04 May

baseball is back

There will be nights, Mississippi Braves manager Wyatt Toregas says, when his team will look like a major league club. They’ve got those skills. There will also be nights, he cautions, when their youth and inexperience will show. It is Double-A, after all.
Above and beyond any of that, however, is the simple fact that there will be pro baseball at Trustmark Park again. Real games. For the first time in more than 600 days.
The M-Braves open the much-anticipated 2021 season – the club’s 16th in Pearl — tonight against Pensacola, the first game of a six-game Double-A South series that runs through Sunday.
There are a lot of new off-field rules and regulations in place due to COVID-19 protocols, but the game on the field hasn’t changed. “The guys are excited to get the season started,” said Toregas, new to the Atlanta organization this season. “It’s time to play ball again.”
The roster features several of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, including catcher Shea Langeliers (No. 3 by MLB Pipeline) and shortstop Braden Shewmake (No. 4). Both are 2019 first-round picks out of major college programs who appear to be on a fast track to the big leagues.
The team also includes outfielder Trey Harris (No. 14), pitcher Victor Vodnik (No. 15), first baseman/outfielder Greyson Jenista (No. 19), third baseman C.J. Alexander (No. 20) and outfielder Justin Dean (No. 26). Shewmake, Harris, Alexander and Jenista all spent time with the M-Braves in 2019, when minor league teams last played.
“We’re strong in a lot of different areas,” Toregas said.
Despite the compressed spring training for minor leaguers, Toregas, a former major league catcher who managed in the Pittsburgh system for five years, said he felt quickly accepted into the Braves fold by the players, whom he called “a lively group.” He said he also had enough time with the players to get to know them and get a feel for their skills. “They’re very coachable,” he said. “As skilled as these guys are, they’re very open to advice.”
The centerpiece of the team is Langeliers. The former Baylor star, the ninth overall pick two years ago, played in A-ball in 2019 (.255 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 54 games), went to Atlanta’s alternate camp last summer and was a non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring. He is said to have the best throwing arm in the Braves’ system.
“Man, he’s got some skills,” Toregas said. “It’s an honor for me … I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s got a chance to be really good for a really long time. … He can really throw. He’s got some pop in his bat, and he’s a leader. The guys gravitate to him.”
Langeliers said his main goals this season include gaining experience with the one knee-down catching style as well as learning more about calling a game. “I have some high expectations,” he said. “I expect myself to be successful. But it’s a long season, and it can be a grind. In pro ball, it’s a big difference playing every night.”
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Shewmake, a former Texas A&M standout drafted 21st overall in 2019, hit .300 with three homers, 40 RBIs and 13 steals at two levels in 2019, finishing that season in Pearl.
“You can definitely tell why they took him so high in the draft,” Toregas said. “He’s got speed, the ability to hit. He’s a lefty bat in the infield. Plays solid defense, and he’s a bright kid. His skills can take him a long way.”
Harris is another player to watch. A former 32nd-round pick from Missouri, he is a .317 career hitter in the minors and was the Atlanta organization’s minor league player of the year in 2019, when he moved through three levels.
Left-hander Hayden Deal is the scheduled starter tonight, getting the nod over the more highly touted Vodnik and Nolan Kingham, an M-Brave in 2019. Deal was 5-10 with a 3.24 ERA at Class A Florida in 2019 and is 17-13, 2.87 for his minor league career. The Braves signed him as a free agent out of Presbyterian College in North Carolina in 2017.
“I wasn’t expecting to start opening day,” he said, “but it’s a huge honor. I’m super excited about that. I’m ready to see what this year holds.”
“I think everybody’s ready to get out there and compete again,” Toregas said. “I’m looking forward to that. … I’m looking forward to one-run games in the ninth inning, when everybody gets nervous and every play means a little more. It’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s time to get back to it.”
Pensacola is a Miami Marlins affiliate. The Blue Wahoos’ roster includes former Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes as well as right-hander Max Meyer, the third overall selection in the 2020 draft. He enters the season as the No 3 prospect in the Marlins’ system and No. 28 overall, per MLB Pipeline.
In the new-look minors, the Double-A South includes eight teams. Mississippi is in the South Division with Pensacola, the Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers) and Montgomery Biscuits (Rays). The North Division includes the Birmingham Barons (White Sox), Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds), Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels) and Tennessee Smokies (Cubs).
Former Mississippi State star Ethan Small, the Brewers’ first-round pick in 2019, is on the Biloxi roster. Lefty Small is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Milwaukee system by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.

