The familiar “plink” of ball meeting bat is back on college campuses around the state. Fall ball begins Friday at Southern Miss, which returns 19 lettermen from a C-USA championship squad. In addition to intrasquad games, the Golden Eagles will play two scrimmages against outside competition, which is now permitted by the NCAA. USM hosts Nicholls State in Hattiesburg on Oct. 28 and visits Tulane on Nov. 4 to wind up the fall schedule. … Ole Miss also has announced its slate of scrimmages, the first of which is an intrasquad on Friday. The Rebels also will play two other teams this fall, Delta State on Oct. 13 and Arkansas-Little Rock on Oct. 27, both in Oxford. The Pizza Bowl, the intrasquad finale, is set for Nov. 2. The Rebels are coming off an SEC championship season and return All-America closer Parker Caracci. … Mississippi State, under new coach Chris Lemonis, started fall scrimmages last week. The Bulldogs are coming off a College World Series appearance – the 10th in program history – and welcomed the nation’s No. 12 recruiting class (by Baseball America) to Starkville. The freshman crop includes J.T. Ginn, the Brandon High product who was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June. … Fall ball is also under way at Delta State, where much is new. Only one regular position player – catcher Josh Russell – returns from last year’s NCAA Division II regional participant. Two new full-time assistants are now on Mike Kinnison’s staff: Blake Mathews and Slater Lott, a former Meridian Community College assistant. The Green-White Fall Series, which concludes the season, is set for Oct. 18-21. … Itawamba, Mississippi Delta and Pearl River Community Colleges will play a tripleheader of scrimmages on Oct. 5 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson.
Hunter Renfroe is surging. Tim Anderson is on the brink of a special accomplishment. Mitch Moreland is a solid contributor on the best team in baseball. Corey Dickerson’s numbers are pretty darn good, and Brian Dozier has 20 homers and more RBIs than any other Mississippian in the big leagues. Picking All Mississippi Baseball’s Cool Papa Bell Award winner for 2018 is going to be tough. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe clubbed his 22nd homer for San Diego on Wednesday. He is batting .258, slugging .519 and has 48 runs and 60 RBIs in 102 games (he spent time on the disabled list and in the minors). He credits a new two-strike approach for this late-season bolt. “I’m letting the ball get deep, shortening up a bit, making sure I’m as short and quick to the ball as possible,” he said in an mlb.com article. Anderson, the East Central Community College alum, hit his 19th homer – a game-winner – for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. With 26 stolen bases, he is a homer shy of becoming the ChiSox’s fifth 20-20 man. “I’m excited to be able to chase that,” he told mlb.com. Anderson is hitting .248 with 62 RBIs and 73 runs in 141 games. Unlike Renfroe and Anderson, former State standout Moreland plays for a playoff-bound team, the 100-win Boston Red Sox. An All-Star in July, he has scuffled of late but is still hitting .250 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs and playing a good first base. Meridian CC product Dickerson also has faded recently but is batting .291 with 11 homers, 49 RBIs, 57 runs and eight steals for Pittsburgh. That’s a productive year. Former Southern Miss star Dozier, winner of the last two Cool Papas, has slumped since moving from Minnesota to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are chasing a division title. Playing on a troublesome knee, he is hitting .219. Can he possibly muster a finishing kick? It’s going to be fun final couple of weeks.
Chuckie Robinson added to his bling collection on Tuesday, scoring the winning run in the Carolina League championship game for Buies Creek. If you’re keeping score, that’s three titles in three years for the former Southern Miss standout. USM won a Conference USA crown with Robinson behind the plate in 2016, and he picked up a championship ring last year with Quad Cities, Houston’s low Class A club in the Midwest League. Robinson was the MVP in the MWL Championship Series, capping a year in which he batted .274 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs. At high-A Buies Creek this season, he didn’t have the big numbers — .238, seven homers, 30 RBIs – but he came up large in the one-game title showdown against Potomac. With the score tied 1-1, Robinson led off the bottom of the 11th inning with a single and later scored from second base on another single. The former 21st-round pick, an outstanding defensive catcher, slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart at midseason this year but is no doubt still on the club’s radar.
