Entering Monday’s Cactus League game as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, ex-Mississippi State star Jack Kruger announced his presence with authority, smashing a three-run home run. In the ninth, he added a three-run triple, helping the Los Angeles Angels beat Texas 12-11. Kruger, a catcher and the Angels’ No. 24 prospect (MLB Pipeline), is in camp as a non-roster invitee and is batting .400. “He’s just growing as an offensive player,” Angels skipper Brad Ausmus told mlb.com. Kruger reached Double-A Mobile last summer and hit. 304. Also in that Monday game, East Mississippi Community College product LeDarius Clark went 2-for-2 with a double, two runs and an RBI for Texas. He has been in the big camp as a minor leaguer after playing in A-ball in 2018. … Elsewhere in Arizona and Florida: Richton High alum JaCoby Jones went 2-for-2 with a homer for Detroit and is batting .269 this spring. … Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton, batting leadoff for Kansas City, went 1-for-3 with a steal and is hitting .296. … MSU product Chris Stratton, vying for a job in San Francisco’s rotation, worked four innings, yielding one run and trimming his ERA to 5.40. … Nate Lowe, another State alumnus, went 0-for-4 and saw his average drop to .094 for Tampa Bay; he is in camp as a non-roster invitee after a monster 2018 minor league campaign. … Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier took an 0-for-3 for Washington and is at .182 for his new club. … DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, a non-roster invitee in Atlanta’s camp, went 0-for-2 and is at .233. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Braxton Lee, getting time with the New York Mets as a minor leaguer, drew a walk in his lone at-bat and is hitting .182. He was waived in the off-season by Miami, for whom he made his MLB debut last April. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, sidelined with a calf strain, announced that he is “100 percent” sure he’ll be ready for Opening Day with the Angels.
When the first NJCAA Division II poll comes out on Tuesday, look for Jones County Junior College to jump in there somewhere. The Bobcats, unranked in the preseason poll, are 10-0 and beat top-ranked LSU-Eunice over the weekend. O’Neil Burgos is batting .385 with 10 RBIs and 12 runs for the Bobcats, and Lane Thomas is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. JCJC is the lone unbeaten team in the MACJC ranks; Holmes is 9-1 and Itawamba 8-1. … Mississippi State, now 10-1, moved to No. 8 from ninth in today’s Baseball America NCAA D-I poll, with Ole Miss (8-2) rising from 13th to 12th. State moved from 12th to seventh in the new NCBWA poll, while UM stayed at No. 10. … Going the other way is Southern Miss, which lost twice to Gonzaga over the weekend – a big lead in Game 3 was washed out — to fall to 4-5. … Mississippi Valley State scored three runs in the eighth and another in the 10th – on a passed ball — to win at Alabama State 12-11 on Saturday for its first win of the season. … Blue Mountain’s Eli Jackson, a sophomore from New Albany, threw a one-hit (nine-inning) shutout at Martin Methodist on Friday, fanning 11 in the 1-0 victory, BMC’s SSAC opener. The teams split a Saturday twinbill. … Mississippi College endured a rough weekend, losing three at West Florida to fall to 10-7, 3-3 Gulf South, and William Carey got swept away at NAIA No. 4 Faulkner to drop to 4-10, 0-3 SSAC. … In MLB, former Ole Miss star Chris Ellis’ bid to stick with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick took another hit on Sunday when he yielded eight hits (two homers) and seven runs in two innings against Cleveland in Cactus League play. Ellis, also a former Mississippi Braves hurler, has a 20.25 ERA this spring. He was drafted out of St. Louis’ organization by Texas and then traded to the Royals. … UM alum Drew Pomeranz, now pitching for San Francisco, got knocked around (four runs in three innings) on Saturday by San Diego but did manage to retire Manny Machado on a pop-up in his first at-bat with the Padres. … Starkville native Julio Borbon, a onetime big leaguer who played college ball at Tennessee, announced his retirement over the weekend.
