On this date five years ago, the Biloxi Shuckers ended the 54-game road trip that launched their inaugural season with a victory at Birmingham. They stood at 33-21 when they won their first game at MGM Park, which had been under construction, the next night. The Shuckers went on to clinch the first-half championship in the Southern League South on June 14 with a win over the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park. That Shuckers team, a Milwaukee affiliate, featured Josh Hader, Orlando Arcia (who hit the first homer at MGM), Adrian Houser and Brent Suter, among others, and reached the SL Championship Series before falling to Chattanooga. … On June 5, 1992, Pete Young, the ex-Mississippi State and McComb High star, made his MLB debut for Montreal, throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Young posted a 3.86 ERA in 17 games over two years with the Expos. … Among the big wave of minor league players released in recent days by major league clubs are: Southern Miss alum Luke Reynolds (by the Chicago Cubs), ex-Mississippi State standout Jacob Billingsley (Houston), MSU product Hunter Stovall (Philadelphia), former Ole Miss star Chris Ellis (St. Louis), George County High alum Walker Robbins (St. Louis) and ex-MSU standout Daniel Brown (Milwaukee). Ellis, also a former M-Braves pitcher, made his big league debut last summer, appearing in one game for Kansas City. … Looking ahead to next week’s draft: If State’s Justin Foscue goes in the first round (as widely projected), the second baseman will be the 13th Bulldogs player to be picked in the opening round since the draft started in 1965. That’s more than all but 14 other schools, according to mlb.com. Stanford leads the way with 23 first-rounders, followed by Arizona State with 21. Six schools have had 13 first-round picks. … The Cotton States League is slated to open its season tonight with three games at two different fields at BNA Bank Park in New Albany. The wood-bat college summer league is in its 12th year. The new Southeast Collegiate League, based in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Baton Rouge, La., starts play next week. … New coaches are settling in at two state junior colleges. Luke Stanley, former Delta State player from Oxford, is the new Mississippi Delta CC coach, replacing Dan Rives, who moved into the AD chair. Longtime Holmes CC coach Kenny Dupont retired and is succeeded by Scott DeLoach, a former Mississippi State player from Madison.
One of the new age measures of a good pitch is something called “expected weighted on-base average allowed.” By that measure, former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff’s four-seam fastball was among the best in the game in 2019, his .264 mark ranking behind only Gerrit Cole’s, according to the good folks at mlb.com. Woodruff’s four-seamer made their list of the top five “nastiest” in MLB, joining those of Cole, Josh Hader, Yu Darvish and Jordan Hicks. Woodruff was pretty good by the old-fashioned measures, as well, posting an 11-3 record and a 3.62 ERA in 121 2/3 innings for Milwaukee, with 143 strikeouts, 30 walks and a .240 batting average against. The big right-hander’s average velocity on his four-seamer, per mlb.com, was 96.3 in 2019, his third season with the Brewers and first as a full-time starter. Woodruff’s stuff has garnered attention since his days at Wheeler High, where, as a senior in 2011, he punched out 100 batters in 49 1/3 innings and was drafted in the fifth round by Texas. He chose to go to State, where he had trouble harnessing his stuff during an underwhelming three-year career. As a junior in 2014, he made 15 appearances, posting a 6.75 ERA with 29 strikeouts, 25 walks (plus four hit batsmen) in 37 1/3 innings. But the stuff was still good enough for the Brewers to pluck Woodruff in the 11th round, and in 2016, things started to click. Woodruff went 14-9, 2.68 at two minor league levels that season; at Double-A Biloxi, he struck out 124 in 113 2/3 innings with just 30 walks. After his “nasty” big league breakthrough last season, he may well have a Cy Young Award in his future.