Brian Dozier made a splashy debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 1, homering in his first game after being acquired in a trade with Minnesota. Then the former Southern Miss star went deep again in his second game. Through eight games with his new club Dozier was batting .307 with three homers. Alas, the hot start has given way to a bitter cold snap. After taking an 0-for-3 in a loss to Colorado on Saturday – before being lifted for a pinch hitter — Dozier is in an 0-for-21 slump. Over his last 15 games, he is 6-for-51. In 33 games with the Dodgers, Dozier is batting just .191 with four homers and 16 RBIs. The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Dozier has been dealing since April with a knee injury that has affected his swing. He said he has declined to take any time on the disabled list, which would be a first in his career. “That’s not me,” he told the Times. “I’m still trying to find ways to be productive.” Dozier is a gamer. The Dodgers are in the thick of a battle royale in the National League West. They trail first-place Colorado by a 1.5 games heading into today’s rubber game of a three-game set. The Rockies are starting left-hander Tyler Anderson, meaning the right-handed Dozier will probably start. Don’t bet against him finding ways to be productive, if not today then surely down the stretch. The Dodgers may yet get a Dozier bump.
Yankee Stadium must be an awesome place to call home when you’re winning. On the other hand, when things aren’t going well … . The boo birds were out in force in the sixth inning on Tuesday night. The central object of their derision was Jonathan Holder, the ex-Mississippi State standout who has pitched exceedingly well of late. He hadn’t allowed a run in eight straight appearances when he replaced Lance Lynn, the former Ole Miss star, in the sixth inning with two outs, two runners on and New York down 1-0 to the awful Chicago White Sox. Holder promptly gave up two hits. Three runs scored. Yankees fans were not happy. To his credit, Holder endured. He got out of the sixth and followed with two scoreless frames. And, yes, mystique and aura showed up and the Yankees came back. Two in the sixth, two in the eighth, a walk-off homer by Neil Walker in the ninth. Yankees fans were happy. The stadium rocked. And, hey, it’s only going to get crazier from here. … Lynn, coming off two rocky starts, is 1-1 with a 3.98 ERA in his six games with the Yankees. Holder now has a 3.05 ERA in 49 appearances. P.S. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier hit his 20th homer of the year, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers, also in a fevered playoff race, beat Texas. Dozier has reached the 20-homer level in each of his last five big league seasons. He hit a grand total of 16 homers in four minor league seasons.
Jerrion Ealy, Jackson Prep’s two-sport star, checks in at No. 10 on mlb.com’s new list of the top 10 high school prospects for the 2019 draft. (Just think: It’s less than 10 months away!) The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Ealy, an outfielder who has signed with Ole Miss in football, is widely hailed for his speed. He stole 18 bases and legged out five triples at Prep this past season while hitting .364 in 77 at-bats, according to MaxPreps. Ealy participated in both the Under Armour and Perfect Game all-star contests and the East Coast Pro Showcase this summer. Perfect Game rates Ealy the No. 4 prep prospect. … Southern Miss outfielder Matt Wallner was ranked No. 8 by mlb.com on the 2019 college prospect list published last week. Wallner, a lefty hitter who also pitches, batted .351 with 16 homers for the Golden Eagles in 2018 and spent time with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League over the summer.
Tim Anderson went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs on Monday night, but ESPN analysts Tim Kurkjian and Eduardo Perez were singing the praises of the shortstop’s defense during the network’s game coverage. The former East Central Community College standout made two highlight-worthy plays in the Chicago White Sox’s 6-2 win over the New York Yankees. On the first, he went deep into the hole and made a jump-and-throw play to nail the batter at first base. On the second, playing in with a runner at third, he short-hopped a hard-hit grounder and cut down the runner at the plate. Defense has been an issue for Anderson, a relative latecomer to baseball, during his three years in the big leagues. He made 28 errors in in 145 games in 2017. But, by all accounts, he is improving. He has just 15 errors in 125 games this year and reportedly is making more plays like the ones he pulled off Monday. “He’s growing and maturing,” Perez said. “He’s a great athlete learning to play baseball,” Kurkjian said. A basketball star in high school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Anderson didn’t play baseball until his junior year. East Central was his only baseball scholarship offer. In his second year with the Warriors, he batted .495 with 10 homers and 41 steals for a state championship team and was named an NJCAA All-American. Intrigued by his raw skills, the White Sox drafted him 17th overall in 2013. There was speculation then that Anderson might have to move to center field in pro ball, but he has stuck at short. He is also making strides as an offensive threat; he’s at .249 with 17 homers, 58 RBIs and 25 steals in 2018. The White Sox have seen enough that they signed him last year through the 2022 season. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Chris Stratton threw a career-high eight innings on Monday as San Francisco shut out Arizona 2-0. Stratton (9-7, 4.99 ERA) allowed five hits, no walks and fanned six in his second straight quality start since returning from a second pit stop in the minors. … In recent MLB moves: Richton High alum JaCoby Jones has been activated from the disabled list by Detroit; Southern Miss product Cody Carroll was sent to the minors by Baltimore; former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers has landed on the DL for St. Louis; and UM alum Bobby Wahl is eligible to come off the DL for the New York Mets but there’s been no word on when that might happen.
