It was at some point during the fourth inning Tuesday night that Atlanta broadcaster Tom Glavine, who knows a thing or two about crafty pitching, remarked that Chicago Cubs lefty Justin Steele was giving “a clinic on pitching.” Indeed, the former George County High star shut out the powerful Braves through five innings, retiring eight in a row at one stage, and carried a six-run lead into the sixth. Then Kevin Pillar crushed a leadoff homer — the Braves’ 300th of the season — and everything changed — at Truist Park and elsewhere. The Atlanta crowd woke up and so did the Braves, who knocked out Steele, rallied to win 7-6 — aided greatly by a two-out, two-run fielding error in the eighth inning — and delivered the Cubs a crushing blow in the National League playoff race. On a night when Philadelphia secured the top wild card seed in the NL, the Cubs’ loss also clinched the Central Division title for Milwaukee. In addition, the Cubs fell to third in the wild card standings, a game back of Arizona and just a half-game ahead of Miami. Steele, an All-Star this year and a darkhorse Cy Young Award candidate, went 5 1/3 innings vs. the Braves and was charged with three runs. He has been stuck on 16 wins since Sept. 4. He is 0-2 in his last four outings as his ERA has risen to 3.06. He could get one more start, in the season finale. … The Phillies — and Laurel native Bobby Dickerson, their infield coach — partied hard at Citizens Bank Park after a walk-off hit in the 10th inning against Pittsburgh. They’ll host a wild card series next week. … The Brewers, who had already clinched a playoff berth, celebrated their division title with much more fervor, despite having lost their game Tuesday at American Family Field against St. Louis. They will also host a wild card series. P.S. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner hit a 463-foot grand slam for playoff-bound Minnesota at Target Field, his second slam and 13th homer of 2023. “One of the furthest balls I’ve ever seen hit. Ever. That’s 20-something years of professional baseball,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told The Associated Press after Minnesota’s 11-3 win over Oakland. … Ex-USM star Walker Powell celebrated a Southern League pennant after Tennessee, the Cubs’ Double-A team, beat Pensacola 10-3 to sweep the best-of-3 finals. Walker, an 11-game winner this year, did not pitch in that series.
Thursday’s game represented Brent Rooker’s season in a nutshell. The ex-Mississippi State star blasted a two-run homer — his fifth in eight games and 28th of the year — for Oakland. Yay. It came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game the A’s would lose 7-3 to Detroit, the eighth straight loss for the worst team (46-107) in baseball. Ugh. Rooker also struck out three times, giving him 160 on the year in 432 at-bats. That’s not a good ratio. On top of that, he made a throwing error in right field, one of three Oakland misplays. Perhaps it was a good thing only 6,160 people were there to see all this. Rooker, in his fourth MLB season with his fourth team, made the All-Star Game this season. But he isn’t guaranteed a job with the A’s for 2024, when the Las Vegas-bound team will be a lame duck at Oakland Coliseum. Rooker, 28, is batting .241 this year with a .324 on-base percentage and 64 RBIs. P.S. In Triple-A, former MSU star Justin Foscue hit a grand slam and drove in six runs all told for Round Rock in the Texas system. Foscue, the 14th overall draft pick in 2020 and a highly rated Rangers prospect, is batting .265 with 17 home runs, 79 RBIs and 14 steals for the Express, which is contending for a playoff berth in the Pacific Coast League. He has played first, second and third base this season. … In Double-A, Southern Miss product Walker Powell worked five inning (three hits, one run, six strikeouts) to boost Tennessee (Chicago Cubs) past Chattanooga and into the Southern League Championship Series. Powell won a league-high 11 games for the Smokies during the regular season. MSU alum Rowdey Jordan, a .230 hitter with 13 bombs this year, had a 1-for-4 night as Binghamton (New York Mets) beat Somerset and reached the Eastern League finals.
