21 Oct

out in arizona …

Chris Stratton, who could be vying a job in San Francisco’s rotation next spring, was razor sharp in his second Arizona Fall League start on Thursday. The ex-Mississippi State standout from Tupelo threw five shutout innings, yielding just three hits with no walks and six strikeouts. He has allowed just one run in nine innings over two starts for Scottsdale. A first-round pick by the Giants in 2012, Stratton got a look in the big leagues back in May, posting a 3.60 ERA in seven relief appearances. He has been a starter in his minor league career, going 12-6, 3.87 at Triple-A Sacramento in 2016 and 34-29, 3.92 for his career. Stratton’s stuff isn’t as overwhelming as it often was at State, but he is making it work. … Stratton’s mound opponent on Thursday was former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull, a Detroit prospect pitching for Salt River. He allowed four hits, three walks and three runs in three innings in a 4-1 loss. Turnbull’s 2016 season was curtailed by injuries; he went 1-1, 3.00 in six games at Class A Lakeland after going 11-3, 3.01 in low-A ball in 2015.

19 Oct

a side of history

There is an inextricable link between Mississippi and the Cleveland Indians, who are back in the World Series for the first time in 19 years and seeking their first title since 1948. The first black Mississippian to play in the major leagues did so for Cleveland. Jonestown native Luke Easter, a long-ball legend in many circles, debuted on Aug. 11, 1949, at age 34. He was a big man with big power, which he had demonstrated in semi-pro and Negro League ball before the Indians signed him in 1948, and he had three big years – 1950-52 — in the big leagues. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Easter hit 86 homers and drove in 307 runs in those three seasons. As age and injuries caught up to him, the Indians shipped Easter out in May of 1954. He never played another MLB game but put in 11 more years in the minors, ending his playing career with 367 homers, many of them tape measure blasts that old-timers still talk about. Easter, murdered in 1979 during a robbery in Ohio, really ought to be in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

19 Oct

mettle test

Game 4. However it plays out, Game 4 of the 2016 National League Championship Series is one Chicago Cubs fans will remember. “Teams that win the whole thing always have games that define them,” Cubs outfielder and ex-Ole Miss star Chris Coghlan told ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Game 4 at Dodger Stadium tonight will be such a game. Win it, and the series is even, guaranteed to go back to Wrigley Field. Lose it, and the Cubs are down 3-1 with Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw looming either in Game 5 or 6. The Cubs, shut out in Games 2 and 3, haven’t been hitting. Coghlan, a .252 hitter in 48 regular season games, hasn’t had much opportunity off the bench, going 0-for-2 with a walk in the NLCS. He doesn’t face lefties often, so he isn’t likely to start Game 4 against Julio Urias. But he could get an at-bat late, in a crucial spot, a “defining” moment perhaps. An anxious Cubs Nation – and every other true fan – will be watching.

17 Oct

familiar territory

JaCoby Jones is off to a good start – again – in the Arizona Fall League. The former Mr. Baseball from Richton High is 4-for-10 with a home run, five RBIs and three runs through five games for Salt River. Jones, a highly rated Detroit prospect, played in the high caliber AFL last year, too, and was doing quite well before being slapped with a drug suspension that lasted into his 2016 minor league season. Having spent some time in the majors this year, Jones is back for more seasoning in the AFL, older and presumably a bit wiser. “I think the biggest thing I learned in the big leagues was how to prepare myself before games,” Jones, 24, told mlb.com. A third-round pick (by Pittsburgh) out of LSU in 2013, Jones batted .257 with seven homers in Double-A and Triple-A in 2016 and got an August call-up from the Tigers. He hit .214 in 28 at-bats. Jones, 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, is a career .269 hitter in the minors with 47 homers and 58 steals and can play virtually anywhere in the field. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State standout Tyler Moore, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum Joey Butler, Ole Miss product Alex Presley and Starkville native Julio Borbon have become minor league free agents. Moore spent all of this past season at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system but played in only 25 games (.229, three homers) because of injuries. Butler also spent all of the season in Triple-A for Cleveland, while Presley (Detroit) and Borbon (Baltimore) did see some big league duty. … Hawtin Buchanan, the 6-8 former Ole Miss pitcher from Biloxi, has signed a minor league deal with Cincinnati. He pitched in the independent United Shore League this year after being released in spring training by Seattle.

