The Magnolia State is well-represented on Baseball America’s preseason All-America teams, which were revealed today. Former Richton High star JaCoby Jones, a second baseman at LSU, made the first team, Ole Miss pitcher Bobby Wahl the second team and Mississippi State shortstop Adam Frazier and Southern Miss outfielder Mason Robbins the third team. For the record, Wahl and USM closer Bradley Roney made Sporting News magazine’s A-A team.
The well-traveled Bill Hall will get a shot at making the Los Angeles Angels’ roster this spring. The Angels signed the Nettleton product, who has been with six different MLB clubs the past four years, to a minor league deal with a spring training invite. Hall, 33, is a career .248 hitter with 125 home runs, 35 of those with Milwaukee in 2006. He belted 15 homers in Triple-A with Baltimore last season, so he still has some thump. Hall reportedly is agreeable to playing in the minors again for the Angels, and that’s likely where he’ll start 2013. LA’s roster, which includes Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Erick Aybar, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick, to name a few, won’t be easy to crack.
Expect great things from Mississippi State this season. At least that’s the forecast from Baseball America, which pegged the Bulldogs fifth in its preseason poll and suggested that anything short of a College World Series appearance will be a disappointment. Is that realistic? (The Bulldogs have been to Omaha only once since 1998.) State returns most of the key players from last year’s SEC Tournament championship club and added some impact newcomers. Still, there are “buts.” One of the missing pieces is ace starter Chris Stratton, an All-American and the Ferriss Trophy winner. Only one returning regular hit over .273. (That was rising star Adam Frazier, at .371.) The 2012 Bulldogs also didn’t hit much for power, though, as BA notes, the shortened left field at Dudy Noble may help there. (Perhaps this is the year Hunter Renfroe’s power blossoms.) BA likes State’s gritty approach at the plate, its defense, the depth of its pitching staff and the back-end presence of Jonathan Holder (nine saves). Those are good things. Opening day is Feb. 15. The anticipation will continue to build. P.S. Delta State, the NCAA Division II runner-up last season, is picked fifth in Baseball America’s D-II poll. The Statesmen, who won 49 games, expect a boost from MSU transfer Taylor Stark, who can pitch and hit. … Hinds Community College, the defending state juco champion, is ranked seventh in the NJCAA’s 10-team preseason poll. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton is rated the No. 11 prospect in the minors by mlb.com. The stolen base king will go to spring training with Cincinnati but reportedly will start the 2013 campaign playing center field in Triple-A. … Former Jackson Generals standout Freddy Garcia, now 36, has signed a minor league deal with San Diego.
Belhaven University coach Hill Denson may be concerned about his pitching staff this season, but he would be hard-pressed to find fault with Friday’s effort. Chris Good and Robert Marzoni combined on a two-hitter with nine strikeouts as the Blazers beat Blue Mountain 4-1 at Smith-Wills Stadium. Left-hander Good, a New Mexico transfer, took a no-hitter into the sixth. Marzoni, a returnee who posted a 1.21 ERA in 2012, did not allow a hit over the last three frames. The Toppers’ lone run was unearned. BU, hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 32-24 finish in 2012, looked sharp with the bats, too, pounding out nine hits. Bud Britt belted a three-run homer and also had an RBI double. Hamilton Harper had three hits, as well. The Blazers and Toppers play again today at 2 p.m. … Rust College also opened its season on Friday but might not have been quite ready. Loyola of New Orleans beat the visiting Bearcats 16-3 and 39-0.
Three former Mississippi Braves and the club’s projected 2013 shortstop have been sent to Arizona in Atlanta’s blockbuster deal for outfielder Justin Upton, according to multiple reports. Former M-Braves Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill are headed to the Diamondbacks, along with Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury, for Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson. Spruill pitched for the M-Braves in 2012, posting a 9-11 record with a 3.67 ERA. Ahmed, a well-regarded shortstop prospect penciled in for the job in Pearl this year, hit .269 with six homers and 40 stolen bases at Class A Lynchburg. Drury, an infielder, played at low-A Rome in 2012. Braves fans will be sad to see the versatile and productive Prado go, but Upton adds a new dynamic to the Atlanta lineup, which will also include his brother B.J., signed as a free agent.
