West Jones High will roll into Brandon on Thursday with a target on its back. The Mustangs moved into the top 10 in Baseball America’s new prep rankings, up to No. 9 from 16th on April 3. West Jones (22-1) is the only state school in the Top 25. MaxPreps ranks West Jones fourth in Mississippi, behind Madison Central, Northwest Rankin and Gulfport. Brandon (20-6) is No. 6. The Mustangs are led by dual threat Dustin Dickerson, who is batting .371 with three homers and 19 RBIs and is 6-0 with a 0.30 ERA as a pitcher. Evan Bynum is also 6-0 with a 0.81. Kris Riley leads the team with four bombs, Colson Harris with 19 RBIs and sophomore Sam Hill with a .411 average. The Mustangs’ only loss is to Hattiesburg, fifth in the MaxPreps poll. Brandon features state player of the year candidate J.T. Ginn, who is batting .460 with nine homers and carries a 4-0, 0.55 pitching ledger.
Gulfport High, which has been getting a lot of attention in the national polls, moved up to No. 9 in Baseball America’s new rankings released on Tuesday. Jamie McMahon’s Admirals (12-1 when the BA poll was released, 13-1 now) are also ranked 22nd in MaxPreps’ most recent Xcellent 25 and No. 24 in Collegiate Baseball’s latest prep poll. After reaching the MHSAA Class 6A finals in 2017, the Admirals are looking to chart a championship course, which would be the school’s first since 1985. Gabe Lacy is batting .386 with five homers and is 4-0 with an 0.64 ERA on the mound. Blake Johnson is at .410 and 2-0, 3.00. … At No. 16 in the BA poll is West Lauderdale, the Jerry Boatner-built dynasty that is off to an 11-1 start as the defending state 4A champ. The Knights are led by Hunter Eldridge (.464, five homers, 22 RBIs) and sophomore Braden Luke (.471). … Hattiesburg, featuring the highly touted Joe Gray, was ranked 11th in Collegiate Baseball’s preseason poll but, at 10-3, has dropped out of the top 30. However, the Tigers will get a chance to make some noise in next week’s National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C.
There was no Baseball America jinx evident in Oxford over the weekend. Ole Miss’ three starting pitchers – touted as a “three-headed monster” in a BA feature that posted last Friday – fared just fine in the Rebels’ sweep of Eastern Illinois at Oxford-University Stadium. Ryan Rolison, Brady Feigl and James McArthur devoured the Panthers, allowing just five runs all told as UM improved to 15-1. Feigl, a junior right-hander, had the best outing, tossing seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts. He is 4-0 with a 1.03 ERA. Rolison, a draft-eligible sophomore lefty, went seven in the first game of the Friday twinbill, yielding two runs and fanning eight. Rated the top prospect in the June draft by Perfect Game, Rolison is 3-1, 2.28. McArthur, a 6-foot-7 junior right-hander, worked 5 1/3 on Sunday, allowing three solo homers but nothing else, and improved to 2-0 with a 1.74. “The thing that we lacked last year (in a disappointing 32-25 season) was we didn’t have the star power, we didn’t have the Friday night ace,” Rebels coach Mike Bianco said in the BA story. “They’re all a year better, a year more experienced.” The Rebels, now ranked No. 11 in BA’s latest poll, have a staff ERA of 2.27. Veteran closer Dallas Woolfolk (five saves) hasn’t allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings. After a two-game midweek trip to Georgia State, Ole Miss starts conference play next weekend against Tennessee. The three-headed monster will be summoned again.
It’s the type of headline that compels you to click: “The best hitter you know nothing about.” The mlb.com story is a statistical analysis of the very fine 2017 season put together by St. Louis rookie Jose Martinez, a hitter whom Mississippi Braves fans actually do know something about. Martinez played right field for the 2013 M-Braves, and he stood out – and not just because he is 6 feet 6. Martinez was one of the best hitters on that team, batting .285 with six homers and 39 RBIs. He became a minor league free agent after that year, his eighth in pro ball. The Venezuela native briefly returned to the Atlanta organization – playing in A-ball — in 2014. He finally made his MLB debut in 2016 with the Cardinals – at age 28 – then broke out last summer after a swing change, batting .309 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs in 106 games. P.S. Atlanta had eight players – including No. 1 Ronald Acuna (see previous post) — in Baseball America’s new Top 100 prospects rankings, most of any organization. … Four Mississippi products made BA’s list: Austin Riley (Braves) at 54, Anthony Alford (Toronto) at 60, Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee) at 61 and Brent Rooker (Minnesota) at 92. … Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, is the No. 6 third base prospect in mlb.com’s position rankings. … Ex-Picayune High star T.J. House has signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox; the veteran left-hander got some big league time with Toronto in 2017 but spent most of the season in Triple-A.
