As we await the announcement on Monday of the 2019 Ferriss Trophy winner, it feels like a good time to check in on the last two winners of the state’s top college player award, both now in the minor leagues. Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin, last year’s honoree, is dealing at Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. The sidearming right-hander, a second-round pick last June, has an 0.79 ERA in 10 games (11 1/3 innings) with 17 strikeouts. He earned his first save with a two-inning effort on Thursday night, fanning four of the eight batters he faced. Sandlin zipped through four levels of the minors in 2018, topping out at Akron, and posted a 3.00 ERA, two wins and five saves in 25 games. The Indians moved Sandlin back to the bullpen after he served as the No. 1 starter for USM last year. The 2017 Ferriss winner, Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, moved quickly up Minnesota’s ladder after being a supplemental first-rounder in June ’17, starting this season at Triple-A Rochester. But the righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman has scuffled at the new level, batting just .222 with six homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 43 times in 90 at-bats. Rooker hit 40 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. P.S. Cody Reed, the veteran lefty out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, was recalled today by Cincinnati from Triple-A Louisville. He got into one game with the Reds earlier this season and has 40 appearances over the past four years.
There has been a power surge of late among several Mississippians, notably Bobby Bradley, Austin Riley and Hunter Renfroe. Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, has begun to mash at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s system. The 22-year-old first baseman has four homers in his last four games, three in his last two. A .366 spurt over his last 10 games has boosted his average to .315 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his first full season at the Triple-A level. “It’s really a great experience, you learn so much from the veteran guys,” Bradley said in an milb.com story. Riley, the DeSoto Central product, hit two more bombs for Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta) on Wednesday. That’s 10 in his last 13 games, during which he has batted an absurd .469. He is at .315 with 12 homers and 32 RBIs. “Obviously, I’m seeing the ball well,” he told milb.com. “I’ve worked really hard on getting my swing where it is now.” Renfroe, the ex-Copiah Academy and Mississippi State standout, hit a go-ahead home run for the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. He also hit a tie-breaking bomb on Monday and a walk-off grand slam on Sunday. “He’s clutch. And he has been for a long time,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. Renfroe now has nine homers on the year, second to Mitch Moreland’s 10 among Mississippians in the majors. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is 2-for-8 (.125 for year) since coming off the injured list for the Los Angeles Angels, who also designated MSU product Chris Stratton for assignment on Tuesday. Stratton, who’ll likely land in Triple-A, has an 8.59 ERA in seven appearances. … Tony Sipp, the veteran reliever out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, went on the 10-day IL for Washington with a strained oblique.
Two noteworthy players with Mississippi ties remain on the free agent market, and they have a few things in common. Tony Sipp and Drew Pomeranz are left-handed pitchers, played college ball in Mississippi, were originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians and own a World Series ring. They are even in somewhat similar situations as they look for a new club in 2019. Sipp is 35 – he’ll be 36 in July – and is nearing the end of what has been a fine career. The former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, a short reliever for all of his 10 years in the big leagues, has a 3.67 career ERA. After a couple of off years with Houston, he bounced back strong with a 1.86 ERA in 2018, demonstrating that he may still have something in the tank. Ole Miss product Pomeranz, a former first-round pick (fifth overall) in 2010, had a rough 2018, dealing with arm issues and posting a 6.08 ERA for Boston. He was on the Red Sox’s roster for their World Series triumph but didn’t get in a game. Pomeranz, 30, has had a career that’s been all over the place. He has been with five different organizations. He has started and worked in relief. He has had some very good years (All-Star with San Diego in 2016, 17 wins for the Red Sox in 2017) and has a career ERA of 3.92. But last season was such a clunker, his value surely took a hit. It’s likely that both Sipp and Pomeranz will get short-term deals for modest money and will head into spring training with something to prove, Sipp that he’s not done and Pomeranz that last year was an aberration.
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.
Three Mississippi products reached the 20-home run plateau in the big leagues in 2018, and there’s more Magnolia State power on the way. Four Mississippi prep or college alumni are rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 1 power prospect in their big league organization. DeSoto Central High grad Austin Riley, Harrison Central product Bobby Bradley and ex-Mississippi State stars Brent Rooker and Nathaniel Lowe, each on the cusp of making the majors, made the list. MLB Pipeline’s writers note that the choices were made based on “usable” power, not just “raw” power. Atlanta prospect Riley hit 19 home runs in 2018, six for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before moving to Triple-A, and slugged .522. He could be the Braves’ third baseman by next spring. Bradley belted 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in Cleveland’s system and has 114 round-trippers in five pro seasons. Rooker hit 22 home runs in Double-A for Minnesota after blasting 18 in his pro debut in 2017. Lowe, a Tampa Bay prospect, hit 27 homers and slugged .568 over three levels of the minors, finishing in Triple-A in an amazing breakout season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all four of them in The Show at some point in 2019. P.S. In the 2018 All-Mississippi Home Run Derby in MLB, Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, led the way with 26 homers. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier hit 21 and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson whacked 20.
Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley recently made Cleveland’s minor league organization all-star team and will almost certainly make the Indians’ 40-man protected roster this off-season. When the fifth-year pro will make his big league debut is less certain. Bradley, a left-handed hitting first baseman with impressive power, reached Triple-A Columbus this past season at age 22. The Indians’ No. 7 prospect hit 27 homers and drove in 83 runs between Double-A and Triple-A. He batted just .224, however, and reportedly still needs to polish up his defense. “He’s just a kid, so he’s got plenty of time,” Indians farm director James Harris recently told milb.com. “We’re confident he’ll become an all-around better player.” The Indians have veteran Yonder Alonso at first base and under contract for 2019. Bradley figures to get significant playing time in spring training and then return to Triple-A, where he’ll wait in the wings. Four Mississippians debuted in the big leagues last season: Braxton Lee, Dakota Hudson, Cody Carroll and Spencer Turnbull. Bradley could be first up in 2019. P.S. Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High star, is on the East roster for Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game, a showcase event for the showcase league. Evans is a power-armed pitching prospect in the Texas Rangers’ system. Also on the East squad are Atlanta prospects Cristian Pache, an outfielder, and Kyle Muller, a pitcher, and Milwaukee prospect Keston Hiura, an infielder. Pache and Muller played for the Mississippi Braves in 2018, and Hiura was with Biloxi. MLB Network will televise the Fall Stars Game at 7 p.m. … Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna is on the team of big leaguers headed overseas next week for the MLB Japan All-Star Series. The first game is Nov. 8 in Tokyo. MLB Network will carry all the games live.
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.
Seventy years ago this month, Jonestown native Luke Easter helped the Homestead Grays win the 1948 Negro League World Series, beating the Birmingham Black Barons (and a kid named Willie Mays) 4 games to 1. Negro Leagues legend Buck Leonard and future major leaguer Bob Thurman were also on that Grays team. It was a significant Series in a couple of ways. The NLWS title was the last for the great Grays franchise, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that won three – plus nine Negro National League pennants — in a 12-year span. The 1948 season was also the last gasp of the old Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough in the majors in 1947 created opportunities for other prominent black players and began to diminish the talent in the Negro Leagues. Easter, who hit .363 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs for the ’48 Grays, would make the majors in 1949, becoming the first black Mississippian to do so. As a 34-year-old rookie in 1950, Easter slugged 28 homers for the Cleveland Indians. P.S. The National Urban Professional Baseball League, which launched on May 25 in Laurel and disbanded on July 1 due to a “lack of support,” plans to field teams again in 2019, according to the league website. The NUPBL has been rebranded as the Urban Baseball Association. All of the 2018 games for the four-team league were played at Laurel’s Wooten Field. The league was founded in response to declining numbers of African-American players in the game but is open to players of all races. One of the organization’s stated missions is to honor old Negro League stars and teams.
He may have been the fourth player chosen out of Mississippi in the June draft, but Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin has taken a back seat to no one on the field this summer. Sandlin is the only Mississippian drafted this year to reach the Double-A level. The right-hander, picked in the second round by Cleveland, debuted for Akron on Wednesday with – what else? – a scoreless inning. In 21 games and 20 1/3 innings spread over four levels, Sandlin has a 1.31 ERA and 30 strikeouts with just two walks. He has two wins and five saves. “He’s uber-competitive and he trusts that he’s better than any hitter that steps in the box,” Kirk McCarty, Sandlin’s former USM teammate and fellow Indians farmhand, recently told milb.com. … There were two first-rounders from the state this year but only Ryan Rolison signed. (Brandon High star J.T. Ginn is now at Mississippi State.) Left-hander Rolison, tabbed 22nd overall by Colorado out of Ole Miss, has pitched well at the rookie level: 1.96 ERA over 23 innings. Second-rounder Joe Gray, taken by Milwaukee out of Hattiesburg High, is batting .182 (.347 on-base) with two homers and nine RBIs in the Arizona League. He hasn’t played in a game since last week. Ex-State ace Konnor Pilkington (third round, Chicago White Sox) has worked just 10 innings at two rookie levels and has a 9.00 ERA. Ex-Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes (fourth round, Miami) also has scuffled, batting .212 with no homers in the Gulf Coast League. (Marlins late-rounders Davis Bradshaw and Milton Smith Jr., both Meridian Community College alums, have excelled, Bradshaw hitting .444 in short-season A-ball and Smith .343 in the GCL.) UM alum Brady Feigl, a fifth-round pick by Oakland, is currently injured but has a 1.73 ERA in 11 games at two levels. Luke Reynolds, a USM, State and Hinds CC alum, has had a solid debut season; a 10th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs, the third baseman is at .293 with a homer and 13 RBIs in 27 games at the short-season A level. Madison Central’s Regi Grace, a 10th-rounder by Minnesota, is 2-1, 2.70 in the GCL.
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.