The 2023 baseball season is complete, with the major and minor league seasons in the books. The Mississippi Braves completed their 18th season in Pearl, missing out on the postseason but playing a pivotal role in the development of players who have gone on to help the Atlanta Braves win five-straight NL East titles. Since the current run began in 2018, the M-Braves have sent 35 players to Atlanta, including 2023 All-Stars Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, and 2022 NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris. Eight Mississippi alums went on to make their major league debuts in 2023, pushing the total to 169 since 2005.
Of the 26 players on Atlanta's postseason roster, 11 were alumni of the M-Braves. Of the 11, two played for Mississippi this season – RHP AJ Smith-Shawver and RHP Daysbel Hernández. Of the other nine, Elder (2021), LHP Max Fried (2017, 2018), LHP AJ Minter (2016, 2017), Strider (2021), INF Ozzie Albies (2016), INF Vaughn Grissom (2022), INF Austin Riley (2017, 2018), OF Ronald Acuña Jr. (2017), and OF Michael Harris II (2022) all played in Mississippi since 2016.
The M-Braves made 201 transactions in 2023 and saw 59 overall players, 24 position players, and 35 pitchers wear a Mississippi jersey. The club made a season-high 50 roster moves in April and a season-low 21 in June. That stability over the middle of the season helped the M-Braves finish a combined 26-24 over May and June after getting off to an 8-13 record in April. The club finished with a 62-75 overall record, 33-35 in the first half and 29-40 in the second half. The M-Braves were 32-36 at Trustmark Park and 30-39 on the road. The M-Braves went 19-32 in July and August but finished with a franchise record nine wins in September.
The season was highlighted by some historic moments. Drew Lugbauer continued to shatter every franchise home run record and Alan Rangelclimbed to the top of the record books in a few categories.
The M-Braves averaged 2,545 fans at Trustmark Park in 2023 and 162,862 overall in 64 openings. The 2,545 announced attendance per game was a 6.53% increase over 2022, a 13.56% increase over 2021, and a 12.66% increase over 2018, the highest average announced attendance per game for the Mississippi Braves since 2017. The club welcomed 6,574 young fans for a school day on April 19, the largest attendance number for a game since July 4, 2016 (6,695). It was the largest April crowd since April 18, 2005 (7,062).
TURNING THINGS AROUND
After beginning the season 3-2 - winning two of three games in the opening series against Biloxi and splitting the first two games on the road in Chattanooga, the M-Braves endured the second-longest losing streak in club history. The eight-game losing skid from April 13-22 forced the club into the second-worst start in club history at 3-10. The M-Braves would rebound and finish the remainder of the first half, 30-25. The M-Braves snapped the eight-game losing streak with what could be billed as the game of the year in the nightcap of the April 22 doubleheader against Montgomery at Trustmark Park. In the eighth inning with two outs, Jacob Pearson broke a 2-2 tie with a walk-off grand slam, ending the losing streak, beating the Biscuits 6-2. The home run was Pearson's first hit of the season.
The best stretch of the season came from May 9 to July 4, going a league-best 29-19, averaging 5.3 runs per game and outscoring opponents by 63 runs (252-189), blasting 64 home runs in 48 games, posting a .767 OPS. The pitching staff had a 3.56 ERA over that span. The stretch included no losing series after dropping four of the first five. The stretch included a five-game sweep of the Chattanooga Lookouts, May 9-14, the first five-game sweep since 2019. The long ball became a key to success, launching 17 at Pensacola, June 13-18, and 14 at Biloxi, June 28-July 3. In a four-game stretch from May 27-30, the M-Braves scored 35 runs, including seven home runs against the Birmingham Barons at Regions Field.
HOW SWEEP IT IS
The M-Braves swept Chattanooga in a five-game series at Trustmark Park, May 9-14, outscoring the Lookouts 27-8. The M-Braves starting pitchers allowed just one earned run over 27 innings in the series. The offense exploded in two games, putting up ten runs on May 10 and May 14 in the series.
