14 May

he’s ‘the star’

If you saw Tommy La Stella play for the 2013 Mississippi Braves, you knew he could hit. The lefty-swinging infielder batted .343 in 81 games. The power he’s displaying in 2019 isn’t something anyone has seen before. Now with the Los Angeles Angels, La Stella belted his 10th home run of the season in a victory at Minnesota on Monday night. That’s as many as he had hit in his previous five MLB seasons combined. La Stella – which means “The Star” in Italian – has more homers this year than Angels stars Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. With 24 RBIs, he trails only Trout on the club. La Stella also has more homers than any other M-Braves alum in the majors; Ronald Acuna is second in that pack with eight. After his big year in Pearl in 2013 (when he hit four homers), La Stella made it to Atlanta the next season. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in November of 2014 for Arodys Vizcaino and spent four years with the Cubbies, winning a ring in 2016. The Angels acquired him last November. His emergence as a regular has taken at-bats away from Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, who is mired in a deep slump (.136, no homers). P.S. Former M-Braves star Dansby Swanson is the second-most improved hitter in the big leagues this year, behind only Cody Bellinger. That’s according to a detailed analysis by mlb.com’s Mike Petriello. After a couple of disappointing years in Atlanta, Swanson is currently batting .268 with six homers and 25 RBIs – plus, according to the mlb.com piece, striking out less, walking more and hitting the ball harder and higher.

25 Apr

gimme five

He came up in the ninth inning Wednesday needing a home run for the cycle. Delvin Zinn had to settle for a double, his fifth hit of the game in what was the best performance in his four years of pro ball. “One-hundred percent I was (thinking home run), but I guess if you miss with a double, that’s alright,” the ex-Itawamba Community College star from Pontotoc told milb.com. Zinn is batting .375 through 13 games in his second season with South Bend, the Chicago Cubs’ Class A club. The 21-year-old middle infielder was drafted in the 23rd round in 2016 by the Cubs. He had hit .411 and drawn raves for his defense during his one season at ICC, but he’s moved slowly in pro ball. He spent two years at the rookie level, helping the Cubs win an Arizona League title in 2017. He batted .286 in 59 games for South Bend last year. The five-hit game might be a springboard for him. … Five was also a number of note for Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz. The big lefty got his first win for San Francisco, throwing six shutout innings at Toronto. He now has big league wins for five different clubs. The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft by Cleveland, Pomeranz has been a relatively effective pitcher (45-50, 3.91 ERA) who just never stays in one place for very long.

16 Apr

riding a wave

Trent Giambrone is in a groove. Again. Or still. At any rate, the former Delta State star has homered in three straight games and four of his last five at Triple-A Iowa. He has lifted his average to .302 through 10 games in his first hack at this new level. Giambrone spent most of spring training in the Chicago Cubs’ big league camp as a non-roster invitee and batted .324 with two homers in 34 at-bats. That came after a .327 showing in the Arizona Fall League, which came on the heels of a 17-homer season at Double-A Tennessee. The 5-foot-8, 178-pound infielder, 25, isn’t rated among the Cubs’ best prospects but surely is on the big club’s radar. (Though it isn’t currently lacking infield talent, the big club is 6-9.) “I’m just trying to hone in on my approach, take it day by day and not really think about the big picture of anything else and just be myself, mainly,” Giambrone recently told the Des Moines Register.

26 Feb

going full tilt

As a 25th-round draft pick, an undersized infielder from a small school, Trent Giambrone had some things to prove in pro ball. He’s doing just that. The ex-Delta State standout had a day in the Cactus League on Monday, going 2-for-4 with a double and a home run for the Chicago Cubs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Giambrone, 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, is currently the Cubs’ No. 20 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) and is in big league camp as a non-roster invitee. He was named an organization All-Star after the 2018 season, when he batted .251 with 17 homers and 26 steals at Double-A Tennessee. He had a three-homer, nine-RBI game for the Smokies last summer. Then he went to the Arizona Fall League and hit .327 there. Giambrone, who played second base on Monday, has played six different positions in the minors, the kind of versatility Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes. A scouting report also hails Giambrone’s “full-tilt style of play.” He’ll likely begin his fourth pro season in Triple-A, perhaps the final proving ground.

