The Magnolia State’s NCAA Division I schools should get some good barometer readings this weekend. Mississippi State, 16-1 and ranked in everybody’s top 10, gets its first true road test of the season when it opens SEC play at nationally ranked Florida (14-5). Nationally ranked Ole Miss (12-5) starts league play with a home series against Alabama, 16-2 but unranked. Southern Miss, wobbling a bit at 8-6, begins defense of its C-USA regular season title at Louisiana Tech (11-5), which features a bunch of Mississippi connections, including coach Lane Burroughs, a former USM assistant. And at Magnolia Field in Itta Bena, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State, both still feeling their way, will lock up in a big SWAC series. JSU is 5-13 (1-2 SWAC) against a schedule that has included Boston College, Mississippi State, UNO and Miami (Fla.). Weather issues have limited Valley to six games; the Delta Devils are 1-5 (0-1 SWAC), including an 8-1 loss at Memphis on Tuesday, and have not played a home game. Equon Smith leads JSU hitters with a .348 average and has scored 15 runs. Raul Hernandez is at .309 with two homers and 16 RBIs. Wesley Reyes (.208) and Dezmond Chumley (.190), preseason All-SWAC picks, have yet to click. Morgan Lomax is hitting .409 for Valley, and Billy Leflore checks in at .381. Neither club has pitched particularly well, and that’ll probably be the key to the series. JSU has a 5.89 ERA, though Kevin Perez (2-1, 3.38) and Garth Cahill (2.18 in nine appearances) have been solid. Valley is at 9.56, having only once held an opponent to fewer than eight runs. Aaron Barkley has the lone win and a 1.50 ERA in six innings of work.
Mississippi Valley State finally got on the field Tuesday for its first game of the season after a couple of postponements. The Delta Devils lost 4-2 at Arkansas State, giving up a lead in the eighth inning. The bigger news from the Delta on Tuesday comes from Cleveland, where Delta State beat Arkansas Tech 9-2 to improve to 13-0 – matching its best-ever start – and also learned that it has jumped to No. 1 in the NCBWA’s NCAA Division II poll. The Statesmen returned just one regular position player from the outstanding 2018 team, but Mike Kinnison has kept the green machine humming, as he always seems to do. DSU is hitting .301 with 87 runs, led by David Herrington (.431), Darek Sargent (.340, 17 RBIs) and the remarkable Jake Barlow, who hit for the cycle on Sunday, belted a grand slam on Tuesday and is batting .412 with three homers and 15 RBIs. Not to be overlooked by any means is DSU’s pitching staff, which has a ridiculous 0.90 ERA. Hunter Riggins is 4-0 with an 0.33, Seth Hougesen 3-0, 0.73 and Melvin Frazier 3-0, 1.29. The Statesmen play Arkansas Tech again today at Ferriss Field, then head to Georgia for a weekend Gulf South series against Shorter.
You don’t have to be a sabermetrician to figure out that this weekend’s Jackson State-Mississippi Valley State series doesn’t favor the host Delta Devils. JSU, which sits atop the SWAC East at 12-3, leads the league in batting. Valley ranks last. JSU leads the league in ERA. Valley ranks last (with a 9.40!). And yet, the Delta Devils have managed to scare up six wins in 12 conference games, including one against the Tigers in Jackson last month. So maybe the stuff on paper won’t mean that much when the two old rivals hit Magnolia Field in Itta Bena, where they’re slated for single games today, Saturday and Sunday. Still, it’s hard to get away from the numbers. JSU trots out a lineup that features the SWAC’s leading hitter, Raul Hernandez (.398), and several others over .300. (Valley has one.) The Tigers’ Jesus Santana is one of the top sluggers in the conference with eight homers and 33 RBIs. (Valley has three homers total.) JSU’s Kevin Perez tops the SWAC in wins with seven and Jose Tirado in saves with nine. (Valley has eight wins all told.) What the Delta Devils could use is another Aaron Barkley or two. (Or three.) The sophomore catcher from California is the team’s lone .300 hitter (at .303) and also carries a 1.59 ERA with a win and two saves in nine relief appearances. Go get ’em.
You know these names: Wallner, Rolison, Pilkington. They’re the stars at the state’s Big 3 Division I schools, the centers of preseason attention. Here are some names from outside the spotlight, lesser-heralded players who could have significant impact this season, which begins Friday. At Southern Miss, there’s Luke Reynolds, a transfer from Mississippi State, which the Golden Eagles meet in the opener in Hattiesburg. Forest native Reynolds is expected to replace Taylor Braley at third base for USM. Reynolds batted .304 at State in 2015. He left the program in 2016 without playing in a game but still had to sit out last season. He did play summer ball, batting .306 with four homers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. In 2014, Reynolds was the star on the Hinds Community College team that made it to the NJCAA Division II title game. He hit .376 that year. … At Ole Miss, which opens against Winthrop in Oxford, there’s Tim Rowe. The Hernando native, a senior outfielder/DH who batted .254 with three homers and 20 RBIs in 2017, has some power in his bat, something the Rebels need with top sluggers Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman having moved on to pro ball. Two years ago at Itawamba Community College, Rowe hit .418 with eight homers and 48 RBIs. … At State, there’s Ethan Small, a sophomore left-hander who missed 2017 after Tommy John surgery. Konnor Pilkington sits atop the Bulldogs’ rotation and Riley Self and Spencer Price man the back end of the bullpen. Small is one of the other pieces – and he could be poised for a breakout campaign if he can harness his nasty stuff. A two-time prep All-America pick in Tennessee, he pitched sparingly as a freshman in 2016 but is penciled in as the No. 2 starter now. P.S. Alcorn State again starts its season in the Andre Dawson Classic (formerly the MLB Urban Invitational) in New Orleans. The Braves’ first game is against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday. Mississippi Valley State hosts South Dakota State in Itta Bena. Jackson State opens on Feb. 20 at the University of New Orleans.
