16 Sep

fall guys

Four Mississippi products, each having battled injuries this season, are on the preliminary rosters for the Arizona Fall League, the select circuit for minor league prospects. Mississippi State alums Will Bednar and J.T. Ginn, ex-Southern Miss star Reed Trimble and former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith are slotted to play in the six-team AFL, which starts its season on Oct. 3. Bednar, the MVP of the 2021 College World Series and the 14th overall pick in the ’21 draft by San Francisco, is 1-3 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 games at the Low-Class A level. Ginn, a second-round pick in 2020, has made 10 starts this year in Double-A in Oakland’s system, posting a 1-4, 6.11 ledger. Ginn was traded by the New York Mets to the A’s for Chris Bassitt during spring training. Trimble, an outfielder and 2021 draftee, is hitting .291 in Low-A ball for Baltimore. Keith, drafted in 2020 by Detroit, hit .301 with nine homers in an abbreviated season at High-A. He was Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019. Among Atlanta’s AFL contingent are current Mississippi Braves Justyn-Henry Malloy and Allan Winans. They’ll be with the Scottsdale team, along with Trimble and Bednar. Ginn will go to Mesa and Keith to Salt River. The rosters could change before or during the season. A bevy of Top 100 overall prospects are scheduled to participate, including four of MLB Pipeline’s Top 20.

14 Sep

clearing the bases

Time for Atlanta to make room for Ozzie Albies? The former Mississippi Braves star, on an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A Gwinnett, went 5-for-5 with a walk-off home run on Tuesday. The Braves’ erstwhile second baseman is batting .348 in 23 ABs at Gwinnett. He has been on the injured list since mid-June with a broken bone in his foot. … Former M-Braves Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson and Michael Harris II contributed six hits, four RBIs and three runs in Atlanta’s 5-1 win at San Francisco that moved the Braves within a half-game of the New York Mets in the National League East. Former M-Braves right-hander Kyle Wright became the Braves’ first 18-game winner since 2003. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, out for over a month with a hand injury, reportedly will ramp up baseball activities for the Chicago White Sox and could return to the lineup next week. The All-Star shortstop and team leadoff batter is hitting .301. … The White Sox, keeping pace in the American League Central with Cleveland, won for the 10th time in 14 games since manager Tony LaRussa stepped aside for health reasons. Ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman worked a scoreless inning for his 24th hold as the ChiSox beat Colorado 4-2. … The Guardians remained 3 games up on Chicago by beating the Los Angeles Angels 3-1 as Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty picked up his third MLB win with 3 1/3 scoreless relief innings. The rookie lefty now has a 4.88 ERA. … Former State standout Hunter Renfroe had two hits, an RBI and a run in Milwaukee’s 8-4 win against rival St. Louis and Jordan Montgomery. The Brewers, 7 games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central and fourth in the wild card standings, have won three in a row. … Ex-Mississippi College star Blaine Crim went 1-for-3 with two RBIs in his Triple-A debut for Round Rock in the Texas chain. He hit .295 with 24 homers and 91 RBIs at Double-A Frisco. … USM product Matt Wallner put up a 3-for-4 with two RBIs for Triple-A St. Paul (Minnesota) to lift his average to .257; he has six homers and 31 RBIs in 48 games there. He hit .299 with 21 homers in Double-A to start the season. P.S. On this date in 1912, Crystal Springs native Phil Redding made his big league debut — and it was one to forget. Right-hander Redding, starting for St. Louis against the Boston Braves, allowed 16 hits, five walks and nine earned runs in eight innings. (Was he being punished?) He won his next two starts, pitched in one more game in 2013 and then never again in the majors.

12 Sep

to the role players …

The curtain calls in the dramas that played out in Pittsburgh and Seattle on Sunday went to the leading men: Albert Pujols of St. Louis and the Mariners’ Eugenio Suarez. But their supporting cast also rates some applause. In the Cardinals’ 4-3 win against the Pirates, former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton got the last two outs in eighth inning, stranding two runners, and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson then drove in St. Louis’ first run in the ninth and was on board for Pujols’ 697th homer, which put the Cards ahead. In Seattle, MSU alumnus Adam Frazier produced two hits, two RBIs, two runs and a stolen base as the Mariners built a five-run lead through seven innings against Atlanta. The Braves made an incredible comeback — fueled by Michael Harris II and Robbie Grossman — to take the lead in the ninth before homers by Julio Rodriguez and Suarez won it for the M’s 8-7. Stratton, a trade deadline acquisition by the Cardinals (from Pittsburgh), has pitched well for his new team. In 13 appearances covering 17 innings, the veteran middle reliever has a 2.65 ERA and a 3-0 record. Dickerson, after a horrid first half with the Cards, has hit .398 with two homers, 15 RBIs and 11 runs since the All-Star break. St. Louis has virtually locked up the National League Central. Frazier has run hot-and-cold for Seattle, which has a firm grip on a wild card berth in the American League. The lefty-hitting second baseman, always steady with the glove, is batting .242 with three homers, 35 RBIs, 59 runs and nine stolen bases over 137 games.

