From all indications, the Chicago Cubs are now in wait-till-next-year mode. Former George County High star Justin Steele is making a strong case to be part of the 2022 plan. Left-hander Steele threw five shutout innings for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, yielding just four hits and fanning five in his fourth start since the Cubs decided to return him to that role. Steele has a 1.15 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings over those four starts. He posted a 2.03 ERA in 11 relief appearances in his long-awaited MLB debut this year – he was drafted in 2014 — before a hamstring injury put him on the injured list in late May. Steele reportedly improved his slider during his time in the Cubs’ alternate camp last summer and now features an impressive array of pitches, including a high-90s fastball. “I’m really starting to settle into my mechanics, really feeling smooth out there, been a while since I’ve felt so smooth,” Steele, 26, said in a bleachernation.com article last week following his third start for the I-Cubs. P.S. Jacob Waguespack, the Ole Miss alum, also picked up a win Thursday, his sixth of the year at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s chain. Waguespack, who has big league time, was cut from the 40-man roster in March and sent to Buffalo, where he has gone 6-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 games (nine starts). … Wondering what Atlanta’s plan is for Drew Waters, the ex-Mississippi Braves standout and 2019 Southern League MVP? The switch-hitting outfielder had a four-hit game Thursday for Triple-A Gwinnett and is batting .262 with eight homers, 27 RBIs, 43 runs and 16 steals. He has power and speed and might be able to inject some life into the Braves’ frequently sleepy offense.
Charlie Morton, the veteran Atlanta pitcher, gives an endearing assessment of Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum and current Braves third baseman. “He’s easy to root for,” Morton said in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story. “He’s great in the clubhouse. Just an all-around really good dude.” Riley also has become an all-around really good player, a blossoming star, in fact. The 24-year-old, third-year big leaguer smacked two home runs, one a grand slam, and drove in six runs to power the Braves to a 12-5 win against the first-place New York Mets on Tuesday night at CitiField. The two homers went deep into the left-field seats and covered a combined 850 feet-plus. “The power’s unbelievable,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told The Associated Press. “He’s still figuring things out. … Still a lot of upside in this guy.” Riley is batting .288 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs. Over the last 15 days, mostly spent in the cleanup spot, Riley is batting .372 (second among all MLB third basemen) with 16 hits (first), a .791 slugging percentage (first), five homers (tied for the most) and 14 RBIs (first). And, he hasn’t made an error since June 20. P.S. Adam Frazier fit seamlessly into San Diego’s lineup on Tuesday, going 2-for-5 and scoring twice as the leadoff batter (and left fielder) in a 7-4 win over Oakland. The 2021 All-Star out of Mississippi State was traded on Monday from Pittsburgh. Frazier is hitting .325. … Former MSU standout Kendall Graveman, traded from Seattle to Houston in the midst of a series between the two American League West rivals, was in an Astros uniform but did not pitch in Tuesday’s game, an 8-6 Houston win. Graveman, a bit surprised by the trade, got visibly emotional in a TV interview discussing the move. The right-handed reliever is 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA and 10 saves. … Ex-State star Nate Lowe stuffed the stat sheet in helping Texas stop a 12-game losing streak with a 5-4 win against Arizona. Lowe, batting .251 with the Rangers, had two hits, a walk, two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. … And down in Double-A, the Mississippi Braves, powered by a club-record seven homers, stopped an eight-game skid with a resounding 9-3 win at Pensacola. Shea Langeliers, who could be Atlanta’s catcher next season, hit two bombs, raising his season total to 17.
There’s hot and then there’s whatever the Mississippi Braves are right now. The top team in the Double-A South won its sixth straight game on Saturday night at Trustmark Park. The last five of those wins have come against the league’s second-best team, Pensacola. Saturday night’s win rated an exclamation point. Not only were the Blue Wahoos dismissed by a 6-0 count, Bryce Elder and Daysbel Hernandez combined on a no-hitter. On a night when top-rated prospects Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake went 0-for-8, two others stepped up with big hits. Justin Dean, the diminutive, dynamic leadoff batter, belted a two-run homer to dead center field, and Trey Harris, the brawny right fielder, smacked a three-run, opposite-field double. The defense was clean and even produced three double plays. Can they bottle this? Elder, Atlanta’s No. 11 prospect, threw seven innings in his third Double-A start; he is 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA. The talented arms just keep coming in the Braves’ system. The M-Braves, 37-22 and 4 games up in the Double-A South’s South Division, go for seven in a row today against Pensacola. On the bump? Spencer Strider, the No. 20 prospect who has climbed three levels this season. He is 1-1, 3.95 in three starts. P.S. Meanwhile, the season-ending injury to Ronald Acuna might open the door for former M-Braves star Cristian Pache to get another shot in Atlanta. The swift center fielder is batting .252 with three homers and 13 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. Another possibility is Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP for the M-Braves who is batting .257 with five homers, 18 RBIs and 15 steals for the Stripers. He is slated to play in today’s All-Star Futures Game in Colorado.