EIGHT MORE M-BRAVES MAKE MAJOR LEAGUE DEBUTS
In 2023, eight Mississippi alums went on to make their MLB debuts, including three from this year's club. Since 2005, 169 players have made their major league debuts.
AJ Smith Shawver made his debut for Atlanta on June 4. The 20-year-old right-hander began the 2023 season with High-A Rome and tossed 14.0 scoreless innings over three starts, quickly earning a promotion to Mississippi. At 20 years, five months, and 13 days, he was the youngest starting pitcher for the M-Braves since Ian Anderson made his Double-A debut for Mississippi on August 8, 2018, at 20 years, three months, and eight days. The Atlanta Braves promoted the top prospect (Baseball America) to Mississippi on May 2. He debuted on May 5, tossing 2.0 scoreless innings before rain halted play in the top of the third inning at Pensacola. On May 13, the right-hander tossed five shutout innings with seven strikeouts in his Trustmark Park debut against Chattanooga. By May 19, Smith-Shawver was in a Stripers uniform, making his first Triple-A start at Memphis. At 20 years, five months, and 29 days, he was the second-youngest starting pitcher in Gwinnett history, behind only Julio Teheran (20 years, two months, 12 days in 2011). Smith-Shawver had his contract selected by Atlanta on May 30 after just 28 career minor-league starts, opening his MLB career with a scoreless relief outing against Arizona on June 4. On June 15, he pitched 5.2 innings against Colorado at Truist Park for his first MLB win.
Daysbel Hernandez debuted for Atlanta on July 23. The 26-year-old right-hander reliever secured his first professional victory in their 4-2 win against the Brewers at American Family Field. During his debut, he delivered a scoreless, one-inning performance. Hernández's journey to the Major Leagues began in 2018 when the Braves signed him at a trial camp in Miami. Coming off Tommy John surgery in 2022, he posted a 0.00 ERA with 26 strikeouts and just four hits surrendered between the Double-A Mississippi Braves and Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers before his promotion.
Traded at the deadline, along with M-Braves teammate Tanner Gordon, to the Colorado Rockies for reliever Pierce Johnson, Victor Vodnik was the only alum in 2023 to debut for another organization. The 23-year-old debuted for the Rockies on September 9 at San Franciso. In 30 appearances for the M-Braves in 2023, Vodnik was 3-1 with a 3.10 ERA, 56 strikeouts, and 25 walks in 40.2 innings. From 2021 to 2023, Vodnik made 48 appearances and 11 starts for the M-Braves, collecting 120 strikeouts in 87.1 innings.
Jared Shuster was the first alum to debut during the 2023 season in a start against the Washington Nationals on April 2. He became the 162nd player from Mississippi to the majors since 2005. Making the Opening Day roster, along with Shuster, was Dylan Dodd, who would debut two days later in St. Louis. Allan Winans (June 22) was the oldest alum to debut at 27 years old, and Darius Vines (August 30) was the last to debut for Atlanta. Infielder Braden Shewmake (May 5) was the lone position player to make his major league debut in 2023.
TOP PROSPECTS DEBUT
The top two prospects in the Atlanta Braves organization made stops, albeit brief, in Mississippi during the 2023 season.
Top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver's Double-A debut was cut short due to a rain-shortened outing. He debuted for Mississippi on May 5, tossing 2.0 scoreless innings before rain halted play in the top of the third inning at Pensacola. On May 13, the right-hander tossed five shutout innings with seven strikeouts in his Trustmark Park debut against Chattanooga.
