Mitch Moreland, who spent parts of four seasons in a Red Sox uniform, returned to Boston Tuesday as a member of the Oakland A’s and got a standing ovation as he dug in for his first at-bat. Before the series between the two division leaders began, the former Mississippi State star from Amory was showered with high praise from the other clubhouse. “Mitch is a good player, man, and a great person, and what he brought to the equation in the clubhouse was kind of like a sense of calmness, you know?” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in a story on nesn.com. “He’s one of my favorites, to be honest with you.” Moreland helped Cora and the Red Sox win a World Series in 2018. Cora said the left-handed hitting first baseman “was probably one of the most important players that we had in ’18.” Moreland went 1-for-4 in Tuesday’s game as the A’s took a 3-2 win. He is batting .220 with four homers and 15 RBIs as Oakland’s primary DH. A 12-year veteran, Moreland is a .251 career hitter with 180 homers and, befitting his “2-Bags” nickname, 210 doubles. P.S. Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl is on a rehab assignment with the Biloxi Shuckers, Milwaukee’s Double-A affiliate, and likely will pitch in this week’s series against the Mississippi Braves. The oft-injured Wahl has pitched in 17 MLB games over parts of three seasons stretching back to 2017. He was a fifth-round pick by Oakland in 2013.
A Mississippi product took the field in each of the five big league games played on Monday night. Only one enjoyed a postgame celebration. Mike Mayers, the former Ole Miss standout, worked a clean eighth inning and earned his sixth hold in the Los Angeles Angels’ gritty 5-4 win against Houston. Pitching for the third straight day and 18th time this season, Mayers trimmed his ERA to 4.58. Three Mississippi State alumni were on the losing side: Adam Frazier went 1-for-3 in Pittsburgh’s 14-1 loss to Cincinnati, Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-3 in Boston’s 4-1 loss to Baltimore and Nate Lowe put up a 1-for-3 in Texas’ 3-1 defeat against San Francisco. And ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a 1-for-4 in Miami’s 5-2 loss to Arizona. … Dickerson’s average slipped to .316, but he still leads all Mississippians in the majors in batting; Frazier is at .308. P.S. In the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers begin a six-game series at MGM Park tonight. It’s the Shuckers’ home opener. Lefty Hayden Deal (0-1, 1.80), the M-Braves’ opening day starter, is expected to get the nod in Game 1. Former State star Ethan Small is likely to start in the series. The 2019 first-round pick made his Double-A debut on May 7, allowing four runs in three innings in a loss at Birmingham.
There will be nights, Mississippi Braves manager Wyatt Toregas says, when his team will look like a major league club. They’ve got those skills. There will also be nights, he cautions, when their youth and inexperience will show. It is Double-A, after all.
Above and beyond any of that, however, is the simple fact that there will be pro baseball at Trustmark Park again. Real games. For the first time in more than 600 days.
The M-Braves open the much-anticipated 2021 season – the club’s 16th in Pearl — tonight against Pensacola, the first game of a six-game Double-A South series that runs through Sunday.
There are a lot of new off-field rules and regulations in place due to COVID-19 protocols, but the game on the field hasn’t changed. “The guys are excited to get the season started,” said Toregas, new to the Atlanta organization this season. “It’s time to play ball again.”
The roster features several of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, including catcher Shea Langeliers (No. 3 by MLB Pipeline) and shortstop Braden Shewmake (No. 4). Both are 2019 first-round picks out of major college programs who appear to be on a fast track to the big leagues.
The team also includes outfielder Trey Harris (No. 14), pitcher Victor Vodnik (No. 15), first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista (No. 19), third baseman C.J. Alexander (No. 20) and outfielder Justin Dean (No. 26). Shewmake, Harris, Alexander and Jenista all spent time with the M-Braves in 2019, when minor league teams last played.
“We’re strong in a lot of different areas,” Toregas said.
Despite the compressed spring training for minor leaguers, Toregas, a former major league catcher who managed in the Pittsburgh system for five years, said he felt quickly accepted into the Braves fold by the players, whom he called “a lively group.” He said he also had enough time with the players to get to know them and get a feel for their skills. “They’re very coachable,” he said. “As skilled as these guys are, they’re very open to advice.”
