Let the record show, the first home run by a Mississippian in this long-delayed major league season was struck Saturday by Mitch Moreland, the Amory native and ex-Mississippi State standout who went yard for Boston. His 167th career bomb was a wall-scraper to right field at Fenway Park, and it came in a 7-2 loss to Baltimore. Moreland did not play in the Red Sox’s opener, a 13-2 win on Friday. Let the record also show that the first game-winning homer by a Mississippian in 2020 also was struck on Saturday. Richton High product JaCoby Jones blasted a 400-footer in the top of the ninth inning at the Great American Ball Park, giving Detroit its margin of victory in a 6-4 takedown of Cincinnati. The backstory is a good one: Jones had been directed to bunt a runner over from first but fouled off two attempts. So, swinging away with a 2-2 count, he hit his 25th career homer, beating Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. “Screw bunting,” Jones reportedly, jokingly, told Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire after he reached the dugout. “Let me hit.” … Former Mississippi Braves star Phil Gosselin went deep twice for Philadelphia on Saturday and is currently tied for the MLB lead. But Gosselin wasn’t the first former M-Brave to homer in 2020. Rio Ruiz hit one out Friday for the Orioles.
Given a new lease on his baseball life by Boston in the off-season, former Mississippi Braves star Jose Peraza showed his gratitude with a smashing debut on Friday night. Peraza, starting at second base, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs in the Red Sox’s 13-2 season-opening rout of Baltimore at Fenway Park. Cincinnati gave up on Peraza after the 2019 season — he was not offered a contract after a .239 campaign — and the Red Sox, looking for a replacement for Dustin Pedroia, signed the five-year veteran. M-Braves fans might recall that Peraza arrived in Pearl in mid-2014 as a hot-shot prospect who would play in the Futures Game that summer. Atlanta sent him, along with Alex Wood and Luis Avilan, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 in the infamous Hector Olivera trade. Peraza was traded again in 2016 to Cincinnati, where he had some good moments before slumping last season. A career .275 hitter with 77 steals, he looks like a good fit in Boston. P.S. William Contreras, a 2019 M-Braves catcher, made his MLB debut with Atlanta on Friday. At least 150 players have now advanced from Double-A Mississippi to The Show since Brian McCann first made the trip in 2005.
Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, celebrates his 31st birthday today. Soon, he’ll be celebrating a sweet free-agent contract. Coming off a bounce-back finish to his 2019 season, left-hander Pomeranz is considered one of the top relief pitchers currently on the market. As a starter in San Francisco last season, Pomeranz was mostly awful. The Giants moved him to the bullpen, where something clicked. Milwaukee traded for him, and Pomeranz became one of the key pieces in the Brewers’ drive to the postseason. In 26 1/3 innings down the stretch, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and, suddenly throwing much harder, fanned 45 batters. He made $1.5 million last year on a free agent deal he signed with the Giants after a bad 2018 season in Boston, where he made $8M in the final year of his three with the Red Sox. … Pomeranz leads a long list of Mississippians on the free agent market: Corey Dickerson, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Kendall Graveman, Tony Sipp … . Petal High product Demarcus Evans (see previous post) was placed on Texas’ 40-man roster this week, and the big right-hander reportedly will compete for a big league bullpen job in the spring. … The Atlanta Braves have added outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer – all Mississippi Braves alumni – to their 40-man roster. (Outfielder Drew Waters, the Southern League MVP with the M-Braves last season, does not yet have to be protected on the 40-man.) … The Detroit Tigers re-signed former Southwest Mississippi Community College (and M-Braves) catcher Kade Scivicque to a minor league deal. He played at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2019. … In case you missed it, Hattiesburg-based Rodney Richardson of RARE Design handled the rebranding of the Brewers’ logo and uniforms for 2020, when the club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its move to Milwaukee. Richardson told mlb.com at Monday’s unveiling: “We want them to love it because we’ve fallen in love with their story, with their team, with what’s happening here. It’s not following any design trends or anything like that. It’s about representing this team and this place and their love for this game. We want to see that resonate.”
Lance Lynn might have been an under-the-radar free agent signee by Texas last off-season, but his performance in 2019 did not go unnoticed. Former Ole Miss standout Lynn, a 16-game winner for the Rangers, finished fifth in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award won Wednesday night by Houston’s Justin Verlander. Coming off a rough 2018 campaign split between Minnesota and the New York Yankees, Lynn signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Rangers and quickly emerged as the staff ace. In 33 starts, the 32-year-old right-hander went 16-11 with a 3.67 ERA and worked 208 1/3 innings, striking out 246 batters, fourth-most in the AL. His most memorable moment might have come in the Rangers’ final game ever at Globe Life Park on Sept. 29. Lynn went 7 1/3 for the win, holding the Yankees to two hits and punching out 10. (An aside: In the first game at that Arlington stadium in 1994, Mississippi State product Will Clark hit the first Rangers home run.) … Three former Mississippi Braves hurlers got Cy Young votes: Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, one of the three AL finalists, finished third and Lynn’s Texas teammate Mike Minor eighth in the AL voting, while Atlanta’s Mike Soroka was sixth in the National League tally.
