One of the more compelling stories of the 2022 season has been the return to the big leagues of Christian Bethancourt. The former Atlanta prospect, who played for the Mississippi Braves in 2012-13, won a job with Oakland as a non-roster invitee in the spring and is batting .241 with four homers and 17 RBIs. Before this season, Bethancourt had not played in the majors since 2017. He labored in the minors, in Korea and in winter ball. When he homered on June 1, off Justin Verlander, it was his first bomb in MLB in 2,118 days. If — just for kicks — you were to put together a team of former M-Braves now playing for other organizations, Bethancourt would be a prominent member. Put him at catcher. At first base, there’s the great Freddie Freeman, who left Atlanta this spring for a bigger contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is producing as expected: .302, seven homers, 42 RBIs. (He’ll make his much-anticipated return to the ATL on Friday.) Second base: Tommy LaStella, now with San Francisco. Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Chicago Cubs. Third base: Johan Camargo, Philadelphia. The outfield would feature Jason Heyward (Cubs), Cristian Pache (A’s) and Dylan Moore (Seattle). Willians Astudillo (Miami) would make a fine DH. There is an abundance of former M-Braves pitchers scattered around the big leagues. The best of the bunch might be left-hander Alex Wood, who has 68 career wins (5-5 in 2022) and started — albeit poorly — for the Giants today at Truist Park against his former club. Craig Kimbrel (Dodgers) is the logical choice as closer. (For what it’s worth: Williams Perez leads the Mexican League in ERA, and Joey Terdoslavich is among the league’s top home run hitters.)
There was magic in Omaha, where Ole Miss dispatched Arkansas 13-5 Monday night and is, to borrow a phrase from Hall of Famer Red Barber, sitting in the catbird seat at 2-0 in its bracket of the College World Series. Another strong start from Hunter Elliott, another home run from Tim Elko and a four-hit, four-run game from Justin Bench carried the Rebels to their seventh straight postseason victory. They are riding a wave that began on Selection Monday, when the NCAA handed them a regional bid that was far from certain. As coach Mike Bianco recently said, “When our name was called — I’ve been there for 21 of these and 18 times our name was called — I don’t remember any of those 18 times ever seeing that type of emotion from our team.”
Former Rebels star Lance Lynn, perhaps drawing on the Omaha vibe, went five innings (three runs) to launch the Chicago White Sox to an 8-7 win over Toronto. It was Lynn’s second start of 2022 after a long stint on the injured list. Former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman, who knows a little bit about Omaha (see 2013), also got in on the act for the White Sox, throwing a scoreless eighth inning for his 13th hold.
There was some magic, too, in Atlanta, where Orlando Arcia, one of the original Biloxi Shuckers, delivered a game-winning hit for the surging Braves, scoring pinch-runner Phil Gosselin, a Mississippi Braves star from 10 years ago, with the clincher in a 2-1 win against San Francisco. Arcia, the fill-in for Ozzie Albies at second base, is batting .338 this season with 13 RBIs and two walk-offs. Gosselin, called up when Albies was injured, was originally drafted by the Braves and bounced through six other organizations before returning this year.
Among the bundle of sons of former major leaguers who have made The Show, there is Ke’Bryan Hayes, whose father, Hattiesburg native Charlie, has from all indications done a great job of guiding him down the proper path. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 25, is a rising star at third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a .278 hitter over three seasons with a good blend of power, speed and defensive skills. Earlier this year, the Pirates showed their faith in him with an 8-year, $70 million contract. Charlie Hayes, a Forrest County AHS alum who played in the majors from 1988-2001 (.262, 144 homers), has said he never tried to force baseball on any of his three sons, Ke’Bryan being the youngest. But, “if we were gonna do it, we were gonna try to do it the proper way every single time,” Charlie told espn.com in a recent piece. The lessons worked, as Ke’Bryan was a first-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2015. Off the field, the younger Hayes also seems to handle things the proper way. “He’s an impressive player, especially the way he carries himself,” St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol told The Sporting News. “It’s fun to watch someone who has the combination of skill and, you can tell, just his good character.” Charlie rates some credit for that, as well. P.S. Props to Lucedale native Justin Steele, who threw five solid innings to beat Atlanta and ace Kyle Wright at Wrigley Field on Saturday. It was the first win for the Chicago Cubs lefty since April 9, when he beat Milwaukee and ace Brandon Woodruff. Steele, who has a 1.89 ERA in three June starts, is 2-5, 4.27. … Props also to Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson, who battled for five innings to beat Boston at Fenway Park. The St. Louis right-hander is now 5-3, 3.31, for the first-place Cardinals.
