31 Jul

life of riley

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, runner at first base in a scoreless game in Atlanta, Austin Riley took a cutter down and in from Arizona’s Mark Melancon and drove it into the gap in right-center, scoring Matt Olson with the game-winning run. What else did you expect? Fans at Truist Park were chanting “MVP, MVP” as Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, came to the plate, and he certainly has made a case. Here are the juicy numbers:
26: Extra base hits in July, most in a month by a Braves player, topping Hank Aaron’s 25 in 1961.
11: Home runs in July.
25: RBIs in July.
.423: Batting average in July.
.301: Batting average for the season.
29: Homers for the season.
31: Doubles for the season.
68: RBIs for the season.
61: Runs for the season.
.360: On-base percentage for the season.
.604: Slugging percentage for the season.
Only one Mississippi native, high school or college product has ever won an MVP: Grenada native Dave Parker with Pittsburgh in the National League in 1978. Riley, a Memphis native who grew up in Southaven, still has work to do, obviously, but he is building a jaw-dropping resume.

17 Oct

a lot to like

There are a lot of reasons to like Austin Riley, the hero of Atlanta’s 3-2 win against Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series opener on Saturday night. The 24-year-old third baseman out of DeSoto Central High had to prove himself worthy of a starting job in spring training. A slow start to the season brought out the doubters again. Manager Brian Snitker stuck with him, and Riley responded by putting up MVP-type numbers while also playing Gold Glove-quality defense as the Braves charged to a division title. He was the definition of clutch on Saturday: a game-tying home run with two outs in the fourth inning and a game-winning hit in the ninth, his first walk-off knock as a pro. “He’s been our rock in the middle of the order,” Braves pitcher Max Fried said in a postgame interview. Ozzie Albies, who scored the winning run, called Riley “the big boss.” But Riley doesn’t act like a boss. For all his physical talents, his most admirable quality might be his comportment. After his home run Saturday — a laser into the left-field seats — he didn’t flip his bat, pound his chest or point to his wrist. He celebrated with a swarm of teammates after the ninth-inning hit, but in the televised postgame interview, he was composed and humble, as he always is. As over-the-top, look-at-me celebration begins to creep into baseball, it’s refreshing to see Riley handle his success with such grace. Want another reason to like him? In a recent interview with Mark Bowman of mlb.com, Riley said his favorite baseball movie, one he watched hundreds of times as a kid, is “The Sandlot.” Sounds about right.

10 Oct

special delivery

If you were waiting for a highlight moment from a Mississippian in the 2021 postseason, the wait is over. Austin Riley delivered Saturday night with a 428-foot home run at the expense of another state high school product, Brandon Woodruff. Riley, the pride of DeSoto Central, gave Atlanta a 3-0 lead with his sixth-inning solo bomb at Milwaukee’s American Family Field as the Braves evened the National League Division Series at a game apiece. Riley, playing third base, also started the game-ending double play that came with the tying run at the plate. Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Max Fried, as good as any pitcher in MLB down the stretch, outpitched Woodruff, the Wheeler High and Mississippi State alum who also ranked among the NL ERA leaders. Woodruff wasn’t bad on Saturday. Two of Atlanta’s biggest hits — an Ozzie Albies RBI double and Riley’s homer — actually came on good pitches. But Woodruff can be home run-prone — 18 in 30 games this season — and the country-strong Riley barreled an 0-1 changeup down and away deep over the right-center field fence in Woodruff’s last inning of work. Riley, the Braves’ cleanup batter the last half of the season, ranked in the top 10 in the NL in batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases. That’s MVP-type stuff. Seems only fitting that he would deliver a postseason highlight. And it won’t be a surprise if he delivers more.

20 Aug

put it on the board

In his long-awaited debut for the Salem Red Sox on Thursday night, Blaze Jordan hit a home run. Very appropriate. The slugger from Southaven, whose long-ball exploits as a kid have been well-chronicled (see previous posts), hit one out in the ninth inning at Lynchburg for his first hit with Boston’s Low-A club. Jordan, 18, was promoted from the rookie Florida Complex League two weeks ago but had not played before Thursday, when he hit fifth as the Salem DH. Jordan batted .362 with four homers in 19 games for the FCL Red Sox this season in his pro debut. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jordan, a third baseman in high school, was a third-round pick in 2020 (after reclassifying at DeSoto Central to be eligible for that draft) and is currently rated Boston’s No. 9 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. The scouting report on mlb.com touts Jordan’s “impressive bat speed and strength that allow him to hit tape-measure shots without a lot of loft in his right-handed swing.”

