A trio of former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers did a number on the Atlanta Braves on Monday night. The number was 16, as in 16 punchouts in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win at American Family Field. Former Mississippi Braves Ian Anderson and Spencer Strider pitched well in defeat. The series between National League rivals, who met in a memorable postseason series in 2021, continues today with Shuckers and M-Braves alums matched up as starters in each of the remaining two games. Coincidentally, the Double-A teams meet in a six-game series starting tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Both clubs are under .500 in the Southern League South, though the Shuckers (16-17) come in on a three-game win streak. The M-Braves (14-19) have dropped their last two and are just 6-9 at home. Whether there is a feeling of rivalry between the teams — or their fans — is debatable. (Remember Jackson-Shreveport from the old Texas League days?) But Biloxi took five of six when the teams met in early April at MGM Park, and it’s a safe bet M-Braves players remember that. Both clubs feature highly regarded prospects that are likely to clash in the big leagues someday in the near future. The M-Braves trot out Michael Harris II, Jesse Franklin V, Freddy Tarnok and tonight’s starting pitcher, Jared Shuster. Four of Milwaukee’s top 11 prospects (per MLB Pipeline) populate Biloxi’s roster, with a fifth on the injured list. No. 1 Sal Frelick is batting .231 with seven steals, and No. 2 Joey Wiemer is at .309 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. Former Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard is a catcher/first baseman for the Shuckers, hitting .200 with three homers and 16 RBIs. In the clubs’ all-time series, which began when Biloxi entered the SL in 2015, the Shuckers lead 77-68. But Mississippi owns two league pennants, including last year’s, and Biloxi has yet to claim one.
Beyond the score — Ole Miss 4, Southern Miss 1 — three numbers jump out of the box from Wednesday night’s game in Hattiesburg: 1 — hits allowed by the Rebels’ bullpen over the last four innings of the game, backing up a strong start by Drew McDaniel; 15 — strikeouts by Golden Eagles batters, most in a game this season; 6,346 — the attendance, a record, at Taylor Park. (Can any other state match Mississippi’s passion for college baseball?) … Congratulations to Millsaps’ Jim Page, named coach of the year in the Southern Athletic Association. The Majors, 10-24 in 2021, went 24-21 and reached the league championship series. Page also won his 800th game in purple-and-white this season. … Christian Yelich hit for the cycle for Milwaukee on Wednesday, his third cycle since 2018. The last Mississippian to accomplish this neat feat was Fred Lewis, a Stone County High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product who did it on May 13 — Mother’s Day — in 2007 for San Francisco. … Orlando Arcia’s first career walk-off home run boosted Atlanta past Boston on Wednesday night. Biloxi Shuckers fans will remember Arcia as one of the stars of the inaugural team back in 2015. He was Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect at the time and was one of the first Shuckers alums to make the majors. … Left-hander Joey Wentz became the latest former Mississippi Braves standout to make the big leagues; he started and took a loss for Detroit. Wentz joins Bryce Elder and William Woods as M-Braves alums to debut in 2022; the list is approaching 160 all told. … Former Mississippi State standout — and Shuckers alum — Ethan Small, the International League’s pitcher of the month for April when he had an 0.77 ERA in four starts, makes his second May start tonight for Triple-A Nashville. The left-hander, Milwaukee’s No. 7 prospect, took a loss in his first May outing and is 2-1, 1.98 with 37 K’s in 27 1/3 innings. His MLB debut can’t be far off. … Harrison Central High alum Bobby Bradley, reassigned to the minors by Cleveland earlier this month, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first game with Triple-A Columbus. … Blaze Jordan, the ex-DeSoto Central star, is heating up at Low-Class A Salem in Boston’s system. A nine-game hit streak (13-for-34) has lifted the young slugger’s average to .235; he hit his second homer of the year Wednesday night.
