31 Jan

it’s that time

As a welcome respite, the first pitch of the Mississippi college season will be thrown on Wednesday when Blue Mountain College takes on Christian Brothers at the one and only Nadicksbernd Field in Memphis. (The Toppers’ schedule originally listed this as a home game.) In anticipation of that first pitch – and in recognition of the can’t-be-overstated importance of pitching – here are some bosses of the bump to watch on Magnolia State rosters this season. For BMC, there’s Christian Dale, a senior right-hander from Columbus who went 5-7 (6.19 ERA) for a 23-32 team in 2016. … At William Carey University, keep an eye out for sophomore right-hander Devin Smith, who went 6-1, 3.35 for a club that made the NAIA postseason. With storm-damaged Wheeler Field unavailable, Carey will open on Thursday against Cumberland at Southern Miss’ Taylor Park. Round 2 of the WCU Invitational will be played Friday at Jones County Junior College and Round 3 on Saturday at Pearl River CC. … For Millsaps, which starts on Friday against Huntingdon at Montgomery, Ala., an arm of note is Daniel Adams, a junior lefty who was 3-2, 2.93 in 12 games last season. … At Mississippi College, which also starts Friday against Florida Tech at Frierson Field, there is much buzz about Tommy Taborda, a sophomore right-hander who went 2-4, 3.44 in 16 games in 2016. … For Delta State, Tre Hobbs, the senior left-hander from Greenville, will be a spotlighted player this season – he went 13-2, 3.18 in 2016 – but not to be overlooked is 6-foot-6, 265-pound right-hander Zach Osbon (3-0, 1.61 in nine games). DSU, 42-17 in 2016, starts Saturday with a doubleheader at Harding in Searcy, Ark. … For Belhaven University, which opens at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson on Feb. 10 against Berry College, the staff ace figures to be Tanner Cable, who went 5-0, 2.70 last year after transferring from Delta State. … For Jackson State, which opens Feb. 18 with home games against Morehead State and Jacksonville, the name to know is Michael Yrigoyen, a senior from Venezuela who posted a 9-3 record, 4.61 ERA and 98 strikeouts last year. … At Southern Miss, which hosts Northeastern on Feb. 17, they’ll welcome back All-C-USA left-hander Kirk McCarty, who went 8-1 with a 3.15 for the conference champs. … For Ole Miss, 6-7 righty James McArthur (6-1, 4.26), a freshman All-American last year, is among the arms being counted on to fill the void left by Brady Bramlett’s departure. The Rebels open at home on Feb. 17 with East Carolina. … For Mississippi State, which must replace ace Dakota Hudson, sophomore left-hander Konnor Pilkington carries weighty expectations after going 3-1, 2.08 last season and then shining in the Cape Cod League, as well. The Bulldogs host Texas Tech on Feb. 17.

27 Jan

spring flings

If you saw the Mississippi Braves play last year, you probably noticed Johan Camargo. He was hard to miss, even though he seemed always to be moving. He might’ve been playing third base, or second base, or shortstop. At the plate, he could’ve been batting from either side. He was hard to miss because of the energy he brought to the field. Zestful would be an apt description. Camargo, 23, a Panama native, isn’t a hot-shot prospect, but he is a very good player. Atlanta thought enough of him to protect him on its 40-man roster last fall. He’s a longshot to make the big club this spring, but considering his versatility — and energy — he could be a valuable reserve down the road. Camargo hit .267 with four homers, 43 RBIs and 46 runs in his first Double-A campaign in 2016. He is one of 10 M-Braves alums on Atlanta’s current 40-man. … Another nine M-Braves were among the group issued non-roster invitations on Thursday to next month’s big league camp. That list includes another intriguing player, catcher Kade Scivicque. The former Southwest Mississippi Community College star made it to Mississippi late last summer after coming over from the Detroit organization in a trade. Scivicque looks like a catcher: 6 feet, 225 pounds. He isn’t on the prospect charts, either, but don’t sell him short. He was an All-Stater at SWCC and All-SEC at LSU before the Tigers plucked him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. And he made Double-A in his first full pro season. In 168 minor league games, Scivicque has hit .272 with 11 homers and 61 RBIs. After his time in the big camp, Scivicque likely will return to the M-Braves this season. … Among the other M-Braves alums on Atlanta’s NRI list are Ozzie Albies, Dustin Peterson, Sean Newcomb, Patrick Weigel and – blast from the past – Blaine Boyer, one of the four members of the original M-Braves roster (2005) still in the majors in 2016. The others: Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur and Gregor Blanco.