Jacob Lindgren, the former Mississippi State star, is pitching for the Kansas City Monarchs in the independent American Association. The 29-year-old left-hander has a 2.25 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 16 innings out of the bullpen. Lindgren zipped up to the big leagues in 2015, one year after being drafted by the New York Yankees, but was knocked off course by numerous injuries. His seven MLB appearances seven years ago are all he has made.
Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College product, has been on the injured list (a common theme here) all season at Triple-A Durham in Tampa Bay’s system. The lefty, 29, made seven appearances for the Rays in 2021 and has a 5.22 career ERA in 65 MLB games.
Aaron Barrett, the veteran pro from Ole Miss, is pitching (15.00-plus ERA) for Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia chain. Barrett, 34, has a 4.01 career ERA in the big leagues and won a ring with the 2019 Washington Nationals.
Jonathan Holder, ex-MSU standout, has been on the injured list all year at Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs’ system. The 29-year-old right-hander pitched in just two minor league games in 2021. He has a 4.01 career ERA in MLB, last appearing in 2020 with the Yankees.
Jacob Waguespack, Ole Miss alum, is in Japan, where the 28-year-old righty is 1-3, 4.54 ERA, in seven games for Orix of the Japan Pacific League. He has 27 games (5.08 ERA) on his MLB resume, all with Toronto in 2019-20.
Cody Carroll, the former Southern Miss star, has worked in 12 games (9.00 ERA) for Triple-A Sacramento in San Francisco’s system. Carroll, 29, made 18 big league appearances with Baltimore from 2018-20.
James McArthur, an Ole Miss product who made the Phillies’ 40-man roster in the off-season, is 2-6, 5.00, for Double-A Reading in his second tour at that level.
J.T. Ginn, the former second-round pick out of State, is on the injured list at Double-A Midland, having made only five appearances (6.48 ERA) for the Oakland affiliate. Ginn was traded from the New York Mets to the A’s for Chris Bassitt during spring training.
Cole Gordon, ex-MSU standout, is on the injured list with the Mets’ Triple-A Syracuse club; he has pitched just two innings in 2022. The right-hander has a 3.51 ERA over three minor league seasons.
Jared Johnson, an Atlanta draftee out of Smithville High in 2019, has been on the injured list all season at Low-A Augusta. He posted a 2-6 record, 5.16 ERA, in 15 games in the low minors last year.
On this date 50 years ago, Laurel’s Rod Gilbreath made his major league debut for the Atlanta Braves at age 19. Playing third base at Fulton County Stadium, in a lineup that included Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and Ralph Garr, Gilbreath went 0-for-3 against Montreal. Drafted in the third round in 1970 out of Laurel’s Watkins High, Gilbreath zipped through the minors, batting .277 with 10 homers and 45 stolen bases at Double-A Savannah in ’72 before his call-up. He played seven big league years, all with the Braves, batting .248 with 14 homers, 125 RBIs and 25 steals in 500 games. Sign of the times: In 1976, he led the National League with 20 sacrifice bunts. He went on to be a Braves scout. … One hundred years ago, Starkville native Cool Papa Bell broke in at age 19 with the St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League. (The exact date of Bell’s debut isn’t known.) He was a lefty pitcher initially, earning his nickname in 1922 for his composure on the mound. He won 20 games over three seasons with the Stars but an arm injury turned him into a full-time outfielder. Blessed with amazing speed, he batted .325 with 285 steals (unofficially, he had many, many more) over a 21-year career, playing for legendary championship teams in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Homestead, Pa. Bell made the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.
