29 May

top of the heap

The ride has been anything but smooth for Milwaukee, but the Brewers have reached Memorial Day — a traditional benchmark — in first place in the National League Central. They beat San Francisco 7-5 on Sunday to snap a three-game skid and move to 28-25, 1.5 games up on Pittsburgh in a weak division. Devin Williams and William Contreras — two of several Mississippi connections on the Milwaukee roster — were key figures in Sunday’s win. The remarkable Williams, a former Biloxi Shuckers star, got the last four outs for the save; he is 8-for-8 with an 0.54 ERA. Catcher Contreras, a former Mississippi Braves standout and a 2022 All-Star for Atlanta before being traded, contributed a two-run homer and an RBI single; he is batting .250 with five bombs and 16 RBIs. The Brewers have nine players from their opening day roster on the injured list, including ace Brandon Woodruff, the Mississippi State product, and promising rookie Garrett Mitchell, a Shuckers alum. The team has wobbled through a 10-15 May but still sits atop the division. “We keep grinding through it,” Williams told mlb.com. (Ex-State star Ethan Small was sent back to Triple-A after a rocky outing in his 2023 debut.) … For the record, there is a Mississippi thread running through all of the six teams currently in first place in the big leagues. In Tampa Bay, there is former M-Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, a highly rated prospect when he passed through Pearl a decade ago. He has taken a winding path to Tampa. In Minnesota, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner was recently recalled from the minors and might be sticking around, having gone 7-for-11 with a homer, four RBIs and two walks in his last four games. In Texas, MSU product Nathaniel Lowe continues to rake for the power-packed Rangers: .273, five homers, 29 RBIs. In Los Angeles (Chavez Ravine branch), there is a trio of former M-Braves: the irrepressible Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Evan Phillips (an unsung bullpen piece who has seven saves and a 1.77 ERA). And in Atlanta, the bulk of the club is M-Braves alums: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried, Michael Harris II, Charlie Morton, Austin Riley, Spencer Strider, et al. And Orlando Arcia was on the first Biloxi club back in 2015. DeSoto Central High grad Riley hit his 10th homer in Sunday’s win against Philadelphia and is batting .357 over his last seven games. P.S. Shout-out to Scott Berry and Southern Miss, which won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship on Sunday, getting big homers from Dustin Dickerson, Danny Lynch and Slade Wilks and lockdown relief work from Justin Storm. Denied an NCAA regional host bid despite their 41-17 record (and 19-2 finishing kick), the Golden Eagles await the announcement today of their regional destination. Baton Rouge? Tuscaloosa? Fayetteville? … East Central Community College was eliminated from the NJCAA Division II World Series after an 11-10 loss to Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. The Warriors won both the MACCC title and the Region 23 crown en route to the World Series.

27 May

one of eight

Craig Kimbrel vs. Ronald Acuna. This was must-watch TV — for baseball fans, for Atlanta Braves fans and especially for longtime followers of the Mississippi Braves. On a 3-2 pitch with a runner on base and two down in the ninth inning, Kimbrel (M-Braves 2009) retired Acuna (M-Braves 2017) on a ground ball to third, preserving a 6-4 Philadelphia win Friday night at Truist Park. It was Kimbrel’s 400th career save, making the right-hander one of only eight pitchers to reach that milestone. “Just happy; just a lot of things,” Kimbrel said in an mlb.com story. Kimbrel came through Mississippi 14 years ago and was virtually unhittable in his brief stay. He was 6-for-6 in saves with a 0.77 ERA in 12 games. He was in Atlanta the next year (2010) and recorded the first of his 186 saves for the Braves that season. He has bounced around in recent years, running hot and cold. He has a 5.68 ERA this season but is 6-for-6 in save opps. There was nothing cheap about Friday’s save. Acuna, one of the best hitters to come through Pearl, is having a monster season — .323, 11 homers, 27 RBIs — and one swing could have tied it. Kimbrel joins former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner in the 400-plus club. Wagner had 422. Interestingly enough, there are seven Mississippi-connected closers in the top 23 on the all-time saves list. Jonathan Papelbon (Mississippi State) sits 11th at 368, Jeff Reardon (Jackson Mets) 12th at 367, Randy Myers (JaxMets) 14th at 347, Todd Jones (Generals) 22nd at 319, and Rick Aguilera (JaxMets) 23rd at 318. A bit further down are former MSU stars Bobby Thigpen (201) and Jeff Brantley (172). Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Josh Hader, currently with San Diego, is rising at 145, still a long way from 400. P.S. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn won again for the Chicago White Sox on Friday and is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his last three starts. He is 4-5 overall. … George County High product Justin Steele is 0-2 and has yielded 10 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings in his last three starts, taking an L Friday when the Chicago Cubs lost to Cincinnati 9-0. He is 6-2 on the year. … Ex-MSU ace Ethan Small made his 2023 debut for Milwaukee and gave up five runs in three innings in mop-up duty in a 15-1 loss to San Francisco. Small had a 2.33 ERA at Triple-A Nashville.

