In celebration of Black History Month, throughout February, teams across Minor League Baseball are taking a look back at the best Black players to suit up for their club.
While some of these standout performers went on to long and illustrious Major League careers, others simply had great Minor League careers or, in some cases, just one incredible season that went down as “a year for the ages.”
In no particular order, here is a look at nine of the best Black baseball players ever to suit up for the Biloxi Shuckers.
Ray spent the entire 2018 season with the Shuckers and put together one of the most impressive campaigns in Southern League history. Taken by the Brewers with the fifth overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft out of Louisville, Ray was named the Southern League MVP after notching 32 doubles, seven triples and 27 home runs while recording 74 RBI, 86 runs scored and 37 stolen bases in 44 attempts. He led the Southern League in total bases (254), extra-base hits (66), home runs and stolen bases, tied the league lead in doubles, was second in runs scored and slugging percentage (.477), fourth in RBI and tied for fourth in triples. The Shuckers’ outfielder also became the first player in Southern League history to lead the league in home runs and stolen bases in a single season.
During his breakout campaign, Ray was named the Southern League Player of the Week for July 16 through 22, earned recognition as the Southern League Player of the Month in July and was honored as a Midseason and Postseason All-Star en route to capturing the League MVP and the Brewers’ Robin Yount Minor League Player of the Year honor. Ray returned to the Shuckers for a brief spell in 2019 and has his name all over the Shuckers’ single season and career records. He holds the record for most home runs in a season, most RBI in a season, most runs scored in a season, most games played and at bats in a season, tied for the most triples in a season, second in doubles and stolen bases in a season and third in hits in a single season. In 146 career games with the Shuckers, he is third all-time in stolen bases (40) and fourth all-time in home runs and triples. Ray made his Major League debut with the Brewers on April 24, 2021.
A founding member of the Biloxi Shuckers, Taylor played in 128 games with Biloxi in 2015, 134 games in 2016 and 25 of his 32 games played in 2017. His name occupies many of the top spots in the Shuckers’ record books, leading the franchise in hits (247), doubles (41), games played (287) and at bats (1,004) while sitting second in runs scored (114) and fifth in RBI (83).
While playing in the Shuckers’ inaugural campaign in 2015, Taylor was a constant cog in an offense that won a league-best 78 games. Playing in all but three games during the season, the Torrance, CA native hit .260 with 20 doubles, three triples, three home runs, 43 RBI, 48 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. He was named the Southern League Player of the Week on June 15, hitting .423 for the week with four doubles, two home runs, eight RBI, two stolen bases and no strikeouts. During that week, Taylor helped the Shuckers clinch a series victory in their inaugural homestand at MGM Park and on June 14, he went 3-for-5 with a double, two RBI and a run scored in a 9-0 Biloxi victory that clinched the South Division First Half Title, giving the Shuckers a playoff berth in their inaugural season. Taylor made his Major League debut with the Brewers on September 7, 2019. In 130 games at the Major League level, Taylor has slashed .251/.324/.467 with 15 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs and 50 RBI.
Devin Williams’ meteoric rise began in Biloxi during the 2019 season. After missing the entire 2017 season and appearing in just 14 games at High-A in 2018, Williams started the 2019 campaign on the Shuckers’ roster. By the end of the year, he was in the Brewers’ bullpen and pitching meaningful innings on a team headed to the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Williams primarily pitched in long relief to start the 2019 season, finishing the first half with a 2.91 ERA. After the All-Star Break, Williams was moved into a late-innings role and became the most dominant reliever in the league over that spell. During nine outings from June 21 to July 22, Williams went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and four saves in four opportunities. Across 10 innings, Williams surrendered just four hits, walked one batter and struck out 17. The righty was selected for the MLB All-Star Futures Game and shortly afterwards he was promoted to Triple-A San Antonio on July 26. After making just three appearances with the Missions, Williams had his contract selected by the Brewers and made his Major League debut on August 7, 2019.
