When Mississippi began 2-15 and went 30-40 in the first half of the Class AA Southern League season, it wasn't a good sign for what kind of team the Gwinnett Braves would be next year in the Class AAA International League.
Gwinnett fans should be feeling better now, however.
Manager Phillip Wellman's team pulled off a second-half turnaround, winning the title in the South Division of the Southern League and qualifying for the playoffs against first-half winner Birmingham. The best-of-five series begins Wednesday in Birmingham.
Many of the players that keyed the second-half success should make the jump to Gwinnett next season, led by center field Jordan Schafer, starting pitchers Tommy Hanson, Todd Redmond and Kris Medlen, and closer Luis Valdez.
The absence of Schafer for 50 games because of a suspension for HGH use contributed to Mississippi's slow start. The 21-year-old re-established himself as one of Atlanta's top prospects, however, by hitting .322 with six homers and 19 in the first 26 games of August. He went into the weekend batting .267.
Hanson, 22, pitched a no-hitter for Mississippi after being promoted from Myrtle Beach and was 7-4 with a 3.19 ERA in 17 starts. He had 105 strikeouts in 93 innings.
Redmond, 23, led the Southern League in wins, going 13-5 with a 3.42 ERA, and was named the most outstanding pitcher. Valdez, 24, set a Mississippi record with 28 saves, while Medlen, 22, was 6-5 with a 3.11 ERA after moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation.
Outfielder Josh Anderson, who had his hitting streak snapped at 27 games shortly before being promoted to Atlanta, was named to the International League all-star team. He hit .314 in 121 games and had 42 steals in 49 attempts. . . . First baseman Scott Thorman homered in his first game back with Richmond after playing for Canada in the Olympics. . . . Richmond had the hitter and pitcher of the week in the IL, with catcher Corky Miller and right-hander James Parr being honored. . . . Outfielder Brandon Jones, moved up to Atlanta after hitting .260 in 95 games with Richmond, will play in the Arizona Fall League.
Mississippi clinched first place in the second half with a 7-2 home victory over Mobile. They were 41-25 for the second half going into the weekend. . . . Wellman was named the Southern League's manager of the year. . . . Redmond, a right-hander acquired from Pittsburgh for reliever Tyler Yates near the end of spring training, was the only all-star honoree. . . . Four Mississippi players will play in the Arizona Fall League - pitchers Hanson, Medlen, Deunta Heath and Stephen Marek, and third baseman Van Pope. Marek, a right-handed reliever, was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Mark Teixeira trade. . . . Schafer will play winter ball in Mexico and could win a spot in Atlanta with a big spring training.
MYRTLE BEACH (A)
Rocket Wheeler was named manager of the year in the Carolina League after the Pelicans won both halves in the South Division. Myrtle Beach was 87-49 overall going into the final weekend. . . . Five players were named to the CL all-star team - catcher Tyler Flowers, second baseman Travis Jones, shortstop Brandon Hicks, outfielder Willie Cabrera and designated hitter Ernesto Mejia. . . . Left-hander Scott Diamond was 12-2 with a 2.79 ERA for the Pelicans and 15-3 overall. He was 3-1 at Rome before being promoted. . . . Flowers will play in the Arizona Fall League. Wheeler will be manager of the Mesa Solar Sox.
Outfielder Jason Heyward was promoted to Myrtle Beach after being named the top major league prospect in the South Atlantic League. The 2007 first-round draft choice hit .323 for Rome and set a team record with 88 runs. Heyward, 19, had 27 doubles, six triples, 52 RBIs and 15 steals in 120 games. . . . First baseman Freddie Freeman, a second-round draft pick in 2007, joined Heyward on SL all-star team. Freeman, 19, set team records for RBIs (95) and hits (154) while batting .316 with 18 homers in 129 games. . . . Outfielder Cody Johnson set a team record with 25 homers, but struck out 175 times while hitting .251. . . . Rome went into the final weekend 33-31 for the second half. The season concludes with home games today and Monday against Columbus. . . . Outfielder Luis Sumoza joined Rome after being acquired from the Boston organization in exhange for Mark Kotsay. The 20-year-old hit .301 with Lowell in the New York-Penn League and had 11 homers in 51 games.
Danville (35-32) finished second in the Eastern Division of the Appalachian League after four consecutive titles. Danville's were five games behind first-place Pulaski. . . . Third baseman Jon Gilmore was named to the all-star team. The 20-year-old hit .337 with 23 doubles, four homers and 31 RBIs in 67 games. . . . First baseman Gerardo Rodriguez led the league with 49 RBIs and was second with 13 homers
. . . . Right-hander David Francis led the pitching staff, going 5-3 with a 2.35 ERA.
GULF COAST (Rookie)
Right-hander Zeke Spruill, a third-round draft choice from Kell, led with Gulf Coast League with a 7-0 record. He had a 2.93 ERA and had 32 strikeouts to eight walks in 40 innings. . . . Second baseman Robert Brooks finished tied for fifth in the league with a .329 average. . . . Right-hander Tim Gustafson, coming back from elbow surgery, was shut down after making three starts in late July. . . . The Braves finished the season 29-29.