26 Sep

thrill ride

Corey Dickerson has had a down year by his standards, but the Miami Marlins have had an unexpectedly good year — and as a result, the McComb native is going to the postseason for the first time in his eight-year MLB career. Miami, pegged for a last-place finish in the National League East, clinched second place in the division with a 4-3 win against the New York Yankees on Friday night. Dickerson, who signed with the Marlins as a free agent in the off-season, is batting .259 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 51 games. He hit .304 in 2019, playing with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and is a .284 career hitter with 122 homers. The former Meridian Community College star, 31, was a veteran presence for a Marlins team that was hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak at the start of this truncated season. … Elsewhere on an eventful Friday night: Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman may have had his MVP moment when he launched an 11th-inning walk-off homer for Atlanta, which clinched the No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs. Freeman’s blast upstaged Ronald Acuna’s. The M-Braves alum hit a 495-foot homer, the longest in MLB this season, to lead off the Braves’ first inning. It was Acuna’s 19th career leadoff bomb in three seasons. … Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Trent Grisham hit a seventh-inning walk-off home run, giving San Diego a win against San Francisco in the second game of a twinbill. It was Grisham’s 10th homer and it saved Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz from taking a loss. Pomeranz gave up a three-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Padres behind. Those were the first runs allowed all season by the big left-hander in 20 appearances. The playoff-bound Padres have clinched the No. 4 seed in the NL. P.S. There’s much more at stake tonight in the NL, and no game is more significant than Milwaukee-St. Louis. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers’ No. 1, faces St. Louis’ longtime ace, Adam Wainwright. Both teams are still grappling for a playoff berth. Woodruff is 2-5 with a 3.43 ERA, Wainwright 5-2, 3.05. Woodruff, who went 11-3, 3.62 and made the All-Star Game in 2019, has not had the type of season that was expected of him. He’s 0-2 in four September starts. Win today, and that’ll be forgotten. Several Cardinals have had success against Woodruff in limited at-bats. Paul DeJong is 3-for-9 with a homer, Brad Miller 2-for-6 with a homer and Paul Goldschmidt 3-for-12. Tyler O’Neill also has taken Woodruff deep.

23 Sep

more clinchers

Two more Mississippians had their postseason tickets punched on Tuesday: Austin Riley is in with Atlanta and Billy Hamilton (presumably) with the Chicago Cubs. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Riley did not make the Braves’ postseason roster in 2019 following his rookie year. He hit 18 homers last season but, after a hot start, slumped down the stretch. He has made strides in 2020, batting .239 with eight bombs in 50 games while striking out less and walking more. His defense at third base has been excellent. (In addition to Riley, seven other Mississippi Braves alumni played in Atlanta’s division-clinching win against Miami, its third straight title under former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker.) Taylorsville High product Hamilton was with the Braves in 2019 and got his first taste of the postseason, though he appeared in just two games in the division series loss. He’s not a lock to make the Cubs’ roster, but his speed can be a valuable asset in the outfield and as a pinch runner. He has appeared in nine games for Chicago and is 0-for-1 in steal attempts. … Regardless of whether St. Louis makes the playoffs, former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson won’t be on the postseason roster. The right-hander was moved from the 10-day to the 45-day injured list on Tuesday with a strained elbow suffered last week. He was 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA.

04 Sep

clearing the bases

Brent Rooker, the former SEC Triple Crown winner from Mississippi State, got some dents in his fender today in his first MLB game. He became the first Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in the big leagues in 2020 when he started in left field for Minnesota against Detroit in Game 1 of a twinbill at Target Field. In his first career at-bat, vs. lefty Matthew Boyd, Rooker was hit by a pitch on a 1-2 count. He then collided with the Tigers shortstop on a force play. In his second AB, he lined out, after which he was replaced in the field. He was back in the lineup, batting cleanup, for Game 2 and got his first hit and RBI. Rooker, an outfielder/first baseman, was a first-round pick by the Twins in 2017. He has batted .267 with 54 homers and 178 RBIs in 259 minor league games, reaching the Triple-A level last summer. He was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. … Seven players with Mississippi ties are among the 30 nominees, one from each team, for the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “an annual recognition of the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” The honored players include Mississippi State product and Amory native Mitch Moreland (now with San Diego, nominated by Boston); Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz (San Diego); ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox); Mississippi Braves alumni Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta) and Jason Heyward (Cubs); and Biloxi Shuckers alum Brent Suter (Milwaukee). … Former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader is Milwaukee’s bullpen ace, the hard-throwing lefty with the scraggly mane. Everyone knows this. The Brewers’ secret bullpen weapon is Devin Williams, another Shuckers alum who has been lights-out in 2020, his second MLB season. He has a better ERA than Hader, more strikeouts per inning and fewer walks. One analyst has called Williams “the most dominant reliever in baseball.” Featuring a great changeup, he has a 0.60 ERA and 31 punchouts and six walks in 15 innings. The right-hander, 25, pitched for Biloxi in 2019, posting a 7-2 record, four saves and a 2.36 ERA in the Double-A Southern League. He struck out 76 in 53 1/3 innings. He was also an All-Star Futures Game participant last summer before getting his first call-up in August. … Whatever happened to: Ernesto Mejia, who had a monster season with the Mississippi Braves back in 2011, is still swinging it for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese Pacific League. The 34-year-old Venezuela native hit a walk-off home run earlier this week and has seven bombs in 24 games. He has hit 340 homers in pro ball. Mejia had one of the best seasons ever by an M-Brave, batting .297 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs for the 2011 club. He reached Triple-A but never got to The Show. He has been in Japan since 2014.

