It was an awe-inspiring night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The biggest crowd of the season — an announced 5,216 strong — turned out on Saturday night, some for Parrot Head Night, some for the usual fireworks show but most to watch former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel make a tuneup appearance on his road to Atlanta. Keuchel’s performance in the opener of the Mississippi Braves’ twinbill against Mobile was somewhat underwhelming. It was left to top Braves prospect Cristian Pache to inspire the awe. Pache hit a two-out, game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh — the scheduled final inning — then, from center field, threw out the “bonus runner” at the plate to preserve the tie in the eighth. The crowd went bonkers after both plays, and Pache’s reaction to both was something to see. The M-Braves then won it 4-3 on Riley Unroe’s RBI single in the bottom of the first extra inning. They also won Game 2, 3-2, on a walk-off walk. Quite a night. Keuchel worked seven innings, throwing 106 pitches, mixing in a lot of off-speed stuff with an 88-mph fastball. He gave up three runs on 11 hits, several of them hard-hit balls, including a double by Los Angeles Angels prospect Jo Adell on the first pitch of the game. Keuchel walked one and fanned four. He stood to get the loss before Pache’s homer in the seventh. A controversial out call at third base, which led to manager Chris Maloney’s ejection, had fired up the crowd just before Pache’s bomb, which provided the crescendo. Pache is hitting .291 with nine homers and 36 RBIs, and his defensive skills are as good as you’ll see. Keuchel, when asked after the game if he was ready for big league duty, said, “I feel like I’m there.” The 20-year-old Pache may be feeling the same.
Coors Field and Hunter Renfroe. Sounds like a potentially explosive combination, and on Friday night it most definitely was. Renfroe, the so-called “country strong” slugger from Crystal Springs, blasted three home runs for San Diego, helping the Padres pull off a crazy rally and beat Colorado 16-12 in 12 innings. Renfroe, who now has 21 bombs on the year, hit a solo homer in the second inning, a two-run shot in the ninth as part of a six-run eruption and then added another two-run blast in the 12th. The former Mississippi State star went 4-for-7, lifting his average to .253, and his five RBIs gives him 40 for the season. He has seven homers in his last 15 games. Eight Padres have hit three homers in a game in the franchise’s 50-year history, and Renfroe, in just his fourth MLB season, has done it twice. And to think, his name is being mentioned in trade rumors.
With a clutch home run against the New York Yankees on Thursday, Tim Anderson achieved a notable double-double (homers and steals) for the third straight season with the Chicago White Sox. The former first-round pick out of East Central Community College belted homer No. 10, a three-run shot, in the fifth inning, tying the score at 4-4 at Guaranteed Rate Field. The ChiSox went on to win 5-4. “Those moments are the moments you want to be in. Not being afraid to fail,” Anderson, never at a loss for words, told mlb.com. He is batting .317 with 10 homers, 32 RBIs and 15 steals. He had a 20-20 double-double last year. Anderson was fourth in the latest All-Star voting results for American League shortstop, a tough crowd that includes Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Andrelton Simmons, Gleyber Torres, Xander Bogaerts and Jorge Polanco (who led the voting). … Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels became on Thursday the first Japan native to hit for the cycle in the big leagues. How many Mississippi natives have pulled off this rare feat? Five. Gulfport’s Gee Walker (opening day 1937), Moss Point’s Sam Leslie, Ellisville’s Harry Craft, Greenville’s Frank White (who did it twice) and Hattiesburg’s Fred Lewis. … Richton’s JaCoby Jones, whose hot hitting (.344 in his last 30 games) had earned him the leadoff spot in Detroit’s lineup, left Thursday’s game with an elbow contusion after an HBP. He’ll be reevaluated today, reports said. … Mississippi State product Chris Stratton reportedly will make a second rehab appearance before returning to Pittsburgh’s roster. He went on the injured list May 25 with side discomfort. He threw two innings for Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday. The veteran right-hander from Tupelo has a 5.40 ERA in four games with the Pirates after posting an 8.59 in seven appearances with the Angels before being traded.
The Toronto Blue Jays, foundering at 24-43 in the American League East, have used eight different players in the outfield. Only one of the current group has a batting average over .221; only one has more than five home runs. Meanwhile, at Triple-A Buffalo, former Petal High star Anthony Alford has been raking. Alford, who went 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs in a Bisons win on Wednesday, is batting .375 this month. He is batting .242 with five homers, 28 RBIs and 13 steals for the season. Alford began this season on the big league roster after a strong spring. He played in one game, on April 2, and went 0-for-3. Sent down to Buffalo, he struggled mightily in April. He bounced back to hit .276 in May and has really caught fire this month. But there’s been no call from Toronto. “I can sit there and be frustrated and be (upset) about it, but I can’t control that,” Alford told The Buffalo News in a story that published Wednesday. “But what I can control is what I’m doing here.” The 24-year-old former Southern Miss and Ole Miss football player has been a top-rated prospect in the Jays’ system for several years. He has had many highs and lows, including a 3-for-30 showing in 18 big league games over three seasons. The Jays are going nowhere this year. They’re getting little production from their current outfielders. Seems like it might be a prime opportunity to see what Alford can do with some regular playing time.
