08 Aug

staggered

While the Atlanta Braves — and all those Mississippi Braves alumni on their roster — were getting steamrolled in New York by Buck Showalter’s Mets, the current M-Braves were getting trucked in Pearl by the rival Biloxi Shuckers. The Double-A M-Braves dropped Sunday’s series finale 6-5 at Trustmark Park, their fifth loss in the six games against Biloxi. They fell from 17-10 and first place in the Southern League South at the start of the homestand to 18-15 and second behind Montgomery. Biloxi bolted to 17-16, third place. There was an ominous sign early in Sunday’s game. With the bases full and two outs in the top of the first inning, a pop fly into left field off the bat of Biloxi’s Thomas Dillard was lost in the sun by Justyn-Henry Malloy. Two runs scored. A wild pitch made it 3-0. The M-Braves later lost another ball in the sun and had some adventurous catches in the outfield, as well. Down 6-1 in the seventh, the home club battled back but wound up with their second one-run loss in the series. They also lost two two-run games. Dillard, the former Ole Miss star, had a big series for the Shuckers, going 7-for-23 with two walks, a homer, five RBIs and four runs. He had three hits Sunday and is batting .229 (.365 on-base percentage) with nine homers and 60 RBIs on the season, his first full year in Double-A. Immediately after the game, the wounded M-Braves boarded a bus for a seven-hour trip to Kodak, Tennessee. That’s a lot of time to sit and think about what just hit them.

04 Aug

look who’s no. 1

The flurry of recent trades that involved a ton of minor league prospects made for a major reshuffling of the organizational Top 30 charts by MLB Pipeline. Mississippi Braves shortstop Vaughn Grissom jumped up to the No. 1 spot in Atlanta’s list. He is raking at a .362 clip in 17 Double-A games. Nine other current M-Braves, including some on the injured list, are in the Top 30. No. 10 is Darius Vines, a right-handed starter slated to go tonight against Biloxi at Trustmark Park. Former Smithville High star Jared Johnson is No. 23 on the Braves’ list. The right-hander is on the IL (Tommy John surgery) at Low-Class A Augusta. … There are 18 other Mississippi products in the various Top 30s. (The lists will be redone again at some point to filter in the 2022 draft picks.) Former Mississippi State stars Will Bednar (No. 4, San Francisco) and Justin Foscue (No. 4, Texas) are the highest-rated. Others of note: MSU product Jordan Westburg is Baltimore’s fifth-rated prospect; ex-DeSoto Central High standout Blaze Jordan is Boston’s No. 6; Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison is Colorado’s No. 7; Southern Miss product Matt Wallner is Minnesota’s No. 7; and former MSU star J.T. Ginn is Oakland’s No. 8. Wallner, who homered in last month’s All-Star Futures Game, has reached Triple-A. MSU product Ethan Small, Milwaukee’s No. 10, has made two big league pitching appearances this season. P.S. Lance Lynn, the veteran right-hander from Ole Miss, delivered a shot in the arm for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. In what broadcaster Steve Stone described as a “wonderful” performance, Lynn threw six innings of one-run ball to beat Kansas City 4-1. It might have been the best of his 10 starts since coming off the injured list. Pitching around a rain delay, he allowed four hits and struck out eight. Lynn is 2-4 with a 5.87 ERA, not the numbers Chicago was hoping for from him. But Wednesday’s outing surely was encouraging. … Ex-UM star Thomas Dillard hit his ninth homer of the season, helping Biloxi complete a twinbill sweep of the M-Braves at the TeePee. … Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim, at Double-A Frisco in the Texas system, went 4-for-5 and hit a pair of homers. He is batting .277 with 15 bombs and 57 RBIs.

