14 Jun

just stuff

There were some notable home runs on Thursday: Nacho Alvarez, promoted from the Mississippi Braves to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, hit his first home run of 2024, helping the Stripers beat Nashville 8-7. … Geraldo Quintero of the M-Braves hit his second homer of the season and his second at Rocket City, in Madison, Ala., where the M-Braves won a “home” game 7-5 on the playable field conditions of Toyota Field. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner blasted two homers for Triple-A St. Paul (Minnesota affiliate) and now has six this month and 13 overall for the Saints. … DeSoto Central High alum Blaze Jordan hit his third homer and first since coming off the injured list Wednesday (see previous post) for Double-A Portland (Boston). … In the big leagues, former M-Braves standout Justyn-Henry Malloy, in his ninth MLB game, hit his second homer for Detroit and first at Comerica Park in a Tigers win. … There were also some notable pitching performances, most notably Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet’s outing for the Chicago White Sox in a 3-2, 10-inning win at Seattle. The big left-hander struck out a career-best 13 while allowing two hits and one run in seven innings. He is now tied for the MLB lead with 116 punchouts. … Lucedale native Justin Steele also got a no-decision, throwing six shutout innings for the Cubs in their loss to Tampa Bay. Steele has a 3.22 ERA in nine starts but has yet to register a win. … Brandon native Will Warren, pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), took a shutout into the sixth inning against Rochester before yielding a three-run homer and departing the game. He got a no-decision in the RailRiders’ loss. After a brutal May, Jackson Prep product Warren (4-4, 7.01, on the year) has a 2.81 ERA in three June starts. P.S. Former Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. has been released by Kansas City. A second-round pick in 2018 by Milwaukee, Gray was batting .136 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He hit .213 for his career with 51 homers and 70 steals, never having any success above A-ball. Only 24, he might draw some interest from independent teams.

12 Jun

this ain’t good

There was big news involving the Mississippi Braves early today. Nacho Alvarez, the highly touted shortstop prospect, was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, becoming the fourth top 11 Atlanta prospect promoted off the Double-A roster in the last two weeks. But later today, there was even bigger news, jaw-dropping news: The M-Braves’ scheduled home series against Rocket City has been moved to Madison, Ala., home of the Trash Pandas. Unplayable field conditions is the announced reason. First, Tuesday night’s series opener at Trustmark Park was curiously cancelled. Now tonight’s game is off, as well, with a five-game series to start Thursday at Rocket City. This ain’t a good look for a franchise that is moving to Columbus, Ga., next year. This season was supposed to be a celebration of the team’s 20 years in Mississippi. The M-Braves last played a home game on June 2 (before a reported crowd of 1,344). The infield looked pretty rough then. It looks worse now. Was no maintenance done while the team was on the road? This situation surely won’t sit well with the few fans the lame-duck team has left. They won’t see the M-Braves again in Pearl until June 25. If the field if playable, of course.

29 May

pitching pipeline

Seems like only yesterday — technically, it was two weeks ago — that Spencer Schwellenbach was making his Double-A debut — and tossing six shutout innings — for the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park. Tonight, he’s scheduled to make his big league debut for Atlanta against Washington at Truist Park. The 23-year-old right-hander joins the long, long, long list of pitchers the Braves have pumped through their system, through Pearl, and into the majors over the past 20 years. It’s quite a list. Not all of them have had great success, but many have. It all started with Blaine Boyer, who jumped from the M-Braves to Atlanta in June 2005. He pitched 12 years in the majors, making 447 appearances. Charlie Morton, still pitching for the Braves, has 133 career wins. Mike Minor won 83. Julio Teheran has 81 W’s, Alex Wood 77, Max Fried 67, Matt Harrison 50, Tommy Hanson 49. Craig Kimbrel, one of the best closers of all-time, has 429 saves and 53 wins on his ledger — and still counting. In just the past few years, M-Braves fans have watched the likes of Michael Soroka, Huascar Ynoa, Ian Anderson, Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Jared Shuster, Dylan Dodd, Darius Vines and A.J. Smith-Shawver blow through the TeePee and crash The Show. With Strider and Smith-Shawver having hit the injured list this spring, the Braves have a need for starters. Their brass has deemed Schwellenbach, their No. 3 prospect, ready. A second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2021, he was 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA this season — 2-0, 0.00, with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings for the M-Braves. Worth noting: Former Southern Miss star Hurston Waldrep, the No. 2 prospect, may not be far behind; he is 3-4 with a 2.92 in Mississippi.

