31 Jan

poll power

Itawamba Community College is ranked No. 6 in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll, giving Mississippi a pair of jucos ranked in the top 10 in the national polls. Hinds, the 2010 state champ, is slotted eighth in the Collegiate Baseball poll. ICC, coached by Rick Collier, features a pair of top-notch pitchers: Ole Miss signee John Gatlin and Dylan Earnest, a freshman from Hamilton who has three perfect games on his ledger. The Indians open Feb. 12, Hinds on Feb. 15.
P.S. There are no NCAA Division I Mississippi schools in the preseason Top 25 of either the Baseball America or Collegiate Baseball polls. That’s unusual. It wouldn’t be surprising to see one cracking one of those polls early in the year.

28 Jan

totally random, vol. 8

Today’s subject: Adrian Brown. The McComb native had a mercurial tour of pro ball. A 48th-round draft pick in 1992, the switch-hitting outfielder made it to the majors at age 23 with Pittsburgh in 1997. By 1999, he was playing regularly in center field, and in 2000 he batted .315. He was even featured in Sports Illustrated. But then his career went south, partly due to injuries, though he might just have peaked in his mid-20s. In 2002, at age 28, he hit .216 in limited time. His last big league appearance came with Texas in 2006. Over a major league career that spanned nine years (447 games) with four clubs, Brown hit a respectable .258 with 58 steals.
P.S. Here’s a name to watch when spring training cranks up: Alex Presley. The former Ole Miss standout went from off the prospect charts at the start of 2010 to winning the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league player of the year award. In a September call-up, the lefty-hitting outfielder batted .261. He’s still on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster and will vie for a backup job on Clint Hurdle’s squad this spring.

26 Jan

still at it

He was an Energizer Bunny for the Mississippi Braves last summer, a 5-foot-8 dynamo who batted .279, stole 24 bases and scored 60 runs in 74 games. Antoan Richardson is still creating havoc as a leadoff batter for the Leones de Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League. The former Vanderbilt star went 2-for-4 with a run scored Tuesday as Ponce beat Caguas (and Bartolo Colon) to take a 3-2 lead in the league’s best-of-7 title series. Game 6 is tonight. Richardson, who figures to man center field for Triple-A Gwinnett this season, might be headed for the Caribbean Series, which starts next week.

26 Jan

who’s on first

Mitch Moreland, the former Mississippi State star from Amory, is the Texas Rangers’ first baseman heading into spring training. So says Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who told mlb.com: “It’s Mitch’s job to lose.” And yet, the Rangers keep making moves that could impact Moreland’s playing time. They traded for Mike Napoli on Tuesday. Napoli is a catcher primarily, but he played first base down the stretch for the Los Angeles Angels in 2010. Of course, Texas previously signed free agent Adrian Beltre to play third base, Michael Young’s former spot. Young is expected to play some first base now, too, in addition to DH duties. And not to be forgotten is Chris Davis, a former top prospect at first base. It’s getting crowded over there. Moreland, a left-handed hitter, posted good numbers in his big league debut (.255, 9 homers, 25 RBIs in 47 games) and cranked it up in the postseason (.348 with seven RBIs). Though there have been concerns voiced about his defense, he certainly looked sharp during the run to the World Series. Bottom line: It’ll be very interesting to watch how the competition plays out this spring.

25 Jan

star watch

Baseball America has put the spotlight on some Mississippians in the small and junior college ranks for the coming season. Former Grenada High star DeMarcus Tidwell, now an outfielder for Southern Poly, and Belhaven pitcher Brett Blaise, from Columbus by way of Pearl River Community College, were rated the Nos. 3 and 4 draft prospects in NAIA by BA. Tidwell was drafted out of junior college by Cleveland last June but didn’t sign. The aptly named Blaise, a junior, was one of eight Blazers chosen to participate in the Southern States Athletic Conference’s Fall All-Star Classic. Also, Hinds CC freshman shortstop Travious Relaford was named a juco preseason All-American by BA. Relaford was a baseball and basketball standout at Creekside High in Georgia. Hinds is ranked No. 8 preseason by Collegiate Baseball.

22 Jan

say what?

