07 Jul

star gazing

Garrett Crochet, the Ocean Springs High product who leads the American League in strikeouts, was justly rewarded with a spot on the American League All-Star team. Crochet is 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA and 146K’s for the Chicago White Sox. The rosters were announced Sunday on ESPN; there will be changes before the game is played on July 16 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Also making the AL team was former Biloxi Shuckers pitcher Corbin Burnes, now with Baltimore. He is 9-3, 2.32. Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, made the National League roster as a reserve. Ex-M-Braves catcher William Contreras, now with Milwaukee, previously was voted in as a starter by fans. … The full list of Home Run Derby (July 15) participants has yet to be revealed. It would be a treat to see Nathaniel Lowe of the hometown Texas Rangers, Brent Rooker, Hunter Renfroe or Austin Riley in the derby. Each of those Mississippi products has light-tower power. … Magnolia Heights High product Cooper Pratt is slated to participate in the July 13 All-Star Futures Game for minor league prospects at Globe Life. He is No. 4 on Milwaukee’s chart. … The All-Star festivities get started on July 12 with the HBCU Swingman Classic. The Magnolia State will be well-represented with six Jackson State players and one each from Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State on the rosters. This is the second annual all-star game for players from NCAA Division I historically black schools. JSU’s Joseph Eichelberger, Robert Tate Jr., Lenny Montesano, Rodney Hibler Jr., Christian Womble and Isaiah Williams are joined on the rosters by Valley’s Dreylin Holmes and Alcorn’s Garrett Palladino. Former big leaguers Ken Griffey Sr. and Lloyd McClendon will manage the two teams. … Of note: The only other time the Texas Rangers hosted the All-Star Game was 1995, when former Mississippi State standout Buck Showalter managed the AL team in a 3-2 loss at The Ballpark in Arlington. He was manager of the New York Yankees, who had the best record in the AL when the 1994 season was halted by a players strike.

07 Jul

that’s one to flush

Lance Lynn’s first pitch — a fastball, of course — was crushed out of Nationals Park, a home run by C.J. Abrams that portended the worst start of the veteran right-hander’s long MLB career. Former Ole Miss star Lynn allowed nine hits (three homers), four walks and 11 runs (10 earned) in 2 2/3 innings Saturday in St. Louis’ 14-6 loss at Washington. His record dropped to 4-4 and his ERA ballooned to 4.48 over 18 starts. Lynn had been brilliant in winning his previous two starts, allowing just one run in 12 2/3. But on Saturday, on a 97-degree day, the Nationals jumped all over his normally reliable four-seamer. The Cardinals surely knew there would be days like this when they signed the 37-year-old Lynn, who is approaching 2,000 career MLB innings, as a free agent in the off-season. A fiery innings-eater most of his career, Lynn is averaging just 5.0 innings per start in 2024. His fastball velocity is not what it once was. He gave up an MLB-worst 44 homers in 2023 but had yielded just 10 before Saturday’s disaster, which may raise concerns. For his part, Lynn didn’t seem too worried postgame. “I wouldn’t be playing this long if I didn’t flush (bad outings),” he told mlb.com. … Minnesota reportedly is recalling ex-Southern Miss slugger Matt Wallner from Triple-A St. Paul, where he is batting .259 with 19 homers and 53 RBIs since an April demotion. P.S. The final Biloxi-Mississippi Southern League game produced a memorable pitchers duel, won by the visiting Shuckers 2-1 at Trustmark Park. Ex-USM star Landon Harper ran his scoreless streak to 20 innings for the M-Braves, going four innings as the starter Saturday. For the Shuckers, Milwaukee prospect Jacob Misiorowski yielded one run in 6 1/3 innings and struck out 10. Remember that name. … Mississippi State alum J.T. Ginn notched his first Triple-A victory Saturday, allowing two runs over six innings for Las Vegas (Oakland system). Ginn is 1-3, 7.03, in nine games for the Aviators. He was 4-1, 4.15, in Double-A this season.

