Brandon Woodruff is the highest rated Mississippian (native or college alum) in mlb.com’s list of the top 800 players in fantasy value. Woodruff, a right-hander out of Wheeler High and Mississippi State, is No. 73, which seems a little low for the expected ace of a playoff-contending Milwaukee club who is also considered by some as a Cy Young award candidate. But keep in mind, fantasy value isn’t the same as actual, on-field value, which explains — sorta — why Mike Trout is No. 3 behind Christian Yelich and Mississippi Braves alum Ronald Acuna and why Jacob deGrom, a 2018 and ’19 Cy Young winner, is just No. 15, behind three other pitchers. So, perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into these ratings. Woodruff is one of just two Mississippians rated among the top 100 in this particular chart; ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn of Texas is No. 98. Tim Anderson, the East Central Community College alum who won a batting title last season, is No. 135. Really? Next among Mississippians is Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull of Detroit at No. 263. Turnbull, pitching for a bad team, went 3-17 with a 4.61 ERA in 2019. He’s rated higher than the likes of Corey Dickerson (271), Hunter Renfroe (302), Dakota Hudson (303) and Drew Pomeranz (323), all expected to be significant contributors in 2020. Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central star who might not even make Atlanta’s roster out of spring training, is rated higher (at 279) than former MSU standout Mitch Moreland (498), who figures to play a lot at first base for Boston. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, who isn’t currently on a team, is rated No. 768, four spots above Petal High product Anthony Alford, who’s battling for a reserve outfield job with Toronto.
Rivalries in baseball may not boil the blood as they do in football and basketball, but they still have a special feel. Red Sox-Yankees. Dodgers-Giants. Mississippi State-Ole Miss. Similarly, Jackson State-Alcorn State isn’t just another conference series. The longtime rivals meet this weekend to open SWAC play. Today’s Game 1 and Sunday’s series finale will be played at JSU’s Braddy Field, with the middle game on Saturday moving to Smith-Wills Stadium. Fans of the two schools don’t need to be reminded that Alcorn State won the 2019 football game – in convincing fashion – and Jackson State swept the two men’s basketball games this season. There’s a measure of pride at stake this weekend. The Tigers lead the all-time series 158-101-1, according to an Alcorn press release. JSU is 3-4, led by a dynamic offense that features C.J. Newsome (.500, eight runs, three steals) and Jaylyn Williams (.500, six RBIs). Steven Davila has been JSU’s steadiest pitcher, with a 1.23 ERA over three appearances. Alcorn’s staff ERA is 7.16, though Joe Smith, a product of Jackson’s Jim Hill High, has pitched well (3.60 in two outings). Travaris Cole paces the 2-3 Braves’ attack at .391 with three homers and 11 RBIs. Tristan Garcia (.438) had a four-hit game at Ole Miss last week. P.S. It was announced Thursday that the SWAC Tournament will be played at Smith-Wills for the next three years. The 2020 dates for the eight-team, double-elimination tournament are May 13-17. This isn’t the first time the event will be played at the old ballpark on Cool Papa Bell Drive. The 2000 and 2007 tourneys were played there. The 2006 event was held at Trustmark Park in Pearl. From 1988-95, the SWAC played its championship in Natchez.
Five Mississippi junior colleges are ranked in the most recent NJCAA Division II poll, but only one remains undefeated on the young season. Hinds Community College, ranked seventh (up from 17th in the preseason poll), moved to 8-0 on Tuesday by overpowering Jones College 8-5 and 9-7 in a non-conference twinbill at Vicksburg’s Sports Force Parks. The Eagles hit seven homers, two more than they’d hit all year to that point, and came from behind to win both games. “This is a sophomore-laden club that has that spirit about them,” Hinds coach Sam Temple told the Vicksburg Post. Jones, ranked fifth in one preseason poll, slipped to 2-7. Venezuela native Pablo Lanzarote leads the Eagles’ potent attack with a .522 average, two homers and 15 RBIs. Connor Carter, a sophomore out of Germantown High, is at .520 with two homers and a team-leading 11 runs. The HCC pitching staff carries a 1.94 ERA. Preston Johnson, out of Copiah Academy, is 1-0, 3.00 with 16 strikeouts in nine innings. Germantown product Harrison Haley and Warren Central alum Caleb Sterling are both 2-0 with sub-2.00 ERAs. … Pearl River (4-2) is ranked fourth in this week’s NJCAA poll, and Itawamba (5-3) is co-No. 7 with Hinds. Northeast, which has won nine of 10, all at its new home park, is ranked 12th.
