27 Jul

odds and ends

Stanley Stubbs, who won championships at two colleges in Georgia and coached at Rust College the last two years, will be named coach at Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday. Stubbs succeeds Aaron Stevens, fired after an 0-20 season. Stubbs is a Booneville native who played at Northeast Mississippi Community College and was an assistant coach under Bob Braddy at Jackson State for several years. Rust, an NAIA program, finished 13-20 in 2021. Alcorn State has yet to name a replacement for Brett Richardson, who was not retained after a 7-20 season. … The Mississippi Braves are riding an eight-game losing streak as they head into a 12-game road trip that begins tonight at Pensacola. The Double-A club’s longest losing streak since it arrived in Pearl in 2005 is nine. At 40-32, the M-Braves no longer have the Double-A South’s best record. … Whatever happened to Corey Dickerson? Well, the former Meridian Community College star is expected to begin a rehab assignment this week for the Toronto Blue Jays. Dickerson was on the injured list (foot) with Miami when he was traded on June 29. The veteran outfielder hit .260 with two homers in 62 games for the Marlins. … No surprise really that the top two teams in the Cotton States League North feature the college summer league’s top two pitchers. Will Cook, of Holmes Community College, is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA for the Tupelo Thunder, 13-6 heading into the season’s final weekend in New Albany. Camron Wright, a lefty from Itawamba CC, is 3-1, 1.66 for the North Delta Dealers, also 13-6. The Dealers took two of three from the Thunder back in June, with Cook notching Tupelo’s lone win. Wright pitched well in the rubber game but didn’t get a decision. … Among the array of stars who’ll be formally inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night are two baseball icons: former high school coach Jerry Boatner and renowned stadium architect Janet Marie Smith. In addition, Con Maloney, longtime owner of Jackson’s Texas League franchise, will receive the Rube Award, which recognizes lifetime contributions to Mississippi sports and is named in honor former sports museum director Michael Rubenstein.

11 Jul

running hot

There’s hot and then there’s whatever the Mississippi Braves are right now. The top team in the Double-A South won its sixth straight game on Saturday night at Trustmark Park. The last five of those wins have come against the league’s second-best team, Pensacola. Saturday night’s win rated an exclamation point. Not only were the Blue Wahoos dismissed by a 6-0 count, Bryce Elder and Daysbel Hernandez combined on a no-hitter. On a night when top-rated prospects Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake went 0-for-8, two others stepped up with big hits. Justin Dean, the diminutive, dynamic leadoff batter, belted a two-run homer to dead center field, and Trey Harris, the brawny right fielder, smacked a three-run, opposite-field double. The defense was clean and even produced three double plays. Can they bottle this? Elder, Atlanta’s No. 11 prospect, threw seven innings in his third Double-A start; he is 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA. The talented arms just keep coming in the Braves’ system. The M-Braves, 37-22 and 4 games up in the Double-A South’s South Division, go for seven in a row today against Pensacola. On the bump? Spencer Strider, the No. 20 prospect who has climbed three levels this season. He is 1-1, 3.95 in three starts. P.S. Meanwhile, the season-ending injury to Ronald Acuna might open the door for former M-Braves star Cristian Pache to get another shot in Atlanta. The swift center fielder is batting .252 with three homers and 13 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. Another possibility is Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP for the M-Braves who is batting .257 with five homers, 18 RBIs and 15 steals for the Stripers. He is slated to play in today’s All-Star Futures Game in Colorado.