All that glitters isn’t gold – sometimes it’s silver. Three former Mississippi Braves were awarded their first Silver Slugger awards on Thursday: Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. Those three figure to represent the core of Atlanta’s lineup for years to come, something Braves fans, disappointed at how the 2019 season ended, can feel good about this winter. First baseman Freeman, 30, batted .295 with 38 homers, 121 RBIs and 113 runs, MVP-type numbers. (Hard to believe he hasn’t won a Silver Slugger before this.) Outfielder Acuna, at age 21, also had an MVP kind of season: .280, 41 homers, 101 RBIs, 127 runs and 37 steals. And all second baseman Albies, 22, did was bat .295 – leading the National League with 189 hits – with 43 doubles, 24 homers, 86 RBIs and 102 runs. … There may be more hardware coming for M-Braves alums. Mike Soroka, who went 13-4 for Atlanta this past season, is a finalist for NL rookie of the year honors, and Brian Snitker, manager of the inaugural M-Braves team in 2005, is a finalist for NL manager of the year, an award he won in 2018. The ROY winner will be announced on Nov. 11, the manager award on Nov. 12. … Cristian Pache, an M-Braves star last summer, has been pegged by mlb.com as the Braves’ best NL rookie of the year candidate for 2020. Pache, 20, a center fielder by trade, batted .278 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs in Mississippi before earning a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett. Pache could have “Acuna-like impact in 2020” – if the Braves can find a spot for him, of course. … Love this quote (in an mlb.com story) from Chuck James, a soft-tossing former M-Braves ace who went 24-19 over five big league seasons: “I grew up in a small town and my college (Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Alabama) had a picket fence in the outfield. I had no expectations, because I didn’t know what to expect. But I got to be a kid longer than most, and it was everything they make it out to be.”
There will be holes in Atlanta’s roster next season, and the Braves may well have the talent in their minor league system to fill them. The club’s Organization All-Stars squad, selected by the good folks at milb.com, features six prospects who played at Double-A Mississippi or higher in 2019, three of whom rank among the top 31 prospects in all of the minors. (M-Braves fans know these names.) Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who moved off the prospect list and into the big leagues this summer, could be in line for the third base job if Josh Donaldson isn’t re-signed. Riley showed flashes of brilliance in Atlanta, with 18 homers and 49 RBIs in 80 games (playing mostly as a left fielder). He blasted 33 homers between Triple-A and the majors. Alex Jackson, another former M-Braves star, should be in the mix at catcher, where Brian McCann’s retirement opens a door. Jackson, who also got some big league time this summer, hit 28 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett. In the outfield, where there could be two starting jobs available next spring, there’s Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, the Nos. 11 and 23 overall prospects. Both started and excelled this season with the M-Braves before moving to Gwinnett. Waters was the Southern League MVP and batted .309 with 40 doubles and 16 steals between the two levels. Pache, whose forte is defense in center field, batted .277 with 12 bombs on the year. A step behind those two is outfielder Trey Harris, who played at three levels in 2019, finishing in Mississippi, and hit .323 overall, earning organization player of the year honors from Atlanta. “Trey probably had about as good a year as a player could have … on both sides of the ball,” Braves farm director Dom Chiti told milb.com. The two pitchers on the milb.com Organization All-Star team are right-hander Ian Anderson and lefty Tucker Davidson, both of whom starred for the M-Braves before moving to Gwinnett. Anderson, the No. 31 overall prospect, had a hand in the no-hitter in June, and Davidson made the SL All-Star team at season’s end. So, when do pitchers and catchers report?
