Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison, the first player from Mississippi chosen in the 2018 MLB draft, had an impressive pro debut in rookie ball in Colorado’s system. He started this season at low Class A Asheville and impressed there, too, earning a quick promotion to high-A Lancaster. The left-hander made his California League debut on Tuesday night and was – as you might’ve guessed – impressive. Rolison threw six shutout innings, yielding two hits and no walks with seven strikeouts at Lake Elsinore, which won the game in 10 innings. Rolison, 21, the No. 22 overall pick in 2018 and already rated the Rockies’ No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, posted a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings at the rookie level last season and was even better this year at Asheville, going 2-1, 0.61. He seemed totally unfazed by the new challenge he faced Tuesday. “Really, it just comes down to me challenging with my stuff and just pitching my game, not worrying about the other things, attacking and going right at them,” he told milb.com. P.S. Kudos to Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central High standout who notched his first big league win for Detroit on Tuesday. He worked five shutout innings and beat the world champion Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. As he said in an mlb.com story: “Such a historic place. To get my first win here is pretty cool.” The rookie right-hander is 1-2, 2.77 in five starts this season.
It’s Opening Day in the big leagues. Again. The 28 teams that didn’t go to Japan last week will roll out today in North America, which means it’s time again to celebrate the rare opening day feats of a couple of Mississippians. On April 20, 1937, at Navin Field in Detroit, Gulfport’s Gerald “Gee” Walker of the Tigers hit for the cycle against Cleveland. It remains the only opening day cycle in major league history. Walker, an Ole Miss alum who was called the “Reconstructed Rebel” in a newspaper headline about the game, batted .335 that year and made the All-Star Game for the only time in an outstanding 15-year career. On April 4, 2005, at Comerica Park in Detroit, Vicksburg native Dmitri Young belted three home runs for the Tigers against Kansas City. It was, at the time, only the third three-homer game ever in a season opener. It’s been done once since. Young, aka “Da Meat Hook,” who passed through Smith-Wills Stadium with the Arkansas Travelers back in the 1990s, hit 21 homers in 2005 and 171 in his 13-year MLB career.
With opening day a mere two days away, Chris Stratton finds himself on a new team. Stratton, a former Mississippi State star from Tupelo, was traded late Monday from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Angels. “I’m definitely in shock,” the right-hander told the San Francisco Chronicle. Stratton, a former first-round pick who has a 4.63 ERA over three MLB campaigns, did not win a job in the Giants’ rotation this spring. (Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, a free agent signee, took one of those spots.) Stratton is out of minor league options, so rather than run him through waivers, the Giants worked a trade with the Angels for lefty Williams Jerez. At some point, Stratton may get a shot at a starting job with the Angels, who play their last exhibition game tonight at Dodger Stadium. … Kudos to Spencer Turnbull and Brandon Woodruff, who have officially earned spots in the rotation with Detroit and Milwaukee, respectively. Madison Central alum Turnbull is slotted as the Tigers’ No. 3 and will work at Toronto on Saturday. Woodruff, a State product from Wheeler, will pitch one of the three weekend games in Milwaukee against St. Louis. … Cool moment on MLB Network Monday night: Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett made his first appearance at Washington’s Nationals Park in four years and got a rousing ovation. The right-hander, battling back from a series of injuries, including a broken arm, worked in the exhibition game against the New York Yankees. In camp as a non-roster invitee, Barrett posted a 6.75 ERA in seven games; he’ll start the year in the minors.
A shoulder injury apparently will land JaCoby Jones on the injured list to start the season, a blow for both Jones and his team, the Detroit Tigers. The ex-Richton High star was penciled in as the starting center fielder, despite a less than stellar spring with the bat (.196). A published report said he could be out a month. Jones, no longer a kid at 27, finally got extended paying time last year and hit .207 with 11 homers, 34 RBIs and 13 steals. The Tigers like his speed and athleticism, especially in the outfield. He injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder diving for a ball on Saturday. … A season-ending injury to Tigers ace Michael Fulmer may have opened the door for Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull to make Detroit’s rotation to start the season. Turnbull, who debuted last summer, has been impressive this spring with a 1.80 ERA in five outings, including a strong start against Bryce Harper and Philadelphia on Wednesday. “I’m happy with how I’ve done,” he told the Detroit Free Press. … Former Horn Lake and Northwest Mississippi Community College standout Cody Reed got bad news on Friday when he was optioned to Triple-A by Cincinnati. After a good showing at the end of 2018, Reed went into spring training expected to contend for a job in the Reds’ rotation. He was shifted to bullpen duty and posted a 7.00 ERA in eight games, much of the damage being done in one appearance. A hard-throwing lefty, he’ll get back to The Show at some point.
