On this date in 2005, former Mississippi State star Rafael Palmeiro infamously wagged his finger during a Congressional hearing and declared, “I have never used steroids. Period.” Less than two months later, while playing for Baltimore, he failed an MLB drug test for steroids and was suspended. Though Palmeiro has steadfastly denied using steroids, that incident has stuck to him and is the main reason he is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame despite having 3,000 hits and 500 homers over a 20-year career that ended in 2005. … On a somewhat lighter note, it was also on this date in 2010 that Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee, pitching for Seattle, was ejected from a spring training game – and subsequently fined and suspended – for throwing a pitch over the head of an Arizona batter. The fine and suspension, which would have been for five regular season games, were later rescinded. That incident is largely forgotten and is definitely not the reason Lee isn’t in the Hall of Fame despite 143 wins, a 3.52 ERA and a Cy Young award in a 13-year career. Lee was on the ballot for the first time for the 2020 election and promptly dropped off the ballot.
As major league clubs begin to make cuts, there are a handful of Mississippians on 40-man rosters who are out of options, which essentially means they can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers and possibly being snatched by another club. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the player. Of particular interest is the case of ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford, a longtime outfield prospect in Toronto’s system. Alford, 25, who has had limited big league time (33 games from 2017-19), has been inconsistent and injured over much of his minor league career. He is batting .167 in 24 at-bats with four steals this spring. Per milb.com, “(H)is plus speed and ability to cover plenty of ground on defense would be assets to the back end of the Blue Jays roster.” Alford is competing with several others for a backup outfield job. Three veteran pitchers are also on the roster bubble: Former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton (Pittsburgh), Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers (Los Angeles Angels) and Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed (Cincinnati). Mayers has been the most effective this spring, with a 4.76 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. … Former George County High star Justin Steele was optioned out by the Chicago Cubs last week. The oft-injured Steele, 24, had allowed six runs on two hits and six walks in 2 2/3 innings this spring. He was 0-6, 5.59 at Double-A Tennessee in 2019, his sixth pro season. Those numbers notwithstanding, the Cubs reportedly really like the left-hander’s upside.
It’s a Welcome to the Big Time moment for Mississippi State junior left-hander Houston Harding. For sure, Harding pitched in some big games for Itawamba Community College over the previous two years – winning 19 times and setting a record for career strikeouts – but he’s up against a different animal tonight at Biloxi’s MGM Park. Texas Tech is 16-1 and ranked as high as No. 2 in the country. Harding has pitched just once this season for the 10-4 Bulldogs, a four-inning outing vs. Alcorn State on Feb. 26. He allowed three earned runs and punched out seven batters. Tech is hitting .338 as a team. Its most dangerous hitter might be Nate Rombach at .345 with six homers and 27 RBIs. The Red Raiders will start lefty Mason Montgomery (3-0, 1.93 ERA) in Game 1 of the two-game series and right-hander Hunter Dobbins (2-0, 1.29) in Wednesday’s contest. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs, who have struggled to push across runs at times, are batting .255, led by Justin Foscue at .340 with two homers and 15 RBIs. There’s nothing make-or-break about this series, but it should be a good barometer on where State is as a team heading into the SEC opener against Arkansas this weekend.