Bryce Harper’s flirtation with San Francisco had put Giants pitcher Chris Stratton on alert. The former Mississippi State standout wears No. 34, which is Harper’s number. As you might’ve heard, Harper spurned the Giants and chose to sign with Philadelphia on Thursday. “Not gonna lie, I’m a little disappointed because maybe I could have gotten a Rolex or something like that,” Stratton told mlb.com. Now that he knows he’s keeping his number, Stratton will continue to work on keeping a job in the Giants’ rotation. He pitched well on Thursday, throwing three scoreless innings against Milwaukee in his second Cactus League outing. Stratton, 28, had an up-and-down 2018 campaign, going 10-10 with a 5.09 ERA and spending some time in the minors. The former first-round pick is 15-14, 4.63 over three MLB seasons. His competition in Giants camp includes Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz, a free agent signee who has made one spring appearance to date. … Several other former Mississippi college pitchers did positive work on Thursday: Ex-State star Jonathan Holder retired all four batters he faced and notched a win for the New York Yankees against Pittsburgh. Brandon Woodruff, another former Bulldogs standout, made his first appearance for Milwaukee and pitched a shutout inning against Cincinnati despite issuing three walks. Southern Miss product Conor Fisk, in Toronto’s camp as a minor leaguer, pitched a scoreless inning vs. Philadelphia, his third appearance without yielding a run.
The Southern Miss-Mississippi State series in Starkville, which ended with a walk-off win for the Bulldogs in Sunday’s rubber game, deserved the lion’s share of attention this weekend. Ethan Small and J.T. Ginn appear to be a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top of State’s rotation. USM didn’t hit (.158 in the series) and was hurt also by seven errors. But there was a whole lot else goin’ on over the weekend that is also worth noting. To wit: Ole Miss’ red-hot Thomas Dillard (a .522 hitter) had a two-homer, eight-RBI game at Tulane – and a three-homer, 13-RBI week – in a contest the Rebels lost, 13-12, when All-America closer Parker Caracci yielded a walk-off homer. Former Jackson Prep star Caracci gave up just one homer in 48 innings in 2018. … Delta State’s Jake Barlow, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound redshirt freshman from Louisiana, hit for the cycle in a Sunday win against Gulf South foe Union, the first cycle for a Statesman in eight years (Kellen Bozeman). Hunter Riggins threw eight shutout innings in that game to move to 4-0 for 10-0 DSU. … Mississippi College (9-3, 2-0 GSC) swept a twinbill from West Georgia on Sunday at Smith-Wills Stadium as starters Chris Crosby and Ryan Lane and closer Tommy Taborda combined to allow one run over 16 innings. Crosby fanned 13 in 8 2/3, Lane eight in seven. … Belhaven’s Justin Milam, a junior from Madison by way of Northwest Mississippi Community College, went 4-for-8 with a homer and four RBIs and threw two scoreless innings as the Blazers won two of three games at Smith-Wills. Milam is batting .382 and has a 0.00 ERA in four appearances for 4-5 BU. … Millsaps went 1-2 in its three games at busy Smith-Wills, including a 21-6 win vs. Wisconsin-Platteville that featured Mason Little’s 3-for-5, five-RBI performance. … And in big league spring training on Sunday: Former USM star Chuckie Robinson belted a three-run homer for Houston against the New York Mets, and ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-2 with a walk and a homer for San Diego vs. the Chicago White Sox.
If he produces a typical season, Brian Dozier will easily top 1,000 career hits in the big leagues in 2019. The Fulton native and former Southern Miss star is the active leader in hits among Mississippi-born players in MLB with 954 through six-plus seasons. Notching a thousand career hits is an impressive feat, requiring a combination of skill, opportunity and longevity. Dozier, 32 in May, will need another six or so productive seasons to reach 2,000 hits, which only four Mississippi-born players have managed to do. Grenada native Dave Parker tops that list with 2,712, followed by Ellisville’s Buddy Myer (2,131), Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks (2,107) and Greenville’s Frank White (2,006). Dozier, who’ll play second base for the Washington Nationals in 2019, could also reach another hits milestone this season. The record for a USM alum is 1,142, by Jim Davenport. Kevin Young is second with 1,007. … Former Mississippi State star Rafael Palmeiro is among the 32 players with 3,000 hits; his 3,020 are by far the most by a Mississippi college alumnus. Ex-Bulldogs great Will Clark had 2,176. The most by an Ole Miss product is 1,991 by Gee Walker, a Gulfport native who played in the 1930s and ’40s. Don Kessinger had 1,931. Dave Clark leads Jackson State alums with 518. … Amory’s Mitch Moreland, another Mississippi State product, is No. 2 on the state’s active hits list with 857. (Jackson’s Seth Smith, presumably retired, is sitting on 934.) Moreland, Boston first baseman, probably won’t get to 1,000 this year – his career-high for a season is 131 – but should make it in 2020. … … Bobby Abreu, who played for the Jackson Generals in the mid-’90s, is the leader, with 2,470 hits, among former Jackson area Double-A players. Hubie Brooks leads former Jackson Mets with 1,608, and Brian McCann, still active, is tops among ex-Mississippi Braves with 1,521.