17 Oct

top of class

In its annual MLB draft assessment issue, Baseball America picked a pair of precocious pitchers from Mississippi colleges to highlight for having had the best debut in their respective organizations. Wyatt Short, the ex-Ole Miss star from Southaven, and Zac Houston, a Mississippi State product, were among a number of Mississippians hailed in BA’s Oct. 21-Nov. 4 issue. Short, drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round in June, did not allow an earned run in 15 innings and notched seven saves in short-season A-ball. Houston, an 11th-rounder by Detroit, had an 0.30 ERA and four saves over 20 games at two levels, finishing in the Class A Midwest League. Also earning props from BA was ex-State standout Jacob Robson, an eighth-round pick by the Tigers who batted .267 in rookie ball and .316 in low Class A. Robson was labeled the Best Pure Hitter in Detroit’s class and was ranked among the five fastest runners drafted this year. Ole Miss alum J.B. Woodman, a second-rounder by Toronto, shared Best Defensive Player honors in the Blue Jays’ class. BA praised outfielder Woodman’s arm in particular. Woodman hit .272 with three homers, 24 RBIs and 10 steals in short-season A-ball and earned a promotion to low-A, where he batted .441 in 34 at-bats. The first Mississippian picked in June, State’s Dakota Hudson, who went to St. Louis in the first round, was recognized for his fastball: He tallied 19 strikeouts in 13 innings between the rookie level and high-A. Others to be singled out: State’s Nathaniel Lowe (Best Power, Tampa Bay), Bulldogs product Jack Kruger (Best Late-Round Pick, Los Angeles Angels), Itawamba Community College alum Delvin Zinn (Best Athlete, Cubs) and Starkville’s A.J. Brown (Best Athlete, San Diego). Brown, now playing football at Ole Miss, won’t make his pro debut before next summer. MSU fans lamenting what they lost in the draft can take some solace in the arrival of Graham Ashcraft, an Alabama prep star labeled The One Who Got Away in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ draft class, and Ole Miss fans can do the same concerning Grae Kessinger, the Oxford High product who passed on an offer from the Padres. Kessinger is part of a recruiting class ranked No. 1 by BA, which had seven of the new Rebels in its top 500 in the pre-draft rankings. … Atlanta and Milwaukee were ranked 2-3 in the Best Draft category, which bodes well for what we might see in Pearl and Biloxi a few years down the road.

15 Oct

dash away

You’ll find it on most any list of the best World Series moments: Enos Slaughter’s “mad dash” for the St. Louis Cardinals. It happened on this date 70 years ago in Sportsman’s Park in the eighth inning of Game 7 against Boston, and it produced the winning run in a 4-3 victory. Let’s not forget who delivered the hit that sent Slaughter dashing for home: Pascagoula native Harry Walker. Facing Boston’s Bob Klingler with Slaughter at first base and two outs, Walker ripped a shot into left-center field that was chased down by Leon Culberson (grandfather of current Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Charlie Culberson). As Slaughter tore around the bases, Culberson threw to shortstop Johnny Pesky, who appeared to hesitate before he threw home. Slaughter slid in safely. It was the seventh hit and sixth RBI in the 1946 World Series for Walker, the man known as “The Hat,” a .296 career hitter and two-time All-Star who would have turned 100 on Oct. 22. He passed in 1999. It’s worth noting that Boo Ferriss, the legend from Shaw, started that game for Boston, looking for his second win in the Series. He was lifted in the fifth. The final out was made by Tom McBride, who played for the Jackson Senators in the late 1930s and early ’40s. He bounced into a force out with two runners on in the ninth, and St. Louis celebrated its sixth world championship.

14 Oct

tall order

It’s a tough assignment Mickey Callaway has drawn in the American League Championship Series. The former Ole Miss pitcher, now the Cleveland pitching coach, must plot a course through a Toronto lineup loaded with mashers. The Blue Jays’ 2-3-4 hitters, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, batted .367 with five homers and 15 RBIs in taking out favored Texas in the ALDS. The Indians’ rotation has been thinned by injuries. The bullpen features the remarkably versatile Andrew Miller and stout closer Cody Allen but its depth will be tested in this best-of-7 series. “We’ve got our hands full,” Callaway told mlb.com. “… We’re going to have to have some guys step up and step up in a big way.” In his four years in Cleveland, Callaway has done a nice job of prompting guys to do just that. His staffs have consistently ranked among the league’s ERA leaders; they were second with a 3.84 in 2016 and posted a 2.33 against Boston, another powerful offensive club, in their ALDS sweep. Callaway’s success as a pitching coach stands in contrast to his experience as an MLB pitcher. He posted a 6.27 ERA and a 4-11 record in 40 games with three different clubs. A seventh-round pick by Tampa Bay out of Ole Miss in 1996, the right-hander did manage to win 71 games in the minors and 32 more in Korea and China. He began his pro coaching career in the Indians’ system in 2010 at Class A Lake County, where his charges had a 3.72 ERA. He moved up the ladder the next couple of years and was hired as the Tribe’s big league coach when Terry Francona became manager prior to the 2013 season. Francona called Callaway a potential “star” when he gave him the job. Cleveland has had winning seasons every year since 2013 and is now taking aim on its first World Series appearance since 1997 and first championship since 1948. P.S. Petal’s Anthony Alford belted a reported 434-foot home run in an Arizona Fall League game on Thursday. Toronto prospect Alford, off to a 2-for-8 start for Mesa, hit .236 with nine homers and 18 steals in an injury-tinged season in high Class A this season.