Following his first-round selection (24th overall) in the 2023 draft out of the University of Florida, Atlanta's No. 2 prospect Hurston Waldrep cruised through four levels of the Braves organization. The right-hander, who played his first two collegiate seasons at Southern Miss, made eight starts in total, ranging from 3.0 to 4.2 innings. He was assigned to Low-A Augusta on August 2, transferred to High-A Rome on August 8, Mississippi on August 29, and Gwinnett on September 23. In three starts for the M-Braves, Waldrep posted a 2.70 ERA (3 ER/10.0 IP), seven walks, 11 strikeouts, and held opponents to a .216 batting average. Waldrep had a solid showing in his first crack at Double-A, striking out four batters across three scoreless innings on September 2 against Rocket City at Trustmark Park. In making his Triple-A debut in just his eighth pro outing, it marked the first time a Braves player had reached Gwinnett in the same year he was drafted.
THE TEX REPORT
First-year M-Braves manager Kanekoa Texeira became the 11th in team history in 2023. The former big league pitcher managed a roster with no high-profile prospects most of the season and endured 201 roster moves. Texeira's player-friendly style of managing kept the club loose and in the hunt for most of the first half, finishing 30-25 over the final 55 games of the first half. His aggressive approach to extra-inning games helped the club to a 7-3 record in extra-inning games. After a slow start defensively, Texeira emphasized defense, and the club finished the year with the third-best fielding percentage in the Southern League at .976. The club led the league by committing only 56 second-half errors. After his first three seasons as a manager, the Hawaii native has a 192-189 record.
EXCELLING ON THE MOUND...AGAIN
The M-Braves pitching staff led the Southern League and finished third in Double-A baseball with a 3.94 ERA – one of only four teams boasting an ERA below four (Somerset, Akron, Richmond). The staff ranked second in the Southern League in WHIP and eighth in Double-A with a 1.36 WHIP.
Overall, M-Braves pitchers surrendered just 0.71 home runs per game (97 home runs), 14 below the second-most in Double-A, Richmond at 0.80 (111). The pitching staff finished with a 4.04 ERA in April (15th in AA), 2.99 ERA in May (2nd in AA), 4.17 ERA in June (8th in AA), 4.86 ERA in July (18th in AA), 4.63 ERA in August (18th in AA), and 2.42 ERA in September (2nd in AA).
The pitching staff finished sixth in the Southern League with 1,297 strikeouts, the second-most in club history. The 3.94 ERA marked the 15th team (in 19 seasons) that the club has finished with an ERA south of 4.00. The M-Braves have surrendered 100+ homers just twice in 19 seasons. The .236 opponent batting average in 2023 was the third-lowest recorded in team history.
DE AVILA DELIVERS
Luis De Avila, the two-time Southern League Pitcher of the Week, made a career-high 26 starts in 2023, going 6-10 with a 3.28 ERA over 123.1 innings with 125 strikeouts to 61 walks in 25 Mississippi starts. The Southern League postseason All-Star finished among the leaders in ERA (2nd), starts (4th), innings pitched (5th), opponents average (3rd, .223), strikeouts (8th), and WHIP (8th). Over his final three starts with the M-Braves, he threw 14.0 scoreless innings, striking out 16 and walking just four.
De Avila secured his second Southern League Pitcher of the Week award after striking out a career-high 11 Tennessee Smokies over six innings on September 7. De Avila did not allow a hit in two starts on July 16 at Chattanooga and July 23 at Tennessee, combining for 11 innings of no-hit ball for his first Southern League Pitcher of the Week award for July 16-23. During the club's successful June, De Avila was somehow denied the Southern League Pitcher of the Month award after finishing 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings over five starts. The San Estanislao, Colombia native won three-straight starts from June 16-30, allowing just five runs over 18.0 innings, 18 strikeouts to seven walks. De Avila started the year not being ranked among Atlanta's Top-30 prospects but ended the season as the No. 14 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
RANGEL RE-WRITES RECORD BOOKS
M-Braves starter Alan Rangel, like infielder Drew Lugbauer, has found a second home in Pearl since 2021. Rangel has struck out 308 batters over 56 starts for the M-Braves since 2021, pushing him past Jason Hursh for the most strikeouts and starts in club history. Hursh struck out 240 over 144 games, 41 starts from 2015-2019. After getting off to a slow start, the Hermosillo, Mexico native put together one of the best seasons of his career. Over his final six M-Braves starts, he posted a 1.84 ERA (5 ER/34.1 IP) with five walks and 42 strikeouts. Rangel earned Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors. He capped his season by matching a career-high with 12 strikeouts over seven shutout innings, allowing one hit on September 3 against Rocket City at Trustmark Park. Rangel retired the first 14 hitters before giving up a hit.