With the playoffs in the three Double-A leagues beginning tonight, it’s an appropriate time to toast the seven Double-A champions from Mississippi. (There won’t be one in 2023.) The Jackson Mets won three Texas League titles back in the 1980s, the Generals won a pair in the ’90s and the Mississippi Braves have claimed a couple of Southern League titles since arriving in Pearl in 2005. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the M-Braves’ first title. The 2008 team, managed by Phillip Wellman, beat Carolina in a dramatic and deciding fifth game at Trustmark Park. That was a club built around pitching and speed. Matt Young (30 steals) and J.C. Holt (22) led five players with double-figure stolen base totals, and two others swiped eight. Todd Redmond (13-5, 3.52 ERA) was the ace of a staff that also included Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, James Parr and closer Luis Valdez (Jairo Asencio). Kala Ka’aihue was the top slugger with 14 homers. Jason Perry, who flashed through for 38 games, hit 13 bombs. The top prospect at the beginning of the season was Jordan Schafer, who was hit with a drug-related suspension at the start and then underperformed most of the way, finishing at .269 with 10 homers and 12 steals. The M-Braves wouldn’t win another pennant until 2021. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Generals’ first Texas League crown, which came in the Houston Astros affiliate’s third season at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Sal Butera-managed Gens, who went 6-1 in the postseason and swept El Paso in the league finals, featured TL player of the year Roberto Petagine, who batted .334 with 15 homers and 90 RBIs. Brian Hunter hit .294 with 35 steals and played a great center field. Lance “Bam-Bam” Madsen belted 23 homers, and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson hit .294 with 23 bags. Jim Bruske (9-5) and Alvin Morman (8-2) were the top starters, and Jim Dougherty led the league in saves with 36. … Though neither of Mississippi’s two Southern League clubs made the postseason this year, there are state connections among the four clubs still playing. In the SL North, Chattanooga meets Tennessee, which features Southern Miss product Walker Powell (11-6, 3.68). Former Generals slugger Daryle Ward is Chattanooga’s hitting coach. In the SL South, ex-Mississippi State star Tanner Allen (.274 in 17 Double-A games) leads Pensacola against Montgomery, which features former MSU standout Colby White (0.00 ERA in eight Double-A games) in its bullpen. McLaurin High and Meridian Community College alum Davis Bradshaw is on Pensacola’s injured list.
The Chicago White Sox kept testing Tim Elko this season. The ex-Ole Miss slugger passed each one. Elko hit a grand slam in Double-A Birmingham’s season finale on Sunday, giving him 28 home runs over three levels in his second pro season. He batted .295 overall and drove in 106 runs. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman, a 10th-round draftee in 2022, started the season at Low-Class A Kannapolis, where he hit .297 with 17 bombs in 66 games. Promoted to High-A Winston-Salem, he batted .319 with five homers in 31 games before moving up to Birmingham in the challenging Southern League, where hit .269 with six homers in 34 games. Elko, of course, hit a lot of big homers at Ole Miss: 46 over five seasons, including 24 for the 2022 national champions. P.S. Other big knocks from Mississippians on Sunday: In the big leagues, Mississippi State product Adam Frazier lashed a two-out, two-strike double down the left-field line in the ninth inning, driving in the tying run for Baltimore at Camden Yards. The Orioles beat Tampa Bay 5-4 in 11 innings to clinch an American League playoff berth. … In the Low-A Carolina League, ex-State standout Colton Ledbetter, a 2023 draftee, hit a two-run homer and picked up another RBI to power Charleston (a Tampa Bay affiliate) to 4-2 win over Down East in Game 1 of the league championship series. … In the independent Atlantic League, Southern Maryland sent out a message congratulating Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee on his 1,000th career hit, coming in the Blue Crabs’ season finale. Picayune native Lee, who batted .297 for the Blue Crabs, won a Southern League batting title in 2017 and has three MLB hits from 2018 on his ledger. The 1,000 hits includes 76 he got in one year at Ole Miss; the total doesn’t include Lee’s hits at Pearl River Community College.
It has been a September to remember for James McArthur. It took the former Ole Miss star six years to get to the majors and his debut back in June was a real clunker. But in six appearances this month for Kansas City — one of the worst teams in MLB – the 26-year-old right-hander has not allowed a run over 8 2/3 innings. On Saturday, he notched his first big league win, retiring all four batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings as the Royals upended Houston 10-8. The 6-foot-7 McArthur, who went 15-8 in three years in Oxford, was a 12th-round draft pick in 2018 by Philadelphia. He made the 40-man roster after the 2021 season but was designated for assignment in May of this year and then traded to Kansas City. He has pitched well in Triple-A but yielded seven runs in one inning in his big league debut on June 28. Recent results have been much more encouraging, to say the least. … Recent results for J.P. France, the Mississippi State alum who started for Houston on Saturday, have not been so positive. After a sensational start to his rookie campaign, France has a 6.69 ERA in his last seven games, though he has won three of them. He gave up five runs on Saturday before being knocked out in the fifth inning. He is 11-5, 3.84, in 23 games for the season. P.S. Three former Mississippi Braves pitchers got wins on Saturday, none of them working for Atlanta. Evan Phillips picked up the W in relief in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ division-clinching victory; Viktor Vodnik got a W in relief for Colorado in his second MLB game; and Touki Toussaint went five innings for the Chicago White Sox to beat Minnesota. … The Biloxi Shuckers lost to Montgomery at MGM Park, handing the Biscuits the second-half title in the Double-A Southern League South.
