“Good field, no hit” was not a label that applied to Zack Cozart prior to 2014. And it’s one he is eager to shed. The Ole Miss product, a top-drawer defensive shortstop for Cincinnati, saw his offensive numbers slide last year to .221 with four homers and 38 RBIs. He was a .250 hitter with 27 homers combined in 2012-13. Cozart reportedly noticed a “glitch” in his swing while reviewing video in the off-season and believes it’s an easy fix. And there’s this: He may be pushed this spring by newly acquired Eugenio Suarez, who batted .242 with four homers and 23 RBIs in 85 games with Detroit last year and has a .271 career minor league average. P.S. Odds and ends: Corey Wimberly, the former Alcorn State star and 10-year minor leaguer, will play in Mexico this season, according to an milb.com story. Wimberly, 31, has played for seven different organizations without reaching The Show. “I’ve only enjoyed it,” he said of the ride. “I haven’t gotten to that bitter point.” … Former Hinds Community College star Beau Wallace signed a minor league deal with Milwaukee for this season after not playing in 2014. Drafted as a third baseman by Pittsburgh in 2013, Wallace is now listed as a catcher. … Starkville native Julio Borbon re-signed a minor league deal with Baltimore; he put up good numbers for the Orioles in Triple-A last year but never got a call-up.
DeSoto Central High, arguably the best prep team in the state, will participate in the National High School Invitational hosted by USA Baseball from March 25-28 at Cary, N.C. DeSoto Central, 28-10 and Class 6A runner-up (to Oak Grove) last year, is ranked 14th in Baseball America’s preseason poll and is currently No. 24 in MaxPreps’ rankings. The Jaguars will play Whitewater High of Fayetteville, Ga., in the NHSI, a 16-team event being held for the fourth time. DeSoto is the first Mississippi school invited. The Jags’ Austin Riley, a Mississippi State signee, may be the best player in the state. He went 8-3, 1.51 as a pitcher and batted .465 with nine homers as a third baseman in 2014. … Brandon, a 6A semifinalist last season led by outfielder Erick Hoard, is No. 22 in BA’s preseason poll. That’s two Magnolia State schools among the nation’s top 22 — another feather in the state’s baseball cap. … Mississippi did not have a player make Baseball America’s preseason All-America teams, which are selected by MLB scouting directors. But, Ke’Bryan Hayes of Texas, a first-team pick at third base, has a Mississippi connection. The Tennessee signee is the son of Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes, the longtime MLB star who won a World Series ring with the New York Yankees in 1996. … Still can’t get over the numbers Jackson Prep’s Gene Wood, a Louisville Slugger All-America pick, put up for the MAIS state champs in 2014: .596 average, 68 runs and 52 RBIs – in 36 games! The Alabama signee has certainly set the bar high for himself this year.
Desmond Jennings must be hoping that lighter will translate to better in 2015. The former Itawamba Community College star showed up for Tampa Bay’s camp noticeably thinner than last season, when he was listed at 6 feet 2, 200 pounds. “Trying to figure out a way to stay healthy and stay on the field for a full season,” Jennings told mlb.com. The veteran outfielder missed the last month of 2014 with a knee problem; his numbers — .244, 10 homers, 36 RBIs, 15 steals — were down from 2013. The onetime football standout stole 52 bases in the minors one year and got 31 bags for the Rays in 2012. P.S. Biloxi Shuckers fans should see a pretty good team take the field this season, though when the new Southern League club might actually take the field in Biloxi remains up in the air. As many as five of the Milwaukee Brewers’ top 10 prospects (as rated by mlb.com) could suit up for the Shuckers: No. 1 Tyrone Taylor, an outfielder; No. 2 Orlando Arcia, a shortstop; No. 7 Clint Coulter, a catcher; No. 9 Jorge Lopez, a right-hander; and No. 10 Victor Roache, an outfielder. Former Mississippi Braves outfielder Kyle Wren (No. 13), who batted .283 with 13 steals for the M-Braves in 2014, might also make the Biloxi roster to start this season. Ole Miss product David Goforth (No. 18) pitched for Milwaukee’s Double-A club in Huntsville in 2014 and posted 27 saves; he is likely to start in Triple-A if he doesn’t make the Brewers’ big league roster. As for the team’s schedule, the tentative plan is for the Shuckers to play the first two months on the road, including a five-game “homestand” against the M-Braves in Pearl from May 6-10, then open MGM Park on June 6. Some club officials say the stadium could be ready before that. Of course, it could also be later than that.