27 May

special occasion

The mood tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl should be celebratory. It’s Memorial Day, which traditionally mixes well with baseball, and the Mississippi Braves are back home and playing as well as any team in the minors. Atlanta’s Double-A club just swept a six-game series at Chattanooga and has won seven straight overall, 11 of their last 13. The bats have perked up of late, with 30 runs over the last four games. Tonight’s starting pitcher, Hurston Waldrep, one of the Braves’ top prospects, has won three straight starts. He is 3-3 with a 2.64 ERA on a staff with a 3.36, which ranks among the best in Double-A. Recently added prospect Spencer Schwellenbach has yet to allow a run in two starts. Middle reliever Hayden Harris has been virtually untouchable with a 0.59 in 13 games. Shortstop Nacho Alvarez, the top position player prospect in Atlanta’s system, has lived up to billing with slick defense, a .278 average, 13 RBIs and 16 steals. Five M-Braves rank among the top 15 base stealers in the Southern League, led by Geraldo Quintero with 17 bags. The team will wear patriotic-themed jerseys against Montgomery tonight (6:05 first pitch) with a pregame flyover scheduled and — of course — postgame fireworks. P.S. Austin Riley, ex-DeSoto Central High standout, is back in Atlanta’s lineup today for the first time since May 12. He is batting second behind Ozzie Albies at Truist Park. Riley is hitting .245 with three homers and 18 RBIs. With Ronald Acuna down, it’s time to get going. … Something has gone horribly wrong for Will Warren, the former Jackson Prep star now in the New York Yankees’ system. Warren, who contended for a spot in the big league rotation in the spring, is 0-4 with a 15.88 ERA in four May starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He gave up seven earned runs in three innings on Sunday. Warren was 3-0 with a 2.33 in five April starts.

26 May

it’s crunch time

With a win today, Jackson State will be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. The Tigers (36-19) play old rival Grambling State in Atlanta for the SWAC Tournament championship. The winner — and only the winner — will get an NCAA berth. JSU has been a consistent winner under coach Omar Johnson, but getting into an NCAA regional out of a one-bid league is a tough task. The Tigers have only done it three times, twice under Johnson. The 4-seed out of the East Division this year, they got to the brink with a 4-2 victory against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. Lenny Montesano went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs, and Je-andrick Lourens and three relievers combined on a six-hitter. Do the Tigers have any pitching left for the title game? … Southern Miss goes for its second straight Sun Belt Tournament title today against Georgia Southern at Montgomery, Ala. The Golden Eagles advanced with a weather-interrupted, come-from-behind 7-5 win Saturday over Appalachian State. Nick Monistere homered and Slade Wilks had two more hits and two RBIs as USM won the marathon contest. Colby Allen got the last four outs for his seventh save. The Eagles, under first-year coach Christian Ostrander, are 40-18, having reached 40 wins for the eighth straight year. … William Carey University cruised into the NAIA World Series with an 11-game win streak but went 2-and-out in Lewiston, Idaho, falling to Cumberlands (Ky.) 6-4 in an elimination game on Saturday. Carey ends the season with a 37-16 record. … East Central Community College got off to a sensational start this season, winning its first 31 games, and will have a shot at a fantastic finish starting today in the NJCAA Division II World Series at Enid, Okla. The Warriors (51-7) lost in the Region 23 Tournament but received an at-large bid to the World Series and are seeded third. Led by All-MACCC outfielder Mo Little (.354, 11 homers, 73 RBIs) and MACCC pitcher of the year Luke Cooley (8-1, 2.20 ERA, 110 strikeouts), the Warriors will play Monday against the winner of the delayed Montgomery (Md.)-Madison (Wisc.) first-round game. … Four MHSAA champions were crowned on Saturday at Trustmark Park in Pearl: Vancleave in Class 5A, Sumrall in 4A, St. Andrew’s in 2A and Taylorsville in 1A. P.S. Landon Harper, former Southern Miss pitcher from Meridian, was promoted to the Double-A Mississippi Braves on Saturday. He joins Saucier native and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC alum Brandon Parker, a current M-Braves outfielder, on the list of Mississippians to suit up for the Pearl-based club. Others: Zack Bird, Brent Leach, Van Pope, Jay Powell, Austin Riley, Michael Rosamond and John Thomson.