The Mississippi Braves, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Trustmark Park, are 8-13, and one doesn’t have to dig too deep into the numbers to uncover a reason for the poor start. The team ERA is 4.78, which ranks sixth in the eight-team Southern League. The WHIP is 1.46, second-worst in the league. This is highly unusual for the M-Braves, who ranked second, first and second in the league in ERA in the past three seasons. Maybe the ERA will improve as the team plays more games at the TeePee, one of the best pitchers’ parks in the minors. Maybe it starts this week against Pensacola, one of the weakest hitting and lowest scoring teams in the SL. Darius Vines starts tonight’s opener; he is a rated prospect who is better than his numbers: 1-1, 5.50 ERA. Wednesday starter Jared Shuster, Atlanta’s No. 10 prospect, has been outstanding: 2-2, 1.88, 28 strikeouts, five walks in 24 innings. But none of the other scheduled starters in the series has an ERA under 5.17. Closer Justin Maese is 3-for-3 in saves but has an ugly 7.27 ERA. Middle reliever Hayden Deal has a 1.06 and has been a key bullpen piece. The M-Braves have some hitters. Top prospect Michael Harris II has been as good as advertised: .333, four homers, 19 RBIs, 16 runs. Drew Lugbauer has slugged seven homers with 15 RBIs and 18 runs. Riley Delgado (.333), Luke Waddell (.296) and C.J. Alexander (.293) also have swung it well. … The World Series trophy won by the parent Braves last fall will make an appearance at the ballpark on Friday night. P.S. Anthony Alford, the ex-Petal High star, has signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and will report to Triple-A Columbus. Alford, previously with Pittsburgh, recently became a free agent (see previous posts).
The Milwaukee Brewers were looking for thump in the middle of the lineup when they pulled a surprise trade for Hunter Renfroe last fall. The Crystal Springs native, after a slow start this season, appears to have found his home run stroke. Renfroe mashed his third homer in two games on Saturday, helping the streaking Brewers pound the Chicago Cubs 9-1. The Brewers are 13-7 with five straight wins. Renfroe is batting .310 with four homers in his last seven games. He has five homers and 10 RBIs on the year, and his 3-for-5 effort Saturday boosted his average to .253. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe crushed 31 homers for Boston in 2021, but the Red Sox dealt him to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects after the season. Renfroe, also an outstanding right fielder, made mlb.com’s All-Underrated Team before this season. He hasn’t made an All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove. He’s due for a breakthrough there. With 133 career homers since 2016, Renfroe is closing in on the top 10 all-time among Mississippi natives. Matt Lawton is No. 11 with 138. Charlie Hayes ranks 10th with 144. P.S. Atlanta fans surely cringe when they see what Shea Langeliers is doing in Triple-A for Oakland. The young catcher has hit five homers in his last six games and has nine on the year to go with a .301 average at Las Vegas. After blasting 22 bombs for the Double-A South champion Mississippi Braves last year, Langeliers was one of the four prospects the Braves sent to the A’s for Matt Olson.
There were times a few years back when Travis Demeritte looked like a budding star in the Atlanta system. Those who follow the Mississippi Braves would remember. With the Double-A M-Braves in 2017 and ’18, Demeritte belted 32 home runs, stole 11 bases and made a Southern League All-Star Game appearance. He was versatile enough to play second base, third and the outfield. But he was prone to slumps, struck out a lot and batted just .227 over those two seasons. In 2019, three years after he was acquired in a minor league trade with Texas, Demeritte was traded away to Detroit. In February of 2021, the Braves got him back as a waiver claim. On Tuesday night, in his third game for Atlanta, he finally took a star turn for the Braves. Demeritte homered — his first in the big leagues in three years — and made a great catch in right field, sliding into foul territory, as the Braves beat the visiting Chicago Cubs 3-1. Demeritte didn’t hit much in his 66 games with the Tigers in 2019 and ’20 but batted .282 with 21 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett last year and was swinging it well when Atlanta called him up last week. Once Ronald Acuna returns to the Braves’ active roster, Demeritte’s opportunities likely will diminish. But the former first-round pick — 30th overall by Texas out of Winder-Barrow High in Georgia in 2013 — showed what he is capable of on Tuesday night. It was good to see. P.S. For the current M-Braves, Drew Lugbauer hit his fifth homer — second-most in the SL — and Michael Harris II extended his on-base streak to 16 games (out of 16) in a 6-3 win at Montgomery.
