He may have been the fourth player chosen out of Mississippi in the June draft, but Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin has taken a back seat to no one on the field this summer. Sandlin is the only Mississippian drafted this year to reach the Double-A level. The right-hander, picked in the second round by Cleveland, debuted for Akron on Wednesday with – what else? – a scoreless inning. In 21 games and 20 1/3 innings spread over four levels, Sandlin has a 1.31 ERA and 30 strikeouts with just two walks. He has two wins and five saves. “He’s uber-competitive and he trusts that he’s better than any hitter that steps in the box,” Kirk McCarty, Sandlin’s former USM teammate and fellow Indians farmhand, recently told milb.com. … There were two first-rounders from the state this year but only Ryan Rolison signed. (Brandon High star J.T. Ginn is now at Mississippi State.) Left-hander Rolison, tabbed 22nd overall by Colorado out of Ole Miss, has pitched well at the rookie level: 1.96 ERA over 23 innings. Second-rounder Joe Gray, taken by Milwaukee out of Hattiesburg High, is batting .182 (.347 on-base) with two homers and nine RBIs in the Arizona League. He hasn’t played in a game since last week. Ex-State ace Konnor Pilkington (third round, Chicago White Sox) has worked just 10 innings at two rookie levels and has a 9.00 ERA. Ex-Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes (fourth round, Miami) also has scuffled, batting .212 with no homers in the Gulf Coast League. (Marlins late-rounders Davis Bradshaw and Milton Smith Jr., both Meridian Community College alums, have excelled, Bradshaw hitting .444 in short-season A-ball and Smith .343 in the GCL.) UM alum Brady Feigl, a fifth-round pick by Oakland, is currently injured but has a 1.73 ERA in 11 games at two levels. Luke Reynolds, a USM, State and Hinds CC alum, has had a solid debut season; a 10th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs, the third baseman is at .293 with a homer and 13 RBIs in 27 games at the short-season A level. Madison Central’s Regi Grace, a 10th-rounder by Minnesota, is 2-1, 2.70 in the GCL.
After two years as a closer extraordinaire for Southern Miss, Nick Sandlin moved to the rotation in 2018 to fill a team need. Shifted back to the bullpen in pro ball, he is showing that he hasn’t forgotten how to do the closer thing. The right-hander with the unconventional form registered his third save in his last three appearances on Thursday for Cleveland’s high Class A Lynchburg club. In six games all told in the Carolina League, Sandlin has a 1.69 ERA with eight strikeouts, two walks and two hits allowed in 5 1/3 innings. Picked in the second round – higher than most projections – by the Indians in June, Sandlin started his summer in rookie ball, moved quickly to the low-A level and then to Lynchburg on Aug. 1. He has a 1.45 ERA, 27 K’s and two walks overall in 18 2/3 innings. He is ranked 18th on Cleveland’s prospect chart by MLB Pipeline. Sandlin threw 102 innings for the Golden Eagles this season – going 10-0, 1.06 and winning a slew of awards, including the Ferriss Trophy – so it’s understandable why the Indians want to limit his innings. But they have to be thrilled with what they’ve seen.
If there were questions about how Nick Sandlin’s stuff would play in pro ball, the former Southern Miss star has wasted little time providing answers. A second-round draft pick by Cleveland last month, Sandlin has made seven scoreless appearances, the last four for Lake County in the Class A Midwest League. His stuff certainly played in Peoria on Wednesday night, when the 5-foot-11 right-hander struck out the side, running his K total to eight in four innings for Lake County. He has allowed two hits and no walks in that stretch. He notched a save on Saturday, closing out a win for former USM teammate Kirk McCarty. Sandlin, as a starter, went 10-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 140 punchouts in 102 1/3 innings for the Golden Eagles in 2018. He won all kinds of awards. The previous two seasons, working as a closer, he posted 20 saves and 13 wins. Yet Sandlin’s size, velocity and funky delivery reportedly were concerns for pro scouts heading into the draft. The Indians took him with the 67th pick. One MLB Network analyst, lamenting the state of the Indians’ bullpen on the night of the draft, suggested Cleveland throw Sandlin directly into the mix. That wasn’t going to happen, of course, but he might not be too far away. It’s not unheard of for college pitchers to make the big leagues in their draft year. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson (now in the St. Louis system) started and got the win – despite allowing a run in his one inning – for the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game. Ole Miss alum Bobby Wahl (Oakland) got the first out in the ninth for the PCL in its 12-7 win, and USM product Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) threw a clean inning for the International League team.
Time to box up the 2018 college season. Put away the bats and balls for a few weeks and make a few acknowledgements:
If there were an award for Team of the Year, it would have to go to Mississippi State, which didn’t win as many games as Ole Miss or Southern Miss (or Delta State, for that matter) but made a captivating postseason run for the ages that ended one win short of the College World Series finals. The banana-powered Bulldogs finished 39-29 and should be nationally ranked across the board when the final polls come out. Gary Henderson did a great job as an interim coach, taking over in an adverse situation, and not retaining him seems a curious and possibly regrettable move in Starkville.
There are many other kudos to hand out. Ole Miss went 48-17, won the SEC Tournament and hosted an NCAA regional. USM (44-18) swept both C-USA titles and also went to a regional. Jackson State finished 34-18. Delta State went 42-11 and made an NCAA Division II regional, as did Mississippi College, which ended the year 36-17, one of its best seasons ever. William Carey went 36-25 and hosted an NAIA regional. Blue Mountain finished 29-23, Division III Millsaps went 25-19 and MUW, in its inaugural season, came home at 21-15 after participating in the USCAA Small College World Series. Alcorn State (13-39), Mississippi Valley State (11-35), Belhaven (12-27) and Tougaloo (19-23) were the only four-year schools to post losing records.
Among the jucos, MACJC champion Pearl River (No. 4), Meridian (14), Jones County (15) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (18) were ranked in the final NJCAA Division II poll.
Game of the year? If you limited it to games between state schools, it’d be hard to top the State-UM game at Pearl’s Trustmark Park on April 24, which the Bulldogs won on Luke Alexander’s two-run double in the bottom of the ninth before a crowd of 8,500-plus. Runner-up: MC beating Delta State 7-4 in an elimination game in the D-II South Regional at Lakeland, Fla. The Choctaws’ Billy Cameron drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run single in the seventh. Worth mentioning: Jackson State-Alcorn in Lorman on March 25. The Tigers rallied from 8-4 down in the sixth inning to win 13-8 and ended the game with a triple play.
No position player in the state had a better year than DSU’s Zack Shannon. He hit .406 with a record 31 homers and 93 RBIs and has picked up all kinds of national honors. USM’s Nick Sandlin, who also garnered national awards and beat out Shannon (and others) for the state’s Ferriss Trophy, was certainly the state’s pitcher of the year, going 10-0, 1.06 ERA in 15 starts. Gulf Coast CC’s Brandon Parker won a juco national player of the year award and both Shannon and Sandlin were semifinalists for the biggest of individual prizes, the Golden Spikes Award, a testament to the quality of ball played in the Magnolia State.
Three state schools (DSU, Carey and Hinds CC) made it to the World Series level in 2017. Only one did so this season, but it was hardly a down year.