It’s no shocker, really, that Florida high schools produce more pro baseball players per capita than any other state. Lot of athletes, lot of warm weather. From 2011-17, 1,311 Sunshine State products appeared on MLB-affiliated rosters, which comes to 4.16 players per 100,000 people, according to a study by Baseball America published in its Sept. 7-21 issue. Fourth on this list is — drumroll, please — Mississippi, with 3.31 players per 100,000 people. That’s more per capita than California, Texas, Arizona or Louisiana, to name a few. That’s kind of amazing. Magnolia State high schools produced 149 pros in the seven-year span that BA surveyed. Hattiesburg — presumably, the baseball-rich Pine Belt area — produced 11, earning the designation of “hotbed” in Mississippi. Another Hattiesburg kid was drafted in the second round this year — Joe Gray, now in the Milwaukee system. … Among those 149 prep products is Hunter Renfroe, the pride of Copiah Academy. Renfroe, now with the San Diego Padres, is about as hot as anybody from anywhere of late. He hit two home runs on Saturday, giving him 12 in his last 30 games and 19 for the year. He is batting .259 — .302 over his last 30 games — and has 56 RBIs, including a major league-best 27 in August. Also deserving of a nod is Tony Sipp, the ex-Moss Point High star who threw another clean inning in middle relief for Houston in a win on Saturday. The situational lefty has a 2.20 ERA in 44 games and is at 1.61 over his last 30 appearances for the first-place Astros. Renfroe and Sipp are among the 15 Mississippi prep products who have appeared in the big leagues in 2018. Don’t know the per capita rating on that but it’s gotta be up there.
Topps Baseball 2018 Series 2 Card No. 383. That card is not likely to be a hot commodity among big-time collectors, but any Mississippi baseball aficionado will get a charge out of seeing it. It’s a JaCoby Jones base card – but there’s a bonus. The card features an action shot of Jones, the young Detroit Tigers outfielder from Richton, as he rounds third base in an apparent home run trot. He is about to get a low-5 hand-slap from the Tigers’ third-base coach, Dave Clark, the former Shannon High slugger. Two Magnolia State prep legends on one card. Jones was Mr. Baseball in the state in 2010 before going off to LSU. He was a third-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2013 and debuted in the majors with the Tigers in 2016. Way back in 1980, Clark set a state record for homers with 23 at Shannon. He went on star at Jackson State and was drafted 11th overall by Cleveland in 1983. He played 13 seasons in the majors, batting .264 with 62 homers and earning a reputation as one of the game’s top pinch hitters in his heyday. He is in his fifth season as a Detroit coach. P.S. Jones, aka “Juicy J,” is currently on an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo. He is batting .204 with eight homers this season for the Tigers.
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.
Schools from California, Florida and Texas naturally dominate Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s Preseason Top 30 High School poll, but Mississippi did manage to get a little love. Hattiesburg High, led by the highly touted Joe Gray, checked in at No. 11. Joe Hartfield’s Tigers went 26-11 last year and lost in the MHSAA South State playoffs to Pearl River Central. Gray, an Ole Miss signee who’ll probably go high in the MLB draft, batted .477 with seven homers and 19 steals. An ample supporting cast includes Dexter Jordan, who hit .398 with four homers and went 6-3 with a 3.08 ERA on the mound, and Kam Wells (4-0, 1.16). … Gray, Houston High catcher Luke Hancock and Brandon High pitcher/shortstop J.T. Ginn made CB’s All-America team. P.S. Keep an eye on Blue Mountain College, which got the Magnolia State season started by taking two of three at LSU-Shreveport last week. The Toppers won the opener of a Thursday (moved from Friday) doubleheader 8-2 behind the strong pitching of Jonas White and home runs from Hayden Tapper and Austin Looker. In Friday’s rubber game, Caleb Leach drove in five runs in a 13-10 BMC win. LSU-S won 39 games and made the NAIA postseason in 2017.
The news slipped by quietly. Silento Sayles retired on July 6 at age 21. The former Port Gibson High star – who garnered national attention when he stole a prep record 103 bases during his senior year in 2013 – was playing for Mahoning Valley, the Cleveland Indians’ affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League. In seven games, Sayles was batting .143 with no steals. Drafted by the Indians in the 14th round in 2013, Sayles was projected by some as the next Billy Hamilton, the Taylorsville High product who set a minor league stolen base record en route to the big leagues. But the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Sayles stole only 36 bases and was caught stealing 18 times in his 200 minor league games. He batted .222 with a .320 on-base average. Sayles is one of those players who probably would have benefitted from playing college ball before jumping into the pros. P.S. Kudos to Brent Rooker, who was promoted to high Class A Fort Myers by Minnesota, and Hill Denson, who will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018. Ex-Mississippi State star Rooker, the 35th overall pick last month, went 0-for-4 in his Florida State League debut; he was batting .270 with seven homers in rookie ball. Denson, now the coach at Belhaven University after a long tenure at Southern Miss, has more than 1,000 wins on a resume that includes many coach of the year honors and other achievements.
West Lauderdale, the MHSAA Class 4A champion, is ranked No. 6 in Baseball America’s final high school poll. The Knights, who finished 33-3, are the only state school in the Top 40. The 2017 title, accomplished in a three-game battle against Corinth at Trustmark Park in Pearl, is the 14th for West Lauderdale and legendary coach Jerry Boatner. “This is probably one of the best teams we’ve had, especially in a good while,” Boatner told the Meridian Star on the eve of the state finals. “This bunch can beat you with hitting, bunting, stealing, pitching.” Boatner’s program has produced three major league players – Jay Powell, Paul Phillips and Jamie Brown – and many other pros, including 2014 first-round pick Blake Anderson (now in Miami’s system) and Jody Hurst, the former Mississippi State star whose son Cole was one of the best players on the 2017 Knights team.
