Entering Monday’s Cactus League game as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, ex-Mississippi State star Jack Kruger announced his presence with authority, smashing a three-run home run. In the ninth, he added a three-run triple, helping the Los Angeles Angels beat Texas 12-11. Kruger, a catcher and the Angels’ No. 24 prospect (MLB Pipeline), is in camp as a non-roster invitee and is batting .400. “He’s just growing as an offensive player,” Angels skipper Brad Ausmus told mlb.com. Kruger reached Double-A Mobile last summer and hit. 304. Also in that Monday game, East Mississippi Community College product LeDarius Clark went 2-for-2 with a double, two runs and an RBI for Texas. He has been in the big camp as a minor leaguer after playing in A-ball in 2018. … Elsewhere in Arizona and Florida: Richton High alum JaCoby Jones went 2-for-2 with a homer for Detroit and is batting .269 this spring. … Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton, batting leadoff for Kansas City, went 1-for-3 with a steal and is hitting .296. … MSU product Chris Stratton, vying for a job in San Francisco’s rotation, worked four innings, yielding one run and trimming his ERA to 5.40. … Nate Lowe, another State alumnus, went 0-for-4 and saw his average drop to .094 for Tampa Bay; he is in camp as a non-roster invitee after a monster 2018 minor league campaign. … Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier took an 0-for-3 for Washington and is at .182 for his new club. … DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, a non-roster invitee in Atlanta’s camp, went 0-for-2 and is at .233. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Braxton Lee, getting time with the New York Mets as a minor leaguer, drew a walk in his lone at-bat and is hitting .182. He was waived in the off-season by Miami, for whom he made his MLB debut last April. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, sidelined with a calf strain, announced that he is “100 percent” sure he’ll be ready for Opening Day with the Angels.
Cristian Pache arrived in Mississippi with modest fanfare last summer. If he starts 2019 with the Mississippi Braves, as he is expected to do, there will be much more hubbub. Pache, only 20, has been starring in Atlanta’s big league camp, batting .455 (10-for-22) with two homers and eight RBIs. He hit the bombs on Friday and Saturday in Grapefruit League action. And keep in mind that it’s his defense in center field that is considered to be his best skill. “This kid just keeps doing it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said in an mlb.com story. “He just keeps improving. It’s been a good camp for him.” The Dominican Republic native is rated Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect and No. 37 overall by MLB Pipeline. He was named to the Arizona Fall League’s All-Prospect team last fall and is a two-time organization All-Star for the Braves. He lists at 6 feet 2, 185 pounds and reportedly has added some weight. In 29 games for the Double-A M-Braves last year, Pache hit .260 with one homer, cooling off after a hot start. He figures to be the centerpiece of the 2019 club, which begins play April 4 on the road with the home opener slated April 10 at Trustmark Park. Pache might not be in Pearl very long. As Snitker said, “If you’re at Double-A, you’re in play.” P.S. Former DeSoto Central (and M-Braves) star Austin Riley played some first base in Atlanta’s game on Sunday. Riley, the team’s No. 5 prospect as a third baseman, also has been rumored to possibly see some outfield duty at Triple-A Gwinnett this season.
League play, the main event for the state’s junior colleges, starts next Saturday. If the opening acts are any indication, we’re in for a wild ride. Jones County Junior College, which jumped into the NJCAA Division II poll at No. 4 last week after upsetting No. 1 LSU-Eunice, is 13-1. So is Holmes, which isn’t even ranked. Fifth-ranked Pearl River is 12-2 after beating LSU-Eunice 4-3 in 11 innings last Friday, getting a clutch hit from Dexter Jordan and clutch relief pitching from Shemar Page. “It was as good of a regular season game as I’ve ever been a part of,” Wildcats coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. Seventh-ranked Meridian is 8-2 with seven straight wins. No. 15 Itawamba is 11-2, and 20th-ranked Northwest is 11-3. Unranked Hinds, which swept Baton Rouge and Dakota State 15-0 and 12-0 over the weekend, is 10-3 with a seven-game streak. Copiah-Lincoln is 7-2 and Coahoma 12-4. Nothing any of those schools did over the weekend can quite compare, however, to what went down in Scooba on Friday between two MACJC schools with losing records. East Mississippi, under new coach Brett Kimbrel, won an 18-17 game that featured 34 hits and 21 walks before East Central bounced back to take Game 2 15-3 in five innings by recording 13 of the 15 outs via strikeout. Whew. In the opener of the non-conference twinbill, Austin Beech got the walk-off hit in the ninth for East (3-7), which also made use of home runs by Dillon Morgan (two), Tyler Miller and Phillip Martin. Ryan Cupit drove in four runs and Javian Stone fanned 10 batters in four innings to spark ECCC (5-7) in the second game. … ICC’s Houston Harding (4-0, 0.96 ERA) and Jones’ Lane Thomas (4-0, 1.23) rank second among the national leaders in wins, tied with 10 others.
