Ole Miss hasn’t gotten a lotta love in the preseason polls, but Baseball America saw fit to rank the Rebels No. 24. In the preview capsule on its web site, BA notes UM’s “strong core” of returnees from 2015 and a recruiting class, rated 19th in the nation, loaded with pitchers. Ole Miss returns six regulars from a 30-28 team that made the NCAAs. One of those regulars is shortstop Errol Robinson, an All-America candidate and potential high MLB draft pick. Also back are likely Friday night starter Brady Bramlett and closer Wyatt Short. A key could be how and where the new arms factor in. “That’s very important as you enter into conference play that guys have those roles,” coach Mike Bianco told BA. P.S. Hinds Community College is ranked ninth in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll. The Eagles went 43-7, were ranked first for several weeks and won the MACJC championship in 2015.
For a major league hitter, there’s no place like Coors Field. Corey Dickerson certainly seemed to enjoy playing there, batting .355 with 24 home runs in 122 games at Coors for the Colorado Rockies. Traded by the Rockies to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, the former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star is now entering a brave new world. His new home, Tropicana Field, is a much more pitcher-friendly park. The left-handed hitting left fielder is a .249 hitter with 15 homers (in 143 games) away from Coors Field. But the Rays, who gave up reliever Jake McGee to get Dickerson, don’t seem overly concerned. As Matt Silverman, Rays president of baseball operations, told mlb.com: “We believe in the skill set that Corey has and that it will translate to our ballpark and will really play to any ballpark in the league.” The trade also gives Tampa Bay a glut of outfielders, including three others that have played primarily in left: ex-Itawamba CC star Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer and Steve Pearce. There has been chatter for weeks that Jennings, coming off two injury-plagued seasons, might be moved. He is a career .249 hitter with 48 homers and 93 steals. P.S. Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton, who had surgery on a torn labrum last fall, recently told mlb.com: “I’m not 100 percent yet, but close to it. We had a schedule to be ready right around spring training. As of right now, we’re on track to make that happen.” Hamilton, perhaps the fastest player in the game, stole 57 bases for Cincinnati but hit just .226 and lost his leadoff role last year. Injuries limited him to 114 games. … There have been reports that Miami is interested in 37-year-old left-hander Cliff Lee, the former Meridian CC standout who missed all of last season with an arm problem.
Baseball America, which ranked Mississippi State No. 20 in its preseason poll, published its preview capsule of the Bulldogs on the magazine’s web site today. BA predicts a rebound for State from last year’s 24-30 campaign based on the success its players had in summer ball and a recruiting class that ranked fifth in the nation. BA notes that State won the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball Most Valuable Program award, which sounds impressive. State’s pitching woes in 2015 could be blamed in part on adjustments to the new baseball, coach John Cohen said. This year, Bulldogs pitchers will be adjusting to the loss of pitching coach Butch Thompson, now the head coach at Auburn. Adversity doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As Cohen told BA, “(T)hat’s where character is born.” P.S. Memorial services will be held Sunday and Monday in Pennsylvania for Devin McCann, the Belhaven University senior catcher who died in a car accident near Brookhaven last weekend. Visitation will be on Sunday at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Pennsylvania, from 6-9 p.m. EST. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. on Monday at St. Gabriel R.C. Church, in Norwood, Pennsylvania. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for memorial gifts to be made in Devin’s honor to 220 Second To None Baseball Academy, 217 W. Peach Street, Vineland, NJ 08360.
The Atlanta Braves are all about the future, and former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley could be a big part of that future. After a smashing pro debut, Riley has been rated the sixth-best third base prospect by MLBPipeline, which says he might have been “the steal of the 2015 Draft.” Riley was picked 41st overall by the Braves and proceeded to hit .304 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 60 games at two levels. He made 16 errors, but that’s not a red flag at this point. Still just 18, Riley goes 6 feet 2, 230 pounds and has a strong arm. It’ll be a couple years before he gets to Double-A Mississippi (and perhaps a couple more before he makes The Show), but for Braves fans, that’s something to daydream about. … Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is No. 5 on the third base prospect list, which is published on mlb.com. Hayes, a Texas native, is in the Pittsburgh system. … Riley is the third Mississippian to appear on an MLBPipeline top 10 prospect list: Harrison Central alum Bobby Bradley (Cleveland) made it at first base and Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed (Cincinnati) is on the left-handed pitcher chart. … Ex-East Central CC star Tim Anderson, who could be on the shortstop prospect list when it is released today, has gotten an invitation to the Chicago White Sox’s big league spring camp. Anderson hit .312 with five homers, 46 RBIs, 79 runs and 49 stolen bases for Double-A Birmingham in 2015.