So many numbers to absorb in the young college season, but there is one that blinks like a blinkin’ beacon: 0.89. That would be Delta State’s staff ERA nine games — and nine wins — into the year. Hunter Riggins, a sophomore from Hernando, is leading the way with two wins and a spotless ERA.
Another shiny object: 17,660, the total attendance for the two dates at newly renovated Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, where Mississippi State celebrated its rich history and also found time to bushwhack Youngstown State in three games, outscoring the Penguins 36-5. Tanner Allen moved to the top in the way-too-early Ferriss Trophy race, going 7-for-13 with two homers and a ridiculous 13 RBIs.
At Oxford, Ole Miss drew 17,634 faithful for its two-game split with Wright State. Thomas Dillard, junior from Oxford, went 5-for-6 with a homer for the Rebels.
At Hattiesburg, Southern Miss swept Purdue in three games — starting with an epic walk-off in Friday’s opener — as 11,030 turned out at Taylor Park. Hunter Slater paced the Golden Eagles’ attack with eight hits, including a homer, with four RBIs and four runs.
In Clinton, Mississippi College lost two of three to Quincy, surrendering 29 runs. But only one of those runs was allowed by Ryan Lane, who turned in a two-hit, 11-strikeout performance in the 7-3 Choctaws’ lone victory.
There was no joy at Braddy Field in Jackson, where the J-State Tigers lost three games to Boston College, which was visiting the Magnolia State for the first time since winning the NCAA Oxford Regional in 2016.
Meanwhile, Millsaps (1-5) went on the road and allowed 38 runs in three losses. William Carey University (3-7) went on the road and scored just two runs total in a pair of losses to LSU-Alexandria.
Each of the state’s Big 3 is ranked in multiple preseason polls, testament to the talent they return from championship teams in 2018. But there will be opportunities for newcomers to step up. With the start of the 2019 NCAA Division I season upon us, here are some newbies of note at Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss: At State, freshman J.T. Ginn should need no introduction. Already pegged as a second-team All-America by Baseball America, the ex-Brandon High star — and first-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers last June — is expected to pitch and hit for the Bulldogs. Slightly less heralded among the State newcomers is Gunner Halter, a junior college transfer who could also have a major impact. The son of former major leaguer Shane Halter, Gunner figures to start at second base. He goes 6 feet 3, 180 pounds and slugged 29 homers in two years at Seminole (Okla.) State. He was drafted in 2017 and 2018. “He can do a lot of special things,” State coach Chris Lemonis said of Halter at media day. … The newcomer generating most of the buzz at Ole Miss is Gunnar Hoglund, the two-way star from Florida who was the 36th overall pick by Pittsburgh in last summer’s draft. But another freshman to watch is outfielder Josh Hall. Considering how stacked the Rebels are in the outfield, Hall may find playing time hard to come by, but he has a certain set of skills that could prove valuable. The Alabama native set a national prep record with 224 career steals, including 82 bags as a senior. In addition to his speed, he is also reputed to be a great bunter. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Hall was a first-team prep All-America pick and his state’s Class 6A player of the year. … At USM, true freshman Danny Lynch is expected to start at third base, filling the job vacated by C-USA hitter of the year and pro draftee Luke Reynolds. Florida native Lynch is the younger brother of ex-USM star Tim Lynch, who played three years in the New York Yankees’ system. Danny Lynch, listed at 6 feet 2, 225 pounds, is expected to provide some left-handed power for the Golden Eagles. “We really just have this great lineup. It’s easy, I just have to go out and play my role,” Lynch told the school newspaper, the Student Printz.
