While St. Louis has been in a downward spiral this month, Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson has enjoyed a resurgence. The former Mississippi State standout put a cap on his strong May by beating Philadelphia 5-3 on Thursday. Hudson yielded one run in six innings, pitching out of a couple of minor jams, to improve to 4-3 with a 3.94 ERA, second-best among Cardinals starters. His ERA through April was 5.63, but St. Louis manager Mike Shildt reassured Hudson that his spot in the rotation was not in jeopardy. “Hey, you’re going to have time to figure this out,” Hudson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Shildt’s message. “This is the learning process. I was able to kind of settle.” In May, while the Cardinals have gone 7-18, Hudson is 2-2, 2.80 in six starts – and could easily have won all six. The right-hander made an impact as a rookie reliever in 2018, posting a 2.63 ERA, four wins and 11 holds in 26 appearances.
The quest for an elusive national championship begins this weekend for Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss, with both State and UM hosting NCAA regionals. The Magnolia State claims three national titles in baseball, but none in NCAA Division I. Fifty years ago, William Carey University won the NAIA World Series. Fifteen years ago, Delta State took the NCAA D-II crown. And in 2016, Jones County Junior College came home with the NJCAA D-II title. (Pearl River CC’s run ended on Tuesday.) The D-I schools have come close to winning it all in recent years. MSU lost in the best-of-3 final to UCLA in 2013; that’s the Bulldogs’ best showing in 10 CWS appearances. Ole Miss reached the semifinal round in 2014 in its first CWS trip since 1972. (USM made its first and only CWS appearance 10 years ago but didn’t stick around Omaha long). As a No. 6 national seed, the Bulldogs have the clearest path – if it can ever be called that — to Omaha this year. The Rebels, the No. 12 overall seed, likely would have to go on the road (to Arkansas) for their Super Regional. The Golden Eagles go to Baton Rouge as a regional 3-seed but are riding the wave of another C-USA Tournament championship. Baseball is a major source of pride for the state. It has become commonplace for the Big 3 to show up in preseason national polls, contend for conference titles and even get regional host bids. Just imagine what a national championship would do for the state’s growing reputation as a baseball hotbed.
Stealing bases is becoming a lost art in the major leagues, but there is a trio of Mississippians doing their best to keep the steal relevant. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, leads the National League in stolen bases with 12. Tim Anderson, an East Central CC alum, is tied for third in the American League with 13, and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton is hot on his heels with 11, seventh in the AL. Former Mississippi Braves star Mallex Smith also has 13 bags in the AL. Hamilton, in his seventh MLB campaign and first with Kansas City, is the all-time leader among Mississippians with 288 bags. He averaged 58 a year from 2014-17 but dropped to 34 in 2018. Dyson, in his 10th season and second in Arizona, is second on Mississippi list with 232, having passed Gulfport native Gee Walker (223) earlier this year. Dyson’s career-best is 36 bags in 2014. Anderson, in his fourth year with the Chicago White Sox, has 64 career steals, with a season-high of 26 in 2018. P.S. The long ball seemingly never has been more popular or prevalent, and ex-DeSoto Central standout Austin Riley is making historic contributions. The Atlanta rookie hit his first grand slam on Wednesday and now has seven home runs through 14 career games, second-most in MLB history in such a span. (Colorado’s Trevor Story belted eight in his first 14 games in 2016.) … Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland (back) and Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack (shoulder) landed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday, Waguespack two days after making his MLB debut for Toronto. The current all-Mississippi IL also includes Zack Cozart, Corey Dickerson, Kendall Graveman, Mike Mayers, Chris Stratton and Bobby Wahl.
