28 Sep

down the stretch

Another wild night in Atlanta saw another clinching for the Braves, another amazing milestone for Ronald Acuna and another crippling loss for the Chicago Cubs. Former Mississippi Braves star Acuna stole his 70th base on Wednesday night — notching the first 40 homer-70 steal season in MLB history — and scored the game-winning run on an Ozzie Albies hit in the 10th inning as the Braves topped the Cubs 6-5 at Truist Park. (If Acuna doesn’t win MVP, it’s a crime.) Atlanta clinched the top seed and home-field advantage in the National League postseason. M-Braves alum Albies homered and drove in three runs all told; he has 33 and 107. The Cubs, suffering a second straight heart-breaking defeat in the ATL, are now tied for third in the NL wild card race with Miami, which holds the tiebreaker. In other games of note: Former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman pitched a tidy fifth inning in relief and plucked the win as Houston beat Seattle 8-3 and clung to the third wild card in the American League, 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners. Graveman has two wins, four holds and a 2.45 ERA in 22 games for the Astros, who have won just five of their last 15. (Nothing has been clinched in the AL West, which Texas still leads.) Baltimore, with MSU product Jordan Westburg contributing a hit and an RBI walk, beat Washington 5-1 and reduced its magic number for clinching the AL East to 1. Rookie Westburg is batting .261. P.S. Milwaukee, which has clinched the NL Central, recalled former State standout Ethan Small from Triple-A Nashville. The former first-rounder did not pitch Wednesday. … Four Biloxi Shuckers and two M-Braves made milb.com’s Southern League All-Star team. The Shuckers’ Carlos F. Rodriguez (9-6, 2.77 ERA) was named the pitcher of the year, and outfielder Jackson Chourio, catcher Jeferson Quero and utilityman Tyler Black also made the team. The M-Braves were represented by pitcher Luis De Avila and second baseman Luke Waddell. … Mississippi State ranks 10th and Ole Miss 11th in Collegiate Baseball’s 2024 recruiting rankings. Arkansas’ class was rated No. 1, and 10 of the top 11 are SEC schools (if you include Texas). Southern Miss did not crack the top 50.

24 Sep

not happening

J.P. France, the rookie out of Mississippi State, wasn’t bad on Saturday night. But he wasn’t good enough, nor was his team, the Houston Astros, who lost a big game, 3-2, at home to last-place Kansas City. France yielded a run in the first and two more in the fifth (the last on a wild pitch), and the Astros’ late rally came up short. They fell 1.5 games behind surging Texas in the American League West and are clinging to the third wild card by a half-game over Seattle. “Stuff was great, I’m pleased with that outing,” France told The Associated Press. The right-hander, who won seven of eight starts in one stretch this summer, went five innings Saturday and took the loss, falling to 11-6 with a 3.83 ERA. With losses in four of its last five games — two in a row to the Royals at Minute Maid Park — Houston does seem to have a problem. … Meanwhile, at Miami, ex-MSU star Brandon Woodruff also tasted frustration. Going to the bump with a chance to clinch the National League Central title for Milwaukee, the Wheeler High product gave up a three-run homer in the first inning and another run in the fourth before departing after five. The Brewers rallied to tie and get Woodruff off the hook but lost 5-4 to a Marlins team still in the chase for a wild card berth. “You know what?,” Woodruff told mlb.com. “It’s one of them ‘baseball days.’ You move on.” Woodruff’s ERA moved up to 2.28 over 11 mostly sterling starts. P.S. In a relatively short time, Hurston Waldrep’s home address has changed from Hattiesburg to Gainesville, Fla., to North Augusta, S.C., to Rome, Ga., to Pearl to Lawrenceville, Ga., where the Southern Miss alum made his Triple-A debut on Saturday. Atlanta’s first-round draft pick in July — 24th overall out of Florida — pitched 4 1/3 shutout innings for the Gwinnett Stripers. In eight appearances at the four levels of the minors, including a three-game stint with the Double-A Mississippi Braves, the gas-throwing Waldrep has a 1.53 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. It would appear that the Braves have made another shrewd pick.

