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.
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.”
Tim Anderson has won a batting title and a Silver Slugger award. The former East Central Community College star, now in his seventh big league season, led his team, the Chicago White Sox, to a playoff berth in 2020 and to the top of the American League Central standings as of today. And yet: He hasn’t earned an All-Star Game invite. Granted, for a shortstop in the AL, that’s no easy feat. Xander Bogaerts was voted in by the fans. Carlos Correa and Bo Bichette, also deserving of consideration, were picked as reserve shortstops. Anderson — currently batting .307 with six homers, 29 RBIs, 50 runs and 14 steals — was snubbed, and Frank Thomas, the former White Sox star and Hall of Famer, was outraged (really). “Tim Anderson has proven to be a superstar in this league,” he said during a rant on a ChiSox pregame TV show. The normally outspoken Anderson has let his bat talk. He is 8-for-12 since the reserves were announced on July 4. He put up a 4-for-4 game on Wednesday as Chicago – and Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, an All-Star pick – beat Minnesota 6-1. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson combined for 11 hits, four RBIs and seven runs in Atlanta’s 14-3 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Some other ex-M-Braves also showed out: Jason Heyward put a 4-1-1-1 in the box score and made a great catch in right field as the Cubs snapped their 11-game skid; Craig Kimbrel got the last three outs. Jose Peraza hit a late game-tying homer that propelled the New York Mets to a win over Milwaukee. Phil Gosselin went 1-for-4 with an RBI for the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-4 win against Boston. And Alex Wood worked seven innings for his eighth win as San Francisco topped St. Louis 5-2.
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.
You wouldn’t necessarily go to a Mississippi Braves game to watch Shea Langeliers play catcher, but you’d probably come away impressed. Take Wednesday night’s game, for instance. Langeliers, Atlanta’s No. 3-rated prospect, threw out two would-be base stealers in the Double-A team’s 2-1 win against Birmingham at Trustmark Park. (For the record, before throwing out Laz Rivera for the second time, Langeliers appeared to pick him off first base; the umpire called Rivera safe.) Langeliers has thrown out 17 of 29 attempted base thieves. That’s 59 percent. A 30-percent rate is considered good. The 2019 first-round pick has just two passed balls and two errors over 29 games. From MLB Pipeline’s scouting report: “His athleticism and agility allow him to be a plus blocker and receiver and he perhaps has the best arm of any catcher in the Minor Leagues, one that allowed him to throw out 41 percent of potential basestealers in 2019.” Oh, and he is also the M-Braves’ best hitter. … No. 4 prospect Braden Shewmake, hitting just .127, did drive in one of the M-Braves’ runs, his 11th RBI. No. 25 prospect Justin Dean (.242) picked up the other, his 14th RBI. Elsewhere in the Atlanta system: No. 5 prospect Kyle Muller became the latest M-Braves alum to advance to the big leagues, working an inning for the Braves in their 10-8 loss to Boston. Muller allowed four hits and two runs in relief of former M-Braves star Ian Anderson, who gave up four runs in four innings. All of that was before M-Braves alum A.J. Minter yielded a game-turning grand slam to Christian Arroyo. Such is the state of the big Braves’ pitching staff. … At Triple-A Gwinnett, No. 1 prospect – and erstwhile Atlanta center fielder – Cristian Pache is hitting .300 since being sent down on May 29. No. 2 prospect Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP who has yet to get a big league look, is batting .279 with three homers and eight steals. … At High-A Rome, No. 6 prospect Jared Shuster threw four shutout innings Wednesday in a 5-0 win. The left-hander out of Wake Forest is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in five games. … At Low-A Augusta, two Mississippi products, both 2019 draft picks, are feeling their way in pro ball. Brandon Parker, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout from Saucier, is batting .160 with five bombs and 19 RBIs in 30 games. Right-hander Jared Johnson, the No. 29 prospect out of Smithville High, allowed three runs with four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings in his only appearance to date.
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.
