01 Aug

ouch

One call rarely decides a game, but it can certainly alter the course. Everyone watching Saturday’s Milwaukee-Atlanta game at Truist Park saw Brandon Woodruff throw strike three past Dansby Swanson for the second out of the Braves sixth inning. Everyone except home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor, who called it a ball. (Doesn’t it seem that bad ball-strike calls have become epidemic in the majors?) Swanson hit the next pitch out of the park to give the Braves a 3-1 lead. Mississippi State product Woodruff glared and barked at Bucknor as he left the game. Swanson, the former Mississippi Braves star, later hit a grand slam as the Braves claimed an 8-1 victory. Swanson said after the game that, yes, he thought the sixth-inning pitch was a strike. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said, yes, it was a strike — but Swanson rated credit for banging the hanger that followed. Woodruff, who has endured a lot of tough luck this season, said in an mlb.com piece: “It [stinks] because we’re playing good baseball and something like that kind of bugs me a bit. I’ll get over it.” Woodruff, a 2021 All-Star, saw his record fall to 7-6 despite a 2.26 ERA, among the best in the big leagues. He was 0-3 in July for the first-place Brewers, who just don’t score when the big right-hander pitches. P.S. Delvin Zinn, the former Itawamba Community College star from Pontotoc, got a chance to try out his wheels on a new track on Saturday. He had a flat. Leading the High-A Central in stolen bases with 42, Zinn was promoted to Double-A Tennessee by the Chicago Cubs. He walked in his first at-bat, then promptly got picked off and cut down trying to steal second. Zinn went 0-for-1 with two walks and a sac bunt for the Smokies. He was batting .234 with four homers and 42 runs for South Bend in his fifth pro season.

30 Jul

part of the plan?

From all indications, the Chicago Cubs are now in wait-till-next-year mode. Former George County High star Justin Steele is making a strong case to be part of the 2022 plan. Left-hander Steele threw five shutout innings for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, yielding just four hits and fanning five in his fourth start since the Cubs decided to return him to that role. Steele has a 1.15 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings over those four starts. He posted a 2.03 ERA in 11 relief appearances in his long-awaited MLB debut this year – he was drafted in 2014 — before a hamstring injury put him on the injured list in late May. Steele reportedly improved his slider during his time in the Cubs’ alternate camp last summer and now features an impressive array of pitches, including a high-90s fastball. “I’m really starting to settle into my mechanics, really feeling smooth out there, been a while since I’ve felt so smooth,” Steele, 26, said in a bleachernation.com article last week following his third start for the I-Cubs. P.S. Jacob Waguespack, the Ole Miss alum, also picked up a win Thursday, his sixth of the year at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s chain. Waguespack, who has big league time, was cut from the 40-man roster in March and sent to Buffalo, where he has gone 6-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 games (nine starts). … Wondering what Atlanta’s plan is for Drew Waters, the ex-Mississippi Braves standout and 2019 Southern League MVP? The switch-hitting outfielder had a four-hit game Thursday for Triple-A Gwinnett and is batting .262 with eight homers, 27 RBIs, 43 runs and 16 steals. He has power and speed and might be able to inject some life into the Braves’ frequently sleepy offense.

28 Jul

star quality

Charlie Morton, the veteran Atlanta pitcher, gives an endearing assessment of Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum and current Braves third baseman. “He’s easy to root for,” Morton said in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story. “He’s great in the clubhouse. Just an all-around really good dude.” Riley also has become an all-around really good player, a blossoming star, in fact. The 24-year-old, third-year big leaguer smacked two home runs, one a grand slam, and drove in six runs to power the Braves to a 12-5 win against the first-place New York Mets on Tuesday night at CitiField. The two homers went deep into the left-field seats and covered a combined 850 feet-plus. “The power’s unbelievable,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told The Associated Press. “He’s still figuring things out. … Still a lot of upside in this guy.” Riley is batting .288 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs. Over the last 15 days, mostly spent in the cleanup spot, Riley is batting .372 (second among all MLB third basemen) with 16 hits (first), a .791 slugging percentage (first), five homers (tied for the most) and 14 RBIs (first). And, he hasn’t made an error since June 20. P.S. Adam Frazier fit seamlessly into San Diego’s lineup on Tuesday, going 2-for-5 and scoring twice as the leadoff batter (and left fielder) in a 7-4 win over Oakland. The 2021 All-Star out of Mississippi State was traded on Monday from Pittsburgh. Frazier is hitting .325. … Former MSU standout Kendall Graveman, traded from Seattle to Houston in the midst of a series between the two American League West rivals, was in an Astros uniform but did not pitch in Tuesday’s game, an 8-6 Houston win. Graveman, a bit surprised by the trade, got visibly emotional in a TV interview discussing the move. The right-handed reliever is 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA and 10 saves. … Ex-State star Nate Lowe stuffed the stat sheet in helping Texas stop a 12-game losing streak with a 5-4 win against Arizona. Lowe, batting .251 with the Rangers, had two hits, a walk, two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. … And down in Double-A, the Mississippi Braves, powered by a club-record seven homers, stopped an eight-game skid with a resounding 9-3 win at Pensacola. Shea Langeliers, who could be Atlanta’s catcher next season, hit two bombs, raising his season total to 17.