24 Jan

ramblings

It now appears that Brian Dozier will be staying in Minnesota. For sure he won’t be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have acquired Logan Forsythe from Tampa Bay to play second base in 2017. Dozier, the former Southern Miss standout, has said all along that he wants to stay with the Twins, though the team, which won only 59 games in 2016, isn’t likely to be a contender anytime soon. Dozier hit 42 homers – an American League record for second basemen — in 2016, to go with a .268 average, 99 RBIs and 104 runs. He is under contract for two more years. … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz has pronounced himself fit for 2017 and eager to win a job in Boston’s rotation. The left-hander’s ERA was 4.59 last year for the Red Sox after they acquired him from San Diego, where he had a 2.47 and was an All-Star. Pomeranz recently told reporters that he had elbow pain late last year, an ailment that has been treated with a stem cell shot. The Red Sox’s rotation is stacked at the top with Rick Porcello, David Price and Chris Sale. Competition for the other two jobs will be stiff. “In my head, I always feel like I’m competing for something,” Pomeranz said in an mlb.com article. The well-traveled Pomeranz also has experience as a reliever. … Expectations are that Jarrod Dyson will play regularly in left field and bat leadoff for Seattle, which traded for the Southwest Mississippi Community College product earlier this month. Regular time was hard to come by for Dyson in Kansas City, where, over seven seasons, he batted .260 with 176 steals and played excellent defense, something Seattle was seeking. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley was rated the No. 8 third base prospect in the minors by MLB Pipeline. Riley played at the low Class A level in 2016, batting .271 with 20 homers in his first full year in Atlanta’s system. Ex-Mississippi Braves star Ozzie Albies was rated the No. 2 second base prospect and Travis Demeritte, expected to play in Pearl this year, was pegged at No. 5. Demeritte may be shifted to third base.

20 Jan

they are coming

A new wave of Mississippians is about to hit the big leagues. Baseball America’s organizational top 10 prospect rankings are now posted for all of MLB’s six divisions, and the Magnolia State is well-represented. The highest rated are Petal’s Anthony Alford, No. 2 on Toronto’s list, and ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College standout Cody Reed, Cincinnati’s No. 2. Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe is San Diego’s No. 3; ex-Harrison Central High standout Bobby Bradley is Cleveland’s No. 5; Richton’s JaCoby Jones is Detroit’s No. 6; MSU product Brandon Woodruff is Milwaukee’s No. 7; and State alum Dakota Hudson, a 2016 draftee, is St. Louis’ No. 9. Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central star, just missed making Atlanta’s top 10. In a recent chat about San Diego prospects, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser defended the selection of Renfroe as the team’s No. 3, calling him an “impact player on both sides of the ball, even with high Ks and low walks.” Crystal Springs native Renfroe made a nice impression (.371, four homers in 11 games) in his brief MLB debut last year and likely will start 2017 as the Padres’ right fielder. Reed, the bespectacled left-hander, also debuted in 2016 and will vie for a Reds rotation spot this spring, and Jones, who got some big league experience last summer, is expected to get a shot at the Tigers’ center field job. Woodruff had a strong year at Double-A Biloxi and is close to breaking through, while Hudson generated a lot of buzz in his 12-game pro debut. Alford and Bradley, rated the No. 4 first base prospect in the minors by MLB Pipeline, likely will start in Double-A this season.