There may be no hotter team in pro ball than the Mississippi Braves, who won two games on Thursday at Trustmark Park, extending their win streak to four, and have won 31 of their last 45. At 35-22 overall (22-11 at home), the M-Braves have the best record in the Double-A South. (And, yes, there will be a postseason to crown a champion in September.) Atlanta prospects Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake stood out on Thursday. Langeliers hit his 14th homer, tied for the league lead, and Shewmake homered, his sixth, and extended his hit streak to 11 games. The M-Braves play Pensacola again tonight (6:35) at the TeePee in Pearl.
Jake Mangum hit his fourth homer for Binghamton, the 16th extra-base hit for the former Mississippi State standout in 36 games for the New York Mets’ Double-A team. Mangum, batting .275, is slugging .450. He slugged just .297 in A-ball in 2019.
Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim hit his fourth home run in three games for High-A Hickory in the Texas system. Crim, in his second pro season, is batting .275 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs.
Pascagoula High product Willie Joe Garry, Jr., went 3-for-5 with his third triple of the season for Low-A Fort Myers in Minnesota’s chain. Garry, 21, in his third pro season, is batting .196 with two homers, 12 RBIs, 19 runs and 13 steals.
The scuffling Chicago Cubs are returning Justin Steele, the ex-George County High standout, to a starting role at Triple-A Iowa. Steele, a starter his first six seasons in pro ball, worked in relief for the Cubs as a rookie this season, posting a 2.03 ERA in 11 games before landing on the injured list. “We’re going to try to put him in a role where he can face the lineup a couple times, and there’s no reason he can’t do it,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said in an nbcchicago.com report. The left-hander will start for Iowa on Sunday and likely will be in the Cubs’ rotation soon.
Bobby Bradley hit his first home run since June 30 in Cleveland’s win over Kansas City on Thursday. The Harrison Central High alum now has nine bombs on the season in just 97 big league at-bats. He had nine in 97 at-bats at Triple-A Columbus when he was called up to the big club on June 5.
Ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman, now Seattle’s closer, was in the middle of a conflict between the Mariners and New York Yankees on Thursday. Graveman, on in the ninth to close out a 4-0 M’s win, brushed D.J. LeMahieu’s jersey with an inside pitch. LeMahieu barked at Graveman, who stared him down. More shouting and posturing ensued at game’s end involving multiple players. LeMahieu brushed it all off in a comment to nj.com: “He threw one in on Rougned (Odor) and the next one in on me. It looked suspicious, but it’s just baseball.”
Tim Anderson has won a batting title and a Silver Slugger award. The former East Central Community College star, now in his seventh big league season, led his team, the Chicago White Sox, to a playoff berth in 2020 and to the top of the American League Central standings as of today. And yet: He hasn’t earned an All-Star Game invite. Granted, for a shortstop in the AL, that’s no easy feat. Xander Bogaerts was voted in by the fans. Carlos Correa and Bo Bichette, also deserving of consideration, were picked as reserve shortstops. Anderson — currently batting .307 with six homers, 29 RBIs, 50 runs and 14 steals — was snubbed, and Frank Thomas, the former White Sox star and Hall of Famer, was outraged (really). “Tim Anderson has proven to be a superstar in this league,” he said during a rant on a ChiSox pregame TV show. The normally outspoken Anderson has let his bat talk. He is 8-for-12 since the reserves were announced on July 4. He put up a 4-for-4 game on Wednesday as Chicago – and Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, an All-Star pick – beat Minnesota 6-1. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson combined for 11 hits, four RBIs and seven runs in Atlanta’s 14-3 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Some other ex-M-Braves also showed out: Jason Heyward put a 4-1-1-1 in the box score and made a great catch in right field as the Cubs snapped their 11-game skid; Craig Kimbrel got the last three outs. Jose Peraza hit a late game-tying homer that propelled the New York Mets to a win over Milwaukee. Phil Gosselin went 1-for-4 with an RBI for the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-4 win against Boston. And Alex Wood worked seven innings for his eighth win as San Francisco topped St. Louis 5-2.
