PEARL - The Atlanta Braves' pursuit of a fourth consecutive division title began on April 1 in Philadelphia. With a roster that features an abundance of homegrown talent, 14 members of the Opening Day roster and seven of the nine in the starting lineup logged a combined 715 games played
PEARL - The Atlanta Braves' pursuit of a fourth consecutive division title began on April 1 in Philadelphia. With a roster that features an abundance of homegrown talent, 14 members of the Opening Day roster and seven of the nine in the starting lineup logged a combined 715 games played for Mississippi. The lineup on its boasts 493 games played for the M-Braves since 2009. That includes Opening Day starter Max Fried, who is coming off a 2020 season in which he went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA and finished fifth in NL Cy Young Award balloting.
Four former M-Braves are making their first Opening Day roster, including right-handers Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa, catcher Alex Jackson and outfielder Cristian Pache.
Fried is making his first Opening Day start and the first by a Braves left-hander since Tom Glavine in 2002. Fried made 21 starts for the M-Braves over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, going 3-11 with a 5.23 ERA. He worked through those struggles in Double-A and is now one of the premier left-handed starters in major league baseball.
Of the seven former M-Braves in the starting lineup, they combine for 493 career games for the Mississippi Braves, including reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, who played 41 games for Mississippi in 2009. Ronald Acuña Jr. (57), Ozzie Albies (82), Freddie Freeman (41), Dansby Swanson (84), Austin Riley (75), Pache (133), and Fried (21)).
Acuña, at age 19, landed in Mississippi in May 2017 and would hit .325 over the entire season with a minor-league best 181 hits in 139 games. He was named the Baseball America and USA Today Minor League Player of the Year.
Albies joined the M-Braves roster at age 19 and won the Southern League batting title in 2016 after hitting .321 in 82 games with Mississippi. The M-Braves lost Albies during the first round of the Southern League playoffs when he suffered a fractured olecranon in his right elbow.
Freeman spent the latter half of the 2009 season with the M-Braves. In July, he joined the club and finished his 2009 campaign in Pearl but spent the final two weeks on the injured list. The then 19-year-old Braves prospect posted a .248 batting average with two homers, 24 RBI, eight doubles, 15 runs over 41 games in the challenging Southern League. His first Double-A home run came on Tropical Beach Night at Trustmark Park, July 18, 2009, plating fellow 19-year-old Jason Heyward in a loss to the Huntsville Stars. Freeman and Heyward helped guide the M-Braves to 65 victories that season.
Swanson's 2016 arrival was quite possibly the most anticipated Mississippi debut since the club arrived in 2005. The Braves' top overall prospect and former top overall pick in 2015 was a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star that season and had 14 extra-base hits and 22 RBI in 44 games before the break.
Riley was the Braves' Minor League Player of the Year in 2018, the Hank Aaron Award winner, after hitting .294 with 19 home runs, splitting the year between Mississippi and Triple-A. At DeSoto Central High School in Southaven, Ms. Riley was a pitcher and shortstop. In his senior year, he helped the Jaguars win the MHSAA 6A State Championship at Trustmark Park after hitting .423 with 11 homers and 31 RBI at the plate and 7-2 with a 2.70 ERA and 82 strikeouts on the mound. As a pitcher, he topped out at 94 mph. Riley would forego his college commitment to Mississippi State to sign with the Braves.
Pache is a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year candidate and is the most recent alum to reach the majors. The 22-year-old jumped onto the scene during the 2020 postseason, showcasing flair with the glove and gaining confidence at the plate. The Braves top prospect was a mid-season and postseason All-Star in 2019 for the M-Braves and played 104 games in Mississippi. Pache hit .277 (135-for-487) with 36 doubles, nine triples, 12 home runs, 61 RBI, and 50 runs over 130 games in 2019.
The bullpen, starting rotation, and bench also features key former M-Braves players. The rotation, which includes Anderson (25), Fried (21), and Charlie Morton (41), boasts 87 games and 52 starts for Mississippi. Morton, whom the Braves drafted in 2002, spent six years in the organization before being traded to the Pirates in 2009. The 37-year-old was 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA over 41 games, including six starts for Mississippi during the club's third season at Trustmark Park in 2007. Arguably, the Braves top starter, Mike Soroka, is opening the year on the 10-day injured list season, battling back from an Achilles injury suffered last season. Soroka started 26 games for the M-Braves in 2017.
Among the bullpen, Tyler Matzek (1), Sean Newcomb (34), A.J. Minter (21), and Ynoa (6) tallied a combined 62 appearances for the M-Braves and 34 starts. Backup catcher Alex Jackson played in 94 games for the M-Braves in 2017 and 2018.
As major league baseball opens the 2021 season today, minor league camp is just beginning with Gwinnett, GA (alternate training site), and North Port, FL. Opening Day for the Mississippi Braves is set for Tuesday, May 4 at 6:35 pm against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos at Trustmark Park. Fans can guarantee their seat with 2021 season tickets. Also currently available are flex plans, group tickets, suite nights, and sponsorship opportunities. View ticket options HERE. Individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public in April. For more information, fans are encouraged to visit milb.com/mississippi/tickets or call 601-932-8788.