There are no reports of Braves fans dancing in the streets of Atlanta today, but there is cause for some excitement. Ronald Acuna has been ranked the No. 1 minor league prospect for 2018 by Baseball America. The 20-year-old outfielder, who starred for the Mississippi Braves last summer, should make his MLB debut early this season, maybe even on opening day. Acuna blew through three levels of the minors last season, from A-ball to Triple-A, and batted .325 with 28 homers, 98 RBIs, 46 steals and seven assists. It’s hard to find any report on him that is less than glowing. There’s also this for Atlanta fans to chew on: Three Braves pitchers, all M-Braves alums, were ranked among the top 10 left-handed prospects by mlb.com entering 2018. Luiz Gohara is No. 4, Kolby Allard No. 7 and Max Fried No. 10. (Sean Newcomb was on this list in 2017.) Gohara, who reached Atlanta last year, has been pegged by Peter Gammons as a potential breakout player for the coming season. Fried also debuted with Atlanta last season. The 20-year-old Allard is expected to start at Triple-A Gwinnett this year. You have to believe that at some point, some of these young guns the Braves have stockpiled are going to lead a resurgence in the ATL.
Six Mississippians cracked Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists for the 30 MLB organizations. (BA published the last of the lists today on its website.) Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star who made his big league debut in 2017 but still has rookie status, was rated No. 2 in Milwaukee’s system. The right-hander was 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts last year and figures to compete for a rotation spot this spring. Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, was No. 3 in Toronto’s system, and Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High standout, was Cleveland’s No. 3. Alford, an outfielder, had a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays last spring and is coming off a strong winter league showing. Bradley, a first baseman, has intriguing left-handed power but didn’t have a great season in Double-A and scuffled in the Arizona Fall League. Still, the 21-year-old is rated the No. 6 overall first base prospect by mlb.com, and he did get another invite to big league camp. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley climbed to No. 6 on Atlanta’s chart. The power-hitting third baseman reached Double-A Mississippi last summer and likely will start 2018 in Triple-A. Brent Rooker, who had a monster season for MSU last spring, continued to rake (.281, 18 homers, 52 RBIs) in Minnesota’s system and earned a No. 7 rating. Dakota Hudson, another ex-Bulldogs star, is St. Louis’ No. 9 prospect after going 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. Not yet on the 40-man roster, Hudson probably will get some time in the big camp this spring. Worth noting: Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is the fourth-rated prospect in Pittsburgh’s organization.
Four Mississippians made their big league debut in 2017: ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford, Ole Miss products Bobby Wahl and Stuart Turner and Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff. Turner, who stuck with Cincinnati as a Rule 5 draftee, was the first of that group to break through, getting a start at catcher on April 6. Woodruff had the most significant impact, going 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts down the stretch for a Milwaukee team that contended for a playoff berth. Who’ll be the first Magnolia State product to debut in 2018? Odds are it’ll be ex-State standout Dakota Hudson, a top 10 St. Louis prospect who reached Triple-A last year in his first full pro season. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander was 10-5, 3.01 overall between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. MLB Pipeline forecasts Hudson, 23, to make the majors sometime this year. Heading into spring training, the Cardinals have at least one spot to fill in their rotation, with Ole Miss product Lance Lynn having moved on as a free agent. If the season started today, Braxton Lee apparently would be Miami’s center fielder. The Ole Miss alum from Picayune is currently listed as the starter on the depth chart on mlb.com, though he isn’t listed among the Marlins’ top 30 prospects. Lee, a 2014 draftee by Tampa Bay, won the Double-A Southern League batting title in 2017, hitting .309 between Montgomery and Jacksonville. He was traded in midseason. Lee also played well in the star-studded Arizona Fall League, making the All-Prospect Team. Another intriguing possibility for Next Mississippian Up is Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who finished his 2017 campaign with the Mississippi Braves, then went on to shine in the AFL. “His power was as prolific as any prospect in the AFL, both in terms of raw strength and his ability to get to it,” Baseball America wrote. “Defensively Riley is in better shape and moves better than he did when he was drafted, and now he’s actually an asset at third base.” Riley is only 20 – he turns 21 in April – but Atlanta has been fast-tracking its prospects of late, so he figures to get a long look in spring camp. It’s notable here that the Braves released Adonis Garcia earlier this week. Riley batted .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs between high-A and Double-A in 2017. A much longer shot to debut in 2018 is Brent Rooker, the ex-State All-American who had a very solid debut in pro ball last summer. The outfielder/first baseman, 23, belted 18 homers in the low minors and is already rated Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect by Baseball America.