Players roll out from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, Curacao, South Africa, Venezuela, the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. Sounds like a World Baseball Classic event has convened, but it’s just an everyday occurrence at Jackson State. Coach Omar Johnson’s multicultural team, which also includes eight players from good ol’ Mississippi, is showing signs of coming together after an uneven start. The Tigers, who take their show on the road to Biloxi tonight for an exhibition game with the minor league Shuckers, blew away Mississippi Valley State in a three-game series over the weekend. By beating the Delta Devils 10-3, 16-5 and 19-9, JSU moved its SWAC record to 6-3 (after an 0-3 start). Overall, the Tigers are 17-11. Jesus Santana (Puerto Rico) hit three home runs, two of them grand slams, in the Valley series and leads the team with nine homers and 37 RBIs. Such production was expected from Santana, a preseason player of the year candidate in the SWAC. Also contributing good stuff is catcher Carlos Diaz, another Puerto Rico product who is raking at a .451 clip; pitcher Miguel Yrigoyen, a Venezuela native who is 4-2; Canadian Jesse Anderson, who has three saves; and C.J. Newsome, who hails from Columbia, the city in south Mississippi. Newsome was drafted by Miami out of CHS last summer but elected to play at JSU. Tiger Nation should be thrilled. The 5-foot-9 outfielder, who had eight hits, six RBIs and six runs in the Valley series, is hitting .382 with 31 runs.
At some point during Instructional League in Florida, the Toronto Blue Jays could trot out an outfield of three Mississippians. (Since no box scores are available from this league, it may already have happened.) The Blue Jays have former Petal High star Anthony Alford, Stone County product D.J. Davis and Mississippi Valley State alum Kalik May in their Dunedin camp this fall. All three have multiple tools and, presumably, bright futures. Alford, a third-round pick in 2012 who gave up football last year, is the most advanced. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-handed hitter batted .298 with four homers, 35 RBIs and 27 steals at two levels of A-ball. He was anointed by Baseball America as the best player in the Toronto system. Not far behind is Davis, 6-1, 180, a left-handed hitter drafted in the first round in 2012. He had a strong second year at low Class A Lansing: .282, seven homers, 59 RBIs and 21 bags. He is rated the No. 12 prospect in the system by mlb.com; Alford is No. 3. May, 6-2, 205, was just drafted in June, in the 33rd round. More project than prospect at this time, the switch-hitter batted .261 with two homers, 12 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in the Gulf Coast League — not a bad start. As a senior at Valley in 2015, May hit .335 with four homers, 33 RBIs and 22 steals. He was a standout at East Central Community College in 2012-13 (where he played with Chicago White Sox prospect Tim Anderson). Obviously, the odds of Alford, Davis and May reaching the big leagues with the Blue Jays at the same time would have to be pretty long. But, hey, stuff like that happens in baseball. The three Alous in San Francisco. The Young, Frank and Stynes outfield in Cincinnati. … Note, also, that the Blue Jays have a fourth Mississippi-connected outfielder in their system but not in the IL: Alcorn State alum Earl Burl III, a 30th-round selection in June who batted .216 at short season Class A Vancouver.
Hunter Renfroe isn’t a one-trick pony – he can run and throw a little, too – but his power just keeps grabbing attention. The ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs launched his fourth homer in nine games for Triple-A El Paso on Thursday. Renfroe, playing right field and hitting second for the Chihuahuas, is 12-for-36 with 11 RBIs and eight runs since San Diego promoted him to the Pacific Coast League on Aug. 19. … Southern Miss product Cody Carroll, drafted in the 22nd round in June by the New York Yankees, has a 1.82 ERA through 13 games for Pulaski in the rookie-level Appalachian League. Carroll notched the save, with three innings of work, in a division-clinching win earlier this week. He was 5-5 with a 3.08 ERA as a starter for USM last season. … Despite a recent slump, former Ole Miss standout Braxton Lee is batting .269 with 21 steals and 44 runs in 108 games for Tampa Bay’s Class A Port Charlotte team. The left-handed hitting center fielder, in his second pro season, got 12 bags in 51 games in 2014. … First-year pro Kalik May, a Mississippi Valley State alumnus, is holding his own in the Gulf Coast League, batting .257 with two homers, 12 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Toronto took May, a switch-hitting outfielder who goes 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, in the 33rd round. The Jays have three other Mississippi-produced outfielders playing at different levels in their system: Anthony Alford (Petal), D.J. Davis (Stone County) and Earl Burl III (Alcorn State).
