In his first game in a Boston uniform, Mitch Moreland hit a three-run homer today during an exhibition game in Fort Myers, Fla. The Amory native and former Mississippi State star, signed as a free agent in the off-season, went deep against a pitcher for Northeastern (the school swept by Southern Miss in Hattiesburg last weekend). Moreland is one of the players the Red Sox are counting on to fill the void left by retired slugger David Ortiz. Lefty-hitting first baseman Moreland smacked 22 homers for Texas in 2016 and has 110 in his seven years in The Show. He also won a Gold Glove last year. P.S. On a disheartening note, former Terry High star Van Pope, once a highly rated Atlanta prospect, is wanted for burglary in two Mississippi counties, according to a Mississippi News Now report. Pope was a power-hitting third baseman with a big arm who played two seasons for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, including the 2008 Southern League championship year. He was released by Atlanta in 2010 and played independent league baseball for a time thereafter.
The eye-popping number of the state college season to date belongs to William Carey University’s Tyler Graves. The number: 17. Graves has driven in 17 runs through 11 games for the Crusaders, who are 7-4 while playing every game away from home. Graves, a senior from Petal, is 15-for-37, a .405 average matched by teammate Christian Smith. … Ole Miss’ sweep of highly rated East Carolina over the weekend was fueled in part by Ryan Olenek’s bat; the SEC player of the week went 6-for-13 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs. But noteworthy also are the numbers put up by Cole Zabowski, one of the lesser heralded freshmen in Oxford; the Georgia native is 3-for-7 with a homer and four RBIs. … Taylor Braley carried the big bat for Southern Miss in its sweep of Northeastern, going 4-for-10 with two homers, seven RBIs and four runs. … Hunter Stovall banged out eight hits in 15 at-bats with three RBIs for Mississippi State, off to a 3-1 start. … Kirt Cormier is 8-for-14 with a homer and three RBIs for Alcorn State (2-2). … Jackson Webb has two homers in a 7-for-18 start for Missisisppi Valley State (0-4). … Jackson State (1-2) was led over the weekend by Lamar Briggs, who went 4-for-12. … Delta State (7-2) has gotten major production from Emil Ellis, who is 13-for-34 with eight runs and three RBIs. … Will Elliott is 10-for-31 with a homer, five RBIs and five runs for Mississippi College, which has stumbled to a 1-10 start. … Miciah Heard is 21-for-49 with 13 runs and six RBIs for Blue Mountain (8-6). … Terrell Hodges (8-for-17, two homers, nine RBIs) and J.G. Miley (8-for-17) have helped Belhaven get off to a 4-1 start. … At Millsaps (2-5), Logan Patterson has eight hits in 22 trips. … D’Anthony Morrow has six hits in his last 11 at-bats for Tougaloo, which is 4-5 heading into a twinbill with William Carey in Jackson on Wednesday.
There are six Mississippians bopping around Cincinnati’s camp in Goodyear, Ariz. Billy Hamilton might be the only one who breaks camp with the big league team. Though he still hasn’t hit as much as the Reds would like (.260 in 2016, .249 career), former Taylorsville High star Hamilton is their center fielder, bringing plus speed and defense to the job. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is the Cincy shortstop – but for how long? Trade rumors have circled Cozart for a while and now that he is in his last season before free agency, they’ve only intensified. Cozart, 31, bounced back from a bad knee injury in 2015 to bat .252 with 16 home runs last year, though knee pain curtailed his season. He says he feels 100 percent now and is happy to be with the Reds. But, it’s not an ideal situation. He could be dealt at any time. “You’re in limbo,” he told cincinnati.com. “That’s the tough part about it.” Stuart Turner, another ex-UM star, is also in a sort of limbo. He is in camp as a Rule 5 pick and is battling for a job as the backup catcher. If he doesn’t get that spot, he’ll likely be returned to Minnesota. Left-hander Cody Reed, a highly rated prospect out of Northwest Mississippi Community College who had rough MLB debut in 2016, will contend for a job on the pitching staff but may well wind up back in the minors. Greenwood native Louis Coleman is in the Reds’ camp as a non-roster pitcher, former Itawamba CC star Desmond Jennings as a non-roster outfielder. Both veterans face seemingly long odds to make the 25-man roster out of spring training.
Watching the Urban Invitational on MLB Network and there in the batter’s box for Alcorn State is A.J. Makarewicz. Yes, indeed, the son of Scott Makarewicz, a catcher on the original Jackson Generals team in 1991. Where does the time go? A.J., batting leadoff and playing shortstop for the Braves in their opener, is a junior transfer from Seminole State College, a Florida juco. Scott played parts of four seasons for the Generals over the course of his minor league career, most of which was spent in the Houston organization.