There was an under-the-radar Mississippi baseball aficionados moment late in the St. Louis-Detroit Grapefruit League game on Monday: The Tigers’ Kade Scivicque, a former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, took ex-Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers deep in the eighth inning. (Detroit won the game 9-5, but no one really cares about that.) It was the first hit in four at-bats of the spring for Scivicque, in Detroit’s camp as a non-roster invitee. An All-SEC catcher at LSU, he was drafted in the fourth round by the Tigers in 2015, traded to Atlanta (spending some time with the Mississippi Braves), released and re-signed by Detroit (twice). He’s a .268 career hitter in the minors, having reached Triple-A. Mayers, a third-round pick by St. Louis in 2013, has a 6.75 ERA in three spring appearances. He spent most of 2018 in the big leagues, posting a 4.70 ERA with two wins, a save and six holds in 50 games, and figures to land a bullpen job again this season. … Delta State product Trent Giambrone, in the Chicago Cubs’ camp as a non-roster player, went 0-for-1 with a walk and two runs on Monday; he is 7-for-16 this spring with a .471 on-base average, two homers, three RBIs and four runs. … Former Harrison Central High standout Bobby Bradley, in Cleveland’s camp as a 40-man roster member for the first time, went 0-for-1 as a sub and has gotten just three at-bats this spring. He’ll likely be back in Triple-A. … Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett, making a valiant comeback attempt with Washington, worked a scoreless inning, cutting his ERA to 12.00 in three appearances. Barrett has endured myriad injuries (see previous posts) since his last MLB game in 2015. … Itawamba CC alum Tim Dillard, 35 and in his 18th pro season, suffered a blown save for Texas and saw his ERA climb to 23.14 in three outings. Dillard, son of ex-big leaguer Steve, last pitched in the majors in 2012 with Milwaukee, which drafted him in 2002.
Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central High star, got the start in Detroit’s Grapefruit League opener today and got six quick outs against reigning NAIA national champ Southeastern University, 11-2 and averaging over 10 runs per game against its college competition. Turnbull yielded a hit to the game’s first batter, who was caught stealing, and retired the next five. Turnbull, 26, went 0-2 with a 6.06 ERA in four games as a rookie for the Tigers in 2018 and is competing for a starter’s job this spring. “I think he’d be best served, if he doesn’t make our rotation, to start in Triple-A,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said in an mlb.com story. “This kid’s going to be a good one.”
In recognition of Black History Month, here’s a shout-out to Dave Clark, the ex-Shannon High and Jackson State star who is one of just 16 African-Americans to have managed in the major leagues. (Yes, that’s a shamefully small number.) Clark, about to begin his sixth season as third-base coach for the Detroit Tigers, was the interim manager in Houston for the last 13 games of the 2009 campaign. The team, limping to the end of a 74-88 finish, went 4-9 under Clark. Interestingly enough, he was the third Mississippi native to manage the Houston club; Harry Craft (1962-64) and Harry Walker (1968-72) were the other two. Clark was a first-round draft pick by Cleveland out of JSU in 1983 and played 13 years in the big leagues, batting .264 with 62 homers and earning a rep as a fearsome pinch hitter. Since retiring as a player, he has managed in the minors (two championships) and in winter ball and coached for three different MLB clubs. He has been interviewed and/or considered for several major league managerial jobs since his stint with the Astros. That door might still open for him someday.
