11 May

party of one

A Mississippi product took the field in each of the five big league games played on Monday night. Only one enjoyed a postgame celebration. Mike Mayers, the former Ole Miss standout, worked a clean eighth inning and earned his sixth hold in the Los Angeles Angels’ gritty 5-4 win against Houston. Pitching for the third straight day and 18th time this season, Mayers trimmed his ERA to 4.58. Three Mississippi State alumni were on the losing side: Adam Frazier went 1-for-3 in Pittsburgh’s 14-1 loss to Cincinnati, Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-3 in Boston’s 4-1 loss to Baltimore and Nate Lowe put up a 1-for-3 in Texas’ 3-1 defeat against San Francisco. And ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a 1-for-4 in Miami’s 5-2 loss to Arizona. … Dickerson’s average slipped to .316, but he still leads all Mississippians in the majors in batting; Frazier is at .308. P.S. In the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers begin a six-game series at MGM Park tonight. It’s the Shuckers’ home opener. Lefty Hayden Deal (0-1, 1.80), the M-Braves’ opening day starter, is expected to get the nod in Game 1. Former State star Ethan Small is likely to start in the series. The 2019 first-round pick made his Double-A debut on May 7, allowing four runs in three innings in a loss at Birmingham.

09 May

one crazy day

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.

08 May

swing and a miss

Granted, the Mississippi Braves have run into some stout pitching in their season-opening series against Pensacola. But surely there is more pop in the bats than what they’ve shown so far at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves are 0-4 and have scored just five runs. More troubling: They’ve struck out 46 times, 16 in one seven-inning game on Thursday. There are prospects aplenty at the top of the Double-A club’s lineup, but they’re not hitting their weight. Braden Shewmake, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect, doesn’t yet have a hit. No. 3 prospect Shea Langeliers has one. Leadoff batter Justin Dean is at .167, 3-hole hitter Trey Harris .154, C.J. Alexander .143 and Greyson Jenista .200. The pitching has been OK, keeping the team in games for the most part. Victor Vodnik, the top-rated pitching prospect on the staff (No. 15), goes tonight against the Blue Wahoos’ Jeff Lindgren. Will the bats break out?

04 May

baseball is back

There will be nights, Mississippi Braves manager Wyatt Toregas says, when his team will look like a major league club. They’ve got those skills. There will also be nights, he cautions, when their youth and inexperience will show. It is Double-A, after all.
Above and beyond any of that, however, is the simple fact that there will be pro baseball at Trustmark Park again. Real games. For the first time in more than 600 days.
The M-Braves open the much-anticipated 2021 season – the club’s 16th in Pearl — tonight against Pensacola, the first game of a six-game Double-A South series that runs through Sunday.
There are a lot of new off-field rules and regulations in place due to COVID-19 protocols, but the game on the field hasn’t changed. “The guys are excited to get the season started,” said Toregas, new to the Atlanta organization this season. “It’s time to play ball again.”
The roster features several of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, including catcher Shea Langeliers (No. 3 by MLB Pipeline) and shortstop Braden Shewmake (No. 4). Both are 2019 first-round picks out of major college programs who appear to be on a fast track to the big leagues.
The team also includes outfielder Trey Harris (No. 14), pitcher Victor Vodnik (No. 15), first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista (No. 19), third baseman C.J. Alexander (No. 20) and outfielder Justin Dean (No. 26). Shewmake, Harris, Alexander and Jenista all spent time with the M-Braves in 2019, when minor league teams last played.
“We’re strong in a lot of different areas,” Toregas said.
Despite the compressed spring training for minor leaguers, Toregas, a former major league catcher who managed in the Pittsburgh system for five years, said he felt quickly accepted into the Braves fold by the players, whom he called “a lively group.” He said he also had enough time with the players to get to know them and get a feel for their skills. “They’re very coachable,” he said. “As skilled as these guys are, they’re very open to advice.”
The centerpiece of the team is Langeliers. The former Baylor star, the ninth overall pick two years ago, played in A-ball in 2019 (.255 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 54 games), went to Atlanta’s alternate camp last summer and was a non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring. He is said to have the best throwing arm in the Braves’ system.
“Man, he’s got some skills,” Toregas said. “It’s an honor for me … I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s got a chance to be really good for a really long time. … He can really throw. He’s got some pop in his bat, and he’s a leader. The guys gravitate to him.”
Langeliers said his main goals this season include gaining experience with the one knee-down catching style as well as learning more about calling a game. “I have some high expectations,” he said. “I expect myself to be successful. But it’s a long season, and it can be a grind. In pro ball, it’s a big difference playing every night.”
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Shewmake, a former Texas A&M standout drafted 21st overall in 2019, hit .300 with three homers, 40 RBIs and 13 steals at two levels in 2019, finishing that season in Pearl.
“You can definitely tell why they took him so high in the draft,” Toregas said. “He’s got speed, the ability to hit. He’s a lefty bat in the infield. Plays solid defense, and he’s a bright kid. His skills can take him a long way.”
Harris is another player to watch. A former 32nd-round pick from Missouri, he is a .317 career hitter in the minors and was the Atlanta organization’s minor league player of the year in 2019, when he moved through three levels.
Left-hander Hayden Deal is the scheduled starter tonight, getting the nod over the more highly touted Vodnik and Nolan Kingham, an M-Brave in 2019. Deal was 5-10 with a 3.24 ERA at Class A Florida in 2019 and is 17-13, 2.87 for his minor league career. The Braves signed him as a free agent out of Presbyterian College in North Carolina in 2017.
“I wasn’t expecting to start opening day,” he said, “but it’s a huge honor. I’m super excited about that. I’m ready to see what this year holds.”
“I think everybody’s ready to get out there and compete again,” Toregas said. “I’m looking forward to that. … I’m looking forward to one-run games in the ninth inning, when everybody gets nervous and every play means a little more. It’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s time to get back to it.”
Pensacola is a Miami Marlins affiliate. The Blue Wahoos’ roster includes former Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes as well as right-hander Max Meyer, the third overall selection in the 2020 draft. He enters the season as the No 3 prospect in the Marlins’ system and No. 28 overall, per MLB Pipeline.
In the new-look minors, the Double-A South includes eight teams. Mississippi is in the South Division with Pensacola, the Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers) and Montgomery Biscuits (Rays). The North Division includes the Birmingham Barons (White Sox), Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds), Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels) and Tennessee Smokies (Cubs).
Former Mississippi State star Ethan Small, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2019, is on the Biloxi roster. Lefty Small is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Milwaukee system by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.

