As the Arizona Fall League season winds down, two former Delta State players have clearly stepped up as the best of the Mississippi contingent in the highly regarded off-season loop. Second baseman Trent Giambrone, a Chicago Cubs prospect, and left-hander Dalton Moats, a Tampa Bay farmhand, have put up nice numbers on the heels of their first Double-A campaign. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone is hitting .348 with two home runs and six RBIs for Mesa and has had two three-hit games. At Tennessee in the Southern League in 2018, he batted .251 with 17 homers and 20 steals. Moats (see previous post) has a 0.84 ERA in seven appearances for Peoria, which will play in the AFL Championship Game on Saturday on MLB Network. (Several Atlanta and Milwaukee prospects are also on that Peoria club.) Moats put up a 5.34 ERA in 41 games at Montgomery in the SL last season. Ex-Petal High star Demarcus Evans (Texas) has a 6.30 ERA as a late-inning reliever in the AFL and George County product Justin Steele (Cubs) is 1-1, 5.79 in six starts. Both have shown flashes of good stuff. Former Ole Miss standout Errol Robinson (Los Angeles Dodgers) is batting .186 with eight runs in 12 games. P.S. The NAIA’s preseason coaches poll is out, and William Carey University is not ranked for the first time in three years. Bobby Halford’s Crusaders entered the 2018 season ranked No. 6 and finished 36-25 (and unranked). … In some way-too-early recruiting rankings for the Class of 2019 (and the 2020 college season), Pearl River Community College’s 16-player haul is listed at No. 4 among all jucos by Perfect Game. Jones County JC checked in at No. 12. Mississippi State is No. 6 and Ole Miss No. 10 in the NCAA Division I rankings.
Just as he was getting hot, the curtain fell on Braxton Lee’s season. The Picayune native, who has endured a rollercoaster campaign, hit .324 over his final 10 games at Triple-A New Orleans and had a four-hit game in Monday’s season finale. Though he is on Miami’s 40-man roster – and on the club’s Top 30 prospect chart – Lee didn’t get a September call-up, at least he hasn’t yet. He batted .235 in 47 games at New Orleans. Lee’s career took off last year, when he won the Southern League batting title and made the All-Prospect team in the Arizona Fall League. He made the Marlins’ roster for opening day and debuted on March 30, the first Mississippian to break in in 2018. He played in only eight big league games. He was sent down, struggled, got hurt, rehabbed in A-ball, spent time in Double-A – it was just that kind of season. For the year, he batted .233 over three minor league levels. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound outfielder has always been a grinder, relying on speed and defense to succeed, from Picayune High to Pearl River Community College to Ole Miss and into pro ball. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2014 and traded to Miami last summer. “I’ve never thought, “What if it didn’t work?’” Lee told the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel back in the spring. “I’m going to make it work regardless of what happens.” You have to admire that mindset. This season might be over, but Lee will fight again another day.
Zack Shannon, whose 31 home runs for Delta State this past season were the most ever hit by a Mississippi collegian, is in a long-ball dry spell in rookie ball. Shannon has three homers in 25 games for Missoula in the Arizona chain but hasn’t gone yard since July 2. This is not to say he is slumping, however. The big first baseman, a 15th-round pick in June by the Diamondbacks, is batting .291 (.406 on-base) and has 11 extra-base hits all told, good for a .500 slugging percentage. … Shannon may not have been the top power prospect in the state this year. Simon Landry of Pearl River Community College set a Wildcats record with 19 home runs in 2018 and apparently impressed the Los Angeles Dodgers in a pre-draft workout. “It’s probably the best raw power we’ve ever seen at a workout,” the Dodgers’ scouting director told Dodgers Insider. The Dodgers took the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Landry in the 22nd round. He has played just one official pro game, going 1-for-1 with a double and a walk in the Arizona League. Landry hit .392 for PRCC this year while breaking the school mark for homers set by Wildcats assistant – and ex-big leaguer – Rhyne Hughes. … While neither Shannon nor Landry homered on Thursday, there were long balls to celebrate around the minors. To wit: Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley hit No. 20 – his third in five games – at Double-A Akron (Cleveland system). Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker belted his 16th for Double-A Chattanooga (Minnesota); he is hitting .261 with 56 RBIs in his second pro season. Ex-Itawamba CC star Tyreque Reed bopped his seventh homer for Class A Hickory (Texas). And the red-hot Hunter Stovall hit his fourth in nine games for rookie-level Grand Junction (Colorado). MSU product Stovall, a 21st-rounder this year, has 17 hits and a .447 average.
