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.
The high of his first career double, which drove home three runs, did not last for Chris Stratton. The Mississippi State alum, whose primary job is pitcher, gave all the runs back and more in the bottom of the same inning and took a loss as San Francisco fell to San Diego 8-4 on Wednesday night. It’s been a season of highs and lows – including two trips to the minors — for Stratton, now 10-10 with a 4.88 ERA. In his previous start, he threw a two-hit shutout against Colorado. The start before that he yielded four runs in five innings vs. Milwaukee. “That’s baseball. You have to battle with what you have that day,” the Tupelo native told mlb.com. … Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier got a lift from his first RBI since Sept. 4, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Colorado and tighten their grip on first place in the National League West. The scuffling Dozier is batting .218, .189 for the Dodgers. … Former State standout Adam Frazier hit his ninth homer and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson went 2-for-3 with a run as Pittsburgh beat Kansas City 2-1. Dickerson is on an 8-for-20 roll, lifting his average to .294, 12th in the NL. … Wednesday was a blend of high and low for Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High star who made his first big league start for Detroit. After a clean first inning, he gave up four runs in the second inning and six all told in four innings of work against Minnesota, which won 8-2. “I’m sure I’ll get better from it,” Turnbull said in an mlb.com story. He was 24-21, 3.59 ERA in 90 starts in the minors. P.S. The 2016 Mississippi Braves’ roster included the likes of Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, A.J. Minter and Mallex Smith. It’s easy to forget that Willians Astudillo was also on that club – and batted .267 with four homers and 30 RBIs as one of the primary catchers. Astudillo is now getting a lot of attention in the big leagues with Minnesota. Nicknamed “El Tortuga” (The Turtle), the 5-foot-9, 225-pound Astudillo is hitting .317 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Twins. He has hustled his way into several popular highlights.
There were two significant firsts involving former Magnolia State prep stars in the majors on Friday, one in San Francisco, the other in Cleveland. Start with Chris Stratton, the former Tupelo High (and Mississippi State) standout who threw his first big league shutout, leading the Giants past Colorado 2-0. And then there was Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central alum who threw a 1-2-3 inning in his MLB debut for Detroit against the Indians. Stratton allowed just two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts against the powerful Rockies lineup. Now 10-9 with a 4.66 ERA, Stratton called it “one for the record books there for me.” The win against the National League West leader stopped an 11-game losing streak for the Giants, and they celebrated both that and Stratton’s gem on the field postgame. The Tigers also celebrated a win against a first-place club, and Turnbull played a key role, delivering a shutdown seventh inning after his club had taken a 4-2 lead in the top half. With a contingent of family and friends at Progressive Field, the 25-year-old right-hander retired Yan Gomes (by punchout), Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor. Detroit won 5-4 against the American League Central leader, which was denied a division-clinching victory. P.S. Baseball America has published a correction to its ranking of the states by pro players produced (see previous post). Mississippi still ranks fourth in players produced per 100,000 people, behind Florida, California and Georgia and ahead of the likes of Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. BA’s original state population numbers were wrong, which threw off its ratios.
Tonight, for the third time in his last four starts, Chris Stratton will face a contending team as he goes to the mound for the fading San Francisco Giants, who have been out of the running for a while. The ex-Mississippi State star from Tupelo goes against the Colorado Rockies, who have won seven of their last 10 and lead the National League West race by 1.5 games over Los Angeles. Stratton (9-9, 4.99 ERA) beat Arizona, an NL West challenger, on Aug. 27 and lost to NL Central contender Milwaukee in his last outing on Sept. 8. Stratton has been up and down from the minors in what has been an erratic season for the 28-year-old right-hander. But since his last recall on Aug. 21, having made some mechanical changes, he has posted a 2.84 ERA. Less encouraging, however, are his numbers against the hard-hitting Rockies. Charlie Blackmon is 6-for-12 career with two homers vs. Stratton, Nolan Arenado 5-for-11 with two bombs, Ian Desmond 5-for-8, D.J. LeMahieu 4-for-8 with three RBIs, Trevor Story 5-for-9. At least the game is at the Giants’ AT&T Park, where the hits and homers are a little tougher to come by than at Coors Field. P.S. Former Madison Central High standout Spencer Turnbull, now on Detroit’s active roster, has yet to make his MLB debut (see previous post). Maybe it’ll happen tonight when the Tigers tackle Cleveland. … Stratton and Turnbull are among the 12 pitchers from Mississippi preps or colleges currently in The Show.