One of the more intriguing names floating about in connection with the upcoming MLB draft (June 3-5) is James Beard. The Loyd Star outfielder is rated by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline as the fastest prep player in the 2019 draft class. MLB Pipeline, which ranks Beard No. 127 on its list of the top 200 prospects, says his speed compares to Billy Hamilton’s — and he has better bat skills. He hit .429 with 10 homers and 26 steals this season. A Meridian Community College commit, the 6-foot, 190-pound Beard is among 12 state-connected players in MLB Pipeline’s latest top 200, four rating in the top 100. At No. 54 is Kendall Williams, a 6-foot-6 right-hander from Olive Branch who now plays at IMG Academy in Florida. Mississippi State lefty Ethan Small – a 26th-round pick in 2018 — is rated No. 56, Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner No. 60 and Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy No. 66. Ealy, a two-sport star who signed with Ole Miss, is widely considered a first-round talent, but his college commitment seemingly has caused his draft stock to drop. On draftsite.com, Ealy was pegged to go sixth overall and Wallner 34th with Ole Miss’ Thomas Dillard, Williams and State’s Jake Mangum projected as second-round picks and UM’s Cooper Johnson and Grae Kessinger as third-rounders. Northwest Mississippi Community College left-hander Dalton Fowler, a freshman, appears to be the top juco prospect in the state (MLB Pipeline has him at No. 150). Other high school players of note are Pearl River Central’s Hayden Dunhurst, a switch-hitting catcher and UM signee, and Smithville High right-hander/catcher Jared Johnson, a State commit who was recently featured in Baseball America.
Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, turns 23 today. He got a head start on the celebration Tuesday night, hitting a pair of home runs – including a grand slam — for Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland system. With six homers in his last seven games, Bradley has 14 on the year, second in the International League. He is batting .285 with 37 RBIs. The lefty-hitting first baseman, the Indians’ No. 6 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), would seem to be banging on the door for a call-up. The Indians currently have veteran Carlos Santana and second-year big leaguer Jake Bauers manning first base. (Bauers is hitting .210 with five homers.) Bradley still strikes out a lot but that’s the tradeoff for big power, and he has 128 bombs in his six pro seasons. He won home run crowns at the rookie level and two levels of A-ball. The Indians, 27-27 and 10 games out in the American League Central, could probably use a jolt. P.S. The Los Angeles Angels put Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart on the injured list again, this time with shoulder inflammation. He is batting .124 and has played sparingly. … Ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland has been out of the Boston lineup of late with a sore knee, and East Central Community College product Tim Anderson – the AL’s leading hitter at .337 — has been out with a wrist injury for the Chicago White Sox. Both are listed day-to-day.
It would appear that Demarcus Evans has conquered the Carolina League. The large right-hander from Petal has an 0.81 ERA with six saves in eight chances and a 4-0 record for high Class A Down East in the Texas system. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 12 appearances and hasn’t yielded a hit in nine of the last 10. In 22 1/3 innings, Evans has 40 strikeouts, though his walk total is a tad high at 17. This is the 22-year-old Evans’ fifth year in pro ball and second as a full-time reliever. He was 9-for-9 in saves with a 1.77 ERA at the low-A level in 2018. He got a hit a little in the Arizona Fall League but has certainly redeemed himself this season. Reports say he has an exploding fastball and an excellent curve. A promotion to Double-A can’t be far off.
He yielded hits to three of the first five batters he faced and three runs (two earned) in his first inning, but Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack settled in nicely from there in his big league debut on Monday. Waguespack, called up on Sunday by Toronto, pitched four innings in relief at Tampa Bay and finished with seven strikeouts, most ever by a Blue Jays rookie in his debut. He allowed just two baserunners in his last three innings. “I’ve had a pretty crazy journey here,” Waguespack, who had an entourage of friends and family at the game, told mlb.com. “It’s not expected to make it this far and I’m just thankful for their support.” The 6-foot-6 Louisiana native signed with Philadelphia as a non-drafted free agent in 2015, grinded his way up the ladder to Triple-A and then was traded to Toronto last July 31 for big leaguer Aaron Loup. Waguespack was placed on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster in November. The 25-year-old right-hander was just 2-6, 5.86 ERA in nine starts at Triple-A Buffalo when he was recalled. His career minor league ERA is 4.07. He follows Chris Ellis, Nate Lowe and Austin Riley as Mississippi-connected players to debut in MLB in 2019. P.S. Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, on the injured list (shoulder) for Pittsburgh since April 4, is 2-for-13 in three games on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis. He was placed on the 60-day IL on Monday as a procedural move.
