31 Mar

the sound of thunder

The power is still on around the state. In Tuesday’s bash-fest at Cleveland, Josh Gordon hit a grand slam to fuel Delta State’s 18-11 win over Belhaven, which got two homers, including a slam, from Timmy Foster. At Smith-Wills Stadium, Jones County Junior College used a grand slam by Nick Ray as part of a 6-5, 12-inning, 3 hour and 48 minute win over Mississippi Gulf Coast. There were six homers in Millsaps’ 19-8 Maloney Trophy victory over Mississippi College. Alas, there were no slams; the best anyone could muster was a three-run shot by the Majors’ Will Hawkins. Hinds CC got a home run from Zach Polzin, the big bopper out of Northwest Rankin, in a sweep of Copiah-Lincoln that extended the Eagles’ win streak to seven games. … And on the subject of noteworthy homers, former Mississippi Brave Clint Sammons took New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia deep in a spring training game in Florida on Tuesday.
P.S. Word out of Florida is that Van Pope, the former Terry High and Meridian CC slugger, has been converted to pitcher. Pope, formerly a third baseman with a cannon for an arm, was once a Top 10 prospect in Atlanta’s system but just couldn’t hit enough to make the majors. He stalled out in Triple-A last summer. Pope was a standout on the mound in high school and at MCC, so there is reason to believe he can make the adjustment.

29 Mar

roster rumble

Three former Mississippi Braves pitchers, including two who were here just last summer, are in a five-way battle for two bullpen jobs in Atlanta. Jo-Jo Reyes, a lefty who has a 2.45 ERA this spring, may have an inside track on one of the spots; he already has some big league experience, though not a lot of success. Lefty Jonny Venters, the M-Braves’ 2009 opening day starter, also is in the chase, though his ERA jumped to 6.00 today when he allowed three runs in two-thirds of an inning. The longest shot is Craig Kimbrel, who blew through three levels of minor league ball last season and earned an invitation to the major league camp. Kimbrel, a hard-throwing right-hander, has not allowed an earned run. There’s an outside chance he could come back to Pearl as the M-Braves’ closer. But Atlanta’s brass may have bigger plans for him. … It appears the Braves will open the season with at least six ex-M-Braves on the roster: catcher Brian McCann, second baseman Martin Prado, shortstop Yunel Escobar and right fielder Jason Heyward — all expected to be regulars — and pitchers Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen.

28 Mar

time fades away

The last week of spring training is upon us, and for quite a few Mississippians in big league camps, that’s not good news. Guys like Marcus Thames, Bill Hall, Eli Whiteside and Dusty Hughes might be wishing they had more time. Time ran out for Matt Tolbert (Ole Miss) on Saturday, when Minnesota optioned him to the minors, and for Joey Gathright (Hattiesburg), who reportedly was released today by Toronto. A non-roster invitee, Gathright was hitting .167 this spring; his awesome speed isn’t a factor if he’s not on base. Thames (East Central Community College), a non-roster player in the New York Yankees’ camp, also has struggled (.132, one homer). His power potential from the right side is something the Yankees like, but he may need a strong final week to make the club. Hall (Nettleton) is hitting .158 in his first camp with Boston; he has to be worried. Whiteside (Delta State), trying to make the San Francisco club as a backup catcher, might be pushed back to the minors by the emergence of rookie Buster Posey; Whiteside has hit just .185 with five RBIs in limited at-bats. Veteran outfielder Fred Lewis (Gulf Coast CC) hasn’t had a great spring with the Giants either, hitting .222 with three homers. After his poor 2009 showing, Lewis may be fretting a bit. Hughes (DSU) has a 6.23 ERA in five appearances with Kansas City; as one of the few lefties the Royals have, he may stick despite those struggles. Jarrett Hoffpauir (Southern Miss), batting .231, looks like a longshot to make the Blue Jays out of spring, and it’s unlikely Brent Leach (DSU), with only two appearances, will make the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 25-man cut. Craig Tatum (Mississippi State), bidding for the backup catcher job in Baltimore, probably will return to the minors; defense is his ticket, but he’s got to hit better than .176. Matt Maloney (Ole Miss) made a strong bid for the Cincinnati Reds’ fifth starter job but has fallen out of the mix; he posted a 6.14 ERA in four games. One player who has been impressive is Edwin Maysonet (DSU), a utility infielder with Houston who has hit .297 this spring. With the Astros planning to start a rookie shortstop (Tommy Manzella), they might keep Maysonet around as an alternative.

