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.
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.
In a Carolina League contest in North Carolina on Sunday, a couple of former Mississippi college stars played their own little game of “top that.” Southern Miss product Chuckie Robinson ultimately came out ahead. He hit a grand slam in the third inning and then added a tie-breaking three-run blast in the eighth as Buies Creek (a Class A Houston affiliate) beat visiting Down East (Texas Rangers) 10-7. LeDarious Clark, the former East Mississippi Community College standout, went deep twice for Down East, which rallied from a 7-0 deficit and eventually tied the score on Clark’s three-run homer in the seventh inning. Clark, a 12th-round pick in 2015 by the Rangers out of West Florida, had three hits and raised his average to .278 with five homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games for the Wood Ducks. Robinson, a 21st-rounder in 2016 by the Astros out of USM, hit homers No. 5 and 6 on the year for Buies Creek and now has 23 RBIs. A recent surge (.324 in his last 10 games) has boosted his average to .218. “It’s always good and rewarding when you have a good game at the plate, but I’ve been working hard and I’ll continue to work hard,” Robinson told milb.com. He was a Midwest League All-Star at catcher in 2017 and is the Astros’ No. 26 prospect (per MLB Pipeline).
Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star and Atlanta prospect, is 6-for-21 since he returned to Triple-A Gwinnett from a rehab assignment in rookie ball. Riley, out roughly a month with a knee injury, is hitting .285 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 31 games for the Stripers. He was promoted from Double-A Mississippi in early May. … The hits keep coming for Jacob Robson, the former Mississippi State standout now at Triple-A Toledo in Detroit’s farm system. Robson is hitting .414 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 15 games for the Mud Hens. Also at Toledo is ex-State star Zac Houston, a big right-hander who has a 2.08 ERA and three saves in 16 appearances. … Southern Miss alum Mason Robbins went into last week’s Triple-A All-Star break with a 12-game hitting streak for Charlotte (Chicago White Sox). He is 0-for-12 since play resumed. Overall, the lefty-hitting outfielder is at .269 with two homers and 24 RBIs in 54 games. … Former State star Reid Humphreys notched his 20th save on Sunday for Lancaster, Colorado’s high Class A affiliate. Humphreys, who leads the California League in saves, has a 1.67 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. … USM product Chuckie Robinson has started to hit at high-A Buies Creek in Houston’s system. An 11-for-33 surge has boosted his average to .204 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 53 games. Robinson, a catcher, was a Midwest League All-Star in 2017, when he batted .274 with 15 homers and 32 doubles for a championship club at Quad Cities. … LeDarious Clark, the East Mississippi Community College alum from Meridian, has hit in six straight games since he returned to the Down East (Texas Rangers) lineup from an extended rehab stint. He is batting .266 with three homers for the high-A club in the Carolina League. He hit 13 homers and stole 20 bases there last year. … One of the more interesting picks in this year’s draft was Dallas Woolfolk, taken by Oakland in the 13th round. Right-hander Woolfolk, who had some struggles at Ole Miss late last season and ultimately left the team, has been up and down for the Arizona League A’s. In five games (six innings), he has two saves and a win with a 6.00 ERA, seven strikeouts and seven walks.
Reid Humphreys, a dual standout at Mississippi State and Northwest Rankin High, is focused on pitching in pro ball, and he looked sharp in his second season. Humphreys, who’s on Colorado’s Instructional League roster for this fall, notched 13 saves in 14 chances with a 2.56 ERA at Class A Asheville. The Rockies drafted Humphreys – brother of Miami Marlins first baseman Tyler Moore, another ex-Bulldog — in the seventh round in 2016. Humphreys batted .310 with five homers and 44 RBIs and posted seven saves (despite a 5.56 ERA) in 17 mound appearances for State that year. The Rockies preferred him as a pitcher, and he has not disappointed. … Also slated for extended work in Instructional League in either Arizona or Florida are State product Ryan Gridley (Oakland), East Mississippi Community College alum Vijay Miller (San Diego), ex-State star Zac Houston (Detroit), Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles (Detroit), former UM standout Henri Lartigue (Philadelphia) and Ti’Quan Forbes, the 2014 Mr. Baseball from Columbia who was traded late in the season from Texas to the Chicago White Sox. Forbes, a former second-round pick now in his fourth pro season, hit .222 at Class A Down East before the trade and played just four games for Winston-Salem in the same league before the season ended.