In the 2020 season, Williams established himself as the most dangerous setup man in baseball, primarily fueled by his high-90’s fastball and unique changeup, which earned its own nickname, ‘The Airbender.’ In 22 appearances, Williams went 4-1 with a 0.33 ERA, allowing eight total hits, four runs and one earned run. The former second-round pick walked nine batters and racked up 53 strikeouts, earning both the National League Rookie of the Year award and the Trevor Hoffman Award, given to the National League’s top reliever, along with an All-MLB Second Team selection and NL Reliever of the Month honors in September of 2020.
Bearing a new last name when he arrived in Biloxi to start the 2018 season, Trent Grisham spent all of 2018 and the first half of 2019 in a Shuckers uniform. Much like Williams, Grisham’s ascension to the Major Leagues took off during the 2019 season. After slashing .223/.360/.348 with 10 home runs, two triples, seven home runs, 31 RBI and 45 runs scored in 107 games in 2018, Grisham returned to the Shuckers in 2019.
The outfielder was hitting .215 for the season on May 25 but caught fire and finished his time with Biloxi on an emphatic note. Across his final 20 games with the Shuckers, Grisham slashed .342/.479/.822 with seven doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 25 RBI and 20 walks with just eight strikeouts. He became just the second player in franchise history to homer in four consecutive games and was named a Southern League Mid-Season All-Star before earning a promotion to Triple-A San Antonio on June 20. On August 1, the Brewers selected Grisham’s contract and he made his Major League debut that same day. Despite playing the final month of the season with the Brewers, Grisham was selected as the Robin Yount Minor League Player of the Year for 2019 and would go on to win a Rawlings Gold Glove with the San Diego Padres in 2020.
Gatewood claims the title of Home Run King for the Shuckers, mashing 36 homes runs during his time with Biloxi. The Clovis, CA native received a late promotion to the Shuckers in 2017, hitting four home runs in 23 games to end the season. He returned to Biloxi with vengeance in 2018, hitting 19 doubles, a triple and 19 home runs with 59 RBI in 94 games. Gatewood was named a Midseason All-Star but had his season cut short when he suffered an ACL tear in Jackson, Tennessee on July 24, 2018. At the time of his injury, Gatewood was tied for second in the Southern League in home runs, trailing only Corey Ray, was fourth in RBI and extra-base hits (39) and fifth in total bases (164).
Gatewood missed the first month of the 2019 season while rehabbing from his ACL tear but returned to the Shuckers on May 12. In his first at bat, Gatewood hit a solo home run to right field, one of 13 home runs for the season. He took sole possession as the franchise leader in home runs on July 27 when he hit a walk-off two-run homer against the Jackson Generals and is also the franchise leader in postseason home runs, hitting four during the Shuckers 2019 postseason run to the Southern League Championship Series. Gatewood is also second in Shuckers’ history in RBI (113), third in runs scored (103) and fifth in hits (174).
Johnny Davis is regarded as one of the fastest players ever to grace the field at MGM Park and justly carries the record as the all-time leader in stolen bases, swiping 68 bags across 202 games with the Shuckers. During the 2017 season, he set the Shuckers’ single season stolen base record, stealing 52 bags in 64 attempts, leading the Southern League in steals in the process. He is also second in franchise history in hits in a single season (133), trailing only Orlando Arcia, tied for second in triples (6) and third in games played in a season (133).
The speedster is also the franchise leader in triples, recording 10 three-baggers in his time with the Shuckers, and fifth all time in runs scored (95). For his dogmatic play and tenacity, Davis was awarded the Southern League Hustler of the Year as part of the leagues’ postseason awards in 2017. He also famously had the number one play on ESPN’s Sportscenter for a home run robbery he made on April 13, 2017 at MGM Park. A 22nd round pick by the Brewers in 2013, Davis made his Major League debut with the Tampa Bay Rays on September 11, 2019.
Troy Stokes Jr.
