Pearl River Community College takes the No. 1 seed into its NJCAA Division II World Series opener on Sunday at Enid, Okla. The Wildcats also take power bats and arms. Five Wildcats have nine or more homers: Dexter Jordan 18, Kasey Donaldson 13, Wiley Cleland and Reece Ewing 11 and Austen Izzio nine. Starting pitchers Shemar Page (7-1) and Miles Smith (8-3) have punchout stuff, Page averaging 10.13 strikeouts per nine innings, Smith 9.80. All of these players, save for Ewing, are Mississippi kids. … The Mississippi Braves have trotted out a new shortstop in the first two games of the current homestand, with recent addition Riley Unroe replacing the slumping Ray-Patrick Didder, who is hitting .123. Unroe, a minor league veteran taken in the Rule 5 draft by Atlanta in the off-season, was batting .304 at Class A Florida when promoted last week to the Double-A M-Braves, who are limping along at 21-24. Tonight at Trustmark Park, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz is slated for his M-Braves debut. He threw a no-hitter for Florida on Saturday and was 3-1, 1.93 ERA for the Fire Frogs. … Austin Riley’s numbers through nine games in the big leagues are off-the-charts good: .389, five homers, 12 RBIs, eight runs, .833 slugging percentage. Atlanta’s record since the former DeSoto Central High star arrived: 7-2. Looks like he’ll be sticking around. … Seems like only yesterday – actually, it was Sunday – when the rumors were rampant that Mickey Callaway was going to be fired as manager of the New York Mets. The ex-Ole Miss star had just watched his club lose three straight to woeful Miami. The Mets went home and promptly beat Washington four straight, turning Nationals manager Dave Martinez’s chair considerably hotter. “He’s a hell of a manager,” Southern Miss product Brian Dozier, in his first year in Washington, said in an mlb.com story. “I got his back any day.” The Nats, with their huge payroll, are 19-31. … Things are also tough in Detroit, where former Jackson Met Ron Gardenhire’s Tigers just finished an 0-9 homestand to fall to 18-29. Said Gardenhire: “We have to stick together. We have to have each other’s backs.” Gardenhire has stuck with JaCoby Jones in center field; the Richton High alum is batting .173.
Pearl River Community College is off to a hot start – eight wins in nine games – and one of the hitters providing the fuel is Wiley Cleland. The former Columbia Academy star has four home runs and 15 RBIs – and is among quite a number of MACJC players showing up on the lists of national leaders. Cleland is tied for second in NJCAA Division II in homers and tied for 14th in RBIs. Wildcats teammate Dexter Jordan, from Hattiesburg, has three homers, tied for fifth with a group that also includes Blake Johnson (Gulfport) of Jones County JC and Ben Van Cleve (Indianola) of Northwest. Mississippi Delta’s Ty Richie, from Brandon and Northwest Rankin, has 12 steals, tied for fifth nationally. Cole Johnson of Holmes and Oak Grove alum Mack Pickering of Meridian are hitting .556, tied for eighth in the nation. Johnson has nine runs and five RBIs in six games. Tyler Lantz of MCC has pitched only 4 1/3 innings but has 10 strikeouts, a rate of 20.77 per nine that ranks third nationally. Northwest CC’s Jackson Smith, a Central Hinds product, has three saves, tied for second in D-II, plus a win for the 7-1 Rangers. P.S. Hinds and Southwest put up video game numbers on Wednesday, with both teams scoring 28 runs in doubleheader sweeps. The Eagles blew away Arkansas Baptist, while Southwest humbled Nunez. … New East Mississippi coach Brett Kimbrel is slated for his home debut on Friday, when Wallace State-Hanceville visits Scooba. The Lions won two of eight road games to start the season.
There are eight outfielders, including Hattiesburg High product Joe Gray, listed among Milwaukee’s top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline. Trying to fight his way through that crowd is Zach Clark, an unrated former Pearl River Community College star about to enter his fourth pro season. A 19th-round pick in 2016, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Clark just completed a solid campaign in the Australian Baseball League. He hit a three-run homer in his final game for Auckland over the weekend, finishing the 40-game season with six bombs, 19 RBIs and a .237 average. Clark batted .338 with 11 homers and 24 steals as a sophomore at PRCC and was bound for Alabama before the Brewers drafted him. He played at low Class A Wisconsin in 2018, batting .246 with eight homers. His ETA in Double-A Biloxi would be 2020. … Gray is rated the Brewers’ No. 6 prospect and is expected to advance quickly in the system. A power hitter with a strong arm, he was a second-round pick last summer and hit .182 with two homers and six steals in limited play in rookie ball. MLB Pipeline projects Gray’s big league arrival as 2022.
And now for something completely different: After 17 years in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system, Tim Dillard has been signed by Texas. The minor league deal with the Rangers includes a spring training invite for the former Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College star, now 35. Right-hander Dillard had a 9.70 ERA in 25 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2018 but has a 4.07 career minor league ERA. He also has 73 MLB appearances on his resume, the last in 2012. Dillard has become something of a social media star (see previous posts) in recent years. … In the span of a few minutes last week, ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis went from being the property of the St. Louis Cardinals to the Texas Rangers to the Kansas City Royals. He was picked in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft by the Rangers out of the Cardinals’ system, then traded to the Royals. If he doesn’t make the Royals’ big league roster in the spring, he’ll likely return to the Cardinals, for whom he pitched very well at Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Ellis, originally drafted out of Oxford by the Los Angeles Angels, also has pitched in Atlanta’s system. … Former Ole Miss and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee was picked up by the New York Mets from Miami’s system in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Lee, an outfielder, got into a handful of big league games with the Marlins last April but spent the rest of the season in the minors before being removed from the 40-man roster in November. … PRCC product Zach Clark, a 2016 draftee by Milwaukee, is playing in the Australian Baseball League, hitting .216 in 15 games for Auckland. Clark hit .246 with eight homers and 19 steals for Wisconsin in the Class A Midwest League this past season. … Ole Miss product Dallas Woolfolk, a 13th-round pick by Oakland in June, was suspended for 50 games next season after testing positive for Amphetamine, MLB announced on Friday. Woolfolk had a 7.31 ERA in 11 appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League this summer.
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.