22 Apr

feeling a draft

Ole Miss right-hander Gunnar Hoglund is the top-rated draft prospect in the state, per MLB Pipeline’s new Top 150 announced Wednesday. Hoglund, 3-2 with a 2.73 ERA, is No. 10. He pitched well but took the loss in the Rebels’ 5-2 defeat against Mississippi State in Starkville last Friday. Hoglund was opposed as the starter by Bulldogs left-hander Christian MacLeod (3-2, 2.83), MLB Pipeline’s No. 66 prospect who also pitched well but got no decision. UM lefty Doug Nikhazy (4-1, 1.86), who threw the brilliant one-hitter at State on Saturday, is No. 100 in the new draft list. Will Bednar (2-1, 3.55), who took the loss for the Bulldogs in that game, is No. 34 on the list. (That’s the kind of power-packed series it was last weekend.) The only other Mississippi product on the list is Madison Central High senior Braden Montgomery, who sits at No. 54. The switch-hitting outfielder (.469, three homers) and righty pitcher (6-0, 0.22) is committed to Stanford. The draft is in July. The ratings will change before then. “This is a really tough draft,” a scout said in the mlb.com story. “It’s a year of challenges (due to COVID-19 restrictions) with mixed opinions on a lot of guys.”

29 Jan

that’s some stuff

Garrett Crochet, the only Mississippian ranked in MLB Pipeline’s new list of the Top 100 minor league prospects, provided a sneak preview of his potential last September. Not to get carried away, but it was a fairly jaw-dropping debut from the Chicago White Sox’s 2020 first-round pick. The 6-foot-6 left-hander from Ocean Springs by way of Tennessee pitched six scoreless innings over five appearances. He allowed three hits, struck out eight, walked none. He struck out the first batter he faced as a pro: a called third strike at 100 mph. But there’s so much more. To say Crochet throws hard sells him way short. According to a recent mlb.com article, there were 311 100 mph-plus pitches all told in 2020. Crochet threw 45 of those. And he only threw 85 pitches. “He’s already the hardest-throwing White Sox pitcher ever,” the mlb.com story said. He also throws a quality slider and a changeup. Crochet left his one postseason appearance with an arm injury that proved to be minor. There is great anticipation to see what he does this year for a strong White Sox team. Crochet likely will pitch out of the bullpen initially in 2021, but at some point he’ll move to the rotation, which was his role at UT. … Crochet is No. 56 on the top prospects list. (Obviously, it’s a tough crowd.) Former Mississippi Braves stars Cristian Pache (12), Ian Anderson (18) and Drew Waters (35) also made the list, as did Ke’Bryan Hayes (9), son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie. Pache, Anderson and Hayes had nice MLB debuts in 2020.

25 Jan

on fast track?

Though his projected big league debut is two years away, Mississippi State product Justin Foscue is a player to keep an eye on in 2021. Foscue, drafted 14th overall by Texas last summer, has been rated the No. 8 second base prospect in the game by MLB Pipeline. Shortly after the draft, the Rangers put Foscue on their 60-man roster and invited him to the alternate training camp. Not every 2020 draft pick got that chance. He is already at their spring training facility in Arizona and, per an interview last week on milb.com’s “The Show Before The Show” podcast, is brimming with confidence as his first actual pro season approaches. “They told me they believe in my abilities,” Foscue said. “They believe in me. I appreciated them telling me that.” He said he has devoted a lot of off-season work on his defense. “That’s where I can take the biggest jump,” he said on the podcast. Foscue, who turns 22 on March 2, is likely to spend the ’21 season in the minors – “unless something crazy happens,” he said. When he eventually encounters the bright lights, big crowds and electric moments of the major leagues, his time at State and Dudy Noble Field will have him well-prepared. As Foscue said during the podcast: “(Dudy Noble) is the best place to play in college baseball. The best. By far. Not even close. … I’m so happy I got the opportunity to play there.”

09 Jun

draft board

Only one in-state player – Mississippi State’s Justin Foscue — is projected by mlb.com to get picked in Wednesday’s first round of the MLB draft. The junior second baseman is pegged to go to Minnesota as the No. 27 pick in the latest mock draft. Former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, a big left-hander now at Tennessee, is predicted to go 14th overall to Texas. ESPN’s latest mock draft has Crochet going to Texas at 14, Foscue to the New York Mets at 19 and State shortstop Jordan Westburg to the Los Angeles Dodgers at 29. … The highest any state college player has been picked is second: State’s Will Clark in 1985. The top high school pick is Ted Nicholson, taken third overall out of Laurel’s Oak Park in 1969. … Nine in-state players appear in mlb.com’s Top 200 draft prospects list, with DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan the highest rated prep player at No. 42. All the attention given Jordan in recent years doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. In an interview published by Baseball America last summer, Jordan said he “would describe myself as being respectful to the game and just always hustling and playing hard. … Wearing my jersey right and making sure everything is done right.” Jordan said his favorite player is Miguel Cabrera, and he thinks his swing is similar to the former Triple Crown winner’s. Jordan, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and a Mississippi State signee, has prodigious power, ranking among the top 10 power hitters in the draft per MLB Pipeline. … Colt Keith, who played at Biloxi High the last two years after moving from Arizona, is considered one of the best two-way players in this year’s draft class. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Keith is a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed hitting shortstop/third baseman. He is an Arizona State signee. His approach to the game? “I think for me, and I encourage other baseball players too, always play like it’s your last game,” he told WXXV-TV of Gulfport. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks and Brandon’s Kellum Clark are other possible high school picks in this year’s abbreviated five-round draft. … The lone state juco player in mlb.com’s Top 200 is lefty Dalton Fowler (No. 154), a sophomore at Northwest Mississippi CC in 2020. The 6-foot-6 Fowler, from Tennessee, was picked in the 27th round in 2019 by the New York Mets but didn’t sign. He was 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA this season and 6-2, 3.76 as a freshman.