27 Jul

odds and ends

Stanley Stubbs, who won championships at two colleges in Georgia and coached at Rust College the last two years, will be named coach at Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday. Stubbs succeeds Aaron Stevens, fired after an 0-20 season. Stubbs is a Booneville native who played at Northeast Mississippi Community College and was an assistant coach under Bob Braddy at Jackson State for several years. Rust, an NAIA program, finished 13-20 in 2021. Alcorn State has yet to name a replacement for Brett Richardson, who was not retained after a 7-20 season. … The Mississippi Braves are riding an eight-game losing streak as they head into a 12-game road trip that begins tonight at Pensacola. The Double-A club’s longest losing streak since it arrived in Pearl in 2005 is nine. At 40-32, the M-Braves no longer have the Double-A South’s best record. … Whatever happened to Corey Dickerson? Well, the former Meridian Community College star is expected to begin a rehab assignment this week for the Toronto Blue Jays. Dickerson was on the injured list (foot) with Miami when he was traded on June 29. The veteran outfielder hit .260 with two homers in 62 games for the Marlins. … No surprise really that the top two teams in the Cotton States League North feature the college summer league’s top two pitchers. Will Cook, of Holmes Community College, is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA for the Tupelo Thunder, 13-6 heading into the season’s final weekend in New Albany. Camron Wright, a lefty from Itawamba CC, is 3-1, 1.66 for the North Delta Dealers, also 13-6. The Dealers took two of three from the Thunder back in June, with Cook notching Tupelo’s lone win. Wright pitched well in the rubber game but didn’t get a decision. … Among the array of stars who’ll be formally inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night are two baseball icons: former high school coach Jerry Boatner and renowned stadium architect Janet Marie Smith. In addition, Con Maloney, longtime owner of Jackson’s Texas League franchise, will receive the Rube Award, which recognizes lifetime contributions to Mississippi sports and is named in honor former sports museum director Michael Rubenstein.

11 Jul

running hot

There’s hot and then there’s whatever the Mississippi Braves are right now. The top team in the Double-A South won its sixth straight game on Saturday night at Trustmark Park. The last five of those wins have come against the league’s second-best team, Pensacola. Saturday night’s win rated an exclamation point. Not only were the Blue Wahoos dismissed by a 6-0 count, Bryce Elder and Daysbel Hernandez combined on a no-hitter. On a night when top-rated prospects Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake went 0-for-8, two others stepped up with big hits. Justin Dean, the diminutive, dynamic leadoff batter, belted a two-run homer to dead center field, and Trey Harris, the brawny right fielder, smacked a three-run, opposite-field double. The defense was clean and even produced three double plays. Can they bottle this? Elder, Atlanta’s No. 11 prospect, threw seven innings in his third Double-A start; he is 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA. The talented arms just keep coming in the Braves’ system. The M-Braves, 37-22 and 4 games up in the Double-A South’s South Division, go for seven in a row today against Pensacola. On the bump? Spencer Strider, the No. 20 prospect who has climbed three levels this season. He is 1-1, 3.95 in three starts. P.S. Meanwhile, the season-ending injury to Ronald Acuna might open the door for former M-Braves star Cristian Pache to get another shot in Atlanta. The swift center fielder is batting .252 with three homers and 13 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. Another possibility is Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP for the M-Braves who is batting .257 with five homers, 18 RBIs and 15 steals for the Stripers. He is slated to play in today’s All-Star Futures Game in Colorado.

