Seth Smith will suit up for a third team in three years in 2015 – and once again the former Ole Miss standout is moving to a home park that’s tough on hitters. Smith, a left-handed hitting outfielder entering his ninth MLB season, was traded from San Diego to Seattle on Tuesday (for pitcher Brandon Maurer). Since coming up in 2007 with Colorado at the hitters’ paradise known as Coors Field, Smith has moved to O.Co Coliseum in Oakland, Petco Park in San Diego and now Safeco Field. All are notorious pitchers’ parks, with Safeco generally regarded as the most pitcher-friendly. Smith hit .266 with 12 home runs (plus 31 doubles and five triples) in 443 at-bats for the Padres in 2014 and .253 with eight homers in 368 at-bats for the A’s in 2013. This looks like a good move for Smith, who escapes the crowded outfield in San Diego. He’ll likely platoon with right-handed hitting Justin Ruggiano in right field for the Mariners, a team on the rise. With 85 career homers, Smith brings some pop. And he has played in four postseasons, including the 2007 World Series.
Ready or not, the 2015 college baseball season begins in Mississippi one month from today, when Belhaven University hosts Saint Francis (Ind.) at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson and William Carey takes on Missouri Baptist in a twinbill at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Tougaloo, under new coach Earl Sanders, the former Jackson State star, opens on Feb. 3 at Belhaven. The Bulldogs will serve as the opening day foe for Mississippi College on Feb. 6 at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC, transitioning to NCAA Division II, begins playing a Gulf South Conference slate this season; the much-anticipated Delta State series will be April 11-12 in Clinton. DSU starts the 2015 campaign on the road on Feb. 6, playing Nova Southeastern in Florida. The Statesmen’s home opener at Ferriss Field in Cleveland is Feb. 18 against Harding. Opening day for NCAA Division I schools is Feb. 13, and each of the Big 4 is at home: Ole Miss hosts William and Mary, Mississippi State gets Cincinnati, Southern Miss plays Murray State and Jackson State welcomes Texas-Pan American. Alcorn State opens at Savannah State. Mississippi Valley State hasn’t published a schedule. The Delta Devils’ opener will be the debut of coach Aaron Stevens, a longtime assistant to Doug Shanks, who retired in November to take a high school job at Central Hinds Academy. Shanks had a good run at Valley, winning five division titles, but 2014 was a rough year: 4-38, 4-17 in the SWAC. NAIA member Blue Mountain also has not released its schedule. P.S. The Maloney Trophy Series between Belhaven, MC and Millsaps, once a nine-game round-robin, has been reduced to a total of three games. Maybe it’s time to bring Tougaloo into the mix.
Hinds Community College will start the 2015 season where it finished 2014 – and that’s not a bad place to be. The Eagles, who finished runner-up in the NJCAA Division II World Series last season, are ranked No. 2 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll. No. 1 is Mesa (Ariz.), the team that beat Hinds in the title game. The Eagles have 11 NCAA Division I signees on their roster. They return the top five hitters from 2014, led by Luke Reynolds (.376), Marshall Boggs (.366) and Quade Smith (.331). Also back are home run leaders Chase Lunceford and Matt Jones, who blasted 10 apiece. Austin Sanders (8-2, 10 saves) returns on the mound, along with Randy Bell (9-4) and Casey Sutton (8-3). “We should be good. We should at least get back to the World Series,” Lunceford said in an interview last summer. “I know that’s tough to do, but we’ll have high expectations.” Hinds certainly is a team to watch, and the watch will start on Feb. 7, when the Eagles open against Mineral Area (Mo.) at Moss Field in Raymond. … East Mississippi was No. 18 in the preseason poll and Northwest checked in at No. 20.
Mallex Smith, one of the minor leaguers acquired by Atlanta in the Justin Upton deal, is an intriguing player. And he could start the 2015 season in the Mississippi Braves outfield. Mallex is a left-handed hitter with speed, a good skill to have at Trustmark Park. A fifth-round pick by San Diego in 2012, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Mallex has 169 stolen bases in 265 minor league games. He also has a .290 career average. He played at two levels of A-ball in 2014, batting .327 with five homers, 16 RBIs, 43 runs and 40 bags in 55 games in the high Class A California League. If Smith doesn’t start next season at the TeePee, it shouldn’t be long before he gets there.