21 Feb

tool time

Demarcus Evans might not rank among the Texas Rangers’ top 30 prospects, but no prospect in the Rangers’ system has a better fastball than the former Petal High star, according to MLB Pipeline. Evans, 23, now on the 40-man roster and in big league camp, throws serious gas: In his five pro seasons, he has 369 strikeouts in 242 1/3 innings. If he improves his command, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound right-hander can be an impact arm out of the Texas bullpen. … Power is Bobby Bradley’s thing; the former Harrison Central High standout has said that he takes an assassin’s mentality to the plate: “I’m about to hit this ball as hard as possible. If you don’t have that certain kind of mentality, you’re already beat.” Rated by MLB Pipeline as the top power-hitting prospect in Cleveland’s system, Bradley, 23, has 147 homers over six minor league seasons and belted one during his 15-game MLB stint in 2019. … Mississippi State product Brent Rooker was given the nod as the top power prospect in Minnesota’s system. Rooker, who hit 36 homers in his three years in Starkville, has 54 in his three minor league campaigns, including 14 in Triple-A last year despite missing about half the season with injury. He smacked a monstrous homer for Team USA in Tokyo last fall that fans there may still be buzzing about. … As for the fastest running prospect in each organization, it came as no real surprise that James Beard topped the MLB Pipeline list for the Chicago White Sox. A fourth-round pick out of Loyd Star High last summer, Beard was considered the swiftest player available in the draft, drawing comparisons to Billy Hamilton. Beard, bigger than Hamilton at 5-10, 170, stole nine bases in 31 games at the rookie level in 2019.

09 Sep

newsworthy

Another dominant season by Demarcus Evans has landed the former Petal High standout on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Year. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound right-hander pitched 60 innings over two levels in the Texas system, posting a 0.90 ERA, a 6-0 record, 12 saves, 100 strikeouts and a .119 batting average against. In his last 24 appearances at Double-A Frisco, Evans yielded just one earned run. Evans was a Class A South Atlantic League All-Star in 2018 and later was picked for the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars game. A 25th-round draft pick, Evans is in his fifth pro season but is only 22 years old. He is not currently ranked among the Rangers’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, but that will change next time the rankings are reconfigured. P.S. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State and Wheeler High star, threw two simulated innings for Milwaukee on Sunday, according to reports. Out since July with an oblique injury, the 2019 All-Star may be close to returning to duty. He is 11-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts. The Brewers are just 2 games back in the National League wild card race and 6.5 behind NL Central leader St. Louis.

02 Aug

the ratings game

Former Ole Miss standout Ryan Rolison jumped up to No. 2 in Colorado’s farm system rankings after MLB Pipeline reshuffled the lists of top prospects in every organization following Wednesday’s trade deadline. Left-hander Rolison, a first-round pick in 2018, is currently pitching at high Class A Lancaster, where he is 4-6 with a 4.85 ERA. He had dominated hitters at the low-A level this season. Also ranked as pitchers in the Rockies’ system are State product Reid Humphreys (19) and UM alum Will Ethridge (24), a fifth-round pick this year. … Former Southern Miss standout Nick Sandlin, a second-round pick last year by Cleveland, saw his ranking drop from No. 17 to No. 30. Sandlin had reached Triple-A but reportedly is done for the season with a forearm strain. … Also tumbling (again) was ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford, down to No. 21 (from 11) in Toronto’s system. The injury-plagued Alford, who has some big league time, is on the Triple-A roster but is currently on a rehab assignment in rookie ball. … MSU alum Ethan Small, a first-round draft pick in June by Milwaukee, jumped into the Brewers’ prospect rankings at No. 5. The SEC pitcher of the year has made two appearances in rookie ball. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, a second-round pick in 2018 currently in short season Class A, is the Brewers’ No. 10 (down from 7), and Ole Miss alum Thomas Dillard, a 2019 fifth-rounder, is No. 25. … Grae Kessinger, Houston’s second-round pick from Ole Miss, is No. 13 on the Astros’ chart; he is playing in low A. … Former USM star Matt Wallner, the 39th overall pick who is off to a good start in rookie ball, checks in at No. 15 in Minnesota’s system. MSU product Brent Rooker, currently on the injured list in Triple-A, is the Twins’ No. 8 (down from 6). … Loyd Star High alum James Beard, the first high school player picked (fourth round) from the state this year, is No. 22 in the Chicago White Sox’s system. Rated by some as the fastest player in the 2019 draft, Beard is batting .192 with six steals in rookie ball. … Ex-MSU standout Jake Mangum, the SEC’s career hits leader, is rated No. 24 in the New York Mets’ organization; the fourth-round draftee is hitting .230 in short season A-ball. … Former George County High star Trevor McDonald, an 11th-round pick by San Francisco, jumped in at No. 26 in the Giants’ system. The right-hander has yet to make his pro debut.