Four wins in five games, including a weekend sweep against Furman, propelled Ole Miss to the No. 18 spot in Baseball America’s new Top 25. The Rebels (11-5) aren’t hitting (.246 as a team) – the cause of much hand-wringing in Rebel Nation — but when your pitching staff allows just two runs over five games, you can still win. The Rebels make a rare road trip on Tuesday to play Nicholls State at MGM Park in Biloxi. … Mississippi State got a brilliant pitching performance from Konnor Pilkington on Friday to beat South Alabama 2-0. The sophomore left-hander struck out 13 in 7 2/3 innings. Clutch hits on Sunday by Brant Blaylock (a walk-off knock vs. Columbia) and Brent Rooker (a tie-breaking home run vs. South Alabama) gave the Bulldogs (10-6) a spotless record for the weather-interrupted weekend event heading into a matchup today against Columbia. … Southern Miss yielded two runs in three games against Xavier (Ohio) over the weekend but won only two of the three games. Hayden Roberts and J.C. Keys put up zeroes in their Saturday starts as USM swept the doubleheader without allowing a run. Kirk McCarty pitched well enough to win on Friday, but the Golden Eagles were shut out. USM’s staff ERA is now 3.36. The Eagles take an 11-4 mark into a two-game set with Columbia on Tuesday and Wednesday. … Jackson State’s Miguel Yrigoyen threw a five-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 4-1 win against Alabama State on Sunday. Yrigoyen’s gem prevented the Hornets from sweeping JSU (10-6) in the SWAC series at Braddy Field. … Corey Beard notched his third win and Zach Osbon his third save as Delta State beat West Georgia 5-2 in the first of two games on Sunday in Cleveland. DSU, 14-6 and ranked 18th in NCAA Division II, lost the second contest 8-4; the rubber game in the Gulf South Conference series is today. P.S. Thirty high school teams, including a couple from Alabama, will assemble on the Coast this week for the inaugural Battle at the Beach tournament. Games start today and will be played at several Coast schools as well as MGM Park.
Oxford High, the defending Class 5A champion off to a 5-0 start in 2017, is the only Mississippi school in Baseball America’s latest national prep poll. The Chargers, preseason No. 22, moved up to No. 17 in the first in-season poll. Houston was ranked No. 41 in the preseason Top 50; the Hilltoppers (3-4) didn’t make the new Top 25. Oxford is rated No. 15 in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25, and Oak Grove (6-0) is 24th in that poll. Oxford lost several key players from the 2016 team – many of whom are now at Ole Miss – but still runs out a lot of talent. C.J. Terrell is raking at .667, Preston Perkins at .467 and Drew Bianco, son of UM coach Mike, at .429. Carson and Parker Stinnett are a combined 4-0 on the mound. Houston’s slow start can’t be pinned on Colton Peel. The junior is hitting .429 with two homers and has a 1.40 ERA.
Joe Gray, the highly touted junior at Hattiesburg High, is featured in a story currently posted on Baseball America’s website. Gray is playing on an elite travel team, the EvoShield Canes, with a group of seniors. Gray, a 6-foot-2, 194-pound outfielder, hit .474 with seven homers, 45 RBIs, 11 steals and 12 assists as a sophomore last year for Hattiesburg, helping the Tigers reach the Class 5A finals. He hit .380 as a freshman. Gray, who has not committed to a college, figures to be a high MLB draft pick in 2018. … Fall ball is in the air in Oxford, where the Rebels scrimmaged last Friday. Ole Miss, 43-19 and an NCAA Regional participant in 2016, returns infielders Tate Blackman, Colby Bortles and Will Golsan and reliever Will Stokes. Among the newcomers are freshmen Grae Kessinger, Jason Barber, Thomas Dillard and Houston Roth from powerhouse Oxford High. … Wyatt Short and Trent Giambrone – 2016 draftees out of Mississippi colleges by the Chicago Cubs – helped short-season Class A Eugene win the Northwest League pennant. Left-hander Short, a 13th-round pick from Ole Miss, where he was a standout closer, had a 0.00 ERA and seven saves in 15 games; he got the save in the final game of the title series. Second baseman Giambrone, a 25th-rounder out of Delta State, batted .292 with four homers and 22 RBIs for the Emeralds. … Blake Anderson, a supplemental first-round pick in 2014 out of West Lauderdale High, is on Miami’s Instructional League roster as a rehabbing player. The catcher played only one game this season, going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury on July 7. He has played only 58 games over three seasons. … Bryant Nelson, at age 42, is having a nice season in the independent Atlantic League. The switch-hitting second baseman/outfielder is batting .279 with 49 RBIs and 13 stolen bases for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. For fans of the old Jackson Generals — the ones who played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99 — the name might ring a bell. Nelson is the last link to a bygone era — the only former General still playing. (Freddy Garcia pitched briefly for Monterrey in the Mexican League this season but is not currently on the roster.) Nelson’s pro baseball odyssey began when Houston drafted him in the 44th round in 1993. He made the Generals’ roster in the 1996 postseason as an injury replacement and helped the Gens win the Texas League championship. Nelson has played in 2,463 pro games, according to baseball-reference.com, and gotten 2,632 hits. He has played in Mexico, Japan and Italy and even made it to the big leagues for 25 games with Boston in 2002.