09 Jul

worth noting

There may be no hotter team in pro ball than the Mississippi Braves, who won two games on Thursday at Trustmark Park, extending their win streak to four, and have won 31 of their last 45. At 35-22 overall (22-11 at home), the M-Braves have the best record in the Double-A South. (And, yes, there will be a postseason to crown a champion in September.) Atlanta prospects Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake stood out on Thursday. Langeliers hit his 14th homer, tied for the league lead, and Shewmake homered, his sixth, and extended his hit streak to 11 games. The M-Braves play Pensacola again tonight (6:35) at the TeePee in Pearl.
Jake Mangum hit his fourth homer for Binghamton, the 16th extra-base hit for the former Mississippi State standout in 36 games for the New York Mets’ Double-A team. Mangum, batting .275, is slugging .450. He slugged just .297 in A-ball in 2019.
Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim hit his fourth home run in three games for High-A Hickory in the Texas system. Crim, in his second pro season, is batting .275 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs.
Pascagoula High product Willie Joe Garry, Jr., went 3-for-5 with his third triple of the season for Low-A Fort Myers in Minnesota’s chain. Garry, 21, in his third pro season, is batting .196 with two homers, 12 RBIs, 19 runs and 13 steals.
The scuffling Chicago Cubs are returning Justin Steele, the ex-George County High standout, to a starting role at Triple-A Iowa. Steele, a starter his first six seasons in pro ball, worked in relief for the Cubs as a rookie this season, posting a 2.03 ERA in 11 games before landing on the injured list. “We’re going to try to put him in a role where he can face the lineup a couple times, and there’s no reason he can’t do it,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said in an nbcchicago.com report. The left-hander will start for Iowa on Sunday and likely will be in the Cubs’ rotation soon.
Bobby Bradley hit his first home run since June 30 in Cleveland’s win over Kansas City on Thursday. The Harrison Central High alum now has nine bombs on the season in just 97 big league at-bats. He had nine in 97 at-bats at Triple-A Columbus when he was called up to the big club on June 5.
Ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman, now Seattle’s closer, was in the middle of a conflict between the Mariners and New York Yankees on Thursday. Graveman, on in the ninth to close out a 4-0 M’s win, brushed D.J. LeMahieu’s jersey with an inside pitch. LeMahieu barked at Graveman, who stared him down. More shouting and posturing ensued at game’s end involving multiple players. LeMahieu brushed it all off in a comment to nj.com: “He threw one in on Rougned (Odor) and the next one in on me. It looked suspicious, but it’s just baseball.”

08 Jul

maroon alert

Local high school products Tanner Leggett and Preston Johnson, stars on Mississippi State’s national championship team, will throw out ceremonial first pitches at the Mississippi Braves’ game on Friday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The first pitches will occur around 6:15 p.m., per the M-Braves release. The Double-A South game is scheduled for 6:35 against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Gates open at 5:30. Leggett, from Raymond, is a Central Hinds Academy product. Johnson, from Crystal Springs, attended Copiah Academy and Hinds Community College. … Bulldogs fans might also want to heckle Pensacola catcher Nick Fortes. He played at Ole Miss.

08 Jul

access denied

Tim Anderson has won a batting title and a Silver Slugger award. The former East Central Community College star, now in his seventh big league season, led his team, the Chicago White Sox, to a playoff berth in 2020 and to the top of the American League Central standings as of today. And yet: He hasn’t earned an All-Star Game invite. Granted, for a shortstop in the AL, that’s no easy feat. Xander Bogaerts was voted in by the fans. Carlos Correa and Bo Bichette, also deserving of consideration, were picked as reserve shortstops. Anderson — currently batting .307 with six homers, 29 RBIs, 50 runs and 14 steals — was snubbed, and Frank Thomas, the former White Sox star and Hall of Famer, was outraged (really). “Tim Anderson has proven to be a superstar in this league,” he said during a rant on a ChiSox pregame TV show. The normally outspoken Anderson has let his bat talk. He is 8-for-12 since the reserves were announced on July 4. He put up a 4-for-4 game on Wednesday as Chicago – and Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, an All-Star pick – beat Minnesota 6-1. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson combined for 11 hits, four RBIs and seven runs in Atlanta’s 14-3 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Some other ex-M-Braves also showed out: Jason Heyward put a 4-1-1-1 in the box score and made a great catch in right field as the Cubs snapped their 11-game skid; Craig Kimbrel got the last three outs. Jose Peraza hit a late game-tying homer that propelled the New York Mets to a win over Milwaukee. Phil Gosselin went 1-for-4 with an RBI for the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-4 win against Boston. And Alex Wood worked seven innings for his eighth win as San Francisco topped St. Louis 5-2.

