23 Jun

scattered about

One of the more compelling stories of the 2022 season has been the return to the big leagues of Christian Bethancourt. The former Atlanta prospect, who played for the Mississippi Braves in 2012-13, won a job with Oakland as a non-roster invitee in the spring and is batting .241 with four homers and 17 RBIs. Before this season, Bethancourt had not played in the majors since 2017. He labored in the minors, in Korea and in winter ball. When he homered on June 1, off Justin Verlander, it was his first bomb in MLB in 2,118 days. If — just for kicks — you were to put together a team of former M-Braves now playing for other organizations, Bethancourt would be a prominent member. Put him at catcher. At first base, there’s the great Freddie Freeman, who left Atlanta this spring for a bigger contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is producing as expected: .302, seven homers, 42 RBIs. (He’ll make his much-anticipated return to the ATL on Friday.) Second base: Tommy LaStella, now with San Francisco. Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons, Chicago Cubs. Third base: Johan Camargo, Philadelphia. The outfield would feature Jason Heyward (Cubs), Cristian Pache (A’s) and Dylan Moore (Seattle). Willians Astudillo (Miami) would make a fine DH. There is an abundance of former M-Braves pitchers scattered around the big leagues. The best of the bunch might be left-hander Alex Wood, who has 68 career wins (5-5 in 2022) and started — albeit poorly — for the Giants today at Truist Park against his former club. Craig Kimbrel (Dodgers) is the logical choice as closer. (For what it’s worth: Williams Perez leads the Mexican League in ERA, and Joey Terdoslavich is among the league’s top home run hitters.)

15 Jun

kind of a thing

Home runs were kind of a thing on Tuesday. Atlanta hit five of ’em in its 13th straight win, a 10-4 triumph at Washington, with former Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Michael Harris II and Biloxi Shuckers alum Orlando Arcia getting in on the long-ball act. Swanson’s was his ninth of 2022, Harris’ his second and second in as many nights and Arcia’s his second and first since a walk-off bomb on May 11. Arcia was making his first start as Ozzie Albies’ replacement at second base. … Nathaniel (or is it Nate?) Lowe, who has been on a hot streak for Texas, hit his eighth of the season; the former Mississippi State star is batting .317 with five homers in his last 15 games. … Down in Double-A, Southern Miss product Matt Wallner belted his 12th for Wichita and is now hitting .271 with 42 RBIs for the Minnesota affiliate. … Ex-MSU standout Tanner Allen, the 2021 Ferriss Trophy winner, hit his third homer for High-Class A Beloit in Miami’s system. … DeSoto Central High alum Blaze Jordan smacked his fourth for Low-A Salem in Boston’s chain; he is batting .272 with 31 RBIs in his second pro summer. … Brandon Parker, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star from Saucier, hit No. 3 for Low-A Augusta in the Atlanta system; he is batting .257. … Also of note, as part of a five-hit game for Birmingham at Trustmark Park, former M-Braves standout Tyler Neslony hit his 10th homer — onto the roof of the Farm Bureau Grill past right field — in the Barons’ 9-4 win against the faltering M-Braves. P.S. Richton High product JaCoby Jones has been released from Triple-A by Kansas City. The erstwhile big leaguer, 30, who was with Detroit for six seasons, was batting .214 with four homers at Omaha. His future would appear to be uncertain. … Ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford, also a former big leaguer, went 1-for-3 in his debut Tuesday with the KT Wiz in the Korean Baseball Organization.

14 Jun

give it time

Figuring things out at the Double-A level can take time. Michael Harris II, who jumped to the big leagues after 43 games with the Mississippi Braves, is an exception to the rule. Much more common is the experience of a player like C.J. Alexander, the M-Braves’ current third baseman. You could call 2022 Alexander’s junior year in Double-A, and he seems to be figuring things out after a couple of uneven seasons. Alexander, 25, is batting .267 with 11 homers, 27 RBIs and eight steals for the M-Braves, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Trustmark Park against Birmingham. Alexander is an Indiana native who played at State College of Florida and was drafted in the 20th round by Atlanta in 2018. He reached Mississippi in 2019 but batted just .103 in 24 games. After the year without a season in 2020, he returned to Pearl last year and helped the M-Braves win a pennant, hitting 10 homers but batting just .197. He still needs some polish on defense (10 errors in 41 games at third), but the bat has definitely perked up this summer. He has hit all of his 11 homers in May and June. Once a Top 30 prospect in the Braves’ system, Alexander may be working his way back into that club. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Taylor Broadway, a 2021 draftee by the Chicago White Sox, is on Birmingham’s roster. The right-hander, who had a nice debut pro season, is struggling at the Double-A level in 2022, with a 6.95 ERA in 19 appearances.