For Michael Harris II, it was a minor milestone along what’s expected to be his route to the major leagues. For at least some of the smallish crowd at Trustmark Park on this lazy Sunday afternoon, it was one for the memory banks. Harris, Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect, hit his first Double-A home run on Sunday, a towering, pull-side shot that landed in the Farm Bureau Grill behind the right-field wall. Over the 17 years the Mississippi Braves have played in Pearl, fans have been treated to memorable moments from a long list of touted hitting prospects who made The Show: Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis, Austin Riley and Ronald Acuna, to name a few. Now there is Harris. The 21-year-old outfielder is batting .317 with 13 RBIs, eight runs and six stolen bases, one of the few bright spots for a scuffling (4-11) M-Braves club. Braves fans be advised: Get out to the TeePee to see him soon. He might not be there very long. P.S. In other long-ball news: Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, hit his second homer since becoming a dad in Atlanta’s loss to Miami on Sunday, and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson hit his 14th career leadoff bomb for the Chicago White Sox in a loss to Minnesota. … Former Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty made his big league debut Sunday for Cleveland, giving up two homers and four runs all told in relief in a loss to the New York Yankees. McCarty, a Hattiesburg native, becomes the 19th USM product to play in the majors. … Ex-George County High standout Justin Steele also had a tough day on the bump, yielding four hits, four walks and three runs in three innings in the Chicago Cubs’ loss to Pittsburgh. Steele is 1-2, 5.40 in three starts. … Faring even worse on Sunday was Ole Miss alum Chris Ellis, who faced five batters, retired none and left with shoulder discomfort in Baltimore’s loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Charged with five runs, Ellis saw his ERA climb to 10.38 in two appearances.
On a night when Houlka native Tyreque Reed decked an opposing pitcher and sparked an ugly, benches-clearing brawl in a Double-A game, there were more than a few uplifting developments Thursday involving Mississippi-connected players. To wit: At Trustmark Park in Pearl, Atlanta prospect Darius Vines went 6 1/3 innings to post his first win of the young season as the Mississippi Braves beat Chattanooga 4-3. Vines, the Braves’ No. 14 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), has a 2.51 ERA in three starts in his first Double-A campaign. In that game, ex-Southern Miss star Chuckie Robinson, the Lookouts’ catcher, went 1-for-4 with a run and Gulfport native Jacques Pucheu worked two scoreless innings for the visitors. … Former M-Braves standout Cristian Pache, shipped to Oakland in the Matt Olson trade, hit his second homer of the season for the A’s. … Shea Langeliers, another M-Braves product also moved to Oakland in the Olson deal, belted his fourth homer for Triple-A Las Vegas. The highly regarded catcher is batting .341. … Petal High alumnus Anthony Alford, on a rehab assignment for Pittsburgh, homered for the second straight game at Triple-A Indianapolis. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Justin Foscue hit his first homer of the year — a grand slam — for Double-A Frisco in the Texas system. … Meridian native LeDarious Clark hit an opening day bomb for Lancaster in the independent Atlantic League. … MSU product Nathaniel Lowe went 3-for-4, boosting his average to .396, and helped Texas rally to beat Seattle in MLB. … And last but certainly not least, Ole Miss’ Dylan DeLucia tossed a five-hit, eight-strikeout complete game to beat Mississippi State 4-2 in the series opener in Oxford. For State, Kellum Clark homered on his 21st birthday. P.S. Reed, playing for Portland in the Boston system, will surely get a suspension for his actions in the brawl. The fifth-year pro, originally drafted by Texas out of Itawamba Community College, is 3-for-11 this season and carries a .278 average with 58 homers for his minor league career.