Mississippi State’s resilience will be tested this weekend as the team absorbs the impact of losing ace J.T. Ginn for the season and slugging first baseman Tanner Allen for an extended period. Ginn reportedly had Tommy John surgery, which typically involves a year of recovery. A first-round MLB draft pick out of Brandon High in 2018, he is eligible to be drafted again this summer. Allen, State’s leading hitter in 2019, has a broken hand. The Bulldogs, scuffling at 7-4, host Quinnipiac this weekend. … In other news: Nationally ranked Ole Miss, surging at 11-1, hosts Princeton (0-4) this weekend; it’s the first ever meeting between the two. … Delta State (10-8) has lost five straight – its longest skid since 1979 – heading into a Gulf South series against Auburn-Montgomery (6-10, 5-4) at Ferriss Field. DSU is 4-5 in league play after being swept at West Florida last weekend. … William Carey swept SSAC player (R.J. Stinson) and pitcher (Sloan Dieter) of the week honors after winning a league series against nationally ranked Faulkner and hopes to ride that momentum in an SSAC series this weekend against visiting Brewton-Parker. … Belhaven, 6-7 with four straight wins (including a 12-11 conquest of rival Millsaps), hosts Hardin-Simmons in an American Southwest series this weekend. BU is 3-3 in the league. … Pearl River Community College’s Leif Moore earned NJCAA Division II pitcher of the week honors after tossing six no-hit innings with 16 strikeouts vs. Nunez (La.) last week. Moore, from Biloxi’s St. Martin High, is 2-0, 0.00 ERA for the 10-2 Wildcats, ranked No. 2. Hinds (10-0) is ranked third, Northwest (12-1) seventh, Itawamba (9-3) ninth and Northeast (12-2) 12th. … Nationally ranked DeSoto Central High went 2-0 in the Perfect Game Showdown at Hoover, Ala., on Thursday and is 8-1 on the year. Blaze Jordan, generally regarded as the state’s top player, is batting .467 with four doubles and four triples. Cade Smith is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks, another of the state’s best, hit four homers in his team’s first four games. … Travis Demeritte, who slugged 32 homers in two seasons with the Mississippi Braves, hit two homers off Gerrit Cole on Thursday in Grapefruit League play. Demeritte, vying for an outfield job with Detroit, also hit two bombs in a game on Monday. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier is 4-for-13 in five games in his bid to win the second base job with San Diego this spring. … Harrison Central alum Bobby Bradley, hoping to make Cleveland’s club, is 7-for-19 with two homers and five RBIs in Cactus League play. … MSU product Mitch Moreland, pulled from Boston’s game on Sunday with what was described as a minor hamstring problem, has not played since.
The San Diego Padres were never a contender during Hunter Renfroe’s three-plus seasons there. He’s in a different place now. Tampa Bay was a postseason team in 2019 and is expected to battle for a playoff berth again this year. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, is expected to contribute to the charge. Acquired by the Rays in an off-season trade, Renfroe hit 33 home runs last season and has 89 in 390 MLB games in his career. “Obviously, (there’s) the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’s just getting better and better,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino told mlb.com. “That power is going to be big in our lineup.” Renfroe has yet to homer for the Rays this spring but has made an impression with the bat just the same. “Hunter has unbelievable power,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “His batting practice is ridiculous.” Renfroe is just a .235 career hitter (.294 on-base percentage) with high strikeout numbers, but his defensive ability is another plus. A Gold Glove finalist in 2019, he is projected to start in left field, though there is a crowd in the Rays’ outfield. Nevertheless, Renfroe is happy with the change of scene. “It’s a win-win situation for me,” he told Tampa’s Fox 13 News. “I have a chance to do something special here with these guys — going to the World Series and stuff like that, so I look forward to it, and I look forward to the season.”
Trent Giambrone: The ex-Delta State star, now in the Chicago Cubs’ system, had a hit and an RBI in Cactus League play on Sunday and is now 8-for-14 this spring. Over the last three springs, he is batting .352 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 11 runs in 32 games. He is in camp as a non-roster invitee.
Wesley Reyes: The Jackson State senior went 2-for-3 with a key home run and four RBIs as the Tigers beat Alcorn State 10-6 on Sunday to complete a SWAC sweep. Reyes is batting .394.
Tyler Keenan: The Ole Miss preseason All-America pick banged out four hits and drove in two runs as the Rebels beat Indiana to complete a 3-0 run through a tournament in Greenville, N.C. Keenan went 7-for-13 with two homers and four RBIs for the weekend.