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.

07 Sep

nature of the game

Every day in the season is filled with highs and lows. Here’s a few from Tuesday:
Highs
Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star, drove in the go-ahead run with a sac fly in the sixth inning and Atlanta’s bullpen made it stand up for a 10-9 win at Oakland that gave the Braves a share of the National League East lead.
Logan Tanner, the Mississippi State alum, hit his first professional home run for Daytona, Cincinnati’s Low-Class A affiliate. Tanner, a second-round pick in July, also walked twice and scored three times; he is batting .204.
Reed Trimble, the Southern Miss product, went 3-for-5 with a couple of RBIs and a run for Low-A Delmarva (Baltimore). He is batting .296 with 18 RBIs and 19 runs in 30 games for the Shorebirds.
Joe Gray Jr., the former Hattiesburg High star, went 3-for-5 with a couple of doubles for High-A Wisconsin, though the Milwaukee prospect is batting just .192 in a pivotal season.
Dakota Hudson, ex-State standout, probably not thrilled at being sent to Triple-A by St. Louis, pitched 8 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts in his first appearance for Memphis against Norfolk.
Hunter Renfroe hit his 25th homer and fellow former Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff allowed just one run in seven innings for Milwaukee, but …
Lows
Renfroe and Woodruff watched the Brewers’ bullpen blow a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning and ultimately lose 10-7 in 10 to Colorado, further damaging their playoff hopes.
Buck Showalter, the ex-State standout and current New York Mets manager, watched his club fall to Pittsburgh 8-2, its third straight loss to a last-place club, and slip into a tie for first with the surging Braves in the NL East.
Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College product trying to get back to the majors, gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning of work for Double-A Montgomery (Tampa Bay). The veteran lefty saw his ERA rise to 7.71 for the Biscuits.
James Beard, the Loyd Star High alum, went 0-for-3 with three punchouts for High-A Winston-Salem in the Chicago White Sox’s system. Beard, batting .206, has fanned 17 times in 34 at-bats since being promoted from Low-A.
Regi Grace, the ex-Madison Central star, yielded three hits, a walk and four runs in his High-A debut with Cedar Rapids (Minnesota). He had four wins, four holds, two saves and a 4.45 ERA at Fort Myers.

04 Sep

comfort zone

Shortly after he was drafted in July, former Ole Miss star Tim Elko said his experience against SEC competition and in NCAA Tournament play had prepared him well for pro ball. “I’ll feel pretty comfortable getting in there,” he told milb.com. He appears to have been right. Playing at Low-Class A Kannapolis in the Chicago White Sox’s system, the 23-year-old Elko has 10 hits in his last six games and boosted his average to .310 in 10 games there overall. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman, who set a single-season record with 24 homers for the national champion Rebels this season, started slowly in rookie ball, going 4-for-26 with 13 strikeouts, though three of the hits were homers. He moved up to Kannapolis on Aug. 23 and started to click against better quality pitching. He went 3-for-4 on Saturday, his second three-hit game for the Cannon Ballers. He has hit one homer, giving him four for the year. Elko cemented his place in Ole Miss lore when he returned from a serious knee injury in 2021 to help the Rebels’ drive to an NCAA Super Regional appearance. He was a team captain this season as a fifth-year senior, put on a stunning slugging performance in the Coral Cables Regional and made the College World Series All-Tournament team. The White Sox drafted Elko in the 10th round. “He’s got a chance to have a nice career in front of him,” Chicago scouting director Mike Shirley said at the time. P.S. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley homered for the fourth straight game Saturday in Atlanta’s 2-1 win vs. Miami. He has 35 round-trippers on the year, third-most in MLB. Great comment in an mlb.com story from rookie Michael Harris II, like Riley a former Mississippi Braves star: “I tell him every time he hits a home run [that] I wanna be like him when I grow up. … I really look up to him, and he’s a big leader in this clubhouse.” … UM product Drew Pomeranz reportedly suffered a setback in his injury rehab, casting doubt on whether he’ll pitch for San Diego this season. He had arm surgery a year ago in August. … St. Louis has announced that ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson will move to the bullpen. He is 7-7 with a 4.43 ERA as a starter this season.