Taking a temperature reading of various Mississippians in the minors, we find no one hotter at the moment than rookie pro LaDarious Clark. The East Mississippi Community College product from Meridian went 4-for-5 (with two homers) on Wednesday to boost his average to .436 in short-season A-ball for Texas. Also hot: Adam Frazier (Mississippi State) is hitting .488 over his last 10 games and .382 for the year in Double-A with Pittsburgh. … Anthony Alford (Petal High) is hitting .364 in 12 games at the high Class A level for Toronto. … Kalik May (Mississippi Valley State) has nine hits in his last four games to spike his average to .352 for Toronto’s rookie Gulf Coast League club. … Cody Reed (Northwest Mississippi CC) has a 2.25 ERA over 12 innings in his first two Double-A starts for Kansas City. … Chris Stratton (State) took a loss on Wednesday but has a 2.23 ERA in seven Triple-A starts for San Francisco. … Austin Riley (DeSoto Central High), the top pick from the state in last month’s draft, is hitting just .182 overall but is at .304 in July for Atlanta’s rookie GCL club. Not so hot: Ferriss Trophy winner James McMahon (Southern Miss) has an 11.81 ERA in three starts in rookie ball for Colorado. … Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central High) is in a 5-for-40 slump that has dropped his average to .245 (with 13 homers) in low Class A ball for Cleveland. … Blake Anderson (West Lauderdale High), the first Mississippian drafted in 2014, has seen his average slide to .250 from .321 on June 29 with Miami’s short-season A team. … Sikes Orvis (Ole Miss) is hitting .190 with no homers at the rookie level in the Chicago White Sox system. … Silento Sayles (Port Gibson High), the prep stolen base king, is batting .156 with one steal in short-season A-ball with Cleveland. … Ed Easley (State) has scuffled since St. Louis shipped him back to Triple-A Memphis in mid-June; his average has dipped from .295 to .257. P.S. Riley and Jason Barber of Oxford High have been named to the MaxPreps High School All-America team. Both were two-way stars on state championship teams. Barber, a junior in 2015, was the state’s Gatorade player of the year.
Austin Riley, the first Mississippian picked in this year’s MLB draft, made his pro debut today for the Gulf Coast League Braves. The former DeSoto Central High star, a supplemental first-round pick by Atlanta, was the DH and batted fourth for the rookie-level club, which rallied to beat the GCL Yankees 8-7 in 10 innings in Florida. Riley struck out in his first two at-bats, was hit by a pitch (and later scored) in his third and grounded out in his fourth. The play-by-play on milb.com indicates that Riley pinch hit for himself (?) in the eighth inning and walked, then struck out again in the 10th. So, he was either 0-for-3 or 0-for-4. … Also debuting today in the GCL: Mississippi Valley State alum Kalik May, who went 2-for-2 with a walk, a run and a steal for the GCL Blue Jays, whose game was suspended by rain in the seventh inning.
Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State standout, hit a pair of home runs in a game for Double-A San Antonio on Sunday. San Diego’s 2013 first-round pick, Renfroe is batting .343 over his last 10 games and is at .244 with five homers and 26 RBIs on the season. This is his first full year in the Texas League. … JaCoby Jones, the former Richton High star, had a two-run triple in Saturday’s Florida State League All-Star Game. The Pittsburgh shortstop prospect is in his first full year at high Class A Bradenton. … Jacob Lindgren’s season may be over. The State product, who made his big league debut for the New York Yankees this season, is having elbow surgery and is expected to be down about 12 weeks. The left-hander had a 5.14 ERA in seven MLB innings. … Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn is slated to come off the DL and start Thursday for St. Louis at Miami. Lynn, out two weeks with a forearm strain, is 4-4 with a 3.07 ERA. … The Mississippi Braves lost 12 of their last 15 to finish 33-35 in the first half of the Southern League season. Following the SL All-Star break, the M-Braves begin the second half at home on Thursday. … Ole Miss’ Errol Robinson is among the Cape Cod League batting leaders with a .322 average over nine games; he has scored 10 runs and stolen five bags. His Hyannis team is 8-3. Robinson hit .297 as a sophomore for the Rebels this year. … Blue Mountain College’s Dylan Earnest threw a five-hitter with six strikeouts to lead the Tupelo Thunder to a 4-1 win over the Tallahatchie Rascals on Sunday in Cotton States League play. Tupelo is 5-3, a half-game back of the Tippa Tribe (6-3) in the Deep South Division of the New Albany-based college summer circuit. The Golden Triangle Jets (6-4) lead the Rascals (5-3) in the Delta Division. … Zach Penprase, the onetime Mississippi Valley State star, is now playing his eighth season for Fargo-Moorhead in the independent American Association and hitting .292. Shortstop Penprase, 30, had a brief fling in affiliated ball; he was drafted by Philadelphia in 2006.