Two more Mississippians had their postseason tickets punched on Tuesday: Austin Riley is in with Atlanta and Billy Hamilton (presumably) with the Chicago Cubs. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Riley did not make the Braves’ postseason roster in 2019 following his rookie year. He hit 18 homers last season but, after a hot start, slumped down the stretch. He has made strides in 2020, batting .239 with eight bombs in 50 games while striking out less and walking more. His defense at third base has been excellent. (In addition to Riley, seven other Mississippi Braves alumni played in Atlanta’s division-clinching win against Miami, its third straight title under former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker.) Taylorsville High product Hamilton was with the Braves in 2019 and got his first taste of the postseason, though he appeared in just two games in the division series loss. He’s not a lock to make the Cubs’ roster, but his speed can be a valuable asset in the outfield and as a pinch runner. He has appeared in nine games for Chicago and is 0-for-1 in steal attempts. … Regardless of whether St. Louis makes the playoffs, former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson won’t be on the postseason roster. The right-hander was moved from the 10-day to the 45-day injured list on Tuesday with a strained elbow suffered last week. He was 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA.
Mississippi State alumnus Nate Lowe took part in an historic event on Friday night, and he took advantage of the opportunity to have one of the best games of his young MLB career. Lowe was part of Tampa Bay’s all-left-handed hitting lineup — the first in big league history — and delivered two homers and four RBIs in an 11-1 rout of Boston. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers as a rookie in 2019, was 1-for-14 since being recalled by the Rays on Sept. 1. “I’m pretty thankful for the opportunity and I hope (the bat) gets hot from here. Like, super hot from here,” he told mlb.com. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, who’ll seemingly try anything, went with all lefties to try to snap the first-place Rays out of an offensive funk. … Ex-Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff stepped up in a time of need for Milwaukee (see previous post), throwing seven shutout innings at the Chicago Cubs. He yielded one hit, no walks and fanned 12. The Brewers won 1-0 on a walk-off sac fly. … Austin Riley’s bat has cooled off after a recent surge. The former DeSoto Central star is 5-for-29 (.174) in his last seven games for Atlanta and went 1-for-7, leaving nine runners on base, in Friday’s loss to Washington. The Braves left 22 on base as a team in the 8-7, 12-inning defeat. … Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack was recalled from Toronto’s alternate site on Friday, but his return didn’t go well. The right-hander allowed six runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings in an 18-1 loss to the New York Mets.
First, the bad news from Sunday in MLB land. Anthony Alford, the former Petal High star, was placed on the 10-day injured list with a fractured elbow by Pittsburgh. He’s likely done for the season. It’s a cruel blow. A waiver claim by the Pirates on Aug. 28 from Toronto, Alford was getting regular duty in center field and was 3-for-12 with a homer and four RBIs. … For a bunch of Mississippians, Sunday was a good day. Former Mississippi State standout Dakota Hudson went five innings for St. Louis to beat Chicago at windy Wrigley Field; he improved to 2-2 with a 3.19 ERA. Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz threw another scoreless inning — his ERA is 0.00 over 13 appearances with six holds and four saves — in a win by San Diego. Ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe hit his sixth homer in Tampa Bay’s victory; Renfroe is batting just .155 but has 19 RBIs for the first-place Rays. DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley had a hit, two walks and a run in first-place Atlanta’s win; Riley’s average has climbed to .244. East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had a hit for the first-place Chicago White Sox and continues to lead the American League in batting at .351. Former State star Brent Rooker drove in two runs for Minnesota and is 3-for-11 in his first MLB stint. Surging Adam Frazier (.304 in his last 15 games, .234 for the year) went 2-for-4 for the Pirates, and fellow Bulldogs alum Chris Stratton worked a scoreless inning to trim his ERA to 3.79. Ex-Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers notched a win in relief for the Los Angeles Angels; he has a 2.93 ERA over 19 appearances for a bad team. MSU product Kendall Graveman worked a second straight scoreless inning for Seattle in his return from the IL with a neck problem (see previous posts). McComb native Corey Dickerson, scuffling of late, had a triple and scored twice for Miami. And, finally, former UM standout Henri Lartigue was added to Philadelphia’s 60-man roster and is in the alternate camp.
Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, facing a team he might be traded to, allowed a season-high four runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers and lost for the first time this season on Saturday. The Texas Rangers ace is 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA. … Ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson went 4-for-5 for the Chicago White Sox on Saturday and now leads the American League in batting at .361. He won the batting crown in 2019. … DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley, playing everyday at third base for Atlanta, has started to heat up, batting .360 over his last seven games and .283 in the last 15. He’s at .220 with five homers and 14 RBIs on the season. … Drew Pomeranz, the veteran lefty out of Ole Miss, was activated from the injured list Saturday by San Diego and made his 11th straight scoreless appearance in the Padres’ loss against Colorado. … Northwest CC alum Cody Reed was traded by Cincinnati to Tampa Bay (for a prospect). Lefty Reed has a 5.44 career ERA but is at 2.72 as a reliever. … Southwest CC product Jarrod Dyson, traded by Pittsburgh to the White Sox on Thursday, made his debut Friday night as a defensive replacement in left field. Dyson has been with five teams in the last five years. … Former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff (2-2, 3.19) goes to the mound for Milwaukee today against Pittsburgh. On Monday, he’ll come home to Mississippi, where his pregnant wife, Jonie, is to be induced on Tuesday with the couple’s first child, a girl.
