The MLB draft isn’t done yet, but the most intriguing pick from Mississippi may already have been made. The San Diego Padres took Vijay Miller, a right-handed pitcher – and a quarterback, from East Mississippi Community College in the 14th round. Miller was a two-way star at Itawamba AHS before heading to EMCC, a.k.a. Last Chance U. As a freshman last fall, he threw for 599 yards and six touchdowns as the Lions’ No. 2 quarterback. On the diamond, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Miller went 5-0 with a 3.97 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. The Padres obviously like what they saw.
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.
Three more Mississippians have popped into Baseball America’s latest rating of the Top 500 draft prospects: Add Kirk McCarty, Cordell “C.J.” Dunn and Tyreque Reed to the list that again includes Brent Rooker and Jake Mangum. Rooker, SEC player of the year at Mississippi State, is up to No. 46 overall, while Mangum, a draft-eligible sophomore at State, dipped slightly to 170. McCarty, Southern Miss’ ace left-hander, checks in at No. 220. Dunn, a catcher at Center Hill High and a Texas Tech signee, is listed at 416, while Reed, a slugging infielder/outfielder at Itawamba Community College and a State commit, is No. 472. Dunn batted .382 with 22 RBIs in 28 games for the Mustangs. The 260-pound Reed hit .504 with 15 homers for ICC in 2017. Many more from the state could and probably will be drafted next week. Twenty-nine players from state schools were picked in 2016.
Power is the tool that will carry Bobby Bradley upward, and the ex-Harrison Central High star has tapped into it again at Double-A Akron with home runs in his last two games. One of Cleveland’s highest rated prospects, the 20-year-old Bradley now has three homers and 11 RBIs, five of those collected on Wednesday. The lefty-hitting first baseman is batting just .184 with 16 strikeouts in 38 at-bats – but he has walked 11 times and has a .360 on-base percentage. … Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central standout and a top Atlanta prospect, had a four-hit game on Wednesday, perhaps a sign that he is finding a rhythm. Riley, playing third base at high Class A Florida, is hitting .250 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 14 games. … Petal High product Anthony Alford, one of Toronto’s top prospects, is rocking along at .475 with nine hits in his last five games for Double-A New Hampshire. … Mississippi State product Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2016, is 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Colorado Springs. … Jacob Robson isn’t highly rated on Detroit’s prospect charts – yet – but the former State standout is surely getting some attention with his hot start at low-A West Michigan. The lefty-hitting outfielder, drafted last June, went 3-for-4 Wednesday to boost his average to .348. … Dakota Hudson, the first Mississippian picked in the ’16 draft (34th overall out of MSU by St. Louis), is 1-0, 2.31 at Double-A Springfield. He has 11 strikeouts and five walks in 11 2/3 innings. He worked only 13 1/3 innings in the minors last summer. … Ex-Ole Miss star J.B. Woodman, the second Mississippian drafted last summer (second round, Toronto), is off to a .267 start at low-A Lansing. … Angel Rosa and Wade Wass are familiar names on the roster of the Mobile BayBears, the Los Angeles Angels affiliate currently appearing at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Rosa, an infielder, is an Alcorn State alum, Wass, a catcher, a Meridian Community College product. Both played in Wednesday’s matinee, a 5-1 loss to the Mississippi Braves.
In its annual MLB draft assessment issue, Baseball America picked a pair of precocious pitchers from Mississippi colleges to highlight for having had the best debut in their respective organizations. Wyatt Short, the ex-Ole Miss star from Southaven, and Zac Houston, a Mississippi State product, were among a number of Mississippians hailed in BA’s Oct. 21-Nov. 4 issue. Short, drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round in June, did not allow an earned run in 15 innings and notched seven saves in short-season A-ball. Houston, an 11th-rounder by Detroit, had an 0.30 ERA and four saves over 20 games at two levels, finishing in the Class A Midwest League. Also earning props from BA was ex-State standout Jacob Robson, an eighth-round pick by the Tigers who batted .267 in rookie ball and .316 in low Class A. Robson was labeled the Best Pure Hitter in Detroit’s class and was ranked among the five fastest runners drafted this year. Ole Miss alum J.B. Woodman, a second-rounder by Toronto, shared Best Defensive Player honors in the Blue Jays’ class. BA praised outfielder Woodman’s arm in particular. Woodman hit .272 with three homers, 24 RBIs and 10 steals in short-season A-ball and earned a promotion to low-A, where he batted .441 in 34 at-bats. The first Mississippian picked in June, State’s Dakota Hudson, who went to St. Louis in the first round, was recognized for his fastball: He tallied 19 strikeouts in 13 innings between the rookie level and high-A. Others to be singled out: State’s Nathaniel Lowe (Best Power, Tampa Bay), Bulldogs product Jack Kruger (Best Late-Round Pick, Los Angeles Angels), Itawamba Community College alum Delvin Zinn (Best Athlete, Cubs) and Starkville’s A.J. Brown (Best Athlete, San Diego). Brown, now playing football at Ole Miss, won’t make his pro debut before next summer. MSU fans lamenting what they lost in the draft can take some solace in the arrival of Graham Ashcraft, an Alabama prep star labeled The One Who Got Away in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ draft class, and Ole Miss fans can do the same concerning Grae Kessinger, the Oxford High product who passed on an offer from the Padres. Kessinger is part of a recruiting class ranked No. 1 by BA, which had seven of the new Rebels in its top 500 in the pre-draft rankings. … Atlanta and Milwaukee were ranked 2-3 in the Best Draft category, which bodes well for what we might see in Pearl and Biloxi a few years down the road.