08 Feb

around the horn

Tony Sipp, the veteran left-hander out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College who is unsigned for 2019, might be a nice fit with the New York Mets. “(A)s the final addition to a bullpen that has seen three major acquisitions this season, Sipp makes perfect sense,” a blogger writes on amazinavenue.com. “He’d give the Mets a 7th inning option that projects as above-average and has a recent track record of elite performance. … At a cost of $5 million or less, Sipp would make for a great last move.” Sipp is 35 with a career ERA of 3.67 and is coming off a strong 2018 season, when he put up a 1.86 ERA for Houston. Mickey Callaway’s Mets already have added free agent lefties Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan (a former Mississippi Braves star) to their bullpen mix. … Add Mississippi State product Nate Lowe and Delta State alums Dalton Moats and Trent Giambrone to the list of Mississippians receiving non-roster invitations to big league camp. Lowe and Moats are in the Tampa Bay system, Giambrone in the Chicago Cubs’. … Perfect Game lists three Mississippi natives on its High School All-America First Team, though only two of them play ball in the state. Jerrion Ealy, the much-ballyhooed senior at Jackson Prep, and Blaze Jordan, the power-hitting sophomore at DeSoto Central, made the grade, as did Kendall Williams, an Olive Branch native who plays for IMG Academy in Florida. Hayden Dunhurst of Pearl River Central made PG’s second team. PG ranks DeSoto Central (No. 20) and Gulfport (No. 32) in its preseason Top 50. … The final showing of “Kansas City: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues” is slated for Sunday at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson. The show, hosted by the City of Jackson Department of Parks and Recreation Champion Dance Center and Montage Theatre of Dance from Hinds Community College, is a musical presentation that, per the billing, “will retell the story of Black baseball greats such as Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball, is chosen by Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who is determined to integrate the league.” Mississippi, it is worth noting, produced a fair number of Negro Leagues stars, including Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell, who worked with Robinson as he prepared to join the Dodgers, Hall of Famer William Foster, Howard Easterling, Sam Hairston, Rufus Lewis, Dave Hoskins and Luke Easter, the first black Mississippian in the majors.

30 Jan

whatever happened to …

Greg Hibbard, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout, is still out there plying his craft as a pitching coach — 25 years after he last pitched in the big leagues. Hibbard is set to begin his second year with Texas’ Double-A Frisco team (which is managed by former Jackson Generals star Joe Mikulik). Hibbard coached in Cleveland’s system for 13 seasons and is now in his fourth year with the Rangers. The left-hander was a pretty good big league pitcher for a fairly short period, posting a 57-50 record with a 4.05 ERA across parts of six seasons. He played at Harrison Central High before Gulf Coast CC and then went to Alabama. Drafted by Kansas City, he broke in with the Chicago White Sox and won 14 games in 1991. The next year, he was taken by Florida in the expansion draft and then traded to the Cubs. He won 15 games for them in 1993 and parlayed that success into a three-year deal with Seattle. But shoulder problems limited Hibbard to 15 games for the ’94 Mariners and ultimately ended his career. He pitched for the final time in June of that year at age 29.

21 Nov

roster moves

Undrafted out of Ole Miss, where he was a solid if unspectacular pitcher for three years, Jacob Waguespack now finds himself on a major league 40-man roster. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander was added to Toronto’s protected roster on Tuesday and will go to the team’s big league camp for spring training. He might even contend for a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Waguespack, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2015, was traded to Toronto last summer for Aaron Loup. His numbers at Triple-A Buffalo weren’t great — 2-4, 5.03 ERA — but the Jays apparently are impressed with his stuff. Over his four years in pro ball, during which he has worked as both a reliever and starter, Waguespack is 19-20 with a 3.84 ERA. He put up a 3.44 ERA in 40 games over three years in Oxford. … In other recent roster moves, former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley was added to Cleveland’s 40-man and ex-George County standout Justin Steele made the Chicago Cubs’ protected roster. Braxton Lee, a Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss alum from Picayune, was removed from Miami’s 40-man and designated for assignment. He had a roller-coaster 2018 campaign that started in the big leagues.

