04 Sep

clearing the bases

Brent Rooker, the former SEC Triple Crown winner from Mississippi State, got some dents in his fender today in his first MLB game. He became the first Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in the big leagues in 2020 when he started in left field for Minnesota against Detroit in Game 1 of a twinbill at Target Field. In his first career at-bat, vs. lefty Matthew Boyd, Rooker was hit by a pitch on a 1-2 count. He then collided with the Tigers shortstop on a force play. In his second AB, he lined out, after which he was replaced in the field. He was back in the lineup, batting cleanup, for Game 2 and got his first hit and RBI. Rooker, an outfielder/first baseman, was a first-round pick by the Twins in 2017. He has batted .267 with 54 homers and 178 RBIs in 259 minor league games, reaching the Triple-A level last summer. He was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. … Seven players with Mississippi ties are among the 30 nominees, one from each team, for the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “an annual recognition of the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” The honored players include Mississippi State product and Amory native Mitch Moreland (now with San Diego, nominated by Boston); Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz (San Diego); ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox); Mississippi Braves alumni Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta) and Jason Heyward (Cubs); and Biloxi Shuckers alum Brent Suter (Milwaukee). … Former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader is Milwaukee’s bullpen ace, the hard-throwing lefty with the scraggly mane. Everyone knows this. The Brewers’ secret bullpen weapon is Devin Williams, another Shuckers alum who has been lights-out in 2020, his second MLB season. He has a better ERA than Hader, more strikeouts per inning and fewer walks. One analyst has called Williams “the most dominant reliever in baseball.” Featuring a great changeup, he has a 0.60 ERA and 31 punchouts and six walks in 15 innings. The right-hander, 25, pitched for Biloxi in 2019, posting a 7-2 record, four saves and a 2.36 ERA in the Double-A Southern League. He struck out 76 in 53 1/3 innings. He was also an All-Star Futures Game participant last summer before getting his first call-up in August. … Whatever happened to: Ernesto Mejia, who had a monster season with the Mississippi Braves back in 2011, is still swinging it for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese Pacific League. The 34-year-old Venezuela native hit a walk-off home run earlier this week and has seven bombs in 24 games. He has hit 340 homers in pro ball. Mejia had one of the best seasons ever by an M-Brave, batting .297 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs for the 2011 club. He reached Triple-A but never got to The Show. He has been in Japan since 2014.

28 Aug

circle in pencil

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.

21 Aug

watch for it

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.

14 Aug

late bloomer

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.

05 Aug

all the young dudes

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.

27 Jul

very streaky

On this date in 2008, in the midst of a memorable season for the Mississippi Braves, Matt Young set a remarkable and yet somewhat unappreciated Southern League record. The 2008 season is still the M-Braves’ lone championship year. It was also the year of Jordan Schafer’s suspension before the home opener, the team’s 6-20 April, Tommy Hanson’s no-hitter, Jeff Francoeur’s three-game return to Double-A, Tom Glavine’s rehab appearance, the “I Smell Blood” T-shirts and the dramatic run to the pennant, capped by a wild walk-off in the 10th inning of the decisive fifth game. Considering all that, it’s easy to overlook Young’s record-setting performance. Playing against Chattanooga at Trustmark Park on July 27, Young got hits in his first four at-bats, giving him hits in 11 consecutive ABs over four games. The previous SL mark was 10, and it had stood for some 30 years. Hits in 11 straight games is a nice feat. Hits in 11 straight at-bats is something else indeed. The MLB record is 12, and it was last achieved in 1952. (Young also reached base in 16 straight plate appearances from July 24-27, 2008, another league record.) The 5-foot-8 Young, who played parts of four years in Pearl, batted .289 and stole 30 bases for the ’08 M-Braves and was named the team’s player of the year. He reached the big leagues with Atlanta in 2011 but spent only a brief time in The Show and didn’t make much of an impression there. He left his mark at Trustmark Park and in the Southern League record book.

26 Jul

put it on the board

Let the record show, the first home run by a Mississippian in this long-delayed major league season was struck Saturday by Mitch Moreland, the Amory native and ex-Mississippi State standout who went yard for Boston. His 167th career bomb was a wall-scraper to right field at Fenway Park, and it came in a 7-2 loss to Baltimore. Moreland did not play in the Red Sox’s opener, a 13-2 win on Friday. Let the record also show that the first game-winning homer by a Mississippian in 2020 also was struck on Saturday. Richton High product JaCoby Jones blasted a 400-footer in the top of the ninth inning at the Great American Ball Park, giving Detroit its margin of victory in a 6-4 takedown of Cincinnati. The backstory is a good one: Jones had been directed to bunt a runner over from first but fouled off two attempts. So, swinging away with a 2-2 count, he hit his 25th career homer, beating Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. “Screw bunting,” Jones reportedly, jokingly, told Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire after he reached the dugout. “Let me hit.” … Former Mississippi Braves star Phil Gosselin went deep twice for Philadelphia on Saturday and is currently tied for the MLB lead. But Gosselin wasn’t the first former M-Brave to homer in 2020. Rio Ruiz hit one out Friday for the Orioles.

