05 Jun

random (but relevant) numbers

200 — Wins for Michael Avalon as coach at Pearl River Community College, No. 200 being the national championship-securing 7-2 victory over Madison (Wisc.) College on Saturday in Enid, Okla. The Wildcats got homers from Tate Parker and Alex Perry, two RBIs from World Series MVP D.K. Donaldson and 12 strikeouts from Cole Tolbert and Turner Swistak, who combined on a six-hitter. PRCC follows Jones College (2016) as NJCAA Division II national champs. William Carey University (1969), Delta State (2004) and Mississippi State (2021) have won national titles at the four-year level.
3 — Hits by Peyton Chatagnier, including a key two-run double in the eighth inning that propelled Ole Miss to a 7-4 win against Arizona in the first round of the Coral Cables Regional. The Rebels get 1-seed Miami today; the Hurricanes used a three-homer game by Yohandy Morales to beat Canisius 11-6.
4 — Runs by LSU, three after two were out, in a stunning ninth-inning rally that led to a 7-6, 10-inning win against Southern Miss in the Hattiesburg Regional winners bracket. On a day when crooked numbers were flying all over in the NCAA regionals, these teams combined for 18 hits, five homers, eight walks, three HBPs, 28 strikeouts and 357 pitches in a 3-hour, 44-minute grinder played before 5,211 emotionally drained fans at Taylor Park. USM tries to rebound today against Kennesaw State, hoping (?) for another crack at the Tigers.
6 — Combined hits by Matt Wallner (four) and Blaine Crim in Wichita’s 8-7 win vs. Frisco in a Double-A Texas League clash (see previous post). Wallner, a USM alum, hit his 11th homer and drove in three runs for Wichita. Ex-Mississippi College star Crim boosted his average to .301 with a 2-for-5 effort and scored twice for Frisco.
21 — Hits in his last 15 games by Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who tripled and homered in Atlanta’s 6-2, 11-inning win against Colorado. Riley is batting .339 with six homers and 12 RBIs over his last 15 games. He has 14 bombs all told for the Braves, who have won four straight to reach 27-27 on the season.

31 May

encore issues

The breakthrough performance in 2021 was so good, the encore for Austin Riley this season was certain to be a challenge. The former DeSoto Central High star, not even assured of a starting job entering last season, became an All-MLB performer at third base for Atlanta, batting .303 with 33 home runs and 107 RBIs while helping the Braves win the World Series. Riley’s 2022 season has been a bit clunky. He’s got 12 homers, ranking among the National League leaders. But he’s hitting only .250, and it has taken a hot streak (.357 in his last seven games) to reach that mark. With 24 RBIs, he is not on a 100-RBI pace. He is striking out in 31 percent of his at-bats, up from 2021 (28 percent). Riley’s season is a microcosm of the Braves’. The defending champs are floundering under .500 (23-26), far off the New York Mets’ pace in the NL East. The Braves lead MLB in strikeouts with 479; that’s more than nine per game. They are fifth in homers but just 17th in runs. There are other issues — defense has been spotty and the pitchers walk too many batters — but the inconsistency with the bats is most telling. In a 6-2 loss Monday at Arizona — in a hitter’s venue — the Braves struck out eight times and left eight runners on base, going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. In a nutshell, strikeouts are killing them. Four regulars, Riley among them, rank in the top 10 in the NL in punchouts. The good news is, there is plenty of time left in the season. A late run, a la 2021, is possible. But something in the Braves’ approach needs to change. P.S. No. 1 Pearl River Community College is 2-0 in the NJCAA Division II World Series, having outscored its opponents in Enid, Okla., by a 27-10 count.

