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.
Spoiler. It’s not a role Zack Cozart, the ex-Ole Mis star, or any of his Cincinnati teammates want to be playing, but it’s where they are in mid-August. Buried in the cellar of the National League Central, the Reds (49-68) have a boatload of games left against the other four division teams, which are bunched within 3 games of each other in the division standings. Cozart in particular could be a major thorn in the side of those clubs. The starting shortstop for the NL All-Star team last month, he is having a career year and showing no signs of easing off on the gas. Since coming off a second stint on the disabled list last Sunday, Cozart is 9-for-26 with four home runs and seven RBIs. “I want to be playing and playing well the rest of the year,” he told mlb.com. “That’s the goal.” Overall, he is batting .316 with 16 homers (matching his career-best) and 46 RBIs. A pending free agent, Cozart has been the subject of trade rumors dating back to the off-season, but it doesn’t appear now that he’s going anywhere this season. That could be bad news for Milwaukee, which has seven games left with the Reds including today’s at Miller Park, the Chicago Cubs (10), St. Louis (six) and Pittsburgh (nine). … The Reds’ roster includes two other Mississippi-connected players, Taylorsville High alum Billy Hamilton and Ole Miss product Stuart Turner. Former Northwest Mississippi Community College star Cody Reed is pitching in Triple-A and could be added in September. P.S. Props to UM alum Drew Pomeranz, who notched his career-best 12th win – and fifth in a row – as Boston beat the New York Yankees 10-5 on Saturday. … Ex-Rebels star Chris Coghlan, who has been on Toronto’s DL for weeks, was designated for assignment, clouding the remainder of his year. … The Cardinals honored their 1987 pennant-winning team on Saturday (before beating hapless Atlanta) at Busch Stadium. Jackson native and Jackson State product Curtis Ford was a semi-regular outfielder on that club, which lost to Minnesota in the World Series.
Kudos to former Jackson State coach Bob Braddy and ex-Mississippi State and MLB star Jay Powell on their induction into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend. Braddy, an icon at JSU, should have been in a long time ago. Who’ll be the next baseball luminary to get the call? Longtime big leaguers Roy Oswalt (163 MLB wins, three-time All-Star) and Charlie Hayes (.262, 144 homers, World Series ring) certainly should get in at some point, as well as Luke Easter, who was the first black Mississippian to make the major leagues. Sam Hairston and Howard Easterling, a couple of Negro Leagues stars, also rate consideration. Among coaches, there’s William Carey’s Bobby Halford, the 2017 NAIA coach of the year who has more than 1,100 wins, and Millsaps’ Jim Page, who has over 700 W’s and seven conference coach of the year honors on his ledger. Both are deserving of recognition over on Cool Papa Bell Drive.
Injuries have dogged former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull for the past two seasons and caused his prospect status to dip. When he’s healthy – as he apparently was on Wednesday – Turnbull looks like a future big leaguer. The 24-year-old right-hander, pitching for Class A Lakeland in the Detroit system, allowed just one hit and one run in seven innings of work to improve to 5-3 with a 3.67 ERA in 12 starts. It was his third start for the Flying Tigers since he returned from a stint on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis. Turnbull missed a chunk of 2016 with a shoulder problem. “(Y)ou always face adversity in this game,” he told milb.com, “so you just have to take it and move forward as quickly as you can. I’m just happy to be back.” A second-round pick out of Alabama in 2014, Turnbull (17-10, 3.43 career) is currently rated the Tigers’ No. 25 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He was No. 12 last year. In Wednesday’s game, he retired Mississippi State product Brent Rooker twice; Rooker, a first-round supplemental pick by Minnesota in June, is batting .194 for Fort Myers. Turnbull’s Lakeland teammate Jake Robson, another ex-Bulldogs star, had two hits and boosted his average to .333. P.S. Jackson State alum Bryce Brown, a 15th-round pick in June by Tampa Bay, leads the rookie Appalachian League with 12 stolen bases in 28 games. He stole 27 bases this past season at JSU while batting .374. … Houlka native Tyreque Reed is riding a five-game hit streak and batting .351, which amazingly ranks just seventh in the rookie Arizona League. Reed, a .500 hitter at Itawamba Community College this season, was an eighth-round pick by Texas.
The college season ended on a sour note: Mississippi State’s 14-4 loss to LSU in the Super Regional at Baton Rouge. But all in all, it was – once again – a pretty sweet year for the Magnolia State. Two four-year schools played in the College World Series in their division. Three teams won conference championships. Four players won conference player of the year honors, and six earned All-America recognition. Led by C-USA player of the year Dylan Burdeaux, Southern Miss enjoyed one of its best seasons, winning 50 games and hosting an NCAA regional. State upstaged the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg, beating them twice on a manic Monday to advance to the Super Regional. Brent Rooker – first-team All-American, SEC player of the year and Triple Crown champ, Ferriss Trophy winner, 35th overall pick in the MLB draft – drove the bus for the Bulldogs, who navigated a bumpy road to a 40-27 finish. Delta State, fueled by All-American Zack Shannon’s monster year, won both the regular season and tournament titles in the Gulf South Conference en route to the Division II College World Series and a 45-13 finish. All-America slugger James Land helped power William Carey to the NAIA World Series, where the Crusaders won three games before ending their year at 45-20. Blue Mountain had its best season in the program’s short history, going 32-25 and making the SSAC Tournament for the first time. Ole Miss, Jackson State and Belhaven also had winning seasons, though the Rebels and Tigers had to be disappointed in their finish. UM, nationally ranked early in the year, went 32-25, lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament and failed to make the NCAAs. Jackson State (38-17) had the best record in the SWAC in the regular season but crashed in the league tournament, its only real avenue to the NCAAs. Belhaven, still transitioning to D-III, came in at 26-14 and saw Terrell Hodges earn NCCAA All-America honors. Mississippi College, having completed its transition back to D-II, wound up at 20-28, but a strong finish enabled the Choctaws to earn a berth in the Gulf South Tournament. There wasn’t so much to cheer about at Alcorn State (12-33), Mississippi Valley State (7-34), Millsaps (19-23) and Tougaloo (10-42), though the Braves did pull off an upset of Grambling in the SWAC Tournament and the Majors beat the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in D-III during the year. And so the book closes … but only for a while. Fall ball is just a few months away.
