The Detroit Tigers apparently like JaCoby Jones’ defense in the outfield. What the former Richton High star probably needs are more days like Friday with the bat to stick with the club out of spring training. Jones belted a three-run homer – his first in the Grapefruit League – against the New York Mets, going deep against big leaguer Hansel Robles. Jones is batting .412 (.706 slugging) with six RBIs in 17 spring at-bats. He was the Tigers’ opening day center fielder in 2017 but was hit in the face by a pitch early on and spent much of the rest of the season in the minors. The Tigers signed Leonys Martin to play center field in the off-season. Jones is now among the candidates to play left – or serve as a fourth outfielder. The ex-LSU standout, 25, has played in 69 MLB games over the last two years and batted .178 with three homers, 15 RBIs and six steals. Jones lists at 6 feet 2, 205 pounds and runs and throws well (he’s a former shortstop). But he’s gotta hit. P.S. Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland, whose at-bats may be limited in Boston this season now that J.D. Martinez is in the fold, took an 0-for-3 on Friday and is hitting .143 this spring. … Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton went 0-for-2 for Cincinnati and is 0-for-18 on the spring. That’s got to be concerning for the Reds. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, trying to nail down a bullpen job with St. Louis, threw two perfect innings with four strikeouts. He hasn’t allowed a run in seven innings and has fanned nine. He pitched very well in winter ball, as well.
As much as baseball aficionados love to throw around statistics, there’s only one that really matters. Runs. Score more than the other guy and you’ll never lose. Delta State has done a pretty good job of that and has a 13-1 record to show for it. The Statesmen, currently ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II, have scored 128 runs (9.1 per game, which is tough to beat) to their opponents’ 71. Zack Shannon, the highly decorated senior slugger, has impressive Triple Crown numbers: .431 average, eight homers, 23 RBIs. He also leads the team in runs with 20. He is one of seven DSU players with double-digit runs. They get on and they get in. DSU’s D-II rival Mississippi College also gets around the bases at a good clip: 124 runs in 15 games. The Choctaws are 13-2. They have eight double-figure scorers, led by Kyle Smith with 19. William Carey has scored enough (114 runs to its opponents’ 74) to post a 16-4 record. Ranked No. 8 in NAIA, the Crusaders are led by Christian Smith, who has 20 runs – plus a .354 average and 20 steals. Interesting note: Tyler Reid, a .220 hitter for WCU, has reached base safely 18 times (11 hits, six walks, one HBP) and has scored 17 runs. That’s efficiency. D-III Millsaps, averaging 7.2 runs per game in an 11-5 start, has three players with 16 runs: Chase Callaway, Andy Page and Connor Woodall. The Majors’ top hitter, Brennan Ducote (.431, four homers, 22 RBIs) has scored 14 times. Among the D-I schools, nationally ranked Ole Miss, off to a 12-1 start, has scored 93 times (a healthy 7.2 runs per game), led by Thomas Dillard with 13. The red-hot Grae Kessinger (.353) has tallied 12 runs. Scoring alone isn’t enough, of course. You’ve also got to hold down the other team. Southern Miss, also nationally ranked, has been a prolific scoring club, averaging 9.6 runs a game even after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Alabama. Newcomer Luke Reynolds, batting .426 with four homers and 18 RBIs, leads the team with 19 runs. But the Golden Eagles have lost four times (against eight wins) and in three of those losses, they’ve allowed nine or more runs, losing by scores of 10-9, 13-10 and 9-6.
Mississippi’s college programs had a whole lot to celebrate over the weekend. Among the NCAA Division I teams, Mississippi State won all three of its games in the Shriner’s College Classic in Texas, Ole Miss took two of three at Long Beach State, Southern Miss won two of three in the Cox Diamond Invitational in Florida and Jackson State swept its first SWAC series at Alabama A&M. Delta State and Mississippi College scored Gulf South Conference sweeps in D-II. William Carey won its first SSAC series in NAIA, and D-III Millsaps took an SAA series from Rhodes, notching Jim Page’s 750th career win. D-III Belhaven snapped a six-game losing skid to pick up its first ASC win. And MUW took two games from Lane College to improve to 7-3. There were individual stars aplenty, and here’s a few:
Grae Kessinger, UM: 3-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs in a 12-1 win at LBSU on Sunday.
