Chicago White Sox scouting and development folks had to be smiling Sunday when they got the report on James Beard. Batting leadoff and playing center field for their rookie Arizona League club, the fourth-round pick out of Loyd Star High went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, three runs and a stolen base. Beard, the first high school player picked out of Mississippi, was widely regarded as the fastest player in the 2019 draft. How much he would hit in pro ball was the great unknown, but Beard has flashed some bat skills of late. In his last four games, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder is 7-for-20 with three RBIs. For the season, in 31 games, he is at .213 with two homers, 12 RBIs, 19 runs and nine bags (in 12 tries). Beard was compared to Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton in pre-draft buzz, though, as MLB Pipeline’s scouting report now says: “Beard shows the potential to make much more impact at the plate than Hamilton.” Beard is rated the White Sox’s No. 21 prospect. … Joe Gray, the top prep pick from the state who signed in 2018, is rated the No. 10 prospect in Milwaukee’s system, but the ex-Hattiesburg High star is, like Beard, more of a project at this stage. Gray, also a center fielder, is batting .191 with two homers, six RBIs and three steals in 20 games at Rocky Mountain in the rookie-level Pioneer League. A second-round pick last year, the 6-1, 195-pound Gray batted .182 with two homers and six steals in the AZL last summer. His best tool might be his arm.
Tim Dillard, at age 36 and in his 18th pro season, has enjoyed a resurgence the last few weeks at Triple-A Nashville. Dillard, the former Itawamba Community College star from Saltillo, went seven innings Wednesday night to beat Oklahoma City 7-2 and improve to 3-0 over his last six starts. The sidewinding right-hander is 8-8 with a 4.61 ERA this season, his first in the Texas system after 17 in Milwaukee’s. The Brewers drafted Dillard, son of former big leaguer and Ole Miss alum Steve, out of ICC in 2002. He has made 582 appearances – working more than 1,500 innings — in affiliated ball, including 73 major league games, a commendable accomplishment for a 34th-round draft pick. His last MLB appearance was in 2012. Whether another call to The Show is in the cards is not something Dillard, a bit of a free spirit, is worried about. “I would say the secret to success in baseball is finding joy in every moment,” he told the Tupelo Daily Journal earlier this month. “But that’s really for life. I try to find the joy in every moment, even the bad moments.” Words to live by, for sure. P.S. Mississippi State right-hander J.T. Ginn is rated the No. 10 college prospect in the 2020 draft by mlb.com’s Jim Callis. Ginn went 8-4 with a 3.13 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings as a freshman in 2019. He’ll turn 21 next May, making him eligible for the June draft. He was the 30th overall pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Brandon High in 2018.
The Milwaukee Brewers are taking the slow and steady approach with Ethan Small, their first-round pick in June from Mississippi State (and the first Mississippian chosen at 28th overall). The left-hander, who worked 107 innings for the Bulldogs on their road to the College World Series, has made just four pro appearances, the last on Aug. 9 for Class A Wisconsin. He is slated to start again Friday. He has yet to allow a run over nine innings and has punched out 13. Already rated the Brewers’ No. 5 prospect (MLB Pipeline), Small is projected to make the majors by 2021, which sounds like a fast track but isn’t out of the ordinary for advanced college players. Take Dakota Hudson, for instance. The ex-MSU right-hander was the top pick out of the state in 2016 – 34th overall – and debuted with St. Louis last year. Hudson threw six shutout innings to beat Kansas City on Wednesday, improving to 11-6 with a 3.82 ERA as one of the Cardinals’ steadiest starters. The first pick from the state in 2018 was Ryan Rolison, taken 22nd overall out of Ole Miss by Colorado. Lefty Rolison, the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect, has reached high Class A Lancaster, where he is 4-5, 5.02, possibly on track to reach The Show next season. The state’s top pick in 2017 was Brent Rooker, the SEC Triple Crown winner at State who went 35th overall to Minnesota. Rooker’s rise has been stalled by injuries this year. Currently on the IL at Triple-A Rochester, he is batting .281 with 14 homers. Austin Riley was the first Mississippian picked in 2015 – 41st overall out of DeSoto Central High by Atlanta. The third baseman/outfielder made a smashing MLB debut this spring – at age 22 – but is currently out with a knee injury. (He is expected to start a rehab assignment soon.) MSU alum Hunter Renfroe – the first Mississippian picked in 2013 – and ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz – the first in 2010 – are currently in the big leagues. Renfroe, who debuted in 2016, is with San Diego, and the well-traveled Pomeranz, who was up by 2011, is with Milwaukee. The other three top picks from this decade, all high school players, did not fare so well. Blake Anderson (36th overall in 2014 out of West Lauderdale High) hasn’t played since 2017 and isn’t currently listed on a roster in Miami’s system. D.J. Davis (17th overall out of Stone County in 2012) was released by Toronto last summer, having never climbed above A-ball. Connor Barron (third round out of Sumrall in 2011 by Florida/Miami) opted to attend Southern Miss, where he had an up-and-down career and never got drafted again.
