Mississippi State’s resilience will be tested this weekend as the team absorbs the impact of losing ace J.T. Ginn for the season and slugging first baseman Tanner Allen for an extended period. Ginn reportedly had Tommy John surgery, which typically involves a year of recovery. A first-round MLB draft pick out of Brandon High in 2018, he is eligible to be drafted again this summer. Allen, State’s leading hitter in 2019, has a broken hand. The Bulldogs, scuffling at 7-4, host Quinnipiac this weekend. … In other news: Nationally ranked Ole Miss, surging at 11-1, hosts Princeton (0-4) this weekend; it’s the first ever meeting between the two. … Delta State (10-8) has lost five straight – its longest skid since 1979 – heading into a Gulf South series against Auburn-Montgomery (6-10, 5-4) at Ferriss Field. DSU is 4-5 in league play after being swept at West Florida last weekend. … William Carey swept SSAC player (R.J. Stinson) and pitcher (Sloan Dieter) of the week honors after winning a league series against nationally ranked Faulkner and hopes to ride that momentum in an SSAC series this weekend against visiting Brewton-Parker. … Belhaven, 6-7 with four straight wins (including a 12-11 conquest of rival Millsaps), hosts Hardin-Simmons in an American Southwest series this weekend. BU is 3-3 in the league. … Pearl River Community College’s Leif Moore earned NJCAA Division II pitcher of the week honors after tossing six no-hit innings with 16 strikeouts vs. Nunez (La.) last week. Moore, from Biloxi’s St. Martin High, is 2-0, 0.00 ERA for the 10-2 Wildcats, ranked No. 2. Hinds (10-0) is ranked third, Northwest (12-1) seventh, Itawamba (9-3) ninth and Northeast (12-2) 12th. … Nationally ranked DeSoto Central High went 2-0 in the Perfect Game Showdown at Hoover, Ala., on Thursday and is 8-1 on the year. Blaze Jordan, generally regarded as the state’s top player, is batting .467 with four doubles and four triples. Cade Smith is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks, another of the state’s best, hit four homers in his team’s first four games. … Travis Demeritte, who slugged 32 homers in two seasons with the Mississippi Braves, hit two homers off Gerrit Cole on Thursday in Grapefruit League play. Demeritte, vying for an outfield job with Detroit, also hit two bombs in a game on Monday. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier is 4-for-13 in five games in his bid to win the second base job with San Diego this spring. … Harrison Central alum Bobby Bradley, hoping to make Cleveland’s club, is 7-for-19 with two homers and five RBIs in Cactus League play. … MSU product Mitch Moreland, pulled from Boston’s game on Sunday with what was described as a minor hamstring problem, has not played since.
The San Diego Padres were never a contender during Hunter Renfroe’s three-plus seasons there. He’s in a different place now. Tampa Bay was a postseason team in 2019 and is expected to battle for a playoff berth again this year. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, is expected to contribute to the charge. Acquired by the Rays in an off-season trade, Renfroe hit 33 home runs last season and has 89 in 390 MLB games in his career. “Obviously, (there’s) the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’s just getting better and better,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino told mlb.com. “That power is going to be big in our lineup.” Renfroe has yet to homer for the Rays this spring but has made an impression with the bat just the same. “Hunter has unbelievable power,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “His batting practice is ridiculous.” Renfroe is just a .235 career hitter (.294 on-base percentage) with high strikeout numbers, but his defensive ability is another plus. A Gold Glove finalist in 2019, he is projected to start in left field, though there is a crowd in the Rays’ outfield. Nevertheless, Renfroe is happy with the change of scene. “It’s a win-win situation for me,” he told Tampa’s Fox 13 News. “I have a chance to do something special here with these guys — going to the World Series and stuff like that, so I look forward to it, and I look forward to the season.”
Boom. Bam. Pow. Home runs – in North Port, Fla., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Poplarville – are the theme here. At Atlanta’s new spring home in Florida – CoolToday Park – former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley hit a tape measure bomb in a Grapefruit League game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Riley’s second homer of the spring traveled an estimated 444 feet, crashing into the massive scoreboard in left-center field. “I’m pumped,” Riley said in an mlb.com story. “If we can just keep riding this out and stick with it, I think it’s going to be a good year.” The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Riley, hitting .316 this spring, is battling for the Braves’ third base job (see previous post). … At Scottsdale Stadium, San Francisco’s Cactus League home, Houlka native and Itawamba Community College alum Tyreque Reed crushed an opposite-field homer in his first at-bat of the spring for Texas. It came off big leaguer Shaun Anderson in the seventh inning and proved to be the game-winning hit. Reed, called over from minor league camp on Tuesday, homered in his lone big league spring game in 2019. An eighth-round pick by the Rangers in 2017, the 6-1, 250-pound Reed has 41 homers in his three minor league seasons. … At Dub Herring Park in Poplarville, Reece Ewing and Bryson Ware slugged two home runs apiece to power No. 2-ranked Pearl River Community College to a doubleheader sweep of Coastal Alabama-East. Ware, a Germantown High product and Auburn signee, has five homers on the year for 10-2 PRCC, while Ewing, a Southern Miss signee, now has three bombs.