Big league camps in Florida and Arizona are buzzing with activity this week, and here’s the list of Mississippi-connected players living the dream:
40-man roster members
Anthony Alford (Petal), Toronto; Tim Anderson (East Central CC), Chicago White Sox; Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central), Cleveland; Zack Cozart (Ole Miss), Los Angeles Angels; Brian Dozier (Southern Miss), Washington; Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC), Pittsburgh; Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC), Arizona; Adam Frazier (Mississippi State), Pittsburgh; Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville), Kansas City; JaCoby Jones (Richton), Detroit; Mitch Moreland (MSU), Boston; Hunter Renfroe (MSU), San Diego
Cody Carroll (USM), Baltimore; Chris Ellis (Ole Miss), Kansas City – Rule 5; Kendall Graveman (MSU), Chicago Cubs; Jonathan Holder (MSU), New York Yankees; Dakota Hudson (MSU), St. Louis; Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), Texas; Mike Mayers (Ole Miss), St. Louis; Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), San Francisco; Cody Reed (Northwest CC), Cincinnati; Justin Steele (George County High), Chicago Cubs; Chris Stratton (MSU), San Francisco; Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central), Detroit; Jacob Waguespack (Ole Miss), Toronto; Bobby Wahl (Ole Miss), Milwaukee; Brandon Woodruff (MSU), Milwaukee
Trent Giambroni (Delta State), Chicago Cubs; Jack Kruger (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Braxton Lee (Ole Miss), New York Mets; Nathaniel Lowe (MSU), Tampa Bay; Austin Riley (DeSoto Central), Atlanta; Chuckie Robinson (USM), Houston; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit; Brent Rooker (MSU), Minnesota; Kade Scivicque (Southwest CC), Detroit
Aaron Barrett (Ole Miss), Washington; Louis Coleman (Pillow Academy), Detroit; Scott Copeland (USM), Washington; Tim Dillard (Itawamba CC), Texas; Zac Houston (MSU), Detroit; Jacob Lindgren (MSU), Chicago White Sox; Dalton Moats (Delta State), Tampa Bay
Other contract offers for more money and years reportedly were on the table when Brian Dozier chose a 1-year, $9 million deal with Washington last week. The Southern Miss product from Fulton is betting on himself to rebound from a tough 2018 season that may have caused his stock to drop. “Going into this year, personally, you kind of have a chip on your shoulder,” Dozier said in an mlb.com story. Dozier, 31, hit .215 last year with 21 homers playing for Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He admitted that a knee injury hampered him but says he is fully recovered now. The former All-Star also said he feels he is a good fit with the Nationals – who needed a second baseman — and likes the club’s prospects of contending for the postseason in 2019. He’ll be back on the market in 2020. … In an under-the-radar move over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox signed Biloxi native Jacob Lindgren to a minor league deal. The former St. Stanislaus High and Mississippi State star has missed the last two seasons with injuries. He had Tommy John surgery last spring. The 25-year-old left-hander was in Atlanta’s system in 2018 but was cut loose in October. A former second-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2014, he had a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2015. … The Philadelphia Phillies signed Laurel’s Bobby Dickerson, formerly of Buck Showalter’s Baltimore staff, as their new first-base coach last week. Dickerson, coincidentally, has been a longtime mentor to free agent Manny Machado, whom the Phillies have been hotly pursuing. … What has 199 big league wins, 22 saves, 148 professional home runs, 1,417 minor league managerial victories and a World Series ring? The four featured guests – Roy Oswalt, Jay Powell, Hunter Renfroe and Chris Maloney, all Mississippi natives with impressive baseball pedigrees – at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Hot Stove Hall of Fame Evening, set for Jan. 24 at the museum in Jackson. Tickets are on sale at the museum or online at www.msfame.com.
Opening day is always a special occasion. Belhaven University’s 2019 opener on Feb. 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium has taken on added significance. It’ll be the first game of the last season of Hill Denson’s illustrious coaching career. Denson announced via the school website that he has decided to retire after more than 50 years of coaching at the prep and college level. He has won more than 1,200 games all told, collected a bundle of trophies and awards and been elected to numerous Halls of Fame, including the American Baseball Coaches Association just last year. A former Southern Miss player, he helped lay the foundation for what that program has become during his 14 seasons as the coach there; the field at Taylor Park is named in his honor. He also took Belhaven baseball to new heights, including a trip to the NAIA World Series, over his 19-year tenure. During one memorable year (2005), he coached the Blazers and managed Jackson’s independent pro team, the Jackson Senators. Denson is a down-home, good guy who has had a wide-ranging impact on baseball in this state. This final season is one to celebrate all that, yes, but it’ll be tinged with sadness. Games at Smith-Wills won’t be the same without him.