If there were questions about how Nick Sandlin’s stuff would play in pro ball, the former Southern Miss star has wasted little time providing answers. A second-round draft pick by Cleveland last month, Sandlin has made seven scoreless appearances, the last four for Lake County in the Class A Midwest League. His stuff certainly played in Peoria on Wednesday night, when the 5-foot-11 right-hander struck out the side, running his K total to eight in four innings for Lake County. He has allowed two hits and no walks in that stretch. He notched a save on Saturday, closing out a win for former USM teammate Kirk McCarty. Sandlin, as a starter, went 10-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 140 punchouts in 102 1/3 innings for the Golden Eagles in 2018. He won all kinds of awards. The previous two seasons, working as a closer, he posted 20 saves and 13 wins. Yet Sandlin’s size, velocity and funky delivery reportedly were concerns for pro scouts heading into the draft. The Indians took him with the 67th pick. One MLB Network analyst, lamenting the state of the Indians’ bullpen on the night of the draft, suggested Cleveland throw Sandlin directly into the mix. That wasn’t going to happen, of course, but he might not be too far away. It’s not unheard of for college pitchers to make the big leagues in their draft year. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson (now in the St. Louis system) started and got the win – despite allowing a run in his one inning – for the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game. Ole Miss alum Bobby Wahl (Oakland) got the first out in the ninth for the PCL in its 12-7 win, and USM product Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) threw a clean inning for the International League team.
Every team needs an ace, and Southern Miss has one. One of the best, in fact. Nick Sandlin — C-USA pitcher of the year, Ferriss Trophy winner – has been terrific. The converted closer moved to 9-0 and trimmed his ERA to 1.13 with a four-hit, 12-strikeout performance against UAB in the C-USA Tournament opener on Thursday in Biloxi. But the Golden Eagles (41-15) will need more than one golden arm to make a run in the NCAA postseason (which could well start in an Oxford Regional). Do they have that kind of depth? They just might. The other pitchers don’t get the pub afforded Sandlin, but this is a team with a staff ERA of 3.58. Both Stevie Powers and Walker Powell, the other weekend starters, have won big games. Powers, a left-hander who last pitched on May 5 because of some arm issues, notched the win on Friday, yielding two runs in seven innings in a 5-3 victory against Texas-San Antonio. He joked about following Sandlin in the USM rotation. “It’s been a tough job all year for me,” he said in a school release. He’s been up to it, going 5-1 with a 3.28 ERA. Powell, typically the No. 3, is 7-3, 3.62, and will start today in the semifinal round of the tournament. In the bullpen, Cody Carroll (2.23), Keller Bradford (3.24), Mason Strickland (3.25) and Trent Driver (4.30) have been effective, and large-looming, hard-throwing Matt Wallner has six saves despite a 7.36 ERA in his 11 appearances. Sandlin certainly leads the way for this staff, but coach Scott Berry has more cards to play than just his ace.
Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace and onetime big leaguer, is still taking the mound every fifth day for the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Miami’s Triple-A affiliate. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, 29, worked 7 2/3 innings on Thursday night, yielding just two runs with eight strikeouts but getting no decision. He is 8-10 with a 5.31 ERA, a number inflated by a couple of bad outings. Copeland was a horse at USM in 2010, winning his first 11 decisions and earning Conference USA Tournament MVP honors. Drafted by Baltimore in the 21st round in 2010, he was released in 2012 and signed with Toronto. He spent parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ system and got his cup of coffee in the big leagues – with several refills, actually – for the Jays in 2015. He was up and down from Triple-A Buffalo to Toronto multiple times that season and managed to get into five MLB games, going 1-1, 6.46. He went to Korea for a stint in 2016, returned and re-signed with Toronto. He became a free agent again last off-season and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins. Copeland has a career minor league ledger of 60-62, 4.18 over 174 games, 57 of those in Triple-A, where you can smell the big league coffee but not quite taste it.
In baseball, good things come to those who … pitch. And Southern Miss can pitch. The Golden Eagles (28-16-1, 13-10 C-USA) have a staff ERA of 3.03, which ranks among the top 20 in the nation. They’ve got seven shutouts, tied for fifth-most in NCAA Division I. They are coming off a three-game home sweep of Marshall in which they limited the Thundering Herd to two runs. None of the Eagles’ three starters allowed a run. Cody Carroll, the league pitcher of the week, threw a three-hitter. James McMahon, now 9-1 with a 1.88 ERA, worked six scoreless innings, and Kirk McCarty (4-1, 2.58) was unscathed over 7 2/3. Tim Lynch has swung a big stick (.331, nine homers, 30 RBIs) and three other regulars are over .300. But it’s USM’s pitching that impresses the most, especially in this season of the livelier ball. At one point during the Marshall series, the staff’s streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run reached 39. “I’ve been (coaching) 31 years, so I’m not going to say I haven’t (seen such a streak),” coach Scott Berry told the Hattiesburg American. “But that’s a pretty good string, I know that.” Light-hitting Charlotte comes to Hattiesburg this weekend for a conference series at Taylor Park, where USM is 16-7 — and where the C-USA Tournament will be held May 20-24. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first USM team to make the NCAA Tournament field. That Hill Denson-coached club included Damon Pollard, Scotty Jurich, Todd Nace, Kerry Valrie, Greg Cole and Kenny Graves, all of whom were among the group in town for a reunion over the weekend. It would be a fitting tribute if the current club also earned a regional bid. That pitching certainly gives them hope.