23 Jun

memory side road

Some locally familiar names popped up in an mlb.com article entitled “Rookie greats who never reached that level again.” Every Mississippi Braves fan knows the tale of Jeff Francoeur. Old Jackson Generals fans surely recall Mitch Meluskey, and Ole Miss faithful no doubt remember Chris Coghlan. Coghlan was an All-SEC outfielder in Oxford and a .339 career hitter who was drafted 36th overall by the Florida Marlins in 2006. Three years later, he won National League rookie of the year honors. Hampered by injuries, he played eight more years in the big leagues – winning a ring with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 – but never really captured his ROY magic again. Meluskey was a switch-hitting catcher who showed great promise during his time at Smith-Wills Stadium. He was on the 1996 Texas League pennant-winning team and batted .340 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs for the Double-A Gens the next year. He stuck with Houston as a semi-regular in 2000 and hit .300 with 14 homers. But, the mlb.com story notes, Meluskey didn’t fit in well with the Astros and was traded after that season, got hurt and rather quickly faded away. Francoeur arrived in Mississippi in 2005 as a highly rated prospect, heated up after a sluggish start at Trustmark Park and was promoted to Atlanta in July of that year. His sensational start in the ATL landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Natural” and generated all manner of over-the-top hype. Though Francoeur never quite achieved the “greatness” many predicted, he did have a solid career: .261, 160 homers and 698 RBIs over 12 seasons.

22 Jun

signed, sealed and … waiting

Ocean Springs High alum Garrett Crochet, the 11th overall draft pick out of Tennessee by the Chicago White Sox, has signed for a $4.5 million bonus. The 6-foot-6 left-hander was 10-9 with a 4.64 ERA and 13 saves over three seasons with the Vols, though he made just one appearance this spring. He joins fellow Mississippians Justin Foscue and Colt Keith in an odd sort of limbo: All signed up with no place to go. Foscue, the former Mississippi State standout, signed a reported $3.25 million deal last Friday with Texas, which drafted the infielder 14th overall on June 10. With no pro camps open – and no minor league season underway – Crochet, Foscue and Keith are limited to working out on their own. “My mindset is to wait for somebody to tell me what to do and then I will do it. I am not worrying about it too much,” Foscue told mlb.com. Foscue, one of the first of the 29 first-round picks to sign, was batting .321 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 16 games for the Bulldogs when the 2020 season was halted in mid-March. Former Biloxi High star Keith, a fifth-round pick by Detroit, signed last week for a $500,000 bonus.

19 Jun

make it three

On this date in 2001, Vicksburg native Ellis Burks – the all-time home run leader among Mississippi-born players — hit three home runs in a game for Cleveland, accomplishing a pretty neat feat that’s not as rare as one might think. A three-(or four-)homer game has been done more than 600 times, with quite a few players having hit three in a game multiple times. (Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa did it six times each!) The list of Mississippians with a three-jack game numbers seven. The first was Hal Lee from Ludlow, who slugged his way onto the list in 1934 while with the Boston Braves. The most recent was Hunter Renfroe, who hit three for San Diego on June 14 of last year, the second time the Crystal Springs native had managed the feat. He also did it as a rookie in 2017. Vicksburg native Dmitri Young is one of just four players to hit three bombs in his team’s Opening Day game; that happened in 2005, when Young was with Detroit. The others on this exclusive list: Bill Melton (1969), Larry Herndon (1982) and Brian Dozier (2016). P.S. Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, a fifth-round pick by Detroit, reportedly has signed for a $500,000 bonus. The third baseman/pitcher, originally from Arizona, was an Arizona State signee. … Pitcher Drake Nightengale, a Pearl River Community College alum from Sumrall, has signed as a non-drafted free agent (out of South Alabama) with the New York Mets.