They had the best record in the league. They put up wow-inducing numbers, both with their bats and their arms. They’re the top seed in this week’s tournament and, even though wild and crazy things can happen in double-elimination play, it’d be foolish to bet against them. So, who are we talking about? Could be Jackson State, Delta State or Jones County Junior College. The description fits all three. JSU, which went 20-4 in the SWAC East and 36-15-1 overall, starts conference tournament play Wednesday against Southern University, the fourth-place team from the West, at Barrow Stadium in New Orleans. The Tigers hit .322 as a team with 421 runs and 132 steals; they posted a 3.46 ERA, a .252 batting average against and seven complete games. Tigers to watch: Lamar Briggs (.379), Jesus Santana (nine homers, 62 RBIs), Bryce Brown (.368, 25 steals), C.J. Newsome (50 runs), Miguel Yrigoyen (nine wins, 2.93), Jose Tirado (seven saves). Delta State, regular season and tournament champion in the Gulf South Conference, will start NCAA Division II South Region play on Friday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. It’s a strong, seven-team field, including defending national champ Nova Southeastern and GSC powers West Alabama and Valdosta State. But DSU (41-11) looks up to the task. The Statesmen are hitting .320 with 432 runs and 60 homers; the staff ERA is 4.57 (fifth in the hitter-heavy GSC) with five shutouts and just 25 homers allowed. Statesmen to watch: Ferriss Trophy finalist Zack Shannon (.451, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, 60 runs), Clay Casey (.358, 17 homers), Seth Birdsong (9-1, 2.82), Zach Osbon (six saves, six wins, 1.35). And then there’s Jones County JC, ranked No. 1 in the country in NJCAA D-II. The Bobcats (44-2) open Region 23 Tournament play on Wednesday against Pearl River at Community Bank Park in Ellisville. JCJC batters hit .370 with 437 runs and 44 homers; its pitchers had a 2.64 ERA with 9.3 K’s per game. Bobcats to watch: Erick Hoard (.417, 12 homers, 53 RBIs), Shelton Wallace (.452, 62 RBIs), Fred Franklin (40 steals), Ben Stiglets (11-0, 1.60), Logan Robbins (11-0, 2.34, 83 K’s in 61 2/3 innings). P.S. William Carey won its opener in the NAIA Opening Round tournament and plays top-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) University today at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Carey knocked off Texas Wesleyan 4-3 with a four-run ninth sparked by big hits from Tyler Odom and Cody Christian.
Jackson State rules the SWAC. At this moment. JSU will have to prove itself again in the SWAC Tournament next month, but there can be little debate about whether the Tigers are the SWAC’s best team right now. Omar Johnson’s club has won 11 straight games to improve to 29-11 overall and 15-3 in the conference heading into a weekend series against Alcorn State at Lorman. Tigers hitters and pitchers lead the SWAC in just about everything. They’re batting .327 with an amazing 338 runs. The 3.45 staff ERA is almost two runs better than the second-best number in the league. JSU hitters also lead the SWAC in slugging, steals, doubles and triples, and the pitchers lead in strikeouts, shutouts, complete games and saves. All-SWAC candidates abound: Lamar Briggs, Miguel Yrigoyen, Jesus Santana, Bryce Brown, Cornelius Copeland. Two of the Tigers’ three SWAC losses came against Alabama State in early March; JSU got some payback by sweeping the Hornets three straight on the road last weekend. The other loss was to Alcorn in Biloxi on March 17. Johnson has rather quietly built a nice resume at JSU with well over 300 wins in 11 seasons, two SWAC championships and several division titles. More hardware may be coming. Baseball America projects the Tigers as SWAC champs and an NCAA regional participant. With an RPI that likely will be around 200, they’ll have to win the tournament to get in. P.S. William Carey University, ranked 23rd in the latest NAIA poll, gets a crack at No. 2 Faulkner in a three-game SSAC series this weekend in Montgomery, Ala. Faulkner, which had been No. 1 the previous six weeks, is 39-8, 14-4, just a notch ahead of the Crusaders (29-14, 15-6) in the league standings. Faulkner’s T.J. Condon leads the SSAC in home runs (18) and RBIs (57). Carey’s James Land, who has 15 homers, is the league’s top hitter at .392. Faulkner’s Israel Fuentes and Ivan Pelaez rank 2-3 in ERA, with Carey’s Lane Fazende and Cole Edgens at 4-5. … Belhaven is ranked 10th in the NCCAA poll released this week and may be positioned for an invitation to the organization’s national tournament. The Blazers are 23-14 heading into their last American Southwest Conference series of the season at LeTourneau. BU, in transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III, is not eligible for the ASC Tournament.