02 Aug

coming down

For the first time in 16 days, the Mississippi Braves will take the field tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl with a team that’ll look a little different. Most notably, staff ace Jared Shuster has moved up to Triple-A Gwinnett and veteran outfielder Trey Harris has been traded. What hasn’t changed is the M-Braves’ position in the Southern League South second-half standings. They are still in first place at 17-10, 5 games north of the last-place Biloxi Shuckers, who visit for a six-game series that begins tonight. Vaughn Grissom, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect, is still around and still hitting a ton. In 15 games for the Double-A M-Braves, shortstop Grissom is batting .387 with two homers, 10 RBIs and six stolen bases. Outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy, who came up from A-ball at the same time as Grissom, is batting .268 with two homers and 10 RBIs. And slugger Drew Lugbauer is still around, as well, leading the club with 21 homers. That trio forms a pretty stout middle of the order. The team’s player of the week for last week was outfielder Justin Dean, who hit .304 with seven RBIs. He leads the team with 16 steals. The reigning pitcher of the week is Darius Vines, a rated prospect who is 6-4 with a 4.14 ERA after going 3-0, 1.17, in July. He is scheduled to start Thursday night. P.S. On Wednesday, the Hattiesburg Black Sox, champions of the Mississippi Baseball Congress State Tournament (a.k.a. the semi-pro tourney), will play an Indiana team in the opener of the 16-team NABF World Series at Battle Creek, Mich. The Black Sox’s roster includes Marcus Ragan (MVP of the state tournament) and Hinds Community College’s Vantrel Reed (tourney batting champ) plus four other all-tournament selections: ex-Mississippi College star Casey Echols, ex-Delta State standout Layne Todder, Hinds CC and Purdue alum Pablo Lanzarote and Northwest Rankin High’s Brady Thomas.

29 Jul

still grinding

In the category Best Performance by a Mississippian on a Team Going Nowhere, here’s a nominee: Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers. Ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe hit a home run and a triple off Shohei Ohtani on Thursday night in the Rangers’ 2-0 win against the Los Angeles Angels. Lowe, hitting .370 over his last seven games, is batting .276 with 15 homers and 43 RBIs for the Rangers (44-54). A 13th-round draft pick out of State back in 2016, Lowe is now in his fourth MLB campaign, second with Texas. He has 97 hits this season and his next will be his 300th total in The Show. He is a .265 career hitter. A few other praiseworthy performances from Thursday down on the farm: Ex-Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes hit two doubles and a homer, driving in six runs, for Double-A Amarillo in the Arizona system. Forbes is at .247 with seven homers. … Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard went 2-for-3 with his eighth homer for Double-A Biloxi, which got a win over Montgomery but is in last place in the Southern League South. … Davis Bradshaw, a Meridian Community College product from McLaurin, went 1-for-3 for High-A Beloit in the Miami chain and raised his average to .322. He has 23 RBIs, 23 runs and eight steals in 67 games. He is a career .302 hitter in four pro seasons. … Southern Miss alum Reed Trimble, only recently activated from the injured list, extended his hit streak to four games and is 6-for-20 (.300) for Low-A Delmarva in the Baltimore system. He was the 65th overall pick in 2021. P.S. Tyler Stuart, the 6-foot-9 right-hander from USM, has signed with the New York Mets, per mlb.com. He was a sixth-round pick. … Detroit has announced that Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central High alum, won’t pitch in the big leagues this season. The right-hander had Tommy John surgery last summer, shortly after throwing a no-hitter on May 18. He was 4-2, 2.88 ERA, in 2021 and is 11-25, 4.25, for his MLB career with the Tigers. … On this date in 1966, Clarksdale native Fred Valentine had a day: a franchise-record seven hits, including two doubles, and four RBIs in a doubleheader for the Washington Senators. He hit .247 over a seven-year career.

28 Jul

clearing ahead?