Jarrod Dyson is all about that next base, which is most evident from his stolen base numbers. The Southwest Mississippi Community College product has swiped 100 bags over the last three seasons for Kansas City, with a team-high 36 in 2014. Plus, he goes first to third like a jackrabbit. His speed also plays in center field, where he gets to a lot of balls. Last season, Dyson played 691 1/3 defensive innings over 108 games, posting a .983 fielding percentage on 236 chances with four errors and four assists. Beyond those numbers, ESPN the Magazine’s March 2 issue presents a list of the American League’s top outfielders under the category of “Highest Defensive Runs Above Average in 2014.” Dyson ranked No. 1, ahead of teammates Alex Gordon (a Gold Glover) and Lorenzo Cain, who were 2 and 3. Not sure what that stat means, but it must be significant. The Royals did win the AL pennant. And Dyson, who doesn’t play regularly, got a $1.23 million contract for the coming season. P.S. A story about MLB replacement players from spring training 1995 in the Feb. 23 issue of Sports Illustrated includes references to former Jackson Mets standout Terry Blocker and Mississippians Oil Can Boyd, Chris Brown and Ted Williams. Boyd, from Meridian and Jackson State, was attempting a big league comeback in ’95 — when owners locked out the regular players from spring training — as was Jackson native Brown, aka Downtime Brown or the Tin Man. Williams, a star at Columbus’ Caldwell High who went on to play at Alabama, never made the majors but was an intriguing talent. In 10 seasons in various minor and indy leagues, Williams stole 458 bases, including 74 and 71 in back-to-back campaigns in A-ball. His nickname, the SI story notes, was the Splendid Sprinter, a clever takeoff on the Splendid Splinter moniker given to his namesake, Hall of Famer Ted Williams. … Add Brent Leach to the list of Mississippians in major league camps. The 32-year-old right-hander is a non-roster invitee with Milwaukee; he pitched the last couple of years in the Brewers’ minor league system, including stints at Huntsville in the Southern League. Leach, a Brandon High, Southern Miss and Delta State alumnus, last pitched in the majors in 2009 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2005. … And scratch from the spring invite list ex-Hattiesburg High pitcher Robert Carson, whose 50-game drug suspension apparently cost him his spot with the Dodgers.
No college team in the state is hotter at the moment than Mississippi State. While the weather of late has been anything but consistent, the Bulldogs (6-0 as of this morning) have been steadily pounding the ball, scoring 72 runs all told, including 18 in a rout of overmatched Alabama State on Saturday. State is batting .343 as a team, led by Jacob Robson, whose .667 mark leads the regulars.
Also hot: Ole Miss’ J.B. Woodman (.429) and Christian Trent (2-0, 1.64 ERA in two starts) have carried the Rebels to a 3-1 start. … William Carey had a 10-game win streak stopped on Saturday in a loss to Loyola of New Orleans. The Crusaders are 10-1 and 5-1 in the Southern States Athletic Conference, led at the plate by Tyler Richardson (.435, 20 runs). … Keith Shumaker, Millsaps’ NCAA Division III All-American, is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his two starts for the 3-1 Majors. Shumaker beat D-III No. 8 Webster on Saturday. … Southern Miss has three players hitting over .350 — Dylan Burdeaux, Connor Barron and Tim Lynch — and a staff ERA of 2.29, but the error-prone Golden Eagles are 0-3-1 after a 3-0 start.