25 Oct

boys of fall

Errol Robinson, the former Ole Miss standout, got the best of Petal High product Demarcus Evans on Wednesday in one of those Arizona Fall League matchups that scouts surely love to see. Robinson, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ No. 20 prospect, banged a one-out, walk-off single against Evans, a rising star in the Texas system, giving Glendale a 3-2 win against Surprise. Robinson, coming off an injury at the end of the regular season, is batting just .188 in the AFL but is excited about the opportunity he is getting in the showcase league. “It’s just another level up. It’s great stuff,” he told milb.com. Robinson hit .247 with 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 18 steals at Double-A Tulsa this season. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Evans averaged a ridiculous 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings this year at Class A Hickory. In four games and five innings against the stiffer competition in the AFL, he has nine punchouts while yielding four hits, four walks and three runs. Evans, moved from starter to reliever this year, told an mlb.com writer that he wasn’t happy initially about the shift but decided it was an “opportunity for me to get better.” That, he did, posting a 1.77 ERA, four wins and nine saves in the South Atlantic League. … Justin Steele, the Lucedale native and George County High alum, made a second straight solid start for Mesa on Wednesday, yielding a run on four hits with four K’s in four innings. The left-hander, a Chicago Cubs prospect, is 1-0, 5.19 ERA in three AFL outings. Former Delta State standout Trent Giambrone, another Cubs prospect with Mesa, didn’t play Wednesday but leads the club with a .412 average. … Mississippi State product Daniel Brown (a Milwaukee farmhand) and DSU alum Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay), both pitching for Peoria, are among the handful of AFL hurlers yet to allow a run. Brown has worked 6 2/3 innings, Moats 5 1/3. … Ex-State star Brent Rooker is not going to play in the AFL because of a sprained ankle suffered during a mini-camp. The Minnesota Twins prospect hit .254 with 22 home runs at Double-A Chattanooga this season.

19 Oct

eye on …

Daniel Brown, a left-hander out of Mississippi State, is making a strong impression in the Arizona Fall League. The third-year pro, not a highly rated prospect in Milwaukee’s system, has pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in three appearances in the prospect-packed AFL. He worked 2 1/3 innings for Peoria on Thursday, yielding two hits with three strikeouts. The 5-foot-10 Brown put up a 4.20 ERA, seven wins and two saves in 39 relief stints for Carolina in the Class A Carolina League in 2018. The Brewers picked Brown in the seventh round in 2016, when he was on an MSU staff that included Dakota Hudson, Konnor Pilkington, Zac Houston, Reid Humphreys and Jacob Billingsley. Brown was the NJCAA Division III pitcher of the year at Tyler (Texas) JC in 2014. … George County High product Justin Steele threw three hitless innings for Mesa in the AFL on Thursday, bouncing back from a rough first start last week. Steele, rated the Chicago Cubs’ No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had an abbreviated 2018 campaign – his fifth in pro ball — as he returned from arm surgery. P.S. Jackson native and ex-big leaguer Stan Cliburn has been named manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. Cliburn managed that team to a division title in 2015. The longtime minor league and indy league skipper worked as a coach in another independent league in 2018.

01 Oct

stealing the show

Javier Baez may be an MVP candidate, but the shortstop who most looked the part in today’s tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field was Orlando Arcia. Biloxi Shuckers fans will remember him. The former Shuckers star went 4-for-4 and scored twice as Milwaukee beat Chicago 3-1 to claim the National League Central title. For Arcia, it was the kind of performance Brewers fans – and brass — had thought they’d see more of. Arcia, 24, had a poor season in 2018, batting just .227 and spending time in the minors, but he was a full-fledged star as he rose through Milwaukee’s system. He batted .307 with eight homers, 69 RBIs and 25 steals on a good Biloxi team in 2015. He played in the All-Star Futures Game that summer. He was a Triple-A Pacific Coast League All-Star in 2016 and made his big league debut that year. Arcia hit .277 with 15 homers and 14 bags as the Brewers’ regular shortstop in 2017 but started so poorly this year that he went to the minors for much of June and July. It’s October now, and he looks like he belongs in The Show.