Shohei Ohtani, the amazing double-duty All-Star, got the win and Raisel Iglesias the save in the Los Angeles Angels’ 5-3 victory against Boston on Tuesday night. Former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers was the “bridge guy,” pitching the eighth inning, between Ohtani and Iglesias. Mayers was credited with a hold, that somewhat obscure statistic that gives middle relievers something to, er, hold on to. A hold is awarded to a reliever who enters in “a save situation and maintains his team’s lead for the next relief pitcher, while recording at least one out.” Mayers’ scoreless inning of work gives the right-hander 11 holds on the year; the MLB lead is 17. He has a 4.17 ERA and two saves in 41 appearances. Drew Pomeranz, another UM product, fills a similar role to Mayers’ for San Diego. The big lefty notched his eighth hold on Tuesday, pitching a scoreless eighth in the Padres’ 7-4 win over Washington. Pomeranz, who recently came off the injured list, has a 1.59 ERA in 18 games. Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Tupelo and another middle relief specialist, pitched a scoreless seventh inning in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win against Atlanta. But the score was tied when Stratton worked – so, no hold. He has four on the year, along with a 2.96 ERA and a save in 35 appearances. P.S. If there was a bright spot in the Braves’ second straight lackluster performance against the lowly Pirates, it was the hitting of Orlando Arcia. Arcia, the second Biloxi Shuckers alum (after Jed Bradley) to play for Atlanta, went 2-for-3 and homered for the Braves’ lone run. He is 4-for-11 with two RBIs, two runs and a steal in three games since being called up from Triple-A Gwinnett, where he was batting .303 with 13 homers. He was Milwaukee’s starting shortstop the previous five years. … To the long list of great catches by Billy Hamilton, make room for the one he made Tuesday. The Taylorsville High product, playing center field in the ninth inning for the Chicago White Sox, ran full speed and laid out for the acrobatic snag, then slid across the rain-soaked warning track to complete the play. “I think that’s the top one, to be honest with you,” Hamilton said in an mlb.com story.
Mississippi will be represented by at least one state college product in the MLB All-Star Game for the sixth straight time. Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State alumnus now with Pittsburgh, was the winner in fan balloting to start at second base for the National League. It’ll be his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, and he is very deserving of the honor. The lefty-hitting Frazier, in his sixth MLB season, is batting .326 with 101 hits, four homers, 28 RBIs and 50 runs. “I don’t really love the spotlight itself. I just try to go about my business and take care of what I need to take care of,” Frazier said in an mlb.com article. “It’s pretty cool to have the support, and I’m happy for that.” This is also pretty cool: The last Pirates second baseman to start an All-Star Game was Bill Mazeroski in 1967. More Mississippians could be headed for Colorado for the July 13 game when pitchers and reserves are announced Sunday. In 2019, the last time there was an All-Star Game, Brandon Woodruff, the ex-State standout from Wheeler, went as a replacement to the National League pitching staff. He followed Mitch Moreland (2018), Zack Cozart and Corey Dickerson (2017), Drew Pomeranz (2016) and Brian Dozier and Jonathan Papelbon (2015) as recent All-Stars out of Magnolia State schools. … Former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna also were voted in, as announced by MLB on Thursday. P.S. The all-Mississippi home run chase in MLB is proving to be quite interesting. DeSoto Central product Austin Riley belted his 14th on Thursday (off Jacob deGrom, no less), moving two ahead of ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe and Bulldogs alum Nate Lowe, who hit two on Thursday to get to 12. Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley, who has only been up since June 5, has eight. Still waiting for former State standout Moreland to get it going; he’s at six. … Down in the minors, Houlka’s Tyreque Reed hit two bombs for High-A Greenville (Boston) and has 12 on the season.