09 Jul

worth noting

There may be no hotter team in pro ball than the Mississippi Braves, who won two games on Thursday at Trustmark Park, extending their win streak to four, and have won 31 of their last 45. At 35-22 overall (22-11 at home), the M-Braves have the best record in the Double-A South. (And, yes, there will be a postseason to crown a champion in September.) Atlanta prospects Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake stood out on Thursday. Langeliers hit his 14th homer, tied for the league lead, and Shewmake homered, his sixth, and extended his hit streak to 11 games. The M-Braves play Pensacola again tonight (6:35) at the TeePee in Pearl.
Jake Mangum hit his fourth homer for Binghamton, the 16th extra-base hit for the former Mississippi State standout in 36 games for the New York Mets’ Double-A team. Mangum, batting .275, is slugging .450. He slugged just .297 in A-ball in 2019.
Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim hit his fourth home run in three games for High-A Hickory in the Texas system. Crim, in his second pro season, is batting .275 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs.
Pascagoula High product Willie Joe Garry, Jr., went 3-for-5 with his third triple of the season for Low-A Fort Myers in Minnesota’s chain. Garry, 21, in his third pro season, is batting .196 with two homers, 12 RBIs, 19 runs and 13 steals.
The scuffling Chicago Cubs are returning Justin Steele, the ex-George County High standout, to a starting role at Triple-A Iowa. Steele, a starter his first six seasons in pro ball, worked in relief for the Cubs as a rookie this season, posting a 2.03 ERA in 11 games before landing on the injured list. “We’re going to try to put him in a role where he can face the lineup a couple times, and there’s no reason he can’t do it,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said in an nbcchicago.com report. The left-hander will start for Iowa on Sunday and likely will be in the Cubs’ rotation soon.
Bobby Bradley hit his first home run since June 30 in Cleveland’s win over Kansas City on Thursday. The Harrison Central High alum now has nine bombs on the season in just 97 big league at-bats. He had nine in 97 at-bats at Triple-A Columbus when he was called up to the big club on June 5.
Ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman, now Seattle’s closer, was in the middle of a conflict between the Mariners and New York Yankees on Thursday. Graveman, on in the ninth to close out a 4-0 M’s win, brushed D.J. LeMahieu’s jersey with an inside pitch. LeMahieu barked at Graveman, who stared him down. More shouting and posturing ensued at game’s end involving multiple players. LeMahieu brushed it all off in a comment to nj.com: “He threw one in on Rougned (Odor) and the next one in on me. It looked suspicious, but it’s just baseball.”

04 Jul

old home night

The game was played in Birmingham and the visiting team came from Chattanooga, but there was a lot of Mississippi sprinkled all over Saturday night’s Double-A South game at Regions Park. Chattanooga’s lineup included three Magnolia State college products — Ole Miss’ Errol Robinson and Braxton Lee and Southern Miss’ Chuckie Robinson — while the host Barons’ featured former Columbia High standout Ti’Quan Forbes at third base plus Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington on the mound. Chuckie Robinson had the game’s big hit, a three-run homer off Pilkington in a four-run fourth inning that propelled the Lookouts, a Cincinnati affiliate, to a 10-4 victory. Errol Robinson (no relation) contributed two walks and a run, and Lee went 1-for-4 with a couple of RBIs. Pilkington, a third-round pick by the Chicago White Sox in 2018, took the loss and slipped to 2-4 with a 4.08 ERA. Forbes, a second-round pick way back in 2014, went 1-for-2 with two walks. Still only 24, he is batting .299 this season. The Chattanooga contingent are new this season to the Cincinnati system. The Robinsons were Rule 5 draft picks last December, while Lee – who has been on quite an odyssey (see previous post) – was signed out of an independent league last month. Errol Robinson, a shortstop, was a Los Angeles Dodgers draftee in 2016. He had a 10-homer, 18-steal season in Double-A in 2018 and reached Triple-A in the L.A. system. The Reds started him in Triple-A this year, but he hit just .176 at Louisville before being bumped down. Chuckie Robinson, a catcher, was drafted in 2016 by Houston and reached Double-A in 2019. A career .250 hitter with 34 homers, he is batting .258 with four homers in 2021. Lee, 27, a 2014 draftee by Tampa Bay, was a Southern League batting champion in 2017 who made the big leagues with Miami in 2018. A lefty-hitting outfielder with speed, he is batting .227 in 19 games for the Lookouts. P.S. Curious to see what the story is behind the sudden removal of Mitch Moreland from Oakland’s lineup on Saturday. The former State star from Amory was pulled for a “non-baseball related issue” and will not play today, the team announced.