Matt Guidry: The Southern Miss senior went 3-for-4 with two homers, four RBIs and four runs in a 13-1 win against Valparaiso in a tourney game in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday. The Oak Grove High product is batting .359 with two homers and 11 RBIs on the season.
Tanner Allen: The Mississippi State junior had a double and triple, three RBIs and two runs on Saturday in the only game the Bulldogs won in their trip to Long Beach State.
Sloan Dieter: The William Carey two-way standout threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and drove in three runs in the Crusaders’ 10-0 win over NAIA No. 6 Faulkner on Friday. The senior is 3-1 with a 1.26 ERA and is hitting .250 with two homers and 14 RBIs.
Ken Scott: The Mississippi College junior, from Meridian via East Central Community College, hit two home runs and drove in four as the Choctaws won the rubber game Sunday of a Gulf South series vs. Union.
Hunter White: The Belhaven senior, from Mantachie by way of Northwest Mississippi CC, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to pace the Blazers to 15-5 win Saturday and a sweep of an American Southwest Conference series at Mary Hardin-Baylor. He is batting .433.
Jimmy Johnstone: The Millsaps senior was 3-for-3 with an RBI and three runs as the Majors beat Southwestern University 17-3 on Sunday. He is hitting .357.
Will Garriga: The Blue Mountain senior from Hurley belted a walk-off double in the 12th inning as the Toppers took down Martin Methodist in the first game of a Saturday twinbill.
From the Didn’t See That Coming Dept., we have this score from Starkville: Texas Southern 8, Mississippi State 4. Anything can happen on a given day in baseball, but still, when a winless SWAC team takes down a consensus top 10 SEC club on its home field, that’s going to send reverberations far and wide. “This is the second-biggest win in the history of the university,” TSU coach Michael Robertson said in a school release. The only thing bigger, Robertson said, would be a 2004 NCAA regional win against defending national champion Rice. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg had this take: “This is a really big wake-up call. It should hurt. It should hurt for everybody on the team … .” TSU, now 1-9, took a 7-3 lead with a four-run fourth. K.C. Hunt and David Dunlavey, State’s first two pitchers, allowed those seven runs (only four earned) on six hits, four walks, three wild pitches and a hit batsman. The Bulldogs made two critical errors. They stranded 11 runners, scoring just once after the second inning. “We’re not competing right now in a lot of different ways,” State coach Chris Lemonis said in a school release. State (5-2), which lost to Oregon State on Sunday, returns to Dudy Noble Field today to face another SWAC school, Alcorn State, which battled Ole Miss tooth-and-nail last week before losing on an Anthony Servideo walk-off bomb. … Meanwhile, in Oxford on Tuesday, Ole Miss and Southern Miss put on a show befitting a rivalry game. The nationally ranked Rebels won 4-3, getting a clutch go-ahead homer from Hayden Leatherwood in the seventh inning and some gritty relief pitching from Braden Forsyth, who struck out two batters with the go-ahead run on base in the ninth. Leatherwood hit 22 homers the previous two years at Northwest Mississippi Community College. For USM, Will McGillis, a product of Hattiesburg’s Presbyterian Christian School, went 3-for-5 with a go-ahead homer in the top of the seventh.
Joe Gray, the ex-Hattiesburg High star, made his first appearance in an MLB spring training game on Monday and showed out. Gray, inserted mid-game as the DH for Milwaukee, went 2-for-2 with a double, an RBI and a run in the Brewers’ Cactus League loss to Oakland at Mesa, Ariz. Gray, a second-round pick by the Brewers in 2018, has labored rather quietly through two pro seasons at the lowest levels of the Brewers’ system. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder, he hit .182 with two homers in 24 games in the rookie Arizona League in 2018 and .164 with three homers in 31 games in the advanced rookie Pioneer League last season. He remains a highly rated prospect – MLB Pipeline has him at No. 9 in the Milwaukee system – based on his power potential and defensive abilities, most notably his arm. Gray, still only 19, has struck out 61 times in 187 at-bats, so more consistent contact is likely key to his advancement. He is probably a couple of years away from reaching Double-A Biloxi. P.S. Also making their big league spring debut on Monday at Mesa were Ethan Small, the Mississippi State product who was the Brewers’ first-round pick last summer, and Ole Miss alum Thomas Dillard, Milwaukee’s fifth-round selection in 2019. Left-hander Small worked a scoreless inning with a punchout and a walk, while Dillard, playing right field, went 0-for-1. … In the Brewers’ other split-squad game on Monday, a win against the Los Angeles Angels in Phoenix, former MSU star Brandon Woodruff, the staff ace, threw a scoreless first inning, opening some eyes when his first pitch hit 98 mph. “So, I needed to tone it down just a hair,” Woodruff told mlb.com.