25 Jul

remember him?

Given a new lease on his baseball life by Boston in the off-season, former Mississippi Braves star Jose Peraza showed his gratitude with a smashing debut on Friday night. Peraza, starting at second base, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs in the Red Sox’s 13-2 season-opening rout of Baltimore at Fenway Park. Cincinnati gave up on Peraza after the 2019 season — he was not offered a contract after a .239 campaign — and the Red Sox, looking for a replacement for Dustin Pedroia, signed the five-year veteran. M-Braves fans might recall that Peraza arrived in Pearl in mid-2014 as a hot-shot prospect who would play in the Futures Game that summer. Atlanta sent him, along with Alex Wood and Luis Avilan, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 in the infamous Hector Olivera trade. Peraza was traded again in 2016 to Cincinnati, where he had some good moments before slumping last season. A career .275 hitter with 77 steals, he looks like a good fit in Boston. P.S. William Contreras, a 2019 M-Braves catcher, made his MLB debut with Atlanta on Friday. At least 150 players have now advanced from Double-A Mississippi to The Show since Brian McCann first made the trip in 2005.

22 Nov

just stuff

Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, celebrates his 31st birthday today. Soon, he’ll be celebrating a sweet free-agent contract. Coming off a bounce-back finish to his 2019 season, left-hander Pomeranz is considered one of the top relief pitchers currently on the market. As a starter in San Francisco last season, Pomeranz was mostly awful. The Giants moved him to the bullpen, where something clicked. Milwaukee traded for him, and Pomeranz became one of the key pieces in the Brewers’ drive to the postseason. In 26 1/3 innings down the stretch, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and, suddenly throwing much harder, fanned 45 batters. He made $1.5 million last year on a free agent deal he signed with the Giants after a bad 2018 season in Boston, where he made $8M in the final year of his three with the Red Sox. … Pomeranz leads a long list of Mississippians on the free agent market: Corey Dickerson, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Kendall Graveman, Tony Sipp … . Petal High product Demarcus Evans (see previous post) was placed on Texas’ 40-man roster this week, and the big right-hander reportedly will compete for a big league bullpen job in the spring. … The Atlanta Braves have added outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer – all Mississippi Braves alumni – to their 40-man roster. (Outfielder Drew Waters, the Southern League MVP with the M-Braves last season, does not yet have to be protected on the 40-man.) … The Detroit Tigers re-signed former Southwest Mississippi Community College (and M-Braves) catcher Kade Scivicque to a minor league deal. He played at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2019. … In case you missed it, Hattiesburg-based Rodney Richardson of RARE Design handled the rebranding of the Brewers’ logo and uniforms for 2020, when the club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its move to Milwaukee. Richardson told mlb.com at Monday’s unveiling: “We want them to love it because we’ve fallen in love with their story, with their team, with what’s happening here. It’s not following any design trends or anything like that. It’s about representing this team and this place and their love for this game. We want to see that resonate.”

14 Nov

also receiving votes

Lance Lynn might have been an under-the-radar free agent signee by Texas last off-season, but his performance in 2019 did not go unnoticed. Former Ole Miss standout Lynn, a 16-game winner for the Rangers, finished fifth in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award won Wednesday night by Houston’s Justin Verlander. Coming off a rough 2018 campaign split between Minnesota and the New York Yankees, Lynn signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Rangers and quickly emerged as the staff ace. In 33 starts, the 32-year-old right-hander went 16-11 with a 3.67 ERA and worked 208 1/3 innings, striking out 246 batters, fourth-most in the AL. His most memorable moment might have come in the Rangers’ final game ever at Globe Life Park on Sept. 29. Lynn went 7 1/3 for the win, holding the Yankees to two hits and punching out 10. (An aside: In the first game at that Arlington stadium in 1994, Mississippi State product Will Clark hit the first Rangers home run.) … Three former Mississippi Braves hurlers got Cy Young votes: Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, one of the three AL finalists, finished third and Lynn’s Texas teammate Mike Minor eighth in the AL voting, while Atlanta’s Mike Soroka was sixth in the National League tally.