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.
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.
Zack Cozart is in comeback mode as he enters Year 2 of his 3-year, $38 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2018 season was a big disappointment for the ex-Ole Miss standout. He hit .219 with five home runs in 58 games and was done following shoulder surgery in June. In 2017, his last year in Cincinnati, he put up career numbers (.297, 24 homers, 63 RBIs) and made the All-Star Game at shortstop. The Angels signed him, initially to play second base, then shifting him to third. Heading into spring training, it’s unclear where Cozart, now 33, will play or if he’ll even play full-time. The team depth chart on mlb.com lists him at both second and third. Younger players are nipping at his heels. From halohangout.com: “His 2017 season was a fluke in many ways, from his sudden explosion of power to his ability to hit for average and even his durability.” With Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton in the lineup, the Angels are an intriguing club desperate to make the postseason. They’d no doubt welcome a return to 2017 form from Cozart. P.S. Asked at a recent team event about the Chicago White Sox’s pursuit of Manny Machado, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had this to say to mlb.com: “He would play a great role in what we are trying to do as far as winning a championship. He definitely brings that talent.” Machado’s preferred position is shortstop, which happens to be where Anderson has played, very capably, the past three seasons. … Former DeSoto Central star Austin Riley is on the MLB Pipeline list of the Top 10 third base prospects for a fourth straight year, checking in at No. 3 in 2019. He has 71 homers over four minor league seasons and finished 2018 with 12 in 75 games at Triple-A Gwinnett. The 21-year-old’s path to The Show is currently blocked by veteran Josh Donaldson, signed as a free agent by Atlanta in November.
As the Houston Astros marched toward their first World Series title last year, all Tony Sipp could do was watch. The veteran relief pitcher, who struggled through much of the 2017 season, wasn’t on the team’s roster for any of their three postseason series. Well, that was then. After an amazing resurgence in 2018, the former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is on the roster for the American League Division Series against Cleveland. Game 1 is today at Minute Maid Park. A couple of things happened for the 35-year-old left-hander this year. First, he had to battle just to make the team in spring training and essentially keep his career alive. “It all just came together to create that hunger again. It’s do or die; my back is against the wall,” Sipp told the Houston Chronicle last month. Then, he regained confidence in his best pitch, a splitter that had abandoned him in 2016 and ’17. In 54 appearances (38 2/3 innings) this season, Sipp put up a 1.86 ERA. He yielded just one home run after coughing up eight in 2017 and 12 in 2016. He is the lone lefty in Houston’s bullpen; he is best against lefties (0.90 ERA this year) but can also get right-handed hitters (2.89). P.S. Houston’s roster also includes former Mississippi Braves Brian McCann, Evan Gattis and Charlie Morton, a hero of last year’s title run. Hitting coach Dave Hudgens is a former Jackson Generals hitting coach, a last link to the Double-A Astros affiliate that played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. … In that other ALDS, which starts tonight at Fenway Park, Boston’s roster includes former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland (but not Ole Miss alumnus Drew Pomeranz). The New York Yankees have an alum from both State (Jonathan Holder) and Ole Miss (Lance Lynn) in their bullpen, and the Bombers’ hitting coach is former East Central CC standout Marcus Thames.
There is a large gaggle of former Mississippi Braves currently with Atlanta, but eight was enough on Saturday to help the upstart Braves claim their first National League East title since 2013. Eight M-Braves alums got in the box score in the 5-3 win against Philadelphia at SunTrust Park. Freddie Freeman and Johan Camargo drove in two runs each, Ronald Acuna scored twice and Arodys Vizcaino notched his 16th save. What a bonus it’ll be for the Braves if Vizcaino can deliver consistently as a closer in the postseason. Freeman ought to get some MVP consideration, and Acuna is certainly a top rookie of the year candidate. And then there’s Brian Snitker, the 2005 M-Braves manager who has been in the Braves’ organization for 40 years. By all that is right, he should be named NL manager of the year. … Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, hit his 20th home run on Saturday, becoming the first Chicago White Sox shortstop to post a 20 homer-20 steal season. Anderson has 26 stolen bases and is batting .242 with 63 RBIs. ChiSox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson said watching Anderson’s development this season has been one of his “greatest joys in baseball,” which covers a lot of ground. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe hit his 25th homer for San Diego on Saturday and leads all Mississippians in the majors in that category. Of Renfroe’s last 13 hits, six have left the park. He is hitting just .215 over his last 15 games. … Former Bulldogs star Jonathan Holder worked a scoreless inning for the New York Yankees, who beat Baltimore 3-2 in 11 innings and then celebrated clinching a postseason berth. Holder has a 2.97 ERA, a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. … Going the other way is Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, who failed to retire a batter in the 11th inning for Boston and took the loss in Cleveland’s walk-off win. Pomeranz has an ERA of 9.00 in his last seven appearances and a 6.37 for the year. He is a pending free agent. … Kudos to Jesus Sucre, one of the five ex-M-Braves catchers currently in the big leagues. A part-timer for Tampa Bay, he hit his first homer of the season for the Rays, whose surprising late playoff push is going to come up short.