09 Jun

come together

In the 13-hit barrage the Atlanta Braves laid on Oakland on Wednesday night, the biggest blast might have come in the fifth inning from the rookie in the 9-hole. Michael Harris II, who was playing for the Mississippi Braves less than two weeks ago, stroked a two-run triple, a laser down the right-field line that gave the Braves their first lead in what became a 13-2 victory. It was the team’s seventh straight victory; they are unbeaten since manager Brian Snitker called a team meeting before their last game in Arizona to address lackluster play. Finally, the defending champions are playing like one should. Harris’ contributions have been subtle but impactful, especially his defense in center field. “The jumps, his arm and the reads, he’s been really, really impressive,” Snitker told mlb.com. Harris, only 21, is batting .268 with five RBIs in 11 games. He was wearing out the Double-A Southern League, hitting .305 with five homers, 33 RBIs, 33 runs, 11 steals, 16 doubles and two triples when he was somewhat surprisingly called to The Show on May 28. Atlanta has become incredibly adept at developing talent in the minors and plugging in pieces at just the right time. Harris is fitting in with a lineup that, on Wednesday, included seven former M-Braves stars. They combined for eight hits, two walks, three homers, nine RBIs and eight runs. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum, hit his 15th homer, also in that pivotal four-run fifth inning. William Contreras, seemingly from out of nowhere, has eight bombs. Starting pitcher Ian Anderson, an M-Braves alum, worked a strong six innings for his fifth win. All but one of Atlanta’s 57 games has been started by a former M-Braves pitcher. This largely homegrown team has won four straight division titles and may have launched its drive toward a fifth.

30 May

worth noting

Yes, Michael Harris II is gone to the big leagues, but the Mississippi Braves’ cupboard is hardly bare. There are prospect pitchers aplenty on this suddenly surging club, which plays a Memorial Day special tonight (6:05) at Trustmark Park in Pearl, and there are more than a few hitters of note. Riley Delgado is batting .327, and Hendrik Clementina is at .301. Drew Lugbauer (“Slug-bauer”) has 11 home runs, and C.J. Alexander has seven, all this month. Luke Waddell, Atlanta’s No. 26 prospect, is batting .268 with 27 RBIs. Five of Atlanta’s top 21 prospects populate the pitching staff, including tonight’s starter, Freddy Tarnok (No. 8). The M-Braves come in hot, having won five of six at Pensacola to climb to 23-22 on the season. The defending Double-A South champs now play old rival Montgomery in a six-game homestand with an off day Tuesday. P.S. Kudos to: Southern Miss, which earned a regional host role and will welcome Army, Kennesaw (Ga.) State and LSU to Hattiesburg this week. … Ole Miss, which, somewhat surprisingly, earned an NCAA Tournament bid and will head to the Coral Gables Regional. … Madison Central High product Braden Montgomery, who hit a monstrous homer in Stanford’s Pac-12 Tournament title game victory on Sunday. The Cardinal is also hosting a regional this week. … Pearl River Community College, top seed in the NJCAA Division II World Series, which won its opener in Enid, Okla., 10-2 over Florida State College-Jacksonville and plays Lansing CC tonight. … Northwest Rankin High, which beat DeSoto Central in a decisive Game 3 in the MHSAA Class 6A championship series on Sunday and joined East Central, Sumrall, Amory, East Union and Resurrection Catholic as state champs.

28 May

debut alert

Michael Harris II is making the jump from Double-A to the big leagues, having been called up from Mississippi to Atlanta this morning. Look for the Braves’ top prospect to start in center field today (3:15 p.m.) when the Braves play Miami at Truist Park. Harris, 21, out of Stockbridge, Ga., is batting .305 with five homers, 33 RBIs and 11 steals in 43 games for the M-Braves. He is a .292 hitter over 197 minor league games since 2019. This debut could be something special. Since 2005, several M-Braves alums have had memorable debuts: Brian McCann (2-for-3 with an RBI on June 10, 2005); Jeff Francoeur (1-for-4 with a homer in 2005); Jordan Schafer (2-for-3 with a homer in his first at-bat in 2009); Jason Heyward (2-for-5 with a homer in his first AB in 2010); Evan Gattis (1-for-4 with a homer in 2013); Dansby Swanson (2-for-4 in 2016); Ronald Acuna (1-for-5 in 2018); Austin Riley (1-for-3 with a homer in 2019); and Cristian Pache (1-for-4 in 2020).

25 May

59?

The mlb.com list of the Top 100 minor league prospects has been refreshed, and Michael Harris II of the Mississippi Braves checks in at No. 59. 59? Really? It is hard to imagine there are 58 better “prospects” in the minors. Sure, Harris is only 21 and only in his third season of pro ball. But he is flourishing in Double-A, the make-or-break level. He has a sweet combination of power and speed. At 6 feet, 195 pounds, the left-handed hitting Harris resembles a slightly larger version of Ralph Garr, the Atlanta star of the early 1970s. Harris currently is batting .296 with five homers, 27 RBIs and 10 steals in 40 games with the M-Braves. He has a .356 on-base percentage and a .506 slug. And he’s been making great catches on a nightly basis in center field. … The only Mississippi product on the new 100 is Mississippi State alumnus Justin Foscue, who is at Double-A Frisco in the Texas system. The 2020 first-round pick, a second baseman, is hitting .303 with two homers and 17 RBIs. He has struck out just 18 times and walked 18 times.