25 Jun

shout-out to pitching

Most of the highly rated prospects on the Mississippi Braves’ roster are position players. But the Double-A team’s rise to the top of their division can be attributed more to the arms than the bats. The M-Braves have won 19 of 25 to reach 27-18 on the season. Last in the Double-A South in hitting (.211) and next-to-last in runs, they have the best staff ERA in the league at 3.30. Opponents are hitting just .216 against them – lowest in the league – and have a league-low 20 homers in 45 games. There is some power in the M-Braves’ lineup, and they hit three home runs in Thursday night’s 6-2 win over Tennessee at Trustmark Park. But the pitching rates a shout-out, as well. Spencer Strider, Atlanta’s No. 20 prospect (with a bullet), made his Double-A debut and yielded two runs in 4 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. He has a 1.82 ERA and 64 punchouts in 34 2/3 innings over three levels. The 2020 fourth-round pick from Clemson was followed to the bump by Kurt Hoekstra, Brooks Wilson and Brandon White, who combined to allow just two hits and fan six over the final 4 1/3. White has emerged as a reliable closer with seven saves and a 1.69 ERA. Hoekstra (3.38), Wilson (1.71), Josh Graham (2.33) and Troy Bacon (1.93) have been effective out of the pen. Bacon had a rare immaculate inning (three K’s on nine pitches) in Tuesday’s game. Nolan Kingham, a former Texas star, has emerged as the ace among M-Braves starters. The right-hander tossed 7 1/3 shutout innings Wednesday to improve to 5-1 with a 2.29 ERA. Opening day starter Hayden Deal, a lefty who’ll go tonight at the TeePee, is 1-2 with a 3.28 and has yet to allow a home run. Odalvi Javier is 3-1, 2.78 and A.J. Puckett 1-2, 2.59. The highest-rated pitching prospect on the roster is No. 14 Viktor Vodnik (0-1, 2.51), but he is currently on the injured list. If it’s true that good pitching beats good hitting, the 2021 M-Braves are in good shape.

16 Jun

highs and lows

Tuesday was a good day for Bobby Bradley. The ex-Harrison Central High star went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in Cleveland’s 7-2 win over Baltimore, boosting his average to .440 (11-for-25) since his call-up on June 5. “In my head, this is 12-year-old All-Stars, as fun as we can get, just playing some summer ball,” Bradley said in an mlb.com article. These are meaningful games for the second-place Indians, who are trying to keep pace with division-leader Chicago in the American League Central. Bradley has contributed three homers and 10 RBIs – and has struck out just four times. These results are much-improved over his 2019 MLB trial, when he batted .178 with one homer and fanned 20 times in 45 at-bats. Bradley, 25, won home run crowns in four different leagues en route to the majors. The Indians would love to see him tap into that power this summer – and keep having fun, of course. … Tuesday was a bad day for Demarcus Evans. The former Petal High star yielded a walk-off grand slam to Jose Altuve in Texas’ 6-3 loss in 10 innings to Houston. After Mississippi State product Nate Lowe had given the Rangers a 3-2 lead with an RBI knock in the top of the 10th, Evans failed to retire a batter in the bottom half. He walked two prior to Altuve’s bomb. Evans, 24, making his seventh big league appearance this season – and 11th overall – suffered his second blown save and saw his 2021 ERA jump from 2.16 to 5.40. P.S. Down on the farm, Ole Miss alum Nick Fortes hit a walk-off two-run homer for Pensacola in a 5-4 win against Montgomery in the Double-A South. Fortes, a catcher/DH, is batting .284 with two homers and 12 RBIs for the Miami affiliate. … Tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Mississippi State product Konnor Pilkington will go to the bump for Birmingham against the Mississippi Braves. Pilkington, a former East Central High star, is 1-1, 2.60 ERA in six starts for the White Sox’s Double-A club.