Mashing three home runs, including Wes Clarke’s 26th of the year, Biloxi pounded Montgomery 9-2 on Friday night at MGM Park to stay alive in the fight for the second-half title in the Southern League South. The Double-A Shuckers, a Milwaukee farm club, must win the last two games against the Biscuits to make the postseason for the first time since 2019. … South Panola High product Emaarion Boyd went 2-for-4 with a run and a stolen base as Clearwater beat Lakeland 2-1 to reach the championship series in the Low-Class A Florida State League. The Threshers, a Philadelphia affiliate, will play Jupiter (Miami) for the league title. Ex-Ole Miss star Kemp Alderman is a starting outfielder for Jupiter. … Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim smacked homers No. 19 and 20 and ex-Mississippi State standout Justin Foscue added his 16th as Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) beat Las Vegas 7-3 in a matchup of Pacific Coast League division leaders. Crim and Foscue combined for six RBIs. … MSU alum Zac Houston, 28, now in his seventh minor league season, got a win in relief for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), striking out four Buffalo batters in two scoreless innings. Houston, who has a 4.62 ERA, is averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings for the RailRiders. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has a 3.17 career ERA while averaging 13.7 punchouts per nine. … The independent American Association’s Wolff Cup Finals begin tonight with the Kansas City Monarchs — featuring MSU alums Jacob Robson and Gavin Collins — taking on Chicago Dogs. … In MLB, former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner went 2-for-2 with an RBI to help Minnesota beat the Chicago White Sox 10-2 and reduce its magic number to 7 for clinching the American League Central crown. … Ex-George County High standout Justin Steele suffered a rare rocky outing (six runs on two homers in six innings) as the Cubs fell at Arizona 6-4. Steele is 16-4 with a 2.73. The Cubs are clinging to the second wild card in the National League, with the Diamondbacks and three other clubs in hot pursuit. … MSU products Jordan Westburg and Adam Frazier were a combined 0-for-5 with three strikeouts as Baltimore lost to visiting Tampa Bay 7-1 and fell into a tie for first place with the Rays in the AL East.
Fans in Biloxi are being served quite the treat this week. The Double-A Shuckers and Montgomery Biscuits are in a showdown for the second-half championship in the Southern League South, and both teams are stacked with major league prospects. (For the record, fans did not exactly flock to MGM Park for the first two games of the series: An announced 1,801 turned out to see the Shuckers win the opener 11-7, and 1,552 witnessed the Biscuits’ 4-2 win on Wednesday.) Biloxi trails Montgomery by 1.5 games and needs to win three of the remaining four to win the title and make the postseason for the first time since 2019. The Shuckers feature six of Milwaukee’s top 10 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline’s rankings. That list includes No. 1 Jackson Chourio, No. 2 Jeferson Quero and No. 7 Brock Wilken. Chourio, an outfielder, is batting .276 with 22 home runs, 88 RBIs and 41 steals. He is the No. 2 overall prospect in the minors. Wilken, a third baseman, hit a grand slam in his Biloxi debut on Tuesday. Tampa Bay’s top-rated prospect is Biscuits third baseman Junior Caminero, who is batting .315 with 20 homers and 62 RBIs; he is the No. 6 overall prospect. Montgomery also trots out Rays No. 2 Carson Williams and No. 13 Mason Auer. Former Mississippi State standout Colby White, coming back from Tommy John surgery last season, threw a clean inning for the Biscuits on Wednesday. White reached Triple-A in 2021 and is on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster.
