Home runs just flew off Zack Shannon’s bat during his time at Delta State. He hit 50 in 110 games over two seasons at the NCAA Division II school. He blasted an all-division state record 31 homers in 2018, when he batted .406 and won D-II player of the year honors. A 15th-round pick by Arizona last summer, Shannon readily took off in pro ball, belting 14 homers while batting .354 in 54 games at the rookie level. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound slugger began the 2019 season in the Class A Midwest League and promptly hit some turbulence. He is batting .238 with 10 homers in 69 games for Kane County, and it’s been a struggle even to reach those modest numbers. “It’s all a roller coaster, and it’s just a matter of learning how to ride it the right way,” Shannon recently told the Aurora (Ill.) Beacon-News. He got a late start this season because of a hamstring injury in spring training and hit .162 with one homer in 10 April games. He was hurt again in May and finished that month at .190 with three homers. As recently as July 8, he was batting .193. But consider: Shannon has two three-hit games among his last seven, and he hit his 10th homer on Monday. Maybe he’s finally settled in for the rest of this ride.
Challenged by the Milwaukee Brewers to compete in the Midwest League as a first-year pro, ex-Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard appears to have figured something out. Batting .125 with no home runs through 13 games with Class A Wisconsin, the fifth-round pick has now homered in three straight games and is 7-for-15 in his last four. The switch-hitting Dillard, 21, hit .278 in four games at the rookie level before the Brewers promoted him to the low-A club. Listed as a catcher, which he played at Oxford High and for a handful of games at Ole Miss, Dillard has played only first base, left field and DH for the Timber Rattlers. Known for his power, Dillard hit 31 homers in his three years with the Rebels, including 14 this past season. He was a highly recruited player out of Oxford High, earning All-America recognition after blasting a nation-leading 16 homers for the state champion Chargers in 2016. P.S. Former Mississippi State ace Ethan Small, Milwaukee’s first-round pick in June, has made two appearances in the rookie Arizona League and retired all nine batters he’s faced, five via strikeout.
There are hurdles ahead for Chuckie Robinson, but the former Southern Miss star certainly has built a head of steam. After one full season in pro ball, the 23-year-old Robinson is the second-highest rated catcher in Houston’s system and the No. 27 prospect overall in the world champion’s organization. He has made a couple of appearances in big league spring training games and has earned a great reputation. “He’s one of our most-liked players by staff just because he’s such a hard worker,” Astros director of player development Pete Putila told milb.com in a recent feature on Robinson. “Physically, he’s an explosive player. It shows up in his arm strength and bat speed.” Robinson threw out 40.9 percent of baserunners attempting to steal last season at Class A Quad Cities while also batting .274 and mashing 15 homers with 77 RBIs. He was a driving force behind the River Bandits’ run to the Midwest League pennant, belting four postseason bombs, and was named an MWL All-Star. Robinson, an Illinois native, was a 21st-round selection by the Astros in 2016 and, though he had a big junior year at USM, didn’t enter pro ball with a lot of hype. “I know good ballplayers. I think I’m a good ballplayer. I know what I’m capable of and, honestly, I just wanted to get an opportunity,” Robinson said in the milb.com article. He is making the most of it.
Chuckie Robinson, the former Southern Miss star, capped an ascendant season with a brilliant performance in the Midwest League Championship Series clincher. Robinson went 4-for-5 with a homer, three RBIs and four runs as Quad Cities, a Houston affiliate, beat Fort Wayne 12-2 on Saturday to claim the Class A league’s pennant. “Talk about your storybook ending,” Quad Cities manager Russ Steinhorn told the Quad-City Times. Robinson, a second-year pro, was the only player from the River Bandits’ opening day roster still with the team for the playoffs. Robinson, named the series MVP, also homered in Game 1 of the best-of-5, which the River Bandits swept. “Since the playoffs started, all season really, we’ve shown a resilience. We never quit,’’ Robinson told the QCT. Robinson, a catcher, batted .274 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs during the season. He earned MWL midseason and postseason All-Star honors. And he’ll probably get an invite to the Astros’ big league camp next spring.
Five years ago this month, as the MLB draft loomed, the most highly touted Mississippi-connected player was Chris Stratton, the reigning SEC pitcher of the year from Mississippi State. He went in the first round, 20th overall to San Francisco. But he wasn’t the first Mississippian picked. Toronto pulled a bit of a surprise by taking D.J. Davis out of Stone County High with the 17th pick and signing him for $1.7 million. Five years later, Davis is still in A-ball and seems to be spinning his wheels. Once a top 10 prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, the lefty-hitting outfielder is hitting .234 with five extra-base hits, 10 RBIs and 14 steals in 45 games for high-A Dunedin the Florida State League. He hit .197 during an injury-interrupted season at Dunedin last year and struggled in winter ball in Australia also. His career average is .238. He’s about to turn 23, and he may be running out of time on the developmental track. Davis’ struggles are indicative of why MLB teams are reluctant to use high draft picks on Mississippi prep players. The track record isn’t good. P.S. Former Mississippi State teammates Jacob Robson and Nathaniel Lowe will be reunited as teammates in the Midwest League All-Star Game on June 20 in Midland, Mich. Both 2016 draftees, they are on the East roster. Robson is in the midst of a big year at West Michigan, Detroit’s low Class A affiliate. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound outfielder is batting .332 with 25 RBIs and 38 runs in 56 games. An eighth-round pick last June, Robson hit .294 at two rookie levels in 2016. Lowe, a 6-4, 225 first baseman, is hitting .289 with three homers and 27 RBIs in 50 games for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay system.