One month from today, the Mississippi Braves, defending champions in the Double-A South, will take the field for the 2022 season opener against visiting Montgomery. The centerpiece of the team is expected to be the center fielder, Michael Harris II, Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect per Baseball America. Braves instructor Greg Walker called Harris “a special talent” in an mlb.com story posted Monday, and 2021 M-Braves catcher Shea Langeliers labeled Harris “an unreal athlete” in the same piece. Harris, 6 feet, 195 pounds, hit .294 with seven home runs and 27 steals at High-A Rome last season. A lefty hitter and thrower, he also won a Gold Glove. He was a two-way prospect at Stockbridge (Ga.) High, but the Braves drafted him as a hitter in the third round in 2019, and he has not disappointed. Pearl has likely seen the last of Langeliers, the Braves’ ’21 minor league player of the year, but several other M-Braves who were on the field for the title-clinching victory last September could be back. Among them: sluggers Drew Lugbauer, Greyson Jenista and C.J. Alexander and speedsters Justin Dean and Trey Harris. Other highly rated prospects who could move up from A-ball include outfielder Jesse Franklin V, a former Michigan star who hit .244 with 21 homers, 61 RBIs and 19 bags at Rome, and 6-3 shortstop Vaughn Grissom, who batted .319 with seven homers and 16 steals in A-ball. He played most of the season at Low-A Augusta. The top-rated pitching prospect who might make it to Pearl is Ryan Cusick, a 6-6, 235 right-hander drafted in the first round last summer out of Wake Forest. Pegged as the Braves’ No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, he pitched in six games at Augusta and struck out more than two batters an inning. Joey Estes, the No. 14 prospect, went 3-6 with a 2.91 ERA at Augusta. … April 8 will be here soon. Regardless of what happens with MLB, the M-Braves and Biscuits will hook up at Trustmark Park. Something to look forward to.
The Mississippi Braves will defend their Double-A South championship with a new manager this season. Atlanta announced today that Bruce Crabbe, a longtime manager and coach in the Boston system, will take the reins in Pearl. Dan Meyer, who replaced Wyatt Toregas in midseason in 2021 and was named the league’s manager of the year, took a job as a pitching coach in another organization. Bo Henning is the M-Braves’ new pitching coach and Mike Bard the hitting coach. Angel Flores also was named to the staff. Crabbe will be the 10th manager of the M-Braves, who have played at Trustmark Park since 2005. The team has won two pennants, the other coming in 2008 under Phillip Wellman. The 2022 season starts April 8. … Mike Guerrero returns for a sixth season as skipper of the Biloxi Shuckers, who also play in the Double-A South’s South Division.
Former Southern Miss standout and onetime big leaguer Cody Carroll signed a minor league contract with San Francisco on Thursday, which means the 29-year-old right-hander knows what he’ll be doing later this month. Reporting to the Giants’ minor league spring training camp in Arizona. While major league players — 40-man roster members — remain in limbo during the lockout that threatens to stall the opening of big league camps and possibly even the 2022 season, it’ll be business as usual for minor leaguers, a small chunk of good news for baseball fans. There will be minor league exhibition games in March and regular season games in April. (The Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers both open on April 8.) There are 24 Mississippians on MLB 40-man rosters, including three who made the list for the first time this off-season: Ryan Rolison, Konnor Pilkington and James McArthur. The shutdown, if it drags on, is most unfortunate for them, as well as free agents seeking major league jobs such as Corey Dickerson and Mitch Moreland. Minor league deals might be the way to go for some free agents. Erstwhile big leaguers JaCoby Jones (signed with Kansas City) and Jonathan Holder (Chicago Cubs) have, like Carroll, gone that route. Others such as Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson and Chris Ellis might follow suit, especially if Saturday’s negotiations don’t produce anything substantive. P.S. The Atlanta Braves’ World Champions Trophy Tour will hit Trustmark Park in Pearl on May 6; the M-Braves play that night. The tour will visit Dudy Noble Field in Starkville on May 7.