Ole Miss product Chris Ellis, coming off a good 2018 minor league campaign, is getting some off-season work in the Dominican Winter League. The right-hander threw seven shutout innings to get a win on Wednesday and has yet to allow an earned run in three starts (17 2/3 innings) for Escogido. Ellis went 10-4, 3.93 at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the St. Louis system in 2018. This was the fifth year in pro ball for Ellis, 26, a former third-round draftee (by the Los Angeles Angels) who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2016. … Louis Coleman, the former Pillow Academy star from Greenwood, and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque have re-signed with Detroit on minor league deals. Veteran big leaguer Coleman, a right-handed reliever, had a 3.51 ERA in 51 games with the Tigers last season. Scivicque, a catcher, played in Triple-A in 2018. … Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner, both outfielders, made mlb.com’s latest list of the top 50 2019 draft prospects. Ealy, a two-sport star and Ole Miss commit, is ranked No. 18, while Wallner, who has 35 homers in his two seasons in Hattiesburg, is No. 26. Ealy’s skill set is compared to that of Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma quarterback who has signed to play pro baseball with Oakland. … Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Stovall didn’t impress just with his bat during his pro debut this summer. He also played five different positions at rookie-level Grand Junction in the Colorado system, and he may add a sixth to his resume in 2019. Stovall, a catcher in high school before shifting to the infield at State, brushed up on his catching skills in Instructional League this fall. “He’s got a chance to be a true super-utility (player),” Rockies farm director Zach Wilson told Baseball America. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound Stovall, a 21st-round pick last June, homered in his first two at-bats for Grand Junction and wound up at .296 with 10 bombs and 41 RBIs in 49 games. He played primarily second base. … Charlie Hayes, the Hattiesburg native and ex-Forrest County AHS star, was a good big league third baseman for a long time. He batted .262 with 144 homers over 14 seasons and won a World Series ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. That’s a tough act for son Ke’Bryan to follow – but there are those who think he’s up to the task. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2015, was the organization’s minor league player of the year in 2018. He batted .293 with seven homers, seven triples, 31 doubles and 12 stolen bases in the Double-A Eastern League. He also won a Gold Glove and played in the All-Star Futures Game. “I think we’re looking at him long term to be the anchor in our infield and our lineup in Pittsburgh at some point,” farm director Larry Broadway told milb.com. That point could come in 2019.
The rebuilding efforts in Detroit, following a 64-98 season, reportedly will include more of an emphasis on speed and defense and less on power. Manager Ron Gardenhire, the ex-Jackson Mets shortstop who’ll be entering his second year with the Tigers in 2019, is said to prefer that style, and it would also seem to play better at spacious Comerica Park. That’s likely one reason why Gardenhire stuck with former Richton High star JaCoby Jones as an outfield regular despite Jones’ offensive struggles; he hit .207 but shined on defense and stole 13 bases. It’s also a reason that former Mississippi State standout Jacob Robson is seen as a potential breakthrough player for Detroit in 2019. A lefty-hitting outfielder drafted in 2016, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Robson batted .295 with 11 homers and 18 steals between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. He is getting more seasoning in the Dominican Winter League, where he is batting .273 in six games for Estrellas. Jones and Robson are among eight Mississippians who were in the Tigers’ system in 2018. Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull, also a rated prospect, made four big league appearances and should get an opportunity for a rotation job in spring training. Veteran reliever Louis Coleman, a Greenwood native and Pillow Academy product, posted a 3.51 ERA in 51 games for the Tigers in 2018; he figures to return next year. Banging on the door is Zac Houston, a 6-5 right-hander out of MSU who registered 10 saves and a 1.18 ERA at Triple-A Toledo this season. Also on the Toledo club was catcher Kade Scivicque, a Southwest Mississippi Community College alum who batted .230 in 34 games. And toiling down in A-ball were Southern Miss product Dylan Burdeaux (.245, six homers at first base for Lakeland) and Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles (.246, five homers at third base for West Michigan). Spring training might feel a little like old home week for that bunch.
Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central star who has pitched a total of 11 innings in the big leagues, gets the start today for Detroit against Milwaukee in one of the four huge games on the schedule for the last day of the regular season. The Brewers are tied atop the National League Central with the Chicago Cubs, who host St. Louis. The Los Angeles Dodgers, at San Francisco today, are tied atop the NL West with Colorado, which hosts Washington. Division titles, much preferable than wild cards, are on the line. Monday playoff games are possible. Seamheads live for stuff like this. Mississippi-connected players could have significant impact, particularly at Miller Park today. Turnbull, a 26-year-old right-hander, was called up mid-month and is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in three games. His last start, however, was outstanding: six innings, one run allowed vs. Minnesota. He’ll be opposed by veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez, who has 126 wins in 312 career games and has pitched in four different postseasons. Detroit’s lineup is likely to include former Richton High star JaCoby Jones, who went 1-for-4 with two runs in the Tigers’ loss on Saturday. Pillow Academy alum Louis Coleman has had a good year out of the Detroit bullpen. Milwaukee’s pitching staff includes several former Biloxi Shuckers, among them former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff. He pitched two clean innings in the Brewers’ win on Friday. … Mississippi Braves alum Alex Wood picked up the win out of the pen for the Dodgers against the hated Giants on Saturday and worked in their victory on Friday. The Dodgers also have ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who hasn’t played much of late but seems due for a big moment. … St. Louis, eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday, would like nothing more than to spoil any possible Cubs celebration at Wrigley Field today. Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson and Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers could see duty out of the Cardinals’ pen against a Cubs lineup that’ll most likely include ex-M-Braves star Jason Heyward.