Game 1 of the Maloney Trophy Series, matching NCAA Division III neighbors Millsaps College and Belhaven University, is slated for tonight (6 p.m.) at Twenty Field and comes at a time when both schools may be finding their form. Belhaven, under new coach Kyle Palmer, is 5-7 but has won three straight. Millsaps, under longtime coach Jim Page, is 5-6 with three wins in its last four games. The Blazers swept the three-game series in 2019 and lead the all-time series 25-17. BU features several hot hitters, notably Hunter White (.433) and Justin Milam (.302 with five homers, matching his season total from 2019). For the Majors, Mark Petkovsek leads with a .406 mark. Jon Dale Dieckman is at .367 with 13 RBIs and Fritz Walker III at .355 with two of the team’s three homers. It’s unlikely either team will throw an ace tonight, so it could be a hitter’s kind of game. Belhaven’s staff ERA is 4.73, Millsaps’ 5.71.
Austin Riley got the start at third base for Atlanta on Monday and produced a mixed bag of results. The former DeSoto Central High standout went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI, his first of the Grapefruit League season. He is batting .313. The 22-year-old Riley also struck out once – for just the second time in 16 spring ABs – and committed a fielding error. Meanwhile, in the same game, Johan Camargo, the ex-Mississippi Braves star, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs as the DH. Camargo, 26, is batting .400 with a homer and five RBIs. And so, the most intriguing position battle in Atlanta’s spring camp carries on. Riley burst onto the big league scene in May of 2019, belting homers at a dizzying pace, but then slumped mightily down the stretch, suffering an injury along the way. Riley worked on his swing in the off-season and entered camp seemingly brimming with confidence. “I did have some success, and I know what I can do up here,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before camp opened, “so that’s a big positive for me, mentally, because this game is so hard on you, mentally.” Playing mostly outfield in 2019 with the since-departed Josh Donaldson entrenched at third, Riley batted .226 with 18 homers, 49 RBIs and 108 strikeouts in 274 at-bats. Camargo was the regular third baseman in 2018, before Donaldson arrived, and played well (.272, 19 homers). A .269 career hitter over three campaigns, Camargo is a switch-hitter and a good defensive player at multiple positions. Braves manager Brian Snitker has indicated that keeping both Riley and Camargo on the 26-man roster to open the season is unlikely. “If you’re not playing them every day, then you’re not going to do them justice,” he told mlb.com. The consensus seems to be that the younger Riley will start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. But spring training is far from over. Stuff happens. Stay tuned.
Trent Giambrone: The ex-Delta State star, now in the Chicago Cubs’ system, had a hit and an RBI in Cactus League play on Sunday and is now 8-for-14 this spring. Over the last three springs, he is batting .352 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 11 runs in 32 games. He is in camp as a non-roster invitee.
Wesley Reyes: The Jackson State senior went 2-for-3 with a key home run and four RBIs as the Tigers beat Alcorn State 10-6 on Sunday to complete a SWAC sweep. Reyes is batting .394.
Tyler Keenan: The Ole Miss preseason All-America pick banged out four hits and drove in two runs as the Rebels beat Indiana to complete a 3-0 run through a tournament in Greenville, N.C. Keenan went 7-for-13 with two homers and four RBIs for the weekend.
Matt Guidry: The Southern Miss senior went 3-for-4 with two homers, four RBIs and four runs in a 13-1 win against Valparaiso in a tourney game in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday. The Oak Grove High product is batting .359 with two homers and 11 RBIs on the season.
Tanner Allen: The Mississippi State junior had a double and triple, three RBIs and two runs on Saturday in the only game the Bulldogs won in their trip to Long Beach State.
Sloan Dieter: The William Carey two-way standout threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and drove in three runs in the Crusaders’ 10-0 win over NAIA No. 6 Faulkner on Friday. The senior is 3-1 with a 1.26 ERA and is hitting .250 with two homers and 14 RBIs.
Ken Scott: The Mississippi College junior, from Meridian via East Central Community College, hit two home runs and drove in four as the Choctaws won the rubber game Sunday of a Gulf South series vs. Union.
Hunter White: The Belhaven senior, from Mantachie by way of Northwest Mississippi CC, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to pace the Blazers to 15-5 win Saturday and a sweep of an American Southwest Conference series at Mary Hardin-Baylor. He is batting .433.
Jimmy Johnstone: The Millsaps senior was 3-for-3 with an RBI and three runs as the Majors beat Southwestern University 17-3 on Sunday. He is hitting .357.
Will Garriga: The Blue Mountain senior from Hurley belted a walk-off double in the 12th inning as the Toppers took down Martin Methodist in the first game of a Saturday twinbill.
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.