30 May

worth noting

Yes, Michael Harris II is gone to the big leagues, but the Mississippi Braves’ cupboard is hardly bare. There are prospect pitchers aplenty on this suddenly surging club, which plays a Memorial Day special tonight (6:05) at Trustmark Park in Pearl, and there are more than a few hitters of note. Riley Delgado is batting .327, and Hendrik Clementina is at .301. Drew Lugbauer (“Slug-bauer”) has 11 home runs, and C.J. Alexander has seven, all this month. Luke Waddell, Atlanta’s No. 26 prospect, is batting .268 with 27 RBIs. Five of Atlanta’s top 21 prospects populate the pitching staff, including tonight’s starter, Freddy Tarnok (No. 8). The M-Braves come in hot, having won five of six at Pensacola to climb to 23-22 on the season. The defending Double-A South champs now play old rival Montgomery in a six-game homestand with an off day Tuesday. P.S. Kudos to: Southern Miss, which earned a regional host role and will welcome Army, Kennesaw (Ga.) State and LSU to Hattiesburg this week. … Ole Miss, which, somewhat surprisingly, earned an NCAA Tournament bid and will head to the Coral Gables Regional. … Madison Central High product Braden Montgomery, who hit a monstrous homer in Stanford’s Pac-12 Tournament title game victory on Sunday. The Cardinal is also hosting a regional this week. … Pearl River Community College, top seed in the NJCAA Division II World Series, which won its opener in Enid, Okla., 10-2 over Florida State College-Jacksonville and plays Lansing CC tonight. … Northwest Rankin High, which beat DeSoto Central in a decisive Game 3 in the MHSAA Class 6A championship series on Sunday and joined East Central, Sumrall, Amory, East Union and Resurrection Catholic as state champs.

28 May

debut alert

Michael Harris II is making the jump from Double-A to the big leagues, having been called up from Mississippi to Atlanta this morning. Look for the Braves’ top prospect to start in center field today (3:15 p.m.) when the Braves play Miami at Truist Park. Harris, 21, out of Stockbridge, Ga., is batting .305 with five homers, 33 RBIs and 11 steals in 43 games for the M-Braves. He is a .292 hitter over 197 minor league games since 2019. This debut could be something special. Since 2005, several M-Braves alums have had memorable debuts: Brian McCann (2-for-3 with an RBI on June 10, 2005); Jeff Francoeur (1-for-4 with a homer in 2005); Jordan Schafer (2-for-3 with a homer in his first at-bat in 2009); Jason Heyward (2-for-5 with a homer in his first AB in 2010); Evan Gattis (1-for-4 with a homer in 2013); Dansby Swanson (2-for-4 in 2016); Ronald Acuna (1-for-5 in 2018); Austin Riley (1-for-3 with a homer in 2019); and Cristian Pache (1-for-4 in 2020).

25 May

59?

The mlb.com list of the Top 100 minor league prospects has been refreshed, and Michael Harris II of the Mississippi Braves checks in at No. 59. 59? Really? It is hard to imagine there are 58 better “prospects” in the minors. Sure, Harris is only 21 and only in his third season of pro ball. But he is flourishing in Double-A, the make-or-break level. He has a sweet combination of power and speed. At 6 feet, 195 pounds, the left-handed hitting Harris resembles a slightly larger version of Ralph Garr, the Atlanta star of the early 1970s. Harris currently is batting .296 with five homers, 27 RBIs and 10 steals in 40 games with the M-Braves. He has a .356 on-base percentage and a .506 slug. And he’s been making great catches on a nightly basis in center field. … The only Mississippi product on the new 100 is Mississippi State alumnus Justin Foscue, who is at Double-A Frisco in the Texas system. The 2020 first-round pick, a second baseman, is hitting .303 with two homers and 17 RBIs. He has struck out just 18 times and walked 18 times.

