The familiar “plink” of ball meeting bat is back on college campuses around the state. Fall ball begins Friday at Southern Miss, which returns 19 lettermen from a C-USA championship squad. In addition to intrasquad games, the Golden Eagles will play two scrimmages against outside competition, which is now permitted by the NCAA. USM hosts Nicholls State in Hattiesburg on Oct. 28 and visits Tulane on Nov. 4 to wind up the fall schedule. … Ole Miss also has announced its slate of scrimmages, the first of which is an intrasquad on Friday. The Rebels also will play two other teams this fall, Delta State on Oct. 13 and Arkansas-Little Rock on Oct. 27, both in Oxford. The Pizza Bowl, the intrasquad finale, is set for Nov. 2. The Rebels are coming off an SEC championship season and return All-America closer Parker Caracci. … Mississippi State, under new coach Chris Lemonis, started fall scrimmages last week. The Bulldogs are coming off a College World Series appearance – the 10th in program history – and welcomed the nation’s No. 12 recruiting class (by Baseball America) to Starkville. The freshman crop includes J.T. Ginn, the Brandon High product who was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June. … Fall ball is also under way at Delta State, where much is new. Only one regular position player – catcher Josh Russell – returns from last year’s NCAA Division II regional participant. Two new full-time assistants are now on Mike Kinnison’s staff: Blake Mathews and Slater Lott, a former Meridian Community College assistant. The Green-White Fall Series, which concludes the season, is set for Oct. 18-21. … Itawamba, Mississippi Delta and Pearl River Community Colleges will play a tripleheader of scrimmages on Oct. 5 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson.
October isn’t only for playoffs. There’s also the Arizona Fall League, a de facto select circuit for minor league players. It’s a feather in the cap to get an invite. The preliminary rosters for the AFL, which starts Oct. 9, include several Mississippi-connected players: Ole Miss product Errol Robinson, a shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system; ex-Delta State star Trent Giambrone, a second baseman in the Chicago Cubs’ system; Petal High alum Demarcus Evans, a pitcher in the Texas chain; former Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker, a first baseman/outfielder in Minnesota’s organization; Mississippi Braves outfielder Cristian Pache and shortstop Ray-Patrick Didder; and Biloxi Shuckers infielder Keston Hiura. The most intriguing member of this bunch might be the 21-year-old Evans, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander who has dominated in low-A ball this summer. Working as a closer at Hickory in the South Atlantic League, Evans has struck 101 batters in 55 innings with just 27 walks. He is 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA and nine saves. He’ll face much better competition in the AFL, so it’ll be extremely interesting to see how he fares. He is on the Surprise roster. … Robinson, Giambroni and Rooker are all in Double-A. Giambroni, a 25th-round draft pick in 2016, has had an emergent season, batting .254 with 17 homers and 26 steals. Rooker has hit 22 bombs in his second pro season, while Robinson, a third-year pro, has 10 homers and 18 steals. Pache, a top Atlanta prospect, Didder and Hiura will be together on the Peoria club. P.S. Arizona has sent Jarrod Dyson on a rehab assignment, meaning the McComb native may be close to returning from his long stint on the disabled list.
The Cleveland Indians, running away with the American League Central, may not need the help that Bobby Bradley could provide down the stretch. But, if that need does arise, the left-handed slugger from Gulfport looks ready to launch. Bradley, 22, playing at Triple-A Columbus, hit his second home run in the past four games on Tuesday. He has 26 homers on the year, including the 24 he hit in Double-A. After a slow start with Columbus, the Indians’ No. 7 prospect is batting .273 over his last 10 games. … Apparently, there was something in the air on Tuesday. Mississippians all over the minors were in launch mode. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley homered in both games of a doubleheader for Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system. Riley has seven homers in Triple-A and 14 on the year, including six he hit for the Mississippi Braves. Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker smacked a grand slam, his 22nd homer, for Double-A Chattanooga in the Minnesota organization. He is batting .263 with 77 RBIs in his second pro season. First-year pro Zack Shannon, the ex-Delta State slugger, belted his 12th homer at Missoula in Arizona’s system. He is batting .343 with 50 RBIs. (And to think there were questions about whether he’d even be drafted.) Worth noting: Itawamba Community College alum Tyreque Reed homered on Monday, his 14th at low Class A Hickory in Texas’ chain. Reed, batting .274 on the year, is hitting .324 over his last 10 games.
