Jackson Prep two-sport standout Jerrion Ealy will pick a college on football’s National Signing Day next week, and four months later a major league baseball club will pick him, possibly in the first round of the draft. A lot of folks are very interested to see what path Ealy, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound running back/outfielder, will take. “(A)ll options are on the table right now,” he recently told an ESPN writer. Ealy, who was once committed to Ole Miss but is now considering other schools, as well, could pass on the pro offer and play both sports in college. He could try to play pro baseball in the summer and college football in the fall, keeping the NFL in view. Or he could forget football and focus on baseball. Ealy is likely to go high enough in the June draft that he’ll receive an appealing bonus offer. “(He has) upside and athleticism you do see go very early in the draft just because there are such few kids like that throughout the country,” a scout told ESPN. From Perfect Game’s scouting report: “Has all the tools to be an All-Star type player.” For what it’s worth, ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford tried the pro baseball/college football duet and wound up dropping football; he is currently on Toronto’s major league roster. Ole Miss star receiver A.J. Brown, who’ll go high in the upcoming NFL draft, also has a pro baseball contract; a 19th-round pick out of Starkville High by San Diego in 2016, he has gone to extended spring training with the Padres the past three years but has not yet played a minor league game. Former UM defensive back Senquez Golson passed on a lucrative offer to play pro baseball out of Pascagoula High and was ultimately drafted in the NFL; plagued by injuries – always a major concern in that sport – he has yet to play in a regular season game. P.S. Interesting that five of the players named to The Clarion-Ledger’s Dandy Dozen for 2019 are catchers, including the best player on what might be the state’s best team. George County High, runner-up in MHSAA Class 6A in 2018, is the lone Mississippi school appearing in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s preseason Top 30 poll. The Rebels, 27-6 last year, are ranked No. 21. There were no state schools in CB’s final 2018 poll. George County’s top player is Logan Tanner, a pitcher/catcher who went 8-2, 1.64 ERA and batted .341 in 2018. The Rebels open Feb. 19 in Lucedale against Pascagoula.
William Carey University lifts the lid on the 2019 college season today with a home game against Missouri Baptist at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. There could be some karma at work for the Crusaders this season; 50 years ago Carey won the NAIA national championship. WCU lost many of the key contributors from its 2018 team, which went 36-25 and played in an NAIA regional. “Last year’s team was built on speed evidenced by their 150 stolen bases as a team. This year we should have a little more power in the lineup with the guys we have coming back and the addition of new guys,” longtime coach Bobby Halford said in a school release. Back are second baseman Caleb Ledet, who batted .336 with 31 runs in 43 games; outfielder Lucas Scott (.283, 11 steals, 47 games); right-hander Devin Smith (7-4, 3.65 ERA); and righty Lake Robertson (2-2, two saves, 6.11). Newcomers to watch include South Alabama transfer outfielder/closer Kyle Bayles, a onetime Meridian Community College standout, and Pascagoula High All-State shortstop Patrick Lee. P.S. On Friday, Delta State opens at home against East Central University, Mississippi College visits Harding in Arkansas and Blue Mountain launches at home against William Wood. Tougaloo starts on Saturday against Selma in Alabama. Next week brings the openers for Belhaven University (Feb. 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson against LeTourneau) and Millsaps College (Feb. 9 at Twenty Field in Jackson, also vs. LeTourneau). The NCAA Division I start date is Feb. 15: Mississippi State begins the Chris Lemonis era at renovated Dudy Noble Field against Youngstown State, Ole Miss hosts Wright State, Southern Miss opens at home with Purdue, Jackson State welcomes Boston College and Alcorn State plays Prairie View A&M in the MLB Urban Invitational at New Orleans. Mississippi Valley State opens Feb. 19 at Stillman in Alabama.