Baseball came roaring back at the state’s NCAA Division I schools on Friday. You might have heard the noise raised by the more than 25,000 fans who turned out at the old ballparks in Oxford, Starkville and Hattiesburg. At Oxford-University Stadium, a.k.a. Swayze Field, Ole Miss drew a record 12,117 for its 5-4 victory over East Carolina. At Dudy Noble Field, an opening day record 10,217 attended Mississippi State’s game against Texas Tech, a 5-2 loss. And at Taylor Park, 3,234 (in a 6,600-seat stadium) witnessed Southern Miss’ 9-4 blowout of Northeastern. Yes, Mississippi is a so-called football state, but let’s give baseball its due. Each of the Big 3 went to an NCAA regional in 2016. Each has some rebuilding to do in 2017. Judging from the attendance on opening day, fans of all three are eager to see the new product and, we can assume, are carrying some high expectations.
We live in a golden age for shortstops. Look around the big leagues and you see Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts at the forefront of a young class that also includes the likes of Trevor Story, Dansby Swanson, Orlando Arcia and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson. Third base is called the hot corner, but shortstop is a hot spot these days, a position where you’re expected to hit, field and oftentimes lead, as well. Here in the Magnolia State, the players on that spot at the Big 4 Division I schools bring different levels of experience to the job along with intriguing potential. … Jackson State’s shortstop is Cornelius Copeland, a senior and an All-SWAC pick in 2016, his first year in the program after transferring from a Florida junior college. Copeland, who was drafted out of high school, hit .422 with five homers last season. His defense could stand to improve; he made 23 errors (an .895 fielding percentage) in 54 games. … At Mississippi State, junior Ryan Gridley is a returning starter at short and could be poised for a breakout year. He had a solid if unspectacular 2016 campaign, batting .284. New Bulldogs coach Andy Cannizaro, a shortstop in his playing days, has raved about Gridley’s defense and leadership skills. … At Southern Miss, they’re replacing Nick Dawson, who was a mainstay – and a .328 hitter — on the C-USA championship club. Tracy Hadley, a senior from Pascagoula by way of Pearl River CC, and Northwest Mississippi CC transfer LeeMarcus Boyd were vying for the job in preseason camp. Hadley hit .256 in 39 games for the Golden Eagles last year. Boyd was a dynamic player at NWCC — .339, three homers, 21 steals – but might need time to adjust to the pitching at the D-I level. … At Ole Miss, they’re handing the reins to a true freshman. But Grae Kessinger isn’t just any freshman. He was a prep All-America at Oxford High, a four-time All-State player, a two-time state champion and an MLB draftee in 2016. And, yes, he’s the grandson of the great Don Kessinger and the son of Kevin Kessinger, also a Rebels star. Grae carries a lot of expectations into the season, which starts Friday in Oxford against East Carolina. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” Kessinger told the Oxford Eagle. His career should be fun to watch. … State opens Friday at Dudy Noble Field against Texas Tech, USM welcomes Northeastern to Taylor Park that same day and J-State takes on Morehead State and Jacksonville on Saturday at Braddy Field. P.S. As a fund-raising event for storm-damaged William Carey University, the Biloxi Shuckers will play the Crusaders in an exhibition game on April 4 at MGM Park. For the record: The Crusaders will have to use wood bats.
Mississippi State product Chad Girodo was outrighted off Toronto’s 40-man roster on Wednesday but reportedly will remain in spring camp as a non-roster invitee. The Blue Jays were clearing roster space for veteran relievers J.P. Howell and Joe Smith. Lefty Girodo made his big league debut in 2016 and worked in 14 games with a 4.35 ERA. He put up a 3.79 at Triple-A Buffalo, where he’ll likely begin this season. … Former Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt, who led Houston to the 2005 World Series, will serve as a guest instructor in the Astros’ camp. “The ability to match quantity and quality during his time as an Astro was incredible,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch told mlb.com. Oswalt won 163 games in the big leagues. … Former Mississippi Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt is going to get work as a pitcher while continuing to catch in San Diego’s camp. Bethancourt, known for his strong arm, made a couple of mop-up appearances for the Padres last season and then pitched seven relief innings in the Panamanian Winter League. … Atlanta has endured three straight losing seasons, but ex-M-Braves star Freddie Freeman offered some encouraging words for fans as camp began for the Braves, telling mlb.com, “A lot of people aren’t picking us, but I think we’ll be right there in September, playing meaningful baseball.” Braves manager Brian Snitker, the former M-Braves skipper, called the optimism “legit.”