22 Sep

boys of fall

The most interesting name among the handful of Mississippi products headed for the Arizona Fall League is Will Bednar. The Most Outstanding Player in the 2021 College World Series for champion Mississippi State, Bednar has been beset by injury issues in pro ball. San Francisco drafted the right-hander with the 14th overall pick in ’21, but he has pitched in only 20 games since. A lingering back injury limited Bednar to four appearances in rookie ball this year; he went 1-2 with a 4.22 ERA and finished the season on the injured list. He’ll face much stiffer competition in the prospect-packed AFL, which begins on Oct. 2. Others on AFL rosters: Former Southern Miss pitcher Ben Ethridge put up a 3-6 record with a 2.99 ERA in Low-Class A for Minnesota in his second pro season. … MSU product Rowdey Jordan, a member of the ’21 champs, hit .230 with 13 homers, 63 RBIs and 30 steals in Double-A for the New York Mets. … Ex-Northeast Mississippi Community College left-hander Tyler Samaniego, 15th-round draft pick by Pittsburgh out of South Alabama in 2021, was 2-1 with six saves and a 5.51 in Double-A this year. … MSU alum Eric Cerantola, a fifth-rounder in 2021, was 3-4, 3.66, at the High-A and Double-A levels for Kansas City. … Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of IMG Academy in Florida in 2019, went 4-6, 3.42, at the High-A and Double-A levels in 2023. … Tyler Tolve, a catcher with the Mississippi Braves this season, is among Atlanta’s AFL reps, and Wes Clarke, a slugging catcher/first baseman who played in Biloxi, is part of Milwaukee’s contingent.

19 Sep

seven flags

With the playoffs in the three Double-A leagues beginning tonight, it’s an appropriate time to toast the seven Double-A champions from Mississippi. (There won’t be one in 2023.) The Jackson Mets won three Texas League titles back in the 1980s, the Generals won a pair in the ’90s and the Mississippi Braves have claimed a couple of Southern League titles since arriving in Pearl in 2005. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the M-Braves’ first title. The 2008 team, managed by Phillip Wellman, beat Carolina in a dramatic and deciding fifth game at Trustmark Park. That was a club built around pitching and speed. Matt Young (30 steals) and J.C. Holt (22) led five players with double-figure stolen base totals, and two others swiped eight. Todd Redmond (13-5, 3.52 ERA) was the ace of a staff that also included Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, James Parr and closer Luis Valdez (Jairo Asencio). Kala Ka’aihue was the top slugger with 14 homers. Jason Perry, who flashed through for 38 games, hit 13 bombs. The top prospect at the beginning of the season was Jordan Schafer, who was hit with a drug-related suspension at the start and then underperformed most of the way, finishing at .269 with 10 homers and 12 steals. The M-Braves wouldn’t win another pennant until 2021. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Generals’ first Texas League crown, which came in the Houston Astros affiliate’s third season at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Sal Butera-managed Gens, who went 6-1 in the postseason and swept El Paso in the league finals, featured TL player of the year Roberto Petagine, who batted .334 with 15 homers and 90 RBIs. Brian Hunter hit .294 with 35 steals and played a great center field. Lance “Bam-Bam” Madsen belted 23 homers, and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson hit .294 with 23 bags. Jim Bruske (9-5) and Alvin Morman (8-2) were the top starters, and Jim Dougherty led the league in saves with 36. … Though neither of Mississippi’s two Southern League clubs made the postseason this year, there are state connections among the four clubs still playing. In the SL North, Chattanooga meets Tennessee, which features Southern Miss product Walker Powell (11-6, 3.68). Former Generals slugger Daryle Ward is Chattanooga’s hitting coach. In the SL South, ex-Mississippi State star Tanner Allen (.274 in 17 Double-A games) leads Pensacola against Montgomery, which features former MSU standout Colby White (0.00 ERA in eight Double-A games) in its bullpen. McLaurin High and Meridian Community College alum Davis Bradshaw is on Pensacola’s injured list.

17 Sep

have a month

It has been a September to remember for James McArthur. It took the former Ole Miss star six years to get to the majors and his debut back in June was a real clunker. But in six appearances this month for Kansas City — one of the worst teams in MLB – the 26-year-old right-hander has not allowed a run over 8 2/3 innings. On Saturday, he notched his first big league win, retiring all four batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings as the Royals upended Houston 10-8. The 6-foot-7 McArthur, who went 15-8 in three years in Oxford, was a 12th-round draft pick in 2018 by Philadelphia. He made the 40-man roster after the 2021 season but was designated for assignment in May of this year and then traded to Kansas City. He has pitched well in Triple-A but yielded seven runs in one inning in his big league debut on June 28. Recent results have been much more encouraging, to say the least. … Recent results for J.P. France, the Mississippi State alum who started for Houston on Saturday, have not been so positive. After a sensational start to his rookie campaign, France has a 6.69 ERA in his last seven games, though he has won three of them. He gave up five runs on Saturday before being knocked out in the fifth inning. He is 11-5, 3.84, in 23 games for the season. P.S. Three former Mississippi Braves pitchers got wins on Saturday, none of them working for Atlanta. Evan Phillips picked up the W in relief in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ division-clinching victory; Viktor Vodnik got a W in relief for Colorado in his second MLB game; and Touki Toussaint went five innings for the Chicago White Sox to beat Minnesota. … The Biloxi Shuckers lost to Montgomery at MGM Park, handing the Biscuits the second-half title in the Double-A Southern League South.