For what it’s worth — probably not much — 247sports.com predicts that Ole Miss will last just three games in the College World Series, beating Auburn, then losing to Arkansas and Stanford. Saturday’s opener against Auburn does loom large. The teams’ mid-March meeting doesn’t provide much of a gauge. The Rebels won 13-6 and 15-2 (in the rubber game) and lost 19-5. Neither of UM’s emergent aces — Dylan DeLucia and Hunter Elliott — started in that series, though both pitched well in relief in the wins. The Rebels’ pitching depth beyond those two and closer Brandon Johnson, which held up nicely in the regional and Super Regional, will be tested in Omaha. … Up in the Cape Cod League, Kellum Clark is off to a hot start for Wareham. The Mississippi State sophomore from Brandon went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBIs in a win on Thursday and is 4-for-10 in three games in the elite summer league. … The slumping Mississippi Braves could use some spark, and there’s a player at High-Class A Rome bidding for a promotion to the Double-A club. Shortstop Vaughn Grissom, a top 10 prospect in Atlanta’s system, is batting .288 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 12 steals for the R-Braves. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Grissom hit two grand slams in a 4-for-7 effort on Thursday. … MSU alum Jordan Westburg is batting .414 with three homers and nine RBIs in his first seven games for Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore’s system. Wonder if the awful Orioles might give him a look later this summer? … Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson went 1-for-3 with a homer for Triple-A Memphis on Thursday in his first rehab assignment for St. Louis. Dickerson was batting .194 for the Cardinals when he injured a hamstring on June 4. … East Central CC product Tim Anderson is 4-for-11 in three games for Triple-A Charlotte on his rehab assignment. Anderson, who went down with a groin injury on May 30, was batting .356 in 40 games for the Chicago White Sox. … Hunter Renfroe is known for his power bat and cannon arm — not his wheels. The ex-State standout, playing for Milwaukee, tried to score from first base on a hit into the right-field corner against the New York Mets on Thursday. Didn’t work out. He was cut down for the second out in the ninth inning of the Brewers’ 5-4 loss at CitiField.
Home runs were kind of a thing on Tuesday. Atlanta hit five of ’em in its 13th straight win, a 10-4 triumph at Washington, with former Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Michael Harris II and Biloxi Shuckers alum Orlando Arcia getting in on the long-ball act. Swanson’s was his ninth of 2022, Harris’ his second and second in as many nights and Arcia’s his second and first since a walk-off bomb on May 11. Arcia was making his first start as Ozzie Albies’ replacement at second base. … Nathaniel (or is it Nate?) Lowe, who has been on a hot streak for Texas, hit his eighth of the season; the former Mississippi State star is batting .317 with five homers in his last 15 games. … Down in Double-A, Southern Miss product Matt Wallner belted his 12th for Wichita and is now hitting .271 with 42 RBIs for the Minnesota affiliate. … Ex-MSU standout Tanner Allen, the 2021 Ferriss Trophy winner, hit his third homer for High-Class A Beloit in Miami’s system. … DeSoto Central High alum Blaze Jordan smacked his fourth for Low-A Salem in Boston’s chain; he is batting .272 with 31 RBIs in his second pro summer. … Brandon Parker, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star from Saucier, hit No. 3 for Low-A Augusta in the Atlanta system; he is batting .257. … Also of note, as part of a five-hit game for Birmingham at Trustmark Park, former M-Braves standout Tyler Neslony hit his 10th homer — onto the roof of the Farm Bureau Grill past right field — in the Barons’ 9-4 win against the faltering M-Braves. P.S. Richton High product JaCoby Jones has been released from Triple-A by Kansas City. The erstwhile big leaguer, 30, who was with Detroit for six seasons, was batting .214 with four homers at Omaha. His future would appear to be uncertain. … Ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford, also a former big leaguer, went 1-for-3 in his debut Tuesday with the KT Wiz in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Figuring things out at the Double-A level can take time. Michael Harris II, who jumped to the big leagues after 43 games with the Mississippi Braves, is an exception to the rule. Much more common is the experience of a player like C.J. Alexander, the M-Braves’ current third baseman. You could call 2022 Alexander’s junior year in Double-A, and he seems to be figuring things out after a couple of uneven seasons. Alexander, 25, is batting .267 with 11 homers, 27 RBIs and eight steals for the M-Braves, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Trustmark Park against Birmingham. Alexander is an Indiana native who played at State College of Florida and was drafted in the 20th round by Atlanta in 2018. He reached Mississippi in 2019 but batted just .103 in 24 games. After the year without a season in 2020, he returned to Pearl last year and helped the M-Braves win a pennant, hitting 10 homers but batting just .197. He still needs some polish on defense (10 errors in 41 games at third), but the bat has definitely perked up this summer. He has hit all of his 11 homers in May and June. Once a Top 30 prospect in the Braves’ system, Alexander may be working his way back into that club. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Taylor Broadway, a 2021 draftee by the Chicago White Sox, is on Birmingham’s roster. The right-hander, who had a nice debut pro season, is struggling at the Double-A level in 2022, with a 6.95 ERA in 19 appearances.