Hunter Renfroe is surging. Tim Anderson is on the brink of a special accomplishment. Mitch Moreland is a solid contributor on the best team in baseball. Corey Dickerson’s numbers are pretty darn good, and Brian Dozier has 20 homers and more RBIs than any other Mississippian in the big leagues. Picking All Mississippi Baseball’s Cool Papa Bell Award winner for 2018 is going to be tough. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe clubbed his 22nd homer for San Diego on Wednesday. He is batting .258, slugging .519 and has 48 runs and 60 RBIs in 102 games (he spent time on the disabled list and in the minors). He credits a new two-strike approach for this late-season bolt. “I’m letting the ball get deep, shortening up a bit, making sure I’m as short and quick to the ball as possible,” he said in an mlb.com article. Anderson, the East Central Community College alum, hit his 19th homer – a game-winner – for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. With 26 stolen bases, he is a homer shy of becoming the ChiSox’s fifth 20-20 man. “I’m excited to be able to chase that,” he told mlb.com. Anderson is hitting .248 with 62 RBIs and 73 runs in 141 games. Unlike Renfroe and Anderson, former State standout Moreland plays for a playoff-bound team, the 100-win Boston Red Sox. An All-Star in July, he has scuffled of late but is still hitting .250 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs and playing a good first base. Meridian CC product Dickerson also has faded recently but is batting .291 with 11 homers, 49 RBIs, 57 runs and eight steals for Pittsburgh. That’s a productive year. Former Southern Miss star Dozier, winner of the last two Cool Papas, has slumped since moving from Minnesota to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are chasing a division title. Playing on a troublesome knee, he is hitting .219. Can he possibly muster a finishing kick? It’s going to be fun final couple of weeks.
Tim Anderson went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs on Monday night, but ESPN analysts Tim Kurkjian and Eduardo Perez were singing the praises of the shortstop’s defense during the network’s game coverage. The former East Central Community College standout made two highlight-worthy plays in the Chicago White Sox’s 6-2 win over the New York Yankees. On the first, he went deep into the hole and made a jump-and-throw play to nail the batter at first base. On the second, playing in with a runner at third, he short-hopped a hard-hit grounder and cut down the runner at the plate. Defense has been an issue for Anderson, a relative latecomer to baseball, during his three years in the big leagues. He made 28 errors in in 145 games in 2017. But, by all accounts, he is improving. He has just 15 errors in 125 games this year and reportedly is making more plays like the ones he pulled off Monday. “He’s growing and maturing,” Perez said. “He’s a great athlete learning to play baseball,” Kurkjian said. A basketball star in high school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Anderson didn’t play baseball until his junior year. East Central was his only baseball scholarship offer. In his second year with the Warriors, he batted .495 with 10 homers and 41 steals for a state championship team and was named an NJCAA All-American. Intrigued by his raw skills, the White Sox drafted him 17th overall in 2013. There was speculation then that Anderson might have to move to center field in pro ball, but he has stuck at short. He is also making strides as an offensive threat; he’s at .249 with 17 homers, 58 RBIs and 25 steals in 2018. The White Sox have seen enough that they signed him last year through the 2022 season. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Chris Stratton threw a career-high eight innings on Monday as San Francisco shut out Arizona 2-0. Stratton (9-7, 4.99 ERA) allowed five hits, no walks and fanned six in his second straight quality start since returning from a second pit stop in the minors. … In recent MLB moves: Richton High alum JaCoby Jones has been activated from the disabled list by Detroit; Southern Miss product Cody Carroll was sent to the minors by Baltimore; former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers has landed on the DL for St. Louis; and UM alum Bobby Wahl is eligible to come off the DL for the New York Mets but there’s been no word on when that might happen.