Baseball America found room for 16 Mississippi college and high school players in its recently released Top 500 MLB draft prospects list. No. 500, the last one in, is Simon Landry, a right-handed hitting first baseman from Pearl River Community College who has some intriguing power. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Landry, a Louisiana native and University of Houston signee, belted 35 homers for the Wildcats the last two seasons, 19 for the MACJC champions in 2018. He also batted .392 this year. His name won’t be called in the early rounds, but it’s one to watch for on the last day of the three-day draft. The highest-rated Mississippi product on the BA list is Ole Miss left-hander Ryan Rolison at No. 21; mlb.com has him at No. 17. He likely will be chosen in Round 1 on Monday — but you never know. Some team might also take a first-round flier on Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn (BA No. 39), Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray (No. 52) or Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington (No. 60). State’s Jake Mangum, Southern Miss’ Nick Sandlin and UM teammates Ryan Olenek and Nick Fortes also made the top 200. In addition to Ginn and Gray, three other state prep players made BA’s Top 500: Hattiesburg’s Dexter Jordan, Oxford’s Drew Bianco and Madison Central’s Regi Grace. The top-ranked juco player — and the only other one in the Top 500 — is Will Freeman, a big right-hander at Jones County JC, at No. 489. Freeman was a strikeout machine for the Bobcats. Meridian CC’s Davis Bradshaw is another juco player with a specific tool — speed, in this case — that might interest a big league club. Delta State’s record-setting slugger Zack Shannon didn’t make the Top 500 and is ranked the No. 22 prospect in the state by BA. Seems a little low. … For the record, the highest any Mississippi college product has been picked is second overall (State’s Will Clark in 1985). The highest a prep player has gone is third overall (Laurel Oak Park’s Ted Nicholson in 1969).
The focus in the MACJC today should be on Meridian – with a glance toward Clarksdale. At Meridian Community College’s Scaggs Field, Jones County Junior College, first in the league at 22-4, takes on the third-place Eagles (19-7) in a doubleheader. The NJCAA Division II No. 2 Bobcats, who’ve won 18 in a row (18!), need one win to claim the regular season title. At Coahoma CC’s Smith Sportsplex, second-place Pearl River (21-5) plays CCC (11-15) needing a sweep and help from Meridian to usurp Jones for the crown. Jones beat PRCC twice last week. The Jones-Meridian matchup is particularly intriguing. Luther Woullard is having a big year with the bat — .420, five homers, 45 RBIs — for the Bobcats, but it’s their pitching that truly commands your attention. The staff ERA is 2.99, and they average more than 10 strikeouts a game. Cooper Brune is 11-0 with a 2.78, and Will Freeman, who had the 18-punchout game last week, is 6-1, 3.20 with two saves. Meridian, ranked 20th in the D-II poll, has relied more on its offense, in particular Trace Jordan (.381, 15 homers, 60 RBIs) and Davis Bradshaw (.448, eight homers). Hunter Stanley (8-1, 4.73) is the ace of a staff that has a 4.69 collective ERA. … Northwest finished at 20-8 in the MACJC, winning 18 of its final 21 games. P.S. The start of the Gulf South Conference Tournament (see previous posts) in Cleveland was pushed back a day because of inclement weather. Both Mississippi College and Delta State are in action today.
Chris Stratton vs. Jarrod Dyson. Eighth inning, Chase Field, Phoenix. San Francisco up 2-0 on Arizona with a runner on. A Mississippi baseball aficionado moment. Dyson, the McComb native and Southwest Mississippi Community College product, won the battle, lashing an RBI triple to center field, chasing Stratton from the game. But the Tupelo native and ex-Mississippi State star ultimately won the war. Though the Giants’ bullpen would later blow the save, the team won 4-3 in 10 innings Wednesday night on a Brandon Belt bomb. Stratton was fairly brilliant in his second straight quality start. He yielded just five hits, the one run, walked none and struck out eight. He trimmed his ERA to 2.22 over four 2018 starts (and 3.29 in 24 career games). The lanky right-hander appears to have secured a spot in the San Francisco rotation, which is currently missing three injured members. “He’s one of our guys,” manager Bruce Bochy told mlb.com. Meanwhile, the triple was a big knock for Dyson, who is batting just .200 in 12 games with his new team. P.S. Also worth noting from Wednesday: In Syracuse, N.Y., Ole Miss alum David Goforth pitched two perfect innings as part of a four-man combo no-hitter for the Chiefs against Indianapolis. Goforth has 1.17 ERA in four games for Washington’s Triple-A affiliate. … In Perkinston, No. 5 Jones County Junior College beat Mississippi Gulf Coast CC 4-2 and 14-9 to extend its win streak to 10 games. Trace Henry had a go-ahead hit in the ninth of Game 1 and Robbie Woody and Brandon Hale drove in three runs apiece in the second game for the Bobcats (29-7, 14-4 MACJC). First-place Pearl River (29-7, 15-3) swept Hinds on Wednesday to maintain a one-game lead.
Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 1 in preseason and still there after a 13-1 start, veered off course in mid-March, losing six times in a 12-game stretch. The team’s ranking in the NJCAA Division II poll tumbled to 12th on April 3. Well, don’t look now, but it seems the Bobcats have rediscovered their way. Jones has won six straight games in MACJC play to climb into second place in the league at 12-4, a notch behind Pearl River CC (12-2). The Bobcats, 25-7 heading into a twinbill at Baton Rouge CC today, put on an impressive showing at Wesson on Tuesday, blasting Copiah-Lincoln 12-2 and 18-6. Luther Woullard, a sophomore from d’Iberville who has been the club’s big bat, had eight hits in the two games and knocked in seven runs in Game 2 alone. He is batting a robust .448 with 17 doubles, five home runs, 40 RBIs and 22 steals. Trace Henry also has been a key offensive player, with a .392 average and 28 steals. Cooper Brune (7-0, 2.37 ERA), Will Freeman (5-1, two saves, 4.19) and Tyler Spring (5-1, 1.89) front coach Chris Kirtland’s pitching staff, which has a 3.11 ERA. JCJC’s next conference games are Wednesday at Mississippi Gulf Coast, another nationally ranked team that features the nation’s top homer and RBI man, Brandon Parker (18 and 63). A potential showdown with Pearl River, currently ranked No. 6, looms on April 24.
Focus on Wildcat Field in Poplarville. This should be good. Itawamba Community College makes the long trip south to meet Pearl River CC today in a battle of two of the top three teams in the MACJC standings. ICC is 19-3 and ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll, the school’s highest ranking ever. But the Indians, at 5-1, aren’t in first place in the league. PRCC is – at 6-0. (East Central is actually second at 7-1.) The 18th-ranked Wildcats (20-4) are pumped up from a hard-fought sweep of rival Gulf Coast earlier this week. PRCC’s Connor Lewis, a sophomore from Corinth, has been a sparkplug, batting .329 with four homers, 17 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Justin Medlin leads the team in hitting at .373, and Kyle Crigger follows at .361. The ace of the staff is lefty Houston Harding, who is 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA and 43 strikeouts. For PRCC, Simon Landry, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore from Louisiana, brings the thunder: .420, nine homers, 34 RBIs. The Wildcats are deep in arms, topped by Shemar Page (5-0, 1.75), Camden Dusang (5-0, 2.49) and Miles Smith (3-1, 3.20).
The injury to Steven Souza may create an opportunity for McComb’s Jarrod Dyson to start in Arizona’s outfield. Souza hurt his shoulder on Wednesday; details about the extent of the injury, which appeared significant, could be announced today. Dyson, a free agent signee this off-season, was projected as the Diamondbacks’ fourth outfielder. The 33-year-old Southwest Mississippi Community College star, an excellent defender, can play any of the three positions. He has been used sparingly in the field this spring – batting .238 in eight games — but reportedly is fully recovered from hernia surgery last September. Despite missing most of the final month with Seattle, the lefty-hitting Dyson set career-bests for stolen bases (30), runs (56), homers (five) and RBIs (30) in 111 games. Over eight MLB seasons, the first seven in Kansas City, Dyson is batting .258 with 204 steals. P.S. Former Pearl River CC standout Zach Clark got an infield hit in his first MLB spring training at-bat on Wednesday. Clark, a 19th-round pick by Milwaukee in 2016, was brought over from the minor league camp and entered the game vs. Oakland in the seventh inning. He hit .225 with seven homers in A-ball in 2017.
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.