15 Jun

finding their way

Things are clicking – sort of – for the Mississippi Braves. Though manager Wyatt Toregas resigned suddenly during the Double-A club’s series at Biloxi, the team won five of six there and has taken 12 of its last 16. At 20-16, the M-Braves are second in the Double-A South South Division. A new manager has not been named; the coaching staff ran the team for the last three games at Biloxi. The M-Braves’ pitching staff leads the league in ERA, and highly rated prospect Shea Langeliers is playing like one: .265 with nine homers, 19 RBIs and 20 runs, all team-leading stats. Braden Shewmake, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect (Langeliers is No. 3), has finally begun to swing the bat after an ice-cold start. He has hit safely in five of his last six to reach .135 with three homers and 10 RBIs. Justin Dean has 10 steals and 17 runs. Birmingham, the top scoring team in the league, comes to Trustmark Park today with a 22-13 mark, first in the North Division. The Chicago White Sox’s affiliate features the organization’s No. 6 prospect, Micker Adolfo, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound outfielder batting .244 with eight homers. Ti’Quan Forbes, the former Mississippi Mr. Baseball from Columbia High, is batting .281 with three homers for the Barons, and Mississippi State product Konnor Pilkington, from Pascagoula, is 1-1 with a 2.60 ERA in six starts.

21 May

setting the table

The Mississippi Braves have scratched out a 6-9 record despite being last in the Double-A South in runs, batting and on-base percentage. As fans of “Bull Durham” might ask, How’d they ever win six? One reason would be the play of Justin Dean, the diminutive leadoff batter. Dean has reached base in each of the 14 games he has played; his OBP of .426 ranks fifth in the league. He is batting .262 and has scored nine runs, driven in four and stolen five bases. Speed is the prime tool for the 24-year-old center fielder, who goes 5 feet 6, 185 pounds. He swiped 47 bases (with nine triples) at Class A Rome in 2019 and earned league All-Star honors and a trip to the Arizona Fall League. A 17th-round pick out of NCAA Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in 2018, he is batting .283 over his three pro seasons. MLB Pipeline ranks Dean 26th among Atlanta’s prospects, noting that “he has the chance to be a table-setter type, perhaps with a career as a fourth outfielder the most likely.” Dean will look to set the table tonight when the M-Braves play Chattanooga in the fourth game of a six-game set at Trustmark Park. P.S. On Chattanooga’s roster is a pair of former Southern Miss stars: Pitcher J.C. Keys, drafted by Cincinnati in 2019, and Chuckie Robinson, a catcher who was plucked by the Reds from Houston in the Rule 5 draft in December. Keys took the loss in relief on Wednesday but has a 1.69 ERA in four games. Robinson is 4-for-16 in five games this season and is a .249 career hitter over five pro seasons. Notably, he has caught two of Nick Lodolo’s starts and Hunter Greene’s last one, a 10-strikeout gem. Those are two top prospects in Cincy’s system. … There are several other Mississippi products scattered around the Double-A South. Ex-Columbia High standout Ti’Quan Forbes and Mississippi State alum Konnor Pilkington are with Birmingham, former State star Ethan Small is at Biloxi, ex-Ole Miss standout Wyatt Short is with Tennessee, UM product Nick Fortes plays for Pensacola and former Delta State star Dalton Moats is at Montgomery.

11 May

party of one

A Mississippi product took the field in each of the five big league games played on Monday night. Only one enjoyed a postgame celebration. Mike Mayers, the former Ole Miss standout, worked a clean eighth inning and earned his sixth hold in the Los Angeles Angels’ gritty 5-4 win against Houston. Pitching for the third straight day and 18th time this season, Mayers trimmed his ERA to 4.58. Three Mississippi State alumni were on the losing side: Adam Frazier went 1-for-3 in Pittsburgh’s 14-1 loss to Cincinnati, Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-3 in Boston’s 4-1 loss to Baltimore and Nate Lowe put up a 1-for-3 in Texas’ 3-1 defeat against San Francisco. And ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a 1-for-4 in Miami’s 5-2 loss to Arizona. … Dickerson’s average slipped to .316, but he still leads all Mississippians in the majors in batting; Frazier is at .308. P.S. In the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers begin a six-game series at MGM Park tonight. It’s the Shuckers’ home opener. Lefty Hayden Deal (0-1, 1.80), the M-Braves’ opening day starter, is expected to get the nod in Game 1. Former State star Ethan Small is likely to start in the series. The 2019 first-round pick made his Double-A debut on May 7, allowing four runs in three innings in a loss at Birmingham.