12 Jun

going places

Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters got back in The Show and former Biloxi Shuckers star Carlos F. Rodriguez got his first MLB shot among a flurry of Tuesday transactions involving players with Mississippi ties. Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel was promoted to Double-A in the Baltimore system; ex-Ole Miss standout Brandon Johnson moved up to Double-A in the Kansas City chain; former Mississippi State bullpen ace Landon Sims jumped to High-Class A in the Arizona system; and USM product Hunter Stanley came off the injured list at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland organization. … Waters — Southern League player of the year in 2019 — was recalled by Kansas City to replace Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State star who went on the injured list with a broken toe. Waters, hitting .277 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in Triple-A, went 0-for-4 in his first MLB game of 2024. The Royals also placed Bulldogs alum Adam Frazier on the bereavement list. … Rodriguez, Milwaukee’s No. 6 prospect who went 9-6, 2.77 ERA, for the Shuckers in 2023, allowed two runs in 3 2/3 innings and took a loss against Toronto. … Etzel, a 2023 draftee by the Orioles, was batting .306 with four homers and 31 steals at High-A Aberdeen; he got a knock in his first at-bat for Class AA Bowie. … Johnson was 3-3, two saves, 4.13, in High-A for the Royals. … Sims, a star on MSU’s national title team, had a 4.38 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings at Low-A Visalia. … Stanley, on the IL for about a month, has a 5.85 ERA over six games for Columbus. P.S. Kirk McCarty, former USM standout from Hattiesburg, threw seven shutout innings in his Chinese Professional Baseball League debut last week and allowed two runs in five innings on Tuesday for CTBC Brothers. He is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA. The well-traveled McCarty has won 18 games the past three seasons: four in Triple-A, four in MLB with Cleveland, nine in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2023 plus the one in the CPBL. He won 22 games for USM from 2015-17.

08 Apr

matchups

Teheran v. Morton: Longtime followers of the Mississippi Braves — if there are any — should perk up at the mention of these two names. Julio Teheran (M-Braves, 2010) will make his first start for the New York Mets tonight against Atlanta and Charlie Morton (M-Braves, 2007). Morton has 131 career MLB wins, tops among former M-Braves in The Show. Teheran, who spent the first nine years of his career with Atlanta, has 81 wins, third on that list. Morton was on the ’07 M-Braves team that made the Southern League playoffs for the first time in the club’s third year in Pearl. Teheran threw a combo no-hitter (with Tyrelle Harris) for the M-Braves in 2010.
Waldrep v. Blue Wahoos: Current M-Braves pitcher and ex-Southern Miss star Hurston Waldrep pitched 2 2/3 innings — twice through the order against Pensacola — and got rocked for 11 hits, a walk and seven runs as the M-Braves lost 9-1 Sunday and fell to 0-3 this season. The highly rated Waldrep, who posted a 1.53 ERA over four levels in Atlanta’s system last summer, has a 23.63 after his first appearance of 2024.
Crochet v. Renfroe: Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet got Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe to ground out in their first confrontation on Sunday, but Renfroe tagged Crochet for a two-run homer in the second encounter, breaking up a shutout in the fifth inning and propelling Kansas City to a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. It was the first homer of the season for Renfroe, the veteran slugger in his first year with the Royals. Crochet, making his third career start, got a no-decision; he is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA for the ChiSox, who have won only the one game.
Foscue v. Hader: Ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue got his first MLB hit on a 3-2 pitch in the ninth inning against fearsome lefty closer Josh Hader, the former Biloxi Shuckers star. Foscue’s single up the middle produced the only run Texas would score in a 3-1 loss at Silver Boot rival Houston on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
Dogs on Dogs: The weekend SEC clash between Georgia and Mississippi State at Dudy Noble Field was one to remember. State (21-12, 6-6) took two of three, winning Sunday’s rubber game 9-8 after trailing 5-0 in the third inning and 8-7 in the eighth. Of course, the “highlight” of the series was Saturday’s ejection-filled affair, which Georgia (24-8, 5-7) won 3-2 on a late homer. Emotions ran high all weekend. Wouldn’t it be fun if these two clubs were to meet again in the SEC Tournament?

