30 Apr

see how they run

The Mississippi Braves, back home tonight for the first time in 16 days, have not been winning consistently, but Angel Flores’ club has been consistently aggressive on the basepaths. The M-Braves (7-14) have stolen 47 bases, tied for most in the Southern League, and have six players in the top 15 on the individual steals list. Maybe this approach will start to pay dividends for a team that has shown little power at the plate. Cody Milligan, in his third year with the Double-A M-Braves, has 10 steals, as does newcomer Geraldo Quintero. M-Braves veteran Justin Dean, who is batting .308, has swiped nine bags. Nacho Alvarez, the highly regarded shortstop prospect batting .292, has seven, Cal Conley six and Keshawn Ogans five. However, all this thievery has not translated into a bunch of runs thus far. The team is seventh in the eight-team league with 65. The M-Braves’ pitching has been solid enough: 3.64 ERA. Left-hander Luis De Avila (0-3, 5.82) will start tonight’s opener at Trustmark Park against Pensacola, a Miami affiliate which features former Mississippi State star Tanner Allen, hitting .273 with a homer and eight RBIs. Milligan comes in hot for the M-Braves, having hit .360 last week. … Of note: Southern Miss alum Hurston Waldrep (0-3, 5.68), Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, is slated to start Game 3 on Thursday, and J.J. Niekro (1-2, 3.92), son of former big leaguer Joe, is set for Friday.

05 Apr

batter up

The Mississippi Braves’ opening day lineup at Pensacola on Friday featured a blend of old and new and speed and power, with three Top 30 prospects — Nacho Alvarez, Drake Baldwin and Geraldo Quintaro — in the top six in the order.
The M-Braves, beginning their farewell season, faced Blue Wahoos right-hander Evan Fitterer, a Miami Marlins prospect in his fifth pro season.
Ian Mejia, second-year pro out of New Mexico State, got the starting nod from M-Braves manager Angel Flores. He went 4-11 with a 4.69 ERA at High-Class A Rome last year.
Ex-Southern Miss star Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect (MLB Pipeline), is expected to start Sunday’s series finale.
The leadoff batter Friday was M-Braves returnee Cody Milligan, who was injured for a chunk of time but hit .280 and stole 23 bases in 69 games.
In the 2-hole was Alvarez, the No. 6 prospect, a 20-year-old shortstop whom Baseball America rates as the best overall hitter in the Atlanta system. At Rome last season, he hit .284 with seven homers, 66 RBIs and 16 steals.
Hitting third was Baldwin, rated No. 11 in the system, a power-hitting prospect who mashed 16 homers at three levels in 2023. A lefty-batting catcher, he played 14 games (.321, one homer) for the M-Braves late last season before finishing in Triple-A.
Keshawn Ogans, up from Rome, was in the cleanup spot and playing third base. The Cal-Berkley product, 5 feet 8, 180 pounds, hit .266 with nine homers at Rome and .299 in the Arizona Fall League, where he made the Fall Stars Game.
Hitting fifth was first baseman Bryson Horne, who has 28 homers over his three pro seasons and finished his ’23 campaign with the M-Braves, batting .299 in 23 games.
Quintaro, batting sixth and playing left field, is cut from the Ozzie Albies mold (5 feet 5, 155 pounds). The Braves’ No. 28 prospect, he stole 29 bases while batting .251 for Rome last year and has 96 career steals in three minor league years.
Returnee Tyler Tolve, a catcher, was the DH in the 7-spot. He hit .238 with seven homers for Mississippi in 2023. Rounding out the nine were second baseman Cal Conley (.219, 32 steals for the ’23 M-Braves) and right fielder Justin Dean, who has spent parts of the last three seasons with the M-Braves and has 151 career steals.
P.S. Batting ninth for the Blue Wahoos was former Mississippi State star Tanner Allen, the 2021 Ferriss Trophy winner and SEC player of the year who was drafted by the Marlins in the fourth round that summer. He hit .274 in 17 games for Pensacola, the third level he played at in 2023.