Daniel Keating, USM: 2-for-3, 3 RBIs, 3 runs in a 20-4 win vs. Nicholls State on Sunday.
Jacob Billingsley, MSU: 6 shutout innings in a 4-1 win over Sam Houston State on Sunday.
Mark Watson, JSU: 5-hit shutout, 7 K’s in an 11-0 victory vs. Alabama A&M on Sunday.
Zack Shannon, DSU: 2 homers, 6 RBIs in a 10-4 win against Auburn-Montgomery on Saturday.
Billy Cameron, MC: 4-for-5, homer, 2 RBIs in a 9-5 win at Shorter on Sunday.
Tyler Reid, Carey: 3-for-5, 4 runs, RBI in a 10-4 victory against Bethel on Saturday.
Cavan Breland, Millsaps: 4-for-6, 3 RBIs, 3 runs in a doubleheader sweep vs. Rhodes on Saturday.
Justin Acevedo, Belhaven: 2-for-5, 3 RBIs in an 11-2 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday.
Damain Benefield, MUW: 3-for-4, homer, 3 RBIs in a 9-1 win over Lane on Sunday.
Saturday’s marquee matchup – if there is such a thing in spring training – was the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game in Ft. Myers, Fla. Southern Miss product Cody Carroll got the win and Mississippi State alum Jonathan Holder the save – they combined for three scoreless innings – for the Yankees in a 5-3 victory. Ex-State star Mitch Moreland went 1-for-3 for the BoSox. They were three of the 18 Magnolia State products who appeared in spring games on Saturday. Another worth noting: Hunter Renfroe, the former Mississippi State standout from Crystal Springs, went 2-for-4 with a homer – his second of the spring – in San Diego’s win against Oakland in Arizona. Renfroe, battling to keep a job with the Padres, had an RBI single off former Bulldogs ace Kendall Graveman, who started and yielded four runs in 1 1/3 innings. Ole Miss alum Bobby Wahl also pitched in that game for the A’s. Others who showed up in the box scores: Mike Mayers, Alex Presley, Louis Coleman, Spencer Turnbull, Corey Dickerson (see previous post), Braxton Lee, Bobby Bradley, Ti’Quan Forbes, T.J. House, Billy Hamilton, Brandon Woodruff and Jack Kruger. P.S. Sad to see that Jacob Lindgren, the former St. Stanislaus High and MSU star, has been shelved with soreness in his left elbow in Atlanta’s camp. Lindgren, a second-round pick by the Yankees in 2014, made the majors in 2015 but has barely pitched the last two seasons because of injury. He had Tommy John surgery in 2016. “We’re going to make sure with him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about shutting Lindgren down for a time.
13 – Hits for Grae Kessinger, who is batting .464 for unbeaten Ole Miss, 7-0 after a weekend sweep of Tulane.
71 – Runs in seven games for Southern Miss (5-2), which scored 39 in three games vs. UT-Martin over the weekend. Luke Reynolds leads with 13.
7 – RBIs for Josh Hatcher, a freshman who also leads Mississippi State (3-4) in homers with three and runs with seven.
7 – Home runs by Zack Shannon of Delta State, 11-1 after a sweep at Valdosta State over the weekend.
3 – Home runs for Jesus Santana, batting .368 with eight RBIs for Jackson State (3-2).
10 – RBIs by Hunter Wilson of Alcorn State (4-4).
3 – Wins in three starts for Chris Crosby of Mississippi College, 10-2 after taking two of three at West Georgia over the weekend.
14 – Stolen bases for Christian Smith, batting .380 for William Carey (12-3).
14 – Steals by Miciah Heard of Blue Mountain (12-4).
13 – RBIs by Brennan Ducote, a .500 hitter for Millsaps (8-3).
3 – Homers for Will Costinett, who also has seven RBIs for Belhaven (2-6).
5 – Consecutive wins for MUW, now 5-3 in its inaugural season after a twinbill sweep of Rust last Friday.