It’s a good question for a rainy day: Who’ll be the next Mississippian to break into the major leagues? A lot of unpredictable factors that impact opportunity come into play over the course of a season. Still, it’s a good bet that the next Magnolia State big leaguer will come from among this group:
Chris Stratton, San Francisco. The former Mississippi State ace reached Triple-A in his fourth pro season and made the Giants’ 40-man protected roster. A right-handed starter, he went 5-10 with a 3.95 ERA at two levels in 2015, pitching better at Triple-A Sacramento than in Double-A. The Giants have a deep rotation, so it might take an injury for Stratton to get a shot this year.
Chris Ellis, Atlanta. The Ole Miss alum hasn’t pitched above Double-A, but reports are the 6-foot-5 right-hander will get a long look in Atlanta’s spring camp. Ellis, described as “polished” and “athletic,” went 7-4 with a 3.92 ERA at Double-A Arkansas in 2015, his second pro season. Acquired by Atlanta from the Los Angeles Angels this off-season, he is rated the Braves’ No. 11 prospect by mlb.com.
Hunter Renfroe, San Diego. The Mississippi State product, ranked as the Padres’ No. 2 prospect by mlb.com, is not on the 40-man roster but will be in camp. At Triple-A El Paso last year, Renfroe batted .333 with six homers, and he totaled 24 bombs for the year. He also has a right fielder’s arm. Matt Kemp is penciled in as San Diego’s right fielder but could be moved to center if (when?) Melvin Upton struggles.
Cody Reed, Cincinnati. The former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout has been labeled a player to watch in the Reds’ camp this spring. A power left-hander who goes 6 feet 5, 225 pounds, Reed posted a 6-2 record and 2.17 ERA at Double-A Pensacola after the Reds got him in a mid-summer trade with Kansas City. Baseball America rates Reed the No. 2 prospect in Cincy’s system.
Bobby Wahl, Oakland. The ex-Ole Miss star may contend for a bullpen role this spring as a non-roster player. Wahl, who has had some injury issues, made Double-A in 2015 and put up a 4.18 ERA with four saves in 24 appearances at Midland. Scouts rave about his stuff, which is better than his numbers might suggest.
Chad Girodo, Toronto. The lefty reliever out of Mississippi State reached the Triple-A level last year and has popped up in some of the Blue Jays’ prospect charts. He has a 2.30 ERA in 160 2/3 minor league innings and pitched well in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll be in the Jays’ camp as a non-roster invitee. And again, he’s a lefty.
Gather the hats and hooters: Feb. 5, a mere two weeks from today, is the start of the college season in Mississippi. Tougaloo College visits Mississippi College (and new coach Jeremy Haworth); William Carey travels to Florida to play Ave Maria University; Millsaps takes on Randolph-Macon in a tournament in Montgomery, Ala.; and Blue Mountain hosts Judson College in New Albany. Delta State plays its first game at refurbished Ferriss Field on Feb. 6, when Mike Kinnison’s Statesmen host Harding. … Belhaven, making the move from NAIA to NCAA Division III, opens on Feb. 16 at Huntingdon in Alabama. … Alcorn State will launch the Brett Richardson era on Feb. 19 in the MLB Urban Invitational in New Orleans. Richardson, a longtime Florida A&M assistant, replaced Barret Rey last summer. … The state’s Big 4 D-I schools open at home on Feb. 19: Mississippi State — which is showing up in most of the national preseason polls — against Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss vs. Florida International, Southern Miss vs. Eastern Illinois and Jackson State vs. Tennessee-Martin. Mississippi Valley State is on the road that day against Nicholls State. P.S. Also opening on Feb. 5 is Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, which will play Jackson State (Tenn.) CC in a twinbill at MGM Park in Biloxi. The Bulldogs are playing their home games at the Shuckers’ stadium this season.
