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!
A lot is new for the Generals in 2017. The team is in its first year of a brand new affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks after three years as Seattle’s Double-A affiliate. While the team is coming off a 2016 Southern League Championship, none of the Generals actually played for the team last season.
Something that is the same–at least in the early going–is very good baseball. The Generals opened up the season with four wins out of five versus Birmingham. The team’s starters combined to allow just three earned runs in 26 innings (1.04 ERA), and the offensive numbers are staggering. The Generals lead the Southern League in average (.348), home runs (10), doubles (14), hits (65) and runs (43).
Five games is much too soon to draw any meaningful conclusions, but those numbers are mighty impressive. Every General had at least three hits over the first four games, so it’s not just one or two guys. But there were some truly impressive performances over the weekend.
We saw some prodigious power from Tyler O’Neill last year. I would not want to saddle anyone this early with being compared to the 2016 Southern League MVP, but even O’Neill did not do what Kevin Cron did on Saturday night. Cron hit three home runs in one game, becoming the first General to do so since 2013.
Cron hit a solo blast in the second inning off of top White Sox prospect Michael Kopech. With the team down 7-4 in the eighth inning, he hit another solo shot to bring the Generals within two. He completed the trifecta with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and force extras. Jackson would lose in extras 8-7 despite the heroic effort at the plate.
I got a chance to speak with Kevin about the feat. It was the first time as a pro he had hit three home runs in a game even though he led the Southern League with 26 bombs last year.
That wasn’t it for Cron, either. In his first at-bat on Sunday, the slugger went yard again. It was the fourth time in six at-bats that he homered.
Stewart Ijames and Dawel Lugo each went deep twice, while Colin Walsh and Cron added one apiece. The team scored in each of its first seven trips to the plate. Every General had at least one hit and a run scored, while seven knocked in a run.
Had Birmingham centerfielder Hunter Jones not made a spectacular diving catch to rob Jamie Westbrook of a potential walk-off double Saturday night, the Generals would likely be undefeated. Alas, they’ll settle for 4-1.
The Generals embark on their first road trip of 2017 Wednesday. Fittingly, it will be to Mobile. The BayBears had been Arizona’s Double-A affiliate for the past decade prior to this year. Sixteen of the 27 players to begin the season with the Generals spent time with Mobile last year.
The BayBears are now an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels had been in Little Rock, Arkansas. Now the Arkansas Travelers are home to Seattle’s Double-A club, bringing everything full circle (as the Generals/Diamond Jaxx had been affiliated with the Mariners for the previous ten seasons).
So the series features the only two teams in the circuit to change affiliations this offseason. And Mobile features the only truly new team in the Southern League, as the Angels had been a part of the eight-team Texas League from 2001 to 2016. We all caught up?
Anyways, should be a fun time. Hope you can tune in on Radio Willie in Jackson and online via the TuneIn Radio App. Wednesday’s game gets started at 6:35 pm CT.