Ethan Small made the headlines Tuesday, signing with Milwaukee for $1.8 million during a special appearance at Miller Park for the first-round draft pick. Meanwhile, far from the limelight, another ex-Mississippi State left-hander has been generating a little positive news of his own. Jacob Lindgren – remember him? – worked a scoreless inning Monday for the Arizona League White Sox. It was the third appearance in eight days in the rookie league for Lindgren, 26, who had last pitched in an official game in April 2016. Lindgren is trying to come back from two Tommy John surgeries, the most recent in March 2018. The Biloxi native was a second-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2014 after a brilliant season at State (0.81 ERA, 100 strikeouts in 55 innings) and reached the big leagues in 2015. He’s had arm problems virtually ever since. Atlanta signed him after the 2016 season, but he was never able to pitch in a game for the Braves. He became a free agent last November and signed with Chicago in January. Lindgren is technically on the Triple-A Charlotte roster, though it could be a while before he actually joins that club. P.S. On the AZL team with Lindgren is Brookhaven native James Beard, a fourth-round pick this year by the White Sox who is batting .235 in four pro games. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, the White Sox’s big league shortstop, is to be reevaluated today after suffering a sprained ankle in Tuesday’s game at Boston. Could be a tough blow for Anderson, who is having a career year (.317, 11 homers, 15 steals) and was the American League’s player of the month in April.
The hits keep coming for Drew Waters. The Mississippi Braves star, the reigning Southern League player of the week, homered in Tuesday night’s SL All-Star game at Biloxi. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder finished the first half of his first Double-A season batting .338 with five homers, 27 RBIs, 42 runs, 10 steals, 23 doubles and eight triples. He currently has a 13-game hitting streak and a 25-game on-base streak. He also moved up to No. 45 on MLB Pipeline’s updated Top 100 Prospects list. How much longer will he be in Pearl? … Waters’ teammate Cristian Pache, another young outfielder also having a stellar season, is No. 14 on the Top 100, and M-Braves pitcher Ian Anderson is 27th. … Ryan Rolison, the ex-Ole Miss left-hander, moved up 22 spots to No. 70 on the Top 100 chart. The Colorado prospect went 2-1, 0.61 in low-A ball to start 2019 and is 2-3, 4.23 (with one terrible outing) at the high-A level. … Several of the top draft picks out of the state reportedly have signed pro contracts, including Southern Miss All-American Matt Wallner (Minnesota), Ole Miss All-American Grae Kessinger (Houston), Loyd Star High’s James Beard (Chicago White Sox), Ole Miss’ Cooper Johnson (Detroit) and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Brandon Parker (Atlanta). Also, Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, who pitched his prep ball in Florida, has signed with Toronto. Mississippi State All-American Ethan Small was the top pick from the state, going 28th overall to Milwaukee, but he is attending to other business in Omaha. … Ole Miss’ Doug Nikhazy, a freshman All-America pick, has been invited to camp with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. … In MLB, Mississippi State product Chris Stratton was activated from the injured list by Pittsburgh on Tuesday; he didn’t appear in the Pirates’ game against Detroit. … Ex-Bulldogs standout Brandon Woodruff took a loss for Milwaukee on Tuesday, the first time in his last 10 starts that the Brewers have lost. Woodruff (8-2, 4.04) yielded four runs in six innings in a 4-1 loss to San Diego. On the positive side, he went 2-for-2 at the plate, raising his average to .364.