17 Jun

something to celebrate

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League, and baseball had planned a season-long celebration before COVID-19 threw everything for a loop. For their part, the Mississippi Braves were slated to wear replica uniforms of the Atlanta Black Crackers for their April 25 game at Trustmark Park. Hopefully, that tribute will be rescheduled whenever minor league ball returns. For the record, the Black Crackers were a fine choice, but any of a large number of vintage uniforms would have been appropriate. Back in the day – before major league baseball integrated in 1947 with the debuts of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby — Mississippians starred for the St. Louis Stars, Birmingham Black Barons, Kansas City Monarchs, Newark Eagles, Homestead Grays, Chicago American Giants and more. You could put together a pretty strong team of Mississippi Negro Leaguers, including a couple of Hall of Famers: legendary outfielder Cool Papa Bell of Starkville and left-handed pitcher William Foster, who grew up in Rodney and attended what is now Alcorn State. At catcher, you could go with Sam Hairston (Crawford). Put Bob “The Rope” Boyd (Potts Camp) at first base, Sherwood Brewer (Clarksdale) at second, Howard Easterling (Mount Olive) at third, Buddy Armour (Jackson) at shortstop and fill out the outfield with Bill Hoskins (Charleston) and Luke Easter (Jonestown). In reserve, there’s pitcher Rufus Lewis (Hattiesburg), outfielder Bubba Hyde (Pontotoc), pitcher/outfielder Dave Hoskins (Greenwood), outfielder Lacey Thomas (Meridian) and first baseman Henry McCall (Hattiesburg). This is a darn good bunch. Easter — a legendary home run hitter and the first black Mississippian to play in the majors — Boyd, Hairston and Dave Hoskins all got to the big leagues. Easterling was a perennial Negro Leagues All-Star, and Lewis was the ace of the Newark Eagles’ championship club in 1946. These guys deserve a celebration. P.S. You can donate to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum at nlbm.com.

16 Jun

grae area

Good story now posted on milb.com about former Ole Miss star Grae Kessinger, now in the Houston Astros’ system, and the legacy he carries. Kessinger, a second-round pick by the Astros in 2019, is the grandson of ex-MLB All-Star Don, nephew of former big leaguer Keith and son of ex-minor leaguer Kevin. Grae leans on that family history. “It’s something that I think motivates me,” he said in the milb.com piece. “I think it motivates me that I know these people in my family, they gave it all they got every single day. They tell me about it and that makes me want to do it even more.” A .283 career hitter in Oxford, he played at two pro levels last summer, batting .224 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 50 games at low Class A Quad Cities. He played mostly shortstop — his UM position — but the 6-foot-2 Oxford native also got work at second and third base last season. He went 0-for-9 with a walk in big league spring action before the shutdown. P.S. Jordan Fowler, a former Ole Miss pitcher who played at Central Missouri this season, signed with Philadelphia for the $20,000 bonus available this year to eligible players not picked in the five-round draft. … The Tupelo Thunder sits atop the Cotton States League standings with a 5-0-1 record, led by Itawamba Community College alum Riley Davis (.538, four RBIs) and Blue Mountain College’s Easton Williams (2-0, 1.12 ERA).

12 Jun

worth noting

William (Bill) Foster, widely considered the best left-hander in Negro Leagues history, was born on this date in 1904 in Texas. His mother died when he was 4 and he was raised by his maternal grandparents in Rodney, according to Negro Leagues historian James Riley. A ghost town no longer on the map, Rodney is listed by the National Baseball Hall of Fame as Foster’s hometown. It was 12 miles from Lorman and Alcorn A&M, where Foster reportedly made the college baseball team while in sixth grade. In the Negro Leagues, Foster was credited with 143 wins, played on several championship teams and started and won the inaugural East-West All-Star Classic in 1933. He was selected to Cooperstown posthumously in 1996. Foster, who claimed to hold a winning record head-to-head against the great Satchel Paige, threw a variety of pitches. “Now, if you can keep a man off balance, he can’t hit the ball hard,” Foster told historian John Holway. “How do I keep him off balance? And with what pitches? It boils down to the fact that I had to have one motion to control every pitch.” After his pro playing days, he served as a coach and dean at Alcorn State from 1960 until just before his death in ’78. The Braves’ field bears his name.