The centerpiece of the team is Langeliers. The former Baylor star, the ninth overall pick two years ago, played in A-ball in 2019 (.255 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 54 games), went to Atlanta’s alternate camp last summer and was a non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring. He is said to have the best throwing arm in the Braves’ system.
“Man, he’s got some skills,” Toregas said. “It’s an honor for me … I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s got a chance to be really good for a really long time. … He can really throw. He’s got some pop in his bat, and he’s a leader. The guys gravitate to him.”
Langeliers said his main goals this season include gaining experience with the one knee-down catching style as well as learning more about calling a game. “I have some high expectations,” he said. “I expect myself to be successful. But it’s a long season, and it can be a grind. In pro ball, it’s a big difference playing every night.”
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Shewmake, a former Texas A&M standout drafted 21st overall in 2019, hit .300 with three homers, 40 RBIs and 13 steals at two levels in 2019, finishing that season in Pearl.
“You can definitely tell why they took him so high in the draft,” Toregas said. “He’s got speed, the ability to hit. He’s a lefty bat in the infield. Plays solid defense, and he’s a bright kid. His skills can take him a long way.”
Harris is another player to watch. A former 32nd-round pick from Missouri, he is a .317 career hitter in the minors and was the Atlanta organization’s minor league player of the year in 2019, when he moved through three levels.
Left-hander Hayden Deal is the scheduled starter tonight, getting the nod over the more highly touted Vodnik and Nolan Kingham, an M-Brave in 2019. Deal was 5-10 with a 3.24 ERA at Class A Florida in 2019 and is 17-13, 2.87 for his minor league career. The Braves signed him as a free agent out of Presbyterian College in North Carolina in 2017.
“I wasn’t expecting to start opening day,” he said, “but it’s a huge honor. I’m super excited about that. I’m ready to see what this year holds.”
“I think everybody’s ready to get out there and compete again,” Toregas said. “I’m looking forward to that. … I’m looking forward to one-run games in the ninth inning, when everybody gets nervous and every play means a little more. It’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s time to get back to it.”
Pensacola is a Miami Marlins affiliate. The Blue Wahoos’ roster includes former Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes as well as right-hander Max Meyer, the third overall selection in the 2020 draft. He enters the season as the No 3 prospect in the Marlins’ system and No. 28 overall, per MLB Pipeline.
In the new-look minors, the Double-A South includes eight teams. Mississippi is in the South Division with Pensacola, the Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers) and Montgomery Biscuits (Rays). The North Division includes the Birmingham Barons (White Sox), Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds), Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels) and Tennessee Smokies (Cubs).
Former Mississippi State star Ethan Small, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2019, is on the Biloxi roster. Lefty Small is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Milwaukee system by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.
Among the catchers who have passed through Mississippi on their way to the big leagues are Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Evan Gattis, Willians Astudillo, Alex Jackson and William Contreras. Shea Langeliers is almost certain to join that list in the near future. The Atlanta Braves’ No. 3-rated prospect (by MLB Pipeline) is one of the many noteworthy names on the Double-A Mississippi Braves’ roster, which was announced today. The M-Braves open the 2021 season on Tuesday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Other Top 30 prospects on the roster are shortstop Braden Shewmake (No. 4), outfielder Trey Harris (No. 14), pitcher Victor Vodnik (No. 15), first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista (No. 19), third baseman C.J. Alexander (No. 20) and outfielder Justin Dean (No. 26). Shewmake, Harris, Alexander and Jenista all spent time with the M-Braves in 2019, when minor league teams last played. Langeliers was a first-round pick out of Baylor in 2019. His arm is said to be his best tool; he hit .255 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 54 games in A-ball in 2019. He was a non-roster invitee to Atlanta’s big league camp this spring, as were Shewmake, Harris and Alexander. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Ethan Small, the Milwaukee Brewers’ first-round pick in 2019, is on the Biloxi roster. Lefty Small is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Milwaukee system by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.