Nick Sandlin has made a rapid ascent in the Cleveland organization. A second-round pick and the fourth player drafted out of Mississippi in 2018, the ex-Southern Miss ace was promoted to Triple-A last week and has made two relief appearances for the Columbus Clippers. He allowed two runs in his debut but worked a clean inning on Saturday. The 22-year-old right-hander posted a 1.56 ERA in 15 games at Double-A Akron this year. He climbed through four levels of the minors last summer, finishing with a 3.00 ERA and five saves. He has 67 strikeouts in 43 2/3 pro innings. Rated the No. 17 prospect in the Indians’ system by MLB Pipeline, Sandlin could make the big league team this season. … The first Mississippian chosen in 2018, Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison, is now with Colorado’s advanced Class A Lancaster club. The lefty, the Rockies’ No. 3 prospect, is 2-2 with a 2.96 ERA in nine starts and has made the California League All-Star Game. … Forecast by many as a first-round draft pick in 2018, Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington slipped to the third round, where he was plucked by the Chicago White Sox. The East Central High alum, who moved from low-A Kannapolis to high-A Winston Salem in mid-May, is 1-1, 6.16 in four starts at the new level. He had a 1.62 ERA at the low-A level. … Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, the top high school pick from the state last year who signed a pro contract (first-rounder J.T. Ginn of Brandon went to State), is already rated the No. 7 prospect in Milwaukee’s system though he has yet to play above the rookie level. The 2018 second-rounder hit .182 with two homers in 24 games in the Arizona League, playing through a bout of pneumonia. He’ll likely go to the Pioneer League this summer. “He has the tools, no doubt about it,” Rafael Neda, Gray’s manager last year, told Baseball America this spring. “He’s a really athletic kid with a high ceiling. We’ve started to see that.”
The wolves are howling again in Queens, where Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway’s job as manager of the New York Mets appears in serious jeopardy. The Mets dropped their third straight on Tuesday after Callaway’s controversial decision to pull starter Noah Syndergaard with a lead in the seventh inning. Callaway later said he regretted making the move. The Mets are 28-32, 5½ games back in the National League East. … What more can one say about Austin Riley? The DeSoto Central product hit a go-ahead homer to spark Atlanta’s win on Tuesday and is now batting .324 with nine bombs and 25 RBIs in his first 18 MLB games, one of the best starts in history. … Former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland could come off the 10-day injured list on Friday for Boston, according to the Boston Globe. He leads the team with 13 home runs. … Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, enjoying a resurgence at the plate for resurgent Washington, left Tuesday’s game with a forearm contusion after an HBP and is considered day-to-day. Dozier is batting .283 over his last 15 games, boosting his season average to .223 with eight homers. … T.J. House, the former big leaguer from Picayune, is pitching for the Milwaukee Milkmen in the independent American Association. The 29-year-old left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA in three starts. House was in Triple-A in the Chicago White Sox’s organization in 2018 before being released in June. He last pitched in the majors in 2017 with Toronto. As a rookie with Cleveland in 2014, House put up a 5-3 record and 3.35 ERA in 18 starts but never replicated those numbers in limited opportunities thereafter. … Former Petal High standout Demarcus Evans, recently promoted to Double-A in Texas’ system, yielded a couple of runs on Tuesday but wound up earning a win when his Frisco team rallied to beat Amarillo. Evans had made two scoreless appearances before Tuesday. He had an 0.81 ERA and six saves at Class A Down East. … USM product Bradley Roney has yet to yield an earned run in four appearances at Class A Florida in the Braves’ chain as he continues his comeback from injuries that had kept him out since mid-2017. … Brandon Parker grew up on the Coast rooting for the Braves. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been a Braves fan,” he told Biloxi’s WLOX. On Tuesday, the Braves, shopping for a power bat, drafted the former West Harrison High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star in the 10th round. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right fielder, a Dallas Baptist signee, hit 38 home runs the last two seasons at MGCCC. He was the NJCAA Division II player of the year in 2018 when he batted .424 with 24 homers and 81 RBIs.