Ryan Bolden was drafted 40th overall, ahead of the likes of Taijuan Walker, Nick Castellanos, Jedd Gyorko, Drew Smyly, Andrelton Simmons and Derek Dietrich, all picked inside the first two rounds of the 2010 MLB draft. The Los Angeles Angels apparently loved the power/speed potential of the strapping 6-foot-3, 190-pound Bolden, an outfielder who starred for Madison Central’s 2010 state championship team. The pro game was a big step for Bolden, and he spent three years in the rookie Arizona League, never batting above .200. Injuries crept in. He played just seven games in 2013 and none this past season but had not yet given up the game. Bolden’s life ended shockingly and tragically on Wednesday when he was shot in Atlanta. He was only 23. “He was just a really good young man and came from a really good family. It’s heartbreaking; it really is,” Angels scouting director Ric Wilson told mlb.com.
From all indications, Corey Wimberly has still got game. The former Alcorn State standout, 31 and a veteran of 10 minor league campaigns, is batting .291 with 17 stolen bases for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League. He went 3-for-3 with a home run, a sac and three RBIs on Tuesday and 1-for-4 with a run on Wednesday. What Wimberly doesn’t have is a team for 2015. He’s a 5-foot-8 switch-hitter with speed who can play the outfield or second base. And he’s hungry, still hoping for that first taste of the big leagues. Surely, he fits someone’s shopping list. … Also still looking for a place to play: Paul Maholm (Mississippi State alum), Phil Irwin (Ole Miss), Justin Henry (Ole Miss) and Matt Tolbert (Ole Miss). Veteran left-hander Maholm is coming off a poor year (with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and an injury. Irwin made one appearance for Texas and was released in August. Henry, an infielder/outfielder, was in Triple-A with Boston in 2014, and Tolbert, an infielder with big-league time, was also in the minors (with Philadelphia) recovering from injury.
Published reports say San Diego and Tampa Bay are talking about a trade that would send outfielder Wil Myers to the Padres. Such a move would give San Diego, which already has added Matt Kemp, a glut of outfielders and would likely mean yet another trade. Former Ole Miss star Seth Smith of Jackson would probably be “the most attractive and affordable ($6.5 million) piece for most clubs,” according to mlb.com. Smith, in his first year with the Padres after coming over from Oakland, batted .266 with 12 home runs, 48 RBIs and 31 doubles in 2014. The lefty hitter played mostly left field and mostly against right-handed pitching (.240, zero homers in 50 at-bats vs. lefties). Smith is a career .265 hitter with 85 homers in the big leagues since making his debut with Colorado as a September call-up in 2007. P.S. Aaron Holbert will join Phillip Wellman as a four-term manager of the Mississippi Braves when the Double-A club hits the field in 2015. Brian Snitker, Jeff Blauser and Rocket Wheeler all served just one season. … Former M-Braves on the move in recent days include Zeke Spruill (traded by Arizona to Boston), J.R. Graham (a Rule 5 pick by Minnesota), Sean Gilmartin (Rule 5 pick by the New York Mets) and Antoan Richardson (minor league deal with Texas). Graham, who spent the last two (injury-dampened) seasons in Mississippi, will have a solid shot at making the Twins’ roster in the spring.
It’ll be interesting to see how ex-Mississippi Braves standout Todd Cunningham fits into Atlanta’s plans in 2015. Cunningham, a switch-hitting outfielder, is batting .282 with five runs and two steals through 11 games with Licey in the Dominican Winter League. This after batting .287 with eight homers, 58 RBIs and 19 bags at Triple-A Gwinnett this past season. Cunningham, a second-round pick out of Jacksonville State in Alabama in 2010, has hit at every level, including a 2-for-8 showing in the big leagues in 2013. With the M-Braves in 2012, he impressed with a .309 average, three homers, 51 RBIs and 24 steals. He is currently leading off for Licey and playing center field. He can play anywhere in the outfield, which might make him a valuable piece for the remodeled Braves. P.S. John Lindsey, the veteran slugger from Hattiesburg, has nine homers through 21 games in the Mexican Pacific League. He is batting .282 with 20 RBIs for Navojoa.