On the day when the Atlanta Braves clinched a National League playoff berth with a victory at Truist Park, there was also a clinching at Trustmark Park, home of the Braves’ Double-A club. But it wasn’t the Mississippi Braves who celebrated on Sunday — it was the visiting Tennessee Smokies, who rallied late to beat the M-Braves 6-4 and clinch the second-half title in the Southern League North. One of the key players for the Smokies — a Chicago Cubs affiliate — is former Southern Miss star Walker Powell, who is 11-6 with a 3.57 ERA. The league leader in wins and WHIP (1.07), he pitched brilliantly in a no-decision against the M-Braves last week. The M-Braves finished their 2023 home schedule before an announced crowd of 2,113 with a 32-36 record. They are 26-37 (last in the SL South) in the second half and 59-72 overall with a series left at Pensacola. … There will be a clinching this week at MGM Park in Biloxi, where the Shuckers and the Montgomery Biscuits, two of the hottest teams in the minors, will play a six-game series that’ll decide the second-half title in the SL South. The Biscuits (Tampa Bay) have won 10 straight games and lead the Shuckers (Milwaukee), who’ve won nine of 10, by 1.5 games. … Among other clinchings in the minors on Sunday, Binghamton (New York Mets) claimed a second-half division title in the Double-A Eastern League with a 10-0 win at Hartford. Ex-Mississippi State standout Rowdey Jordan went 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs for the Rumble Ponies. The third-year pro is hitting .227 with 13 homers, 58 RBIs and 28 stolen bases. P.S. Kudos to Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, the skipper of the original M-Braves club in 2005, who has had the big Braves in the postseason six straight years, winning the World Series in 2021. Six former M-Braves played in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Pittsburgh.
Though the Mississippi Braves’ record (22-35, last in the Southern League South) isn’t good, the team’s pitching actually is. Heading into a six-game series against Tennessee at Pearl’s Trustmark Park, the last-place M-Braves sport the best staff ERA — 4.07 — in the Double-A league. The Smokies (32-25, first in the SL North), a Chicago Cubs affiliate, have the third-best at 4.52. The series, the M-Braves’ last at home in 2023, offers a couple of intriguing pitching matchups: On Thursday, Luis De Avila, Atlanta’s No. 14 prospect, goes against former Southern Miss star Walker Powell. De Avila’s 3.49 ERA ranks third in the league. The 6-foot-8 Powell leads the SL in wins with 11 and has the fifth-best ERA at 3.76. On Friday, Domingo Robles, with eight wins and the fourth-best ERA in the loop (3.62), faces Kohl Franklin, the Cubs’ No. 28 prospect. USM alum Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s first-round pick in July and its No. 2 prospect, makes his second Double-A start on Saturday; he threw three shutout innings last week. M-Braves veteran Alan Rangel, the SL’s reigning pitcher of the week (seven shutout innings, 12 strikeouts), will start on Sunday. P.S. Baltimore has promoted USM product Matthew Etzel, a 2023 draftee, to High-Class A Aberdeen. Etzel hit .33 with two homers, 23 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 25 games at two lower levels.
There were 612 players selected in the 2021 MLB draft. Walker Powell was not among them. A few weeks after the draft, the Chicago Cubs gave Powell an opportunity in pro ball — and the former Southern Miss star has run with it. The 6-foot-8 right-hander, now pitching for Double-A Tennessee, posted his 10th win of the season, going six innings Friday night in a 10-5 win against Rocket City. He allowed two hits, two runs, no walks and struck out eight. He has won six straight starts, beating both Mississippi and Biloxi during that streak. Powell, 27, who isn’t rated among the Cubs’ top prospects, leads the Southern League in wins and WHIP (1.04) and ranks fourth in ERA (3.79) and batting average against (.230). In his brief pro career, Powell, a self-described “pitch to contact guy,” is 21-7 with a 3.38. Arkansas native Powell spent six years at USM, including a medical redshirt year (Tommy John surgery) in 2017 and the curtailed (COVID-19) 2020 season, and won 30 games all told. In 2021, he went 10-2, 2.31, tossed a no-hitter and claimed C-USA pitcher of the year honors for the league champion Golden Eagles. The Cubs signed him as a free agent on July 30, 2021. He recently told WXXV-TV of Gulfport that he hopes to make the big leagues someday but isn’t hyper-focused on that goal. “I’m just trying to enjoy every second I’m on the baseball field,” Powell said. P.S. USM alum Matt Wallner, now with Minnesota, was hit by a pitch on the right hand Friday night but X-rays were negative for a break. He has had some big hits of late (see previous post) for the first-place Twins. … In a case of Bulldog-on-Bulldog crime, Nathaniel Lowe of Texas took Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff deep in the fourth inning for the Rangers’ first two runs. It was Mississippi State alum Lowe’s 15th homer, his only hit Friday. Fellow MSU product Woodruff (four runs in 5 1/3 innings) got a no-decision as the Brewers won 9-8 in a matchup of first-place clubs.