Can’t really ID the proverbial “defining moment” until a season is over, but Atlanta might have experienced that event on Wednesday. The New York Yankees led all of baseball in OPS (on base-plus-slugging) and were among the best with 5.4 runs per game heading into the doubleheader at Truist Park. Ian Anderson and Max Fried, a couple of recent Mississippi Braves standouts, held the Yanks to six hits and two runs over 12 combined innings as the Braves won 5-1 and 2-1. Former M-Braves Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman hit big home runs as the Braves scored the sweep in games started by New York aces Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka. This day belonged to the Braves’ young guns, Anderson and Fried. Anderson, a strapping, 6-foot-3 right-hander making his MLB debut, started with five no-hit innings before Luke Voit took him deep in the sixth. Anderson walked two and fanned six. It was precisely the kind of step-up effort the Braves needed from one of their touted but untested young guns. In Game 2, left-hander Fried, an emerging ace at age 26, yielded four hits – only one extra-base knock – walked one and struck out five. He is 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA. Atlanta reached the midpoint of its season with an 18-12 mark, good for first place in the National League East. More work — more solid pitching — must be done, but there may come a day in October when the Braves will look back at Aug. 26 as their defining moment.
The anticipation of Cristian Pache’s big league debut may not rise to the level of some others in recent Atlanta Braves history, but it is certainly worthy of some hype. As Mississippi Braves fans know, Pache has game. He arrived in Pearl late in 2018 and hit .260 in 29 games. He was back to start 2019 and batted .278 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs in 104 games before moving to Triple-A. Of course, his bat takes a back seat to his glove. MLB Pipeline rated Pache, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound center fielder, the top defensive prospect in the minors the last two years: “Not only does his speed allow him to chase down balls, he has incredible instincts, reads and routes.” He is a consensus top 20 prospect overall. “I just like to think of myself as a fun ballplayer who works really hard and gives maximum effort out there,” Pache told mlb.com through an interpreter. His originally scheduled debut Wednesday was rained out. The Braves were off Thursday and host Philadelphia tonight. It was with great fanfare, here and in the ATL, that Brian McCann made his big league debut 15 years ago, becoming the first M-Braves alumnus to make it. “B-Mac” went 2-for-3 with an RBI against Oakland on June 10, 2005. Since then, M-Braves fans have excitedly watched the debuts of Jeff Francoeur (1-for-4 with a homer in 2005); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0-for-2 in 2007); Jordan Schafer (2-for-3 with a homer in his first AB in 2009); Tommy Hanson (6 innings, 6 runs allowed in 2009); Jason Heyward (2-for-5 with a homer in his first AB in 2010); Freddie Freeman (0-for-3 in 2010); Julio Teheran (4 2/3 innings, 3 runs in 2011); Evan Gattis (1-for-4 with a homer in 2013); Dansby Swanson (2-for-4 in 2016); Ozzie Albies (0-for-2 in 2017); Ronald Acuna (1-for-5 in 2018); and Austin Riley (1-for-3 with a homer in 2019). And now, Pache’s big day is here.
There’s a sizable list of former Mississippi Braves players who, for whatever reason, moved on to other organizations and enjoyed success. Among a group that includes current big leaguers Charlie Morton, Jose Martinez, Mallex Smith, Chasen Shreve, Tommy LaStella, Rio Ruiz, Willians Astudillo and Jose Peraza, none has been a bigger surprise than Dylan Moore. Moore, who debuted with Seattle last year and hit .206, has become one of the club’s key players this season. He is batting .294 with four homers, nine RBIs and four steals while playing five different positions. “He is an absolute stud,” teammate Kyle Seager told mlb.com. “He is a ballplayer. There is no doubt about it.” Call him a late bloomer. Moore is 28 and in his fourth organization since Texas drafted him out of Central Florida five years ago. Atlanta got him in a trade in 2016, and he was the M-Braves’ regular shortstop in 2017. He didn’t really distinguish himself, batting .207, slugging .292 and fielding at a .974 clip with 13 errors. The Braves released him in 2018 and he caught on with Milwaukee, playing briefly with Biloxi before being cut loose at the end of that year. Seattle picked him up and he made the Mariners’ roster out of spring training in 2019. In July of last year, Moore garnered attention when he infamously committed run-scoring errors on three consecutive plays. Well, forget that. He’s getting attention for very different reasons now.