02 Sep

hit parade

Matt Wallner’s power isn’t in question. The key to the ex-Southern Miss star’s long-term success, according to the scouting report by MLB Pipeline, is improving his overall hit tool. Minnesota Twins brass have to be beaming over what they saw on Thursday night, when their No. 5 prospect put on a veritable hitting clinic at Triple-A St. Paul. Wallner hit for the cycle, banging out five hits all told, including his fifth homer for the Saints, and driving in six runs in an 18-6 victory against Omaha. “It felt pretty good,” Wallner told milb.com. “It was the first time I’ve ever been able to do something like that in my life, so it was pretty fun.” The career home run leader at USM, Wallner now has 26 homers this season, not including the jaw-dropping one he blasted in the All-Star Futures Game. The 6-foot-5, lefty-hitting outfielder batted .299 with 21 homers at Double-A Wichita before being promoted to St. Paul on July 14. He is at .245 in 37 games for the Saints. He is still striking out at a high clip — 49 in 139 at-bats — but has 27 walks, boosting his on-base percentage to .379. A Minnesota native, Wallner was the 39th overall pick in 2019 by the Twins, the team he dreamed of playing for as a kid. He is close. … Jordan Westburg, the former Mississippi State star and Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect, homered for the third straight game for Triple-A Norfolk, giving the infielder 14 for the Tides and 23 on the season. Overall, between Double-A and Triple-A, Westburg is batting .253 with 85 RBIs. The 30th overall pick in 2020, he is also close to his MLB debut. P.S. In MLB, it was quite a night for Mississippi Braves alums. Rookie Spencer Strider set a franchise record with 16 strikeouts in a dominating performance during Atlanta’s 3-0 win vs. Colorado; Austin Riley hit his 33rd homer for the Braves, and rookie Michael Harris II hit his 14th. Joey Meneses, up after 10 years in the minors, hit a walk-off homer for Washington to cap a four-hit game and is batting .354 with seven homers in 25 games. In that same game, a 7-5 Nationals win, 2021 M-Braves star Shea Langeliers hit his third homer and drove in three runs for Oakland.

30 Aug

something’s clicked

You might say Cade Bunnell has exceeded expectations. Actually, that would be a large understatement. A former 40th-round draft pick who played sparingly in college and hit .185 in A-ball this season, Bunnell finds himself batting .344 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 27 games for the Mississippi Braves. Having replaced Atlanta No. 1 prospect Vaughn Grissom as the M-Braves’ shortstop earlier this month, Bunnell is batting .327 with four homers in 15 games since he took on that role. Double-A pitching? What’s the big deal? The lefty-hitting Bunnell goes into the team’s home series (today-Sunday) against Tennessee after banging out three homers and driving in 10 runs in a six-game set at Birmingham. Bunnell, 25, who goes 6 feet, 190 pounds, was drafted in the last round — No. 1,207 overall — by the Braves in 2019 out of Indiana. In two years there, he hit under .200 with one homer in 60 at-bats. He hit .141 in rookie ball in 2019 and .216 (albeit with 13 homers) at Low-A Augusta last year. He has served three stints in 2022 with the M-Braves, having spent most of the season at High-A Rome, batting .185 with seven homers. But forget all that. Bunnell is in some kind of groove right now, helping the M-Braves (27-23, 4.5 games out of first) stay in the chase for a second-half title in the Southern League South. P.S. The top-rated position player prospect on the M-Braves team, No. 13 Justyn-Henry Malloy, also has been productive, batting .284 with five homers and 25 RBIs in 37 games since he came up from Rome. The 6-3, 212-pound outfielder was a sixth-round pick last year out of Georgia Tech. … Tennessee, a Chicago Cubs affiliate, features a pair of Mississippi products: pitcher Walker Powell out of Southern Miss and infielder Delvin Zinn from Pontotoc by way of Itawamba Community College. … The M-Braves’ Negro Leagues Tribute Night (see previous post), rained out in the last homestand, has been rescheduled for Saturday (6:05 p.m. start) at Trustmark Park.

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.