12 Oct

boys of fall

In an Arizona Fall League opener on Tuesday that did not involve Tim Tebow, former Richton High star JaCoby Jones went 2-for-3 with two RBIs for Salt River in a 7-7, 11-inning tie against Peoria. Jones got big league time with Detroit this season. Jacob Nottingham, who played for Double-A Biloxi this year, was 1-for-5 with an RBI for Salt River; fellow Shuckers alum Brett Phillips scored twice; and Mississippi Braves pitcher Akeel Morris made a scoreless relief appearance. Salt River’s roster is packed with Mississippi-connected players: Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central), Chris Ellis (Ole Miss), Bradley Roney (Southern Miss), Kade Scivicque (Southwest Mississippi Community College), Dustin Peterson (M-Braves) and Evan Phillips (M-Braves). M-Braves alum Ozzie Albies was originally placed on the Rafters club but was injured in the Southern League playoffs; Travis Demeritte (1-for-6 with a run on Tuesday), who figures to be on the M-Braves’ roster in 2017, took his spot. … Anthony Alford, the former two-sport star from Petal and a top-rated Toronto prospect, went 1-for-3 with an RBI for Mesa. … Mississippi State product Chris Stratton, who made his big league debut with San Francisco this year, is on the Scottsdale roster with Tebow, the former football star who put up an 0-for-3 in his AFL debut. Salt River and Scottsdale meet tonight.

12 Oct

shades of ’86

Anything that happens in the MLB playoffs that rekindles memories of the 1986 postseason has got to be pretty special. And it happened on Tuesday night. The Chicago Cubs’ comeback victory at San Francisco was the biggest in postseason-series clinching history, according to mlb.com. Down 5-2 in the ninth, the Cubs scored four times against the Giants’ tattered bullpen, surpassing what the New York Mets – a team loaded with former Jackson Mets – accomplished against Houston in the National League Championship Series 30 years ago. Davey Johnson’s Mets scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie the Astros, then won the game and the series 7-6 in 16 innings. Ten former JaxMets played in that epic Game 6. Lenny Dykstra ignited the ninth inning rally with a leadoff triple, and Mookie Wilson knocked him in and later scored himself. Rick Aguilera and Roger McDowell combined for eight innings of scoreless relief, and Jesse Orosco, despite blowing a save in the 14th and yielding two runs in the 16th, nailed down the win by fanning Kevin Bass with two runners on. Ole Miss alum Jeff Calhoun came on in relief for the Astros in the 16th and yielded a hit, a walk and a run and threw two wild pitches during the three-run inning. That NLCS was a thrill ride from start to finish, and the World Series that followed was pretty interesting, too. P.S. Spotted in the Giants’ dugout on Tuesday: former Delta State standout Eli Whiteside, now a bullpen catcher for the club. Whiteside played for the Giants during their 2010 and 2012 championship runs and last played in the majors with the Cubs in 2014.

11 Oct

gotta love october

Time to take stock on the MLB postseason. We’ve seen Baltimore go down in flames as Orioles manager Buck Showalter, the ex-Mississippi State standout, kept the best closer in the league in the bullpen with the American League Wild Card Game on the line. MSU product Mitch Moreland was in the middle of the play that ended the season for Texas, the team that had the best record in the AL. First baseman Moreland knocked down the errant throw by Rougned Odor, then threw home too late to stop the winning run from scoring as Toronto completed a stunning sweep. Moreland went 2-for-8 with two RBIs in what may have been his Texas swansong. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz surrendered the pivotal home run (to Coco Crisp) on Monday in the other ALDS as Cleveland ended Boston’s season and David Ortiz’s career with a sweep. UM alum Mickey Callaway, the Indians’ pitching coach, saw his bullpen limit the Red Sox to two runs while fanning 14 in 10 1/3 innings over the three games. Former Rebels standout Chris Coghlan (0-for-2) has had a quiet National League Division Series for the Chicago Cubs, who saw their ace closer, Aroldis Chapman, cough up a lead Monday against San Francisco, which dodged a sweep by winning in 13 innings. Conor Gillaspie – the son of former MSU star Mark Gillaspie and the Giants’ Wild Card Game hero – delivered the big blow against Chapman, a two-run triple in the eighth inning. “He’s been fun to watch,” Giants ace Madison Bumgarner told the Chicago Tribune. It ain’t been fun for everyone, but that’s what makes October baseball so compelling.