Blaze Jordan, the phenom from Southaven, is the centerpiece in a Baseball America story (posted today on the magazine’s web site) about the issue of early – or, more precisely, very early — commitments in the college game. It’s a good read. Jordan is a freshman at DeSoto Central High. He committed to Mississippi State as an 8th-grader. Jordan reportedly has prodigious power, having won a national home run contest in January – at age 14 — with a 504-foot blast at Marlins Park in Miami. He hit two homers in 13 games for the DeSoto varsity last season. He also impressed coaches and scouts during last month’s Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association World Championships in Florida. Jordan’s coach at the event compared him to Mookie Betts, Boston’s star right fielder. Keep in mind, the 6-foot, 215-pound first baseman is in the recruiting – and pro draft – class of 2021. … Also quoted in the BA piece are Hattiesburg High senior Joe Gray, another highly recruited player who committed to Ole Miss last January, and Rebels coach Mike Bianco.
Seth Smith, the ex-Ole Miss star from Jackson, is a free agent and could sign with a new team as early as today. Smith, 35, batted .258 with 13 homers for Baltimore in 2017. If you’re keeping track, the Orioles are the fifth different organization Smith, a .261 career hitter, has played for since breaking into the big leagues in 2007.
As we plunge into the off-season, here are some other numbers of interest for other Mississippians in the majors:
Brian Dozier: 106. The ex-Southern Miss standout topped the century mark in runs for the fourth straight season with Minnesota, while also hitting 34 homers and driving in 93 runs.
Drew Pomeranz: 173.2. The former Ole Miss star worked a career-high in innings in his first full year in Boston and posted a 17-6 record with a 3.32 ERA.
Corey Dickerson: .241. That was the Meridian Community College alum’s batting average after the All-Star Game, which he played in. He hit .312 before the break for Tampa Bay.
Zack Cozart: 55. The Ole Miss product, a free agent, set a career-high for extra base hits, including 24 homers and seven triples during an All-Star campaign in Cincinnati.
Lance Lynn: .605. That’s the career winning percentage for the big right-hander out of Ole Miss. A free agent, Lynn is 72-47 in six years with St. Louis.
Mitch Moreland: 34. The Mississippi State product, a free agent, notched a career-high for doubles and also belted 22 homers, one off his career-best, in his first season with Boston.
Adam Frazier: 7. That’s the number of positions (including DH) the ex-State standout played in 2017 for Pittsburgh. He batted .276 with six homers, 53 RBIs and nine steals in 121 games all told.
Jarrod Dyson: 204. The Southwest Mississippi CC alum, a free agent, topped 200 career steals last season and has 26 or more in each of the last six seasons, despite being a part-time player. He set career-highs for at-bats, runs, home runs and RBIs with Seattle in 2017.
Billy Hamilton: 0. Remarkably, the former Taylorsville High star has yet to win a National League stolen base title, despite stealing 56, 57, 58 and 59 bases over the past four seasons for Cincinnati.
Hunter Renfroe: 14. The former State star played 14 games in the minors in 2017 after being abruptly sent down by San Diego in August. He hit .509 with four homers at El Paso; he batted .231 with 26 homers for the Padres with 140 strikeouts and 27 walks.
Tim Anderson: 13. The East Central CC product walked only 13 times in 606 plate appearances and struck out 162 times. On the positive side, he hit .257 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs in his second season with the Chicago White Sox.
Alex Presley: 5,693. The former Ole Miss standout hit the home run, on Sept. 19, that tied the MLB single-season record for total bombs. That was one of the three homers he hit last season for Detroit.
Anthony Alford: 1. The onetime Mr. Baseball from Petal got his first – and, to date, only – career hit with Toronto on May 23. Alford’s MLB stint was interrupted by injury after four games, and he spent the rest of the season in the minors. He’ll likely vie for a starting job in the spring.
Need a break from football on Saturday? Check out the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game, which will air at 7 p.m. on MLB Network and features several Mississippi connections. Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley, who spent part of 2017 with the Mississippi Braves, is on the West roster, along with fellow Braves prospects and M-Braves alums Ronald Acuna and Touki Touissant. Riley is having a great AFL campaign, batting .345 with three homers and 13 RBIs; the third baseman hit for the cycle in game for Peoria last week. Braxton Lee, an Ole Miss product from Picayune, is on the East roster. Lee, a Miami prospect and Southern League All-Star this past season, is batting .333 in 10 games for Salt River. Also making the East squad is 2017 Biloxi Shuckers infielder Jake Gatewood, a supplemental first-round pick by Milwaukee in 2014.
