15 Dec

star watch

They don’t play the game to pick up personal honors such as milb.com Organization All-Star, but the recognition is cool. Jake Mangum, the former Jackson Prep and Mississippi State standout, became the latest Mississippian to make the grade when milb.com released the New York Mets’ list earlier this week. After batting .285 with nine homers, 47 RBIs and 14 steals in 2021, the lefty-hitting Mangum was named one of the Mets’ minor league all-star outfielders. Mangum is 25 and spent most of last season — his second in pro ball — at the Double-A level. He isn’t a highly rated prospect in the system, but the SEC’s all-time hits leader certainly opened eyes with his 2021 production, flashing some much-needed power. Mets farm director Jeremy Barnes hailed Mangum’s “insane bat-to-ball skill.” He’s also fast and plays a pretty good center field. … Not all of the Organization All-Stars have been released. The list of Mississippi products who’ve been named so far includes Jordan Westburg (MSU), Baltimore shortstop; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit outfielder; J.P. France (MSU), Houston right-hander; Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami catcher; Thomas Dillard (UM), Milwaukee first baseman; Joe Gray, Jr. (Hattiesburg), Milwaukee outfielder; and Ethan Small (MSU), Milwaukee left-hander. Robson and Fortes made their MLB debuts in 2021. P.S. Atlanta’s all-star team includes several 2021 Mississippi Braves and a player whose arrival in 2022 will be greatly anticipated: Michael Harris II. The lefty-hitting outfielder, 6 feet, 195 pounds, was the Braves’ minor league player of the year and is ranked as their No. 1 prospect by Baseball America. He hit .294 with seven homers, 64 RBIs and 55 runs at High-A Rome last summer.

20 Nov

watch for it

A pair of Magnolia State connections are on the roster of one of the teams in tonight’s Arizona Fall League championship game, one a familiar name, the other less so. Former Mississippi State star Justin Foscue, a first-round pick by Texas in 2020 and a top-rated prospect, is the second baseman for Surprise, which meets Mesa (6 p.m., MLB Network) for the fall league title. One of the Saguaros’ key bullpen arms is left-hander Jacques Pucheu, a Gulfport native and East Mississippi Community College alum who plays in the Cincinnati system. Foscue capped his first pro season with a good showing in the AFL, batting .257 with five homers and 15 RBIs. He is the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) and could be in the big leagues very soon. Pucheu’s story is quite different. Undrafted out of Austin Peay in 2019, he played briefly in independent ball before the Reds signed him that summer. After the idle 2020 season, he worked at three levels in 2021, spending most of the season at High-A Dayton. Obviously, Reds brass liked what they saw and sent him to the AFL, where he fared quite well against more highly rated prospects, posting a 1.93 ERA in seven appearances, 14 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner, a Minnesota prospect (No. 14), had an outstanding AFL campaign, hitting .303 with six homers and 18 RBIs for Scottsdale. The lefty-hitting outfielder played in High-A this season. P.S. Three state college products, all pitchers, were placed on 40-man protected rosters by MLB clubs on Friday: Ryan Rolison (Ole Miss) by Colorado, Konnor Pilkington (MSU) by Cleveland and James McArthur (Ole Miss) by Philadelphia. Rolison, a first-rounder in 2018, had an injury-dampened 2021 season (5.27 in 16 starts) but is the Rockies’ No. 3 prospect. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Ozzie Albies won MLB’s Heart and Hustle Award, which honors a player who best embodies the values, spirit and tradition of the game. A committee of former players makes the selection. “I don’t know anybody who has any more fun playing baseball than that kid,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker recently told mlb.com. East Central CC alum Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox) and former MSU star Adam Frazier (San Diego) were among the 30 nominees. … The Braves’ new 40-man additions include Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP as an M-Braves outfielder, and two members of the 2021 M-Braves Double-A South championship team, pitchers Freddy Tarnok and Brooks Wilson.