04 May

baseball is back

There will be nights, Mississippi Braves manager Wyatt Toregas says, when his team will look like a major league club. They’ve got those skills. There will also be nights, he cautions, when their youth and inexperience will show. It is Double-A, after all.
Above and beyond any of that, however, is the simple fact that there will be pro baseball at Trustmark Park again. Real games. For the first time in more than 600 days.
The M-Braves open the much-anticipated 2021 season – the club’s 16th in Pearl — tonight against Pensacola, the first game of a six-game Double-A South series that runs through Sunday.
There are a lot of new off-field rules and regulations in place due to COVID-19 protocols, but the game on the field hasn’t changed. “The guys are excited to get the season started,” said Toregas, new to the Atlanta organization this season. “It’s time to play ball again.”
The roster features several of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, including catcher Shea Langeliers (No. 3 by MLB Pipeline) and shortstop Braden Shewmake (No. 4). Both are 2019 first-round picks out of major college programs who appear to be on a fast track to the big leagues.
The team also includes outfielder Trey Harris (No. 14), pitcher Victor Vodnik (No. 15), first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista (No. 19), third baseman C.J. Alexander (No. 20) and outfielder Justin Dean (No. 26). Shewmake, Harris, Alexander and Jenista all spent time with the M-Braves in 2019, when minor league teams last played.
“We’re strong in a lot of different areas,” Toregas said.
Despite the compressed spring training for minor leaguers, Toregas, a former major league catcher who managed in the Pittsburgh system for five years, said he felt quickly accepted into the Braves fold by the players, whom he called “a lively group.” He said he also had enough time with the players to get to know them and get a feel for their skills. “They’re very coachable,” he said. “As skilled as these guys are, they’re very open to advice.”
The centerpiece of the team is Langeliers. The former Baylor star, the ninth overall pick two years ago, played in A-ball in 2019 (.255 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 54 games), went to Atlanta’s alternate camp last summer and was a non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring. He is said to have the best throwing arm in the Braves’ system.
“Man, he’s got some skills,” Toregas said. “It’s an honor for me … I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s got a chance to be really good for a really long time. … He can really throw. He’s got some pop in his bat, and he’s a leader. The guys gravitate to him.”
Langeliers said his main goals this season include gaining experience with the one knee-down catching style as well as learning more about calling a game. “I have some high expectations,” he said. “I expect myself to be successful. But it’s a long season, and it can be a grind. In pro ball, it’s a big difference playing every night.”
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Shewmake, a former Texas A&M standout drafted 21st overall in 2019, hit .300 with three homers, 40 RBIs and 13 steals at two levels in 2019, finishing that season in Pearl.
“You can definitely tell why they took him so high in the draft,” Toregas said. “He’s got speed, the ability to hit. He’s a lefty bat in the infield. Plays solid defense, and he’s a bright kid. His skills can take him a long way.”
Harris is another player to watch. A former 32nd-round pick from Missouri, he is a .317 career hitter in the minors and was the Atlanta organization’s minor league player of the year in 2019, when he moved through three levels.
Left-hander Hayden Deal is the scheduled starter tonight, getting the nod over the more highly touted Vodnik and Nolan Kingham, an M-Brave in 2019. Deal was 5-10 with a 3.24 ERA at Class A Florida in 2019 and is 17-13, 2.87 for his minor league career. The Braves signed him as a free agent out of Presbyterian College in North Carolina in 2017.
“I wasn’t expecting to start opening day,” he said, “but it’s a huge honor. I’m super excited about that. I’m ready to see what this year holds.”
“I think everybody’s ready to get out there and compete again,” Toregas said. “I’m looking forward to that. … I’m looking forward to one-run games in the ninth inning, when everybody gets nervous and every play means a little more. It’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s time to get back to it.”
Pensacola is a Miami Marlins affiliate. The Blue Wahoos’ roster includes former Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes as well as right-hander Max Meyer, the third overall selection in the 2020 draft. He enters the season as the No 3 prospect in the Marlins’ system and No. 28 overall, per MLB Pipeline.
In the new-look minors, the Double-A South includes eight teams. Mississippi is in the South Division with Pensacola, the Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers) and Montgomery Biscuits (Rays). The North Division includes the Birmingham Barons (White Sox), Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds), Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels) and Tennessee Smokies (Cubs).
Former Mississippi State star Ethan Small, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2019, is on the Biloxi roster. Lefty Small is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Milwaukee system by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.