The right-hander finished the 2023 campaign ranked seventh in the Southern League with 128 strikeouts and eighth in the league with a 4.66 ERA. His 1.29 WHIP and .240 opponent batting average were also in the top ten.
ROLLING WITH ROBLES
Left-hander Domingo Robles made his Atlanta Braves organizational debut in 2023, making 23 appearances and 22 starts in Mississippi. Over his final six starts in Mississippi, from August 13 to September 14, he posted a 1.78 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP, holding opponents to a .198 batting average. He led the M-Braves, with 11 of his 22 starts being quality. He finished the season by leading the Atlanta Braves organization with 129 innings pitched, second in strikeouts with 131, and tied for second with nine wins. He also ranked among the organizational leaders in starts (24, 3rd), ERA (3.91, 4th), WHIP (1.27, 6th), and opponents batting average (.255, T-7th). He finished among Southern League pitchers in WHIP (1.18, 3rd), ERA (3.39, 4th), wins (9, T-4th), innings (119.1, 8th), and opponents batting average, .241, 10th).
Robles was the Southern League Pitcher of the Week from May 1-7, thanks to seven shutout innings, one walk, and seven strikeouts in a relief outing on May 5. Smith-Shawver pitched the first two innings of the 8-0 shutout win in Pensacola before a two-hour rain delay, with Robles pitching the final seven in his lone relief outing of the year. Robles had two stints with Triple-A Gwinnett, making his Triple-A debut April 4-12, going 0-2 with a 9.39 ERA in two starts, and September 24, making one additional relief outing.
START ME UP
The M-Braves used 22 different starting pitchers in 2023, with ten pitchers starting at least five games, with De Avila (25), Rangel (23), Robles (23), Scott Blewett (13), and Tanner Gordon (11) leading the way. The M-Braves led the Southern League and ranked seventh in Double-A baseball with a 4.16 ERA. Mississippi starters gave up the second-fewest home runs in Double-A with 57. Only Richmond gave up fewer (52).
Mississippi's opening night starter was 23-year-old Roddery Munoz – Atlanta's No. 21 prospect at the time – on April 7, his lone M-Braves start. Munoz was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett but eventually played for four teams in 2023, being DFA'd by Atlanta on July 13 and claimed off waivers by Washington on July 17. The Braves recalled Munoz for the first time in his career on June 6, but did not appear in a game before being optioned back to Gwinnett on June 8.
Gordon had two stints with the M-Braves in 2023 and finished the season with the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. Traded alongside Vodnik on July 24 for reliever Pierce Johnson, Gord was first promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on May 4. He didn't allow a run over his last two starts and 12.2 innings, on seven hits, with 12 strikeouts and one walk. At the time of his promotion, Gordon led the league in innings pitched and ranked fifth in ERA, seventh in opponents' batting average (.183), and fourth in WHIP (0.83). In 11 starts for the M-Braves, after his return from Triple-A Gwinnett, he went 4-5 with a 4.61 ERA in 56.2 innings. Gordon made six appearances and five starts for Gwinnett in the first Triple-A action of his career. The right-hander went 1-4 with an 8.28 ERA in 29.1 innings for Gwinnett.
BIG BAD BULLPEN
The M-Braves bullpen led the Southern League with a 3.70 ERA, ranking third in Double-A and tenth among 120 full-season minor league clubs – finishing 32-25 while converting 26 of 41 save chances. Trey Riley recorded a career-high 42 appearances and posted a 4.07 ERA with 59 strikeouts, 41 walks, and 22 earned runs over 48.2 innings, going 2-for-3 in save chances.