Three hits, four runs and an RBI. Nice Triple-A debut for Nathaniel Lowe, the Mississippi State alum who is racing up the ladder in Tampa Bay’s organization. The 23-year-old first baseman, a 13th-round pick in 2016, started this season in A-ball, moved to Double-A Montgomery in early June, played in the All-Star Futures Game in July and was promoted to Durham on Wednesday. “It was really fun, getting to go out there against a higher level of competition,” Lowe said in an milb.com story. On the year, he is batting .352 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. … If you were picking an all-star team of Mississippians in the minors, Lowe would have to be the first baseman (though there is much competition at that spot) and the 3-hole hitter. The rest of the team? Here goes: Pitcher: Ole Miss product David Parkinson, now in high-A in Philadelphia’s system. He was 8-1, 1.51 ERA in low-A and threw seven shutout innings in his high-A debut on Saturday. (MSU alum Dakota Hudson would have been the choice here, but he is now in the big leagues with St. Louis.) Catcher: Jack Kruger (Double-A, Los Angeles Angels). The ex-State star is hitting .323 with four homers and 24 RBIs at Mobile and .306 with seven homers on the season. Second base: Trent Giambroni (Double-A, Chicago Cubs). The Delta State alum is hitting .257 with 16 homers at Tennessee. Third base: Austin Riley (Triple-A, Atlanta). The former DeSoto Central High standout is at .274 with four homers and 29 RBIs for Gwinnett. He started 2018 in Mississippi and is batting .293 with 11 bombs overall. Shortstop: Errol Robinson (Double-A, Los Angeles Dodgers). The ex-Ole Miss standout is batting .247 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Tulsa. Left field: Will Golsan (rookie ball, Colorado). The 2018 draftee out of UM is hitting .333 with 37 runs in 40 games at Grand Junction. Center field: Davis Bradshaw (rookie, Miami). The Meridian Community College product, a 2018 draftee, is at .329 with 13 runs and eight steals in 22 games in the Gulf Coast League. Right field: Jacob Robson (Triple-A, Detroit). The former MSU star is batting .310 at Toledo and is at .294 with 10 homers, 43 RBIs and 14 steals at two levels this year. DH: Brent Rooker (Double-A, Minnesota). The 2017 SEC Triple Crown winner out of State is hitting .276 with 21 homers and 71 RBIs for Chattanooga. Closer: Reid Humphreys (Double-A, Colorado). The State product, now with Hartford, has 24 saves and a 2.13 ERA at two levels in 2018.
Zack Shannon, whose 31 home runs for Delta State this past season were the most ever hit by a Mississippi collegian, is in a long-ball dry spell in rookie ball. Shannon has three homers in 25 games for Missoula in the Arizona chain but hasn’t gone yard since July 2. This is not to say he is slumping, however. The big first baseman, a 15th-round pick in June by the Diamondbacks, is batting .291 (.406 on-base) and has 11 extra-base hits all told, good for a .500 slugging percentage. … Shannon may not have been the top power prospect in the state this year. Simon Landry of Pearl River Community College set a Wildcats record with 19 home runs in 2018 and apparently impressed the Los Angeles Dodgers in a pre-draft workout. “It’s probably the best raw power we’ve ever seen at a workout,” the Dodgers’ scouting director told Dodgers Insider. The Dodgers took the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Landry in the 22nd round. He has played just one official pro game, going 1-for-1 with a double and a walk in the Arizona League. Landry hit .392 for PRCC this year while breaking the school mark for homers set by Wildcats assistant – and ex-big leaguer – Rhyne Hughes. … While neither Shannon nor Landry homered on Thursday, there were long balls to celebrate around the minors. To wit: Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley hit No. 20 – his third in five games – at Double-A Akron (Cleveland system). Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker belted his 16th for Double-A Chattanooga (Minnesota); he is hitting .261 with 56 RBIs in his second pro season. Ex-Itawamba CC star Tyreque Reed bopped his seventh homer for Class A Hickory (Texas). And the red-hot Hunter Stovall hit his fourth in nine games for rookie-level Grand Junction (Colorado). MSU product Stovall, a 21st-rounder this year, has 17 hits and a .447 average.
