Congratulations go out to Delta State coach Mike Kinnison on the occasion of his 600th win at the Division II power in Cleveland. He picked up the last two he needed in Saturday’s sweep of West Alabama, another nationally ranked club. It’s almost taken for granted every season that the Statesmen will be a contender for their conference title and the national tournament — and it shouldn’t be. A lot of diligent effort goes into it, by players and coaches. What’s really amazing is how seamlessly DSU has moved from the Boo Ferriss era to the Bill Marchant era to the Kinnison regime without suffering any real drop-off. Kinnison played for Ferriss and coached under Marchant before taking the reins in 1997. He has won a national title (2004) and been to three other D-II College World Series in his 14 seasons. The Statesmen will be in the CWS hunt again this year. You can count on it.
Junior college baseball has a big stage to itself in Jackson on Sunday, when undefeated Jones County JC plays ninth-ranked Itawamba CC at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Bobcats are 10-0, a record made even more impressive by the fact that they haven’t played any home games while their facility is under renovation (see previous post). JCJC is hitting .312 as a team and has a 2.18 ERA. That’s tough to beat. ICC, the defending state champion, is off to a 6-2 start. First pitch is scheduled for noon. It’s worth a look.
Sports fans seemingly can’t function without lists. Or at least the information-generating sources out there seem to think that is the case. Baseball America certainly loves its lists — and on that subject, the magazine’s Top 100 minor league and high school prospect rankings are out. Just for the record, 2009 Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward is the No. 1 prospect (no surprise there), and his ’09 M-Braves teammate Freddie Freeman checks in at No. 32. Former Itawamba Community College standout Desmond Jennings (Tampa Bay) is No. 6. A pair of possible future M-Braves pitchers, Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino, are Nos. 51 and 69. On the prep chart, Richton’s JaCoby Jones is No. 39, Madison Central’s Ryan Bolden No. 43 and Terry’s Deshun Dixon No. 79. Not to be overlooked, Sumrall High, which went 36-0 in 2009, is ranked 12th in BA’s preseason Top 25 prep poll.
Marcus Lemon, a speedy young infielder, was invited to the Texas Rangers’ big league camp on Wednesday. Wasn’t there another speedy guy named Lemon in baseball a few years back? Yes, Chet Lemon, the Jackson native who played center field for the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers in the ’70s and ’80s. Chet, now an amateur baseball coach in Florida, is indeed Marcus’ dad. Marcus, a fourth-round pick by Texas in 2006, is trying to follow in dad’s footsteps. It won’t be easy; dad, a three-time All-Star, set a pretty good pace.
Not trying to jinx him or anything like that, but Southern Miss’ B.A. Vollmuth appears ready to launch into stardom. The lanky shortstop from Biloxi burst onto the scene last spring when, as a true freshman, he stepped in for the injured Brian Dozier and helped the Golden Eagles reach the College World Series. He’s 6 feet 4, 220 pounds with power in his bat and his arm. (Does Cal Ripken come to mind?) Vollmuth was the Atlanta Regional MVP last year, then a Cape Cod League All-Star (and rated the top shortstop in the summer league by one service) and now a third-team preseason All-America pick by Baseball America. He hit eight home runs (six in postseason) in just 97 at-bats. His .237 average a year ago was surely an anomaly; he’s off to 5-for-11 start this season. USM fans have got to be pumped about what Vollmuth will do over a full season.
Alan Zinter holds a special place in Mississippi baseball lore. Not so much for any major on-field accomplishment in his long pro career but simply for being the last ex-Jackson Met to play in a big league game. Zinter, who was on the last JaxMets team in 1990, was still in The Show in 2004. He was still putting on minor league unie in 2006. Well, it’s been 11 years since the Generals packed up and left Jackson — and the number of ex-Gens currently in big league spring camps is down to 10. The race is on to see who’ll be the last old General standing. Several of the 10 clearly are near the end, including 38-year-old Billy Wagner, expected to be the Atlanta Braves’ closer this season. Don’t bet against Lance Berkman outlasting the others. He’s still with Houston and still going strong.