Kyle Wilcox did not allow a run over his first 9.1 innings and seven relief appearances with the M-Braves, including one walk to 16 strikeouts. The right-hander was on Triple-A Gwinnett's roster from April 18 to May 23, recording a 4.32 ERA in 12.1 innings. Wilcox led the bullpen with a 2.13 ERA over 36 appearances with 64 strikeouts, 23 walks, and 1.04 WHIP in 42.1 innings. He held the opposition to a .145 batting average and converted three of four save chances.
After missing the 2022 season with Tommy John Surgery, Brooks Wilson was added to the M-Braves roster on August 29 and 2ent 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA, 12 strikeouts, two walks, and one save in six outings.
Patrick Halligan was promoted to Mississippi from High-A Rome on August 24 and impressed in his first trip to Double-A. The right-handed reliever allowed one run over seven relief appearances, including one start, in nine innings with 11 strikeouts to two walks. Domingo Gonzalez was tied for the second-most appearances on the club with 40 in 2023. The right-hander had a 4.19 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 33 walks in 53.2 innings. He posted six holds and converted his only save opportunity.
Jake McSteen also made 40 appearances and posted a 4.13 ERA, 51 strikeouts, and 18 walks in 56.2 innings, leading the club with seven holds.
Alec Barger was traded to Colorado as well, serving as the return for Atlanta receiving veteran reliever Brad Hand
Barger made 30 relief appearances for the M-Braves, posting a 3-2 record and 3.29 ERA over 38.1 innings pitched, striking out 48 while walking just 21. Barger did not allow a run over his first 11 appearances/15.0 innings to begin the season, recording four saves, two holds, 19 strikeouts, and seven walks. He earned his first Double-A win with two shutout innings against Montgomery on April 22.
Drew Lugbauer came into the 2023 season as the team leader and was already the club's single-season and all-time leader in home runs. Lugbauer was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on August 15 after appearing in 283 games for the M-Braves from 2021 to 2023. In 2023, Lugbauer hit 22 home runs for the M-Braves in 69 games, hit a career-best .279 with 13 doubles, a career-high two triples, 58 RBI, .385 OBP, and 1.020 OPS. Overall, in 96 games over three levels of the Atlanta Braves system, the New York native hit .261 with an organization-most 25 home runs, 73 RBI, and .898 OPS. An integral part of the 2021 Double-A South Championship, Lugbauer slashed .231/.342/.491 with 68 home runs, 53 doubles, two triples, and 191 RBI. The M-Braves all-time and single-season home run leader slugged his 50th career M-Braves home run on April 30 at Biloxi. The towering 426-foot blast landed on the parking deck past right field. The ball left Lugbauer's bat at 115 miles per hour.
Lugbauer recorded his first M-Braves triple on May 13 against Chattanooga, then another on May 16 at Montgomery. He made his professional pitching debut on May 17 at Montgomery, tossing 2/3 scoreless innings with a strikeout of Logan Driscol on an 87 mph fastball.
On May 23, Lugbauer cranked a 117.4-mile per-hour home run, which would have ranked as the ninth-hardest hit ball among MLB players. Lugbauer had a club record and Double-A franchise record 68 home runs over three seasons.
Lugbauer also has a club-record 494 total bases and 191 RBI. He zoomed past Willie Cabrera's mark of 460 total bases and 160 RBI. The former Michigan standout planted himself in the Mississippi Braves career record book in a few other offensive categories, including doubles (53, 3rd), walks (154, T-2nd), hits (233, 4th), runs scored (161, 3rd), He hit 18 homers in 2021. He led the Southern League and Braves minor league system with 28 homers in 2022. He's the first M-Braves player ever to have multiple 20-home run seasons. He recorded his first career three-homer game and the first in Trustmark Park history on August 5 vs Montgomery. He went on a 14-game hitting streak from June 1 to July 23, batting .465 with five doubles, four homers, 11 RBI, eight walks, .558 OBP, and 1.418 OPS. It was the club's longest-hitting streak this season. Lugbauer was reinstated from the Injured List on June 27 after being placed on it on June 14 with a mild hamstring strain, he hit his 100th career minor league home run on June 29 at Biloxi, his 59th at the time for the M-Braves. Lugbauer re-aggravated his hamstring and was placed back on the IL after hitting the milestone-long ball.