26 May

main attraction

Like so many of his Mississippi Braves teammates this season, Drew Lugbauer doesn’t hit much. But when the left-handed Lugbauer does get into one, it typically goes a long way. He hit his 10th home run of the season on Thursday night, a majestic blast into the Farm Bureau Grill beyond the right-field fence at Trustmark Park. It was the third homer in as many games on this homestand for the 6-foot-3, 220-pound former Michigan star who is nicknamed “Slugbauer.” He is, at present, the main attraction on a team that is last in the Southern League in runs and last in the South Division with an 18-23 record that includes a 6-2 loss to Pensacola on Thursday. Lugbauer, 26, is batting just .217, actually one of the better averages in Thursday’s lineup. Ten of his 26 hits this season have left the yard. He leads the SL in homers and is on pace to break the M-Braves’ single-season record of 28 homers that he set last year. (For the record, the Jackson Mets/Generals record at Smith-Wills Stadium is Darryl Strawberry’s 34 in 1982.) In his third season with the M-Braves, Lugbauer is also the career homer leader with 56. Many a fearsome slugger has passed through Pearl since 2005: Jeff Francoeur, Matt Esquivel, Kala Ka’aihue, Jason Heyward, Michael Rosamond, Ernesto Mejia, Evan Gattis, Dustin Peterson, Ronald Acuna, to name a few. Lugbauer has bragging rights over all of them. … Austin Riley, another of those former M-Braves sluggers, had quite the night for Atlanta on Thursday, hitting two monstrous homers in an 8-5 win against Philadelphia at Truist Park. Riley, a former DeSoto Central standout, is just the third player to hit two homers of 455 feet-plus in one game in the last nine years; the other two did it at Coors Field in Colorado. Riley has nine homers on the season for the first-place Braves. P.S. Surprising Baltimore (second-best record in MLB) just completed a 5-1 road trip through Toronto and New York (Yankee Stadium) and ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier went 10-for-27 with two homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the six games. Frazier is hitting .253 with six homers and 23 RBIs in his first season with the Orioles. … Shout-out to former M-Braves ace Julio Teheran, who threw five solid innings (but took a loss) for Milwaukee on Thursday in his first big league game since 2021. Teheran, part of a combo no-hitter for the M-Braves in 2010, has 78 career MLB wins. He ranks with the best of the many standout pitchers who have come through Pearl. … Southern Miss is 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament after Danny Lynch delivered a walk-off win against Troy. Jackson State bowed out of the SWAC Tournament with a second straight one-run defeat.