Also not-so-hot: Mississippi College coach Brian Owens notched career win No. 200 on Thursday in a 16-inning battle against Union, but the Choctaws dropped the last two games of that Gulf South Conference series. MC is 7-4 and 2-4 in the conference. … Belhaven was swept by Mobile in a three-game SSAC series at home this weekend, scoring only eight runs. Ranked No. 14 in the NAIA preseason poll, the Blazers (10-7) have a staff ERA of 5.08. … Pitching has also been an issue for Delta State, which is off to a 2-5 start. The Statesmen’s ERA is 6.38. DSU, 1-2 in the Gulf South, will try to play a home-opening doubleheader today against GSC foe North Alabama at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. … Jackson State has lost three of four after a 3-1 start. The Tigers also have had pitching issues: 6.24 ERA. … Blue Mountain pitchers yielded eight home runs in a doubleheader against NAIA No. 5 Faulkner on Saturday and were swept in the SSAC series by a 32-7 margin. The Toppers are 7-7, 1-5.
Alcorn State will get some national exposure today when the Braves play Grambling State in the MLB Urban Invitational to be televised live by MLB Network starting at 2 p.m. The Braves lost their opener in the four-team event 5-0 to New Orleans on Friday at UNO’s Maestri Field. Alcorn is 1-4; the one win, against Savannah State, was coach Barret Rey’s 100th in his six seasons in Lorman. The Braves won the SWAC Tournament and went to an NCAA regional in 2011 but have scuffled of late. They finished 11-42 last season. They managed just three hits and committed three errors in the loss to UNO. Maybe they’ll rise to the occasion of playing on national TV. One player to watch: Collin Carroll, a junior transfer from Ridgeland via Southwest Mississippi Community College who is batting .400 with a homer and three RBIs. He is the lone Alcorn batter hitting over .250. P.S. The Urban Invitational is a Major League Baseball initiative aimed at growing the game among inner-city youth and providing exposure for historically black colleges.
Not to make too much about statistics from this early in the season, but there are a few worth mentioning from the state junior colleges. Itawamba Community College’s Tanner Poole has eight stolen bases, tied for the national lead in NJCAA Division II. Poole, a sophomore from Amory, is batting .455 with two home runs and 11 RBIs for the Indians, who are 5-1. T.J. Watson is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA. … East Mississippi’s David Pimentel, a freshman from Tennessee, tops the nation in homers with three. … Jones County’s Daniel Goff, a former George County star who is 2-0 with a 1.50, was named the NJCAA D-II pitcher of the week on Thursday. He fanned 11 in a six-inning stint against Jefferson (Mo.) College on Wednesday. Tyler Schankin has hit two homers for the 11th-ranked Bobcats (7-1). … No. 2 Hinds, off to an 8-0 start, got a seven-inning no-hitter from Derek Martin of Flora on Wednesday against Bossier Parish (La.). Austin Sanders, from Madison, has a win and three saves for the Eagles, and Jonathan Washam is batting .500 with seven RBIs.
Major league camps formally open this week. As usual, a host of Mississippi-connected players will be in Florida and Arizona, some aiming to build on big years, some attempting comebacks from down years or injuries, some just trying to make an impression and land a job. A few are in new places this year, some may be anticipating a move before opening day. Rest assured, all are happy to be in an MLB camp. Who wouldn’t be? Here’s the list:
40-man roster members
Chris Coghlan (Ole Miss), Chicago Cubs; Zack Cozart (Ole Miss), Cincinnati; Brian Dozier (Southern Miss), Minnesota; Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC), Colorado; Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC), Kansas City; Ed Easley (Mississippi State), St. Louis; Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville), Cincinnati; Desmond Jennings (Itawamba CC), Tampa Bay; Tyler Moore (MSU), Washington; Mitch Moreland (MSU), Texas; Alex Presley (Ole Miss), Houston; Seth Smith (Ole Miss), Seattle
Aaron Barrett (Ole Miss), Washington; Louis Coleman (Schlater/Pillow Academy), Kansas City; David Goforth (Ole Miss), Milwaukee; Kendall Graveman (MSU), Oakland; T.J. House (Picayune High) Cleveland; Cliff Lee (Meridian CC), Philadelphia; Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), St. Louis; Jonathan Papelbon (MSU), Philadelphia; Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), Oakland; Tony Sipp (Gulf Coast CC), Houston
Anthony Alford (Petal), Toronto; Tim Anderson (East Central CC), Chicago White Sox; Joey Butler (Gulf Coast CC), Tampa Bay; Hunter Renfroe (MSU), San Diego; Stuart Turner (Ole Miss), Minnesota; Alex Yarbrough (Ole Miss), Los Angeles Angels
Brent Leach (Delta State), Milwaukee; Jacob Lindgren (MSU), New York Yankees; Paul Maholm (MSU), Cincinnati; Cody Satterwhite (Ole Miss), New York Mets; Chris Stratton (MSU), San Francisco; Donnie Veal (Jackson), Atlanta
1 — Career wins for Aaron Stevens, the new Mississippi Valley State coach who notched his first on Saturday, an 8-7 defeat of Illinois-Chicago in the Delta Devils’ second game of the year.