There were several injury-related detours along the way, but former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull has finally arrived in the big leagues. Turnbull was activated today by the Detroit Tigers. “Just being here is a dream come true,” Turnbull said in an mlb.com story. The 25-year-old right-hander was a second-round pick out of Alabama in 2014. He spent most of this season at Double-A Erie, going 4-7 with a 4.47 ERA — around a stint on the disabled list — before earning a promotion to Triple-A Toledo, where he put up a 2.03 in two starts. “I saw him in spring training,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, the former Jackson Mets infielder, told mlb.com. “(H)e has that electric stuff that you take notice of.” … Turnbull will be the fourth Mississippi product to make his MLB debut in 2018, following Braxton Lee (Ole Miss), Dakota Hudson (Mississippi State) and Cody Carroll (Southern Miss).
Topps Baseball 2018 Series 2 Card No. 383. That card is not likely to be a hot commodity among big-time collectors, but any Mississippi baseball aficionado will get a charge out of seeing it. It’s a JaCoby Jones base card – but there’s a bonus. The card features an action shot of Jones, the young Detroit Tigers outfielder from Richton, as he rounds third base in an apparent home run trot. He is about to get a low-5 hand-slap from the Tigers’ third-base coach, Dave Clark, the former Shannon High slugger. Two Magnolia State prep legends on one card. Jones was Mr. Baseball in the state in 2010 before going off to LSU. He was a third-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2013 and debuted in the majors with the Tigers in 2016. Way back in 1980, Clark set a state record for homers with 23 at Shannon. He went on star at Jackson State and was drafted 11th overall by Cleveland in 1983. He played 13 seasons in the majors, batting .264 with 62 homers and earning a reputation as one of the game’s top pinch hitters in his heyday. He is in his fifth season as a Detroit coach. P.S. Jones, aka “Juicy J,” is currently on an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo. He is batting .204 with eight homers this season for the Tigers.
Billy Hamilton’s name popped up all over the box score from Friday’s game between Cincinnati and the Chicago Cubs. The former Taylorsville High star went 3-for-3 with a walk, scored a run, was caught stealing and picked off. Hamilton is batting .222 (.304 on-base percentage) with 45 runs in 84 games for the resurgent Reds; he has 16 steals and has been caught four times. He has averaged 58 steals the past four years. … Richton High alum JaCoby Jones hit his seventh home run of the season for Detroit, taking Texas’ ageless Bartolo Colon deep in the Tigers’ 3-1 win. Jones, in his third MLB season, now has 10 career homers. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn, subject of trade rumors, threw six strong innings for Minnesota in a 6-2 win against Baltimore and moved his record to 6-7. He has a 5.21 ERA. … Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed, recalled from the minors by Cincinnati on Wednesday, was sent down on Thursday without making an appearance. … Southwest Mississippi CC alum Jarrod Dyson went on the 10-day disabled list with what was called a “lower core” injury. Reports seemed to indicate that the veteran outfielder could be out long-term. He is batting .189 with 16 bags in his first year with Arizona. … Former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland (back spasms) was held out of Boston’s game on Friday but is expected to play today. He is batting .288 with 11 homers. … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz, on the DL for Boston since the end of May, is slated for a second rehab start tonight at Triple-A Pawtucket. Pomeranz’s first rehab start did not go well: four homers and two walks allowed in 2 2/3 innings of work. … Down on the farm, ex-DeSoto Central standout Austin Riley, on the DL at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system since early June, has played two rehab games in the Gulf Coast League. The third base prospect is 2-for-6 with two RBIs. He was hitting .284 with four homers and 18 RBIs when he went down with a knee injury at Gwinnett.