18 Nov

simply the best

Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, enjoyed a dream season with Atlanta in 2021. Not even assured of a starting job at third base in spring training, he became the team’s cleanup batter down the stretch, helped them to a World Series crown and earned a Silver Slugger Award. Riley’s season was clearly the best by any Mississippian in the majors, making him an easy choice for All Mississippi Baseball’s annual Cool Papa Bell Award. Previous winners of the award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Tim Anderson (twice), Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. Riley, in his third MLB campaign, batted .303 with 33 homers and 107 RBIs and played occasionally spectacular defense. He ranked in the top 10 in the National League in five key offensive categories. He also produced in big moments. In the Braves’ NL East-clinching sweep of Philadelphia in late September, Riley went 4-for-13 with a double, a homer, five RBIs and two runs. (For the record: Phillies star Bryce Harper, a finalist for NL MVP, went 0-for-11 with five punchouts in that three-game set.) Riley hit .277 in the postseason, with two homers, eight RBIs and seven runs in 16 games. He hit .320 in the World Series. All told, it was one of the best years ever by a Magnolia State product. P.S. Ex-East Central Community College star Marcus Thames has been hired as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach; he was recently fired by the New York Yankees after four years in the same role. … Kudos to Biloxi Shuckers alum Corbin Burnes for winning the NL Cy Young Award. Burnes, who pitched in Biloxi in 2017, went 11-5 with a 2.43 ERA and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings for Milwaukee, which won the NL Central title. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn was a finalist for the AL Cy Young, which went to Robbie Ray.

15 Nov

sad news

Julio Lugo, the shortstop on the last Jackson Generals team in 1999, has died at 45 of an apparent heart attack, according to various reports. Lugo, a 12-year big leaguer, was one of the best shortstops to pass through Jackson in its 25-year Texas League era. He batted .319 with 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 22 steals and 77 runs in 116 games for the ’99 Generals, Houston’s Double-A team at the time. The Dominican Republic native debuted in the majors in 2000 with the Astros, won a World Series with Boston in 2007 and finished his MLB career with Atlanta in 2011. He hit .269 for his career.

12 Nov

tagging up

Kudos to Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who became the first Atlanta third baseman since Chipper Jones 21 years ago to claim a Silver Slugger Award. Riley batted .303 with 33 homers, 107 RBIs and 91 runs for the world champion Braves. He posted a 6.1 WAR. Three other former Mississippi Braves also won Silver Sluggers: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Max Fried. Riley did not make the final three in the National League MVP voting but certainly garnered consideration from the baseball writers. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn did make the final three in the American League Cy Young voting. … Four state college products have been outrighted to the minors after clearing waivers as major league clubs set their winter rosters. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Holder, who didn’t pitch in 2021, was moved by the Chicago Cubs, former Delta State star Trent Giambrone by the Cubs, UM alum Chris Ellis by Baltimore and Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed by Tampa Bay. … None of the Magnolia State products playing in the Arizona Fall League made the rosters for Saturday’s Fall Stars Game, though a couple have pretty solid credentials. Southern Miss alum Matt Wallner, a Minnesota prospect, is batting .273 with five homers (tied for the league lead) and 13 RBIs. Ex-UM standout Grae Kessinger, a Houston prospect, is hitting .276 with two homers and 10 RBIs. MSU product Justin Foscue (Texas) has scuffled (.204, three homers) after a hot start, and Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, Jr., (Milwaukee) hasn’t gotten anything going (.077). … While Atlanta seeks to re-sign Freeman, a potential first baseman of the future is putting up nice numbers in the AFL. Drew Lugbauer, who belted 18 homers for the Double-A South champion M-Braves, is batting .405 with five homers and 13 RBIs in Arizona. … Four Mississippi players rank among the top 68 in prospectslive.com’s recently updated list of the top 200 MLB draft prospects for 2022. Mississippi State’s Landon Sims, closer for the national champs, is No. 25; his batterymate Logan Tanner is No. 34; Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst is No. 39; and Madison Central High catcher Ross Highfill is No. 68.