04 Aug

watch for it

After showing out in the rookie Florida Complex League, ex-DeSoto Central High standout Blaze Jordan will get to test his skills at Low-A Salem, possibly as soon as tonight. Boston promoted the 2020 third-round draft pick on Tuesday. The 18-year-old third baseman hit .362 with four homers and 19 RBIs in the FCL. Long known for his prodigious power, Jordan, 6 feet 2, 220 pounds, reportedly is fitter and quicker than he was in his prep days, though he is still expected to shift to first base at some stage. Concerns about his contact ability didn’t surface in the FCL, where he struck out just 13 times in 69 at-bats. Salem hosts Lynchburg tonight at Haley Toyota Field in Virginia in a Low-A East game.

15 May

’bout time

In a move that seemed like a long time coming, Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High and Mississippi Braves star, will be promoted to Atlanta today, according to multiple reports. Riley, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2015 and has been ranked among the Braves’ top prospects ever since. He has been on a sizzling streak at the plate for Triple-A Gwinnett with seven homers in his last 10 games, including one – No. 15 on the season – Tuesday night. He hit 14 homers over parts of two seasons with the M-Braves and has 86 home runs in 463 pro games all told. Primarily a third baseman, he had played some left field recently for Gwinnett. The Braves are expected to put center fielder Ender Inciarte on the injured list.

24 Apr

collision course

DeSoto Central High, the only Mississippi school appearing in the Collegiate Baseball and MaxPreps national rankings, starts its postseason journey against visiting Warren Central on Thursday in the second round of the MHSAA Class 6A North playoffs. The Jaguars are 26-2, ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball and 11th by MaxPreps. Sophomore third baseman Blaze Jordan leads the Jags’ attack with a .448 average, eight homers and 38 RBIs. The Mississippi State commit was the MaxPreps national player of the week for April 8-14, when he went 8-for-9 with three homers and nine RBIs (eight in one game). Junior outfielder Kyle Booker is batting .417 with 34 runs, and senior Colby Crocker (6-1, 1.09 ERA) leads a strong pitching staff. Warren Central, which beat Tupelo in the first round, is 20-9-1. … DeSoto Central may be on a collision course for the state championship with Biloxi (25-3), which is actually rated above the Jaguars in MaxPreps’ computer poll. Biloxi starts 6A South postseason play at home against Petal on Thursday. Senior catcher Nick Skaggs leads the Indians, batting .374 with four homers and 37 RBIs. … The 6A championship series is slated to start May 15 at Pearl’s Trustmark Park.

07 Nov

precocious talent

Blaze Jordan, the phenom from Southaven, is the centerpiece in a Baseball America story (posted today on the magazine’s web site) about the issue of early – or, more precisely, very early — commitments in the college game. It’s a good read. Jordan is a freshman at DeSoto Central High. He committed to Mississippi State as an 8th-grader. Jordan reportedly has prodigious power, having won a national home run contest in January – at age 14 — with a 504-foot blast at Marlins Park in Miami. He hit two homers in 13 games for the DeSoto varsity last season. He also impressed coaches and scouts during last month’s Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championships in Florida. Jordan’s coach at the event compared him to Mookie Betts, Boston’s star right fielder. Keep in mind, the 6-foot, 215-pound first baseman is in the recruiting – and pro draft – class of 2021. … Also quoted in the BA piece are Hattiesburg High senior Joe Gray, another highly recruited player who committed to Ole Miss last January, and Rebels coach Mike Bianco.

09 Jun

a power play

High school draftees from Mississippi generally have had a tough time making it to the big leagues, Billy Hamilton being a noteworthy exception to that rule. But Austin Riley’s power, in both his bat and his arm, apparently convinced the Atlanta Braves to pick the DeSoto Central High product as a third baseman in the Competitive Balance Round A of Monday’s MLB draft. Riley was the 41st overall pick and Atlanta’s third of its five selections on the draft’s first day. Baseball America had Riley No. 164 in its last pre-draft rating. Riley, 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, played mostly shortstop for the Jaguars when he wasn’t on the mound, where his fastball reportedly reached 95 mph. Riley batted .423 with 11 homers and 14 doubles for the state champions this year. Riley is a Mississippi State signee, but he’ll likely get a sweet enough financial offer from the Braves to make him forgo college ball. The Braves need some power in their minor league system; there isn’t much on the Double-A Mississippi Braves’ roster.

27 Mar

on the big stage

DeSoto Central High bounced back from an opening round loss (to Whitewater of Georgia) to whip Trinity Prep of Florida 10-0 on Thursday in the National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C. Tre Spann drove in four runs, Austin Riley knocked in a pair and Keegen James threw a three-hitter over six innings. The Jaguars (10-5) are scheduled to play Lambert, Ga., today in the NHSI consolation bracket. DeSoto is ranked No. 21 in the latest Baseball America poll, which has Brandon at No. 24. The Bulldogs (12-1) are No. 23 in the MaxPreps poll. Brandon, facing a big game today against defending Class 6A champion Oak Grove, has gotten great production from Hunter Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior first baseman who is batting .400 with five home runs and 27 RBIs.