17 May

shuckers v. m-braves

A trio of former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers did a number on the Atlanta Braves on Monday night. The number was 16, as in 16 punchouts in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win at American Family Field. Former Mississippi Braves Ian Anderson and Spencer Strider pitched well in defeat. The series between National League rivals, who met in a memorable postseason series in 2021, continues today with Shuckers and M-Braves alums matched up as starters in each of the remaining two games. Coincidentally, the Double-A teams meet in a six-game series starting tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Both clubs are under .500 in the Southern League South, though the Shuckers (16-17) come in on a three-game win streak. The M-Braves (14-19) have dropped their last two and are just 6-9 at home. Whether there is a feeling of rivalry between the teams — or their fans — is debatable. (Remember Jackson-Shreveport from the old Texas League days?) But Biloxi took five of six when the teams met in early April at MGM Park, and it’s a safe bet M-Braves players remember that. Both clubs feature highly regarded prospects that are likely to clash in the big leagues someday in the near future. The M-Braves trot out Michael Harris II, Jesse Franklin V, Freddy Tarnok and tonight’s starting pitcher, Jared Shuster. Four of Milwaukee’s top 11 prospects (per MLB Pipeline) populate Biloxi’s roster, with a fifth on the injured list. No. 1 Sal Frelick is batting .231 with seven steals, and No. 2 Joey Wiemer is at .309 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. Former Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard is a catcher/first baseman for the Shuckers, hitting .200 with three homers and 16 RBIs. In the clubs’ all-time series, which began when Biloxi entered the SL in 2015, the Shuckers lead 77-68. But Mississippi owns two league pennants, including last year’s, and Biloxi has yet to claim one.

15 May

have a day

On Tim Anderson Bobblehead Night at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, it was only fitting that the former East Central Community College standout would play a leading role in the White Sox’s walk-off 3-2 win against the New York Yankees. With the score knotted at 2-2 Saturday, Anderson got a one-out single in the ninth inning off Aroldis Chapman. Yankees broadcasters credited Anderson with distracting Chapman into walking the next batter and then falling behind 3-0 to Luis Robert. On a 3-1 pitch, Robert poked a single into right field and Anderson scored the winning run from second base just ahead of a throw by Aaron Judge. The bobblehead commemorated Anderson’s walk-off homer vs. the Yankees in the Field of Dreams Game last summer. The dynamic Anderson went 3-for-5 Saturday, boosting his average to .339, second in the American League. He was just the brightest star on a day filled with shining moments from Mississippians in the majors. To wit: In the ChiSox-Yankees game, Mississippi State alum Kendall Graveman pitched two scoreless innings (the sixth and seventh) for Chicago, registered his eighth hold and trimmed his ERA to 1.56 in 15 games. … In Atlanta, a scuffling Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star, went 3-for-4 and delivered the game-deciding run in the eighth inning of a crazy 6-5 victory over San Diego. … In St. Louis, MSU product Dakota Hudson blanked San Francisco over five innings, picking up the win — he is 3-2, 3.06 — as the Cardinals stopped the Giants’ six-game win streak 4-0. McComb native Corey Dickerson went 1-for-4 for the Cards. … Former Southern Miss standout Nick Sandlin picked up a win for Cleveland, working 1 1/3 scoreless innings (in the eighth and ninth) in the Guardians’ 3-2, 10-inning win against Minnesota. Sandlin is 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA in 12 games in middle relief. … Chris Stratton, the MSU product from Tupelo, struck out two batters in the eighth inning and got his fourth hold for Pittsburgh in a 3-1 win against Cincinnati. … Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, belted his ninth home run in Milwaukee’s 9-3 loss to Miami. He is tied for the National League lead in homers. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, who has found his form in recent outings, worked a scoreless ninth inning for the Los Angeles Angels in their 9-1 win vs. Oakland in Game 2 of a twinbill.

12 May

here and there

Beyond the score — Ole Miss 4, Southern Miss 1 — three numbers jump out of the box from Wednesday night’s game in Hattiesburg: 1 — hits allowed by the Rebels’ bullpen over the last four innings of the game, backing up a strong start by Drew McDaniel; 15 — strikeouts by Golden Eagles batters, most in a game this season; 6,346 — the attendance, a record, at Taylor Park. (Can any other state match Mississippi’s passion for college baseball?) … Congratulations to Millsaps’ Jim Page, named coach of the year in the Southern Athletic Association. The Majors, 10-24 in 2021, went 24-21 and reached the league championship series. Page also won his 800th game in purple-and-white this season. … Christian Yelich hit for the cycle for Milwaukee on Wednesday, his third cycle since 2018. The last Mississippian to accomplish this neat feat was Fred Lewis, a Stone County High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product who did it on May 13 — Mother’s Day — in 2007 for San Francisco. … Orlando Arcia’s first career walk-off home run boosted Atlanta past Boston on Wednesday night. Biloxi Shuckers fans will remember Arcia as one of the stars of the inaugural team back in 2015. He was Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect at the time and was one of the first Shuckers alums to make the majors. … Left-hander Joey Wentz became the latest former Mississippi Braves standout to make the big leagues; he started and took a loss for Detroit. Wentz joins Bryce Elder and William Woods as M-Braves alums to debut in 2022; the list is approaching 160 all told. … Former Mississippi State standout — and Shuckers alum — Ethan Small, the International League’s pitcher of the month for April when he had an 0.77 ERA in four starts, makes his second May start tonight for Triple-A Nashville. The left-hander, Milwaukee’s No. 7 prospect, took a loss in his first May outing and is 2-1, 1.98 with 37 K’s in 27 1/3 innings. His MLB debut can’t be far off. … Harrison Central High alum Bobby Bradley, reassigned to the minors by Cleveland earlier this month, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first game with Triple-A Columbus. … Blaze Jordan, the ex-DeSoto Central star, is heating up at Low-Class A Salem in Boston’s system. A nine-game hit streak (13-for-34) has lifted the young slugger’s average to .235; he hit his second homer of the year Wednesday night.