07 May

welcome back

The Mississippi Braves’ lineup got a little stronger on Saturday when Jesse Franklin V made his 2023 debut. Batting third at Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium, Atlanta’s No. 14-rated prospect struck out in his first two at-bats but homered to center in his third, possibly a good sign for a power hitter who missed more than a year after elbow surgery. Franklin, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound, lefty-swinging outfielder, is considered the top power hitter among the Braves’ prospects. Drafted in the third round out of Michigan in 2020, he blasted 24 homers at High-Class A Rome in his pro debut in 2021 and hit two more in 15 games for the Double-A M-Braves before going down with his injury in April of last year. He also stole 19 bases at Rome and got two bags last year, so he’s not a one-tool pony. Despite Franklin’s homer and another by veteran slugger Drew Lugbauer, the M-Braves lost 3-2 at Pensacola and fell to 9-17. They conclude their two-week road trip today and return to Trustmark Park on Tuesday. Franklin fortifies a lineup that also includes No. 13 prospect Cal Conley, off to a slow start; Justin Dean, a former Top 30 prospect who played center field for the 2021 Southern League title team; and Lugbauer, who has 51 homers in three years with the M-Braves. The M-Braves also have added No. 4 prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, a right-hander whose Double-A debut Friday was cut short by rain after two (shutout) innings. This team ought to get better. … At High-A Rome on Saturday, former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Brandon Parker hit his first home run of 2023 and is batting .255 for the R-Braves. He hit 10 homers at Low-A Augusta last year. An NJCAA Division II player of the year at Gulf Coast, Parker, an outfielder, hit 38 bombs while at Perk. P.S. Props to J.P. France, the Mississippi State alum who threw five shutout innings for Houston against Seattle in his big league debut. … In something of a surprise move, Detroit optioned Spencer Turnbull to Triple-A Toledo today, presumably for some fine-tuning at a lower level. The Madison Central High alum has a 7.26 ERA over seven starts.

18 Apr

hits wanted

Cody Milligan, the Mississippi Braves’ leadoff batter, has been setting the table with regularity. The M-Braves are looking for some hitters to clean up after him. The M-Braves, back in town tonight to start their second homestand of 2023, are hitting just .203 as a team. They’ve scored 41 runs but 11 of those came in one game and nine in another. The result of this lack of consistent thump is a 3-6 record that they’ll take into tonight’s 6:05 contest against old Southern League rival Montgomery at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Milligan, a returnee from 2022, is hitting .367 with a .513 on-base percentage. He has touched the plate 11 times. No other regular in tonight’s lineup is batting above .233. Cal Conley, the highest rated prospect (No. 13 on Atlanta’s list), is off to a sluggish start in his Double-A debut, batting .206. Slugger Drew Lugbauer, an M-Braves vet, has three homers but only two other hits. The pitching has been decent, though only one starter (Tanner Gordon) has registered a win. Alec Barger, Victor Vodnik (the Braves’ No. 11 prospect) and Domingo Gonzalez have pitched well out of the bullpen. Montgomery (6-3) leads the league in homers (13) and is second in runs with 54. The Biscuits, a Tampa Bay affiliate, have a 4.44 staff ERA. P.S. On this date in 1946, Jackie Robinson made his debut in “organized” baseball, going 4-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs for the International League Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team managed by Mississippi native Clay Hopper. Robinson broke the major league color line the next season.

24 Mar

whatever happened to …

Bryson Ware, the ex-Germantown High and Pearl River Community College slugger, is now mashing for Auburn. Batting third and playing third base on Thursday night, Ware went 2-for-6 with a home run, a double, two runs and three RBIs as the Tigers beat visiting Georgia 7-6 in 11 innings for their first SEC win. Ware’s two-run double in the ninth made it a 6-5 game, and the 6-foot-2, 211-pound senior then scored the tying run. Ware, who set a single-season homer record at Germantown, is batting .415 with 10 homers and 26 RBIs this season. His 10 homers are tied for fourth-best in the league — Mississippi State’s Hunter Hines also has 10 — and his .902 slugging percentage ranks third. P.S. Jared Shuster, a Southern League All-Star with the Mississippi Braves in 2022 and Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect, threw six impressive innings against the New York Mets on Thursday and may now be the front-runner for the fifth starter job. The left-hander has a 1.45 ERA in five spring games. With former M-Braves star Michael Soroka having been optioned to Triple-A, Shuster’s main competition for the starting job is fellow 2022 M-Braves alum Dylan Dodd, the Braves’ No. 10 prospect. … Atlanta’s minor league system is ranked No. 30 — last — in MLB Pipeline’s latest evaluation of prospect talent. The Braves have no players in the Top 100, though it’s hard to figure how Shuster didn’t make that list. He went 7-8 with a 2.78 ERA in Double-A last year and made the All-Star Futures Game. … Milwaukee’s system ranks 15th, led by a quartet of former Biloxi Shuckers outfielders: Jackson Chourio, Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer and Garrett Mitchell, who is the likely opening day center fielder for the Brewers. … Nine M-Braves alums played for Atlanta in Thursday’s 2-2 tie vs. the Mets. One Shuckers product played: big league vet Orlando Arcia, who beat out Vaughn Grissom and Braden Shewmake for the starting shortstop job. Wonder how long that will last? … The M-Braves and New South Radio announced that all 138 M-Braves broadcasts will air on WIIN 780 AM and 102.1 FM The Box this season. Chris Harris and Jack Sadighian are back as the broadcasters.

