Forget Yelich, Grandal and Cain. The hottest hitter for Milwaukee is Brandon Woodruff, the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout who is raking at a .714 clip and had a big two-run double in an 8-4 win against St. Louis on Tuesday. According to his baseball card, Woodruff is a pitcher, and he’s been pretty good in that role, too. He went 5 2/3 innings vs. the Cardinals, yielding two runs and fanning six. He is 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA in four starts for the 12-6 Brewers, who lead the National League Central. It is said that Woodruff, who bats lefty and throws righty, puts on quite a show when he takes batting practice. And who can forget the bomb he hit off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs last year. … East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson went hitless for the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday but still leads the American League in batting with a .421 average. He slipped behind Cody Bellinger (.433) for the MLB lead. … After a good start with Kansas City, Billy Hamilton has skidded to .205 through 14 games. The Taylorsville High product has just three steals and six runs. … In the Ugly Numbers category, we find ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier (.152, one RBI in 46 at-bats for Washington) and Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart (.091, two RBIs in 44 ABs for the Los Angeles Angels). … Ugly also would describe the outing by the New York Mets’ Steven Matz, who gave up eight runs and failed to retire a batter vs. Philadelphia on Tuesday. He became just the fifth starter ever to do that. One of the others is McComb native Blake Stein, who suffered that indignity on Aug. 31, 1998, pitching for Oakland against Cleveland. To his credit, Stein (21-28, 5.41 ERA over five MLB seasons) struck out eight batters in a row in a 2001 game, also a remarkable feat. … Jacob Webb became the fourth Mississippi Braves alum to debut in the majors this season when he appeared in relief for Atlanta on Tuesday.
There were seven former Ferriss Trophy winners still playing in 2018, three in the big leagues, three in the minors and one still in college. The number is down to six now. Auston Bousfield, the 2014 winner of the prestigious college award while at Ole Miss, announced his retirement prior to the start of spring training. He finished last year in Triple-A in the San Diego system, batting .239 at El Paso. That was also his career average over five seasons. Drafted in the fifth round in 2014, that summer in short-season Class A might’ve been his best. Of the 15 Ferriss winners to date, four have made the majors: the current crop of Drew Pomeranz, Chris Stratton and Hunter Renfroe plus Ed Easley, who retired a couple of years ago. Brent Rooker, the 2017 winner after his monster season at Mississippi State, is currently in Triple-A with Minnesota and will get the big league call soon enough. Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin, last year’s winner, is currently assigned to Double-A by Cleveland. Jake Mangum, the only freshman Ferriss winner, is still banging out hits at State, having been drafted twice already. He could become the first two-time Ferriss winner.
Forget WAR, BABIP and FIP for a moment. Baseball is about runs, primarily scoring them. As Ole Miss demonstrated in its weekend sweep of Florida, score a bunch and you’re likely to win a bunch. The Rebels tied a school record with 40 runs in the three-game series against the Gators, who just couldn’t keep pace. The Rebels are averaging 8.4 runs per game and boast a 23-10 record heading into today’s rivalry clash with Southern Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Thomas Dillard, who scored seven runs in the Florida series, and Grae Kessinger, who tallied five times, are the Rebels’ leading scorers with 38 each. Leading scorers in baseball aren’t as celebrated as those in basketball and football. That just ain’t right. USM’s top scorer is Gabe Montenegro, who has 32 runs. The Golden Eagles (20-9) are averaging a healthy 6.6 runs per game and coming off a three-game C-USA sweep of Marshall in which they put up 25 runs. Preventing runs is the other part of the equation, and both Ole Miss and USM have had some issues on the bump. But their scoring punch has generally allayed those problems. The Rebels have outscored their opponents 276-158, the Eagles 192-134. Bottom line: Don’t expect a pitchers’ duel at the TeePee. … For the record, Mississippi State is even more prolific than Ole Miss, averaging 8.9 runs a game in its 27-6 start. Jake Mangum, the Bulldogs newly anointed hit king, leads the way with 38 runs, a figure matched by Jordan Westburg. Jackson State’s leading scorer is Equon Smith, who has 30 runs for the 17-18 Tigers, who are one of the higher scoring teams in the SWAC (231 runs). Mississippi Valley State, on the other hand, has scored just 89 runs (4.0 per game) while yielding 190. Hence, the 6-16 record. Delta State’s leading scorer is Jake Barlow with 28 runs for the 26-10 Statesmen, and Blaine Crim and Dylan Duplechain have crossed the plate 35 times each for Mississippi College (22-12).