Congratulations to Phillip Wellman, the former Mississippi Braves manager who piloted the Amarillo Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship on Sunday, beating Tulsa 8-3 in the decisive fifth game. This is the team’s first year in Amarillo after the franchise – still a San Diego affiliate — moved from San Antonio. (Sod poodle is a pioneer nickname for prairie dog.) It was the second championship for Wellman in 19 seasons as a minor league skipper; he won the other in 2008 in the second of his four seasons with the M-Braves. … Condolences to the Biloxi Shuckers, who lost at Jackson, Tenn., on Sunday in Game 5 of the Southern League Championship Series. The Shuckers, a Milwaukee affiliate, have lost in the SL finals in three of their five seasons on the Coast. … It’s now been 11 years since Mississippi celebrated a pro baseball championship, which is beginning to feel like a drought. Over a 15-year span starting in 1981, Jackson’s Texas League clubs won five championships – the Mets in 1981, ’84 and ’85 and the Generals in ’93 and ’96. The independent Senators won a Central League crown in 2003, and five years later, the M-Braves won their lone Southern League title. Long before that, Jackson-based teams won league championships in 1908, 1913, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1940 and 1947, according to research in the Minor League Encyclopedia of Baseball. The 1913 team, known as the Lawmakers, posted an impressive 71-24 record (.747 winning percentage) in the old Cotton States League. Mississippi did not have a pro club from 1953, when the original Senators left town, to 1975, when the Mets moved into Smith-Wills Stadium.
Among the impressive pitching feats of 2019, this one deserves a special mention: Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Mike Minor and a pair of Texas relievers beat the New York Yankees 7-0 on Monday, handing the Bronx Bombers their first shutout in 221 games. The Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — have averaged 5.8 runs per game this season. Minor worked 7 1/3 innings, scattering five hits, walking one and fanning five. One of the Yankees hitters called Minor’s four-pitch repertoire “nasty.” “We mixed every pitch,” Minor told mlb.com. “We didn’t get into any patterns. I felt like we attacked.” Minor, an All-Star this year, is 12-8 with a 3.12 ERA. He was a first-round pick by Atlanta out of Vanderbilt in 2009 and pitched for the M-Braves in 2010. He was 2-6, 4.03 but showed his stuff by striking out 109 in 87 innings. He debuted in the big leagues later that season. His career was derailed by injuries in 2015, but he has made a strong comeback the last two years with Texas.
A pair of former Southern Miss pitchers will get some bonus work in the Arizona Fall League, the select circuit that begins its season on Sept. 18. Bradley Roney, currently with the Mississippi Braves in Atlanta’s system, and Kirk McCarty, pitching for Lynchburg in the Cleveland organization, are on the AFL’s initial rosters announced Wednesday. More names will be added soon. Roney is one of four current M-Braves on the Scottsdale roster, joined by outfielder Greyson Jenista, outfielder Trey Harris and pitcher Connor Johnstone. Roney returned in May from roughly two years on the injured list. The 26-year-old right-handed reliever has a 2.70 ERA, two saves and 34 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings for Double-A Mississippi. Drafted in 2014, he reached Triple-A in 2016 before stalling out with arm injuries. McCarty, a left-handed starter, was a seventh-round pick in 2017. He has spent two stints on the IL this season at high Class A Lynchburg, where he has posted a 3-6 record with a 5.37 ERA in 12 games. He has a 4.03 career ERA. He’ll pitch for Mesa. Lefty Clayton Andrews, a Milwaukee prospect currently on Biloxi’s roster, is slated to pitch for Glendale.
From the Sometimes This Game Ain’t Fair Dept.: Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack shut out the best team in baseball for seven innings on Thursday night. He wound up with a no-decision as his team — the Toronto Blue Jays – lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 via a ninth-inning walk-off hit. Waguespack, pitching his 10th big league game, allowed one hit, one walk and one HBP in a 95-pitch outing. He was pulled — with a 2-0 lead — because of stomach cramps. The Jays’ bullpen gave up three runs in the ninth. Waguespack is 4-1 with a 3.63 ERA this season. … Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier returned from paternity leave on Thursday and was back in the lineup for Washington. He went 0-for-3 in a win against Pittsburgh. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley is slated to begin a rehab assignment tonight for Class A Rome in the Atlanta system. Riley, coming back from a knee injury, has 17 homers with 45 RBIs in 66 games as a Braves rookie. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Nate Lowe is batting .375 over his last 10 games at Triple-A Durham, eagerly awaiting a recall by Tampa Bay. Lowe batted .295 with five homers during previous stints with the Rays this season. … Also hoping for a September call-up is Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central star now at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s chain. Bradley is hitting just .138 over his last 10 games. He leads all Mississippians in the minors with 30 homers; he hit one during his 15-game big league tour. … Behind the pitching of Claudio Custodio, the Mississippi Braves beat Pensacola 3-1 on Thursday at Pearl’s Trustmark Park to conclude a 4-7 homestand. At 27-33 in the second half, the M-Braves have an elimination number of 1 in the Southern League South. They have 10 games left, including an Aug. 29-Sept. 2 homestand that will end the season. … Former M-Braves star Mallex Smith, now with Seattle, will wear WATER on the back of his jersey for Players Weekend (which starts today). Why? “Because I flow anywhere.”