19 Jan

hall monitor

Trivia question: How many former Jackson Mets and/or Generals are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Answer: None. Still. Jeff Bagwell, elected to the Hall on Wednesday, wore a Generals uniform for four games in 1995. But he was on a major league rehab assignment from the parent Houston Astros, so it would be a stretch to call him a “former Jackson General.” He was originally drafted by Boston and didn’t come up through the Astros’ system. There were three true former Generals on the 2017 ballot: Billy Wagner, Carlos Guillen and Melvin Mora. Wagner, a seven-time All-Star who had 422 career saves, was named on 45 ballots (10.2 percent), down one vote from last year, his first on the ballot. There’s a lot of debate among writers about Wagner’s worthiness; he may yet get in. Guillen and Mora didn’t get a vote in their first year of eligibility and now fall off the ballot. Both were fine players but obviously not Hall material. It’s worth noting that Lee Smith, who got 151 votes this year, pitched in two games for the Generals in 1998, at age 40, as part of an ill-fated comeback attempt. He wasn’t on a rehab assignment, but it would still be a stretch to call him a former General. Incidentally, he falls off the ballot, too, now after 15 years on it. … Interesting to see Rafael Palmeiro’s comments about the Hall in a column by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “It bothers me to say that I’m not in the Hall of Fame,” the ex-Mississippi State star said. “Obviously, it would be so cool.” Palmeiro, who has 3,000 hits and 500 homers, infamously wagged his finger at members of Congress during a 2005 hearing on drugs in baseball and then months later failed a drug test, which he calls “a careless mistake.” He fell off the Hall ballot in 2014. He might get in some day, too, as the perspective on PED use continues to shift. “That’s my dream,” Palmeiro told Nightengale. … Trivia question: How many Mississippi-born major leaguers are in the Hall of Fame? Answer: None. The two Mississippi natives in the Hall are former Negro Leagues stars: Cool Papa Bell, from Starkville, and William Foster, the one-time Alcorn State dean and coach who is listed in Hall publications as being born in Rodney. Dizzy Dean, an adopted Mississippian who is buried here, was born in Arkansas. Columbus native Red Barber is in the broadcasters wing of the Hall. Several Magnolia State natives who played in the majors have generated Hall consideration – Buddy Myer, Dave Parker, Frank White among them – but we’re still waiting on that breakthrough player.

18 Jan

two weeks notice

The college season in Mississippi starts on Feb. 1, when Blue Mountain College takes on Christian Brothers at BNA Bank Park in New Albany. (The inaugural game at the new BMC SportsPlex on campus is set for March 10.) Hard to believe the Toppers are entering their eighth season. BMC went 23-32 in 2016, 7-19 in the Southern States Athletic Conference, one of NAIA’s best leagues. Curt Fowler, the only coach BMC has had, welcomes back hitters Caleb Leach (.343, six homers), Peyton Callahan (.336) and Miciah Heard (.314, 31 steals) and hurlers David Torres and Christian Dale, both 5-game winners. … On Feb. 3, Mississippi College will host Florida Tech, NAIA nationally ranked William Carey hosts Shawnee State (as part of the WCU Invitational) and Millsaps plays at Huntingdon in Alabama. Delta State opens on Feb. 4 at home against Harding. Belhaven University’s first game is Feb. 10 at home against Berry, and Tougaloo will launch that same day at Loyola of New Orleans. Rust’s schedule has not been posted. Most of the junior colleges play the second weekend of February, and the NCAA Division I start date is Feb. 17. … For the record, MUW – and recently named coach Matt Wolfenbarger — will start play in 2018 as a Division III program.

13 Jan

the madding crowd

A week ago, Corey Dickerson was penciled in as Tampa Bay’s starting left fielder. Today, the former Meridian Community College star from McComb may not be so sure where he stands. With spring training camps opening in about a month, the Rays appear overrun with outfielders. Mallex Smith, the ex-Mississippi Braves star who arrived in a Wednesday trade, and reported free agent signee Colby Rasmus join a crowd that includes Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., Mikie Mahtook and Nick Franklin. Kiermaier is the likely starter in center. Otherwise, who knows? The Rays may be planning to move someone, though it would be a surprise if they dealt Dickerson, who is only 27 and entering just his fifth MLB season. He delivered power (24 home runs, 36 doubles) in his first year in Tampa after coming over in a trade from Colorado. Though he hit just .245, that could at least partly be attributed to changing home parks and leagues. Dickerson, a .279 career hitter, has always drawn raves for his abilities with the bat, and he has said that he wants to win a batting title. Because defense is not his strong suit, Dickerson figures to get a lot of at-bats at DH, as he did in 2016. Then again, he does have trade value. It’s a situation that bears watching in the coming weeks.