18 May

out of the blue

Former Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes hangs his hat on his work behind home plate. A game like he had at the plate on Friday night for the Miami Marlins was an unexpected but welcome bonus. Fortes went 3-for-3 with a walk, a home run and three RBIs as the Marlins routed the New York Mets 8-0 at loanDepot Park. The fourth-year big leaguer, who shares catching duties with Christian Bethancourt, entered the game with just 10 hits and one homer all season. Miami, the worst team in the National League at 14-32, has won three in a row, all by shutout, all with Fortes behind the plate. “Definitely most proud of the shutouts,” he told mlb.com. “(It’s) the No. 1 priority of my job.” Fortes was a .319 hitter — and a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist — at Ole Miss in 2018, when Miami drafted him in the fourth round. He reached the big leagues in 2021, singled in his first at-bat and homered in his second. He has hit just .212 since, but his defense has kept him in The Show. … Colt Keith’s first trip as a big leaguer to his old stomping grounds seemed to do something to perk up his bat. The former Biloxi High star, who lived in Arizona for several years as a kid, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and three runs as Detroit whipped Arizona 13-0 at Chase Field. A large group of family and friends reportedly were there to see it. Keith, who signed a huge contract in the off-season before playing a single MLB game, entered Friday’s contest batting .171 with just 20 hits but playing regularly at second base. The Mississippi Gatorade player of the year in 2019, Keith was drafted in the fifth round by the Tigers in 2020. He hit .306 with 27 homers as one of their top prospects in 2023. … Ian Mejia is not among the highly rated pitching prospects on the Mississippi Braves’ staff, but the right-hander is certainly gaining his share of attention. He threw the fifth no-hitter in Trustmark Park history on Friday night, beating Biloxi 2-0 in a seven-inning nightcap to a doubleheader. Mejia, 24, was drafted out of New Mexico State in 2022 and is in his first Double-A campaign. After Friday’s gem, which included 11 strikeouts, he is 4-0 with 1.69 ERA and 54 punchouts, leading the Southern League in the latter two categories. His no-no was the first solo job for the M-Braves since Tommy Hanson’s in 2008.

16 May

double feature

They combined to throw 14 innings and allowed just one run on nine hits and a walk while striking out 17 batters. The Nos. 2 and 3 prospects in Atlanta’s organization, Hurston Waldrep and Spencer Schwellenbach, started Wednesday’s doubleheader for the Mississippi Braves and showed off the stuff that may land them in the major league club’s bullpen in the not-too-distant future. Waldrep, the former Southern Miss standout and a first-round pick in 2023, pitched all eight innings in Game 1 in his seventh start for the Double-A M-Braves. Regularly hitting 93-94 mph (per the Trustmark Park scoreboard), the right-hander (now 2-3, 3.32 ERA) scattered six hits in a 2-1 win against Biloxi. He struck out eight, including the side in the seventh inning, and skillfully pitched around some trouble, benefitting from a terrific defensive play by shortstop Nacho Alvarez that ended the fifth inning. The M-Braves won on a walk-off sac fly by Tyler Tolve in the first extra inning. Then came Schwellenbach, a second-round pick out of Nebraska (where he also played shortstop) in 2021 whose start in pro ball was delayed by injury. Making his Double-A debut, the right-hander threw six shutout innings, touching 97 mph while allowing three hits, one walk and punching out nine. He struck out two of the first three batters he faced. Schwellenbach was 2-1, 2.53, in six starts at High-Class A Rome before Wednesday’s promotion. He went 5-2 in A-ball in 2023 after not pitching (following Tommy John surgery) in 2021 and ’22. The light-hitting M-Braves scored the lone run of Game 2 on an RBI single by Yolbert Sanchez in the second inning. P.S. Congratulations to William Carey University, which punched its ticket to the NAIA World Series on Wednesday by winning the NAIA regional in Hattiesburg. The NAIA World Series begins May 24 in Lewiston, Idaho.

