15 Nov

noteworthy

Michael Harris II, who had never played a game in Double-A before this season, has become the third former Mississippi Braves star to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The outfielder made the jump from Pearl to Atlanta in late May and batted .297 with 19 homers, 64 RBIs, 20 steals and 75 runs in 114 MLB games. He also excelled in center field for the NL East champs. Harris joins Ronald Acuna (2018) and Craig Kimbrel (2011) as former M-Braves to win the BBWAA award. Right-hander Spencer Strider, another M-Braves alum, was one of the three finalists this year. Two other Magnolia State minor league alums have won the ROY: ex-Jackson Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry in 1983 and former Biloxi Shuckers pitcher Devin Williams in 2020. Chris Coghlan, an Ole Miss product, won the 2009 NL rookie award and is the only state native or college alum to have claimed the honor. … A bundle of Mississippians have become minor league free agents, including several who have big league experience. The list: Ti’Quan Forbes, Trent Giambrone, Jonathan Holder, Wyatt Short, Delvin Zinn, Chuckie Robinson, Zac Houston, Dalton Moats, Cody Reed, Jack Kruger and Demarcus Evans. Corey Dickerson, Billy Hamilton and Adam Frazier were 2022 major leaguers who elected free agency. … A belated congrats to Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College standout, on being named the Los Angeles Angels’ hitting coach. He spent last season with Miami after four years with the New York Yankees. The Angels, despite the presence of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, were one of the worst hitting teams in the majors in 2022. … On a sad note, former JaxMets outfielder Chuck Carr has died. He played at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1989-90 and spent eight years in the big leagues, stealing an NL-best 58 bases with Florida in 1993.

03 Nov

touching the bases

The jaw-dropping no-hitter by Houston in Game 4 on Wednesday night — following Philadelphia’s jaw-dropping five-homer game on Tuesday night — ensures that there will be a Game 6 in Houston on Saturday night. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale is scheduled to be the home plate umpire for that game. Barksdale, who worked first base in Game 4, has been umpiring in MLB since 2000 (full-time since 2006) and is highly rated by those who rate such things. He was 18th in overall accuracy out of 96 umps who worked behind the plate in 2022, per umpscorecards.com. He has received a number of major assignments: the World Baseball Classic, the All-Star Game and multiple postseason series, including two World Series. He was behind the plate for Game 5 of the 2019 Series between the Astros and Washington (and made a couple of memorable ball-strike calls). … The Astros have thrown 15 no-hitters in their 61-year history. Among them are a combo effort in 2003 that was started by Weir’s Roy Oswalt and finished by former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner and a true no-no in 1986 by ex-Jackson Mets ace Mike Scott. … Oswalt, incidentally, pitched for both the Astros (10 seasons) and Phillies (two) and aided in postseason runs by both clubs. A Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, he won 163 games, second only to Guy Bush among state natives, in a stellar big league career. … Today is the 69th birthday of Sunflower native Larry Herndon, who played 14 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with Detroit in 1984. Herndon, who went to high school in Memphis and attended Tennessee State, batted .274 with 107 homers and 92 steals as an outfielder with St. Louis, San Francisco and the Tigers. In Game 1 of the ’84 Series against San Diego, Herndon hit a go-ahead two-run homer that propelled the Tigers to victory. He went 5-for-15 in the five-game series. He coached in the Detroit system in 2022. … Props to former Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Max Fried and Biloxi Shuckers alum Trent Grisham for winning National League Gold Gloves. … Chris Ellis, the ex-Ole Miss and M-Braves standout, has elected free agency after being dropped from Baltimore’s 40-man roster. Ellis, 30, missed virtually the entire ’22 season with a shoulder injury.

13 Oct

a few observations

Takeaways from Wednesday night’s National League Division Series:
1) Kyle Wright, the former Mississippi Braves right-hander, is pretty good. Yes, Atlanta scored a lot of runs when he pitched this season and racked up 21 wins. But the game against Philadelphia and ace Zack Wheeler was a grinder, and Wright was up to the task, shutting out the red-hot Phillies for six innings, yielding but two hits and a walk. He’s no fluke.
2) Former M-Braves third baseman Austin Riley and shortstop Dansby Swanson deserve recognition among the best defensive players at their positions. Both made highlight reel catches for Atlanta that will be marveled at for weeks (years?) to come, especially if the Braves make another October run.
3) If Josh Hader has indeed recovered his old form, San Diego could be a beast in these playoffs. The former Biloxi Shuckers star, who had some well-chronicled struggles this season, was throwing nasty gas for San Diego, getting the last four outs in the Padres’ 5-3 win over Los Angeles. “He looked like he wanted it when he came in,” Padres catcher Austin Nola told mlb.com. The wiry left-hander wasn’t perfect. Only 16 of Hader’s 25 pitches were strikes, but he cut down the vaunted top of the Dodgers’ lineup in the ninth, allowing only a hit to Freddie Freeman. Traded from Milwaukee to San Diego at the deadline, Hader had a 7.31 ERA in 19 games for the Padres. But over his last seven appearances, he did not allow a run, struck out eight, walked one and registered four saves. Fans of the Shuckers and M-Braves might recall Hader’s 2016 stint in Biloxi, when he posted a 0.95 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 57 innings over 11 starts. He was scary good, and he might be again.