12 Jun

more draft doodles

For baseball fans who love this sort of thing – and most do – Baltimore’s selection of Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo in the MLB draft on Thursday completed a cool historical connection. Servideo’s grandfather was Curt Blefary, who broke into the majors with the Orioles in 1965 and won American League rookie of the year honors. Blefary, who played eight years in the majors, died in 2001, when Servideo was 2. Servideo, a shortstop, was the O’s third-round pick, 74th overall. … All told, seven in-state players were picked in the five rounds of the draft, three from Mississippi State, two from Ole Miss and two high schoolers. Also, former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet was the 11th overall pick out of Tennessee. … Justin Foscue, drafted 14th overall by Texas on Wednesday, is the 13th Mississippi State player to be picked in the first round since the MLB draft started in 1965. State is now tied for 11th place with two others on the list of schools with the most first-round picks. Stanford tops the chart with 24; the SEC leader is Vanderbilt with 18. … The top prep pick from the state was not a surprise: slugger Blaze Jordan from DeSoto Central. It was a surprise to the team that drafted him, Boston, that Jordan lasted late into the third round. Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni told mlb.com: “Quite frankly, we didn’t think he’d make it that far in the draft. He’s a unique talent. A ton of power upside with a good feel to hit.” The slot value of the 89th pick, per mlb.com, is $667,000. The Red Sox could offer more to entice the 17-year-old State signee to turn pro. … The slot value of the 52nd overall pick, where State’s J.T. Ginn was taken by the New York Mets on Thursday, is $1.4 million. Ginn, currently rehabbing from elbow surgery, turned down $2M-plus two years ago as the 30th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander has three years of eligibility left at State. The Mets reportedly are confident – and hopeful — he’ll sign. A Mets scouting executive said of Ginn, “He’s got all the qualities of being a top-of-the-rotation guy.” … Detroit’s selection of Biloxi High’s Colt Keith in the fifth round marked the continuation of a trend: All six of the rebuilding Tigers’ picks were hitters, including the No. 1 overall pick, Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State, and three are third basemen. Keith, an ASU signee, oddly enough, was drafted as a third sacker, though he also played shortstop and pitched. He was Mississippi’s Gatorade player of the year in 2019. “We got a high-ceiling third baseman that we’re excited to get, a left-handed hitter,” Detroit scouting director Scott Pleis told mlb.com.

11 Jun

a little draft drama

A handful of in-state players could be picked during the four rounds of Day 2 of the MLB draft, but none carries more intrigue than J.T. Ginn or Blaze Jordan. Right-hander Ginn, a sophomore-eligible at Mississippi State, is listed by ESPN as the fifth-best player available today. Jordan, a senior infielder out of DeSoto Central High, is, at No. 42, among mlb.com’s top 10 rated prospects still available. (Ginn is No. 44 on mlb.com’s chart.) Ginn’s situation is clouded by the fact he had Tommy John surgery in March. He was drafted 30th overall in 2018 as a two-way star at Brandon High but passed on a $2 million bonus to play at State. He had a strong freshman year – 8-4, 3.17 ERA – but began to develop an arm problem, which ultimately led to the surgery. That could impact the signing bonus he’ll be offered if he’s drafted today. Plus, he has three years of eligibility left at State, so he might just decide to stay in school. Jordan has been on pro scouts’ radar for several years; he famously slugged a 500-foot home run in a contest when he was 13. Now 17, he is listed at 6 feet 2, 220 pounds. His power potential is unquestioned. His ability to make consistent contact reportedly might be an issue. He played a lot of third base at DeSoto and in summer ball but may be better suited to first. Jordan is an MSU signee and could well wind up in Starkville if he slides to, say, the fourth or fifth round. P.S. A third in-state college summer league is set to get underway on Saturday when the Deep South Collegiate League debuts in Laurel. The DSCL, organized by Gulfport High assistant coach Colton Caver, will play the rest of its schedule at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville and Columbia High. … The New Albany-based Cotton States League opened its 12th season on June 5. The wood-bat college summer league has 10 teams this year, up from six in 2019. … The new Southeast Collegiate League, based in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Baton Rouge, La., was scheduled to start play this week. The SECL is also slated to play some games at PRCC’s field.

