It’s not real until it is. That’s how 2017 Jackson Generals pitcher Brad Keller felt about his Rule 5 Draft selection on Thursday.
“Some people were telling me it might happen, and I didn’t really believe it,” the 22-year-old Keller said. “I thought that would be a pretty cool situation if it did happen, but I didn’t put too much thought into it. My agent kind of downplayed it, saying ‘It’s like, 50-50, we’ll see, it should be interesting.’ And I was like, alright, whatever.”
Sitting at the breakfast table in his Atlanta area home, the six-foot-five right-hander saw a familiar name drafted early: 2017 Generals outfielder Victor Reyes went first overall to the Detroit Tigers. Still, no strong premonitions for Keller.
Can you name the last time a Southern League franchise had their players win Most Valuable Player awards in consecutive seasons?
We’d forgive Kevin Cron (or any Southern League player, for that matter) if they didn’t know. It hasn’t happened in this millennium, and you can barely say that it’s happened in Cron’s lifetime. Cron was a year and a few months old when Pittsburgh prospect Mark Johnson won it with the Carolina Mudcats in 1994; Cron had turned two by the time future Pirates catcher Jason Kendall won it for the Mudcats in 1995. Back-to-back MVPs from the same franchise happened twice in the 1980s and twice in the 1990s, actually, but it hasn’t happened since. That’s a credit to the rising quality of development among the many farm systems that feed Major League Baseball.
Cron, the 24-year-old first baseman for the Jackson Generals, has a strong chance to bring home the award in 2017. But sportsfolk, as history has proven, can define the word “valuable” in a number of different ways, and that may rob Cron of the league’s highest individual recognition. “MegaCron”–as a Generals fan on social media has appreciatively characterized him–has been essential to Jackson’s successes this year, and we’ll give him some printed-word respect on this page, regardless of how the league ends up voting.
If you looked at the 24-19 Jackson Generals, your eyes would probably widen slightly in peeking at two stats in particular: comebacks, and home/road splits. The Generals, despite scoring the most runs of any team in the league (220), have not yet proven to be a team that rallies well.
The Jackson Generals reclaimed first place in the Southern League’s North Division on Wednesday, and they did it in familiar fashion. To begin, Kelly Dugan bopped a home run in the third inning off the scoreboard beyond right-center field. Four innings later, Rudy Flores whistled a shot down the right field line that cleared the wall by inches. They were the 24th and 25th solo homers that Jackson has propelled out of the park in their first 32 games, marking an even 40 blasts as a team in total.
There is a reason Baseball America’s first-month data says the Generals have the minor leagues’ premier offense so far: Jackson has hit the ball a long way, and they have done it a lot. You wouldn’t easily score 164 runs in 32 games without knowing how to dinger, and they do. Remember, the 2016 Mobile BayBears jacked a league-best 109 homers, and that team featured 10 position players who are now Generals.
(You’re laughing, I can tell. No, really, I see you doing it. It’s all good!)
That one-syllable interjection kind of encapsulates both the week gone by and the week ahead for the Jackson Generals (9-5). For the second time in as many weeks, the Generals are leaving town to visit a coastal opponent, matched up with the Biloxi Shuckers (6-8), the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Because the Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks (Jackson’s new parent club) are both National League teams, Saturday will mark the first time the Jackson franchise has batted their pitchers in over a decade. On September 4, 2006, Chicago Cubs farmhand J.R. Mathes threw a complete game victory for the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx at Pringles Park, allowing one run to Chattanooga while batting three times with two strikeouts.
Two and a half hours to the east of Mathes’ complete game, a 26-year-old first baseman was busy collecting a pair of hits, scoring a run and driving in another to help the Round Rock Express get a 10-4 win in Nashville. J.R. House batted cleanup for the Express in that game, and while the Generals’ new manager would probably prefer his pitchers to hit more like him than Mathes, that’s far from his first concern at present.
Since their 53-run jetpack ride in the season-opening series with Birmingham, gravity has done a number on the Generals. They scored just 23 runs in a 4-1 series at Mobile, and the five-day crucible that followed against Montgomery gave Jackson a window to the opposite end of the spectrum. The Generals produced only 17 runs against the Biscuits, netting one victory in four games. Thursday night’s 9-5 loss was a difficult final note, going off key during an eight-run eighth inning for Montgomery. The fifth scheduled contested was postponed until May due to rain, denying the Generals a chance to end the series on a win.