Four months from today, the Mississippi Braves will open the 2015 season — their 11th at Trustmark Park in Pearl — against the Tennessee Smokies. Sure, it’s a little early to start a countdown … but what the heck. Here’s a shot in the dark at how the team might line up come April 9. At catcher, Tyler Tewell, who batted .251 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs at Class A Lynchburg. Braeden Schlehuber (.230, 41 RBIs for the M-Braves) could return at that spot. At first base, Seth Loman, the minor league veteran who was re-signed after hitting .261 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs in an injury-interrupted campaign. At second base, Emerson Landoni, who batted .271 for the M-Braves before getting sent down to open the job for rising prospect Jose Peraza. At shortstop, Daniel Castro, another midseason call-up from Lynchburg who batted .277 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 51 games. At third base, Kevin Ahrens, a former Toronto first-rounder who hit .266 with seven homers, 65 RBIs and 41 doubles at Lynchburg. In the outfield, David Rohm (.255 in Mississippi), Will Skinner (.253, 11 homers, 52 RBIs at Lynchburg) and Cuban Dian Tascano, 25, who reportedly agreed to terms with Atlanta on Monday and needs some minor league seasoning. Also in the outfield picture are Matt Lipka and Robby Hefflinger, each coming off a poor, injury-marred season. The rotation may well be headed by Lucas Sims, Atlanta’s top pick in 2012 who went 8-11 with a 4.19 ERA at Lynchburg, or Tyrell Jenkins, acquired from St. Louis in the Jason Heyward deal. Greg Ross (7-3, 2.08) impressed with the M-Braves in 2014, and Jarrett Miller (8-9, 4.04) was a steady arm in Lynchburg. J.R. Graham, who had a rough 2014 coming back from injury, might well be back in the bullpen. Alex Wilson (16 saves, 2.02 ERA) was an outstanding closer at Lynchburg. As for who’ll be managing the 2015 M-Braves, Atlanta has not yet announced its minor league staff assignments, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Aaron Holbert back at the helm for a fourth year. He has done a commendable job. P.S. Former Petal High star Anthony Alford is plugging away with decent results in the Australian Baseball League. Alford, a Toronto prospect, is hitting just .239 but has a .346 on-base percentage and 21 runs in 18 games as Canberra’s leadoff batter. He hit his second homer on Sunday. … Former Hattiesburg High standout Robert Carson, hoping to get back to the big leagues, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League and has not allowed a run in three appearances for the Gigantes del Cibao. The big left-hander, who has a 6.82 career ERA in 31 MLB games (all with the New York Mets), is now in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system, his third organization.
Sifting through the many trade rumors that pile up this time of year, we come across at least one that might be worth keeping an eye on. It could have ramifications for a Mississippi college product, Alex Yarbrough, who is knocking on the big-league door. A writer for Sports on Earth predicts that the Los Angeles Angels will trade veteran second baseman Howie Kendrick to Washington for some young arms. Should that deal go down, it would open the door for former Ole Miss star Yarbrough to take the second base job with the Angels this spring. Yarbrough, 23, is rated the No. 9 prospect in the LA system. He isn’t on the 40-man roster because, as a 2012 draftee, he doesn’t have to be protected yet. True, he hasn’t played above Double-A, but plenty of players have jumped from that level to The Show. Yarbrough is a switch-hitter who batted .285 with five home runs, 77 RBIs, 66 runs and 38 doubles at Arkansas in 2014. He is a .295 career hitter in the minors. Defense is said to be his shortcoming — 10 errors, .982 fielding percentage this past season — but he was an All-SEC defensive player at Ole Miss, so he’s not exactly a liability in the field. The Kendrick-to-Washington trade might not happen this off-season. But Yarbrough appears close enough to being ready that the Angels may be forced to make some kind of move soon to clear a spot. P.S. The roster remake in Atlanta has seen the departure of several former (and well-regarded) Mississippi Braves, including Jason Heyward, Tommy La Stella, Jonny Venters and, possibly, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy. But, M-Braves fans will note, there are still 25 alums of the Double-A club on Atlanta’s 40-man roster, including recent additions Jose Peraza and Kyle Kubitza, intriguing prospects who could be in the lineup sometime in 2015.