Who’s next? It might be Stuart Turner, the former Ole Miss star who is playing his second season at the Double-A level (Chattanooga) in the Minnesota system. Southwest Mississippi Community College product Kade Scivicque, now in high-A ball (Carolina) in the Atlanta organization, appears to be rising fast. Or it could be one of the five Mississippi-connected catchers who entered pro ball this summer. This much we know: There are no Mississippians (native or college alum) playing catcher in the big leagues in 2016. Ex-Mississippi State standout Ed Easley, who caught three games for St. Louis, was the only one to appear last season. He was released out of Triple-A in June. Mississippi has produced a few big league catchers of note – Jake Gibbs, Barry Lyons, Jerry Moses – but it is not a position of tradition for the state. Turner, who won the Johnny Bench Award at UM, was a third-round pick by the Twins in 2013 but isn’t currently listed among their Top 30 prospects by mlb.com. He is batting .237 with five homers at Chattanooga. It was interesting, to say the least, when MLB teams picked five catchers out of Mississippi in this year’s draft and inked another as a free agent. (Dustin Skelton of Magnolia Heights, a 36th round pick by Toronto, didn’t sign and is now at State.) Of those in the pro ranks, State alum Gavin Collins (13th round, Cleveland) and Southern Miss’ Chuckie Robinson (21st round, Houston) have had the most success, both in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. For the record, Collins has played mostly third base. UM’s Henri Lartigue, picked in the seventh round by Philadelphia, also is in the NYPL, and State’s Jack Kruger (20th round, L.A. Angels) is in the rookie Pioneer League. Jackson State’s Carlos Diaz, recently signed by the Chicago Cubs, is toiling in the Arizona League, the beginner’s level. One of the big surprises in recent drafts came in 2014, when West Lauderdale High catcher Blake Anderson was selected 36th overall by Miami. But Anderson has been injured most of this year and hasn’t played above short-season A-ball. There are a handful of other catchers in the pipeline. Ole Miss alum Will Allen also was drafted in 2014 – 13th round by Detroit – and is having a solid season (.263, four homers, 68 RBIs) at low Class A West Michigan. Delta State’s Carlos Leal was picked in 2014 as a pitcher and converted to catcher by Milwaukee. But after hitting .309 in low-A ball in 2015, he has missed all of this season with an injury. Meridian CC product Wade Wass is in Double-A, though he is batting just .191 in 36 games for the Los Angeles Angels’ Arkansas club. Keep an eye on Scivicque, a 2015 draftee (from LSU) recently acquired by Atlanta from Detroit. He was hitting .282 with six homers at the high-A level for the Tigers. Atlanta’s system is thin on catchers, so he might move quickly. Here in Mississippi, the watch is on.
From the You Never Know Department: In the 2015 MLB draft, Pittsburgh picked Pearl River Community College right-hander Jacob Taylor, considered by some the best prospect in Mississippi that year, in the fourth round. In the 25th round, Texas took Demarcus Evans, a right-hander from Petal High. Taylor, who was committed to LSU, signed with the Pirates for a reported $500,000. Evans, bound for Hinds CC, inked with the Rangers for $100,000, a nice sum for a 25th-rounder. Some 14 months later, the Pirates still can’t be sure what they have in Taylor. The Rangers, on the other hand, must be thrilled with their investment in Evans. Such is the nature of baseball – and the draft. Taylor has pitched in just three official minor league games. In August of last year, two months after the draft, he made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League and left after two innings. He went on the disabled list with an elbow injury, then had Tommy John surgery a short time later. Taylor, 21, made his 2016 debut, also in the GCL, on Aug. 3, faced three batters and left after yielding a three-run homer. He didn’t pitch again until Monday, when he worked 2 2/3 innings and allowed another homer, though he did fan four batters. Taylor was All-State at Picayune High in 2013 and was a good if not great player at PRCC, posting a 3.14 ERA as a freshman and a 3.90 as a sophomore while also playing some outfield. He is 6 feet 3 with an upper 90s fastball and may yet do great things in pro ball. But at the moment, Evans has passed him on prospect road. At Petal, Evans could be dominant, fanning almost two batters per inning as a senior, and he is tapping into that same power as a pro. Pitching at short-season Class A Spokane, the 6-4, 240-pound 19-year-old struck out eight batters in a start on Tuesday and has 17 K’s in 13 2/3 innings. He fanned 44 in 29 innings in the rookie Arizona League. Evans’ walk totals are a little high, but batters have hit just .180 against him and his ERA at Spokane is 1.98. Not yet a ranked prospect, he is certainly one to watch.