In identifying an X-factor for each of the current playoff teams, mlb.com’s Richard Justice pegged Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, as that player for Milwaukee. The veteran left-hander has a 2.39 ERA in 25 appearances for the Brewers with 45 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings. “Pomeranz has been reborn as a dominant late-inning reliever since the Brewers acquired him from the Giants at the Trade Deadline,” Justice wrote. It’s been a long, strange trip for Pomeranz, not only this season but over his entire MLB career. He has been an All-Star and won a World Series ring. He also has been traded four times and pitched in seven different organizations since Cleveland drafted him fifth overall out of Oxford in 2010. After winning a ring with Boston last fall, he signed as a free agent with San Francisco. Through 17 starts with the Giants, he was 2-9 with a 6.10 ERA. They moved him to bullpen, where he had worked in the past – and suddenly everything changed. Pomeranz made four scoreless appearances in late July and impressed the Brewers enough that they traded a top prospect to get him. He has been everything they could have hoped for. Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff will start tonight’s National League Wild Card Game at Washington but expect to see Pomeranz – the X-factor — before it’s over. P.S. Woodruff is one of four Biloxi Shuckers alums projected to be in Milwaukee’s lineup. The others are second baseman Keston Hiura, shortstop Orlando Arcia and right fielder Trent Grisham. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who played sparingly down the stretch, isn’t likely to start at second base for Washington.
Congratulations to Phillip Wellman, the former Mississippi Braves manager who piloted the Amarillo Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship on Sunday, beating Tulsa 8-3 in the decisive fifth game. This is the team’s first year in Amarillo after the franchise – still a San Diego affiliate — moved from San Antonio. (Sod poodle is a pioneer nickname for prairie dog.) It was the second championship for Wellman in 19 seasons as a minor league skipper; he won the other in 2008 in the second of his four seasons with the M-Braves. … Condolences to the Biloxi Shuckers, who lost at Jackson, Tenn., on Sunday in Game 5 of the Southern League Championship Series. The Shuckers, a Milwaukee affiliate, have lost in the SL finals in three of their five seasons on the Coast. … It’s now been 11 years since Mississippi celebrated a pro baseball championship, which is beginning to feel like a drought. Over a 15-year span starting in 1981, Jackson’s Texas League clubs won five championships – the Mets in 1981, ’84 and ’85 and the Generals in ’93 and ’96. The independent Senators won a Central League crown in 2003, and five years later, the M-Braves won their lone Southern League title. Long before that, Jackson-based teams won league championships in 1908, 1913, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1940 and 1947, according to research in the Minor League Encyclopedia of Baseball. The 1913 team, known as the Lawmakers, posted an impressive 71-24 record (.747 winning percentage) in the old Cotton States League. Mississippi did not have a pro club from 1953, when the original Senators left town, to 1975, when the Mets moved into Smith-Wills Stadium.
The team he left behind in late June will play for the Southern League championship this week. But rest assured former Biloxi Shuckers standout Trent Grisham is quite happy to be where he is – with Milwaukee in the heat of a playoff race. The 22-year-old outfielder, batting leadoff for the Brewers at Miami, matched a franchise rookie record with five hits on Monday, sparking the club to an 8-3 win that kept it within 2 games of the second wild card in the National League. “It’s a lot of fun,” Grisham told mlb.com. Grisham doubled, tripled, scored twice and drove in two runs in Monday’s victory. Called up on Aug. 1, the lefty hitter is batting .260 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 32 big league games. He batted .254 with 13 homers for the Shuckers this season – his second tour with the Double-A team – and made the SL All-Star Game. He was promoted to Triple-A San Antonio on June 20. A 2015 first-round pick, Grisham is one of several ex-Shuckers having an impact with the Brewers. … The current Biloxi team, in the SL Championship Series for the third time since 2015, hosts Game 1 against the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals tonight at MGM Park.