03 May

m-braves roster

Among the catchers who have passed through Mississippi on their way to the big leagues are Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Evan Gattis, Willians Astudillo, Alex Jackson and William Contreras. Shea Langeliers is almost certain to join that list in the near future. The Atlanta Braves’ No. 3-rated prospect (by MLB Pipeline) is one of the many noteworthy names on the Double-A Mississippi Braves’ roster, which was announced today. The M-Braves open the 2021 season on Tuesday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Other Top 30 prospects on the roster are shortstop Braden Shewmake (No. 4), outfielder Trey Harris (No. 14), pitcher Victor Vodnik (No. 15), first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista (No. 19), third baseman C.J. Alexander (No. 20) and outfielder Justin Dean (No. 26). Shewmake, Harris, Alexander and Jenista all spent time with the M-Braves in 2019, when minor league teams last played. Langeliers was a first-round pick out of Baylor in 2019. His arm is said to be his best tool; he hit .255 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 54 games in A-ball in 2019. He was a non-roster invitee to Atlanta’s big league camp this spring, as were Shewmake, Harris and Alexander. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Ethan Small, the Milwaukee Brewers’ first-round pick in 2019, is on the Biloxi roster. Lefty Small is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Milwaukee system by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.

02 May

man of letters

On this date in 2007, former Mississippi Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, on his 22nd birthday, makes his major league debut for Atlanta and sets an offbeat record. Longest last name. His 14-letter surname supplants a bunch of other major leaguers who had 13 letters. “Salty,” a big switch-hitter who was the 36th overall pick by Atlanta in the 2003 draft, passed through Pearl as a highly rated prospect in 2006 and ’07. He played in the big leagues from 2007-18, won a ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox and hit .232 with 110 homers overall. On August 22, 2007, a few weeks after being traded from the Braves to Texas, Saltalamacchia had two home runs and seven RBIs in the Rangers’ historic 30–3 rout of Baltimore.

29 Apr

good things abound

So many good things happened for Atlanta in its 10-0 rout of the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. The Braves’ third straight win got them back to .500, tied for first in the National League East at 12-12. Huascar Ynoa, a Mississippi Braves alum, pitched brilliantly and hit his first career home run, one of five Atlanta belted. Former M-Braves star Freddie Freeman also went yard in a four-hit game and, after the Cubs raised the white flag, struck out laughing in an off-the-rails at-bat against Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Not to be overlooked is the performance of Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High (and M-Braves) product who went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer, a double and two runs. Atlanta’s third baseman, who had been getting a lot of grief for a slow start, is heating up. He is on a 9-for-20 roll. Over his last 15 games, he is batting .341 (.421 OBP) with three homers, six RBIs, 10 runs and eight walks. He has boosted his average to .286 and his on-base percentage to .400. His homer Wednesday was a line drive to left field, his double a rope to right, his two singles shots to center. Talk about using all fields. It’s a good sign for a good guy who comports himself in such an admirable way. P.S. On a somber note, it was on this date in 2007 that Cleveland native Josh Hancock, a St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher, died in an early morning automobile accident on Highway 40 in St. Louis. He was 29. MLB postponed a nationally televised game scheduled for that night against the Cubs out of respect. Hancock was a key member of the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series-winning club, pitching in 62 games that season, though he didn’t appear in the Fall Classic. An Auburn alum who also went to high school in Alabama, he is buried near Tupelo.