Despite not qualifying for the league leaders due to two IL stints, Lugbauer led the Southern League with 22 home runs at the time of his promotion and finished tied for fourth at the end of the season. Lugbauer homered in his first Triple-A game on August 15 at Durham, becoming the first Striper to homer in his debut since Justyn-Henry Malloy last September 20 at Memphis.
MR. CONSISTENCY WAS LUKE WADDELL
No position player improved their stock more in 2023 than Luke Waddell, and he was rewarded by being named a Postseason Southern League All-Star. The former fifth-round pick from Loveland, Ohio, played in 130 games, second-most to Cal Conley, with 101 coming in Mississippi. Promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on April 14, Waddell was replacing Braden Shewmake and Vaughn Grissom while they handled duties in Atlanta. In 29 games for the Stripers – during his first stint in Triple-A – he hit .221 with two doubles, two triples, 10 RBI, and was 3-for-4 in stolen bases. Waddell came back to Mississippi on May 23 and never stopped hitting. Waddell blasted two grand slams, including part of a two-slam game on June 16, and finished the month with a .313 batting average. Waddell tallied four hits twice, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI on June 15 in Pensacola and 4-for-4 with a double and run scored on August 20 against Biloxi at Trustmark Park.
The race for the Southern League batting title came down to the season's final week, with Waddell falling just short, finishing with a .290 average, good for fourth-best in the league. Along with batting average, Waddell posted a team-best .395 OBP, fifth in the Southern League. Among Atlanta Braves farmhands in 2023, Waddell finished tied with Vaughn Grissom for the most hits in the organization with 131. He ranked among the organizational leaders in games (2nd), RBI (74, 2nd), walks (85, 2nd), runs (73, 4th), OBP (.384, 5th), total bases (179, 5th), batting average (.275, 6th), steals (29, 6th), and OPS (.760, 6th). Waddell hit all eight of his Mississippi homers on the road, batting .307 with 35 runs scored, 45 RBI, and .913 OPS in 47 games.
Defensively, Waddell committed just nine errors in 278 chances, a .968 fielding percentage, which was tied for the fourth-best among Double-A shortstops in 2023. Amazingly, at the end of the year, Waddell was not listed among MLB Pipeline's Top-30 prospects.
MILLI LEADING THE WAY
Cody Milligan got out to a fast start, batting .333 with six doubles, a home run, six RBI, nine walks, and 15 runs scored over his first 13 games before being placed on the injured list on April 25 and not returning until July 14. The Binger, Oklahoma native was able to cap off an impressive 2023 despite missing almost three months, batting .280 with 16 doubles, five triples, three home runs, 22 RBI, 38 walks, 23 steals, .377 OBP, and .792 OPS. Despite playing just 69 games, Milligan finished tops on the club in triples, third in steals, fourth in doubles and runs (49), and fifth in hits (73). Milligan excelled in critical situations for the M-Braves, posting a .306 average with runners in scoring position and a .333 average with runners in scoring position and two outs.
EIGHT WALK-OFFS BY EIGHT DIFFERENT PLAYERS
The M-Braves walked off at Trustmark Park eight times to win games by eight players. The M-Braves capped the home slate with three walk-off wins in a four-game stretch against Tennessee, September 6, 8-9. The M-Braves had wins end on a grand slam, wild pitch, infield single, outfield single, home run, and error.