The first Mississippian to come off the board today, Day 2 of the three-day MLB draft, was James Beard, an outfielder from Class 2A Loyd Star High. He went in the fourth round, 110th overall and eight picks before Jake Mangum, the highly decorated Mississippi State senior outfielder who holds the SEC’s all-time hits record. Granted, Beard is generally regarded as the fastest player in the draft, but Mangum can run a little bit, too. And even though he lacks power, Mangum is certainly battle-tested after four years in the country’s best college conference. Oh well, the draft is all about potential. Beard went to the Chicago White Sox and Mangum to the New York Mets, who drafted him in the 32nd round in 2018. The Yankees drafted Mangum in Round 30 in 2017. Of the top 200 picks in the draft, which runs into Wednesday, a total of 10 players with Mississippi ties had their names called. Day 1, the first two rounds (plus supplemental picks), saw four Magnolia Staters taken, led by Mississippi State left-hander Ethan Small, the SEC pitcher of the year, at No. 28 to Milwaukee. (We could see him in Biloxi in a couple of years.) Southern Miss outfielder Matt Wallner, who is long on power, went just outside the first round at 39th overall to Minnesota. Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, a pitcher, went in the second round to Toronto and Ole Miss shortstop Grae Kessinger in Round 2 to Houston. (Grae’s father, Kevin, was a 22nd-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 1992 out of Ole Miss. Grandfather Don, a longtime big league star, entered pro ball with the Cubs before the draft began.) Three more UM players were picked among the top 200: Will Ethridge (by Colorado), Thomas Dillard (Milwaukee) and Cooper Johnson (Detroit). MSU’s Colby White (Tampa Bay) also made that cut.
Fifty years ago, the first round of the major league draft included quite a few now familiar names, players who went on to make an impact in The Show. Jeff Burroughs went No. 1 overall to Washington – the old Senators – and J.R. Richard second to Houston. Alan Bannister, Don Gullett, Roger Metzger and Gorman Thomas were also among the top 24 picks. The third overall selection in 1969 never made the big leagues but still rates a prominent place in Mississippi baseball lore. Ted Nicholson, a product of Laurel’s old Oak Park High, was taken by the Chicago White Sox at No. 3, the highest any Magnolia State high schooler has ever been drafted. Reportedly scouted and signed by Crawford native and ex-Negro Leagues star Sam Hairston, Nicholson played parts of three seasons in the low minors – his career was interrupted by military duty – and hit .252 with 12 home runs and 68 RBIs. He was out of the pro game by 1972. … Though none are expected to go in tonight’s televised (MLB Network) first round, Mississippi-connected players have popped up in the opening round with some regularity. In the very first draft in 1965, Delta State’s Joe DiFabio was the 20th overall pick by St. Louis. Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison was the 22nd selection last year, and Brandon High product J.T. Ginn was No. 30. The highest pick from the state is Mississippi State alum Will Clark, taken No. 2 in 1985. Others of note: State’s B.J. Wallace went third in 1992, UM’s Drew Pomeranz No. 5 in 2010, Tupelo High’s Kirk Presley eighth in 1993, State’s Paul Maholm No. 8 in 2003 and Jackson State’s Dave Clark 11th in 1983.
One of the more intriguing names floating about in connection with the upcoming MLB draft (June 3-5) is James Beard. The Loyd Star outfielder is rated by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline as the fastest prep player in the 2019 draft class. MLB Pipeline, which ranks Beard No. 127 on its list of the top 200 prospects, says his speed compares to Billy Hamilton’s — and he has better bat skills. He hit .429 with 10 homers and 26 steals this season. A Meridian Community College commit, the 6-foot, 190-pound Beard is among 12 state-connected players in MLB Pipeline’s latest top 200, four rating in the top 100. At No. 54 is Kendall Williams, a 6-foot-6 right-hander from Olive Branch who now plays at IMG Academy in Florida. Mississippi State lefty Ethan Small – a 26th-round pick in 2018 — is rated No. 56, Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner No. 60 and Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy No. 66. Ealy, a two-sport star who signed with Ole Miss, is widely considered a first-round talent, but his college commitment seemingly has caused his draft stock to drop. On draftsite.com, Ealy was pegged to go sixth overall and Wallner 34th with Ole Miss’ Thomas Dillard, Williams and State’s Jake Mangum projected as second-round picks and UM’s Cooper Johnson and Grae Kessinger as third-rounders. Northwest Mississippi Community College left-hander Dalton Fowler, a freshman, appears to be the top juco prospect in the state (MLB Pipeline has him at No. 150). Other high school players of note are Pearl River Central’s Hayden Dunhurst, a switch-hitting catcher and UM signee, and Smithville High right-hander/catcher Jared Johnson, a State commit who was recently featured in Baseball America.