There is a special nook in baseball’s Hall of Neat Feats for players who have stroked pinch-hit home runs in the World Series. Only 21 guys are in this club. Bobby Kielty, an Ole Miss standout in the 1990s, is one of them. Ten years ago this month, Kielty, playing for the Boston Red Sox, connected off of Colorado’s Brian Fuentes, a solo shot in the eighth inning of Game 4 at Coors Field. It gave the Red Sox a 4-1 lead and turned out to be a big run when the Rockies scored twice in the bottom of the eighth. Boston held on to win and sweep the series. That turned out to be Kielty’s last at-bat as a big leaguer. He played seven years in the majors all told, with four different teams. He hit 53 home runs, as many as 13 in one season. He hit one homer in 20 games for Boston in 2007 but made the postseason roster – and then made a little history, as well. The World Series pinch-hit homer club also includes Yogi Berra, Johnny Mize, Elston Howard, Bernie Carbo (who did it twice, also for the Red Sox), and, of course, Kirk Gibson. Who can forget the hobbled, first-pumping Gibson circling the bases after taking Dennis Eckersley deep for a walk-off blast in Los Angeles’ Game 1 win against Oakland in 1988? Many say it propelled the underdog Dodgers to the world championship. Kielty’s pinch-hit bomb wasn’t nearly as significant – but it was special all the same.
He won the Southern League batting title, made the league’s postseason All-Star team and was named the best defensive outfielder by SL managers. He received a coveted spot in the Arizona Fall League and through five games there is batting .500, including a 3-for-4 effort on Thursday. Oh, and he took a few days off last week to return to Mississippi and get married. Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss standout from Picayune, is riding the wave, as the saying goes. Lee was a 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014 and was traded to Miami this past summer in the midst of a breakout year. After scuffling in Double-A in 2016, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound lefty hitter batted .309 this season with 81 runs and 20 stolen bases in 127 games split between Montgomery and Jacksonville. He has shown no sign of letdown in the AFL. What’s next? “I’m hoping I’ll be a big league invite (to Marlins spring camp) where I’ll be there and they can see me play and see what they think of me,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald.
Far from the bright lights of Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, Ferriss Field in Cleveland also will come to life tonight. Delta State fans will get a preview of the 2018 Statesmen team when the annual Green and White Series begins. Zack Shannon, everybody’s All-American from last year’s NCAA Division II College World Series team, is the big name on the Gray team. He hit .434 with 19 homers and 88 RBIs in 2017. Leading the White squad is Clay Casey, who batted .333 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs. Game 2 of the best-of-3 is slated for Friday and the potential Game 3 is Saturday. … Ole Miss has one more weekend of intrasquads ahead before next Wednesday’s Pizza Bowl, the culmination of fall ball in Oxford. Sophomore Thomas Dillard has had a particularly strong fall, batting about .480, and redshirt junior Brady Feigl threw four perfect innings on Sunday. Freshmen Anthony Servideo and Carl Gindl also have stood out. Servideo, a middle infielder, was hitting .348 before going 1-for-9 in last weekend’s games. … Southern Miss has been transitioning to new pitching coach Christian Ostrander during its fall session. Ostrander is a Delta State alum who previously coached at Louisiana Tech and Jones County Junior College, where he had some outstanding teams. The Golden Eagles lost two key arms, Kirk McCarty and Taylor Braley, from last year’s 50-win squad. “The unknown is going to be who steps up for us,” USM coach Scott Berry told d1baseball.com. … Mississippi State’s 2017 recruiting class has been ranked in the top 25 by three different publications. The Bulldogs, who started fall ball on Oct. 9, are blending in three freshmen who were drafted last June plus Alabama’s Mr. Baseball, Owen Lovell. Lovell, 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, could help fill the void left by slugger Brent Rooker, the SEC player of the year and Ferriss Trophy winner. State wraps up its fall season Nov. 17-19 at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium.
Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss pitcher; Ron Gardenhire, the Jackson Mets shortstop from way back when; and ex-Jackson State slugger Dave Clark are among the candidates for the four managerial openings in the big leagues, according to various reports. Callaway, Cleveland’s pitching coach, is rumored to be the favorite in Philadelphia but is also said to be a good fit for the New York Mets. Gardenhire, currently bench coach for Arizona, is reportedly under consideration for the job in Boston and also Detroit, where Clark has been the third-base coach for four years. Gardenhire managed in Minnesota for 13 seasons, winning over 1,000 games and making six postseason trips. Clark was an interim skipper in Houston in 2009. … Charlie Morton, one of three former Mississippi Braves on Houston’s current roster, will start Game 3 of the American League Championship Series tonight at New York. CC Sabathia starts for the Yankees. Morton, a 14-game winner this season, yielded two runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALDS at Boston, a game the Astros won 5-4 to claim the series. M-Braves alums Brian McCann and Evan Gattis also play for the Astros, whose hitting coach is onetime Jackson Generals coach Dave Hudgens. … Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward went 0-for-3 in the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sunday night’s NLCS Game 2. Heyward is just one of numerous Cubs slumping this postseason; he is 2-for-15 this year and is batting .155 in 35 career postseason games. … Ole Miss alum David Goforth, who pitched briefly for Milwaukee in 2017, is now working in the Mexican Pacific League, and Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, a Miami minor leaguer, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League. Those leagues started last week.