THE INJURY BUG
Injuries played a significant factor for the M-Braves in 2023. Breaking camp, Andrew Moritz, Tyler Tolve, and Jesse Franklin V suffered injuries late in spring training. Moritz was added to the active roster on April 13, with Franklin joining next on May 6 and Tolve on May 10. Tolve, the M-Braves backstopper, was placed again on the IL from August 15 through the end of the season. Milligan spent nearly three months on the injured list from April 25 to July 14. Slugger Drew Lugbauer had two stints on the IL, June 14 to June 27 and July 3 to July 19. Jacob Pearson was on the IL from May 29 to June 25 and from July 19 to September 12.
GRAND SALAMI TIME
The M-Braves hit a club-record seven grand slams in 2023, smashing the previous mark of three in a season in 2006 and 2021. Pearson's walk-off grand slam in game two of the April 22 doubleheader against Montgomery was the first of the season. Cade Bunnellhit the first of his two grand slams on his birthday, May 14, vs. Chattanooga, and then again just over a month later in the first inning on June 16 at Pensacola. Waddell blasted a grand slam in the ninth inning of the same game, making it the first time in club history to hit two slams in one game. Waddell would add his second grand slam of the season on July 1 at Biloxi, and Landon Stephens added the sixth of the year in the final series 2023 at Pensacola on September 14.
MORE FROM THE PEARL CITY BOMBERS
The M-Braves hit 137 home runs in 2023, the second-most season in club history and the third-straight season of 100+ home runs, beginning with a club-record 143 long balls in 2021. The M-Braves had not cracked the 100 home run mark before 2021. The club averaged right at one home run per game. 88 of the 137 homers were solo shots, 25 were two-run shots, and 17 were three-run dingers. The M-Braves feasted away from Trustmark Park, blasting 97 on the road and just 40 at pitcher-friendly Trustmark Park. The M-Braves had six players reach double-digit home runs, including four with 15+ home runs. With a homer on August 26, Landon Stephens became the fifth M-Braves player to hit 20 home runs in a season. He joined Lugbauer (2022, 2023), Shea Langeliers (2021), Ryan Casteel (2019), and Ernesto Mejia (2011). Stephens hit ten homers from June 2 to July 3 (24 games). Lugbauer led the club for a second-straight season with 22 home runs in 69 games, Stephens finished with 21, Cade Bunnell with 16, and Franklin V with 15. Drew Campbell fell one shy of double-digit home runs with nine.
The M-Braves had two walk-off home runs (Pearson, 4/23, GS), (Stephens, 6/10). Mississippi hit back-to-back home runs four times in 2023 (4/15, Lugbauer/Potts), (4/25, Valdes/Campbell), (6/10, Tolve/Bunnell), (7/1, Tolve/Franklin). For the first time in club history, the M-Braves had two players have a three-homer game. Franklin V hit a trio of home runs for the first time in his career on July 1 at Biloxi. Lugbauer became the first M-Braves player to have a three-homer game at Trustmark Park on August 5 vs. Montgomery. Four of the previous five three-homer games had been done on the road.
NEED FOR SPEED
The M-Braves finished with the second-most stolen bases in club history with 157, two shy of the 2007 club. Conley's 32 steals were the most by a Mississippi player since Matt Young had 42 during the 2009 season. Four other M-Braves finished with 20+ steals (Waddell, 26 – Milligan, 23 – Justin Dean, 22 – Franklin, 21). Dean set a new club record with four steals in one game during the first three innings of the July 1 game in Biloxi.
COUNTING ON CAL
Infielder Cal Conley was Mississippi's iron man, playing a team-high, organization-high, and Double-A best 135 of Mississippi's 137 games. Conley ended the year ranking fifth in the Southern League with 117 hits and eighth in the league with 32 stolen bases. In 2023, he finished the second straight season above 30 steals (36 in 2022).
in addition to his three-homer game, Franklin had the longest on-base streak for the M-Braves in 2023. He could have extended the streak to 33 games, but he failed to get a hit in the completion of a suspended game on August 29 against Rocket City. The game on August 13 was played in Madison, with the completion being at Trustmark Park. So his on-base streak ended at 23 games. Over the on-base streak, Franklin hit .278 with four home runs, two doubles, nine walks, 14 RBI, and a .387 OBP. The streak was the longest by an M-Braves player this season. He reached base safely in 33 of 34 games from July 16 to August 29. Franklin added a ten-game hitting streak, May 24 to July 9, which was the second-longest for the M-Braves.