From the Didn’t See That Coming Dept., we have this score from Starkville: Texas Southern 8, Mississippi State 4. Anything can happen on a given day in baseball, but still, when a winless SWAC team takes down a consensus top 10 SEC club on its home field, that’s going to send reverberations far and wide. “This is the second-biggest win in the history of the university,” TSU coach Michael Robertson said in a school release. The only thing bigger, Robertson said, would be a 2004 NCAA regional win against defending national champion Rice. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg had this take: “This is a really big wake-up call. It should hurt. It should hurt for everybody on the team … .” TSU, now 1-9, took a 7-3 lead with a four-run fourth. K.C. Hunt and David Dunlavey, State’s first two pitchers, allowed those seven runs (only four earned) on six hits, four walks, three wild pitches and a hit batsman. The Bulldogs made two critical errors. They stranded 11 runners, scoring just once after the second inning. “We’re not competing right now in a lot of different ways,” State coach Chris Lemonis said in a school release. State (5-2), which lost to Oregon State on Sunday, returns to Dudy Noble Field today to face another SWAC school, Alcorn State, which battled Ole Miss tooth-and-nail last week before losing on an Anthony Servideo walk-off bomb. … Meanwhile, in Oxford on Tuesday, Ole Miss and Southern Miss put on a show befitting a rivalry game. The nationally ranked Rebels won 4-3, getting a clutch go-ahead homer from Hayden Leatherwood in the seventh inning and some gritty relief pitching from Braden Forsyth, who struck out two batters with the go-ahead run on base in the ninth. Leatherwood hit 22 homers the previous two years at Northwest Mississippi Community College. For USM, Will McGillis, a product of Hattiesburg’s Presbyterian Christian School, went 3-for-5 with a go-ahead homer in the top of the seventh.
Joe Gray, the ex-Hattiesburg High star, made his first appearance in an MLB spring training game on Monday and showed out. Gray, inserted mid-game as the DH for Milwaukee, went 2-for-2 with a double, an RBI and a run in the Brewers’ Cactus League loss to Oakland at Mesa, Ariz. Gray, a second-round pick by the Brewers in 2018, has labored rather quietly through two pro seasons at the lowest levels of the Brewers’ system. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder, he hit .182 with two homers in 24 games in the rookie Arizona League in 2018 and .164 with three homers in 31 games in the advanced rookie Pioneer League last season. He remains a highly rated prospect – MLB Pipeline has him at No. 9 in the Milwaukee system – based on his power potential and defensive abilities, most notably his arm. Gray, still only 19, has struck out 61 times in 187 at-bats, so more consistent contact is likely key to his advancement. He is probably a couple of years away from reaching Double-A Biloxi. P.S. Also making their big league spring debut on Monday at Mesa were Ethan Small, the Mississippi State product who was the Brewers’ first-round pick last summer, and Ole Miss alum Thomas Dillard, Milwaukee’s fifth-round selection in 2019. Left-hander Small worked a scoreless inning with a punchout and a walk, while Dillard, playing right field, went 0-for-1. … In the Brewers’ other split-squad game on Monday, a win against the Los Angeles Angels in Phoenix, former MSU star Brandon Woodruff, the staff ace, threw a scoreless first inning, opening some eyes when his first pitch hit 98 mph. “So, I needed to tone it down just a hair,” Woodruff told mlb.com.
After a frustrating, injury-marred 2019 season, former Richton High standout JaCoby Jones has come out of the gate strong this spring for the Detroit Tigers. He led off Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against Pittsburgh with a home run off Derek Holland and is 2-for-4 with two RBIs in two games. Jones, penciled in again as the Tigers’ regular center fielder, did three separate stints on the disabled list in 2019, playing in just 88 games. His season ended in early August when he broke his left wrist. Jones calls last year a “fluke thing.” “All my career I’ve been durable and been able to stay on the field. … This year I want to do everything I can to stay on the field for 150 games,” he told The Detroit News in January. Jones batted .235 last year – 24 points better than his career mark – and hit 11 homers with seven steals. During May and June, he batted .281 with eight homers, 22 RBIs and 24 runs. Detroit would love to see that kind of production over a full season. Regarded as a plus defender, Jones had some struggles in the field in 2019, possibly related to shoulder and back injuries. A third-round pick out of LSU by Pittsburgh in 2013, Jones turns 28 in May and is facing what might be a pivotal time in his career.
City officials in Fulton are looking for the right place to put up a sign designating the town as the home of Brian Dozier, the Itawamba County Times reported last week. Meanwhile, big league veteran Dozier appears to have found a place to play in 2020, signing as a free agent today with San Diego. It’s a minor league contract, reports said, so Dozier will still have to make the club this spring, but that would seem like a foregone conclusion. Dozier, a Southern Miss alum, hit .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs for World Series winner Washington in 2019, his eighth MLB campaign. Jurickson Profar is slated to start at second base for the Padres, who also have journeyman infielder Greg Garcia on their 40-man roster. At the least, Dozier adds “quality depth,” San Diego’s GM said, on a team that’s desperately trying to get better.