17 May

shuckers v. m-braves

A trio of former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers did a number on the Atlanta Braves on Monday night. The number was 16, as in 16 punchouts in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win at American Family Field. Former Mississippi Braves Ian Anderson and Spencer Strider pitched well in defeat. The series between National League rivals, who met in a memorable postseason series in 2021, continues today with Shuckers and M-Braves alums matched up as starters in each of the remaining two games. Coincidentally, the Double-A teams meet in a six-game series starting tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Both clubs are under .500 in the Southern League South, though the Shuckers (16-17) come in on a three-game win streak. The M-Braves (14-19) have dropped their last two and are just 6-9 at home. Whether there is a feeling of rivalry between the teams — or their fans — is debatable. (Remember Jackson-Shreveport from the old Texas League days?) But Biloxi took five of six when the teams met in early April at MGM Park, and it’s a safe bet M-Braves players remember that. Both clubs feature highly regarded prospects that are likely to clash in the big leagues someday in the near future. The M-Braves trot out Michael Harris II, Jesse Franklin V, Freddy Tarnok and tonight’s starting pitcher, Jared Shuster. Four of Milwaukee’s top 11 prospects (per MLB Pipeline) populate Biloxi’s roster, with a fifth on the injured list. No. 1 Sal Frelick is batting .231 with seven steals, and No. 2 Joey Wiemer is at .309 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. Former Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard is a catcher/first baseman for the Shuckers, hitting .200 with three homers and 16 RBIs. In the clubs’ all-time series, which began when Biloxi entered the SL in 2015, the Shuckers lead 77-68. But Mississippi owns two league pennants, including last year’s, and Biloxi has yet to claim one.

03 May

time to pitch in

The Mississippi Braves, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Trustmark Park, are 8-13, and one doesn’t have to dig too deep into the numbers to uncover a reason for the poor start. The team ERA is 4.78, which ranks sixth in the eight-team Southern League. The WHIP is 1.46, second-worst in the league. This is highly unusual for the M-Braves, who ranked second, first and second in the league in ERA in the past three seasons. Maybe the ERA will improve as the team plays more games at the TeePee, one of the best pitchers’ parks in the minors. Maybe it starts this week against Pensacola, one of the weakest hitting and lowest scoring teams in the SL. Darius Vines starts tonight’s opener; he is a rated prospect who is better than his numbers: 1-1, 5.50 ERA. Wednesday starter Jared Shuster, Atlanta’s No. 10 prospect, has been outstanding: 2-2, 1.88, 28 strikeouts, five walks in 24 innings. But none of the other scheduled starters in the series has an ERA under 5.17. Closer Justin Maese is 3-for-3 in saves but has an ugly 7.27 ERA. Middle reliever Hayden Deal has a 1.06 and has been a key bullpen piece. The M-Braves have some hitters. Top prospect Michael Harris II has been as good as advertised: .333, four homers, 19 RBIs, 16 runs. Drew Lugbauer has slugged seven homers with 15 RBIs and 18 runs. Riley Delgado (.333), Luke Waddell (.296) and C.J. Alexander (.293) also have swung it well. … The World Series trophy won by the parent Braves last fall will make an appearance at the ballpark on Friday night. P.S. Anthony Alford, the ex-Petal High star, has signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and will report to Triple-A Columbus. Alford, previously with Pittsburgh, recently became a free agent (see previous posts).

27 Apr

remember him?

There were times a few years back when Travis Demeritte looked like a budding star in the Atlanta system. Those who follow the Mississippi Braves would remember. With the Double-A M-Braves in 2017 and ’18, Demeritte belted 32 home runs, stole 11 bases and made a Southern League All-Star Game appearance. He was versatile enough to play second base, third and the outfield. But he was prone to slumps, struck out a lot and batted just .227 over those two seasons. In 2019, three years after he was acquired in a minor league trade with Texas, Demeritte was traded away to Detroit. In February of 2021, the Braves got him back as a waiver claim. On Tuesday night, in his third game for Atlanta, he finally took a star turn for the Braves. Demeritte homered — his first in the big leagues in three years — and made a great catch in right field, sliding into foul territory, as the Braves beat the visiting Chicago Cubs 3-1. Demeritte didn’t hit much in his 66 games with the Tigers in 2019 and ’20 but batted .282 with 21 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett last year and was swinging it well when Atlanta called him up last week. Once Ronald Acuna returns to the Braves’ active roster, Demeritte’s opportunities likely will diminish. But the former first-round pick — 30th overall by Texas out of Winder-Barrow High in Georgia in 2013 — showed what he is capable of on Tuesday night. It was good to see. P.S. For the current M-Braves, Drew Lugbauer hit his fifth homer — second-most in the SL — and Michael Harris II extended his on-base streak to 16 games (out of 16) in a 6-3 win at Montgomery.