Awards season has begun for the colleges. To recap what’s happened so far: Mississippi State’s Ethan Small has been named the College Baseball Foundation’s national pitcher of the year. J.T. Ginn, the State star from Brandon, was named Perfect Game’s freshman of the year and a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American. Ole Miss’ Grae Kessinger was named the nation’s top shortstop, winning the Mizuno-sponsored Brooks Wallace Award. Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner and State’s Small were tabbed first-team All-Americans by Baseball America, which also honored Bulldogs Jake Mangum and Justin Foscue as second- and third-teamers, respectively. That MSU trio made Collegiate Baseball’s All-America list, as well. Delta State’s Jake Barlow and Hunter Riggins have earned NCAA D-II All-America honors, and Mississippi College’s Blaine Crim, the Gulf South Conference player of the year, was named a D-II Academic All-American. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Brandon Parker was an NJCAA Division II first-team All-America, Northwest CC’s Ben Van Cleve made the second team and Itawamba’s Houston Harding and Pearl River’s Wiley Cleland were on the third team. … Former Mississippi Braves are getting a lot of respect from voters in the early returns from the MLB All-Star Game ballots. Ozzie Albies led National League second basemen and Tommy La Stella, now with the Los Angeles Angels, led the AL at the same position. Brian McCann was second among NL catchers and Dansby Swanson second on the shortstop list. Freddie Freeman (first base) and Ronald Acuna (outfield) came in third at their respective positions. (Unfortunately, Austin Riley is not on the ballot.) East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, who has been at or near the top of the AL batting race all season, was fourth in the shortstop voting. … Former Mississippi State standouts Brandon Woodruff and Dakota Hudson likely will get consideration for the NL pitching staff, while Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull and Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn could be candidates in the AL. Pitchers are chosen by a vote of fellow players. … The current Mississippi Braves are slated to send seven players – five pitchers plus outfielders Drew Waters and Cristian Pache — to next week’s Southern League All-Star Game at MGM Park in Biloxi. Nine Shuckers – yes, nine — are on the South roster.
Jarrod Dyson, the former McComb High and Southwest Mississippi Community College star, got it started. Dyson, not a renowned slugger, led off Monday’s Arizona-Philadelphia game with a home run. Twelve more bombs would be hit before the night ended, setting a major league record for a single game. The Diamondbacks hit a franchise-record eight of the 13 and, by the way, won the game 13-8. After Dyson’s leadoff shot, the next two D’backs hitters, Ketel Marte and David Peralta, also went deep. “Leading off with a homer set the tone and guys came behind me and did the same thing,” Dyson told mlb.com. Dyson is having an outstanding season at age 34. The 10-year vet, a former 50th-round draft pick, is batting .268 (.352 on-base percentage) with four homers, 14 RBIs, 31 runs and 14 stolen bases in 52 games. He is a .252 career hitter, and his career-high for homers is five. It’s pretty cool, too, to have had a hand in an all-time home run record, though the way things are going, it might not survive the season. P.S. Just throwing this out there: Dallas Keuchel’s next minor league start for Atlanta likely will be on Saturday. Triple-A Gwinnett is playing on the road, as is low Class A Rome, for whom Keuchel pitched Monday. High-A Florida doesn’t play. The Double-A Mississippi Braves are home on Saturday.
Let this flow over you: In 23 years as the Delta State head coach, Mike Kinnison won an NCAA Division II national championship, six regional titles, eight Gulf South Conference championships (including 2019), nine GSC coach of the year awards and 981 games with a .756 career winning percentage. A no-nonsense kind of guy with a keen eye for finding players who fit at DSU, Kinnison coached dozens of All-Americans and three national players of the year. The Benton native played for Boo Ferriss and coached under Bill Marchant, two other Statesmen coaching legends, and was elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Kinnison announced today that he is relinquishing his coaching duties to focus full-time on the athletic director role he assumed earlier this year. The search is on for the next coach. How would you like to follow that act? First Hill Denson retires at Belhaven, now Kinnison steps aside at DSU. The college baseball scene in Mississippi will look very different in 2020.