02 Jul

that’s pretty cool

Mississippi will be represented by at least one state college product in the MLB All-Star Game for the sixth straight time. Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State alumnus now with Pittsburgh, was the winner in fan balloting to start at second base for the National League. It’ll be his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, and he is very deserving of the honor. The lefty-hitting Frazier, in his sixth MLB season, is batting .326 with 101 hits, four homers, 28 RBIs and 50 runs. “I don’t really love the spotlight itself. I just try to go about my business and take care of what I need to take care of,” Frazier said in an mlb.com article. “It’s pretty cool to have the support, and I’m happy for that.” This is also pretty cool: The last Pirates second baseman to start an All-Star Game was Bill Mazeroski in 1967. More Mississippians could be headed for Colorado for the July 13 game when pitchers and reserves are announced Sunday. In 2019, the last time there was an All-Star Game, Brandon Woodruff, the ex-State standout from Wheeler, went as a replacement to the National League pitching staff. He followed Mitch Moreland (2018), Zack Cozart and Corey Dickerson (2017), Drew Pomeranz (2016) and Brian Dozier and Jonathan Papelbon (2015) as recent All-Stars out of Magnolia State schools. … Former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna also were voted in, as announced by MLB on Thursday. P.S. The all-Mississippi home run chase in MLB is proving to be quite interesting. DeSoto Central product Austin Riley belted his 14th on Thursday (off Jacob deGrom, no less), moving two ahead of ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe and Bulldogs alum Nate Lowe, who hit two on Thursday to get to 12. Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley, who has only been up since June 5, has eight. Still waiting for former State standout Moreland to get it going; he’s at six. … Down in the minors, Houlka’s Tyreque Reed hit two bombs for High-A Greenville (Boston) and has 12 on the season.

30 Jun

triple-a troopers

Getting to the big leagues is hard. Staying, they say, is harder. And getting back to the big leagues after losing your roster spot might be a different level of hard. That’s the plight faced by a handful of Mississippians currently playing in Triple-A with no clear path to another MLB chance. Anthony Alford, Cody Carroll, Chris Ellis, JaCoby Jones and Jacob Waguespack are veteran pros no longer holding a 40-man MLB roster spot in their respective organizations. Alford, 26, from Petal, was designated for assignment by Pittsburgh on April 21, hitting .083 at the time. He has perked up at Indianapolis, batting .292 with six homers in 35 games. But his MLB track record (.150 in 62 games over five years) isn’t good. Former Southern Miss star Carroll, 28, pitched in 15 games for Baltimore in 2018 and got into three games last summer but was waived in September. Assigned to Norfolk this year, he has a 5.56 ERA in 13 appearances. Ellis, 28, a former Ole Miss (and Mississippi Braves) standout, has one MLB game (one inning, actually) on his resume. That was with Kansas City (as a Rule 5 draft pick) in 2019. He was DFA’d after that game and returned to St. Louis, which released him in May 2020. Tampa Bay signed Ellis in the off-season; he is 0-1 with a 6.45 ERA in eight games at Durham. Jones, 29, the former Mr. Baseball from Richton, seemingly had established himself as an outfielder with Detroit. But after struggling to start this season, he was demoted and then DFA’d on June 6. He is batting .222 in 25 games for Toledo. Waguespack, 27, an Ole Miss alum, was up with Toronto last summer (8.15 ERA) but was DFA’d in March. He is 3-2, 3.43 at Buffalo. What are the odds any of these players gets another shot in the big leagues? Well, as they say, as long as you’re wearing a uniform, you’ve got a chance. P.S. Former Mississippi State ace Ethan Small and Mississippi Braves product Drew Waters have been selected for the All-Star Futures Game in Denver on July 11. Small, recently promoted from Double-A Biloxi to Triple-A Nashville, is Milwaukee’s top-rated pitching prospect. Waters, 2019 Southern League MVP, is playing at Triple-A Gwinnett; the switch-hitting outfielder is Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect.