The fans at his home ballpark gave a standing ovation to a visiting player who took him deep. Dakota Hudson was OK with it. The ex-Mississippi State standout, pitching for St. Louis, yielded a home run to former Cardinals star Albert Pujols in the seventh inning Saturday at Busch Stadium. The crowd roared as he circled the bases, and Pujols even gave them a curtain call. “The guy deserves that ovation,” Hudson, who had Pujols posters on his wall as a kid, told The Associated Press. Hudson deserved a few cheers of his own. The Pujols homer was the only run Hudson allowed in seven innings (112 pitches) as he led the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory against the Los Angeles Angels. He is 6-3 with a 3.36 ERA for a club that is suddenly just a game out in the National League Central. … Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn also got a win on Saturday, grinding through seven innings as Texas rallied to beat the Chicago White Sox 6-5. Lynn allowed all five runs, including a three-run double and a homer by East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, but retired 17 of the last 18 he faced. He improved to 9-4, 4.32 for a Rangers club that is creeping up on slumping Houston in the American League West. … Former State standout Jonathan Holder notched a W in relief for the New York Yankees but probably didn’t feel too good about his outing. He gave up a three-run homer to Houston’s Yordan Alvarez that put the Yankees behind in the seventh inning, but the streaking Bombers answered with three in the bottom of the inning and won 7-5. Holder (5-2) saw his ERA jump to 5.55 for the AL East leaders. … Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull started for Detroit, gave up two runs in five innings — good enough to win a lot of times — but took a loss as the Tigers fell to Cleveland 2-0. Turnbull is 3-7 despite a 3.29 ERA.
Matt Wallner, the second player drafted out of Mississippi this year, is 2-for-8 with an RBI and a run in his first two pro games. The former Southern Miss standout, a power-hitting outfielder taken 39th overall by Minnesota earlier this month, is playing at rookie-level Elizabethton. Ole Miss product Grae Kessinger, a second-round pick by Houston, went 1-for-4 with a double in his debut at Tri-City, a short season Class A club. Shortstop Kessinger is a third-generation pro, following his dad Kevin and grandfather Donnie, a big league star for many years. James Beard, drafted out of Loyd Star High in the fourth round by the Chicago White Sox, has played in two games in the rookie Arizona League and is 2-for-9. Reputedly the fastest player in the draft, Beard, an outfielder, doesn’t have a stolen base yet. Pitcher Will Ethridge, a fifth-round pick out of Ole Miss by Colorado, is on the short season Class A Boise roster. Outfielder Brandon Parker, picked by Atlanta in the 10th round out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, is 1-for-3 at rookie Danville. Draftees out of Mississippi State, eliminated in the College World Series on Thursday, will start signing and hitting the field as pros very soon.
Someday, perhaps very soon, Bobby Bradley and Brent Rooker will be slugging it out as American League Central rivals. On Thursday, they gave us a preview. Gulfport’s Bradley and Mississippi State product Rooker, batting fourth as the DH for Columbus and Rochester, respectively, in the Triple-A International League, combined for three home runs in Thursday’s game. Rooker, a Minnesota Twins prospect, hit his 10th of the year, and Bradley, a Cleveland Indians prospect, hit Nos. 23 and 24, which leads the IL. Both have been on hot streaks. Rooker has homered in three straight games and is batting .289 in 43 contests; he missed some time with a wrist injury. Bradley has gone deep twice in three of his last six games and has lifted his average to .295. Both strike out a lot, but in today’s game that seems to matter less and less. The Twins and Indians may be battling for the AL Central title down the stretch – with Rooker and Bradley in the middle of the fray.
Bradley Roney, drafted by Atlanta out of Southern Miss in 2014, reached Triple-A in 2016 and put up nice numbers as a closer there. But his rapid progress was suddenly derailed by injuries that cost him a big chunk of the 2017 season, all of 2018 and some of this season. He may be getting back on track. Roney, 26, was promoted to the Double-A Mississippi Braves on Thursday after a dominating stint at Class A Florida, where he worked 14 1/3 scoreless innings with 18 strikeouts and three walks. Roney pitched for the M-Braves in 2016 and ’17. He had 30 career saves at USM and is 20-for-25 with a 13-7 record and 3.38 ERA in his six minor league campaigns. … The M-Braves, currently playing a series in Biloxi, return to Trustmark Park on June 25. P.S. Blast from the past: Among the handful of players still active from the first M-Braves team in 2005 is Iker Franco, who was the backup catcher to Brian McCann. Franco, now 38 and in his 20th year of pro ball, is playing for Oaxaca in the Mexican League. Franco batted .296 with three homers in 48 games for the M-Braves before earning a brief promotion to Triple-A. A native of Mexico, he has played in the Mexican League since 2008 and was the championship series MVP in 2011. He is currently batting .260 with three homers, including a walk-off shot on May 28.
As the Washington Nationals try to stay relevant in the National League East race, they’ve been getting a lot of production of late from a certain free agent signee. Over his last 15 games, he’s batting .327 with five homers and 12 RBIs. He homered in both games of a Wednesday doubleheader and drove in four runs as the Nationals swept Philadelphia to get to 35-38. Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, has overcome a slow start with his new team to raise his average to .235. He’s got 12 homers, 28 RBIs and 28 runs. Dozier, who finished 2018 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Nationals, who are starting to get some bang for those bucks. For comparison sake, the marquee free agent who left Washington and signed with Philadelphia for 13 years and $330 million is in the throes of wicked slump. Bryce Harper, who went 0-for-4 in Wednesday’s twinbill, is hitting .208 with one homer in his last 15 games for a skidding Phillies team that has fallen to 39-34 and 4 games back of Atlanta in the NL East. Harper is batting .243 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs and is third in the NL in strikeouts with 91. (To be fair, he’s tied for second in walks with 47.) He’s even getting booed at home games. Philadelphia brass may not be feeling buyer’s remorse just yet, but they certainly aren’t getting the bang for the buck they expected. … Dozier’s 12th homer of the year accounted for one of the two runs the Nationals scored in a 2-0 win in Wednesday’s second game, the highlight of which was Max Scherzer’s seven brilliant innings the day after suffering a broken nose. “That’s why you put him in the category of one of the best, if not the best, in the game, the best of our generation,” Dozier told mlb.com.
The hits keep coming for Drew Waters. The Mississippi Braves star, the reigning Southern League player of the week, homered in Tuesday night’s SL All-Star game at Biloxi. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder finished the first half of his first Double-A season batting .338 with five homers, 27 RBIs, 42 runs, 10 steals, 23 doubles and eight triples. He currently has a 13-game hitting streak and a 25-game on-base streak. He also moved up to No. 45 on MLB Pipeline’s updated Top 100 Prospects list. How much longer will he be in Pearl? … Waters’ teammate Cristian Pache, another young outfielder also having a stellar season, is No. 14 on the Top 100, and M-Braves pitcher Ian Anderson is 27th. … Ryan Rolison, the ex-Ole Miss left-hander, moved up 22 spots to No. 70 on the Top 100 chart. The Colorado prospect went 2-1, 0.61 in low-A ball to start 2019 and is 2-3, 4.23 (with one terrible outing) at the high-A level. … Several of the top draft picks out of the state reportedly have signed pro contracts, including Southern Miss All-American Matt Wallner (Minnesota), Ole Miss All-American Grae Kessinger (Houston), Loyd Star High’s James Beard (Chicago White Sox), Ole Miss’ Cooper Johnson (Detroit) and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Brandon Parker (Atlanta). Also, Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, who pitched his prep ball in Florida, has signed with Toronto. Mississippi State All-American Ethan Small was the top pick from the state, going 28th overall to Milwaukee, but he is attending to other business in Omaha. … Ole Miss’ Doug Nikhazy, a freshman All-America pick, has been invited to camp with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. … In MLB, Mississippi State product Chris Stratton was activated from the injured list by Pittsburgh on Tuesday; he didn’t appear in the Pirates’ game against Detroit. … Ex-Bulldogs standout Brandon Woodruff took a loss for Milwaukee on Tuesday, the first time in his last 10 starts that the Brewers have lost. Woodruff (8-2, 4.04) yielded four runs in six innings in a 4-1 loss to San Diego. On the positive side, he went 2-for-2 at the plate, raising his average to .364.
The way Mississippi State is playing, it’s unlikely the Bulldogs are going to be intimidated by anyone. But if any team in the country has a fear factor on its side, it’s Vanderbilt, State’s opponent tonight in the College World Series. Vandy, the SEC regular season and tournament champion, is the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, is ranked No. 1 in one national poll, has won 15 of its last 16 games, has set a school record with 55 victories and, most significantly for tonight, is sending to the mound a touted freshman right-hander who appears to be peaking. Kumar Rocker is an imposing 6 feet 4, 255 pounds and can touch 98 mph with his fastball. He has won his last three starts, beating LSU in the SEC Tournament, Indiana State in the Nashville Regional and Duke in a must-win Super Regional game. That was the 19-strikeout no-hitter you might’ve heard about. Rocker, son of former Auburn and NFL star Tracy Rocker, was one of the top recruits – and pro prospects — in the country last year. He was not an immediate success at Vandy. He got shelled in his college debut and lost his first SEC start. He has had other rough spots, as his 10-5 record and 3.50 ERA would suggest. But the Super Regional no-no generated national fame and certainly raised expectations. As Vandy coach Tim Corbin told the Nashville Tennessean: “I know when you pitch like that one time there’s a certain level of anticipation. But he’ll handle it well.” The Bulldogs are one of the best hitting teams in the country, making for a most intriguing matchup. P.S. Here’s an obscure Mississippi connection in Omaha (as noted by Doug Shanks): Michigan coach Erik Bakich played for the Greenville Bluesmen in the old Texas-Louisiana League. A third baseman, Bakich played nine games for the independent club in 2001 during his brief pro career. His Wolverines are 2-0 in the bracket opposite State’s.
The talent cultivated at Pearl’s Trustmark Park over the years has blossomed into something special in Atlanta. The surging Braves are 13-3 in June and 43-30 for the season, threatening to break away in the National League East. Former Mississippi Braves have led the way in this remarkable month, during which the big club has averaged 7.8 runs per game. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley – all have had productive months. “We’re so talented from top to bottom and we show up every night,” veteran catcher Brian McCann told mlb.com after Monday’s 12-3 blowout of the New York Mets. “This is a special team.” McCann, the first M-Braves alum to reach the big leagues back in 2005, has provided a boost on and off the field in his return to the ATL after several years away. He is batting .375 with four homers in 10 games this month. Acuna, moved back to the leadoff spot in mid-May, is hitting .378 with six homers and 18 RBIs in June. Albies is at .367 with four homers and 15 RBIs. Freeman: .333, six homers, 20 RBIs. Swanson: .279, three homers, 18 runs. Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star called up in May: four homers, 12 RBIs, 16 runs in June alone. Overshadowed has been the pitching of former M-Braves Julio Teheran (2-0, 0.53 ERA this month), Mike Soroka (3-0, 4.21), Sean Newcomb (0.93) and Jacob Webb (3.38). It’s been a fun time for old Braves fans, who can only hope the bloom holds into October.
Trent Giambrone has put on a nice little show of power at Triple-A Iowa, homering for the third straight game on Sunday and for the fourth time in his last seven contests with the Chicago Cubs affiliate. More impressive, however, than what the Delta State product has done is what ex-Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley has managed. He went deep twice for Triple-A Columbus on Sunday after also homering twice on Friday. The highly rated Cleveland prospect leads the International League with 22 home runs. Bradley, a first baseman who is on the Indians’ 40-man roster, is batting .310 over his last 10 games and .287 with 52 RBIs for the year as he awaits his first big league call-up, which reportedly might happen in July. He has 136 homers in his six minor league campaigns. Giambrone, a fourth-year pro who is not on the Cubs’ 40-man, is batting .375 in his last seven games and .220 with 13 homers on the season. He has played seven different positions for the I-Cubs. He opened some eyes in the Cubs’ system when he batted .324 in major league camp this spring. Of course, no discussion of power hitting can be complete without mention of Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State alum who hit two homers for San Diego on Sunday after belting three – 1,316 feet worth — on Friday. He has nine in his last 15 games and 23 for the season, tied for second in the majors. P.S. Former Ole Miss and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee leads the Eastern League with a .304 average in 51 games for Double-A Binghamton in the New York Mets’ chain. The onetime big leaguer is batting .346 over his last 10 games. … Drew Waters of the Mississippi Braves is batting an absurd .463 in his last 10 games and leads the Southern League in hitting at .338 heading into the SL All-Star break. He has a 25-game on-base streak. He also leads the loop in triples, doubles and OPS.
It was an awe-inspiring night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The biggest crowd of the season — an announced 5,216 strong — turned out on Saturday night, some for Parrot Head Night, some for the usual fireworks show but most to watch former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel make a tuneup appearance on his road to Atlanta. Keuchel’s performance in the opener of the Mississippi Braves’ twinbill against Mobile was somewhat underwhelming. It was left to top Braves prospect Cristian Pache to inspire the awe. Pache hit a two-out, game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh — the scheduled final inning — then, from center field, threw out the “bonus runner” at the plate to preserve the tie in the eighth. The crowd went bonkers after both plays, and Pache’s reaction to both was something to see. The M-Braves then won it 4-3 on Riley Unroe’s RBI single in the bottom of the first extra inning. They also won Game 2, 3-2, on a walk-off walk. Quite a night. Keuchel worked seven innings, throwing 106 pitches, mixing in a lot of off-speed stuff with an 88-mph fastball. He gave up three runs on 11 hits, several of them hard-hit balls, including a double by Los Angeles Angels prospect Jo Adell on the first pitch of the game. Keuchel walked one and fanned four. He stood to get the loss before Pache’s homer in the seventh. A controversial out call at third base, which led to manager Chris Maloney’s ejection, had fired up the crowd just before Pache’s bomb, which provided the crescendo. Pache is hitting .291 with nine homers and 36 RBIs, and his defensive skills are as good as you’ll see. Keuchel, when asked after the game if he was ready for big league duty, said, “I feel like I’m there.” The 20-year-old Pache may be feeling the same.