Drew Waters banged out three hits and C.J. Alexander went 1-for-4 with an RBI in their Double-A debuts on Thursday, and Ian Anderson yielded one run in four innings. But the Mississippi Braves couldn’t hold a late lead and lost their season opener at Tennessee 7-5. The M-Braves took the lead in the eighth with two runs against Smokies reliever Wyatt Short, the former Ole Miss closer from Southaven. But Short cherry-picked the win – in his 100th minor league game – when Tennessee rallied against the M-Braves bullpen. … Biloxi’s opener against Birmingham was rained out at MGM Park. Mississippi State product Daniel Brown, a lefty pitcher, is on the Shuckers’ roster, and former Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes, a third baseman, is with the Barons. … Back in Buffalo for the start of the minor league season, ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run to help Toronto’s Triple-A club beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 8-3. Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack pitched six innings for the win. Alford, up and down with the Blue Jays over the past three years, was in the majors on Tuesday and went 0-for-3. … If you watched it, you know this already: Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried was ridiculously good (one hit, no walks, five strikeouts in six innings) for Atlanta against the Chicago Cubs in a 9-4 victory. “The stuff is off the charts,” Braves catcher Brian McCann told mlb.com. … Ole Miss and M-Braves alum Chris Ellis was designated for assignment by Kansas City and, if he passes through waivers as expected, will be offered back to St. Louis. Ellis, on the Royals’ roster as a Rule 5 pick, worked a scoreless inning in his MLB debut last Saturday but was squeezed off the roster by other moves. “We liked his stuff,” said K.C. manager Ned Yost, the old Jackson Mets catcher. … On the subject of stuff, ex-Madison Central standout Spencer Turnbull struck out 10 and allowed just two earned runs in six innings Thursday for Detroit, which beat the Royals 5-4. … Brian Dozier and Zack Cozart, Mississippi college products itching to get off to good starts in 2019, have not. Former Southern Miss star Dozier is 2-for-22 for his new club, Washington, while Ole Miss alum Cozart, coming back from injury in 2018, is 1-for-23 for the Los Angeles Angels. … Pittsburgh put Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College standout, on the injured list with a shoulder issue. Richton High product JaCoby Jones, also on the IL with a shoulder injury suffered in spring training, isn’t close to a return to Detroit’s lineup, reports say.
When Toronto traded Kevin Pillar to San Francisco, it opened the door for ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford to return to the Blue Jays’ big league roster. He started in center field and went 0-for-3 Tuesday in a loss to Baltimore. … You might have heard that Bryce Harper went 3-for-5 with a homer in his return to Washington, but in other news: Southern Miss product Brian Dozier got his first hit as a member of the Nationals in their loss to Philadelphia. Dozier is 1-for-13. … Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe hit his first homer of 2019, then hit another in San Diego’s loss to Arizona. … Mississippi Braves alum Dustin Peterson, now with the Detroit Tigers, got his first big league hit. An RBI double. In the ninth. In a tie game. Against Aroldis Chapman. In Yankee Stadium. “I will never forget it. That’s for sure,” Peterson told mlb.com after the Tigers beat New York 3-1. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves introduced a roster on Tuesday that includes nine of Atlanta’s top 30 prospects (per MLP Pipeline). Five of them are pitchers, led by No. 3 Ian Anderson, who’s slated to start Thursday’s season opener at Tennessee. “It’s going to be exciting with the young staff we have here,” the 20-year-old right-hander said at Tuesday’s media day at Trustmark Park. “I’ll try to set the tone on Thursday.” M-Braves manager Chris Maloney said he likes “the vibe” he’s getting from this club. … The Double-A Biloxi Shuckers tuned up for their Thursday opener by bashing William Carey University 15-1 at MGM Park. Six Shuckers pitchers held Carey hitters, using wood bats, to one hit. The NAIA Crusaders (10-19) will try to return to normalcy today when they host West Alabama in Hattiesburg. … Go figure: Ole Miss, 20-9 and rising in the polls, lost to fledgling Division I North Alabama 10-6 in Oxford. The Rebels went deep into their bullpen to call on seven pitchers, who yielded 14 hits to the Lions, now 6-21. … The new NJCAA Division II poll came out Tuesday and seven Mississippi schools were in the Top 20. No. 4 Pearl River Community College celebrated by sweeping a doubleheader from No. 18 Mississippi Gulf Coast, knocking the Bulldogs out of first place in the league. Itawamba is ranked sixth, Jones County seventh, Meridian eighth, Hinds 13th and Northwest 16th. But what do the polls really mean in the MACJC jungle? Suddenly scuffling Jones got swept by East Central on Tuesday, and Hinds took a pair from Meridian.
Former Mississippi State teammates Brandon Woodruff and Dakota Hudson are scheduled to face off as opposing pitchers on Saturday when Milwaukee plays St. Louis at Miller Park. They were on the 2014 State team that also included the New York Yankees’ Jonathan Holder and current minor leaguers Jacob Lindgren, Zac Houston, Jacob Robson, Reid Humphreys and others. (Those Bulldogs finished 39-24.) Woodruff, a 14th-round pick by the Brewers in 2014, is 5-3 with a 4.22 ERA in 27 MLB games over two seasons. He had some shining moments in the 2018 postseason. Hudson, a first-rounder by the Cardinals in 2016, broke in last year and was 4-1, 2.63 in 26 games. … Woodruff, from Wheeler, ran into another familiar face on Monday when the Brewers were in Montreal for an exhibition game. Oil Can Boyd, the ex-Jackson State star from Meridian, was in town for an Expos reunion, per a story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Boyd had coached Woodruff’s late brother Blake in American Legion ball. Woodruff said he’d last seen Boyd when he was 12. “When I saw him (Monday), I knew exactly who it was,” Woodruff said. “He would throw BP to me and show me different stuff when he pitched.” P.S. Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull is slated to start Saturday for Detroit at Toronto; Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn will get the ball on Sunday for his Texas debut against the Chicago Cubs; ex-State star Chris Stratton is penciled in for his Los Angeles Angels debut on Monday at Seattle (vs. Felix Hernandez); and Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz will make his San Francisco debut on Monday at the LA Dodgers.