11 Sep

going forward

On the day when the Atlanta Braves clinched a National League playoff berth with a victory at Truist Park, there was also a clinching at Trustmark Park, home of the Braves’ Double-A club. But it wasn’t the Mississippi Braves who celebrated on Sunday — it was the visiting Tennessee Smokies, who rallied late to beat the M-Braves 6-4 and clinch the second-half title in the Southern League North. One of the key players for the Smokies — a Chicago Cubs affiliate — is former Southern Miss star Walker Powell, who is 11-6 with a 3.57 ERA. The league leader in wins and WHIP (1.07), he pitched brilliantly in a no-decision against the M-Braves last week. The M-Braves finished their 2023 home schedule before an announced crowd of 2,113 with a 32-36 record. They are 26-37 (last in the SL South) in the second half and 59-72 overall with a series left at Pensacola. … There will be a clinching this week at MGM Park in Biloxi, where the Shuckers and the Montgomery Biscuits, two of the hottest teams in the minors, will play a six-game series that’ll decide the second-half title in the SL South. The Biscuits (Tampa Bay) have won 10 straight games and lead the Shuckers (Milwaukee), who’ve won nine of 10, by 1.5 games. … Among other clinchings in the minors on Sunday, Binghamton (New York Mets) claimed a second-half division title in the Double-A Eastern League with a 10-0 win at Hartford. Ex-Mississippi State standout Rowdey Jordan went 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs for the Rumble Ponies. The third-year pro is hitting .227 with 13 homers, 58 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. P.S. Kudos to Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, the skipper of the original M-Braves club in 2005, who has had the big Braves in the postseason six straight years, winning the World Series in 2021. Six former M-Braves played in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Pittsburgh.

08 Sep

have a day

Mississippians in the minors made some major noise on Thursday. Start with the clamor out of El Paso, where Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue went 4-for-5 with two homers, two doubles and five RBIs as visiting Round Rock beat the host Chihuahuas 11-10 in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Foscue, the Texas Rangers’ No. 6 prospect, is batting .271 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs. Teammate Blaine Crim, former Mississippi College star, had two hits and two RBIs for the Express and is batting .285 with 74 RBIs. At the Double-A level, ex-Pascagoula High standout Willie Joe Garry Jr. entered the game for Wichita in the top of the ninth inning, stole second base and scored the game-winning run against Corpus Christi on a throwing error by the catcher. Garry, breaking out since his move up to Double-A in the Minnesota system, is batting .273 with seven steals, 13 runs, four homers and 19 RBIs in 25 games for the Wind Surge. In a brilliant Double-A pitchers’ duel at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Southern Miss product Walker Powell put up six scoreless innings (three hits, two walks, six strikeouts) for Tennessee, matching the effort of Atlanta prospect Luis De Avila (one hit, three walks, 11 K’s). The Smokies, a Chicago Cubs’ farm team, got a run in the eighth to beat the Mississippi Braves 1-0. Powell lowered his ERA to 3.57 and trimmed his Southern League-best WHIP to 1.07. At High-Class A Wisconsin, ex-Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. went 3-for-4 with a double, three runs and an RBI to boost the Timber Rattlers — a Milwaukee affiliate — past Cedar Rapids 11-6. Gray is batting .249 with 17 doubles and 57 RBIs. At High-A Bowling Green, MSU product Kamren James hit a homer — his ninth — and drove in four runs, but the Hot Rods, a Tampa Bay affiliate, lost to visiting Greensboro 19-10. And finally, at Low-A St. Lucie, ex-Brandon High and MSU star Kellum Clark hit his first professional home run, banged out two other hits and drove in four runs to power the Mets to a 14-7 win against Daytona. A 2023 draftee, Clark is batting .250 in 10 games for St. Lucie after hitting .308 in rookie ball.