28 Aug

circle in pencil

Can’t really ID the proverbial “defining moment” until a season is over, but Atlanta might have experienced that event on Wednesday. The New York Yankees led all of baseball in OPS (on base-plus-slugging) and were among the best with 5.4 runs per game heading into the doubleheader at Truist Park. Ian Anderson and Max Fried, a couple of recent Mississippi Braves standouts, held the Yanks to six hits and two runs over 12 combined innings as the Braves won 5-1 and 2-1. Former M-Braves Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman hit big home runs as the Braves scored the sweep in games started by New York aces Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka. This day belonged to the Braves’ young guns, Anderson and Fried. Anderson, a strapping, 6-foot-3 right-hander making his MLB debut, started with five no-hit innings before Luke Voit took him deep in the sixth. Anderson walked two and fanned six. It was precisely the kind of step-up effort the Braves needed from one of their touted but untested young guns. In Game 2, left-hander Fried, an emerging ace at age 26, yielded four hits – only one extra-base knock – walked one and struck out five. He is 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA. Atlanta reached the midpoint of its season with an 18-12 mark, good for first place in the National League East. More work — more solid pitching — must be done, but there may come a day in October when the Braves will look back at Aug. 26 as their defining moment.

21 Aug

watch for it

The anticipation of Cristian Pache’s big league debut may not rise to the level of some others in recent Atlanta Braves history, but it is certainly worthy of some hype. As Mississippi Braves fans know, Pache has game. He arrived in Pearl late in 2018 and hit .260 in 29 games. He was back to start 2019 and batted .278 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs in 104 games before moving to Triple-A. Of course, his bat takes a back seat to his glove. MLB Pipeline rated Pache, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound center fielder, the top defensive prospect in the minors the last two years: “Not only does his speed allow him to chase down balls, he has incredible instincts, reads and routes.” He is a consensus top 20 prospect overall. “I just like to think of myself as a fun ballplayer who works really hard and gives maximum effort out there,” Pache told mlb.com through an interpreter. His originally scheduled debut Wednesday was rained out. The Braves were off Thursday and host Philadelphia tonight. It was with great fanfare, here and in the ATL, that Brian McCann made his big league debut 15 years ago, becoming the first M-Braves alumnus to make it. “B-Mac” went 2-for-3 with an RBI against Oakland on June 10, 2005. Since then, M-Braves fans have excitedly watched the debuts of Jeff Francoeur (1-for-4 with a homer in 2005); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0-for-2 in 2007); Jordan Schafer (2-for-3 with a homer in his first AB in 2009); Tommy Hanson (6 innings, 6 runs allowed in 2009); Jason Heyward (2-for-5 with a homer in his first AB in 2010); Freddie Freeman (0-for-3 in 2010); Julio Teheran (4 2/3 innings, 3 runs in 2011); Evan Gattis (1-for-4 with a homer in 2013); Dansby Swanson (2-for-4 in 2016); Ozzie Albies (0-for-2 in 2017); Ronald Acuna (1-for-5 in 2018); and Austin Riley (1-for-3 with a homer in 2019). And now, Pache’s big day is here.