SPORTS CENTER TOP PLAYS
The M-Braves appeared on the World Wide Leader twice in 2023 with Sports Center Top 10 plays. Pitcher Alan Rangel provided the No. 8 play on August 2 with a behind-the-back grab in game one of a doubleheader against Montgomery at Trustmark Park. Third baseman Joshua Fuentes had the No. 5 play on Sports Center on August 29 with a diving grab down the line on a ground ball – having time to throw across the diamond to get the out against Rocket City's Sonny DiChiara.
WE LOVE FREE BASEBALL
The M-Braves were 7-3 in extra-inning games in 2023, including 5-2 in games played at Trustmark Park. No game went more than ten innings, and the M-Braves are now 21-19 in extra-inning games since the rule changes in 2019.
The M-Braves played 48 one-run games in 2023, the most since 2016. After dropping 12 of 14 one-run games, June 23-August 20, the M-Braves won seven of their last ten one-run games to close the season 21-27.
Atlanta's top-catching prospect, Drake Baldwin, was promoted to Mississippi from High-A Rome on August 29. In 14 games for the M-Braves, Baldwin hit .321 with a double, home run, and five RBI, logging six walks and a .390 OBP. Over three levels of the Atlanta Braves organization in 2023, he ranked among the top 10 in slugging (.460, 3rd), OPS (.844, 3rd), doubles (26, 3rd), extra-base hits (43, 3rd), total bases (184, 4th), walks (67, 6th), homers (16, T-6th), hits (108, 8th), OBP (.384, 8th), RBI (61, T-8th), runs (63, T-8th), and batting average (.270, 9th). Baldwin made his Triple-A debut in September, and on September 23 vs., Durham hit his first Gwinnett homer, finishing 3-for-4. Baldwin was named a South Atlantic League All-Star after logging a .851 OPS, 25 doubles, and 40 extra-base hits.
After slumping for High-A Rome in 2023, the Braves promoted infielder Bryson Horne to Double-A on August 8. In 76 games for the Rome Braves, Horne hit .189 with a .543 OPS. Horne turned his season around, and over 23 games in Mississippi, he hit .299 with a .778 OPS, including eight doubles, one triple, a home run, ten RBI, and four walks.
Mississippi native Brandon Parker joined the club from High-A Rome on August 22 after being on the Rome injured list the previous month. Parker, a native of Saucier, MS, on the Gulf Coast and MGCCC product, became the first player to prep in Mississippi and play for the M-Braves since Austin Riley in 2017. Riley prepped at Desoto Central in North Mississippi. Parker hit .250 over 47 games in Rome with five home runs, eight doubles, and 21 RBI prior to his Mississippi promotion. Parker struggled to hit for average over 11 games for the M-Braves, but his nine walks led to a .350 OBP.
YEAH, WE GOT PROSPECTS
Eight of the end-of-season MLB Pipeline Top 30 prospects appeared for the M-Braves in 2023. Those included top prospect RHP AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP Hurston Waldrep (No. 2), De Avila (No. 14), RHP Drue Hackenberg (No. 17), Conley (No. 21), Franklin V (No. 22), RHP Tyler Owens (No. 27), and Baldwin (No. 28). According to Baseball America, the M-Braves from 2023 making their list include Smith-Shawver (No. 1), Waldrep (No. 2), Hackenberg (No. 9), Baldwin (No. 12), RHP Daysbel Hernandez (No. 16), OF Franklin V (No. 17), INF Javier Valdes (No. 27), and De Avila (No. 28).