03 May

time to pitch in

The Mississippi Braves, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Trustmark Park, are 8-13, and one doesn’t have to dig too deep into the numbers to uncover a reason for the poor start. The team ERA is 4.78, which ranks sixth in the eight-team Southern League. The WHIP is 1.46, second-worst in the league. This is highly unusual for the M-Braves, who ranked second, first and second in the league in ERA in the past three seasons. Maybe the ERA will improve as the team plays more games at the TeePee, one of the best pitchers’ parks in the minors. Maybe it starts this week against Pensacola, one of the weakest hitting and lowest scoring teams in the SL. Darius Vines starts tonight’s opener; he is a rated prospect who is better than his numbers: 1-1, 5.50 ERA. Wednesday starter Jared Shuster, Atlanta’s No. 10 prospect, has been outstanding: 2-2, 1.88, 28 strikeouts, five walks in 24 innings. But none of the other scheduled starters in the series has an ERA under 5.17. Closer Justin Maese is 3-for-3 in saves but has an ugly 7.27 ERA. Middle reliever Hayden Deal has a 1.06 and has been a key bullpen piece. The M-Braves have some hitters. Top prospect Michael Harris II has been as good as advertised: .333, four homers, 19 RBIs, 16 runs. Drew Lugbauer has slugged seven homers with 15 RBIs and 18 runs. Riley Delgado (.333), Luke Waddell (.296) and C.J. Alexander (.293) also have swung it well. … The World Series trophy won by the parent Braves last fall will make an appearance at the ballpark on Friday night. P.S. Anthony Alford, the ex-Petal High star, has signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and will report to Triple-A Columbus. Alford, previously with Pittsburgh, recently became a free agent (see previous posts).

01 May

according to plan

The Milwaukee Brewers were looking for thump in the middle of the lineup when they pulled a surprise trade for Hunter Renfroe last fall. The Crystal Springs native, after a slow start this season, appears to have found his home run stroke. Renfroe mashed his third homer in two games on Saturday, helping the streaking Brewers pound the Chicago Cubs 9-1. The Brewers are 13-7 with five straight wins. Renfroe is batting .310 with four homers in his last seven games. He has five homers and 10 RBIs on the year, and his 3-for-5 effort Saturday boosted his average to .253. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe crushed 31 homers for Boston in 2021, but the Red Sox dealt him to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects after the season. Renfroe, also an outstanding right fielder, made mlb.com’s All-Underrated Team before this season. He hasn’t made an All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove. He’s due for a breakthrough there. With 133 career homers since 2016, Renfroe is closing in on the top 10 all-time among Mississippi natives. Matt Lawton is No. 11 with 138. Charlie Hayes ranks 10th with 144. P.S. Atlanta fans surely cringe when they see what Shea Langeliers is doing in Triple-A for Oakland. The young catcher has hit five homers in his last six games and has nine on the year to go with a .301 average at Las Vegas. After blasting 22 bombs for the Double-A South champion Mississippi Braves last year, Langeliers was one of the four prospects the Braves sent to the A’s for Matt Olson.