Most eye-opening result from Friday’s opening day of Division I play: Alcorn State 1, Louisiana Tech 0. In Barrett Rey’s ASU coaching debut, the Braves went to Ruston, La., and beat the Bulldogs behind Collin Armold’s six-hit shutout and a home run by Kilby Perdomo. Armold, a senior transfer from Vincennes in Indiana, struck out six and walked just two in a dominating performance. Watch him. And Perdomo, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound outfielder who transferred in from a Florida junior college. The teams play again today. Stay tuned.
Camps are open or opening. Players are there or en route. So here it is, the 2010 list of Mississippians in big league spring training:
Julio Borbon (Starkville), Texas; Chris Coghlan (Ole Miss), Florida; Bill
Hall (Nettleton), Boston; Jarrett Hoffpauir (Southern Miss), Toronto; Rhyne
Hughes (Pearl River CC), Baltimore; Desmond Jennings (Itawamba CC), Tampa Bay; Fred Lewis (Gulf Coast CC), San Francisco; Edwin Maysonet (Delta State), Houston; Seth Smith (Ole Miss), Colorado; Craig Tatum (Mississippi State), Baltimore; Matt Tolbert (Ole Miss), Minnesota; Eli Whiteside (Delta State), San Francisco
Dusty Hughes (DSU), Kansas City; Brent Leach (DSU), Los Angeles Dodgers;
Cliff Lee (Meridian CC), Seattle; Paul Maholm (MSU), Pittsburgh; Matt
Maloney (Ole Miss), Cincinnati; Brandon Medders (MSU), San Francisco; Roy
Oswalt (Holmes CC), Houston; Jonathan Papelbon (MSU), Boston; Tony Sipp
(Gulf Coast CC), Cleveland; Taylor Tankersley (Vicksburg), Florida; Donnie
Veal (Jackson), Pittsburgh
Zack Cozart (Ole Miss), Cincinnati; Wendell Fairley (Lucedale), San
Francisco; Joey Gathright (Hattiesburg), Toronto; John Lindsey
(Hattiesburg), Los Angeles Dodgers; Paul Phillips (Meridian CC), Colorado;
Marcus Thames (East Central CC), New York Yankees; Jonathan Van Every
(Itawamba CC), Pittsburgh; Corey Wimberly (Alcorn State), Oakland
T.J. Beam (Ole Miss), Arizona; Roy Corcoran, (Gulf Coast CC), Houston; Tim
Dillard (Itawamba CC), Milwaukee; Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), St. Louis; Cody
Satterwhite (Ole Miss), Detroit
Though his numbers in two minor league seasons are decidedly modest, Wendell Fairley has an invitation to the San Francisco Giants’ major league camp in Arizona. The former George County outfielder, a first-round pick in 2007, has a .249 average with five homers and 59 RBIs on his ledger. He spent last season at low Class A Augusta. But he does have tools. He’s 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds. As a prep senior, he was out of his league, batting .538 and posting a 9-2 record as a pitcher. He was a USA Today All-American, and the Giants plucked him 29th overall in the ’07 draft. They must be eager to see him face better competition this spring.
The college season gets into full swing starting Friday, when the Division I programs launch. There’s so much to watch for. The Scott Berry era begins at Southern Miss, and Barrett Rey debuts at Alcorn State. Ole Miss is rebuilding but still carries high expectations, as does Mississippi State in John Cohen’s second season as coach. Jackson State faces a tough and perhaps telling opening doubleheader at South Alabama. Mississippi Valley State starts a compelling three-game series against visiting Notre Dame (see previous post). Among the small schools, Gulf Coast Athletic Conference rivals Belhaven and William Carey hook up in Hattiesburg. Millsaps plays a big Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference series at Southwestern in Texas. … But don’t overlook this little series that also starts Friday: Tougaloo at LSU-Shreveport. The watch is on for the Bulldogs’ first win in GCAC play. They are 0-74. That’s right zero and seventy-four since they began playing an official GCAC schedule in 2008. The GCAC might fall apart after this season, when Belhaven, Carey and others depart for another league. So 2010 may be Tougaloo’s last crack at this conference. USM alumnus Robert Franciskato took over the program last season and went 1-47. The Bulldogs are 0-5 this year, not including a pair of losses to Southwest Mississippi CC. They’ll have their hands full with perennial GCAC power LSU-S. But there has been a sign of progress. Bulldogs outfielder William Walker was named the GCAC player of the week on Feb. 9, a first for the program. The Holmes CC transfer went 5-for-9 in a league series at Spring Hill. It’s something to rally around.