The season is young. But it’s also short. And several Mississippians in the majors are off to chilly starts at the plate that have to be concerning. For Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, there was a glimmer of positivity on Monday in an otherwise dreadful day for Atlanta. Riley went 2-for-4 with a home run in the Braves’ 13-8 loss at Philadelphia. His homer, No. 3 on the year, came during the Braves’ seven-run “rally” in the ninth inning. Riley is batting .167 and has struck out 17 times in 42 at-bats, frequently flailing at breaking balls out of the zone. Pitch recognition is something he has reportedly worked on since last year. As a rookie in 2019, Riley came out hot and then faded dramatically. Given the opportunity to take the regular third base job this season, he hasn’t stepped up. And, yes, there are others who have yet to step up. McComb’s Jarrod Dyson has scuffled in his first season with Pittsburgh, hitting .118 in 13 games. Note: He is 35. Teammate Adam Frazier, a Mississippi State product, is at .177 with five runs in 15 games as the Pirates’ leadoff batter. Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe, in a new uniform in 2020, is batting .159 for Tampa Bay with two homers and nine RBIs. His two homers were on July 27. He has just two RBIs in August. Corey Dickerson, a career .285 hitter, is at .229 through 10 games with his new club, Miami, and has just one RBI. Fulton’s Brian Dozier and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, recent additions to the New York Mets’ active roster, haven’t seen a lot of action or produced much. Dozier is 2-for-15, Hamilton 0-for-10. P.S. Hot-hitting JaCoby Jones, the Richton High alum, smacked an inside-the-park homer on Monday for Detroit and now has five round-trippers, one shy of ex-State star Mitch Moreland for the all-Mississippi home run lead. Moreland hit two for Boston on Sunday, including a walk-off blast over the Green Monster, but was out of the lineup Monday.
Mike Soroka is done for the year, and the loss of their ace is another blow to the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitching. Cole Hamels is down, Felix Hernandez is out and Mike Foltynewicz is dazed and confused in the Gwinnett camp. But it’s not necessarily panic time. It’s more like step-up time. The Braves have spent several years acquiring and grooming young arms. Let the kids pitch. Their prospect charts are filled with them, five ranking in the current top 10, per MLB Pipeline. Mississippi Braves fans have seen their work. Soroka came through Trustmark Park in 2017 and was outstanding. Max Fried (2017-18) and Sean Newcomb (2016) flashed their potential in Pearl, as well, and have had success on the big stage. Fried looks capable of being a No. 1. Newcomb had that look, too, as a starter in 2018. It’s time for some others to get their shot, meet the moment and pump up the Atlanta rotation, which appears to be the club’s only possible weak link. Touki Toussaint, the presumptive No. 3 starter now, was frequently dominant in his two stints (2017-18) with the M-Braves. No reason he can’t recapture that stuff. Kyle Wright, who filled the fifth starter spot last week, is the team’s No. 4 prospect, and he looked the part in Pearl in 2018. There is also Bryse Wilson, the No. 6 prospect and a 2018 M-Braves standout, and lefty Tucker Davidson, the No. 10 prospect who posted a 2.03 ERA for the Double-A club in 2019. Kyle Muller, another lefty and the No. 8 prospect, put up a 3.14 ERA for the M-Braves last season. And then there’s Ian Anderson, the much-ballyhooed No. 3 prospect who went 7-5, 2.68 in Pearl last summer. Anderson and Muller aren’t on the 40-man roster but are in the alternate camp in Gwinnett. Surely there are some breakout warriors among that group of young dudes.
You kinda wanna root for Trent Grisham, even if you’re not a San Diego Padres fan. It’s kinda nice to see that the former Biloxi Shuckers star is off to a hot start in 2020. He hit his fourth home run on Monday night, helping the surprising Padres beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4. Grisham, starting in center field for a 7-4 club, is batting .293 with seven RBIs and 11 runs. He seems to be in a good place, quite a contrast to where he was last October. You remember. Grisham, a rookie then with Milwaukee, in his first postseason game, misplayed a single in right field that allowed Washington to score the go-ahead run in the National League Wild Card Game. The Nationals won. The Brewers’ season ended. Grisham faced the media afterward and, appearing crushed, made no excuses for his error. You had to feel for him. It would be, coincidentally, his last game in a Milwaukee uniform. He was traded in November to the Padres, who were looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder and were willing to part with touted infield prospect Luis Urias to get Grisham. “He can do a lot of positive things on the baseball field,” Padres GM A.J. Preller told mlb.com at the time. Grisham, the 15th overall pick by Milwaukee in 2015, scuffled early in his pro career. He batted just .233 at Double-A Biloxi in 2018 but kept grinding. He hit .254 with 13 homers in 63 games for the Shuckers in 2019, got an All-Star nod and earned a promotion to Triple-A San Antonio, where he raked (.381, 13 homers in 34 games). He debuted for Milwaukee last Aug. 1, then found himself taking the place of the injured Christian Yelich in right field. No pressure there. Grisham, only 23, seems determined that the incident last October won’t define him. “Failing is not fun, and I like to have a lot of fun,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune during spring training. “I play this game because I enjoy it. … That’s why I work, so when I get in the game it can be fun.” P.S. Ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford is slated for his first start of the season for Toronto tonight at Atlanta. Alford, who is 0-for-2 in 2020, has just 57 career at-bats (eight hits) since his MLB debut in 2017. He’s in left field batting ninth. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley is starting at third base and batting sixth for the Braves. They were the top prep players in the state their senior year, Alford in 2012 and Riley in 2015.