Tampa Bay fans might have been happy to hear the news of the deals with Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. Desmond Jennings’ reaction probably wasn’t as cheery. Jennings, the former Itawamba Community College star who made his big league debut last summer, was penciled in as the Rays’ starting left fielder for 2011, with B.J. Upton in center and Ben Zobrist in right. The addition of free agents Ramirez and Damon, both outfielder/DH types, clouds the picture a bit for Jennings. He’s had much success in the minors and appears ready to play regularly in The Show. Maybe the Rays have another move in the works. Then again, considering the age and history of Ramirez and Damon, it’s likely one or both will spend a lot of time on the disabled list.
P.S. Mississippi College is ranked No. 15 in the d3baseball.com preseason poll. The Choctaws won a school-record 39 games a year ago and made the regional championship round in the NCAAs. Coach Brian Owens has some holes to fill from that squad, but obviously there are those who think he’ll be able to do that just fine.

21 Jan

two weeks notice

Brace yourselves, seamheads. The college season starts in Mississippi two weeks from today. Tougaloo will actually launch the season on Feb. 3, when the Bulldogs play in the Edward Waters tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. On home soil, however, the season begins on Feb. 4, with Belhaven (Blue Mountain, 3 p.m., Smith-Wills Stadium), Millsaps (Berry, 2:30, Twenty Field) and William Carey (Trevecca Nazarene, 4, Wheeler Field) all scheduled to start their 2011 campaigns. Blue Mountain is playing its inaugural season and will jump directly into the fire against a Blazers team that is ranked No. 12 in the NAIA preseason poll.

19 Jan

totally random, vol. 7

Today’s subject: Willie Mitchell. Mitchell, who was born in Pleasant Grove and grew up in Sardis, was a four-time All-Star as a left-handed pitcher with Cleveland and Detroit from 1909-1919. He won 84 games in his 11 big league seasons and posted a 2.88 ERA. In college at Mississippi State, he threw a perfect game. He’s in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, elected in 1966. But the most fascinating note about Mitchell’s career is what he did on July 11, 1914. Facing the Boston Red Sox, Mitchell struck out a young pitcher named Babe Ruth in his first major league at-bat. The Sultan of What?
P.S. Two more Mississippi-flavored fun facts about Ruth: Most fans know — or should know — that Ruth hit his 714th and last home run off Aberdeen native Guy Bush. But Ruth also belted his 500th career homer off Willis Hudlin, who would later manage the original Jackson Senators minor league club.

19 Jan

go west

Marcus Thames will move across country to play ball this season, signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday after spending 2010 with the New York Yankees. Thames, from Louisville and East Central Community College, reportedly will play some left field and first base for the Dodgers, facing primarily left-handed pitching. L.A. got him for the bargain price of $1 million for one year, with some incentives built in. (Still think Atlanta should have made a run at Thames.) If he gets the at-bats, he’ll provide the pop the Dodgers are seeking. Thames has 113 career homers in 1,761 at-bats. That translates to 30 homers over a 162-game season; he’s just never played regularly. He’s also never played in the National League.

18 Jan


Jonathan Papelbon’s rough year didn’t hurt him in the wallet. The former Mississippi State standout reportedly has agreed to a $12 million deal for 2011, avoiding arbitration with the Boston Red Sox. Papelbon, who made $9.35 million last year, will be a free agent after the coming season. Papelbon had 37 saves last year for the injury-plagued BoSox, but he blew eight saves, posted a 5-7 record and saw his ERA jump two runs per game to 3.90. He is still one of the best closers out there, but he slipped a notch in 2010 and needs to show some better stuff this summer.
P.S. Good to see that MLB Network ranked former Jackson Met Ron Gardenhire as the third-best manager currently in the game, behind Terry Francona and Mike Scioscia. Gardenhire doesn’t get enough props for his work in Minnesota. Also on the list, at No. 8, was Buck Showalter, the Mississippi State alumnus now running the Baltimore Orioles. That was a tad surprising. Showalter’s been a winner in three other jobs but never lasts very long. He made the 10-man list while Joe Maddon and Ozzie Guillen, to name just a couple of curious omissions, didn’t.