Most projections don’t have Anthony Alford making Toronto’s opening day roster. The former Mr. Baseball is doing his best to change that. Alford hit his fourth home run of the spring on Saturday, his third in two days. He is batting .286 with seven RBIs and two steals, including one he got Saturday. Though his rank on the Blue Jays’ prospect charts has tumbled, the 24-year-old outfielder still possesses tantalizing five-tool talent and, apparently, the right mindset. “I’ve always had people doubt me,” Alford told The Toronto Star early this month. “Saying, ‘Oh, he can’t make it out of here,’ because nobody makes it out of where I came from.” The Columbia native and Petal High product overcame some obstacles in his early life before sports opened doors for him. He played football at Southern Miss and Ole Miss before opting to pursue a pro baseball career. He spent most of 2018 — his fourth season since fully committing to baseball — in Triple-A. Alford has shown flashes of finding it in the minors, batting .265 with 26 homers and 92 steals over 413 games, but has managed to get only 27 MLB at-bats. It would seem that something needs to happen this year.
Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, is playing like a man on a mission in the Cactus League this spring. He went 2-for-3 on Thursday and is now 11-for-22 with a homer, six RBIs and five runs for the Chicago White Sox. When the White Sox were courting Manny Machado, there was speculation that Anderson would lose his shortstop job to the touted free agent. The outspoken Anderson, the team’s starter at short since 2016, wasn’t about to just step aside. “He knew what he could do, and he was going … to show everybody that he was going to hold on to that particular position,” ChiSox manager Rick Renteria recently told the Northwest (Chicago) Herald. Machado signed with San Diego. The White Sox will be just fine at shortstop, as Anderson himself would tell you. “(T)he sky’s the limit. I’m excited where I’m at and the direction I’m headed,” he told the Northwest Herald. He hit .240 with 20 homers and 26 steals last season. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier and Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson, top-of-the-order hitters in Pittsburgh’s lineup, also have hit the ground running this spring. Frazier homered Thursday and is 2-for-5 in his two games, while Dickerson is 5-for-9 in three games after a 2-for-3 day in the Grapefruit League. P.S. After finishing last season on the disabled list, there’s a chance ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart will start this season on what is now being called the injured list. Vying this spring to start at either third base or second for the Los Angeles Angels, Cozart has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 left calf strain and reportedly will be out for a few weeks. The season starts March 28. Cozart, 33, was scratched from the Angels’ lineup with tightness in his calf last Sunday and is receiving treatment. He played just 58 games in 2018 – after signing as a free agent — because of a left shoulder injury that required surgery. Early in camp, he was rarin’ to go. “I was actually shocked, in a good way, how good I felt so early,” he told the Orange County Register just after reporting. “It’s doing great.” The calf injury is quite a blow.
In-state rivalry games do add a certain spice to the college season. Southern Miss and Mississippi State engaged in a compelling three-game series in Starkville last month, and Wednesday at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium, Millsaps College and Belhaven University battled it out in the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series. The Blazers, behind the arm of Kyle Whittington (two hits, 11 strikeouts in five innings) and the bat of Steven Liuzza (4-for-5, four RBIs), won 13-7, weathering a late Majors comeback. Freshmen Chris Hart (from Northwest Rankin High) and Brayden Stensaas (Pearl) drove in three runs each for Millsaps. BU improved to 6-7, while scuffling Millsaps fell to 3-12. Game 2 of the three-game series between the NCAA Division III rivals is March 19 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field. Also this month we get the first round of the SWAC home-and-homes, with Jackson State visiting Mississippi Valley State March 15-17, Alcorn State trekking to Valley March 22-24 and ASU visiting JSU March 29-31. On March 20, at MGM Park in Biloxi, D-II Mississippi College and NAIA William Carey will hook up. And looming in April are the Trustmark Park College Series games in Pearl: Ole Miss-USM on April 9 and the UM-State Governor’s Cup clash April 23. Those are always spicy.
Cool idea by the Mississippi Braves to give a nod to the old Jackson Generals as part of the M-Braves’ celebration of the franchise’s 15th year in Pearl. The M-Braves will wear some throwback apparel when the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals (no relation to the other one) visit Trustmark Park from June 25-29. On June 28, the first 1,000 fans will receive a replica Jackson (Miss.) Generals jersey. As a refresher, the Generals were the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Houston Astros and played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-1999. That club produced a bevy of big league stars, including Billy Wagner, Lance Berkman, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia, Richard Hidalgo, Todd Jones, Julio Lugo, Daryle Ward, Melvin Mora, Brian Hunter and Scott Elarton, to name, well, more than a few. The Generals won two Texas League pennants (1993 and ’96). Of course, Jackson’s pro baseball legacy extends well beyond the Generals. The Mets – New York’s Double-A club – occupied Smith-Wills from 1975-1990, turned out an array of stars, as well (see Darryl Strawberry, Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, Kevin Mitchell, et al.), and won three TL titles. And before the Mets there were a number of minor league teams that played in a long-gone ballpark at the Fairgrounds for many years up until the early ’50s. Included in that group was a Boston Braves farm team. And let’s not forget that after the Generals departed for Round Rock, Texas, two independent pro teams played at Smith-Wills: the DiamondKats (2000) and the Senators (2002-05). The Senators also won a championship. Bottom line: When it comes to pro baseball in central Mississippi, there’s a whole lot to celebrate.