To be fair, House’s team made many positive steps against Montgomery, a talented and detail-minded opponent. All of Jackson’s starting pitchers completed five innings, with none giving up more than three earned runs. Three of those arms (Josh Taylor, Brooks Hall, and Brad Keller) departed with a lead or while the game was tied; the fourth, Taylor Clarke, allowed just one earned run–on a bunt single–in a frustrating 1-0 loss. There was also a late-inning comeback, as the Generals rallied from a 7-3 deficit in the final two innings for a walk-off 8-7 win on Wednesday.
The Generals’ search for consistency at the plate and in the bullpen looks like a continuing theme for the early part of the season. Montgomery scored nearly as many runs against the Generals’ relief corps (15) as the Generals scored overall in the series. Offensively, only three of the team’s twelve position players–Victor Reyes, Michael Perez, and reigning Southern League Player of the Week Colin Walsh–have batted over .300 in Jackson’s last 10 games.
The Biloxi series will be a stiff test for Jason Camilli’s hitters. The Shuckers’ staff features the second-best team ERA in the Southern League (2.59, as of Friday afternoon) and a league-leading 138 strikeouts, a rate of ten-and-a-half punch-outs every nine innings.
Generals right-hander Brooks Hall pitched for Biloxi in each of the last two seasons, so at least one General will recognize a few of the faces in the opposing dugout. Four Generals hitters on the active roster–Kevin Cron, Rudy Flores, Evan Marzilli, and Kevin Medrano–finished the 2016 season with on-base percentages of at least .300 against Biloxi, when each player suited up for the Mobile BayBears. Additionally, Jackson will be able to call on fresh muscle tomorrow night, with right-handed relief pitcher Daniel Gibson added to the roster on Friday afternoon in place of Drew Muren.
The pitching matchups for the series are listed below. You can hear each of the first four games of the series locally in Jackson on Radio Willie (94.1 and 94.3 FM, 1390 AM) and RadioWillie.com. Wednesday’s 10:35 am CT finale will be available only on the Jackson Generals Baseball Network, which you can find on the TuneIn Radio app (available for free download on most smartphones).
SATURDAY: 6:35 pm CT first pitch
Pitching Matchup: LHP Alex Young (1-0, 0.90 ERA) vs. RHP Aaron Wilkerson (2-1, 2.30 ERA)
SUNDAY: 1:05 pm CT first pitch
Pitching Matchup: RHP Taylor Clarke (1-1, 3.86 ERA) vs. RHP Jorge Lopez (1-1, 2.57 ERA)
MONDAY: 6:35 pm CT first pitch;
Pitching Matchup: LHP Josh Taylor (1-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Williams (0-0, 1.13 ERA)
TUESDAY: 6:35 pm CT first pitch;
Pitching Matchup: RHP Brooks Hall (0-0, 8.10 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Ortiz (0-2, 4.50 ERA)
WEDNESDAY: 10:35 am CT first pitch;
Pitching Matchup: RHP Brad Keller (2-0, 1.20 ERA) vs. RHP Taylor Jungmann (0-1, 4.50 ERA)
Make sure to get your tickets now to see the 20th season of professional baseball in Jackson, and the first for the team as an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks! Call the team at (731) 988.5299, stop by The Ballpark or go online to jacksongeneralsbaseball.com to secure your seats now!
Did somebody say “Biscuits”, or was that my stomach growling? Either way, it’s breakfast time, and we’re here to bring you a first look at the Generals’ second home series of the year!
After ten games in 2017, the Jackson Generals (8-2) hold the high ground in the Southern League’s North Division as they await the arrival of the Montgomery Biscuits (5-5). New manager J.R. House has found multiple ways to coax wins out of his team so far, and that’s in part because the roster has already changed.
Think back to what you were doing 20 years ago. Some of us were in college. Others were not yet parents or grandparents. A few people hadn’t even been born yet. But in 1998, West Tennessee became a proving ground for an important question: could the sunset side of the Volunteer State sustain multiple minor league baseball teams? It hadn’t been tried in almost 50 years.