09 Oct

all in a day

When the postseason starts, you can turn the page on the regular season. Adam Frazier did precisely that in Seattle’s Wild Card Series sweep against Toronto. Flushing a disappointing regular season, the former Mississippi State star capped a jaw-dropping comeback by the Mariners on Saturday with a go-ahead RBI double in the ninth inning. “Those are the kind of moments you picture yourself in in the backyard when you’re a kid,” Frazier told The Associated Press. The M’s 10-9 victory sends them into the American League Division Series against Houston. Frazier hit just .238 in his first year in Seattle. But one thing he has always done well is put the ball in play, something of a lost art. He struck out just 73 times in 541 at-bats in 2022, one of the best contact rates in MLB. In the Toronto series, he went 4-for-9, never fanning once. He was 3-for-5 with two runs in the clincher, helping Seattle overcome an 8-1 deficit. … Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin was the fifth of eight pitchers Cleveland used in its 1-0, 15-inning, series-clinching win against Tampa Bay. The sidearming right-hander got two outs in 10th inning, then left with “upper arm tightness.” His status for the next round is unclear. Fellow former Golden Eagles star Kirk McCarty, a rookie, was the only non-starter left in the Guardians’ bullpen when the game ended. … Corey Dickerson’s season is over, but Bobby Dickerson (no relation) is making plans for the next round. Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson went 2-for-6 for St. Louis as the Cardinals were bounced from the National League playoffs by Philadelphia. Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is the Phillies’ highly regarded infield coach; he got a shout-out Saturday from the ESPN broadcasters for his work with third baseman Alec Bohm. Philadelphia moves on to face Atlanta in the NLDS. … Trent Grisham, who played for the Biloxi Shuckers in 2018-19, homered for the second straight game and scored all of San Diego’s runs in a 7-3 loss to the New York Mets that evened their series. Game 3 is tonight at CitiField. Grisham, a .184 hitter this season with 17 bombs, took Max Scherzer deep in Friday’s win and got Jacob deGrom on Saturday. … Mets manager Buck Showalter, the MSU alum who has managed five different teams, won more than 1,600 games, claimed three manager of the year awards and appeared in six postseasons, has a 10-15 playoff record. He has yet to reach the World Series.

01 Oct

a long-awaited party

They partied like it was 2001 in Seattle on Friday night when the Mariners clinched their first postseason berth since that storied season. Pause here for a brief trip down memory lane. The ’01 Mariners won a record 116 games with a team that included Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, Jamie Moyer and three former Jackson Generals who were part of a blockbuster trade in 1998. At the trade deadline that year, the M’s sent Randy Johnson to Houston for three players on the Double-A Generals’ roster: shortstop Carlos Guillen and pitchers Freddy Garcia and John Halama. In 2001 — by which time Johnson was in Arizona — those three were integral pieces in Seattle’s success. Guillen hit .259 as the regular shortstop, Garcia was 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA and Halama went 10-7. The ’01 Mariners went out with a whimper, losing to the New York Yankees in five games in the American League Championship Series. (The Yanks were later vanquished by Johnson and the Diamondbacks in the World Series.) The ’22 Mariners clinched with a walk-off 2-1 win against Oakland. Former Mississippi Braves shortstop Dylan Moore, who also played briefly in Biloxi, scored the M’s first run in the first inning after leading off with a single and stealing second, his 21st bag. Moore is batting .219 while playing seven different positions. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier, Seattle’s usual second baseman, didn’t play in Friday’s game. He has had a down year (.235, 38 points under his career average) but will be going to the postseason for the first time in his seven MLB campaigns. P.S. Another ex-M-Braves shortstop, Dansby Swanson, hit one of the three homers Atlanta got against Jacob deGrom in the 5-2 win on Friday that moved the Braves into a tie with the New York Mets atop the National League East. Swanson’s bomb was the 100th of his career. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley hit his 38th homer of the season and third career against deGrom. … Former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams combined on a five-hitter as Milwaukee beat Miami 1-0 and stayed a half-game back of Philadelphia in the battle for the third NL wild card. (San Diego, which has lost three in a row, hasn’t clinched a wild card, either.) Burnes (12-8) went eight innings, and Williams (15 saves) survived a wobbly ninth (a hit and two walks) by striking out the side.