There was an under-the-radar Mississippi baseball aficionados moment late in the St. Louis-Detroit Grapefruit League game on Monday: The Tigers’ Kade Scivicque, a former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, took ex-Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers deep in the eighth inning. (Detroit won the game 9-5, but no one really cares about that.) It was the first hit in four at-bats of the spring for Scivicque, in Detroit’s camp as a non-roster invitee. An All-SEC catcher at LSU, he was drafted in the fourth round by the Tigers in 2015, traded to Atlanta (spending some time with the Mississippi Braves), released and re-signed by Detroit (twice). He’s a .268 career hitter in the minors, having reached Triple-A. Mayers, a third-round pick by St. Louis in 2013, has a 6.75 ERA in three spring appearances. He spent most of 2018 in the big leagues, posting a 4.70 ERA with two wins, a save and six holds in 50 games, and figures to land a bullpen job again this season. … Delta State product Trent Giambrone, in the Chicago Cubs’ camp as a non-roster player, went 0-for-1 with a walk and two runs on Monday; he is 7-for-16 this spring with a .471 on-base average, two homers, three RBIs and four runs. … Former Harrison Central High standout Bobby Bradley, in Cleveland’s camp as a 40-man roster member for the first time, went 0-for-1 as a sub and has gotten just three at-bats this spring. He’ll likely be back in Triple-A. … Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett, making a valiant comeback attempt with Washington, worked a scoreless inning, cutting his ERA to 12.00 in three appearances. Barrett has endured myriad injuries (see previous posts) since his last MLB game in 2015. … Itawamba CC alum Tim Dillard, 35 and in his 18th pro season, suffered a blown save for Texas and saw his ERA climb to 23.14 in three outings. Dillard, son of ex-big leaguer Steve, last pitched in the majors in 2012 with Milwaukee, which drafted him in 2002.
When the first NJCAA Division II poll comes out on Tuesday, look for Jones County Junior College to jump in there somewhere. The Bobcats, unranked in the preseason poll, are 10-0 and beat top-ranked LSU-Eunice over the weekend. O’Neil Burgos is batting .385 with 10 RBIs and 12 runs for the Bobcats, and Lane Thomas is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. JCJC is the lone unbeaten team in the MACJC ranks; Holmes is 9-1 and Itawamba 8-1. … Mississippi State, now 10-1, moved to No. 8 from ninth in today’s Baseball America NCAA D-I poll, with Ole Miss (8-2) rising from 13th to 12th. State moved from 12th to seventh in the new NCBWA poll, while UM stayed at No. 10. … Going the other way is Southern Miss, which lost twice to Gonzaga over the weekend – a big lead in Game 3 was washed out — to fall to 4-5. … Mississippi Valley State scored three runs in the eighth and another in the 10th – on a passed ball — to win at Alabama State 12-11 on Saturday for its first win of the season. … Blue Mountain’s Eli Jackson, a sophomore from New Albany, threw a one-hit (nine-inning) shutout at Martin Methodist on Friday, fanning 11 in the 1-0 victory, BMC’s SSAC opener. The teams split a Saturday twinbill. … Mississippi College endured a rough weekend, losing three at West Florida to fall to 10-7, 3-3 Gulf South, and William Carey got swept away at NAIA No. 4 Faulkner to drop to 4-10, 0-3 SSAC. … In MLB, former Ole Miss star Chris Ellis’ bid to stick with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick took another hit on Sunday when he yielded eight hits (two homers) and seven runs in two innings against Cleveland in Cactus League play. Ellis, also a former Mississippi Braves hurler, has a 20.25 ERA this spring. He was drafted out of St. Louis’ organization by Texas and then traded to the Royals. … UM alum Drew Pomeranz, now pitching for San Francisco, got knocked around (four runs in three innings) on Saturday by San Diego but did manage to retire Manny Machado on a pop-up in his first at-bat with the Padres. … Starkville native Julio Borbon, a onetime big leaguer who played college ball at Tennessee, announced his retirement over the weekend.
William Carey University starts conference play this weekend, and the Crusaders aren’t just dipping a toe in the water. Carey will dive into the deep end of the Southern States Athletic Conference pool when it meets NAIA fourth-ranked Faulkner in Montgomery, Ala. Faulkner is 12-4, 8-2 at home. The Crusaders are 4-7 and coming off a 10-2 home win against No. 25 LSU-Shreveport on Tuesday. That was Carey’s first game in 10 days. The win snapped a four-game skid. Jonathan Turner, a senior from McComb, has swung a hot bat (.452) for the Crusaders, but the team is batting just .245. At some point in the three-game set that starts tonight, Carey will face Eagles ace Evan Gillespie, who is 4-0 with a spotless ERA. The Crusaders’ ace has been J.C. Sanner, a senior from Hattiesburg who is 2-1, 0.00. The big threat in Faulkner’s lineup is Max Guzman, batting .377 with four homers, 18 RBIs. … There are two Mississippians on Faulkner’s roster: Clinton’s Staton Todd and Vicksburg’s Marcus Ragan, both Mississippi juco products.