Cody Reed had gotten rave reviews from Cincinnati manager Bryan Price during workouts in Arizona, but his first appearance in a spring training game was a dud. The ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake was touched for five hits and four runs in two innings against Colorado on Saturday. Nolan Arenado took Reed deep. The 6-foot-5 left-hander is competing for a spot in the Reds’ bullpen, though he says he would prefer to start. He has a 3.63 ERA in the minors working primarily as a starter. A second-round pick by Kansas City in 2013, Reed moved to the Reds in a 2015 trade and went 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA for Pensacola in the Double-A Southern League. He made the big leagues as a highly rated prospect in 2016 but hasn’t fulfilled his promise in The Show, posting a 1-8 record and 6.75 ERA. He’s better than that. P.S. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder notched a save on Saturday with a scoreless inning for the New York Yankees against Pittsburgh, and ex-State star Chris Stratton worked two scoreless (though not exactly clean) innings in a start for San Francisco against the Los Angeles Dodgers. … Ole Miss alum Alex Presley, in his Baltimore debut, went 1-for-3 with a walk against Philadelphia. … Former Pillow Academy standout Louis Coleman has signed a minor league deal with Detroit. The veteran right-hander last pitched in the majors in 2016 and spent last year in Triple-A with Cincinnati and Arizona. … The honor of being the first Mississippi product to homer in spring training went to Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star who went deep for the Chicago White Sox on Friday against the Dodgers. … Itawamba CC alum Tim Dillard, on assignment from minor league camp, pitched a scoreless inning for Milwaukee on Friday. The veteran right-hander has been in pro ball since 2002.
Grapefruit and Cactus League games start Friday, and Mississippians Corey Dickerson, Lance Lynn, Seth Smith and Tyler Moore, among others, don’t yet have a team to play for. Zack Cozart, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Presley and T.J. House are suiting up for new teams. Hunter Renfroe may soon be doing that, too. Brian Dozier is finally in camp after a detour to have a kidney stone removed. Austin Riley, Cody Carroll and Dakota Hudson are in big league camp as non-roster invitees for the first time. Mickey Callaway is now a manager, and Ron Gardenhire, the old Jackson Met and ex-Minnesota skipper, is back in the saddle. So, yeah, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to keep tabs on. Start with Renfroe, the former Mississippi State standout who hit 26 homers as a rookie for San Diego last year but may now be squeezed out of a roster spot. The Padres’ signing of Eric Hosmer and shifting of Wil Myers to right field has fueled rumors that Renfroe will be traded. “We’re all chess pieces in a huge game here – that’s the way you look at it,” Renfroe told mlb.com. … Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star, signed a two-year, $7.5M deal with Arizona earlier this week. A good defensive outfielder, Dyson, 33, had a strong offensive season with Seattle in 2017, batting. 251 with 56 runs and 28 steals in 111 games. He has 204 career steals over eight seasons. … Ole Miss product Presley signed a minor league deal with Baltimore, which had been seeking a lefty-hitting outfielder. Presley, 32, hit .314 in 71 games last year with Detroit, the fifth different MLB club he has played for over eight seasons. … Dozier, the former Southern Miss standout, reportedly won’t play in Minnesota’s games on Friday and Saturday as he eases into the spring routine. A pending free agent after this season, he batted .271 with 34 homers last year and says he wants to remain a Twin. Stay tuned. … UM alum Bobby Wahl is in Oakland’s camp as a non-roster pitcher this year, trying to bounce back from a shoulder injury that required surgery and cost him his spot on the A’s 40-man roster. Wahl, who pitched just 7 2/3 innings as a rookie in 2017, used to throw 100 mph. Can he get there again? “The way the ball’s coming out, it feels easy,” he said last week in an mlb.com article. “So far, this is the best I’ve felt throwing a baseball in a long time.” … Tim Anderson, the former East Central CC star who had a tough year with the Chicago White Sox in 2017, said he feels refreshed this spring. “Getting away from it definitely helped me and kind of gave me some breathing room,” he told mlb.com. “I’m hungry and excited about this season coming up.” Anderson lost a close friend to a shooting and scuffled at times on the field, batting .257 with 28 errors at shortstop. … This should be a fun spring for Marcus Thames, another former East Central CC standout. Thames, recently named hitting coach of the New York Yankees, gets to work with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, et al., an array of sluggers that some expect to threaten the MLB home run record. Once the games begin to count, there might be a little pressure there for Thames.