Delta State junior Jacob Swiney was named to the Preseason All-Gulf South Conference squad announced on Wednesday. The Biloxi native, also cited as a top player in NCAA Division II by Collegiate Baseball, batted .396 with three home runs and 35 RBIs last season, making All-GSC first team. Junior college transfer pitchers Dalton Moats and Jacob Howell were listed on the GSC’s top newcomer list. The Statesmen were pegged for a third-place finish in the league. … Mississippi College’s Will Elliott and Perry Turner also made the list of top newcomers in the GSC. Elliott, a junior outfielder from Oxford, is a transfer from Alabama. Turner, a junior pitcher, came in from Jones County Junior College. MC, still in transition to D-II, is not yet eligible for the GSC championship. … Millsaps College outfielder Isaac Glenn was an honorable mention pick on the d3baseball.com preseason All-America team. The junior from Madison hit .436 with 17 doubles and 45 RBIs in 2015. He led the Southern Athletic Association last year in slugging and on-base percentage. … Jackson State had three players named to the Black College Nine preseason All-America team. Third baseman Jesus Santana and DH Sam Campbell were named to the first team and outfielder Lamar Briggs to the second team. Santana led the Tigers and the SWAC with 12 home runs in 2015. … Former USM and MLB standout Chad Bradford will be the keynote speaker at the Southern Miss Dugout Club Banquet on Feb. 6. Bradford played at Byram High School and Hinds Community College before signing with USM. He went 5-4 with a 3.59 earned run average and three saves in 1996, his only season with the Golden Eagles. The submarine-style right-hander, featured in “Moneyball,” pitched for 12 years in the majors, posting a 36-28 overall record with a 3.26 ERA. He served as pitching coach at Hinds CC in 2014-15. … Tougaloo, one of three GCAC schools that play baseball, will be eligible to compete for the Association of Independent Institutions Baseball Championship this year. A total of 15 teams will vie for eight spots and a chance to play for one of the three NAIA Tournament bids given to the tournament champion, runner-up and third-place finisher. The Bulldogs went 7-40 in 2015 in the first year of coach Earl Sanders’ second stint with the program. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves third baseman Wes Timmons is the new coach at Shorter University, which plays in the Gulf South Conference.
Outfielder Terrell Hodges and right-hander Tanner Cable, both newcomers, are the two Belhaven University players appearing on the American Southwest Conference’s 2016 Watch List. Hodges, a Holmes Community College transfer, hit .296 with four homers, 36 RBIs and 31 steals over two seasons with the Bulldogs. Cable pitched (sparingly) at Delta State last season after two years at Northwest Mississippi CC, where he was drafted in 2013. Interesting season ahead for Hill Denson’s Blazers, who have a lot of new names on the roster. BU, transitioning from NAIA, is playing an NCAA Division III schedule this season but is ineligible for the ASC title. The Blazers (33-24 in 2015) lost top hitter Emilio DeSilva (.338), stolen base fiend Reagan Rutledge (53 bags) and seven-game winner Ben Allison. Adam Kowalczyk, who hit 14 homers, and closer Zach Osha (nine saves) are back. Belhaven opens on Feb. 16 at Huntingdon in Alabama. The Blazers will play their first eight games away from Smith-Wills Stadium. The home opener is scheduled for March 1 against Huntingdon at 4 p.m.
Alex Yarbrough has some work to do in 2016. The Ole Miss alum, a highly rated prospect in 2015, has fallen out of the top 30 in Baseball America’s rankings of the Los Angeles Angels’ best minor leaguers. Yarbrough, a switch-hitting second baseman, hit .236 with three homers, 48 RBIs and 56 runs in 128 games at Triple-A Salt Lake City last season, not a disaster but less than what was forecast for the 2014 Texas League player of the year. “It now looks like most of the industry was too high on Yarbrough coming into the 2015 season, when he didn’t make adjustments after struggling at the plate in Triple-A and struck out far too often,” BA’s Bill Mitchell wrote on the magazine’s web site. “That’s a big issue since he’s not a good defensive second baseman (14 errors in 2015) and is a below-average runner (one steal).” Yarbrough, 24, a fourth-round pick by the Angels in 2012, is expected to get another shot in Triple-A this season. Sometimes it takes two tours at the same level for things to click.
Now that he has his name on a street — Dyson Drive — in his native McComb, Jarrod Dyson will seek to get his name penciled in as the Kansas City Royals’ regular right fielder this season. Dyson, who has never had more than 292 at-bats in any of his six MLB seasons, apparently will go into spring training vying for playing time with Paulo Orlando. Dyson signed a one-year deal on Friday for $1.725M, avoiding arbitration. A lefty hitter and a strong defensive outfielder, he batted .250 with 31 runs and 26 steals in 90 games in 2015. Orlando, a right-handed hitter, batted .249 with seven homers and 27 RBIs in 86 games. Speed, of course, is Dyson’s key tool, and pinch-running has been his primary role. He has 146 bags (and 165 runs) in 443 games with the Royals. The Southwest Mississippi Community College product stole three bases and scored one run in the 2015 postseason; the one run proved to be the game-winning run in the decisive fifth game of the World Series. P.S. Former Pillow Academy star Louis Coleman signed a one-year contract with Kansas City for $725,000. The right-handed reliever pitched in just four MLB games last year but has a 3.20 career ERA. … Itawamba CC product Desmond Jennings, who played just 28 games for Tampa Bay in 2015 because of various ailments, signed a one-year, $3.3M contract and avoided arbitration. Jennings, the Rays’ likely left fielder, is a .249 career hitter with 48 homers and 93 steals over five seasons. … Richton native JaCoby Jones and Southwest Mississippi CC alum Kade Scivicque have gotten non-roster invites to the Detroit Tigers’ spring camp.