Greg Hibbard, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout, is still out there plying his craft as a pitching coach — 25 years after he last pitched in the big leagues. Hibbard is set to begin his second year with Texas’ Double-A Frisco team (which is managed by former Jackson Generals star Joe Mikulik). Hibbard coached in Cleveland’s system for 13 seasons and is now in his fourth year with the Rangers. The left-hander was a pretty good big league pitcher for a fairly short period, posting a 57-50 record with a 4.05 ERA across parts of six seasons. He played at Harrison Central High before Gulf Coast CC and then went to Alabama. Drafted by Kansas City, he broke in with the Chicago White Sox and won 14 games in 1991. The next year, he was taken by Florida in the expansion draft and then traded to the Cubs. He won 15 games for them in 1993 and parlayed that success into a three-year deal with Seattle. But shoulder problems limited Hibbard to 15 games for the ’94 Mariners and ultimately ended his career. He pitched for the final time in June of that year at age 29.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s 14-letter surname was the longest in MLB history. He also had a few distinguishing moments on the field. “Salty” was Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect when he arrived in Double-A Mississippi in 2006, and though the switch-hitting catcher didn’t really live up to that heady billing, he did play parts of 12 seasons in the majors and won a World Series ring. He announced his retirement on Monday. He batted .232 with 110 home runs and 381 RBIs for seven different clubs. He hit 25 homers for Boston in 2012 and drove in 65 runs for the Red Sox the next year, helping them win the championship. With the M-Braves in 2006, Saltalamacchia batted .230 with nine homers. He returned in 2007 and hit .302 with six bombs in 22 games before being called to the big leagues. … Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna, the 2018 National League rookie of the year with the Braves, was selected in a fan vote to appear on card No. 1 in Topps’ 2019 basic set. Other recent recipients of this honor include Mike Trout, Aaron Judge and Kris Bryant, each of whom was on the ballot for 2019, along with Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper. Acuna, who homered in his first at-bat for the M-Braves in 2017, was honored with a Bobblehead Night at Trustmark Park last summer. … Twenty-four of the 40 players on Atlanta’s current roster are M-Braves alums, and 10 of the 20 non-roster invitees to spring camp played in Pearl the last couple years. Former DeSoto Central standout Austin Riley – one of eight Top 100 prospects (by mlb.com) in Atlanta’s system – received a non-roster invite for the second straight year. He spent parts of 2017 and ’18 in Pearl.
Invitations to big league spring camp are a nice perk for minor league players, and it probably should come as no surprise that Brent Rooker has received one from Minnesota. The former Mississippi State All-American, rated the Twins’ No. 7 prospect (mlb.com), had an outstanding 2018 season at Double-A Chattanooga, batting .254 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs and earning Southern League All-Star recognition. Rooker, a first baseman/outfielder, was slated to play in the Arizona Fall League but was held out because of a minor injury. Entering just his third pro season, he appears to be very close to making his MLB debut. … Other invitations that have trickled in on the transaction wire include: catcher Jack Kruger (MSU) with the Los Angeles Angels; catcher Chuckie Robinson (Southern Miss) with Houston; and right-hander Zac Houston (MSU) and outfielder Jacob Robson (MSU) with Detroit. Kruger reached Double-A last season and batted .299 overall. Robinson batted .238 with seven homers in A-ball last summer. Houston and Robson finished 2018 at Triple-A Toledo, where both played well. Houston posted a 1.18 ERA and 10 saves. Robson hit .305 at Toledo and .295 overall, with 11 homers, 47 RBIs and 15 steals.
Zack Cozart is in comeback mode as he enters Year 2 of his 3-year, $38 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2018 season was a big disappointment for the ex-Ole Miss standout. He hit .219 with five home runs in 58 games and was done following shoulder surgery in June. In 2017, his last year in Cincinnati, he put up career numbers (.297, 24 homers, 63 RBIs) and made the All-Star Game at shortstop. The Angels signed him, initially to play second base, then shifting him to third. Heading into spring training, it’s unclear where Cozart, now 33, will play or if he’ll even play full-time. The team depth chart on mlb.com lists him at both second and third. Younger players are nipping at his heels. From halohangout.com: “His 2017 season was a fluke in many ways, from his sudden explosion of power to his ability to hit for average and even his durability.” With Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton in the lineup, the Angels are an intriguing club desperate to make the postseason. They’d no doubt welcome a return to 2017 form from Cozart. P.S. Asked at a recent team event about the Chicago White Sox’s pursuit of Manny Machado, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had this to say to mlb.com: “He would play a great role in what we are trying to do as far as winning a championship. He definitely brings that talent.” Machado’s preferred position is shortstop, which happens to be where Anderson has played, very capably, the past three seasons. … Former DeSoto Central star Austin Riley is on the MLB Pipeline list of the Top 10 third base prospects for a fourth straight year, checking in at No. 3 in 2019. He has 71 homers over four minor league seasons and finished 2018 with 12 in 75 games at Triple-A Gwinnett. The 21-year-old’s path to The Show is currently blocked by veteran Josh Donaldson, signed as a free agent by Atlanta in November.
Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz reportedly has signed with San Francisco, where he’s expected to compete for a job in the Giants’ rotation with Mississippi State product Chris Stratton, among others. The deal is said to be one year for $1.5 million plus incentives. Pomeranz, a 30-year-old left-hander, went 2-6 with a 6.08 ERA in 26 games (11 starts) for Boston in 2018. The Giants will be the sixth different organization the former first-round pick and 2016 All-Star has played for. Stratton, a right-hander and a first-round selection by the Giants in 2012, went 10-10, 5.09 in 2018.
The results of the National Baseball Hall of Fame voting should not, by any means, diminish what Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia accomplished in the game. Oswalt, arguably the best pitcher the state has ever produced, and former Jackson Generals stars Berkman and Garcia were among the 16 players who appeared on the ballot for the first time and didn’t garner enough support to appear again. It was a tad surprising how little support each received, but such is the nature of a process that had 35 names on the ballot, including the four truly great ones who were elected to Cooperstown. Each voter is limited to 10 picks. Oswalt got just four votes total. Berkman got five and Garcia none. It took 319 votes (75 percent) to get elected. Oswalt, from Weir and Holmes Community College, won 163 games, posted a 3.36 ERA and was a three-time All-Star. Berkman batted .293 with 366 homers, made six All-Star Games and won a World Series ring. Garcia won 156 games over 15 seasons, was a two-time All-Star and also won a ring. Though they’ll slip off the Hall of Fame ballot, Mississippi baseball aficionados won’t forget them. … Former Generals standout Billy Wagner, in his fourth year on the ballot, got 71 votes (16.7 percent), enough to stay on for the 2020 election. Meridian Community College alumnus Cliff Lee and Generals alum Bobby Abreu are among the players who’ll make their first appearance on the 2020 ballot.
There are eight outfielders, including Hattiesburg High product Joe Gray, listed among Milwaukee’s top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline. Trying to fight his way through that crowd is Zach Clark, an unrated former Pearl River Community College star about to enter his fourth pro season. A 19th-round pick in 2016, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Clark just completed a solid campaign in the Australian Baseball League. He hit a three-run homer in his final game for Auckland over the weekend, finishing the 40-game season with six bombs, 19 RBIs and a .237 average. Clark batted .338 with 11 homers and 24 steals as a sophomore at PRCC and was bound for Alabama before the Brewers drafted him. He played at low Class A Wisconsin in 2018, batting .246 with eight homers. His ETA in Double-A Biloxi would be 2020. … Gray is rated the Brewers’ No. 6 prospect and is expected to advance quickly in the system. A power hitter with a strong arm, he was a second-round pick last summer and hit .182 with two homers and six steals in limited play in rookie ball. MLB Pipeline projects Gray’s big league arrival as 2022.
Among the many Martin Luther King Jr. celebration activities in Mississippi is the Mississippi Dream Weekend, founded by major league veteran Curtis Granderson in partnership with the MLBPA-MLB Youth Development Foundation’s Players Going Home program. Children from across the state will participate in three camps that will center on baseball while also honoring the legacy of King, “who paved the way for people of all backgrounds to break barriers and turn their dreams into realities.” Former big leaguer Fred Lewis, who grew up in Wiggins and played at Stone High, will host a camp in Perkinston on Saturday and current Toronto outfielder Anthony Alford, a former Petal High star, will host one in Columbia on Sunday. The camp at Jackson State on Monday will be hosted by Granderson, who talked about the camps on MLB Network’s Hot Stove today. What, you may be wondering, is Granderson’s Mississippi connection? Well, a bit of research finds that his father, Curtis Sr., was born in Tchula and attended Coahoma Junior College and Mississippi Valley State.