90 – Losses by Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles, who fell to Toronto 6-0 on Wednesday. The O’s went 0-10 at Toronto this year and have 50 road losses all told.
4 – Wins, against no losses, for ex-State standout Dakota Hudson, who worked a scoreless inning in St. Louis’ win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rookie Hudson has a 1.29 ERA in 12 relief appearances for the surging Cardinals.
5 – Earned runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings by ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, who took his first loss with the New York Yankees against Miami. Lynn has allowed 10 runs in his last two starts for the Yanks after yielding one in his first three appearances.
15 – Home runs by Mitch Moreland, the former State standout whose latest bomb helped Boston beat Cleveland and snap a rare three-game losing streak.
17 – Homers by East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, who went deep for the Chicago White Sox and matched his season total from 2017.
20 – Homers for Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star whose sixth leadoff blast of the season helped Atlanta beat Pittsburgh. Rookie Acuna has reached the 20-homer mark in just 290 at-bats.
3 – Wins by former M-Braves starters: Atlanta’s Julio Teheran beat Pittsburgh for his ninth W of the year, Texas’ Mike Minor snuffed Oakland for his 10th and Houston’s Charlie Morton notched his 13th as the Astros held off Seattle.
1 – Run scored by State product Adam Frazier, the only run Pittsburgh tallied against Atlanta, which held the Pirates to two runs total in sweeping a three-game series at PNC Park.
38 – Hits in his last 30 games by ex-M-Braves star Mallex Smith, who got two more knocks for Tampa Bay to raise his average to .304, seventh in the American League.
Adam Frazier earned a prominent place in the spotlight on Sunday, hitting an 11th-inning walk-off home run for Pittsburgh. But there’s a crowd of Mississippians deserving at least a slice of the attention. Mississippi State alum Frazier’s fifth homer of the year and second career game-winner gave the Pirates a 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs. He said in an mlb.com story that it was “probably the most excited I’ve ever gotten going around the bases.” Frazier has been swinging a hot bat since returning from a trip to the minors; he is batting .386 in his last 15 games. Former Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, also with the Bucs, went 2-for-5 to boost his average to .308, best among Mississippi-connected players in the big leagues. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier had a three-hit game and scored twice for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 12-1 rout of Seattle. Dozier is batting .250 with three homers, 12 RBIs and eight runs in 17 games for the Dodgers. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton had a stat sheet-stuffing day for Cincinnati, banging out two triples, drawing a walk, driving in three runs and scoring one in an 11-4 victory vs. San Francisco. Ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with his 14th home run and three RBIs for San Diego in a 4-3 loss to Arizona. East Central CC product Tim Anderson had only one hit but it left the park for his 16th homer, helping the Chicago White Sox beat Kansas City 7-6. And down on the farm, Meridian CC and McLaurin High product Davis Bradshaw produced a 5-for-5 game for short-season Class A Batavia in the Miami system. The speedy Bradshaw, an 11th-round pick in June, bunted for his fifth hit and stole two bases. He is 7-for-16 in four games at Batavia after batting .376 with 15 steals in the Gulf Coast League.
As home run celebrations go, Hunter Renfroe’s on Thursday was a little bit unusual and a whole lot exhilarating. You can’t watch it without feeling his emotion. The ex-Mississippi State standout yanked a ninth-inning grand slam that put San Diego ahead of Milwaukee at Miller Park. After he hit it, Renfroe bent forward in a bow with the bat clutched in front of him, as if to say, “Oooh, I got all of that one.” “It was just like, ‘[Heck] yeah!'” Renfroe told mlb.com. “Let’s be honest here, that’s just the way it was.” He then flipped the bat away and broke into his trot. His teammates went bonkers. The Padres would win 8-4. The resurgent Renfroe has homered in four straight games and now has 12 on the season. He is creeping up on the leaders in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby, currently topped by Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss alum who hit his 19th – third with the Los Angeles Dodgers — on Thursday. (With 170 career bombs, Dozier trails fifth-place Dmitri Young by one on the all-time list of homers by Magnolia State natives.) Former East Central Community College star Tim Anderson has 15 homers this season and State alum Mitch Moreland sits on 14. (Moreland is ninth on the career list with 146.) Ex-Meridian CC standout Corey Dickerson now trails Renfroe with 11.