14 Aug

late bloomer

There’s a sizable list of former Mississippi Braves players who, for whatever reason, moved on to other organizations and enjoyed success. Among a group that includes current big leaguers Charlie Morton, Jose Martinez, Mallex Smith, Chasen Shreve, Tommy LaStella, Rio Ruiz, Willians Astudillo and Jose Peraza, none has been a bigger surprise than Dylan Moore. Moore, who debuted with Seattle last year and hit .206, has become one of the club’s key players this season. He is batting .294 with four homers, nine RBIs and four steals while playing five different positions. “He is an absolute stud,” teammate Kyle Seager told mlb.com. “He is a ballplayer. There is no doubt about it.” Call him a late bloomer. Moore is 28 and in his fourth organization since Texas drafted him out of Central Florida five years ago. Atlanta got him in a trade in 2016, and he was the M-Braves’ regular shortstop in 2017. He didn’t really distinguish himself, batting .207, slugging .292 and fielding at a .974 clip with 13 errors. The Braves released him in 2018 and he caught on with Milwaukee, playing briefly with Biloxi before being cut loose at the end of that year. Seattle picked him up and he made the Mariners’ roster out of spring training in 2019. In July of last year, Moore garnered attention when he infamously committed run-scoring errors on three consecutive plays. Well, forget that. He’s getting attention for very different reasons now.

07 Aug

fun with figures

JaCoby Jones, who has not played a game since Sunday, was tied for the major league lead in OPS – that abstruse stat everyone seems so in love with these days – with a 1.212 entering Friday’s action. The former Mr. Baseball from Richton High had a .419 on-base percentage and a .793 slugging percentage for a Detroit club that, because of COVID-19 issues, had been idle for four days before taking on Pittsburgh Friday night. Jones, in his fifth MLB season, is a career .216 hitter (.663 career OPS) but made some swing adjustments in 2019 that seem to be paying dividends. He is batting .379 with three homers and seven RBIs. … Lance Lynn, the ex-Ole Miss star, was leading MLB in ERA with a 0.49 through 18 1/3 innings over three starts for Texas. He is 1-0 for a 3-8 team. His next start is slated for Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels. … Jarrod Dyson, the McComb native and Southwest Mississippi Community College product, has the green light to steal whenever he’s on base for Pittsburgh. Problem is, the 35-year-old Dyson hasn’t been on much. He is 2-for-26 (.077). But he showed what he can do with his wheels on Thursday, drawing a walk, stealing second and third base and scoring – his first run of 2020 — on a ground out. Said Pirates manager Derek Shelton: “I tell him all the time he’s one of the oldest guys in baseball, and one of the things about it is his speed has not deteriorated. We knew that coming in.” … What in the world is wrong with Craig Kimbrel? The ex-Mississippi Braves standout has allowed seven runs on six hits (two homers), five walks and an HBP in 2 2/3 innings over four games for the Chicago Cubs. He has two strikeouts. He recorded 346 saves and a 2.15 ERA over his first 10 MLB years. … On this date in 1978, Columbus native Red Barber and Mel Allen become the first recipients of the Ford C. Frick Broadcasting Award. They were selected by the National Baseball Hall of Fame voters to receive the honor recognizing excellence among broadcasters. P.S. The Hattiesburg Black Sox semi-pro team bowed out of the National Baseball Congress World Series on Thursday night with a 5-4 loss to the Hutchinson Monarchs. Hinds CC alum Pablo Lanzarote homered for the third straight game, and Jackson State’s Jaylyn Williams had three hits and an RBI. Former Delta State star Tre Hobbs started and took the loss for the Sox, who trailed 5-0 after five innings. Williams and J.T. Hall, the 36-year-old Southwest Mississippi CC alum and ex-minor leaguer, both hit .385 over the club’s three games in Kansas.

