08 Oct

of local interest

It’s just a footnote — but one of significant local interest — on today’s Atlanta-Milwaukee National League Division Series opener. The clubs, meeting for the first time in the postseason, have a rivalry on the Double-A level, where the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers reside. The expected pitching matchups for the first three games feature a former M-Brave vs. a former Shucker: Charlie Morton-Corbin Burnes, Max Fried-Brandon Woodruff and Ian Anderson-Freddy Peralta. No weak links there. Both bullpens are also populated with several pitchers who toiled in the Magnolia State en route to the big leagues, most notably Brewers closer Josh Hader, a nasty left-hander. The Brewers are without setup man (and Shuckers alum) Devin Williams, who broke his hand punching a wall last month after the Brewers clinched the NL Central. Atlanta’s dynamic infield is homegrown: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley all passed through Pearl. By contrast, Milwaukee’s lineup was built with players from other organizations. … There is speculation that catcher Shea Langeliers, a 2021 M-Braves star and Atlanta’s minor league player of the year, could make the NLDS roster. He made the trip to Milwaukee. … The Braves and Brewers split six regular season games in 2021. One stands out. On July 31, the Braves beat Woodruff — with the aid of a bad call. It was 1-1 in the sixth inning at Truist Park when Swanson took an apparent third strike for the second out. Swanson dropped his head and started to walk to the dugout. But the pitch was called a ball. So, of course, Swanson hit the next pitch out of the park for a 3-1 lead, ending Woodruff’s night. The big right-hander glared at home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor as he left the field. … Looking ahead to Game 2, when Mississippi prep products Riley and Woodruff will face off: DeSoto Central alum Riley is 1-for-8 with a walk and two strikeouts against Wheeler High alum Woodruff. … The Braves won a World Series in 1957 when the franchise was located in Milwaukee. The Brewers have been to the Fall Classic once, as an American League team in 1982, falling to St. Louis.

01 Oct

touching the bases

Six Mississippi Braves alumni played roles in Atlanta’s division-clinching 5-3 victory against Philadelphia on Thursday night. Included in that number is ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley, who hit his 33rd homer, and Ian Anderson, who followed fellow M-Braves alums Charlie Morton and Max Fried with a stellar start on the mound. The Braves have won four straight National League East titles under former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker. … Houston clinched the American League West crown by beating Tampa Bay 3-2, with Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman, just back from paternity leave, throwing a perfect eighth inning for his seventh hold in 22 games with the Astros. (There are no Jackson Generals connections remaining with the Astros, but, interestingly enough, there is one in Atlanta. Assistant hitting coach Bobby Magallanes played for the Double-A Gens in 1996.) … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, pitching in the Steel City, tossed seven shutout innings for the Chicago Cubs in a 9-0 win against Pittsburgh. Steele allowed four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in his ninth — and best — start for the Cubs. He is 4-4 with 4.26 ERA overall as a rookie this year. … MSU alum Brent Rooker belted his ninth homer (in 179 at-bats) in Minnesota’s loss to Detroit. He hit 20 homers in 220 at-bats at Triple-A St. Paul this season. … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn (10-6, 2.72) makes his last start of the regular season today for the Chicago White Sox, who are trying to overtake Houston for home-field edge in the AL Division Series. Ex-State star Dakota Hudson, bidding to make St. Louis’ postseason roster, makes his first start of 2021 today. Coming off 2020 elbow surgery, Hudson notched a win last Friday with 3 2/3 innings of efficient relief in his first appearance this season. … Former Bulldogs ace Ethan Small, pitching at Triple-A Nashville in the Milwaukee system, notched his second win at that level with a five-inning effort against Indianapolis. Small, a 2019 first-round pick, is 2-0, 2.06 in nine starts (35 innings) for the Sounds. … Worth noting again: This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ first Texas League title. The ’81 JaxMets, managed by Davey Johnson, featured Marvell Wynne, Mike Fitzgerald, Doug Sisk and Al Pedrique.