Brent Rooker, the first Mississippian picked in the 2017 draft (35th overall), has proven to be a quick study in pro ball. The ex-Mississippi State standout has already advanced a level in Minnesota’s system and is batting .314 with four home runs over his last 10 games, raising his average at high Class A Fort Myers to .237 with seven homers. But Rooker has a lot of company in the fast lane. Each of the top 10 Mississippi-connected players drafted and signed in June is off to a good start, some a great start. Tyreque Reed (Itawamba Community College) is batting .350 with five homers and 26 RBIs in the rookie Arizona League, though he hasn’t played in over a week for the AZL (Texas) Rangers. Dylan Burdeaux (Southern Miss) hit .319 in short-season A for Detroit and was quickly bumped up to low-A, where he is batting .265 in 23 games. Taylor Braley (USM), the second Mississippian picked (sixth round, Miami), is 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA in four appearances in the short-season A New York-Penn League. It may feel like old home week at times in the NYPL. Other Mississippians in the league: Braley’s former teammate Kirk McCarty is with Cleveland’s affiliate and is 2-1, 2.05 in nine games; Ryan Gridley (MSU), an Oakland draftee, is batting .268 with 17 RBIs and five steals; and David Parkinson (Ole Miss) is 1-1, 2.84 for Philadelphia’s affiliate. Tate Blackman (UM), in rookie ball with the Chicago White Sox, is hitting .227 with two homers and 13 RBIs and is over .300 in his last 10 games. Bryce Brown (Jackson State) is batting .254 with 20 RBIs and 12 steals at the rookie level for Tampa Bay. Erstwhile East Mississippi CC quarterback Vijay Miller, a San Diego draftee who apparently has given up football, has a 4.00 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings in the rookie Arizona League.
The MLB draft isn’t done yet, but the most intriguing pick from Mississippi may already have been made. The San Diego Padres took Vijay Miller, a right-handed pitcher – and a quarterback, from East Mississippi Community College in the 14th round. Miller was a two-way star at Itawamba AHS before heading to EMCC, a.k.a. Last Chance U. As a freshman last fall, he threw for 599 yards and six touchdowns as the Lions’ No. 2 quarterback. On the diamond, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Miller went 5-0 with a 3.97 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. The Padres obviously like what they saw.
Ti’Quan Forbes, in his fourth pro season but still only 20 years old, has come out swinging at Class A Hickory. The former Mr. Baseball from Columbia is batting .353 with five home runs and 12 RBIs through 17 games in the South Atlantic League. He already has more homers than he got all of last season, when he hit four in 120 games with the same Hickory club. He didn’t go deep in either of his first two minor league seasons. Forbes, 6 feet 3, 180 pounds, was a second-round pick by Texas in the 2014 draft. A shortstop at Columbia High, he is now playing third base, a power position. Forbes hit just .251 last year with 24 extra-base hits. If he continues to rake at his current pace, he could get a midseason promotion to high-A Down East in the Carolina League, where former East Mississippi Community College standout LeDarious Clark is now playing. They were teammates in Hickory in 2016.
There are five outfielders scattered through mlb.com’s chart of the top 30 prospects in the Texas system. LeDarious Clark is not one of them, but the former East Mississippi Community College star from Meridian is building his resume in the Australian Baseball League. Clark, drafted by the Rangers in the 12th round in 2015, went 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs today in Adelaide’s 8-3 win against Brisbane. Clark is batting .357 over his last 10 games and is at .277 with two homers, 17 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 20 games for the season. In his two minor league campaigns, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Clark has hit .256 with 21 homers and 55 steals. The onetime football standout presents an intriguing power-speed combination. P.S. Back in the States, it’s been a slow go for free agent Mississippians. There has been no hard news since Dec. 19, when Ole Miss alum Alex Presley signed as a minor league free agent with Detroit, one of the two MLB clubs he played for in 2016. The lefty-hitting outfielder, 31, is a .253 career hitter with 26 homers and 25 steals over parts of seven big league campaigns. Mitch Moreland (Boston), Jacob Lindgren (Atlanta), Tyler Moore (Miami), T.J. House (Toronto) and Scott Copeland (Miami) also have signed, the latter three on minor league contracts. Still out there are Chris Coghlan, Louis Coleman, Desmond Jennings, Joey Butler, Aaron Barrett, Jonathan Papelbon and Julio Borbon.
Friday was a good day for baseball in Perth, where the temperature at game time between the Adelaide Bite and the host Heat was 73 degrees, according to the Australian Baseball League box score. It was a good day for LeDarious Clark, too, according to the same box score. The former Southeast Lauderdale High and East Mississippi Community College standout, batting leadoff and playing left field for Adelaide, went 2-for-6 with a couple of RBIs and a run in the Bite’s 8-2 win. Clark, a Texas Rangers prospect, is batting .214 with eight RBIs, seven runs and seven steals in 13 games in the ABL. A 12th-round pick in 2015 out of West Florida, Clark hit .276 with eight homers, 24 RBIs, seven triples and 29 runs at the short season level that summer. He smacked 11 homers and stole 24 bases in low Class A this past season but batted only .242 and fanned 99 times in 314 at-bats. … The other Mississippi native playing Down Under, former Stone County star D.J. Davis, is struggling. Davis, a former first-round pick by Toronto, is batting .095 in 11 games for Canberra.