We’ve almost come to expect this kind of thing from Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State star now pitching for Milwaukee. Six innings, one hit, one run and — for the first time in 2021 – a win on his ledger. Woodruff and the Brewers (9-7) beat San Diego and Joe Musgrove 3-1 on Monday night at Petco Park. For Woodruff, it was his first decision in four starts despite posting a 1.96 ERA, among the best in the National League. It was also his 20th career win. After yielding a walk and a hit in a long first inning, Woodruff fairly cruised, finishing with seven strikeouts and three walks. “The credit goes to Woody for saying, ‘That’s it,’ (after the first inning),” manager Craig Counsell said in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story. “He got locked in and just pitched beautifully after that.” That’s what an ace does. Woodruff is among a crowd of pitchers who rose through Milwaukee’s system, including stops at Double-A Biloxi, and are now part of one of the best staffs in MLB. Closer Josh Hader, who got the save Monday, has not allowed an earned run in five appearances and has two saves and two wins. Setup men include Brent Suter, who has a 3.48 ERA and three holds in seven games, and Devin Williams, the 2020 NL rookie of the year. Corbin Burnes (1-1, 0.49), Freddy Peralta (2-0, 2.00) and Adam Houser (1-2, 3.14) – all Shuckers alums — are in the rotation with Woodruff. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, who pitched in relief for San Diego, allowed a run for the first time in six appearances in 2021 when Tyrone Taylor – another ex-Shucker – took him deep. … MSU product Kendall Graveman got five outs in Seattle’s win against the Los Angeles Dodgers and has yet to allow a run in his six games this season.
Here’s what we know: Two months from today, the Mississippi Braves will open their 2021 season at home as part of the new Double-A South. What we don’t yet know is who the players will be — or who will manage them. Just guessing, there could be as many as six of Atlanta’s top 20 prospects stationed in Pearl come May 4. Catcher Shea Langeliers (rated No. 4 in the system by mlb.com), shortstop Braden Shewmake (No. 5), pitcher Freddie Tarnok (No. 11), outfielder Trey Harris (No. 13), third baseman C.J. Alexander (No. 18) and first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista (No. 20) appear to be at the Double-A stage of development. Shewmake, Harris, Alexander and Jenista all spent time with the M-Braves in 2019, when minor league teams last played. Langeliers and Shewmake were first-round picks out of major colleges in 2019 and look to be on the big league fast track. Langeliers, who played in low-A ball in 2019, is said to have the best arm among all catchers in the Braves’ system; he could be Atlanta’s regular catcher next year. Shewmake, long, lean and athletic, is projected to make the majors this season. Both are in big league camp as non-roster invitees, along with Tarnok, Harris and Alexander. Minor league camps haven’t yet opened. The 2021 season will be the M-Braves’ 16th at Trustmark Park. They’ve cranked out a lot of big leaguers but have won just one league championship, in 2008, Season 4. They would seem due for another. … Biloxi, also in the reconfigured Double-A South, also opens on May 4, at Birmingham. The Shuckers have announced the return of manager Mike Guerrero for his fifth season. It would not be a surprise to see ex-Mississippi State star Ethan Small, a top Milwaukee prospect, begin 2021 at Biloxi.
Goodbye, Southern League. The Mississippi Braves will play this season in the Double-A South league, specifically in the South Division of the Double-A South. Biloxi is also in the division. Under the new configuration set up by Major League Baseball, which has taken over minor league operations, there is no more Pacific Coast League. No Texas League. No Carolina League. Gwinnett, Atlanta’s Triple-A club formerly of the International League, will play in the Triple-A East Southeast Division. There is also a Double-A Northeast Southwest Division and a Low-A Southeast West Division. Could get confusing. But at least there will be minor league ball in Mississippi in 2021. Montgomery and Pensacola join the M-Braves and Shuckers in the Double-A South South. The Double-A South is essentially the old Southern League minus two teams: Jacksonville moved to Triple-A and Jackson (Tenn.) no longer has a team. As part of the revamped minor leagues, players will get salary increases, facilities will get needed upgrades and travel will be decreased. All good. Minor league schedules are not out yet, but it is expected that the Southern League – er, Double-A South – will start play in May and run through September.
