Fans of the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers might remember Dylan Moore. He was the M-Braves’ regular shortstop much of 2017 and spent part of last season with the Shuckers, not garnering much attention at either stop. He got some on Saturday when he made his first major league start. Playing third base for Seattle, Moore committed errors on three consecutive ground balls in the ninth inning, allowing Boston to score three runs and close to within 6-5 of the Mariners. Fortunately for Moore — who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as a hitter — and the M’s, that’s how it ended. To his credit, Moore didn’t hide or make excuses for his tough day. “I’ll be the first to tell you I have to make all three of those plays every single time,” he told the Seattle Times. Seattle signed the veteran minor leaguer, 26, to a big league contract in the off-season after he put up some good numbers at Triple-A in Milwaukee’s system. He can run, has some pop in his bat and can play several positions. He’ll have better days.
Not quite halfway through the conference schedule, the solution to Millsaps College’s poor start is plainly evident though certainly not easily attainable. The Majors need to pitch better. They are 5-18, 2-6 (and last) in the Southern Athletic Association standings. The staff ERA is 7.01, worst among the eight league teams. Millsaps has some competent hitters. Christian Cooper and William Warner are batting over .300, and Brennan Ducote represents a power threat (.281, four homers, 18 RBIs) in the middle of the lineup. But the Majors need their pitchers to keep them in more games. They have been outscored almost 2-1 (202-113), having surrendered 10 or more runs in nine games. Jimmy Fondren (3.48) and Ryan Erwin (2.28) are the only hurlers with a sub-4.00 ERA. That pair combined to beat SAA rival Rhodes 4-3 last weekend. The Majors were blown out in the other two games. Hendrix (19-7, 6-3), which was nationally ranked in NCAA Division III last week, comes to Twenty Field in Jackson for a three-game set (two today, one Sunday) this weekend. Time for a call to arms by Jim Page’s Majors.
Well, that didn’t take long. The first of what will surely be many “You Gotta See This” moments in 2019 for Mississippians in the majors was produced by Mitch Moreland on Friday night. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory clobbered — yes, clobbered — a three-run, go-ahead, pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning to propel Boston to a 7-6 win at Seattle. Moreland, who had a quiet spring and went 0-for-3 in the world champion Red Sox’s opener on Thursday, yanked a 2-0 fastball from Hunter Strickland out of T-Mobile Park for his fourth career pinch homer and 148th bomb overall. … To be fair, Moreland’s homer was not the first by a Mississippian this season. Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star from McComb, went deep for Pittsburgh on Thursday, but Moreland’s blast was a lot more impactful.
Former Mississippi State teammates Brandon Woodruff and Dakota Hudson are scheduled to face off as opposing pitchers on Saturday when Milwaukee plays St. Louis at Miller Park. They were on the 2014 State team that also included the New York Yankees’ Jonathan Holder and current minor leaguers Jacob Lindgren, Zac Houston, Jacob Robson, Reid Humphreys and others. (Those Bulldogs finished 39-24.) Woodruff, a 14th-round pick by the Brewers in 2014, is 5-3 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 MLB games over two seasons. He had some shining moments in the 2018 postseason. Hudson, a first-rounder by the Cardinals in 2016, broke in last year and was 4-1, 2.63 in 26 games. … Woodruff, from Wheeler, ran into another familiar face on Monday when the Brewers were in Montreal for an exhibition game. Oil Can Boyd, the ex-Jackson State star from Meridian, was in town for an Expos reunion, per a story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Boyd had coached Woodruff’s late brother Blake in American Legion ball. Woodruff said he’d last seen Boyd when he was 12. “When I saw him (Monday), I knew exactly who it was,” Woodruff said. “He would throw BP to me and show me different stuff when he pitched.” P.S. Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull is slated to start Saturday for Detroit at Toronto; Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn will get the ball on Sunday for his Texas debut against the Chicago Cubs; ex-State star Chris Stratton is penciled in for his Los Angeles Angels debut on Monday at Seattle (vs. Felix Hernandez); and Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz will make his San Francisco debut on Monday at the LA Dodgers.
The road has been a winding one for Chris Ellis over the last six years, but it has led him to the big leagues. The former Ole Miss and Mississippi Braves star officially made Kansas City’s 25-man roster on Thursday. He did not pitch in the Royals’ opener. Ellis was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels out of UM in the third round in 2014. He was traded to Atlanta, making the Southern League All-Star Game with the M-Braves in 2016, then traded to St. Louis, then chosen in the Rule 5 draft of minor leaguers last December by Texas, which promptly traded him to Kansas City. The Royals will have to keep the 6-foot-5 right-hander on their active roster all season or offer him back to St. Louis. Ellis is 40-35 with a 4.47 ERA in his minor league career and went 6-4, 3.76 at Triple-A Memphis in 2018. Primarily a starter in the minors, he apparently will work out of the bullpen for KC.
If you hate the New York Yankees, you have to be cringing at the thought of what they might have in 2019. No major league team has ever hit more home runs than the Yankees did in 2018. They might hit more this season. The Yankees’ bullpen set a record for strikeouts in 2018. It might be even better this season. Yikes. A couple of Mississippi natives could be factors in both of those developments, as they were last year. Louisville’s Marcus Thames, a pretty fair slugger in his playing days, is the Yankees’ hitting coach. He gets to work every day with Aaron Judge, Mike Stanton, Gary Sanchez, et al., mostly the same bunch that belted 267 homers in 2018, with 12 guys hitting 10 or more. Some think 300 bombs is well within reach. “If we have a healthy Judge, a healthy Stanton and a healthy Sanchez, who knows what happens?” Thames recently told the New York Post. “I look forward to having them healthy and seeing it.” But is the Yankees’ power hitting even the best element of the team? “Their strength is their bullpen,” Boston manager Alex Cora told mlb.com. New York relievers, including Gulfport native – and Mississippi State career saves leader — Jonathan Holder, averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season, and the team has added the intimidating Adam Ottavino to the mix. So, yes, that pen might be mightier still in 2019. “That’s a scary thought,” a rival scout told the New York Daily News. For Yankees haters, it is indeed.