27 Sep

raise another flag

The ball rose into the night sky and landed in the glove of C.J. Alexander. The Mississippi Braves third baseman squeezed it for the final out, and after a 13-year wait, the M-Braves’ second league championship was also secured. Gloves and caps flew in the air, and jubilant players rushed to the pitcher’s mound for a group embrace. The M-Braves beat Montgomery 2-1 Sunday in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Double-A South Championship Series before a small (877 announced) but enthusiastic crowd at Trustmark Park. Atlanta’s Double-A club won the Southern League title in 2008, its only other pennant since moving to Pearl in 2005. Jackson’s Double-A Texas League teams (the Mets and Generals) won a combined five championships during the franchise’s 25-year run (1975-99) at Smith-Wills Stadium. Of all the M-Braves teams over the past 16 years, this one arguably was the best — and not just because it finished with the best record in the league over the course of the season. The roster featured numerous highly rated prospects, most of whom were on the field Sunday. The pitching staff, which finished second in the league in ERA, was thinned of some of its best arms by promotions, but starter Alan Rangel and three relievers delivered on Sunday. Rangel, 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven games with the M-Braves, allowed only three hits and an unearned run in six innings, punching out eight. Alexander delivered a run-scoring double that tied the score at 1-1 in the second inning. Greyson Jenista, batting in the 9-hole, launched his third home run of the series in the fifth to put the M-Braves ahead. It was fitting that a home run would be the crucial hit. The team blasted 143 homers during the season, second-most in the league and far and away the most ever by an M-Braves club. This team battled through the constraints of COVID-19 protocols and endured a midseason managerial change to claim this championship. The ending wasn’t as exhilarating as in 2008 — a walk-off double-steal in the decisive game — but it did have some drama. Center fielder Justin Dean made a spectacular diving catch for the second out of the ninth. The tying run was at second when Nolan Kingham induced the foul pop that landed in Alexander’s glove. It’s often said that the minor leagues are all about player development. But if you witnessed the M-Braves’ celebration Sunday night, you know that’s not really true. Winning matters.

25 Sep

perfect timing

Dakota Hudson returned just in time to have a hand in an historic win by St. Louis on Friday. The Mississippi State product, coming back from elbow surgery a year ago this month, worked 3 2/3 solid innings for the W as the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 12-4 to match the franchise record with 14 straight wins. The Cards won Game 1 of the doubleheader 8-5, beating George County High alum Justin Steele in the process. Surging St. Louis, which blasted eight homers on the day at Wrigley Field, has climbed from 3 games back of the second wild card in the National League to 5 games ahead of that pack. “It was just fun to get out there and compete,” said Hudson, who relieved Jack Flaherty — also making an injury comeback — in the first inning and allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts as he pitched through the fourth of the 7-inning game. A former first-round draft pick, Hudson is now 24-10 with a 3.20 ERA since arriving in the big leagues in 2018. … The last Cardinals team to win 14 straight was the Dizzy Dean-led Gas House Gang of 1935. P.S. On a crazy night at Trustmark Park, the Mississippi Braves took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Double-A South Championship Series with an 11-9 victory against Montgomery. The M-Braves go for the title tonight at the TeePee. Game 3 featured three homers (Drew Lugbauer, Greyson Jenista and C.J. Alexander) by the slugging M-Braves, who built an 11-4 lead with a six-run eighth. The last three outs proved a little hard to come by. It took three pitchers to nail it down in the ninth, when the Biscuits hit two bombs. With what was left of a crowd of about 2,000 screaming for the final out, Nolan Kingham ended it with a controversial strikeout, stranding the tying runs at first and third. He was the last of 12 pitchers who took the mound for the two clubs. There were 24 hits and four errors in the near 4-hour game plus a weird 5-2-6-4-6 double play that featured M-Braves shortstop Braden Shewmake running down two baserunners.

20 Sep

playoff time

The Mississippi Braves will open the Double-A South Championship Series at Montgomery, a Tampa Bay affiliate against which the M-Braves have an unhappy history. The M-Braves, regular season champs in the league, will take on the Biscuits on Tuesday in Game 1 of the 5-game series. Game 3 (and any remaining games) will be played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park beginning Friday. The M-Braves lost their inaugural game against Montgomery in 2005 and also lost their home opener to the Biscuits that season. In 2007, when the M-Braves made the playoffs for the first time, Montgomery knocked them out. This is the M-Braves’ fifth playoff appearance; they won the Southern League pennant in 2008. Mississippi ranks second in the Double-A South in ERA and homers but seventh in batting average. Montgomery is third in batting average, fourth in homers and fourth in ERA. … Several Magnolia State products were on the final regular season roster of minor league teams making the postseason. Ex-Mississippi State star Konnor Pilkington is with Akron, which meets Bowie and Bulldogs alum Jordan Westburg in the Double-A Northeast title series. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner plays for Cedar Rapids, which is in the High-A Central series. Ex-MSU standout Hunter Stovall and Ole Miss alum Will Ethridge are with Spokane in the High-A West. Will Bednar, a first-round pick from State this year, finished his 2021 campaign with San Jose, which is in the Low-A West series. And former Northeast Mississippi Community College standout Tyler Samaniego pitches for Bradenton in the Low-A Southeast. … The Triple-A seasons continue through this month. P.S. After a Triple-A tour during which practically nothing went right, former Ole Miss star David Parkinson went down to Double-A and got a shot of confidence on Sunday. Parkinson, 1-11 with a 7.93 ERA for Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia system, threw three clean innings to notch a save in Reading’s last game of the season.

