at Smith-Wills Stadium on April 17, 1991, when the Generals – the Houston Astros’ Double-A team – made their home debut. Before an announced crowd of 3,571, the Gens beat Shreveport 3-2 on Rusty Harris’ pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth inning. Hard to believe it’s been 30 years. … Managed by Rick Sweet, the ex-big league catcher, the ’91 Generals were a talented club. Three members of the original starting rotation made the big leagues: Shane Reynolds, Jeff Juden and Chris Gardner. Todd Jones, a later addition to the rotation, developed into a top-drawer closer in the majors. Minor league veteran Joe Mikulik was the team’s best hitter, batting .293 with 15 homers and 94 RBIs. He never made the big leagues but gained some measure of fame as a minor league manager. (Look him up.) Catcher Tony Eusebio (.261) was the first General to get the call to The Show, and he enjoyed a nice career. Second baseman Trent (Trenidad) Hubbard, shortstop Orlando Miller and pitcher Brian Williams are other 1991 alums who made it to MLB. The roster also included Lance “Bam-Bam” Madsen, Scott Makarewicz, Bert Hunter, Willie Ansley, Howard Prager and Richie Simon. The team finished with a winning record overall (70-66) but did not make the playoffs. Two years later, the Gens won a Texas League championship. Three years after that, they claimed another. Three years after that, they played their final game at Smith-Wills before the TL franchise, having been sold (to a group that included Nolan Ryan), moved to Texas.

04 Apr

anniversaries

Twenty years ago, Roy Oswalt, a 25th-round draft pick, began a big league career that stands among the best of any Mississippi-born player. A Holmes Community College alumnus from Weir, Oswalt debuted for Houston on May 6, 2001, working an inning against Montreal. He picked up the first of his 163 career wins on May 14, beating Cincinnati in another relief outing. On June 2, he made his first start and beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. Oswalt would pitch 13 years in The Show, making three All-Star Games, winning an ERA title and leading the Astros to their first World Series berth in 2005. The lean right-hander finished in the top six in Cy Young voting six times. Only one other Magnolia State native, Guy Bush, won more games than Oswalt. Other debut anniversaries of note occurring this season: Ninety years ago, brothers Gee and Hub Walker of Gulfport reached the majors, debuting on back-to-back days in April as the leadoff batter for Detroit. Gee went 1-for-4, Hub 3-for-5. Gee batted .294 over a long career, Hub .263 over a much shorter one. … Seventy years ago, Bob “The Rope” Boyd of Potts Camp and Sam Hairston from Crawford, both former Negro Leagues stars, got their first taste of the majors. Hairston is the patriarch of MLB’s first black three-generation family. … Sixty years ago, Silver City’s Jack Reed broke in with the New York Yankees; he played only 28 games that season but had a front-row seat in September as Roger Maris chased down Babe Ruth’s home run record. … Ten years ago, Louis Coleman, from Greenwood by way of LSU, debuted with Kansas City and went on to post a 3.51 ERA over seven MLB seasons (264 games) as a reliever.

24 Nov

reeling in the years

From the Where Did the Time Go Dept.: Charlie Morton, who has signed with Atlanta for 2021, pitched for the Mississippi Braves in 2007, the Double-A club’s third year in Pearl. The 37-year-old right-hander is the lone player from any of those first three teams still in the majors. A somber reminder of what a fleeting thing a pro baseball career truly is. The ’07 M-Braves’ roster also included Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Jo-Jo Reyes, Brandon Jones, Joey Devine and Brent Lillibridge, among other future big leaguers. Managed by Phillip Wellman, the ’07 M-Braves made the Southern League playoffs for the first time. Morton was not a real standout that year, going 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA mostly as a reliever, but he did throw a gem in the playoffs. He debuted with Atlanta in 2008, then was traded the next year. Morton’s MLB career really didn’t take off until 2017, when he helped Houston win the World Series. He nearly won another ring with Tampa Bay this season. He can help the Braves in what likely will be his final season.