It’s Opening Day in the big leagues. Again. The 28 teams that didn’t go to Japan last week will roll out today in North America, which means it’s time again to celebrate the rare opening day feats of a couple of Mississippians. On April 20, 1937, at Navin Field in Detroit, Gulfport’s Gerald “Gee” Walker of the Tigers hit for the cycle against Cleveland. It remains the only opening day cycle in major league history. Walker, an Ole Miss alum who was called the “Reconstructed Rebel” in a newspaper headline about the game, batted .335 that year and made the All-Star Game for the only time in an outstanding 15-year career. On April 4, 2005, at Comerica Park in Detroit, Vicksburg native Dmitri Young belted three home runs for the Tigers against Kansas City. It was, at the time, only the third three-homer game ever in a season opener. It’s been done once since. Young, aka “Da Meat Hook,” who passed through Smith-Wills Stadium with the Arkansas Travelers back in the 1990s, hit 21 homers in 2005 and 171 in his 13-year MLB career.
Just when it looked like the Jones County Junior College program was starting to slip, Chris Kirtland’s Bobcats ripped off 17 wins in their first 18 games this year. They’ve jumped from unranked in preseason to No. 2 in the nation. They take a 20-2 overall record (5-1 MACJC) into a doubleheader today at 14th-ranked Hinds CC (15-4, 3-1). Kirtland, in his fourth season as JCJC head coach, has a fairly stunning 158-26 record. A longtime assistant under Christian Ostrander (now at Southern Miss), Kirtland won the 2016 NJCAA Division II national title in his first year in charge. In 2017, the Bobcats “slipped” to 46-4 and lost in the Region 23 Tournament. Last year, they “fell” to 38-11 and were upset by Hinds in the best-of-3 round of the state playoffs. But anyone expecting a down year in Ellisville in 2019 was misinformed. Led by an influx of talented freshmen, JCJC looks as formidable as ever. O’Neill Burgos, from Brookhaven, is hitting .398, Bailee Hendon of Vancleave .396. Versatile Blake Johnson, from Gulfport via Tulane, has seven homers and three saves. Lane Thomas is 5-0 with a 1.72 ERA and fellow frosh Coleton Ausburn 5-0, 3.10. Brandon Hale, a sophomore from Pontotoc, is batting .385 with four homers and a team-leading 29 runs. “Our team has gotten to a point where the expectations can motivate you,” Kirtland said before the season began. “The expectations can take your play to another level at times.”
Three intra-state clashes on Tuesday produced plenty of crooked numbers but no March Madness-style upsets. In Starkville, Mississippi State, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, dispatched Mississippi Valley State 18-5 thanks in part to an eight-run inning. At Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State throttled NAIA Tougaloo 13-7, riding an eight-run inning and seven unearned runs. And at Blue Mountain, the NAIA Toppers took two games from fledgling Division III MUW, outscoring the Owls 21-6. As for individual numbers of note: Jordan Westburg went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs for State, now 23-3. For JSU (11-16), Chris Prentiss went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs. BMC (16-17) was led by Trey Hathaway, who drove in six runs in the two games. … Valley (5-9) and Tougaloo (5-18) hook up today in Itta Bena in what could be another wild midweek affair. … Ole Miss (18-8) went up to Memphis on Tuesday and whipped the Tigers 9-6 at AutoZone Park, and Southern Miss (16-6) went down to Metairie, La., and won its eighth straight game, beating Nicholls State by the relatively boring score of 5-0 at Zephyr Field. … Jackson State, which takes a trip to Louisiana-Monroe today, is gearing up for a SWAC series at home this weekend against what the Tigers’ website playfully calls “That School in Lorman.” Alcorn State, which lost a non-league game Tuesday at Grambling 8-7 (giving up seven runs in one inning), is 6-17 and got plastered last weekend by Valley, which outscored the Braves 38-9 in a three-game sweep.
With opening day a mere two days away, Chris Stratton finds himself on a new team. Stratton, a former Mississippi State star from Tupelo, was traded late Monday from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Angels. “I’m definitely in shock,” the right-hander told the San Francisco Chronicle. Stratton, a former first-round pick who has a 4.63 ERA over three MLB campaigns, did not win a job in the Giants’ rotation this spring. (Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, a free agent signee, took one of those spots.) Stratton is out of minor league options, so rather than run him through waivers, the Giants worked a trade with the Angels for lefty Williams Jerez. At some point, Stratton may get a shot at a starting job with the Angels, who play their last exhibition game tonight at Dodger Stadium. … Kudos to Spencer Turnbull and Brandon Woodruff, who have officially earned spots in the rotation with Detroit and Milwaukee, respectively. Madison Central alum Turnbull is slotted as the Tigers’ No. 3 and will work at Toronto on Saturday. Woodruff, a State product from Wheeler, will pitch one of the three weekend games in Milwaukee against St. Louis. … Cool moment on MLB Network Monday night: Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett made his first appearance at Washington’s Nationals Park in four years and got a rousing ovation. The right-hander, battling back from a series of injuries, including a broken arm, worked in the exhibition game against the New York Yankees. In camp as a non-roster invitee, Barrett posted a 6.75 ERA in seven games; he’ll start the year in the minors.