02 May

name game

On this day in 2007, Jarrod Saltalamacchia set a major league record just by stepping up to the plate. The former Mississippi Braves star, making the jump from Double-A, debuted for Atlanta and set the mark for longest surname — 14 letters — in MLB history. (The record was “broken” in 2022 by a player with a double last name.) Saltalamacchia, also celebrating his 22nd birthday on May 2, 2007, was a pretty good player, sticking in the big leagues for 12 years, hitting 110 career homers and winning a World Series ring with Boston in 2013. “Salty,” a switch-hitting catcher with good defensive skills, arrived in Pearl in 2006 as Atlanta’s top prospect. After an unimpressive first tour of Double-A, he returned in 2007 and was batting .309 with six homers in 22 games when the Braves summoned him to Atlanta. He was traded to Texas in the Mark Teixeira deal that summer and would go on to play for seven different teams and wear eight different numbers during his career. … On the subject of former M-Braves catchers, there are three playing regularly in the big leagues, none for Atlanta. William Contreras, now with Milwaukee, is among the National League’s top hitters with a .345 average, five homers and 25 RBIs. Shea Langeliers, with Oakland, has six homers though he is hitting just .170. The well-traveled Christian Bethancourt, who shares catching duties in Miami with former Ole Miss star Nick Fortes, is hitting .028 in 15 games. … On the subject of catchers, Blue Mountain Christian’s Carson Gault went 3-for-4 with a double, a grand slam and six RBIs as the Toppers stunned top-seeded Faulkner (Ala.) 15-5 Wednesday in pool play at the SSAC Championship in Jackson, Tenn. Gault, from New Albany via East Mississippi Community College, is batting .367 with nine homers and 50 RBIs.

30 Apr

see how they run

The Mississippi Braves, back home tonight for the first time in 16 days, have not been winning consistently, but Angel Flores’ club has been consistently aggressive on the basepaths. The M-Braves (7-14) have stolen 47 bases, tied for most in the Southern League, and have six players in the top 15 on the individual steals list. Maybe this approach will start to pay dividends for a team that has shown little power at the plate. Cody Milligan, in his third year with the Double-A M-Braves, has 10 steals, as does newcomer Geraldo Quintero. M-Braves veteran Justin Dean, who is batting .308, has swiped nine bags. Nacho Alvarez, the highly regarded shortstop prospect batting .292, has seven, Cal Conley six and Keshawn Ogans five. However, all this thievery has not translated into a bunch of runs thus far. The team is seventh in the eight-team league with 65. The M-Braves’ pitching has been solid enough: 3.64 ERA. Left-hander Luis De Avila (0-3, 5.82) will start tonight’s opener at Trustmark Park against Pensacola, a Miami affiliate which features former Mississippi State star Tanner Allen, hitting .273 with a homer and eight RBIs. Milligan comes in hot for the M-Braves, having hit .360 last week. … Of note: Southern Miss alum Hurston Waldrep (0-3, 5.68), Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, is slated to start Game 3 on Thursday, and J.J. Niekro (1-2, 3.92), son of former big leaguer Joe, is set for Friday.

08 Apr

the long goodbye

Trustmark Park in Pearl, which has seen a virtual parade of players roll through en route to the big leagues, formally opened on April 18, 2005, before a crowd announced at 7,062. Anthony Lerew, one of the ’05 Mississippi Braves who would reach The Show, struck out the first Montgomery batter that night. Alas, the Biscuits went on to spoil the home opener, 11-6. Not the start the club wanted, but there have been many, many memorable moments at the ballpark over the years. As the M-Braves’ long goodbye begins Tuesday tonight, here are just a few:
The first M-Braves hit: a Jon Schuerholz single
The Chipper Jones rehab games
Ronald Acuna’s first-pitch home run
The double-steal to win the ’08 pennant
Brian McCann’s no-hitter-breaking, walk-off home run
Drew Lugbauer’s 3-homer game
Jason Heyward-Freddie Freeman July 4 debut
Four no-hitters (won by Tommy Hanson, Julio Teheran, Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder)
Evan Gattis’ home run in the Atlanta Braves exhibition game
Justin Dean’s ninth-inning catch in the ’21 championship clincher
Jason Perry’s homer over the batter’s eye
Jose Peraza’s triple in his debut
AJ Smith-Shawver’s 7 K’s in 5 innings in his home debut
There will be a few more moments in the months to come as the latest crop of Atlanta prospects make their marks. But come September, all we’ll have are memories.