27 Mar

tip of the cap

He did not have overpowering stuff, but Jeremy McClain could pitch. He could get batters out and win games. Delta State announced Friday that it will induct the former Statesmen ace, now the Division II school’s athletic director, into its Hall of Fame this year. The Houlka native was a jaw-dropping 45-9 at DSU, including a 15-0 mark his senior year in 1999. He pitched briefly in affiliated pro ball but had more success in the independent ranks. McClain was a key member of the Jackson Senators’ 2003 Central League championship team, getting the win in relief in the title series clincher. And he was pretty impressive, as well, with the ill-fated Jackson Diamond Kats in 2000, their lone season. McClain went 7-9 with a 3.27 ERA for a team that finished 38-74 and had an ERA of 5.00. 

26 Mar

22 equals 42

Jason Heyward will open the season in Atlanta. Not exactly stop the presses stuff if you’ve been following the former Mississippi Brave’s exploits this spring. How could the Jay-Hey Kid not be the opening day right fielder? Interviewed on ESPN during its coverage of Friday’s game against Detroit, Heyward said of the moment manager Bobby Cox gave him the word, “It was awesome. … I thanked him for the opportunity.” It was also revealed that Heyward will wear No. 22. And when he takes the field in Atlanta against the Chicago Cubs on April 5, he will be the 42nd former M-Brave to reach the majors. That total, in five years time, is just amazing. And several more could be on Heyward’s heels.

P.S. Heyward’s promotion to the 40-man roster cost Todd Redmond his spot, and he was outrighted to Triple-A Gwinnett. Redmond, a right-handed starter, was the Southern League pitcher of the year in 2008; he’s still a good bullet to have in reserve. … Former M-Brave Josh Burrus, in the Tigers’ camp as a minor league free agent, got an RBI double off Billy Wagner in the ninth inning of Friday’s game. Burrus, a former first-round pick who floundered in Pearl, turned on a 93 mph Wagner fastball and ripped it down the left-field line. Just never saw him do enough of that at Trustmark Park.
25 Mar

fair and balanced

In the interest of giving pitchers their due (see previous post), there have been a bunch of noteworthy performances in the junior college ranks this week. Cory Williams, one of the Jones County JC aces, went to 5-0 with a five-hitter against Copiah-Lincoln on Tuesday, helping the fifth-ranked Bobcats claim a twinbill sweep and move to 21-3. East Central, ranked 10th in the most recent NJCAA poll, got to 20 wins on Wednesday with a sweep of Delta. Led by Pervis Mann and Cal Cossich, the Warriors yielded just nine hits and three runs in the two games. Also Wednesday, Northwest’s Mark Husband went to 4-1 with a five-inning two-hitter vs. Holmes; Hinds’ Michael Porter threw a two-hitter to beat Southwest; the aptly named Brett Blaise of Pearl River struck out eight in a one-hit shutout of Gulf Coast; and Itawamba’s Jake Sloan tossed a four-hitter in a 6-1 win over East Mississippi. Over the weekend, ICC got complete game shutouts from Joseph Koon and Luke Hargett in two wins against Northwest. And note that one of the state’s top arms, Jones’ Zach Toney, a 10-game winner in 2009, is out for the year with a shoulder injury. He’s bound for Austin Peay. 