They’ll play ball on Friday at Smith-Wills Stadium, where Belhaven hosts Blue Mountain in the first college game of the 2013 season. Those two will play again on Saturday, and BU will host Tougaloo on Jan. 29 in the Bulldogs’ opener. William Carey starts on Feb. 1 with a home game against LSU-Shreveport. Delta State opens Feb. 8, hosting Montevallo, and Mississippi College plays Game 1 the same day against Birmingham-Southern in the Millsaps Invitational. Millsaps launches Feb. 9 against Ozarks. The NCAA Division I start date is Feb. 15, and five of the state’s six D-I schools play that day: Ole Miss hosts TCU, Mississippi State hosts Portland, Southern Miss brings in Missouri, Jackson State hosts Texas Southern and Alcorn State plays Wake Forest in the Louisiana-Monroe tournament. Mississippi Valley State is slated for a home doubleheader against SWAC foe Prairie View on Feb. 16. P.S. Christian Bethancourt, the Mississippi Braves catcher in 2012, was rated the No. 7 catching prospect in the minors by mlb.com. Bethancourt, not expected back in Pearl this season, has a very bright future. … Noticed that big league veteran Fred Lewis, the ex-Stone County High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout, has signed to play in Japan this season. He was with the New York Mets at the end of 2012.
What’s the over/under on how many at-bats Seth Smith will get this year? The former Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss star heads into his second season with Oakland as a bench player. Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick appear set as the corner outfielders and Brandon Moss as the DH. Both Reddick and Moss bat left-handed, like Smith. Newly acquired catcher John Jaso, yet another lefty hitter, may also vie for DH duties. Smith got 383 ABs in 2012 and hit 14 home runs with 52 RBIs, production that helped the Swingin’ A’s win the American League West. But Smith’s batting average fell to .240 (down from .284 in 2011 with Colorado) as his struggles against left-handed pitching seemed to worsen. He batted .157 in 70 ABs vs. lefties. Smith has good all-around skills, but that inability to hit lefties is going to limit his opportunities. Smith has 65 career homers, reaching double figures in bombs each of the last four seasons. Question is, Can he get enough ABs to do it again?
The Mississippi Braves formally announced today that Aaron Holbert will return as manager this season. Garey Ingram also will be back for a fourth season as hitting coach. Perhaps a new crop of players will produce some better on-field results. The 2012 M-Braves went 62-77 overall (worst in the league) in Holbert’s first season as a Double-A manager (and first in the Atlanta organization). There was talent on that club, but it just didn’t blend into a winner. Plagued mostly by offensive woes, the team never seriously contended in either half of the Southern League season and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Can’t really blame that on Holbert (or Ingram). Players have to produce. Holbert, a low-key sort, came in from the Cleveland system with a good reputation. He managed in the star-studded Arizona Fall League after the SL season. He can run a game. We’ll just have to see what kind of talent Atlanta gives him to work with in 2013. P.S. Former M-Braves pitchers Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen and Tim Collins are on the Team USA roster for the World Baseball Classic. Martin Prado is on Venezuela’s roster, and Andrelton Simmons (from Curacao) is expected to play for the Netherlands.
Tickets for the college series at Trustmark Park go on sale Thursday (Jan. 17) at 9 a.m. at the stadium in Pearl. These games typically draw big crowds and surely will again this season. Each of the state’s Big 3 Division I schools is ranked in Collegiate Baseball’s preseason Top 40, with Mississippi State at No. 13, Ole Miss at 25 and Southern Miss at 36. The TeePee series launches on March 12 with MSU-USM. State and Ole Miss play on April 9 and USM and Ole Miss on April 16. Tickets start at $8 — $10 for the State-Ole Miss game. … Tickets for the March 30 Atlanta Braves exhibition game at the TeePee have yet to go on general sale. Maybe next month. P.S. There have been reports (Boston Globe, for one) that Roy Oswalt wants to pitch again in 2013, perhaps just a half season again. But there may not be much interest in the right-hander from Weir. His half season with Texas last year produced a 5.80 ERA.
There are some fairly significant Mississippi baseball anniversaries to be celebrated in 2013. In 2003, the independent Jackson Senators won the Central Baseball League championship. Hard to forget Keto Anderson’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th inning of the decisive fifth game at Smith-Wills Stadium. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years. Twenty years ago, the Double-A Jackson Generals won the Texas League championship, the first for the franchise as a Houston Astros affiliate. That was a pretty good club that included the likes of Roberto Petagine, Brian Hunter, Jim Dougherty, Alvin Morman, Lance “Bam-Bam” Madsen and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson. And a hundred years ago — yes, literally, 100 — a Jackson team called the Lawmakers won the Class D Cotton States League title with a 71-24 record. We can assume there was dancing in the streets. Sixty years ago, there was an event that doesn’t warrant celebration but is certainly significant in Jackson’s baseball history. On Aug. 8, 1953, a tornado ripped through downtown Jackson and tore up League Park, where the original Jackson Senators played in a different incarnation of the Cotton States League. The team finished that season playing only road games, and the next year, club owner Ace Hudlin moved it to Greenville. Jackson had had a minor league team almost every year since 1904. But after ’53, the city didn’t host another club until the Jackson Mets arrived at the newly built Smith-Wills in 1975.