He may have been the fourth player chosen out of Mississippi in the June draft, but Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin has taken a back seat to no one on the field this summer. Sandlin is the only Mississippian drafted this year to reach the Double-A level. The right-hander, picked in the second round by Cleveland, debuted for Akron on Wednesday with – what else? – a scoreless inning. In 21 games and 20 1/3 innings spread over four levels, Sandlin has a 1.31 ERA and 30 strikeouts with just two walks. He has two wins and five saves. “He’s uber-competitive and he trusts that he’s better than any hitter that steps in the box,” Kirk McCarty, Sandlin’s former USM teammate and fellow Indians farmhand, recently told milb.com. … There were two first-rounders from the state this year but only Ryan Rolison signed. (Brandon High star J.T. Ginn is now at Mississippi State.) Left-hander Rolison, tabbed 22nd overall by Colorado out of Ole Miss, has pitched well at the rookie level: 1.96 ERA over 23 innings. Second-rounder Joe Gray, taken by Milwaukee out of Hattiesburg High, is batting .182 (.347 on-base) with two homers and nine RBIs in the Arizona League. He hasn’t played in a game since last week. Ex-State ace Konnor Pilkington (third round, Chicago White Sox) has worked just 10 innings at two rookie levels and has a 9.00 ERA. Ex-Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes (fourth round, Miami) also has scuffled, batting .212 with no homers in the Gulf Coast League. (Marlins late-rounders Davis Bradshaw and Milton Smith Jr., both Meridian Community College alums, have excelled, Bradshaw hitting .444 in short-season A-ball and Smith .343 in the GCL.) UM alum Brady Feigl, a fifth-round pick by Oakland, is currently injured but has a 1.73 ERA in 11 games at two levels. Luke Reynolds, a USM, State and Hinds CC alum, has had a solid debut season; a 10th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs, the third baseman is at .293 with a homer and 13 RBIs in 27 games at the short-season A level. Madison Central’s Regi Grace, a 10th-rounder by Minnesota, is 2-1, 2.70 in the GCL.
In his fifth year in pro ball, Justin Steele is still in the low minors, though he isn’t exactly spinning his wheels. George County High product Steele appeared to be having a breakout season at the advanced Class A level in 2017 when an arm injury sent him to the disabled list in early August. As it turned out, the left-hander needed Tommy John surgery. After a quicker-than-usual recovery, Steele seems to be humming along nicely back at Myrtle Beach, the Chicago Cubs’ high-A team. On Sunday, he went five innings, allowing two runs and fanning seven, to improve to 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts. He had a 1.47 ERA in the Arizona League to begin his comeback. Steele was a dominant hurler at George County, posting a 0.98 ERA and tossing two no-hitters as a senior. The Cubs picked him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, and he passed on a scholarship to Southern Miss to sign. Now 23, Steele is rated the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) and twice has made their organizational postseason all-star team, including last year when he went 6-7, 2.92 at Myrtle Beach before the injury detour. Though he has yet to be tested in Double-A, he appears to be part of the Cubs’ future plans.
Adam Frazier earned a prominent place in the spotlight on Sunday, hitting an 11th-inning walk-off home run for Pittsburgh. But there’s a crowd of Mississippians deserving at least a slice of the attention. Mississippi State alum Frazier’s fifth homer of the year and second career game-winner gave the Pirates a 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs. He said in an mlb.com story that it was “probably the most excited I’ve ever gotten going around the bases.” Frazier has been swinging a hot bat since returning from a trip to the minors; he is batting .386 in his last 15 games. Former Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, also with the Bucs, went 2-for-5 to boost his average to .308, best among Mississippi-connected players in the big leagues. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier had a three-hit game and scored twice for the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 12-1 rout of Seattle. Dozier is batting .250 with three homers, 12 RBIs and eight runs in 17 games for the Dodgers. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton had a stat sheet-stuffing day for Cincinnati, banging out two triples, drawing a walk, driving in three runs and scoring one in an 11-4 victory vs. San Francisco. Ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with his 14th home run and three RBIs for San Diego in a 4-3 loss to Arizona. East Central CC product Tim Anderson had only one hit but it left the park for his 16th homer, helping the Chicago White Sox beat Kansas City 7-6. And down on the farm, Meridian CC and McLaurin High product Davis Bradshaw produced a 5-for-5 game for short-season Class A Batavia in the Miami system. The speedy Bradshaw, an 11th-round pick in June, bunted for his fifth hit and stole two bases. He is 7-for-16 in four games at Batavia after batting .376 with 15 steals in the Gulf Coast League.