Sunday was a head-spinning day for anyone trying to keep track of all Mississippi baseball. Southern Miss partied in Biloxi after winning the C-USA championship, handing top-seeded Florida Atlantic its first shutout of the season. Pearl River Community College celebrated in Enid, Okla., after turning four hits and 11 walks into an 8-4 win over Pasco-Hernando in its opener of the NJCAA Division II World Series. Ole Miss suffered a gut-punch of a loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament final at Hoover, Ala., but got some consolation in the form of an NCAA regional host bid. In Pearl, Kyle Muller, yet another Atlanta pitching prospect, threw seven shutout innings and got two hits as the Double-A Mississippi Braves beat Jacksonville. In the big leagues, Billy Hamilton drew a walk (against Jonathan Holder), stole a bag and scored the game-winning run for Kansas City; Austin Riley contributed an RBI single to Atlanta’s ninth-inning rally, which set up a 10-inning win; Brian Dozier went 3-for-5 with two RBIs for Washington; Adam Frazier had two hits, including his third home run, for Pittsburgh; Jarrod Dyson was 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI for Arizona; Hunter Renfroe had a couple hits for San Diego; and JaCoby Jones went 2-for-4, boosting his average to .202, and stole a base for Detroit. But the best individual performance of the day by far came from Brandon Woodruff, the Mississippi State product from Wheeler who threw eight near-perfect innings for Milwaukee and also got two hits and an RBI in a 9-1 win vs. Philadelphia. Woodruff, now 7-1 with a 3.22 ERA, retired the first 18 batters before Andrew Knapp hit a home run to start the seventh. That was Philly’s only hit of the game. Woodruff walked none and struck out 10 before departing. At the plate, he is now 10-for-27 (.370) with three doubles and four RBIs this season.
Gabe Shepard: The freshman from Mobile, Ala., threw 7 1/3 no-hit innings, striking out 12 and walking one, to pace Southern Miss to a 6-0 victory Saturday over Rice and into the C-USA Tournament final at Biloxi’s MGM Park. Cody Carroll and Hunter Stanley finished off the no-no for USM (37-19), which plays top-seeded Florida Atlantic today for the championship and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
Parker Caracci: The junior out of Jackson Prep got the last four outs for his third save of the SEC Tournament as Ole Miss beat Georgia 5-3 to advance to today’s championship game against Vanderbilt. Caracci, a preseason All-America pick, had struggled down the stretch this season. He now has 11 saves despite a 5.06 ERA. Ole Miss (37-24) is gunning for its second straight SEC crown and an automatic NCAA berth.
Hunter Renfroe: The former Mississippi State standout from Crystal Springs hit two home runs as part of San Diego’s franchise record-setting seven-homer barrage in a 19-4 win at Toronto. Renfroe, who went 4-for-6 and scored four times, now has 14 homers this season, most of any Mississippian in the majors, and 70 for his career. He is batting .248 with 29 RBIs for the Padres.
P.S. The season ended for Delta State on Saturday with an extra-inning loss at Tampa in the NCAA Division II South Super Regional. DSU, the Gulf South Conference champion, went 42-14 this season. … Pearl River Community College plays today in the NJCAA Division II World Series at Enid, Okla. The top-seeded Wildcats (40-12), the Region 23 champs, take on Pasco-Hernando.
JaCoby Jones has made changes in his approach at the plate, simplifying his swing in an effort to make more contact. It has been, from all indications, a slow process for the former Mr. Baseball from Richton High. Maybe he had a breakthrough on Friday. Jones went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run and a late tie-breaking double to help Detroit snap a nine-game losing streak with a 9-8 win over the New York Mets at windy CitiField. Jones, whose defensive skills in center field have kept him in the lineup, has 10 hits in his last 44 at-bats with three homers and seven RBIs over 15 games. For the year, the 27-year-old is at .183 with five homers and 11 RBIs. He hit .207 with 11 homers in 2018. Jones said in a postgame TV interview on Friday that he is feeling more confident. “I’m just trying to be impactful,” he said. That he was on Friday, with the 447-foot homer off Noah Syndergaard in the second inning and then the clutch two-run double in the seventh that gave the Tigers a 9-7 lead. Jones can also steal a bag (13 last season), though that aspect of his game depends on reaching base. He has just two steals in 37 games this year. P.S. Watch for it: In St. Louis tonight, it’s Atlanta’s Mike Soroka vs. the Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson in a matchup of young pitchers with electric stuff. Soroka, who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2017, leads the National League in ERA with a 1.01 and is 5-1. Hudson, the former Mississippi State star, is 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA for St. Louis and is coming off one of his best starts of the season, a win vs. Texas.