Demarcus Evans might not rank among the Texas Rangers’ top 30 prospects, but no prospect in the Rangers’ system has a better fastball than the former Petal High star, according to MLB Pipeline. Evans, 23, now on the 40-man roster and in big league camp, throws serious gas: In his five pro seasons, he has 369 strikeouts in 242 1/3 innings. If he improves his command, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound right-hander can be an impact arm out of the Texas bullpen. … Power is Bobby Bradley’s thing; the former Harrison Central High standout has said that he takes an assassin’s mentality to the plate: “I’m about to hit this ball as hard as possible. If you don’t have that certain kind of mentality, you’re already beat.” Rated by MLB Pipeline as the top power-hitting prospect in Cleveland’s system, Bradley, 23, has 147 homers over six minor league seasons and belted one during his 15-game MLB stint in 2019. … Mississippi State product Brent Rooker was given the nod as the top power prospect in Minnesota’s system. Rooker, who hit 36 homers in his three years in Starkville, has 54 in his three minor league campaigns, including 14 in Triple-A last year despite missing about half the season with injury. He smacked a monstrous homer for Team USA in Tokyo last fall that fans there may still be buzzing about. … As for the fastest running prospect in each organization, it came as no real surprise that James Beard topped the MLB Pipeline list for the Chicago White Sox. A fourth-round pick out of Loyd Star High last summer, Beard was considered the swiftest player available in the draft, drawing comparisons to Billy Hamilton. Beard, bigger than Hamilton at 5-10, 170, stole nine bases in 31 games at the rookie level in 2019.
While there has been no shortage of hitting heroics around the state in the young college season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impactful batter than Mississippi College’s Chauncey Callier. The senior outfielder from Alabama is 11-for-30 (.367) with four home runs, eight RBIs and seven runs through nine games. The Choctaws are 6-3 and 3-0 in the Gulf South Conference coming off a weekend sweep of West Alabama. Callier hit .270 with eight homers in 2019 and was a second-team All-GSC selection. Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo splashed numbers all over the box scores during the Rebels’ series win against top-ranked Louisville; the junior shortstop from Florida was 5-for-10 with three walks, an HBP, a homer, three RBIs and three runs. Jackson State is 1-3 but don’t fault Jaylyn Williams; the senior from Greenville went 9-for-16 with four RBIs and three runs in the opening weekend. Mississippi State, 3-0 out of the gate, got five hits, two walks, three RBIs and four runs from junior outfielder Rowdey Jordan, and sophomore Charlie Fischer – another Minnesota import in Hattiesburg – banged out seven hits, walked twice, drove in four runs and scored two for Southern Miss in its weekend sweep. At Delta State (6-3, 1-2 GSC), Jared Cramer, a senior catcher out of DeSoto Central High, is off to a sizzling start at .448 with two homers, six RBIs and 11 runs. Other hot hitters of note: William Carey’s Jordan Szush (.359, eight RBIs, seven runs); Blue Mountain’s Anthony Lipsey (.387, eight RBIs, six runs); Millsaps’ Jimmy Johnstone (.350, four RBIs, two runs); and Belhaven’s Logan Walters (4-for-10, four doubles, six RBIs, two runs).