The primary left fielder during his 164 games with the Shuckers, Troy Stokes Jr. consistently made highlight-worthy plays in the outfield en route to a Rawlings MiLB Gold Glove in 2018. A fourth-round pick by the Brewers in the 2014 draft, Stokes earned a late promotion to Biloxi at the end of the 2017 and impressed in a small sample size, hitting .252 with nine doubles, six home runs, 18 RBI and 19 runs scored in just 35 games.
As part of an outfield that also featured Ray and Grisham, Stokes put together an All-Star campaign with Biloxi in 2018, earning a spot in the Midseason All-Star Game in Birmingham, AL. The Towson, MD native slashed .233/.343/.430 with 23 doubles, six triples, 19 home runs, 58 RBI and 19 stolen bases, helping the Shuckers secure both half division titles and a berth in the Southern League Championship Series. During the playoffs, Stokes hit .367 with three doubles, a home run, three RBI and a franchise postseason record 10 runs scored.
Along with his postseason records, Stokes is fifth in Shuckers history in home runs (25) and tied for fifth in triples (6) while also ranking second in a single season in walks (65) and third in runs scored (74). He made his Major League debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 9, 2021.
Dillon Thomas’ nearly decade journey through the Minor Leagues saw him make his penultimate stop in Biloxi. He was added to the Shuckers’ postseason roster in 2018 and appeared in five games, hitting a home run in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the Southern League Championship Series against the Jackson Generals.
Thomas was assigned to Biloxi to begin the 2019 season and given consistent playing time for the first time in his entire career in affiliated baseball the outfielder thrived. Thomas jumpstarted his season by recording six RBI across two games of an Opening Night doubleheader against the Birmingham Barons and helped carry the Shuckers to a first-half South Division title, earning a spot as a Midseason All-Star. The Houston, TX native slashed .265/.339/.434 with 25 doubles, six triples, 13 home runs, 62 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. His 71 RBI are the second most in the single season in franchise history and he’s tied for second in triples (6) while ranking fourth in hits (119) and doubles.
Thomas delivered one of the most iconic moments in franchise history when he smashed a walk-off solo home run in the tenth inning of Game One of the South Division Championship Series against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, giving the Shuckers a thrilling 11-10 victory. He would go on to make his Major League debut with the Seattle Mariners on June 9, 2021 after playing 670 games in the Minor Leagues.
While Caufield has not actually played for the Shuckers, he’s been a vital part of the organization since joining the coaching staff in 2017. Caufield has served as a coach with an emphasis on outfielders and helped the likes of Taylor, Ray, Stokes, Grisham and Thomas on their journeys through Biloxi. He was named the Shuckers’ hitting coach heading into the 2020 season, a role he has held ever since.
Caufield also carries the distinction of serving as one of three managers in Shuckers’ history. The Ada, OK native stepped in and managed Biloxi on an interim basis during the entire month of April in 2019 while Mike Guerrero was sidelined with an injury. During the entirety of 2019, he also worked as Biloxi’s third base coach, high fiving players as they round third on home runs and even getting all the way on the ground to signal to players that they should slide into third base.
Originally selected by the Brewers in the 39th round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Oklahoma, Caufield spent six seasons in Milwaukee’s farm system and played in 221 games for the Huntsville Stars between 2009-11. The Stars ultimately relocated from Huntsville in 2015 and became the Biloxi Shuckers.
The Biloxi Shuckers open their seventh season on the road against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos on Friday, April 8. Biloxi then returns to MGM Park for their home opener against the Mississippi Braves on Tuesday, April 12 at 6:35 pm. Shuck Nation Memberships, Flex Plans and group outings are now available for the 2022 season and individual tickets will go on sale at a later date. Event spaces at MGM Park can be booked for private events during the offseason by calling (228) 233-3465.
ABOUT THE BILOXI SHUCKERS:
The Biloxi Shuckers are the Double-A Affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Shuckers play at MGM Park in Biloxi, Mississippi. For more information please visit biloxishuckers.comand follow us on Twitter @biloxishuckers and at facebook.com/biloxishuckers.