07 Sep

numbers to crunch

9 — Consecutive wins by the Biloxi Shuckers, who are a half-game out of first place in the Southern League South second-half race. Isaac Collins went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in Wednesday’s 6-4 win at Birmingham.
6 — Walk-off wins for the Mississippi Braves, who beat Tennessee 4-3 on Cody Milligan’s RBI single in the ninth inning at Trustmark Park. The M-Braves are out of the SL South playoff hunt.
11 — Wins this season by Walker Powell, the former Southern Miss standout who’ll go for No. 12 tonight when he starts for Tennessee — a Chicago Cubs affiliate — against the M-Braves in Pearl. Powell’s win total leads the SL, as does his 1.08 WHIP.
20 — Stolen bases this season for USM product Matthew Etzel, who swiped two for High-Class A Aberdeen on Wednesday in his second game at that level. Baltimore’s 10th-round draft pick is 4-for-8 for Aberdeen and is now hitting .348 on the season.
3 — Saves in four opportunities for Jared Johnson, the ex-Smithville High star now pitching for High-A Rome in the Atlanta system. Converted starter Johnson, a 2019 draftee, has a 3.09 ERA in nine relief appearances for the R-Braves after working a clean inning Wednesday.
6 — Wins by Dakota Hudson, the former Mississippi State ace who beat Atlanta despite yielding five runs in five-plus innings for St. Louis. Hudson is 5-1 in seven starts since he moved back into the Cardinals’ rotation in August; he has a 4.43 ERA in 14 games overall.
40 — Home runs allowed in 2023 by Lance Lynn, the Ole Miss alum who yielded three bombs and eight runs in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 11-4 loss to Miami. After a hot start with the Dodgers, Lynn has given up 15 runs in his last two starts and is 4-2, 4.95 for his new club.
9 — Holds by Nick Sandlin, the ex-USM standout who retired the top three batters in Minnesota’s order in the eighth inning of a 2-1 Cleveland win. Sandlin has a 3.59 ERA for the Guardians, who sit 6 games back of the Twins in the American League Central despite winning the season series 7-6.
59 — Strikeouts this season in 157 at-bats by USM product Matt Wallner, who K’d three times for Minnesota, including the final out of Wednesday’s game. Wallner has 11 homers among his 36 hits.

05 Sep

if you like pitching …

Though the Mississippi Braves’ record (22-35, last in the Southern League South) isn’t good, the team’s pitching actually is. Heading into a six-game series against Tennessee at Pearl’s Trustmark Park, the last-place M-Braves sport the best staff ERA — 4.07 — in the Double-A league. The Smokies (32-25, first in the SL North), a Chicago Cubs affiliate, have the third-best at 4.52. The series, the M-Braves’ last at home in 2023, offers a couple of intriguing pitching matchups: On Thursday, Luis De Avila, Atlanta’s No. 14 prospect, goes against former Southern Miss star Walker Powell. De Avila’s 3.49 ERA ranks third in the league. The 6-foot-8 Powell leads the SL in wins with 11 and has the fifth-best ERA at 3.76. On Friday, Domingo Robles, with eight wins and the fourth-best ERA in the loop (3.62), faces Kohl Franklin, the Cubs’ No. 28 prospect. USM alum Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s first-round pick in July and its No. 2 prospect, makes his second Double-A start on Saturday; he threw three shutout innings last week. M-Braves veteran Alan Rangel, the SL’s reigning pitcher of the week (seven shutout innings, 12 strikeouts), will start on Sunday. P.S. Baltimore has promoted USM product Matthew Etzel, a 2023 draftee, to High-Class A Aberdeen. Etzel hit .33 with two homers, 23 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 25 games at two lower levels.

03 Sep

hustle pays off

It looked like an inning-ending double play when the shortstop snagged the ball, but Hunter Renfroe charged hard down the first-base line and, by a whisker, beat the relay throw from the second baseman. The game-winning run scored from third, giving former Mississippi State star Renfroe his first RBI with Cincinnati and the Reds a huge 2-1 victory Saturday night against the Chicago Cubs. “I was doing everything I could to get there as fast as I can,” the 230-pound Renfroe said in a postgame TV interview, adding that he was surprised Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson reached the hard-hit grounder deep in the hole in the ninth inning. Renfroe is 0-for-9 since the Reds claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels, but his hustle on Saturday contributed mightily to the Reds’ ninth walk-off and 43rd comeback victory of 2023. Renfroe — “glad to be here” — was swarmed by his teammates. The so-called “Rally Reds” are in a three-way tie for the third wild card in the National League, 2 games back of the Cubs. P.S. Ex-State standout Adam Frazier had an RBI double and scored a run in the middle of a seven-hit, six-run, fourth-inning barrage by Baltimore, which kept its grip on first place in the American League East with a 7-3 win against Arizona, an NL wild card contender. Frazier has 54 RBIs and 53 runs in 119 games for the O’s. … MSU product Brent Rooker’s 23rd homer accounted for all of Oakland’s runs in a much less meaningful 2-1 win over the Angels. … Ronald Acuna continues to put up jaw-dropping numbers: The former Mississippi Braves star’s 32nd homer left the bat at 121.2 mph and went 454 feet, helping Atlanta beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2 in 10 innings, for the third straight night. … In the minors, Kemp Alderman, the 2023 Ferriss Trophy winner out of Ole Miss, belted his first homer as a pro for Low-Class A Jupiter in the Miami system. Alderman, a second-round pick, is batting .181 with 10 RBIs in 28 games. … Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel went 3-for-6 with a double, two RBIs and a steal in a doubleheader for Low-A Delmarva in the Orioles’ chain. Etzel, a 10th-round pick in July, is batting .318 with two homers, 19 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 20 games for the Shorebirds. … USM alum Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s first-round pick, threw three shutout innings with four strikeouts and three walks in his Double-A debut for the M-Braves at Trustmark Park.