Move over, Jose Canseco. Pardon, Jake Marisnick. Trent Giambrone, the former Delta State star, has joined Canseco, Marisnick and three others as the only players in the long history of the Southern League to drive in nine runs in a single game. Giambrone hit three home runs as part of a 4-for-5 performance on Thursday night as he led Double-A Tennessee to a 16-3 victory over Jackson. Batting in the 3-hole for the Chicago Cubs affiliate, Giambrone, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound middle infielder, hit a solo homer, a two-run homer, a grand slam and a two-run double. The grand slam came in the ninth inning. He also had a hand in two double plays. He is batting .264 with 14 homers, 37 RBIs and 19 steals for the year. Giambrone was an All-Gulf South Conference player and GSC Tournament MVP in 2016 at Delta State. He batted .386 with nine homers and 11 steals as a senior for the Statesmen that year. The Cubs drafted Giambrone in the 25th round, and he has moved up swiftly. He’s had some good nights, but none like Thursday.
Time to box up the 2018 college season. Put away the bats and balls for a few weeks and make a few acknowledgements:
If there were an award for Team of the Year, it would have to go to Mississippi State, which didn’t win as many games as Ole Miss or Southern Miss (or Delta State, for that matter) but made a captivating postseason run for the ages that ended one win short of the College World Series finals. The banana-powered Bulldogs finished 39-29 and should be nationally ranked across the board when the final polls come out. Gary Henderson did a great job as an interim coach, taking over in an adverse situation, and not retaining him seems a curious and possibly regrettable move in Starkville.
There are many other kudos to hand out. Ole Miss went 48-17, won the SEC Tournament and hosted an NCAA regional. USM (44-18) swept both C-USA titles and also went to a regional. Jackson State finished 34-18. Delta State went 42-11 and made an NCAA Division II regional, as did Mississippi College, which ended the year 36-17, one of its best seasons ever. William Carey went 36-25 and hosted an NAIA regional. Blue Mountain finished 29-23, Division III Millsaps went 25-19 and MUW, in its inaugural season, came home at 21-15 after participating in the USCAA Small College World Series. Alcorn State (13-39), Mississippi Valley State (11-35), Belhaven (12-27) and Tougaloo (19-23) were the only four-year schools to post losing records.
Among the jucos, MACJC champion Pearl River (No. 4), Meridian (14), Jones County (15) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (18) were ranked in the final NJCAA Division II poll.
Game of the year? If you limited it to games between state schools, it’d be hard to top the State-UM game at Pearl’s Trustmark Park on April 24, which the Bulldogs won on Luke Alexander’s two-run double in the bottom of the ninth before a crowd of 8,500-plus. Runner-up: MC beating Delta State 7-4 in an elimination game in the D-II South Regional at Lakeland, Fla. The Choctaws’ Billy Cameron drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run single in the seventh. Worth mentioning: Jackson State-Alcorn in Lorman on March 25. The Tigers rallied from 8-4 down in the sixth inning to win 13-8 and ended the game with a triple play.
No position player in the state had a better year than DSU’s Zack Shannon. He hit .406 with a record 31 homers and 93 RBIs and has picked up all kinds of national honors. USM’s Nick Sandlin, who also garnered national awards and beat out Shannon (and others) for the state’s Ferriss Trophy, was certainly the state’s pitcher of the year, going 10-0, 1.06 ERA in 15 starts. Gulf Coast CC’s Brandon Parker won a juco national player of the year award and both Shannon and Sandlin were semifinalists for the biggest of individual prizes, the Golden Spikes Award, a testament to the quality of ball played in the Magnolia State.
Three state schools (DSU, Carey and Hinds CC) made it to the World Series level in 2017. Only one did so this season, but it was hardly a down year.