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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let the record show, the first home run by a Mississippian in this long-delayed major league season was struck Saturday by Mitch Moreland, the Amory native and ex-Mississippi State standout who went yard for Boston. His 167th career bomb was a wall-scraper to right field at Fenway Park, and it came in a 7-2 loss to Baltimore. Moreland did not play in the Red Sox’s opener, a 13-2 win on Friday. Let the record also show that the first game-winning homer by a Mississippian in 2020 also was struck on Saturday. Richton High product JaCoby Jones blasted a 400-footer in the top of the ninth inning at the Great American Ball Park, giving Detroit its margin of victory in a 6-4 takedown of Cincinnati. The backstory is a good one: Jones had been directed to bunt a runner over from first but fouled off two attempts. So, swinging away with a 2-2 count, he hit his 25th career homer, beating Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. “Screw bunting,” Jones reportedly, jokingly, told Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire after he reached the dugout. “Let me hit.” … Former Mississippi Braves star Phil Gosselin went deep twice for Philadelphia on Saturday and is currently tied for the MLB lead. But Gosselin wasn’t the first former M-Brave to homer in 2020. Rio Ruiz hit one out Friday for the Orioles.
Given a new lease on his baseball life by Boston in the off-season, former Mississippi Braves star Jose Peraza showed his gratitude with a smashing debut on Friday night. Peraza, starting at second base, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs in the Red Sox’s 13-2 season-opening rout of Baltimore at Fenway Park. Cincinnati gave up on Peraza after the 2019 season — he was not offered a contract after a .239 campaign — and the Red Sox, looking for a replacement for Dustin Pedroia, signed the five-year veteran. M-Braves fans might recall that Peraza arrived in Pearl in mid-2014 as a hot-shot prospect who would play in the Futures Game that summer. Atlanta sent him, along with Alex Wood and Luis Avilan, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 in the infamous Hector Olivera trade. Peraza was traded again in 2016 to Cincinnati, where he had some good moments before slumping last season. A career .275 hitter with 77 steals, he looks like a good fit in Boston. P.S. William Contreras, a 2019 M-Braves catcher, made his MLB debut with Atlanta on Friday. At least 150 players have now advanced from Double-A Mississippi to The Show since Brian McCann first made the trip in 2005.
For the first time in 19 years – and just the second time over a 44-year span — there will be no minor league baseball played in central Mississippi. The minor league season was officially cancelled on Tuesday, meaning no games at Trustmark Park in Pearl, or MGM Stadium in Biloxi, where the Double-A Braves and Shuckers reside. We have to go back to 2001 to find a year here without pro ball. (And, no, semi-pro ball doesn’t count.) When Jackson’s Texas League franchise left Smith-Wills Stadium in 1999 after a 25-year run, the independent Jackson DiamondKats moved in for the 2000 season. The club folded after its first year. Smith-Wills hosted a college summer league in 2001 but no pro ball. The independent Senators arrived in 2002 and played through 2005, when Trustmark Park opened and the Southern League M-Braves began play. … Though no players will suit up as M-Braves this year, there are 13 players from the 2019 Mississippi club on Atlanta’s 60-man roster for summer camp, which starts today at Truist Park (nee Sun Trust Park). Among that group is Braden Shewmake, Atlanta’s No. 7 prospect and the M-Braves’ shortstop at the end of last season. Shortstop at the TeePee is practically a portal to the big leagues. From Luis Hernandez, the M-Braves’ opening day shortstop in 2005, to Dylan Moore, who held the job most of 2017, there have been 13 M-Braves shortstops who have made it to the majors. The list includes Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Andrelton Simmons, Yunel Escobar, Brent Lillibridge and Brandon Hicks. Though he isn’t expected to make Atlanta’s active roster this season, Shewmake figures to join that group someday soon. A 2019 first-round pick out of Texas A&M, the 6-foot-4, lefty-hitting Shewmake got 14 games worth of experience with the M-Braves last summer. He didn’t hit much in his Double-A debut, but his resume suggests he’ll adapt. He hit .318 at low Class A Rome before skipping a level to join the M-Braves. In his three years at Texas A&M, in the fiercely competitive SEC, Shewmake batted .322 with 22 homers and 39 doubles in 187 games. He was the SEC’s freshman of the year in 2017 after batting .328 with 11 homers for a College World Series club. Shewmake was an athlete for all seasons in high school in Wylie, Texas, competing in football, soccer, basketball and track when not on the diamond. Apparently, his best sport was never in doubt. “I always loved baseball, and every kid’s dream is to be a professional baseball player,” he told milb.com last summer. Presuming there is a 2021 season in Pearl, we might be fortunate enough to see Shewmake out there again at shortstop before he follows the well-worn path to The Show.
Some locally familiar names popped up in an mlb.com article entitled “Rookie greats who never reached that level again.” Every Mississippi Braves fan knows the tale of Jeff Francoeur. Old Jackson Generals fans surely recall Mitch Meluskey, and Ole Miss faithful no doubt remember Chris Coghlan. Coghlan was an All-SEC outfielder in Oxford and a .339 career hitter who was drafted 36th overall by the Florida Marlins in 2006. Three years later, he won National League rookie of the year honors. Hampered by injuries, he played eight more years in the big leagues – winning a ring with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 – but never really captured his ROY magic again. Meluskey was a switch-hitting catcher who showed great promise during his time at Smith-Wills Stadium. He was on the 1996 Texas League pennant-winning team and batted .340 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs for the Double-A Gens the next year. He stuck with Houston as a semi-regular in 2000 and hit .300 with 14 homers. But, the mlb.com story notes, Meluskey didn’t fit in well with the Astros and was traded after that season, got hurt and rather quickly faded away. Francoeur arrived in Mississippi in 2005 as a highly rated prospect, heated up after a sluggish start at Trustmark Park and was promoted to Atlanta in July of that year. His sensational start in the ATL landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Natural” and generated all manner of over-the-top hype. Though Francoeur never quite achieved the “greatness” many predicted, he did have a solid career: .261, 160 homers and 698 RBIs over 12 seasons.