Pitching is not supposed to be Ole Miss’ strong suit. Well, the Rebels have flipped that script. Continuing a strong show of arms in the Coral Cables Regional, Ole Miss’ Dylan DeLucia and Jack Dougherty combined on a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 10-0 win Saturday against Southern Miss in the opener of the Hattiesburg Super Regional. USM, which has one of the best staff ERAs (3.26) in the nation, allowed nine earned runs in Game 1 of this best-of-3. Starter Hurston Waldrep had a wobbly outing, and the bullpen melted down after he departed. … Former Madison Central High standout Braden Montgomery hit one of Stanford’s incredible eight home runs in the Palo Alto Super Regional, but the Cardinal somehow lost to UConn 13-12 in Game 1. … Chris Stratton has been an effective reliever this season for Pittsburgh, but the Tupelo native’s outing against Atlanta on Saturday was a disaster. He faced five batters and all of them scored. He hit a batter, walked a batter and yielded three hits, including Ozzie Albies’ grand slam. He also allowed two inherited runners to score in the Braves’ eight-run seventh inning that led to a 10-4 win, the Braves’ 10th straight. Former Mississippi State ace Stratton saw his ERA jump from 3.75 to 5.63. … Ex-Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff, out since May 27 with an ankle injury, is eligible to come off the injured list today for Milwaukee but is experiencing numbness in his pitching hand, delaying his return. He is 5-3 with a 4.74 ERA for the Brewers, who are in a freefall with eight straight losses. … LeDarious Clark, the East Mississippi Community College alum from Meridian, is enjoying a big season with Lancaster in the independent Atlantic League. He is batting .299 with eight home runs, 22 RBIs and 15 steals. Clark, 28, hit 18 homers and stole 28 bags for Lancaster last year after spending six lackluster seasons in the Texas system. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves have lost eight of 11 heading into today’s road trip finale at Rocket City. At 26-30, the M-Braves are in a virtual tie with Biloxi (25-29) for last place in the Southern League South. The Shuckers have also lost eight of their last 11.
In the 13-hit barrage the Atlanta Braves laid on Oakland on Wednesday night, the biggest blast might have come in the fifth inning from the rookie in the 9-hole. Michael Harris II, who was playing for the Mississippi Braves less than two weeks ago, stroked a two-run triple, a laser down the right-field line that gave the Braves their first lead in what became a 13-2 victory. It was the team’s seventh straight victory; they are unbeaten since manager Brian Snitker called a team meeting before their last game in Arizona to address lackluster play. Finally, the defending champions are playing like one should. Harris’ contributions have been subtle but impactful, especially his defense in center field. “The jumps, his arm and the reads, he’s been really, really impressive,” Snitker told mlb.com. Harris, only 21, is batting .268 with five RBIs in 11 games. He was wearing out the Double-A Southern League, hitting .305 with five homers, 33 RBIs, 33 runs, 11 steals, 16 doubles and two triples when he was somewhat surprisingly called to The Show on May 28. Atlanta has become incredibly adept at developing talent in the minors and plugging in pieces at just the right time. Harris is fitting in with a lineup that, on Wednesday, included seven former M-Braves stars. They combined for eight hits, two walks, three homers, nine RBIs and eight runs. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum, hit his 15th homer, also in that pivotal four-run fifth inning. William Contreras, seemingly from out of nowhere, has eight bombs. Starting pitcher Ian Anderson, an M-Braves alum, worked a strong six innings for his fifth win. All but one of Atlanta’s 57 games has been started by a former M-Braves pitcher. This largely homegrown team has won four straight division titles and may have launched its drive toward a fifth.