10 Sep

another step back

After getting limited at-bats during a month with Kansas City, Brent Rooker was optioned back to Triple-A Omaha on Friday. The Mississippi State product went 4-for-25 with the Royals. Two of those hits came in his KC debut back on Aug. 13. Kansas City traded with San Diego to get Rooker, a 27-year-old outfielder, at the August deadline, and it was assumed he’d get more of an opportunity with the lowly Royals than he did with the Padres (seven at-bats). It didn’t happen. Rooker, the 35th overall pick by Minnesota in 2017 after an All-America career at State, has hit well in the minors but not so much in the big leagues. Including his two seasons with the Twins, he is batting .200 with 10 homers and 86 strikeouts in 81 MLB games. Between Triple-A El Paso and Omaha this year, he has slugged 22 homers and batted .286. He has a .267 career average in the minors with 96 bombs but has struck out in roughly a third of his ABs. Wonder if he’ll get another shot with the Royals? P.S. Former Ole Miss star Nick Fortes went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs to help Miami beat the New York Mets 6-3 on Friday — and to help streaking Atlanta move into first place in the National League East. The Braves blasted four home runs and won 6-4 at Seattle. … Biloxi clinched the season series (see previous post) against the Mississippi Braves with an 8-3 win at MGM Park. The Shuckers are 16-12 vs. their Double-A Southern League rival with two games remaining this weekend.

09 Sep

southern exposure

No trophy is on the line when the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers engage in their season series each year. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were such a thing? The Magnolia Cup? Catfish Clash? Blues Bowl? It might help generate a little more interest in the Southern League rivalry that has been going on since Biloxi became a league member in 2015. The teams sit at the bottom of the league in attendance in 2022, Biloxi at 137,298 and Mississippi at 135,467. That’s kinda sad. The season series has been competitive. The teams met for the 27th time on Thursday at Biloxi’s MGM Park, and the Shuckers — Milwaukee’s Double-A affiliate — beat the M-Braves — Atlanta’s farm club — 5-3 before an announced crowd of 2,015. Biloxi now leads the season series 15-12 with three games remaining. The series was even at 9-9 before the Shuckers took five of six at Trustmark Park in Pearl in August. Ouch. The M-Braves won the first two games of the current six-game set by identical 13-2 scores, bashing eight home runs. Take that. The M-Braves’ Drew Lugbauer, the SL’s home run leader, hit two on Wednesday, boosting his total to 26. Of his team-record 44 career homers, 16 have come at MGM Park. The Shuckers won Thursday’s game on the strength of two homers — the first of the season — by Terence Doston. The M-Braves, 30-28 in the second half, still have a mathematical shot at the South Division title; they are the defending league champs. The Shuckers (25-34) have been eliminated, reduced to a potential spoiler role. In the overall league standings, the Shuckers (59-67) lead the M-Braves (59-68) by a half-game. P.S. Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward and Shuckers alum Brent Suter are among the 30 nominees for the 2022 Roberto Clemente Award. The annual award “recognizes the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” Heyward is with the Chicago Cubs, Suter pitches for the Brewers.

29 Aug

around the horn

Chad Bradford was back in uniform (sorta) on Sunday as the Oakland A’s celebrated their 2002 team — Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” gang that won a then-record 20 straight games — before the club played the New York Yankees at Oakland Coliseum. Former Southern Miss and Hinds Community College star Bradford was a key member of that A’s team, posting a 3.11 ERA, four wins and two saves over 75 games. The submarine-style right-hander had a 3.26 ERA in 561 MLB games. … In a pregame ceremony at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes threw a ceremonial first pitch to son Ke’Bryan Hayes before the Phillies played the Pittsburgh Pirates. The elder Hayes spent three of his 14 big league seasons with the Phils. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pirates’ third baseman, went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a 5-0 win. The duo reportedly will do another first-pitch thing at Yankee Stadium next month. Charlie Hayes won a ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. … Garrett Mitchell became the 56th Biloxi Shuckers alumnus to make the majors when the outfielder debuted for Milwaukee on Sunday, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs in a 9-7 win vs. the visiting Chicago Cubs. Mitchell, a former first-round pick from UCLA, played parts of the last two seasons with the Shuckers, who arrived on the Coast in 2015. … Dylan Moore, who played for both the Shuckers and the Mississippi Braves, hit a big three-run homer for Seattle on Sunday in a 4-0 win against Cleveland in a battle of playoff contenders. … M-Braves alum Drew Waters, who debuted with Kansas City last week, had two hits, two walks, two runs and two RBIs for the Royals in a 15-6 romp over San Diego. … Ex-M-Braves star Michael Harris II, who made the jump from Mississippi in May, went 4-for-4 for Atlanta in its 6-3 loss at St. Louis. It was the second four-hit game for the rookie of the year candidate, who is batting .298 with 13 homers, 45 RBIs and 15 steals. … George County High product Justin Steele, 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA for the Cubs this year, won’t make the trip to Toronto this week because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. … Former USM star Matt Wallner belted his fourth homer for Triple-A St. Paul — and 25th bomb overall in 2022 — as the Minnesota affiliate beat Iowa in the International League. Ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Holder gave up four runs in an inning of work and took the loss for the I-Cubs; the onetime big leaguer has a 10.29 ERA in seven appearances. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren improved to 7-4, with a 3.38 ERA, as the Yankees’ Double-A Somerset club beat New Hampshire in the Eastern League. Warren, drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana last year, went 2-3 in A-ball this season, his first pro duty.

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.