13 Mar

as the wbc turns

If you’re not paying attention to the World Baseball Classic, you should be. Italy — Italy! — has advanced to the quarterfinals. The Venezuela-Dominican Republic game, loaded with MLB stars, had the feel of a World Series Game 7. Canada put up a record 18 runs in its win on Sunday. And then came Team USA vs. Mexico on Sunday night. Before a very pro-Mexico crowd of 47,534 at Arizona’s Chase Field, former Mississippi Braves standout Joey Meneses blasted two home runs to power the Mexicans to a stunning 11-5 victory. “I have never played in an atmosphere like that,” Patrick Sandoval, an MLB pitcher who plays for Mexico, told mlb.com. Meneses’ story is a great one. Signed by Atlanta in 2011, he played for the Double-A M-Braves in 2017, hitting .292 with nine homers and 45 RBIs. The Culiacan native moved on in 2018, changing organizations three times — and playing 894 minor league games all told — before getting a big league call from Washington last August. He hit an impressive .324 with 13 homers in 56 games as the Nationals’ regular first baseman. Then he took a major star turn on Sunday, driving in five runs to stun Team USA. “I have no words,” Meneses said. East Central Community College product Tim Anderson went 2-for-4 with three RBIs for the U.S., now 1-1 in pool play and facing a virtual must-win game tonight against Canada. Canada (1-0) features former M-Braves star Freddie Freeman and Mississippi State alum Jacob Robson, both of whom had productive games on Sunday. This is worth your attention.

06 Mar

making a list

A pair of former high MLB draft picks from Mississippi colleges who’ve battled arm injuries have cracked the top 20 on the Oakland A’s list of Top 30 prospects, revealed today by MLB Pipeline. Ole Miss product Gunnar Hogland, the 19th overall pick in 2021, is Oakland’s No. 15, and Mississippi State alum J.T. Ginn, a second-round pick (by the New York Mets) in 2020, checks in at No. 17. Hogland has pitched just eight innings in pro ball so far. Ginn has made 30 appearances over two years, but just 12 last season before an Arizona Fall League stint. He is in big league camp as a non-roster player. It’ll be interesting to see how those two fare in 2023. Former Biloxi High star Colt Keith is ranked No. 4 in Detroit’s system; Southern Miss alum Matt Wallner, who debuted in MLB last summer, is Minnesota’s No. 7; ex-State standout Justin Foscue is Texas’ No. 7; former Bulldogs closer Landon Sims is Arizona’s No. 9; Will Bednar, the CWS star for State in 2021, is San Francisco’s No. 16; ex-Ole Miss standout Ryan Rolison is Colorado’s No. 28; and fellow Rebels alum Doug Nikhazy is Cleveland’s No. 30. (See previous post for the top prospects from the National League East and Central and American League East. All told, 17 state products made the various Top 30s.) … Six Mississippians made USA Today’s top 200 fantasy players for MLB ’23, topped by Austin Riley at No. 27 and Brandon Woodruff at 33. Eleven former Mississippi Braves are on that list, including Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum who also played for the Double-A M-Braves en route to Atlanta. … A handful of Magnolia State products have signed with independent clubs for 2023, including Jacob Robson, who is also slated to play for Team Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Ex-MSU standout Robson signed with the American Association’s Kansas City Monarchs, for whom he played in 2022. Dalton Moats (Delta State) inked with KC, Delvin Zinn (Itawamba Community College) with Milwaukee and Conor Fisk (USM) with Lake Country. Milton Smith Jr. (Meridian CC) signed with Rocky Mountain of the Pioneer League.