19 Jun

here and there

The hits keep coming for Drew Waters. The Mississippi Braves star, the reigning Southern League player of the week, homered in Tuesday night’s SL All-Star game at Biloxi. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder finished the first half of his first Double-A season batting .338 with five homers, 27 RBIs, 42 runs, 10 steals, 23 doubles and eight triples. He currently has a 13-game hitting streak and a 25-game on-base streak. He also moved up to No. 45 on MLB Pipeline’s updated Top 100 Prospects list. How much longer will he be in Pearl? … Waters’ teammate Cristian Pache, another young outfielder also having a stellar season, is No. 14 on the Top 100, and M-Braves pitcher Ian Anderson is 27th. … Ryan Rolison, the ex-Ole Miss left-hander, moved up 22 spots to No. 70 on the Top 100 chart. The Colorado prospect went 2-1, 0.61 in low-A ball to start 2019 and is 2-3, 4.23 (with one terrible outing) at the high-A level. … Several of the top draft picks out of the state reportedly have signed pro contracts, including Southern Miss All-American Matt Wallner (Minnesota), Ole Miss All-American Grae Kessinger (Houston), Loyd Star High’s James Beard (Chicago White Sox), Ole Miss’ Cooper Johnson (Detroit) and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Brandon Parker (Atlanta). Also, Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, who pitched his prep ball in Florida, has signed with Toronto. Mississippi State All-American Ethan Small was the top pick from the state, going 28th overall to Milwaukee, but he is attending to other business in Omaha. … Ole Miss’ Doug Nikhazy, a freshman All-America pick, has been invited to camp with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. … In MLB, Mississippi State product Chris Stratton was activated from the injured list by Pittsburgh on Tuesday; he didn’t appear in the Pirates’ game against Detroit. … Ex-Bulldogs standout Brandon Woodruff took a loss for Milwaukee on Tuesday, the first time in his last 10 starts that the Brewers have lost. Woodruff (8-2, 4.04) yielded four runs in six innings in a 4-1 loss to San Diego. On the positive side, he went 2-for-2 at the plate, raising his average to .364.

29 May

feeling a draft

One of the more intriguing names floating about in connection with the upcoming MLB draft (June 3-5) is James Beard. The Loyd Star outfielder is rated by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline as the fastest prep player in the 2019 draft class. MLB Pipeline, which ranks Beard No. 127 on its list of the top 200 prospects, says his speed compares to Billy Hamilton’s — and he has better bat skills. He hit .429 with 10 homers and 26 steals this season. A Meridian Community College commit, the 6-foot, 190-pound Beard is among 12 state-connected players in MLB Pipeline’s latest top 200, four rating in the top 100. At No. 54 is Kendall Williams, a 6-foot-6 right-hander from Olive Branch who now plays at IMG Academy in Florida. Mississippi State lefty Ethan Small – a 26th-round pick in 2018 — is rated No. 56, Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner No. 60 and Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy No. 66. Ealy, a two-sport star who signed with Ole Miss, is widely considered a first-round talent, but his college commitment seemingly has caused his draft stock to drop. On draftsite.com, Ealy was pegged to go sixth overall and Wallner 34th with Ole Miss’ Thomas Dillard, Williams and State’s Jake Mangum projected as second-round picks and UM’s Cooper Johnson and Grae Kessinger as third-rounders. Northwest Mississippi Community College left-hander Dalton Fowler, a freshman, appears to be the top juco prospect in the state (MLB Pipeline has him at No. 150). Other high school players of note are Pearl River Central’s Hayden Dunhurst, a switch-hitting catcher and UM signee, and Smithville High right-hander/catcher Jared Johnson, a State commit who was recently featured in Baseball America.