10 Sep

eyes on prize

Having collected one championship on Thursday night, the Mississippi Braves can claim a more significant prize tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. A win against Montgomery would give the M-Braves the Double-A South regular season title and home-field advantage in the best-of-5 league championship series set to begin Sept. 21. The M-Braves (64-40), who have won 19 of their last 23, beat the Biscuits 4-3 on Thursday to clinch the league’s South Division title (which doesn’t mean an awful lot). The league’s top two teams by winning percentage, regardless of division, make the playoffs. The M-Braves will be one of those teams. Birmingham currently leads the North Division with a 59-52 mark, but several other teams are still in the race for the second spot. Now playing their 16th season in Pearl, the M-Braves have won one league pennant, way back in 2008, when it was known as the Southern League. The current club, which features 11 of Atlanta’s top 30 prospects (per mlb.com), leads the league in ERA and is second in home runs, a nice combo. Freddy Tarnok (No. 12 prospect) gets the start for the M-Braves tonight; he is 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA. Shea Langeliers (No. 2 prospect) figures to be behind the plate; he leads the team with 19 homers.

03 Sep

back to it

The Mississippi Braves switched on some stored energy Thursday night, bashing seven home runs in a 16-8 win at Biloxi. Playing for the first time in nine days (COVID-19 protocols and then poor field conditions), the M-Braves improved to 59-39, best record in the Double-A South. Greyson Jenista, the 9-hole hitter on Thursday, went deep three times at MGM Park. He now has 16 homers, tied with Drew Lugbauer for second on the team. Shea Langeliers, who did not homer Thursday, has 19. Wendell Rijo (15), Trey Harris (eight), Justin Dean (seven) and Braden Shewmake (11) were the others to hit one out Thursday. The M-Braves have 131 homers as a team, second in the league (to Rocket City) and 16 shy of the franchise record with 17 regular season games left. They have hit 85 of their homers on the road, 46 at Trustmark Park, a notoriously tough place to hit one out. The next home game is Tuesday. P.S. Hunter Renfroe, batting leadoff for just the second time in his six-year MLB career, led off Boston’s game at Tampa Bay on Thursday with a single, scored the first run and later drove in the second to help the Red Sox score a big 4-0 victory. Crystal Springs native Renfroe returned from a five-day bereavement leave on Tuesday and was put in the leadoff spot for the first time that night. He went 2-for-5 and is 4-for-14 since his return. His father, Todd, died last week. … Austin Riley had two hits and two RBIs in Atlanta’s funk-busting 6-5 win at Colorado. The DeSoto Central High product, generating MVP buzz, is batting .305 with 82 RBIs for the first-place Braves. … Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, inching closer to a return to the majors, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings for Double-A Springfield in St. Louis’ system. It was the second scoreless rehab appearance for Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago.

16 Aug

here and there

The Mississippi Braves have risen to the best record in the Double-A South by minding their P’s: pitching and power. On a lazy Sunday afternoon at Trustmark Park in Pearl, they didn’t get enough of either. Biloxi bludgeoned the M-Braves 11-3, snapping an eight-game winning streak. The M-Braves lead the league in ERA (3.66) and rank second in home runs (117). On Sunday, the Shuckers, the league’s worst team by record, pounded out 16 hits – two by Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard, his first in Double-A – and drew six walks against five M-Braves pitchers. Starter Freddy Tarnok and Hayden Deal, first out of the bullpen, yielded four runs each. Braden Shewmake hit the M-Braves’ lone homer, his ninth, a first-inning solo shot that landed on the roof of the Farm Bureau Grill beyond right field. … Austin Riley hit his 25th home run in Atlanta’s 6-5 victory over Washington on Sunday, but the ex-DeSoto Central High star’s bigger contribution was the play he made to end the game. Riley dove and speared a hot shot down the third-base line, with runners at first and second, and threw out Carter Kieboom at first base. Riley’s glove rates some love. … Corey Dickerson may prove to be a valuable trade acquisition for Toronto, still scrapping in the wild card battle. The Meridian Community College alum hit his first homer for the Blue Jays in a win on Sunday and is 10-for-33 with five RBIs and five runs in 12 games for the team. He hit .260 with two homers for Miami before the trade. … San Francisco maintained the best record (76-42) in the big leagues with a 5-2 win against Colorado on Sunday, with two former M-Braves playing major roles. Alex Wood worked 6 2/3 innings to notch his 10th win and Tommy La Stella went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, boosting his August average to .300 coming off a three-month stay on the injured list. … Tough luck continues to hound former Petal High star Anthony Alford. After battling his way back to the majors from a demotion to Triple-A, the 27-year-old outfielder went on the IL on Sunday with a back strain. He is 4-for-17 since Pittsburgh brought him back to The Show. Alford’s 2020 season was curtailed by a fractured elbow. He suffered myriad injuries while in Toronto’s system from 2012-19.

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.”