26 Jan

new man in charge

The list starts with Brian Snitker — who has gone on to achieve a measure of fame — and will conclude in 2024 with Angel Flores. The Atlanta Braves have named Flores manager of the Double-A Mississippi Braves, who’ll end their 20-year run at Trustmark Park in Pearl this summer. Flores, who played minor league ball in the Detroit system, managed the High-Class A Rome Braves last season and previously served as a coach on Bruce Crabbe’s M-Braves staff in 2022. “I am well aware that this is the team’s last year in Mississippi, and our goal is to make it a special one for the city that has opened its arms to us for so long,” Flores said in a release from the M-Braves. Snitker, the award- and World Series-winning manager of the big-league Braves, was the team’s first skipper back in 2005. He was followed by Jeff Blauser, Phillip Wellman, Rocket Wheeler, Aaron Holbert, Luis Salazar, Chris Maloney, Wyatt Toregas/Dan Meyer, Crabbe and Kanekoa Texeira. Wellman managed the 2008 Southern League championship team, and Meyer, who replaced Toregas at midseason in 2021, skippered that club to the franchise’s only other pennant. At Rome last year, Flores managed several top Braves prospects who could be in Pearl this season, among them David McCabe, a corner infielder/DH; catcher Drake Baldwin; shortstop Ignacio Alvarez; and infielders Keshawn Ogans and Gerald Quintero. … The M-Braves will begin the 2024 season on the road on April 5 and play their home opener on April 9 against Biloxi.

09 Jan

going, going … gone

It is not a shock to those who follow local baseball that Pearl is losing its Southern League franchise. You could see this coming. The Mississippi Braves have not drawn well at Trustmark Park during most of the club’s 20-year run there. The average attendance over the last three seasons, since the minor leagues came back from the lost year of 2020, has been about 2,300, ranking near the bottom in all of Double-A baseball. (And that 2,300 is an announced figure, not an actual turnstile count, which would be significantly lower.) The real surprise was that the city of Pearl got a team in the first place back in 2005. Nearby Jackson, which hosted a Texas League franchise for 25 years, lost its team in 1999 because of declining attendance — and rising operating costs — at Smith-Wills Stadium. As Con Maloney, the former TL franchise owner said just after he sold the club, “There are a lot of good baseball fans here — just not enough of them to support a minor league team.” The Double-A Generals, a Houston Astros affiliate, averaged roughly 2,500 fans in their best season, 1996. (The turnstile count that year was 1,866.) In their final, lame-duck year of 1999, the team drew 1,416 per game — though 4,367 turned out for the final game that year. The independent DiamondKats moved in in 2000, drew about 700 a game and promptly folded up shop. The independent Senators arrived at Smith-Wills in 2002 and averaged about 1,700 per game for four years, opting to fold after the 2005 season, when the Braves began playing — to much initial fanfare — at Trustmark Park. It took an odd confluence of events and the involvement of some powerful people to get Trustmark Park built and get the Atlanta Braves to move their Southern League franchise from Greenville, S.C., to Pearl. But it happened. The team drew relatively well at first: over 3,500 per game (announced) the first three seasons at the 5,500-seat TeePee. But attendance dropped under 3,000 a game in Season 5 and was down to 2,600 per in 2010. They averaged 2,378 in 2023; the national MiLB average last season was 4,076. Rocket City (Huntsville, Ala.) led the SL at 4,911 per game. Bottom line, the M-Braves are averaging roughly what the Generals averaged in their best years — and that wasn’t enough to sustain the franchise. For the record, the Jackson Mets, who preceded the Generals at Smith-Wills (from 1975-90), never averaged more than 2,000 a game in announced figures. So, with the Trustmark Park lease up after this season, Diamond Baseball Holdings, which bought the franchise from Atlanta in 2021, is moving it to Columbus, Ga., into a renovated ballpark that — oddly enough — once housed the Astros team that moved to Jackson in 1991. Going back to 1953, when the original Jackson Senators pulled up stakes after their downtown stadium was destroyed by a tornado, central Mississippi has been jilted by six baseball teams. Will there be a seventh marriage?

27 Sep

not so fast there

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.

22 Sep

tough times in ‘the town’

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.

19 Sep

seven flags

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.

18 Sep

testing, testing …

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.

17 Sep

have a month

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.

16 Sep

here and there

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.