A corrective lens in his right eye may have put Joe Gray Jr. back on track in his fourth pro season. The Hattiesburg High product, a second-round pick by Milwaukee in 2018 and a highly regarded prospect in the system ever since, got off to a slow start this season at High-Class A Wisconsin. The right-handed hitting outfielder went through a miserable 1-for-48 slump in June before finally realizing something was wrong with his vision, according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gray had Lasik surgery in the off-season, but the vision in his right eye somehow got worse. “It just sucked that it took me half of the season to figure that out,” he told the Journal Sentinel. The Brewers’ No. 13 prospect was hitting .163 before getting the corrective lens; he is up to .191 as of today with a seven-game hitting streak. He has 12 home runs and 16 stolen bases. Coming off a year in which he batted .252 with 20 homers and 23 steals, Gray, only 22, had hoped to make Double-A Biloxi this season. Now that he is back to, in his words, “having fun,” he still might get that promotion before the Southern League season ends in mid-September.

21 Jul

odds and ends

A way-too-early mock draft for 2023 by MLB Pipeline has Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez going second overall to Cincinnati and former Southern Miss pitcher Hurston Waldrep ninth to the Los Angeles Angels. Waldrep reportedly has transferred to Florida. … Former Petal High star and ex-big leaguer Anthony Alford, who turned 28 on Wednesday, is batting .244 with four homers and 17 RBIs for the KT Wiz in the Korean Baseball Organization. Alford, who has played in 102 MLB games, had four at-bats with Pittsburgh this season. … Oddly coincidental: Mississippi natives Nook Logan and Craig Tatum debuted in the big leagues on this date five years apart. Logan, a Copiah-Lincoln Community College product from Natchez, went 1-for-3 in his first game for Detroit in 2004, while Hattiesburg native Tatum, a Mississippi State alum, was 0-for-2 for Cincinnati in 2009. Logan was one of three Mississippians, along with Dmitri Young and Marcus Thames, who started for the Tigers on July 21, 2004, against Kansas City. Logan hit .268 with 56 steals in 321 games over four MLB campaigns. Tatum hit .223 over parts of three seasons. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves, off to a 14-4 start in the second half of the Southern League season, return to the field on Friday at Montgomery. The M-Braves have won six straight. The Biloxi Shuckers (6-12) return on Friday against Pensacola at MGM Park. … The state semi-pro tournament is slated for this weekend at Mississippi College’s Frierson Field. The venerable Hattiesburg Black Sox are the presumptive favorites. … The Triple-A Nashville Sounds are having a Tim Dillard Bobblehead Night on July 29 and will retire the former pitcher’s number in a pregame ceremony. Dillard, a Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College alum, pitched with the Sounds for parts of nine seasons and spent parts of four years in the big leagues with Milwaukee. … On July 30, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame will formally induct ex-Delta State star Barry Lyons and Ole Miss product David Dellucci, both former major leaguers, as part of its Class of 2022.