10 Jun

welcome to show

It has only happened 30 times in major league history. First career at-bat. First pitch. Home run. Louisville native Marcus Thames did it on this date in 2002. And he did it against a future Hall of Famer, no less: Randy Johnson. Thames was batting ninth for the New York Yankees before a crowd of 45,000-plus at Yankee Stadium. Johnson was pitching for Arizona in an interleague rematch of the 2001 World Series. Johnson threw a fastball up and over the middle and the right-handed hitting Thames deposited it over the left-center field wall. The two-run bomb in the third inning gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead – yes, Thames got a curtain call from the amped-up crowd — and the Yanks went on to beat the Diamondbacks 7-5. Thames, now the Yankees’ hitting coach, wasn’t drafted out of high school and wasn’t picked until the 30th round out of East Central Community College by the Yankees in 1996. Defying the odds, he went on to play parts of 10 MLB seasons. And that show of power on June 10, 2002, was no fluke. He hit a bunch of big home runs, 115 all told in the big leagues on top of 147 more in the minors. … Other notables on the list of batters to homer on the first pitch they saw: Bert Campaneris, Jay Bell, Kaz Matsui, Starling Marte and Willson Contreras, the last to do it in 2016.

09 Jun

draft board

Only one in-state player – Mississippi State’s Justin Foscue — is projected by mlb.com to get picked in Wednesday’s first round of the MLB draft. The junior second baseman is pegged to go to Minnesota as the No. 27 pick in the latest mock draft. Former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, a big left-hander now at Tennessee, is predicted to go 14th overall to Texas. ESPN’s latest mock draft has Crochet going to Texas at 14, Foscue to the New York Mets at 19 and State shortstop Jordan Westburg to the Los Angeles Dodgers at 29. … The highest any state college player has been picked is second: State’s Will Clark in 1985. The top high school pick is Ted Nicholson, taken third overall out of Laurel’s Oak Park in 1969. … Nine in-state players appear in mlb.com’s Top 200 draft prospects list, with DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan the highest rated prep player at No. 42. All the attention given Jordan in recent years doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. In an interview published by Baseball America last summer, Jordan said he “would describe myself as being respectful to the game and just always hustling and playing hard. … Wearing my jersey right and making sure everything is done right.” Jordan said his favorite player is Miguel Cabrera, and he thinks his swing is similar to the former Triple Crown winner’s. Jordan, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and a Mississippi State signee, has prodigious power, ranking among the top 10 power hitters in the draft per MLB Pipeline. … Colt Keith, who played at Biloxi High the last two years after moving from Arizona, is considered one of the best two-way players in this year’s draft class. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Keith is a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed hitting shortstop/third baseman. He is an Arizona State signee. His approach to the game? “I think for me, and I encourage other baseball players too, always play like it’s your last game,” he told WXXV-TV of Gulfport. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks and Brandon’s Kellum Clark are other possible high school picks in this year’s abbreviated five-round draft. … The lone state juco player in mlb.com’s Top 200 is lefty Dalton Fowler (No. 154), a sophomore at Northwest Mississippi CC in 2020. The 6-foot-6 Fowler, from Tennessee, was picked in the 27th round in 2019 by the New York Mets but didn’t sign. He was 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA this season and 6-2, 3.76 as a freshman.