It seems somehow appropriate that Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies got their 500th career major league hits Thursday in the same game. The pair first played together as a keystone combo with the Mississippi Braves in 2016 and have followed a similar career arc. Swanson made his MLB debut in 2016, Albies the next year. They’ve now played 386 games together as the Atlanta shortstop and second baseman, respectively. They’ve been cogs – along with a bevy of other former M-Braves — in Atlanta’s run of three straight division titles. Swanson’s 500th hit was a big homer, figuratively and literally (440 feet), in the sixth inning of the 5-1 win over Washington at Truist Park. Albies’ 500th was his third hit of the game, an RBI double in the seventh. Sometimes you forget that Swanson was the No. 1 overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2015 by Arizona, which sent him to Atlanta in the infamous Shelby Miller trade later that year. Swanson hasn’t always played up to that label. A recent hot streak has boosted his average to .239 with 10 homers and 25 RBIs. He’s a career .248 hitter prone to strikeout-filled slumps, but he flashes enough star power to keep Braves Nation excited. Albies was signed as a kid out of Curacao and has been a rock-solid contributor since arriving in the ATL. A switch-hitter, he’s currently batting .251 with nine homers and 32 RBIs. He is a .276 career hitter who has won a Silver Slugger and made the All-Star Game. Both young infielders are pretty slick with the glove. It’s too soon to start throwing out comparisons to Trammell and Whitaker, Russell and Lopes, Concepcion and Morgan, etc., but there does seem to be that potential. (At least Braves fans hope so.) P.S. An interesting footnote: The last teammates to get their 500th hit in the same game were former Ole Miss star David Dellucci and Gary Matthews Jr. with Texas in 2005. Dellucci, now starring on the SEC Network, finished with 736 hits.
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.
As the Atlanta Braves struggle to hit with any consistency, Drew Waters, playing center field for Triple-A Gwinnett, is on a tear. Waters, Southern League MVP and batting champ for the Mississippi Braves in 2019, had a four-hit game Wednesday night that included his third home run in the last two nights. With nine hits in his last four games, Waters has raised his average to .326 with three homers, seven RBIs, nine runs and five steals. He hit .319 with five homers and 13 steals for the M-Braves two years ago. A five-tool player and switch-hitter, Waters, 22, is rated Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect (behind Cristian Pache) by MLB Pipeline. Waters is not on the 40-man roster, but maybe it’s time to make room. … Also swinging a hot bat at Gwinnett is Orlando Arcia, the former Biloxi Shuckers star and Milwaukee shortstop acquired by the Braves in an April trade. Arcia, who is on the 40-man, is batting .361 with seven homers, 12 RBIs and 17 runs for the Stripers. P.S. Tyreque Reed, the Itawamba Community College product from Houlka, belted his fifth homer Wednesday for High-A Greenville in Boston’s system. Reed, 23, a first baseman/DH, is batting .250 with 11 RBIs in 10 games. He was acquired by the Red Sox from the Texas system in the Rule 5 draft.
Why do we love this game? Crazy days like Saturday. Where to begin? In Hattiesburg, Walker Powell throws a no-hitter and Ben Ethridge follows with a three-hit shutout as Southern Miss sweeps Middle Tennessee State. In Columbia, S.C., Tanner Allen goes 4-for-5 with three RBIs to spark Mississippi State past South Carolina and clinch the big SEC series. In College Station, Texas, Tim Elko, in his third plate appearance since tearing an ACL in early April, hits a three-run homer to help Ole Miss beat Texas A&M and secure Mike Bianco’s 800th win in Oxford. In Jackson, Jackson State scores 19 runs in the third inning en route to beating hapless Mississippi Valley State 19-5, improving to 23-0 in SWAC play. In Oxford, Ala., Blayke Dendy hits a grand slam and Christian Day throws a complete game to pace Delta State to an upset of top-seeded Lee University in the GSC Tournament. In Mobile, Ala., Jorge Ramos tosses a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts to lead William Carey past top-seeded Loyola (New Orleans) and into the championship game of the SSAC Tournament. In Pearl, Atlanta prospect Shea Langeliers homers twice as the Double-A Mississippi Braves win their first game of the season by knocking off Pensacola. In Atlanta, former M-Braves star William Contreras belts a game-tying three-run double and then scores the winning run in the 12th inning as the Braves rally past Philadelphia. In Miami, former Biloxi Shuckers standout Adrian Houser goes six strong innings and hits a homer to drive Milwaukee past the Marlins. In Kansas City, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson singles twice and scores twice in an eight-run first inning that propels the Chicago White Sox past the Royals. Can’t wait to see what today brings.