04 Apr

just stuff

Brock Wilken, Wake Forest’s all-time home run leader and now Milwaukee’s No. 7 prospect, smacked a two-run homer to power the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers to a 7-0 win Wednesday night in an exhibition game against Pearl River Community College at MGM Park. The Shuckers open the Southern League season Friday at home against Montgomery. … Former Shuckers star Jackson Chourio hit his first big league homer for the Brewers in a loss, the team’s first, against Minnesota. The highly touted Chourio is off to a .350 start in his rookie campaign. … The Norfolk Tides, Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate, banged out 29 hits in a 26-11 win against Charlotte in game highlighted by Heston Kjerstad’s 10-RBI effort and Kyle Stowers’ three homers. Ole Miss alum Errol Robinson, a minor league vet in his first year in the Orioles’ system, contributed a little: one hit and two runs. He is batting .316. … Hunter Renfroe, ex-Mississippi State star, got his first hit of 2024 — he is now 1-for-19 — and picked up an assist on a sensational throw from right field, but his Kansas City club lost to Baltimore. … East Central CC alum Tim Anderson went 0-for-2 and ex-Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes 0-for-3 as Miami fell to 0-7 with a 10-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Anderson, a free agent signee, is batting .231 with one RBI, no homers and no steals. Fortes is batting .083. … MSU product Brent Rooker went 0-for-4 in Oakland’s loss to Baltimore and is at .100 on the season for the 1-6 A’s. … Former State standout Justin Foscue, recalled from the minors on Tuesday by Texas, has yet to make his MLB debut. The Rangers are off today, host Houston this weekend.

03 Apr

last dance

There are some names that pop on the Mississippi Braves’ 2024 roster, the first roster for the last team that will play at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Start with J.J. Niekro, son of former big leaguer Joe and nephew of Hall of Famer Phil. There’s Hurston Waldrep, the ex-Southern Miss star and Atlanta’s No. 2-rated prospect. And Brandon Parker, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout from Saucier.
All told, five of Atlanta’s Top 30 prospects (per MLB Pipeline) will start out with the M-Braves this year, the team’s 20th and last in Pearl before the Double-A franchise moves to Columbus, Ga., in 2025.
“This is a place that has been so good to the organization, we want to make it a special one,” first-year manager Angel Flores said at a Wednesday press conference.
The M-Braves open the Southern League season on Friday at Pensacola. The home opener is next Tuesday (April 9) against Biloxi.
More than 170 players have passed through Pearl en route to the big leagues, and there are some on this year’s club who will also make that climb.
Waldrep figures to be one of those. Drafted in the first round last summer out of Florida — where he finished his college career — he pitched so well in his pro debut that he earned an invitation to Atlanta’s big league spring camp this year and nearly made the 26-man team. The right-hander said he wasn’t disappointed to land in Double-A, that he “wasn’t dead-set on making the (big league) club.”
There is a stockpile of pitching talent in Atlanta’s organization, which can make advancement tough, even for a guy with a 99-mph fastball and a wicked slider.
“As someone who loves a challenge, it’s great to be in an organization where you’re challenged everyday,” said Waldrep, who grew up a Braves fan in Thomasville, Ga.
Atlanta challenged Ignacio “Nacho” Alvarez with a move from third base to shortstop in 2022, his first pro season after being drafted out of a California junior college. Now the organization’s No. 6 prospect, Alvarez, only 20, will start at short for the M-Braves after also making an impressive showing in the big league camp.
“Coming up (in California), I never had a tool that popped out,” he said. “As I grew, I just learned how to play the game.”
Obviously a quick study, he hit .284 with seven homers, 66 RBIs and 16 stolen bases at High-Class A Rome in 2023. At a stocky 6 feet, 200 pounds, he may not look it but he may well be Atlanta’s shortstop of the future.
“I feel comfortable (at shortstop) at the moment,” Alvarez said.
The first thing to know about Niekro is this: He does not throw a knuckleball like his famous uncle and father. “I know how to throw it,” he said. “But it’s a backup plan.”
Signed by the Braves as an undrafted free agent in 2021 out of NCAA Division II Florida Southern, the 26-year-old right-hander has posted a 3.81 ERA in 65 minor league games, working as both a starter and reliever. He is slated to start the home opener.
Niekro’s father died suddenly when he was just 8. Uncle Phil worked with him on his pitching as he grew up, teaching but never pushing him to throw the knuckler.
“He always said just go with your best stuff,” J.J. Niekro said. “My stuff’s gotten me here.”
The main thing his legendary uncle stressed, Niekro said, “was just to be the best person I can be. That’s the legacy I want to live up to.”
For Parker, an outfielder, playing for the last M-Braves team has a special significance. He grew up a Braves fan and often made the trip up from the Coast to Trustmark Park.
“I still have a jersey I bought here way back,” he said. “It’s an honor to play in my home state. It’s a blessing.”
Parker — a national juco player of the year at Gulf Coast — finished his 2023 season with the M-Braves. He hit .239 with five homers and 11 steals across three levels in his fourth pro season.
His goals for 2024? “Winning games,” he said. “And a personal goal is to be as good of a teammate as possible. They watch for that in Atlanta.”
The M-Braves’ initial roster also includes No. 11 prospect Drake Baldwin, a catcher; No. 20 Luis De Avila, a left-hander back from 2023; and No. 28 Geraldo Quintaro, a second baseman.
Flores, still tinkering with the lineup and the starting rotation as of Wednesday, said he likes the mix of speed and power on this club. And the Braves always have pitching.
“It’s a very electric team, a dynamic team,” Flores said.
P.S. Six of Milwaukee’s Top 30 prospects are on Biloxi’s initial roster, announced on Tuesday. Included in that group is right-hander Jacob Misiorowski, rated No. 2 in the Brewers’ system by MLB Pipeline, and catcher/first baseman Wes Clark (No. 25), who hit a Southern League-best 26 home runs in 2023. The Shuckers, heading into their ninth season at MGM Park, open SL play at home Friday against Montgomery.