2 — Career wins for Earl Sanders, the new Tougaloo coach whose Bulldogs swept Rust on Friday after dropping their first seven games.
2 — Wins shy of 1,000 career for William Carey coach Bobby Halford, whose Crusaders have won six straight after an 0-5 start. They play a doubleheader today against Saint Joseph in Hattiesburg.
3 — Hits in each of Southern Miss’ first three games, all wins, by Dylan Burdeaux, who is batting .692.
4 — RBIs apiece by Jackson State’s Tilur Smith, Dylan Parker and Jovany Felipe in the Tigers’ 20-10 win over UT-Martin on Saturday.
5 — RBIs apiece by Millsaps’ William Chenowith and Isaac Glenn in a 16-3 victory over Schreiner on Saturday.
7 — Home runs by Belhaven hitters in 12 games, matching the Blazers’ total from all of 2014.
8 — Strikeouts, in six innings of work, by Ole Miss’ Brady Bramlett, in a 16-2, series-clinching victory over William and Mary on Saturday.
9 — Hits in four games, all wins, by Mississippi State’s Seth Heck, who is batting .563.
12 — Hitting streak for Belhaven’s Adam Kowalczyk, a junior transfer from Delaware Tech.
14 — Runs, in eight games, scored by Mississippi College’s Colton Johnson, a freshman from West Jones High.
The richest college baseball state in the country, extrapolating from a recent ranking done by Baseball America, is California. The Golden State had five colleges ranked among the top 24 in the magazine’s quantitative analysis of the best programs since 1999. Both Ole Miss (at No. 21) and Mississippi State ranked among the best 27. That’s rather remarkable when you think about it. Only two other states besides California had more schools in the top 27: Texas and Florida, with three each. Most colleges draw most of their players from their home state, and all three of those states are much more heavily populated than Mississippi. Georgia had only one program appear in the top 27, as did Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas. Alabama had none. BA’s ranking takes into account a variety of elements, including winning percentage, All-America picks, MLB draft selections and NCAA regional appearances. Ole Miss has made 13 appearances since 1999, when the tournament went to 64 teams. State has made 12 trips. Each has made a deep run in the College World Series in the past two years. Both are projected by BA to make the NCAA field again this year; in fact, fans of both schools have come to expect regional appearances, even regional host roles. That, too, is remarkable when you think about it. … It’ll be interesting to see how this year’s livelier ball impacts the ERA of Ole Miss’ Christian Trent (2.05 in 2014) and State’s Ross Mitchell (2.53) and the home run total of the Rebels’ Sikes Orvis (14 in 2014) and the Bulldogs’ Wes Rea (five). Those could be telling numbers for those key players. P.S. NCAA Division III preseason All-America Keith Shumaker went 1-for-3 with a run as Millsaps opened its season with an 8-0 win over Ozarks (Ark.) on Friday. But Lee Ogletree, a sophomore transfer from Raymond via Hinds Community College, stole the thunder by going 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run in his Majors debut.