Nick Sandlin has made a rapid ascent in the Cleveland organization. A second-round pick and the fourth player drafted out of Mississippi in 2018, the ex-Southern Miss ace was promoted to Triple-A last week and has made two relief appearances for the Columbus Clippers. He allowed two runs in his debut but worked a clean inning on Saturday. The 22-year-old right-hander posted a 1.56 ERA in 15 games at Double-A Akron this year. He climbed through four levels of the minors last summer, finishing with a 3.00 ERA and five saves. He has 67 strikeouts in 43 2/3 pro innings. Rated the No. 17 prospect in the Indians’ system by MLB Pipeline, Sandlin could make the big league team this season. … The first Mississippian chosen in 2018, Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison, is now with Colorado’s advanced Class A Lancaster club. The lefty, the Rockies’ No. 3 prospect, is 2-2 with a 2.96 ERA in nine starts and has made the California League All-Star Game. … Forecast by many as a first-round draft pick in 2018, Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington slipped to the third round, where he was plucked by the Chicago White Sox. The East Central High alum, who moved from low-A Kannapolis to high-A Winston Salem in mid-May, is 1-1, 6.16 in four starts at the new level. He had a 1.62 ERA at the low-A level. … Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, the top high school pick from the state last year who signed a pro contract (first-rounder J.T. Ginn of Brandon went to State), is already rated the No. 7 prospect in Milwaukee’s system though he has yet to play above the rookie level. The 2018 second-rounder hit .182 with two homers in 24 games in the Arizona League, playing through a bout of pneumonia. He’ll likely go to the Pioneer League this summer. “He has the tools, no doubt about it,” Rafael Neda, Gray’s manager last year, told Baseball America this spring. “He’s a really athletic kid with a high ceiling. We’ve started to see that.”
The New Albany-based Cotton States League is under way, with the Tippah County Tribe, featuring several Blue Mountain College players, off to a 3-1 start. Among the league’s top hitters to date are Northeast Mississippi CC alum Landon Wilkerson (.500, eight RBIs for the Tupelo Thunder) and Belhaven’s Nathan Herron (.500, homer, nine RBIs for the Golden Triangle Jets). Northeast CC alum Nikolas Wilcher is 2-0, 1.80 ERA for 3-2 Tupelo. This is the CSL’s 11th season. … In the Texas Collegiate League, the Acadiana Cane Cutters’ roster is replete with Mississippians: Southern Miss’ Hunter LeBlanc, Fisher Norris, Josh Lewis and Drew Boyd, Delta State’s Kris Peet, Hunter Stafford and Bailey Hargrave, Hinds Community College alum Noah Hughes and Jones JC product Trace Henry. … The Cape Cod League season starts today, though none of the Mississippi State or Ole Miss players slated for the high-profile summer league are there yet for obvious reasons. One of the main attractions in the Cape figures to be J.T. Ginn, who starred as a freshman (8-4, 3.36 ERA) for State this season after being a first-round MLB draft pick last summer. Ginn is ticketed to pitch for Orleans. After a star-studded career as a two-way player at Brandon High, Ginn was drafted 30th overall by the Los Angeles Dodgers but passed on the pro opportunity to play at State with no apparent regrets. The Hyannis team has a distinct Mississippi flavor, with three MSU players and one from Ole Miss listed on the club’s preseason roster. Bulldogs Tanner Allen, Rowdey Jordan and Jordan Westburg are joined by the Rebels’ Anthony Servideo. UM’s Tyler Keenan and former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, now at Tennessee, will play for Harwich, and State’s Justin Foscue is on the Wareham roster.
JaCoby Jones had a day on Saturday, going 3-for-4 with two home runs and a career-high five RBIs for Detroit. Actually, the former Richton High star has had quite a couple of weeks, batting .420 over his last 14 games. On May 24, he was hitting .173. He is now batting .250, with eight homers and 20 RBIs. Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said Jones has worked “incredibly hard” on adjusting his swing and is seeing the results. Jones batted .207 last year, his first full MLB campaign. The Tigers have been patient with the LSU product because his defense in center field is so good. Jones, who goes 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, has always had raw power and speed, and he plays with lots of energy. If he is blossoming as a hitter, look out. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier, also on a hot streak of late, belted his 10th homer of the year for Washington, a hit that just happened to be the 1,000th of his career. Dozier called the milestone “pretty cool” but also told mlb.com that “I don’t put that much emphasis on records and that kind of stuff.” … McComb native and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson went 0-for-3 for Pittsburgh in his return from the injured list. His next hit will be his 700th. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland will be stuck on 891 career hits for a while. Boston put him back on the IL with a quad injury; he had been activated from a 10-day stint on Friday.