Ed Easley, the former Mississippi State star still seeking his first big league hit, might get some opportunities now that St. Louis’ No. 1 catcher, Yadier Molina, is out for an undetermined time with a thumb injury. Easley has played nine pro seasons but has just two MLB at-bats. Tony Cruz is the Cardinals’ interim starting catcher, and they’ve added another backstop in Travis Tartamella. Neither Easley nor Tartamella played in St. Louis’ 2-1 win against Cincinnati on Monday night. … The Reds’ Billy Hamilton reportedly will have season-ending shoulder surgery, putting the ex-Taylorsville High star on the lengthy list of Mississippians whose season was halted by injury. (See Zack Cozart, Aaron Barrett, Kendall Graveman, Desmond Jennings, Jacob Lindgren, Cliff Lee.) … Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson, who has done three stints on the DL, went 2-for-3 on Monday to boost his average to .302. He has played just 54 games for Colorado. … Ole Miss product Stuart Turner had an RBI double and scored a run as Chattanooga beat Biloxi 4-0, denying the Shuckers a Southern League championship in their first season. (The Jackson Mets won their first pennant in their seventh season, the Generals in their third and the Mississippi Braves in their fourth.) … Southwest Mississippi CC alum Kade Scivicque and Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull celebrated a Midwest League championship as West Michigan beat Cedar Rapids 3-2. Turnbull, who started Game 1 of the 5-game series, did not pitch in the clincher. Scivicque was behind the plate, as he was for all of the Whitecaps’ 10 playoff games. Scivicque, drafted in the fourth round by Detroit this June, also was the regular catcher this season for LSU during its College World Series run. … Through the first four scrimmages of State’s fall ball schedule, Brent Rooker is 7-for-12 with two homers, seven RBIs and five runs. The Bulldogs scrimmage again today.
Ex-Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull could get the start tonight for West Michigan in Game 5 of the Midwest League Championship Series. Turnbull, an 11-game winner this season, is 1-1 in the postseason, including a loss to Cedar Rapids in Game 1 of the title series. Selected by the Detroit Tigers in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Alabama, Turnbull already is rated their No. 5 prospect by mlb.com. As a junior at Bama, Turnbull went 5-7 with a 2.22 ERA, and he had a 3.54 career ERA there. He was on a state championship team at Madison Central. … Ole Miss alum Alex Presley went 2-for-5 and homered to help Fresno claim the Pacific Coast League pennant with a 7-3 win against Round Rock on Sunday. Presley batted .390 in the postseason for the Grizzlies, Houston’s Triple-A team, which will meet International League champ Columbus (Cleveland) on Tuesday for the Triple-A “national championship.” … Biloxi and Chattanooga will play a fifth and deciding game tonight in the Southern League title series. Former UM standout Stuart Turner is the Lookouts’ catcher, and Jackson native Stu Cliburn is the pitching coach for Minnesota’s Double-A club.
Midwest League managers apparently are hard to impress. Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High standout, leads the Class A league in home runs (27), RBIs (88) and slugging percentage (.538). But MWL skippers – there are 16 of them — did not see fit to vote Bradley to the postseason All-Star team at either first base or DH, much less name him the MVP. Ryan McBroom, hitting .324 with 11 homers, 82 RBIs and a .496 slugging average, took all three of those categories. The 23-year-old McBroom plays for Lansing in the Toronto system. The lack of league honors notwithstanding, the 19-year-old Bradley has had a heckuva year for Cleveland’s Lake County club in his first full pro season. He is currently rated the Indians’ No. 7 prospect by mlb.com, so he’s impressing somebody. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound lefty hitter was the Arizona League MVP last year, when he led the rookie loop in average (.367), homers (eight) and RBIs (50).
Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, has rediscovered his home run swing. The lefty-hitting first baseman jacked two homers Saturday night for Lake County in the Cleveland organization and has four in his last five games. “Just trying not to do too much at the plate,” Bradley told milb.com. Bradley hit five bombs in eight days during a stretch in early June, then cooled off a bit. He had hit only one in July before going yard on Tuesday, then added another homer on Wednesday. He now has 18 for the year, tops in the Class A Midwest League, to go with a .252 average and 57 RBIs. Bradley has fanned 112 times in 294 at-bats, but at age 19 and in just his second pro season, his plate discipline will surely improve. He was the rookie-level Arizona League MVP in 2014, when he hit eight homers in 39 games, and took a big step up to the MWL this year.
Delta State, the 2,700-student school up in Cleveland with its proud baseball tradition, has produced, remarkably enough, three major league catchers. Carlos Leal has designs on being the fourth. Leal, in just his second pro season, is playing in the Class A Midwest League and batting .314 with two homers and 26 RBIs for Wisconsin in the Milwaukee system. Leal, from Puerto Rico, was a two-time All-Gulf South Conference catcher at DSU and an All-Stater at East Central Community College before that. But he was drafted as a pitcher (34th round) last year by the Brewers, who were impressed by his strong arm in a workout. He did not make a smooth transition last summer, putting up an 8.53 ERA in six rookie-league appearances. Milwaukee brass decided in the off-season to give Leal a shot at making one of the minor league clubs this spring as a catcher. He not only made the Wisconsin roster, he became the Timber Rattlers’ No. 1 catcher and made the MWL All-Star Game last month. “You could tell he has a passion for catching,” Charlie Greene, a Brewers minor league instructor, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At 24, the left-handed hitting Leal could and probably needs to move up quickly. It’s a long way from A-ball to the big leagues, but Leal certainly appears to have a shot at joining Barry Lyons, Scooter Tucker and Eli Whiteside as Statesmen who’ve caught in The Show.