The road has been a winding one for Chris Ellis over the last six years, but it has led him to the big leagues. The former Ole Miss and Mississippi Braves star officially made Kansas City’s 25-man roster on Thursday. He did not pitch in the Royals’ opener. Ellis was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels out of UM in the third round in 2014. He was traded to Atlanta, making the Southern League All-Star Game with the M-Braves in 2016, then traded to St. Louis, then chosen in the Rule 5 draft of minor leaguers last December by Texas, which promptly traded him to Kansas City. The Royals will have to keep the 6-foot-5 right-hander on their active roster all season or offer him back to St. Louis. Ellis is 40-35 with a 4.47 ERA in his minor league career and went 6-4, 3.76 at Triple-A Memphis in 2018. Primarily a starter in the minors, he apparently will work out of the bullpen for KC.
It’s Opening Day in the big leagues. Again. The 28 teams that didn’t go to Japan last week will roll out today in North America, which means it’s time again to celebrate the rare opening day feats of a couple of Mississippians. On April 20, 1937, at Navin Field in Detroit, Gulfport’s Gerald “Gee” Walker of the Tigers hit for the cycle against Cleveland. It remains the only opening day cycle in major league history. Walker, an Ole Miss alum who was called the “Reconstructed Rebel” in a newspaper headline about the game, batted .335 that year and made the All-Star Game for the only time in an outstanding 15-year career. On April 4, 2005, at Comerica Park in Detroit, Vicksburg native Dmitri Young belted three home runs for the Tigers against Kansas City. It was, at the time, only the third three-homer game ever in a season opener. It’s been done once since. Young, aka “Da Meat Hook,” who passed through Smith-Wills Stadium with the Arkansas Travelers back in the 1990s, hit 21 homers in 2005 and 171 in his 13-year MLB career.
Three intra-state clashes on Tuesday produced plenty of crooked numbers but no March Madness-style upsets. In Starkville, Mississippi State, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, dispatched Mississippi Valley State 18-5 thanks in part to an eight-run inning. At Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State throttled NAIA Tougaloo 13-7, riding an eight-run inning and seven unearned runs. And at Blue Mountain, the NAIA Toppers took two games from fledgling Division III MUW, outscoring the Owls 21-6. As for individual numbers of note: Jordan Westburg went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs for State, now 23-3. For JSU (11-16), Chris Prentiss went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs. BMC (16-17) was led by Trey Hathaway, who drove in six runs in the two games. … Valley (5-9) and Tougaloo (5-18) hook up today in Itta Bena in what could be another wild midweek affair. … Ole Miss (18-8) went up to Memphis on Tuesday and whipped the Tigers 9-6 at AutoZone Park, and Southern Miss (16-6) went down to Metairie, La., and won its eighth straight game, beating Nicholls State by the relatively boring score of 5-0 at Zephyr Field. … Jackson State, which takes a trip to Louisiana-Monroe today, is gearing up for a SWAC series at home this weekend against what the Tigers’ website playfully calls “That School in Lorman.” Alcorn State, which lost a non-league game Tuesday at Grambling 8-7 (giving up seven runs in one inning), is 6-17 and got plastered last weekend by Valley, which outscored the Braves 38-9 in a three-game sweep.
With opening day a mere two days away, Chris Stratton finds himself on a new team. Stratton, a former Mississippi State star from Tupelo, was traded late Monday from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Angels. “I’m definitely in shock,” the right-hander told the San Francisco Chronicle. Stratton, a former first-round pick who has a 4.63 ERA over three MLB campaigns, did not win a job in the Giants’ rotation this spring. (Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, a free agent signee, took one of those spots.) Stratton is out of minor league options, so rather than run him through waivers, the Giants worked a trade with the Angels for lefty Williams Jerez. At some point, Stratton may get a shot at a starting job with the Angels, who play their last exhibition game tonight at Dodger Stadium. … Kudos to Spencer Turnbull and Brandon Woodruff, who have officially earned spots in the rotation with Detroit and Milwaukee, respectively. Madison Central alum Turnbull is slotted as the Tigers’ No. 3 and will work at Toronto on Saturday. Woodruff, a State product from Wheeler, will pitch one of the three weekend games in Milwaukee against St. Louis. … Cool moment on MLB Network Monday night: Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett made his first appearance at Washington’s Nationals Park in four years and got a rousing ovation. The right-hander, battling back from a series of injuries, including a broken arm, worked in the exhibition game against the New York Yankees. In camp as a non-roster invitee, Barrett posted a 6.75 ERA in seven games; he’ll start the year in the minors.