19 Jul

all-star nuggets

The last time Dodger Stadium hosted an All-Star Game, Grenada native Dave Parker started in right field for the National League, which won 4-2 to take a 32-18-1 lead in the series. That was 1980 — and, my, how things have changed. The American League takes a 46-43-2 lead into tonight’s game. … Tim Anderson (East Central Community College) will start at shortstop for the AL and Austin Riley (DeSoto Central High) will come off the bench for the Nationals in tonight’s game, but they won’t be the only Mississippians to take the field in Los Angeles. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale, a veteran MLB umpire, will work first base in his second All-Star Game assignment. … Riley is one of five former Mississippi Braves on the NL’s active roster, joining Ronald Acuna, William Contreras, Dansby Swanson (all with Atlanta) and Freddie Freeman (now the Dodgers). Max Fried was named to the team but will not pitch. Brian Snitker, the M-Braves’ first manager in 2005, will run the NL squad. Former Biloxi Shuckers star Devin Williams of Milwaukee also is on the NL roster. … Acuna, who will start in right field and bat leadoff, hit a 472-foot bomb completely out of Dodger Stadium — a very rare feat — during Monday’s Home Run Derby. … Venerable Dodger Stadium, which formally opened in 1962, underwent a $100 million renovation in 2019-20 under the direction of Jackson native Janet Marie Smith, the club’s Senior Vice President of Planning and Development. The All-Star Game was to have been played there in 2020 but was rescheduled to this year. Smith, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, called her work “less of a renovation … than it is a reimagining of how these buildings come together.” A new plaza beyond center field makes it a more fan-friendly, fan-accessible facility. … Thirty years ago, in the 1992 All-Star Game at San Diego, former Mississippi State star Will Clark hit his only home run in six All-Star appearances. Clark, then with San Francisco, took former Jackson Mets pitcher Rick Aguilera deep for a three-run homer in the eighth inning of the AL’s 13-6 victory. Clark went 5-for-13 in All-Star Games. … Twenty years ago, in the 2002 Midsummer Classic at Milwaukee, Jackson Generals alum Freddy Garcia, then with Seattle, got the last six outs for the AL (in innings 10 and 11) in the infamous 7-7 tie that created such an inexplicable uproar. Former Gens star Lance Berkman, with Houston at the time, drove in two runs for the NL. … William and Willson Contreras are the latest brother act in the All-Star Game, a list that includes Pascagoula native Harry Walker and brother Dixie (born in Alabama) in 1947. Harry Walker started in center field and led off for the NL, with Dixie playing right and hitting second. Harry, who won a World Series with St. Louis in 1946, was traded to Philadelphia early in ’47, made the All-Star Game for the second time and went on to win the NL batting title. … Trivia time: Who was the first Mississippi native to make an All-Star Game? Ellisville’s Buddy Myer of the Washington Senators was on the AL roster for the 1935 game — the third one played — but he didn’t get on the field.

17 Jul

saturday in the park

At Trustmark Park in Pearl, Vaughn Grissom kept raking and Drew Lugbauer slugged another home run for the red-hot Double-A Mississippi Braves. Grissom, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect, hit a two-run triple to the gap in right-center and Lugbauer added his 20th homer — high off the batter’s eye in dead center field — to help the M-Braves (13-4) to a 6-2 win over Rocket City. In five games in Pearl, Grissom is batting .500 (11-for-22) with a homer and five RBIs. He hit .312 with 11 homers at High-A Rome before being promoted.
At Nationals Park in Washington, newly minted All-Star Austin Riley hit his 27th homer for Atlanta and fellow All-Star and M-Braves alum Max Fried won his 10th game as the Braves beat the Nats 6-3. Ex-DeSoto Central High standout Riley is batting .284, slugging .577 and has 61 RBIs and 54 runs in 91 games. Fried went seven innings to move to 10-3 with a 2.84 ERA.
At Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Matt Wallner, the ex-Southern Miss star, hit a two-run homer in the All-Star Futures Game. M-Braves pitcher Jared Shuster yielded a home run in to his former M-Braves batterymate Shea Langeliers, now in Oakland’s system. Langeliers was named the game’s MVP. Wallner, recently promoted to Triple-A in the Minnesota system, hit 21 homers in Double-A this season.
At SRP Park in North Augusta, S.C., Brandon Parker, the Saucier native and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product, hit his seventh homer for Low-A Augusta in Atlanta’s system and boosted his average to .282 (.333 in July) with a two-hit game. Parker hit .185 at Augusta in 2021.
P.S. Kudos to Team USA and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco for a bronze medal finish in an international tournament in The Netherlands. Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez hit .250 with a homer and four RBIs, Rebels teammate Hunter Elliott posted a 1.31 ERA in two games and Southern Miss’ Tanner Hall won his lone start. … Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Devin Williams, now a set-up reliever in Milwaukee, reportedly has been added to the National League All-Star team. Fellow Shuckers alum Josh Hader, the Brewers’ closer, was picked but elected not to participate.