Thing 1: If you watched Max Fried pitch Thursday night, you’d be lying if you claimed your jaw didn’t drop. One hit and no walks allowed over seven shutout innings against a loaded Washington lineup in the opener of a big four-game series in Atlanta. Fried is 16-4, 3.86 ERA, for the first-place Braves, who won 4-2 on Thursday. If you watched Fried pitch in 2017 for the Mississippi Braves, you’d be stretching it to say you saw this coming. In his second season after returning from Tommy John surgery, the tall left-hander from California went 2-11 with a 5.92 ERA. Ugh. He struck out 85 in 86 2/3 innings but walked 43. Acquired from San Diego in 2014 as part of the Justin Upton deal, Fried was a highly rated prospect in 2017. The Braves gave him a big league look that season and more time in 2018, when Fried posted a 2.94 ERA over 14 games. He won a job in the rotation this spring, and his development hit a new peak on Thursday. “As good as it gets” is how catcher Brian McCann described it to mlb.com. … Thing 2: Dakota Hudson, the ex-Mississippi State star and current St. Louis ace, had a day on Thursday. The rookie right-hander tossed six shutout innings, yielding just one hit, and picked up the first two RBIs of his MLB career in a 10-0 win against San Francisco. Hudson is 15-6 — two wins off the big league lead and tops among all rookies – and has a 3.40 ERA for the surging first-place Cardinals, who, according to Hudson, are having “a blast.” … Thing 3: Dylan File gave up one run over 8 1/3 innings to pace Biloxi to a 4-1 win over Pensacola in Game 2 of the Southern League South playoff series at MGM Park. The Shuckers lead the best-of-5 series 2-0. File went 9-2, 2.79 this season for the Double-A Shuckers, a Milwaukee affiliate.
Former Mississippi high school stars Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central) and Austin Riley (DeSoto Central) faced off, sorta, in the International League playoffs on Wednesday when Columbus and Gwinnett tangled in the semifinals. Riley homered for the Gwinnett Stripers (Atlanta’s Triple-A club), but Columbus (Cleveland) won Game 1 5-4 as Bradley went 2-for-5 with two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. Riley, currently on a big league rehab assignment, hit 15 homers for the Stripers this season before moving up to the majors, where he hit 17 more for the Braves. Bradley, who also got a look in MLB this summer, led the IL with 33 homers. … Biloxi won its Southern League South playoff opener 11-10 on a Dillon Thomas walk-off homer in the 10th inning at MGM Park. In the North opener, Delta State product Dalton Moats threw a scoreless inning in Montgomery’s 4-0 win against Jackson. … Ex-DSU star Zack Shannon hit a home run for Kane County in a loss to Clinton in the Class A Midwest League playoffs. Shannon hit 12 homers during the season. Also in the MWL, Ole Miss product Grae Kessinger and former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner, both 2019 draftees, are on opposing sides in the Quad Cities-Cedar Rapids series. Kessinger had a hit and a run QC’s Game 1 win, while Wallner went 0-for-4. … Former Itawamba Community College star Tyreque Reed belted a homer for Hickory as the Crawdads beat Delmarva in the Class A South Atlantic League playoffs. Reed hit .282 with 13 homers for Hickory this season. … Walker Robbins, the George County High alum, notched a hold for Johnson City as the Cardinals beat Burlington to claim the rookie Appalachian League championship. Robbins, in his fourth pro season but first as a fulltime pitcher, posted a 2.52 ERA in 17 games for Johnson City.
After winning both halves of their division race, the Biloxi Shuckers will begin pursuit of an elusive pennant tonight when the Southern League South playoffs start at MGM Park. The Shuckers went 82-55 overall in 2019. They play wild card qualifier Pensacola in the best-of-5 division series. Biloxi made the postseason in 2015, its first year on the Coast, and again last year but did not capture the league title. Milwaukee’s Double-A club last won the SL pennant in 2001, when it was in Huntsville. (The Mississippi Braves, who just completed their 15th year in Pearl, have won one SL pennant, that coming in 2008.) Biloxi will be without league pitcher of the year Trey Supak, who was promoted in July, and All-Star first baseman Patrick Leonard, who is injured. All-Star closer Nate Griep (1.98 ERA, 22 saves) is still around, as is the power-hitting foursome of Weston Wilson (19 homers), Cooper Hummel (17), Jake Gatewood (13) and Dillon Thomas (13). C.J. Hinojosa is the leading hitter at .280, and Luis Aviles Jr. stole 27 bags. Alec Bettinger (5-7, 3.44) is slated to start Game 1. Former Mississippi State standout Daniel Brown (3.19) works out of the Biloxi pen, as does Clayton Andrews (2.59), who also plays some outfield (.281). … The M-Braves finished 62-74 overall and, despite a prospect-filled roster, didn’t seriously challenge in either half in the South. The M-Braves also had three players make the All-Star team: pitcher Ian Anderson and outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, who was the league’s MVP. Waters became the fifth Jackson area Double-A player to win a player of the year honor. Tim Leary, a pitcher for the Jackson Mets, won the Texas League award in 1980, a year when the league did not have a separate award for pitchers. Darryl Strawberry (1982) and Gregg Jefferies (1987) also won the TL award as JaxMets, and Roberto Petagine won it in 1993 with the Jackson Generals. Javy Lopez in 1992 was the last Braves prospect to win the SL MVP; the team was in Greenville, S.C., at that time.