23 Apr

power surge?

The All-Mississippi Home Run Derby, major league division, might be starting to heat up after a chilly start. JaCoby Jones, the Richton High alumnus, got on the board on Thursday, hitting his first home run of the season for Detroit in a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central product, got his first bomb for Atlanta on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. Ex-Mississippi State – and Amory High – star Mitch Moreland hit his first two of 2021 on Tuesday, going deep for Oakland against Minnesota. There is a new, supposedly “deader,” ball in play this season, but it doesn’t seem to have affected former Bulldogs slugger Nate Lowe. He homered on Wednesday for Texas and leads the Magnolia State pack with five. He’s on pace for about 40. East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, not a pure slugger, has three homers in just nine games. (Mississippi Braves alum Ronald Acuna also seems to love the new ball: He leads all of MLB with seven homers.) And yet, some Mississippians seem stuck in a power outage. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, who entered this season with 97 homers over his five MLB campaigns, has hit one to date in his first season in Boston. Ex-Meridian CC standout Corey Dickerson hasn’t gone yard yet for Miami, nor has MSU product Brent Rooker for Minnesota. Adam Frazier, another ex-Bulldogs star who averaged nine homers over the last three seasons, hasn’t cranked one out yet for Pittsburgh, though he is batting .329.

12 Apr

big fish

Corey Dickerson and the Miami Marlins visit Truist Park in Atlanta tonight in the first meeting of 2021 between the National League East rivals who met in the NLDS last year. Miami is off to a 2-6 start, and Dickerson, the McComb native and ex-Meridian Community College standout, is batting .269 (7-for-26) with no homers, two RBIs and three runs as the leadoff batter. Dickerson was singled out by Sports Illustrated as the “make-or-break” player in Miami’s lineup. He “has to rediscover his swing (from 2017-19) to bolster an otherwise unthreatening Marlins lineup,” writes SI’s Nick Selbe in the April 2021 issue. In his first season with Miami, Dickerson hit .258 with seven homers in 52 games as the team made a surprising run to the postseason. The batting average was down from his career line (.284) and so was his slugging percentage (.402 compared to .497). To contend again in the NL East, the Marlins probably do need more from the lefty-hitting outfielder, 31, who is entering Year 2 of a $17.5 million, two-year deal. Tonight, he’ll face Braves righty Huascar Ynoa, a Mississippi Braves alumnus who is coming off a strong start against Washington. … The Braves, 4-5 after Sunday’s controversial loss to Philadelphia, would welcome some thunder from the bat of DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, the power-hitting third baseman who is batting .207 (6-for-29) and has yet to drive in a run. But Riley isn’t the only Braves hitter who is scuffling; he actually has the second-best average in tonight’s lineup.

11 Apr

minor matters

Minor league camps are officially open in Florida and Arizona, and when the season finally cranks up in May, there are quite a few Mississippi-connected players who’ll be making delayed pro debuts, none more anticipated than right-hander J.T. Ginn’s. Ginn, the Mississippi State product from Brandon, is rated the No. 6 prospect in the New York Mets’ system though he has pitched in only one actual game since 2019. At State that year, the former two-way prep star posted a 3.13 ERA with 105 strikeouts and 19 walks in 86 1/3 innings and earned SEC freshman of the year honors. He made just one appearance for the Bulldogs in 2020 before sustaining an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery. Nevertheless, the Mets, impressed with Ginn’s three-pitch repertoire, took him in the second round as a draft-eligible sophomore and signed him for $2.9 million. He was invited to big league camp this spring (and worked out with Noah Syndergaard) but did not appear in any Grapefruit League games. Reports indicate it could be midsummer before Ginn officially debuts. … Other highly rated 2020 draftees who didn’t play last season (because there was no minor league ball) include State alum Justin Foscue (Texas’ No. 7 prospect), State product Jordan Westburg (Baltimore’s No. 7), ex-Ole Miss star Anthony Servideo (Orioles’ No. 27), former DeSoto Central standout Blaze Jordan (Boston’s No. 11), Biloxi High alum Colt Keith (Detroit’s No. 20) and UM product Tyler Keenan (Seattle’s fourth-round pick). Foscue and Westburg were in big league camp this spring and played in some exhibition games. P.S. Wyatt Toregas has been announced as the eighth manager of the Mississippi Braves. Toregas, who had a brief major league career as a catcher, had managed in Pittsburgh’s system for five years. He follows Chris Maloney, the Jackson native and ex-State standout who managed the M-Braves in 2018-19. The other skippers: Brian Snitker, Jeff Blauser, Phillip Wellman, Rocket Wheeler, Aaron Holbert and Luis Salazar. … Wellman will manage again in San Antonio, San Diego’s affiliate in the Double-A Central South Division. Former Jackson Mets star Al Pedrique will run the Jacksonville club, Miami’s affiliate in the Triple-A East Southeast Division.