03 Nov

hooked on a feeling

Tried-and-true fans who’ve spent their summer nights at Trustmark Park feel something special today. Young players they watched hone their skills with the Double-A Mississippi Braves have grown into world champions with the Atlanta Braves. That’s a special connection. Longtime Smith-Wills Stadium cranks felt it in 1986 when the New York Mets, with a roster filled with Jackson Mets alumni, won the World Series. Davey Johnson, the Mets’ manager in ’86, won a Texas League title with the JaxMets five years earlier. Braves manager Brian Snitker, a great guy and a most deserving champion, was the first manager of the M-Braves in 2005, when the pipeline from Pearl to Atlanta began to flow. For all the talk about the July trades that boosted the Braves’ season, it is a largely homegrown team. No fewer than 21 M-Braves products played for Atlanta this season — and many played major roles. Watching Max Fried’s brilliant effort — six shutout innings vs. Houston, the best hitting team in the game — in Game 6 on Tuesday night, one is reminded of the first time watching the skinny left-hander snap off a curveball in Pearl in 2017. (He was a work-in-progress with a 2-11 record and 5.92 ERA that season, but he quickly figured things out, actually making his big league debut that August.) M-Braves fans may also recall the first time they saw Freddie Freeman take a swing, the first time they saw Ozzie Albies run the bases, Dansby Swanson field a ground ball or Austin Riley hit one out. There’s a special connection there. It was a shame that Ronald Acuna, injured in July, missed the Series. Who could forget that he hit a home run on the first pitch he saw as an M-Brave? He hasn’t stopped raking since. Acuna can take heart: This Atlanta team stands a good chance of returning to the big stage. The core of the 2021 Braves is young, and there is more talent on the way. The 2021 M-Braves won the Double-A South pennant with a prospect-filled club. When do pitchers and catchers report?

30 Oct

shout-out to …

Barry Lyons, who touched all the bases on his path to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that was announced Friday. Lyons was born in Biloxi, played high school ball there, became an All-America catcher at Delta State and starred for the 1985 Jackson Mets, who won the Texas League championship. He made his big league debut with the New York Mets in 1986, though he did not have a postseason appearance for the World Series champs. Lyons is still heavily involved in baseball on the Coast.
David Dellucci, an All-America outfielder at Ole Miss and an SEC batting champion who also earned the state Hall of Fame nod. Dellucci played 13 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who delivered a clutch hit (again) for Atlanta, driving in the first run with a third-inning double in the 2-0 win Friday night against Houston in Game 3 of the World Series. “Hunting windows,” as he likes to say, Riley has produced seven RBIs this postseason.
Ian Anderson, the ex-Mississippi Braves ace who threw five no-hit innings at the Astros in Game 3. Anderson, who had a hand in a no-no with the M-Braves in 2019, has a 1.26 career postseason ERA, tied with Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee for the second-best by any pitcher over his first eight starts.
Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State standout and Astros reliever who had not allowed a home run to a right-handed batter all year before the Braves’ Travis d’Arnaud took him deep on Friday night. Graveman has yielded just two runs in nine postseason innings for the Astros after posting a 3.13 ERA during the season.
Desmond Jennings, the former Itawamba CC two-sport star who turns 35 today. Jennings played seven years in the big leagues with Tampa Bay, batting .245 with 55 homers and 95 stolen bases.

29 Oct

silver and gold

Though he came up short of a World Series ring, Hunter Renfroe has a chance to pick up a couple of other nice prizes this season. The ex-Mississippi State standout is a finalist for both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award following his outstanding first season with Boston. Renfroe, who tallied 16 outfield assists and hit 31 homers with 96 RBIs, is joined by Kyle Tucker and Joey Gallo among the American League Gold Glove candidates in right field. Renfroe had more assists but also more errors than either of the other two. Crystal Springs native Renfroe is among eight finalists for three AL outfield Silver Slugger awards. (Houston’s Tucker is also on that list.) Also making the cut for Silver Slugger honors were DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, Atlanta’s third baseman, and ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson, shortstop for the Chicago White Sox. Gold Glove winners will be announced Nov. 7, the Silver Sluggers on Nov. 11.