21 Mar


The wind must have been blowing out on Saturday. Everywhere. How else to explain the strain of March madness that infected ball fields all over the area? At Perkinston, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College scores 17 runs in a doubleheader sweep of Southwest; the two teams combined for six homers on the day. … At Scooba, Northeast CC beats East Mississippi 14-13 in Game 1, then comes back with eight more runs in the capper; the Tigers had 26 hits in the twinbill sweep. … At Mobile, Belhaven erupts for 20 runs on 28 hits in a GCAC doubleheader sweep of the host Rams. … At Ruston, La., Southern Miss plates seven in the first inning and goes on to a 15-7 win over Louisiana Tech; the Eagles hit five bombs. … At Conway, Ark., Millsaps rings up 15 runs on 16 hits to beat Hendrix. … And in the show-stopper of the day, at Memphis, Delta State scores 19 runs in each game — 38 total, for you non-math majors — to blow away Christian Brothers. … Official scorers all over are icing their fingers today.

P.S. Weir’s Roy Oswalt was anointed the Houston Astros’ opening day starter for the eighth straight year. The Holmes CC product appears primed for a bounce-back season after a subpar 2009. He told MLB Network last week that he was feeling “great” this spring and that “the ball is coming out of my hand real well.” When he’s got his Bugs Bunny movement, Oswalt is as good as there is. Something to watch for: Oswalt is eight wins away from becoming the Astros’ franchise leader. 
19 Mar

plus three

The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, which might have appeared on the brink of collapse, has announced the addition of three schools for next season to replace the group that will bolt for the Southern States Athletic Conference next year. Joining Tougaloo and three other holdovers in the new-look GCAC will be Voorhees (South Carolina), Fisk (Tennessee) and Edward Waters (Florida). This is the final season in the GCAC for Belhaven and William Carey, two of the league’s dominant programs. Tougaloo, which has won just one league game in four years, should be more competitive in the GCAC next season.
P.S. Former Mississippi State star Paul Maholm has made four starts for Pittsburgh this spring — two each against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. In those four games against the Beasts of the AL East, Maholm has a 2.70 ERA. His next start will be Wednesday against the Red Sox. “It’s fun,” Maholm told The Associated Press. “It keeps you working.” … Florida optioned former Warren Central star Taylor Tankersley to Triple-A New Orleans today. He had to know it wouldn’t be easy reclaiming a big league job following elbow surgery. … Pittsburgh sent Itawamba Community College alumnus Jonathan Van Every, a non-roster invitee, to its minor league camp.

18 Mar

comeback trail

Taylor Tankersley was shipped out of the Florida Marlins’ big league camp last spring and then slipped off the charts when it was discovered he had a stress fracture in his left elbow. After surgery, the reliever’s 2009 season was a washout. The Vicksburg native and Warren Central alumnus — a first-round pick out of Alabama in 2004 — is battling back this spring. In three appearances, he has worked three innings, allowed three hits and three runs with three strikeouts. The Marlins would welcome a return to form by Tankersley, a power arm who was effective in middle relief (3.46 ERA, 95 K’s in 88 innings) in his first couple of big league seasons before scuffling in 2008. 

P.S. A high five to Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 5 in the new NJCAA poll. East Central is No. 10. … And give a bow to Sumrall High, which has won a Mississippi record 52 straight games over three seasons. 
15 Mar

over and out?

Haven’t seen anything official on this, but Chad Bradford appears to have retired. The former Hinds Community College and Southern Miss star, known for his distinctive submarine-style delivery, became a free agent after last season and remains unsigned. Because of injuries, he pitched only 10 1/3 inings for Tampa Bay in 2009 and told a Florida newspaper last fall that he was pondering retirement. Bradford, 35, debuted in the big leagues in 1998 and posted a 36-28 record with 11 saves and a 3.26 ERA over his career. Good numbers. Here’s a better one: 0.39. That was Bradford’s ERA in 24 postseason appearances. 

P.S. Among Pittsburgh’s first cuts of the spring on Sunday were former Mississippi Braves Brandon Jones and Gorkys Hernandez. Hernandez isn’t big league-ready yet, but the Jones move was a surprise. The Pirates plucked him off waivers from Atlanta a few weeks ago but gave him only eight at-bats this spring. Maybe he isn’t 100 percent healthy. Jones, a left fielder with a sweet lefty swing, is on the 40-man roster, so he’ll likely be back with the big league club at some point. He could help the Pirates.