Demarcus Evans might not rank among the Texas Rangers’ top 30 prospects, but no prospect in the Rangers’ system has a better fastball than the former Petal High star, according to MLB Pipeline. Evans, 23, now on the 40-man roster and in big league camp, throws serious gas: In his five pro seasons, he has 369 strikeouts in 242 1/3 innings. If he improves his command, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound right-hander can be an impact arm out of the Texas bullpen. … Power is Bobby Bradley’s thing; the former Harrison Central High standout has said that he takes an assassin’s mentality to the plate: “I’m about to hit this ball as hard as possible. If you don’t have that certain kind of mentality, you’re already beat.” Rated by MLB Pipeline as the top power-hitting prospect in Cleveland’s system, Bradley, 23, has 147 homers over six minor league seasons and belted one during his 15-game MLB stint in 2019. … Mississippi State product Brent Rooker was given the nod as the top power prospect in Minnesota’s system. Rooker, who hit 36 homers in his three years in Starkville, has 54 in his three minor league campaigns, including 14 in Triple-A last year despite missing about half the season with injury. He smacked a monstrous homer for Team USA in Tokyo last fall that fans there may still be buzzing about. … As for the fastest running prospect in each organization, it came as no real surprise that James Beard topped the MLB Pipeline list for the Chicago White Sox. A fourth-round pick out of Loyd Star High last summer, Beard was considered the swiftest player available in the draft, drawing comparisons to Billy Hamilton. Beard, bigger than Hamilton at 5-10, 170, stole nine bases in 31 games at the rookie level in 2019.
This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the so-called “Miracle on Grass,” the U.S. Olympic Team’s unexpected gold medal performance in the Sydney Olympics. The team USA Baseball sent to the 2000 Games was a collection of minor leaguers and MLB journeymen that lacked any real star power. Hence, the “miracle.” Writers for mlb.com have put together a compelling oral history of the event, and among those frequently quoted in the story is Roy Oswalt, the Weir native and ex-Holmes Community College star who had a big hand in two of Team USA’s victories in the tournament. At the time, Oswalt was a 23-year-old Houston Astros prospect, a 23rd-round draft pick who hadn’t pitched above Class AA in his four pro seasons. He had gone 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA at Double-A Round Rock during the 2000 season, flashing the stuff that would carry him to 163 wins in the majors. But at the time, he wasn’t widely known, nor were many – if any – of his teammates. “On the way over there, we were getting bashed and hammered by the media saying we had no chance against Cuba,” he told mlb.com. “No one knew who these [U.S. players] were, who they’re sending over here.” Oswalt, on a staff that included Ben Sheets and Jon Rauch, pitched seven shutout innings against South Korea in pool play and came back with six strong against the Koreans in the semifinals. Behind Sheets’ pitching and a big homer by Mike Neill, the Americans stunned heavy favorite Cuba in the gold medal game. “Tommy (Lasorda, the team manager) told everyone that he had won World Series and all kinds of stuff in Major League Baseball,” Oswalt told mlb.com, “but nothing he had done in his life amounted to what had just happened.”
While there has been no shortage of hitting heroics around the state in the young college season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impactful batter than Mississippi College’s Chauncey Callier. The senior outfielder from Alabama is 11-for-30 (.367) with four home runs, eight RBIs and seven runs through nine games. The Choctaws are 6-3 and 3-0 in the Gulf South Conference coming off a weekend sweep of West Alabama. Callier hit .270 with eight homers in 2019 and was a second-team All-GSC selection. Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo splashed numbers all over the box scores during the Rebels’ series win against top-ranked Louisville; the junior shortstop from Florida was 5-for-10 with three walks, an HBP, a homer, three RBIs and three runs. Jackson State is 1-3 but don’t fault Jaylyn Williams; the senior from Greenville went 9-for-16 with four RBIs and three runs in the opening weekend. Mississippi State, 3-0 out of the gate, got five hits, two walks, three RBIs and four runs from junior outfielder Rowdey Jordan, and sophomore Charlie Fischer – another Minnesota import in Hattiesburg – banged out seven hits, walked twice, drove in four runs and scored two for Southern Miss in its weekend sweep. At Delta State (6-3, 1-2 GSC), Jared Cramer, a senior catcher out of DeSoto Central High, is off to a sizzling start at .448 with two homers, six RBIs and 11 runs. Other hot hitters of note: William Carey’s Jordan Szush (.359, eight RBIs, seven runs); Blue Mountain’s Anthony Lipsey (.387, eight RBIs, six runs); Millsaps’ Jimmy Johnstone (.350, four RBIs, two runs); and Belhaven’s Logan Walters (4-for-10, four doubles, six RBIs, two runs).