20 Mar

there and here

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the first game of the MLB season today in Seoul, South Korea, beating San Diego 5-2. Mississippi Braves alum Evan Phillips registered the first save of 2024. And Mississippian Lance Barksdale, working the plate, registered the first umpire’s interference call of the season, which he called on himself in the first inning for inadvertently disrupting the catcher’s throw to second base on a steal attempt. … On this date in 1981, former big leaguer Gerald “Gee” Walker died at age 73. The Gulfport native and ex-Ole Miss star has a historic connection to MLB’s opening day, having hit for the cycle on April 20, 1937, for Detroit. It is the only opening day cycle in major league history. … The projected starting pitchers announced Tuesday for MLB’s stateside version of opening day include two Mississippi natives (Justin Steele and Garrett Crochet), two M-Braves alums (Spencer Strider and Alex Wood) and two ex-Biloxi Shuckers standouts (Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes). … In a 3-hour, 4-minute game that “featured” 12 pitchers, a 14-pitch at-bat, 17 hits and 20 strikeouts, Ole Miss beat Southern Miss 8-3 Tuesday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The most eye-catching number from the game was 3,269 — the announced attendance, surely a disappointment to all involved. … At Trustmark tonight, NCAA Division III rivals Millsaps and Belhaven will play the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series. The opener of the three-game series was originally scheduled for March 5 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field but was rained out. … At Starkville, Dakota Jordan hit yet another home run, his 11th in 22 games, as surging Mississippi State whipped Memphis 17-9. … Jackson State swiped five more bases, boosting its season total to a national-best 67, in a 13-3 rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Braddy Field. Jordan McCladdie got two bags Tuesday and has 15 for the year for JSU, 16-4 with six straight wins. … Top-ranked East Central Community College swept a doubleheader at Hinds (12-2 and 5-0) to improve to 30-0. No. 5 Pearl River took two from No. 12 Meridian (14-2 and 5-2) to improve to 28-5 with 15 straight wins. (ECCC and PRCC are slated to meet April 17 at Poplarville.) … Big league veteran Mike Mayers, an Ole Miss product, has signed a minor league deal with Toronto. He pitched in the Kansas City and Chicago White Sox systems in 2023. … Former Petal High star Demarcus Evans, an erstwhile big leaguer, has signed with Yucatan of the Mexican League. Evans did not pitch in a game in 2023 because of injury.