Eleven years ago today, Chris Coghlan became the first and so far only Mississippi native or college alumnus to win an MLB rookie of the year award. Coghlan, a former Ole Miss star, claimed the trophy with the Florida Marlins in 2009. He is one of only three Magnolia State natives or college alums to win one of baseball’s three big individual player awards. Grenada native Dave Parker won the National League MVP trophy in 1978, and Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2008. … Former Mississippi minor league players raked in a nice haul of awards this year, including former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman winning NL MVP and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams NL rookie of the year. Williams also won the league’s Trevor Hoffman Award as reliever of the year. Freeman won a Silver Slugger, as did M-Braves alum Ronald Acuna. Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried and ex-Shuckers outfielder Trent Grisham, who plays for San Diego, picked up Gold Gloves. … Freeman is the first M-Braves product to win an MVP but not the first former Jackson area Double-A player to do so. Former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell was NL MVP in 1989 with San Francisco, narrowly beating out former Mississippi State star and Giants teammate Will Clark. The M-Braves have produced two rookies of the year, Acuna in 2018 and Craig Kimbrel in 2011, and Jackson Mets alum Darryl Strawberry took that honor in 1983. Mike Scott, a former JaxMets pitcher, won the Cy Young Award in 1986.
This was a no-brainer, really. Tim Anderson was the clear choice for the 2020 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the top performance by a Mississippian (native or college alum) in the major leagues. Former East Central Community College star Anderson, who also won the award in 2019, earned a Silver Slugger this season at shortstop in the American League, which, considering all the good players at that position, is quite an honor. In 49 games, Anderson batted .322 with 10 homers, 21 RBIs and a league-leading 45 runs. He helped the Chicago White Sox reach the postseason and went 9-for-14 in the wild card round. Anderson was the AL batting champion in 2019, a year when he also garnered a lot of attention for his demonstrative style, including some much-publicized bat flips. The White Sox have hired a new manager for 2021: Tony LaRussa, who is not just old at 76 but has a reputation as an old-school skipper. Anderson, for his part, said he won’t be constrained. “I won’t change my style, the way I play, for Tony. I will continue to be me,” he told reporters after winning the Silver Slugger award. We’ll see how that works out. … Previous winners of the Cool Papa Bell Award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. P.S. Kudos to Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams on winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. He is the first relief pitcher to be named the loop’s top rookie since former Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel in 2011.
Jarrod Dyson, Kendall Graveman and Billy Hamilton became free agents on Wednesday, the first day MLB players could declare. Mississippi State alum Graveman promptly re-signed today with his 2020 team, Seattle. The Mariners declined an option to bring right-hander Graveman back, then re-signed him for less money ($1.25 million). Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, finished 2020 with the Chicago White Sox. At 36, the outfielder may be near the end. Taylorsville High product Hamilton finished 2020 with the Chicago Cubs; he played sparingly for the Cubs and the New York Mets, hitting .125 in 32 at-bats. … Former MSU standout Mitch Moreland, who had a good 2020, has a team option for one year at $3 million in his contract with San Diego. Uncertainty over whether the NL will have the DH in 2021 could affect the Padres’ decision. … Detroit has interviewed East Central CC alum Marcus Thames, the New York Yankees hitting coach, for its vacant managerial position. … Devin Williams, a Biloxi Shuckers alumnus, won the National League’s Trevor Hoffman Award as the reliever of the year after a jaw-dropping season for Milwaukee. He struck out 53 while walking only nine in 27 innings and yielded just one earned run. … Former Jackson Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey recently was named the Washington Nationals’ new pitching coach. He was a longtime coach in Tampa Bay (2006-17). … The Dominican Winter League reportedly will start its season on Nov. 15. Whether any MLB players will participate is unclear. … In Mississippi State’s Fall World Series finale on Tuesday, Team Queso finished off Team Goat with a 3-2 victory. Josh Hatcher hit a three-run home run for Team Queso, and Kamren James belted a two-run shot for Team Goat. Spencer Price got a dramatic save. Fall ball is ongoing at Ole Miss and Southern Miss. … From the Great Idea Dept.: Sports Force Park in Vicksburg hosted the first annual “JUCO Games on the River” in early October, with 11 of the state’s 15 MACCC schools participating in a four-day, round-robin event.