A pair of former Southern Miss pitchers will get some bonus work in the Arizona Fall League, the select circuit that begins its season on Sept. 18. Bradley Roney, currently with the Mississippi Braves in Atlanta’s system, and Kirk McCarty, pitching for Lynchburg in the Cleveland organization, are on the AFL’s initial rosters announced Wednesday. More names will be added soon. Roney is one of four current M-Braves on the Scottsdale roster, joined by outfielder Greyson Jenista, outfielder Trey Harris and pitcher Connor Johnstone. Roney returned in May from roughly two years on the injured list. The 26-year-old right-handed reliever has a 2.70 ERA, two saves and 34 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings for Double-A Mississippi. Drafted in 2014, he reached Triple-A in 2016 before stalling out with arm injuries. McCarty, a left-handed starter, was a seventh-round pick in 2017. He has spent two stints on the IL this season at high Class A Lynchburg, where he has posted a 3-6 record with a 5.37 ERA in 12 games. He has a 4.03 career ERA. He’ll pitch for Mesa. Lefty Clayton Andrews, a Milwaukee prospect currently on Biloxi’s roster, is slated to pitch for Glendale.
Awards season has begun for the colleges. To recap what’s happened so far: Mississippi State’s Ethan Small has been named the College Baseball Foundation’s national pitcher of the year. J.T. Ginn, the State star from Brandon, was named Perfect Game’s freshman of the year and a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American. Ole Miss’ Grae Kessinger was named the nation’s top shortstop, winning the Mizuno-sponsored Brooks Wallace Award. Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner and State’s Small were tabbed first-team All-Americans by Baseball America, which also honored Bulldogs Jake Mangum and Justin Foscue as second- and third-teamers, respectively. That MSU trio made Collegiate Baseball’s All-America list, as well. Delta State’s Jake Barlow and Hunter Riggins have earned NCAA D-II All-America honors, and Mississippi College’s Blaine Crim, the Gulf South Conference player of the year, was named a D-II Academic All-American. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Brandon Parker was an NJCAA Division II first-team All-America, Northwest CC’s Ben Van Cleve made the second team and Itawamba’s Houston Harding and Pearl River’s Wiley Cleland were on the third team. … Former Mississippi Braves are getting a lot of respect from voters in the early returns from the MLB All-Star Game ballots. Ozzie Albies led National League second basemen and Tommy La Stella, now with the Los Angeles Angels, led the AL at the same position. Brian McCann was second among NL catchers and Dansby Swanson second on the shortstop list. Freddie Freeman (first base) and Ronald Acuna (outfield) came in third at their respective positions. (Unfortunately, Austin Riley is not on the ballot.) East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, who has been at or near the top of the AL batting race all season, was fourth in the shortstop voting. … Former Mississippi State standouts Brandon Woodruff and Dakota Hudson likely will get consideration for the NL pitching staff, while Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull and Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn could be candidates in the AL. Pitchers are chosen by a vote of fellow players. … The current Mississippi Braves are slated to send seven players – five pitchers plus outfielders Drew Waters and Cristian Pache — to next week’s Southern League All-Star Game at MGM Park in Biloxi. Nine Shuckers – yes, nine — are on the South roster.