18 Mar

quite a talent pool

Fans of the Biloxi Shuckers may look back someday on their 2023 team as the best collection of talent they ever saw at MGM Park. Much of that talent was on display Sunday in Arizona when Milwaukee’s Spring Breakout team played Kansas City. Seven ’23 Shuckers were in the opening lineup — and six of them rank among the top 25 prospects in the Brewers’ loaded system, rated No. 3 in all of MLB. Milwaukee’s top prospect (per MLB Pipeline) is outfielder Jackson Chourio, who got an $82 million contract before ever playing a big league game. He’ll do that this season, possibly on opening day. He belted 22 homers and stole 43 bases for the Double-A Biloxi club last year. The leadoff batter on Sunday was first baseman Tyler Black, the Brewers’ No. 4 prospect, who hit 14 homers and stole 47 bases for the Shuckers. He tripled and scored in the Spring Breakout game. Jeferson Quero, a catcher who ranks No. 3 in the Brewers’ system, hit 16 homers for Biloxi last year. He DH’d and hit cleanup Sunday, followed by catcher Wes Clarke (No. 25), who belted 26 bombs for the ’23 Shuckers. Also in Sunday’s lineup, batting third, was third baseman Brock Wilken (No. 7) and shortstop Eric Brown Jr., both of whom got some Double-A time last year. The starting pitcher was Jacob Misiorowski, Milwaukee’s No. 2, who made five starts for the Shuckers a year ago and threw 2 2/3 hitless innings with five strikeouts on Sunday. Expect to see many of these players in Milwaukee soon. Note: Former Magnolia Heights High star Cooper Pratt, a 2023 draft pick already pegged as Milwaukee’s No. 10 prospect, got in Sunday’s game at shortstop. He’ll be in Biloxi soon enough, possibly in 2025.

07 Mar

breakout breakdown

Highly rated prospects Justin Foscue, Jacob Gonzalez, Will Warren and Kemp Alderman are among the 19 Mississippians on the preliminary rosters for next week’s Spring Breakout series, a new event that will feature a ton of the top talent in the minor leagues. Each of MLB’s 30 teams will play a game — two teams will play two — beginning on March 14 in Arizona and Florida. Atlanta’s team will feature a bunch of former and future Mississippi Braves, as well as ex-Smithville High star Jared Johnson, a right-hander who pitched in A-ball in 2023. The Braves will play on March 16 against Boston, which lists DeSoto Central High product Blaze Jordan and ex-Southern Miss standout Dalton Rogers. Milwaukee’s team includes 2023 Biloxi Shuckers star Jackson Chourio — the No. 2 overall prospect in the minors — and Cooper Pratt, Mississippi’s prep player of the year in 2023 at Magnolia Heights. The Brewers play on March 17 against Kansas City; ex-MSU standout Eric Cerantola is on the Royals’ roster. Former MSU star Foscue is Texas’ No. 5 prospect, and he may make the Rangers’ opening day roster. Gonzalez, a first-round pick out of Ole Miss last summer and the Chicago White Sox’s No. 5 prospect, is joined on the ChiSox roster by former Rebels teammate Tim Elko. Jackson Prep product Will Warren, the New York Yankees’ eighth-ranked prospect, pitched in Triple-A in 2023 and is close to his MLB breakthrough. Alderman won the Ferriss Trophy last year at Ole Miss and is rated No. 8 on Miami’s chart. Among the other notable Mississippi products on the rosters are South Panola High alum Emaarion Boyd, Philadelphia’s No. 17 who swiped 56 bases in A-ball last season, and Colton Ledbetter (Tampa Bay’s No. 16), a second-round pick out of State in 2023 who batted .274 over two levels last season.

18 Oct

gold rush

Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star now manning third base for Atlanta, and ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, are among the finalists for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Both have previously been recognized for their hitting prowess, Riley winning a Silver Slugger in 2021 and Lowe taking one in 2022. Also making the top three at each position (in each league) were former Mississippi Braves Michael Harris II (center field), Dansby Swanson (shortstop) and Freddie Freeman (first base) and Biloxi Shuckers alum Mauricio Dubon (both second base and utility). Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is among Riley’s competition at third base in the National League. Riley’s defensive metrics don’t compare well to Hayes’ or Ryan McMahon’s, but the ex-M-Braves star committed just 11 errors in 393 chances in 2023 and routinely made outstanding plays (see Game 2 of the NL Division Series). Gold Glove winners will be announced on Nov. 5. Of note: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia’s second baseman, is a finalist in his first year after moving from shortstop to second. Stott has credited Laurel native Bobby Dickerson with helping him make the transition. Dickerson, a former minor league player and longtime MLB coach, is in his second year as Phillies infield coach. He also has worked extensively with third baseman Alec Bohm and Bryce Harper, who learned to play first base at midseason. Bohm made several outstanding plays in the Phillies’ 10-0 win Tuesday in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “As much as we have a lot of really great hitters, games are won on defense,” Bohm told mlb.com.