28 Jun

starting fresh

The Mississippi Braves, no doubt happy to put the first half behind them, and Biloxi Shuckers face off tonight at MGM Park to begin the second half of the Southern League season. The M-Braves lost 17 of their last 23 games to finish 29-40, last in the four-team SL South. With Michael Harris II gone to Atlanta at the end of May, the Double-A M-Braves have struggled to produce runs, scoring just 62 in June so far. No other team in the league has scored fewer than 103 this month. The Shuckers, on the other hand, have been an offensive juggernaut in June, scoring 156 runs. They won seven of their last 10 to finish the first half at 34-33, second place in the division. Aiming to quell the Shuckers’ attack and start the second half on a high note, the M-Braves will start Atlanta No. 9 prospect Jared Shuster (4-7, 3.53 ERA) in Game 1 of the six-game series. Biloxi’s hottest hitter has been Cam Devanney (.291), who’ll take a 19-game hitting streak into tonight’s game. Ole Miss alum Thomas Dillard is batting .227 with five homers for the Shuckers. Andrew Moritz was named the M-Braves’ player of the week for last week after batting .416 with five RBIs in six games. He’s at .268 for the year. The M-Braves count on the power of Drew Lugbauer (15 homers) and C.J. Alexander (12) for much of their offense. … The Shuckers will honor Pearl River Community College’s national championship team in pregame ceremonies tonight. P.S. Ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner and DeSoto Central High product Blaze Jordan were named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week for June 20-26. Wallner, playing for Minnesota’s Double-A Wichita club, went 9-for-21 with three homers, six RBIs, seven runs and six walks; he has 16 bombs on the season. Jordan went 12-for-24 with two homers, five RBIs and five runs for Boston’s Low-Class A Salem team; he is hitting .311 with eight homers for the season. Other notable performances last week, per MLB Pipeline: Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, Jr., had a two-homer game for High-A Wisconsin in Milwaukee’s system, boosting his total to nine. He’s batting .177, so a promotion to Biloxi isn’t likely anytime soon. … Mississippi State product Jordan Westburg had a five-hit game for Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore’s system. He is batting .366 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 16 games for the Tides. … Former Itawamba Community College standout Tyreque Reed, having a rough year (.202) at Double-A Portland (Boston), broke up a no-hitter in the seventh inning against Richmond last Friday.

21 Jun

magic in the air

There was magic in Omaha, where Ole Miss dispatched Arkansas 13-5 Monday night and is, to borrow a phrase from Hall of Famer Red Barber, sitting in the catbird seat at 2-0 in its bracket of the College World Series. Another strong start from Hunter Elliott, another home run from Tim Elko and a four-hit, four-run game from Justin Bench carried the Rebels to their seventh straight postseason victory. They are riding a wave that began on Selection Monday, when the NCAA handed them a regional bid that was far from certain. As coach Mike Bianco recently said, “When our name was called — I’ve been there for 21 of these and 18 times our name was called — I don’t remember any of those 18 times ever seeing that type of emotion from our team.”
Former Rebels star Lance Lynn, perhaps drawing on the Omaha vibe, went five innings (three runs) to launch the Chicago White Sox to an 8-7 win over Toronto. It was Lynn’s second start of 2022 after a long stint on the injured list. Former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman, who knows a little bit about Omaha (see 2013), also got in on the act for the White Sox, throwing a scoreless eighth inning for his 13th hold.
There was some magic, too, in Atlanta, where Orlando Arcia, one of the original Biloxi Shuckers, delivered a game-winning hit for the surging Braves, scoring pinch-runner Phil Gosselin, a Mississippi Braves star from 10 years ago, with the clincher in a 2-1 win against San Francisco. Arcia, the fill-in for Ozzie Albies at second base, is batting .338 this season with 13 RBIs and two walk-offs. Gosselin, called up when Albies was injured, was originally drafted by the Braves and bounced through six other organizations before returning this year.