Most of the highly rated prospects on the Mississippi Braves’ roster are position players. But the Double-A team’s rise to the top of their division can be attributed more to the arms than the bats. The M-Braves have won 19 of 25 to reach 27-18 on the season. Last in the Double-A South in hitting (.211) and next-to-last in runs, they have the best staff ERA in the league at 3.30. Opponents are hitting just .216 against them – lowest in the league – and have a league-low 20 homers in 45 games. There is some power in the M-Braves’ lineup, and they hit three home runs in Thursday night’s 6-2 win over Tennessee at Trustmark Park. But the pitching rates a shout-out, as well. Spencer Strider, Atlanta’s No. 20 prospect (with a bullet), made his Double-A debut and yielded two runs in 4 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. He has a 1.82 ERA and 64 punchouts in 34 2/3 innings over three levels. The 2020 fourth-round pick from Clemson was followed to the bump by Kurt Hoekstra, Brooks Wilson and Brandon White, who combined to allow just two hits and fan six over the final 4 1/3. White has emerged as a reliable closer with seven saves and a 1.69 ERA. Hoekstra (3.38), Wilson (1.71), Josh Graham (2.33) and Troy Bacon (1.93) have been effective out of the pen. Bacon had a rare immaculate inning (three K’s on nine pitches) in Tuesday’s game. Nolan Kingham, a former Texas star, has emerged as the ace among M-Braves starters. The right-hander tossed 7 1/3 shutout innings Wednesday to improve to 5-1 with a 2.29 ERA. Opening day starter Hayden Deal, a lefty who’ll go tonight at the TeePee, is 1-2 with a 3.28 and has yet to allow a home run. Odalvi Javier is 3-1, 2.78 and A.J. Puckett 1-2, 2.59. The highest-rated pitching prospect on the roster is No. 14 Viktor Vodnik (0-1, 2.51), but he is currently on the injured list. If it’s true that good pitching beats good hitting, the 2021 M-Braves are in good shape.
The first phase of fan voting for the All-Star Game ended today with Adam Frazier looking like the lone Mississippi product on track to make Phase 2. Per the last update on the results, former Mississippi State standout Frazier was second in the voting for National League second baseman (behind Ozzie Albies); the top three advance in the voting process. The finalists for Phase 2 will be announced on Sunday. Frazier is among the league leaders with a .324 average for Pittsburgh. Ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson, having an All-Star type year for the Chicago White Sox, stood fourth at American League shortstop. Xander Bogaerts, Bo Bichette and Carlos Correa led that pack. Anderson, batting .297 with six homers, 41 runs and 13 steals, might still get picked as a reserve. A recent slump may have cost Austin Riley a shot at making the NL team at third base; he was fourth in the latest release. The DeSoto Central High product, who had a great month of May, is hitting .276 with 12 homers. Former State standout Brandon Woodruff (6-3, 1.89 ERA) and Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn (7-3, 2.14) would appear to be solid candidates as pitchers, which are chosen by player ballot and the Commissioner’s Office.
You wouldn’t necessarily go to a Mississippi Braves game to watch Shea Langeliers play catcher, but you’d probably come away impressed. Take Wednesday night’s game, for instance. Langeliers, Atlanta’s No. 3-rated prospect, threw out two would-be base stealers in the Double-A team’s 2-1 win against Birmingham at Trustmark Park. (For the record, before throwing out Laz Rivera for the second time, Langeliers appeared to pick him off first base; the umpire called Rivera safe.) Langeliers has thrown out 17 of 29 attempted base thieves. That’s 59 percent. A 30-percent rate is considered good. The 2019 first-round pick has just two passed balls and two errors over 29 games. From MLB Pipeline’s scouting report: “His athleticism and agility allow him to be a plus blocker and receiver and he perhaps has the best arm of any catcher in the Minor Leagues, one that allowed him to throw out 41 percent of potential basestealers in 2019.” Oh, and he is also the M-Braves’ best hitter. … No. 4 prospect Braden Shewmake, hitting just .127, did drive in one of the M-Braves’ runs, his 11th RBI. No. 25 prospect Justin Dean (.242) picked up the other, his 14th RBI. Elsewhere in the Atlanta system: No. 5 prospect Kyle Muller became the latest M-Braves alum to advance to the big leagues, working an inning for the Braves in their 10-8 loss to Boston. Muller allowed four hits and two runs in relief of former M-Braves star Ian Anderson, who gave up four runs in four innings. All of that was before M-Braves alum A.J. Minter yielded a game-turning grand slam to Christian Arroyo. Such is the state of the big Braves’ pitching staff. … At Triple-A Gwinnett, No. 1 prospect – and erstwhile Atlanta center fielder – Cristian Pache is hitting .300 since being sent down on May 29. No. 2 prospect Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP who has yet to get a big league look, is batting .279 with three homers and eight steals. … At High-A Rome, No. 6 prospect Jared Shuster threw four shutout innings Wednesday in a 5-0 win. The left-hander out of Wake Forest is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in five games. … At Low-A Augusta, two Mississippi products, both 2019 draft picks, are feeling their way in pro ball. Brandon Parker, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout from Saucier, is batting .160 with five bombs and 19 RBIs in 30 games. Right-hander Jared Johnson, the No. 29 prospect out of Smithville High, allowed three runs with four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings in his only appearance to date.