26 Oct

classic anniversaries

It is guaranteed that a Mississippi product will get a ring after the 2021 World Series. Either former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley or Mississippi State alumnus Kendall Graveman will be celebrating when the series ends. “This is why you play the game …,” Houston reliever Graveman said in an MLB Network interview. “I’m ultimately honored and blessed to be in this position, to play the game at the highest level but also on the biggest stage in baseball.” Atlanta third baseman Riley said in an interview with an Atlanta TV station that he was happy to see longtime Braves star Freddie Freeman and manager Brian Snitker make the Series. “I’ve been very blessed to be along for the ride,” said Riley, who made some pretty strong contributions to the trip. This October marks the 10th anniversary of a World Series that also featured Mississippians on opposing sides, and fans can only hope this year’s Fall Classic produces similar drama. St. Louis beat Texas in seven games in the 2011 Series, with Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn earning a ring and ex-MSU standout Mitch Moreland coming up empty. That Series is best remembered for Albert Pujols’ three-homer game, a Cardinals bullpen mix-up in Game 5 and David Freese’s walk-off homer in Game 6 that capped an incredible St. Louis comeback. Lynn and Moreland had their moments. Lynn, a rookie reliever, pitched in five of the games, getting a win in Game 3 with 2 1/3 strong innings and pitching a clean eighth in Game 7, a 6-2 victory. Moreland, in his second MLB season and second Series, was just 1-for-10 but homered in Game 5, a 4-2 Texas win that put the Rangers up 3-2 in the series. … It was 20 years ago that Arizona stunned the New York Yankees in another seven-game classic, winning on Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off hit against Mariano Rivera. Former Ole Miss star David Dellucci was a reserve outfielder on that Diamondbacks team, which had been largely constructed by former State star Buck Showalter, the first manager of the 1998 expansion team. He was fired after the 2000 season, reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. “I would think that this is killing him,” an anonymous source told the New York Times after the Series. … Twenty-five years ago, the Yankees beat the Braves in six games, famously overcoming a 2-0 deficit. Hattiesburg native and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, New York’s third baseman, caught a foul pop for the final out that year. … Thirty years ago, Minnesota beat Atlanta in a classic seven-game series that featured two worst-to-first clubs. Former Jackson State standout Marvin Freeman was a reliever for the Braves back then, and five — count ’em, five — Jackson Mets alums pitched for the Twins that season: Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, Terry Leach, David West and Tom Edens. … The 1961 Yankees, featuring home run king Roger Maris, won the Fall Classic that year over Cincinnati. Silver City native Jack Reed appeared in three games for the Yanks as a defensive replacement, which had been his primary role that season. He didn’t get an at-bat — but did get a ring. Corinth’s Don Blasingame batted .143 in the five games as the Reds’ leadoff batter. … Eighty years ago, in the 1941 Series made famous by Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike, Morton native Atley Donald helped the Yankees beat Brooklyn in five games. Donald was the starter in Game 4, yielding four runs in four innings, but was bailed out when Owen’s misplay in the ninth extended the game and fueled New York’s 7-4 comeback.

25 Oct

history’s path

Since the Mississippi Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005, the Double-A club has funneled literally scores of players to Atlanta, including the entire infield and the top three starting pitchers on the 2021 team that has reached the World Series for the first time in 22 years. But the Braves franchise has a largely forgotten history in Mississippi that goes back 70-plus years. When Atlanta announced it was moving its Double-A team from South Carolina to Pearl, it was actually reconnecting with the Magnolia State. From 1946-50, when the Braves called Boston home, they had a farm team in Jackson, the Senators, who played at League Park near where the Fairgrounds stands now. Those were good teams, posting winning records in four of the five seasons and finishing first in the Southeastern League standings in 1947. “It was a pretty good brand of ball,” former Senators player Banks McDowell said in a 2001 interview. “It was Class B, and baseball people would tell us later that it was comparable to Double-A today.” Minor league affiliation worked a little differently in that era; research indicates only one player from those Senators teams made the big leagues. Vern Bickford pitched in Jackson in 1946 and pitched parts of seven seasons in the majors. He was on the Braves’ 1948 World Series team and threw a no-hitter in 1950. The Braves pulled out of Jackson in 1951, and Detroit came in two years later. League Park was destroyed by a tornado in August of ’53. The team moved its games elsewhere and never returned. Jackson got a Double-A team in 1975, when the Mets moved into then-new Smith-Wills Stadium. New York’s 1986 World Series championship club featured numerous former Jackson Mets, among them Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. After the Mets departed in 1990, Houston arrived with the Generals and from 1991-99 produced a bevy of big leaguers, many of whom fueled the Astros’ run of success in the National League Central in the late ’90s. When the Astros finally made the World Series for the first time in 2005, two former Generals — Lance Berkman and Raul Chavez — were still around. The Astros still have some fans in the metro area, and the M-Braves recognized that heritage with tribute nights at Trustmark Park in 2019 and again this summer.