06 Aug

cuts like a knife

Former George County High standout Justin Steele’s major league debut will have to wait. Added to the Chicago Cubs’ 30-man active roster on Sunday, the left-hander – drafted in 2014 — was sent back to the alternate camp today, when rosters were cut to 28. Also shipped out was Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack, who had not allowed an earned run in three relief appearances for Toronto. Former Ole Miss star Bobby Wahl and Southern Miss alumnus Cody Carroll had previously been sent out by Milwaukee and Baltimore, respectively. Also missing from Opening Day rosters: East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, the 2019 American League batting champ, is on the injured list (groin injury) for the Chicago White Sox, where he was joined this week by Mississippi State alum Kendall Graveman (neck), who scuffled in his first two starts for Seattle this season as he returns from 2018 Tommy John surgery. In other news: Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his New York Mets debut on Wednesday, going 0-for-4 as the center fielder. … Former Mississippi Braves catcher Joe Odom made his big league debut for Seattle on July 28, then went back to the alternate camp on Aug. 2. … Southern Miss’ Chandler Best finished 2-2 with a 1.99 ERA for the Acadiana Cane Cutters, a Texas Collegiate League team that featured several Mississippi connections. A rising sophomore left-hander, Best ranked second in the college summer league with 33 strikeouts. Fellow USM pitcher Mathew Adams had a 5.78 ERA in 12 appearances; Ole Miss’ Drew McDaniel a 7.36 in five games; and Belhaven’s Reed Vincent a 4.62 in eight games. Trace Henry, a former Jones Junior College star from Mooreville, was one of the league’s top hitters at .341. USM’s Billy Garrity hit .213 in limited at-bats. … Ole Miss’ Gunnar Hoglund, a right-hander with mid-90s stuff, is rated the No. 14 draft prospect for 2021 by MLB Pipeline. He was a first-round supplemental pick out of a Florida high school in 2018. … The Hattiesburg Black Sox rebounded from a tough loss to win their second game in the National Baseball Congress World Series, the double-elimination event in Kansas. The Black Sox, the state’s semi-pro champs, play the Hutchinson Monarchs tonight. Pablo Lanzarote, a former Hinds Community College star, homered for the second straight game to help the Black Sox beat the Denver Cougars 9-4. Marcus Ragan, an East Mississippi CC alum, and Jamal Washington drove in two runs each for Hattiesburg, and Austin Sanders, another Hinds CC product, picked up the win.

05 Aug

all the young dudes

Mike Soroka is done for the year, and the loss of their ace is another blow to the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitching. Cole Hamels is down, Felix Hernandez is out and Mike Foltynewicz is dazed and confused in the Gwinnett camp. But it’s not necessarily panic time. It’s more like step-up time. The Braves have spent several years acquiring and grooming young arms. Let the kids pitch. Their prospect charts are filled with them, five ranking in the current top 10, per MLB Pipeline. Mississippi Braves fans have seen their work. Soroka came through Trustmark Park in 2017 and was outstanding. Max Fried (2017-18) and Sean Newcomb (2016) flashed their potential in Pearl, as well, and have had success on the big stage. Fried looks capable of being a No. 1. Newcomb had that look, too, as a starter in 2018. It’s time for some others to get their shot, meet the moment and pump up the Atlanta rotation, which appears to be the club’s only possible weak link. Touki Toussaint, the presumptive No. 3 starter now, was frequently dominant in his two stints (2017-18) with the M-Braves. No reason he can’t recapture that stuff. Kyle Wright, who filled the fifth starter spot last week, is the team’s No. 4 prospect, and he looked the part in Pearl in 2018. There is also Bryse Wilson, the No. 6 prospect and a 2018 M-Braves standout, and lefty Tucker Davidson, the No. 10 prospect who posted a 2.03 ERA for the Double-A club in 2019. Kyle Muller, another lefty and the No. 8 prospect, put up a 3.14 ERA for the M-Braves last season. And then there’s Ian Anderson, the much-ballyhooed No. 3 prospect who went 7-5, 2.68 in Pearl last summer. Anderson and Muller aren’t on the 40-man roster but are in the alternate camp in Gwinnett. Surely there are some breakout warriors among that group of young dudes.

27 Jul

very streaky

On this date in 2008, in the midst of a memorable season for the Mississippi Braves, Matt Young set a remarkable and yet somewhat unappreciated Southern League record. The 2008 season is still the M-Braves’ lone championship year. It was also the year of Jordan Schafer’s suspension before the home opener, the team’s 6-20 April, Tommy Hanson’s no-hitter, Jeff Francoeur’s three-game return to Double-A, Tom Glavine’s rehab appearance, the “I Smell Blood” T-shirts and the dramatic run to the pennant, capped by a wild walk-off in the 10th inning of the decisive fifth game. Considering all that, it’s easy to overlook Young’s record-setting performance. Playing against Chattanooga at Trustmark Park on July 27, Young got hits in his first four at-bats, giving him hits in 11 consecutive ABs over four games. The previous SL mark was 10, and it had stood for some 30 years. Hits in 11 straight games is a nice feat. Hits in 11 straight at-bats is something else indeed. The MLB record is 12, and it was last achieved in 1952. (Young also reached base in 16 straight plate appearances from July 24-27, 2008, another league record.) The 5-foot-8 Young, who played parts of four years in Pearl, batted .289 and stole 30 bases for the ’08 M-Braves and was named the team’s player of the year. He reached the big leagues with Atlanta in 2011 but spent only a brief time in The Show and didn’t make much of an impression there. He left his mark at Trustmark Park and in the Southern League record book.