03 Mar

power source

Rosters for the minor league teams are far from set, but there’s a good chance the top-rated power prospect in Atlanta’s system will suit up for Double-A Mississippi this season. Jesse Franklin V, who played 15 games for the 2022 M-Braves before an arm injury (and Tommy John surgery) ended his year, was named by MLB Pipeline as the best power threat in the Braves’ thinned-out farm system. The lefty-swinging Franklin, a former Michigan slugger and Atlanta’s No. 14 overall prospect, hit two homers for the M-Braves last year and 24 in A-ball in 2021. He also has 21 career steals. While Franklin seems a logical candidate, it’s really anybody’s guess at this stage which other top prospects might play for new M-Braves manager Kanekoa Texeira this year. Cal Conley, Atlanta’s No. 13 prospect, is a switch-hitting shortstop who plays “full throttle,” per reports, and batted .251 with 16 homers and 36 bags at two levels of A-ball in 2022. The former Texas Tech standout also played in the Arizona Fall League and is in Atlanta’s camp as a non-roster invitee. No. 4 prospect A.J. Smith-Shawver, a right-hander, might land in Pearl at some point. Once a highly regarded high school quarterback, he pitched at Low-Class A Augusta in 2022, posted a 5.11 ERA but fanned 103 batters in 68 2/3 innings. Outfielder Brandol Mezquita, ranked No. 17, hit .268 with 14 steals at two levels of A-ball in 2022, and lefty-hitting catcher Tyler Tolve, No. 29, batted .261 with 12 homers at High-A Rome. A couple of familiar names, neither of whom is a Top 30 prospect, might also reach Double-A in 2023. Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Brandon Parker, a 23-year-old outfielder, hit .282 with 10 homers at Low-A Augusta and finished 2022 at High-A Rome. And then there’s right-hander J.J. Niekro, son of Joe and nephew of Phil, the famous knuckleballers. Niekro was 7-1 with a 2.09 ERA at Augusta and 3-2, 4.88, at Rome last season. (He has tinkered with a knuckler but not used it in a game as yet.)

18 Oct

taking stock

The 2021 champions of the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves didn’t produce another trophy in 2022, finishing well off the pace in both halves of the Southern League season. What the M-Braves did produce were two players who made significant contributions in Atlanta’s playoff charge: likely National League rookie of the year Michael Harris II, who made the jump in May, and Vaughn Grissom, who followed in August. And that’s what the minor leagues are really all about. All told, nine M-Braves alums debuted in the big leagues in 2022 (not all with Atlanta): Harris, Grissom, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers, Freddy Tarnok, Joey Meneses, William Woods, Bryce Elder and Joey Wentz. A 10th, Alan Rangel, was recalled in late September but did not appear in a game. In total, more than 160 have made their MLB debuts since the M-Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005. While the team limped in with a 62-74 overall record under first-year manager Bruce Crabbe, six 2022 M-Braves made Atlanta’s organizational All-Star team as selected by milb.com. First baseman Drew Lugbauer, a fringy prospect, opened eyes with his 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. However, he batted just .213 and struck out 212 times. Cody Milligan was the pick at second base, Justyn-Henry Malloy at third (though he played mostly left field in Mississippi), Andrew Moritz in the outfield and Jared Shuster and Justin Yeager as pitchers. The top hitter, statistically, on the ’22 club was shortstop Cade Bunnell, who seemingly came from out of nowhere to bat .301 with eight homers. Shuster, a highly rated prospect who finished the season in Triple-A, posted a 2.73 ERA, best among the M-Braves’ starters. Tanner Gordon led in wins with nine and Justin Maese in saves with 11. Looking to next year, shortstop Cal Conley, currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, is a name to know. The Texas Tech product hit .251 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and 36 steals at High-Class A Rome. Another key player in 2023 figures to be outfielder Jesse Franklin, who began the year with the M-Braves but missed virtually all of the season with an injury. The M-Braves open the ’23 season on April 7 against Biloxi at Trustmark Park. P.S. The last time Philadelphia was in the National League Championship Series, back in 2010, former Weir High and Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt was one of the three (four?) aces on the Phillies’ pitching staff. Acquired in a midseason trade from Houston, Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch for the National League East champs. The staff also featured Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, but the Phils were knocked out by San Francisco. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier, who helped Seattle end its 21-year playoff drought, will be a free agent after the World Series. A 2021 All-Star in Pittsburgh, the lefty-hitting second baseman had a down year in 2022, batting .238. … Former Jackson Mets standout Dave Magadan is out as hitting coach in Colorado, which has had four straight losing seasons. Magadan was the third baseman on the JaxMets’ 1985 Texas League championship club.