The new Southeast Collegiate Baseball League is scheduled to begin play on June 8 with multiple teams based in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Baton Rouge, La. The wood-bat college summer league is a joint venture between former big leaguer Chris Snopek’s P360 Performance Sports and Baton Rouge-based Traction Sports Performance, of which ex-big leaguer and LSU alum Ryan Theriot is Director of Business Development. The league will give playing opportunities to graduated high school seniors and college-level players with eligibility remaining, according to a press release. The 2020 prep and college seasons were halted in March by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the players listed on the SECL rosters are Hayden Dunhurst and Trey LeFleur from Ole Miss, Southern Miss’ Hunter LeBlanc, D.J. Stevens of Jackson State, Delta State’s Jake Barlow and Bryson Ware, a former Germantown High standout headed for Auburn. “The phone was already ringing about forming a college league,” Snopek, a former Ole Miss star, said in the release. “We thought we could put a few teams together, but the response has been incredible, so we realized this was bigger than we expected.” P360 owns baseball training centers in Jackson, Flowood and Hattiesburg. Former USM pitcher and onetime big leaguer Scott Copeland will be involved with the SECL’s Hattiesburg teams. Traction Sports has a facility in Hattiesburg as well as Baton Rouge. The SECL commissioner is Cory Hough. For more information, visit p360performancesports.com or tractionsports.com.
It might seem a bit trivial considering all else going on, but this is disturbing news in the baseball world: Hundreds of minor league players have been or soon will be released by major league clubs as it becomes more evident that there will not be a minor league season. Organizations known to already have made cuts are the Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Mariners, Reds, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Rockies, D’backs and Rays. For many of these players, no doubt including quite a few Mississippians, this may spell the end of their dream of making the big leagues. As cbssports.com reports, “The entire situation is horrid for the released players, who lose their source of meager income during a pandemic, and have minimal chance of latching on elsewhere.” The player cuts come on top of the news of proposed contraction of dozens of mostly lower-level minor league teams. Many minor league clubs, even those in sizable markets, are struggling to weather the current economic crisis. It is possible some of the released players could find jobs in the independent leagues, though they, like MLB, are currently in limbo. The Atlantic League announced on its website in late April that it is “making every effort to play a competitive 2020 schedule” but no start date has been announced. Same for the Frontier League. The American Association reportedly was aiming for a start date in early July but that seems iffy.
To make a list that includes Christy Mathewson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez is rather impressive. Roy Oswalt, the former Holmes Community College standout from Weir, has done just that, having been chosen by mlb.com as the best right-handed starting pitcher in Houston Astros history. His inclusion in this 30-man club is backed by strong credentials: 143 wins (second-most among Astros pitchers to Joe Niekro), three All-Star Game appearances, an NLCS MVP honor and an ERA title. Oswalt was drafted by the Astros in the 23rd round in 1996 and spent his first 10 big league campaigns in Houston. Overall, he went 163-102 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 seasons; his win total is second all-time to Guy “Mississippi Mudcat” Bush (176) among Magnolia State natives. P.S. Oswalt got the nod over Ryan, who spent nine of his 27 seasons with the Astros (106 wins, two All-Star Games) and was named the top righty starter for both the Angels and Rangers.
After taking the road less traveled into affiliated ball – signing as an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss in 2015 – Jacob Waguespack arrived in the majors on this date — May 27 — in 2019. The Louisiana native originally signed with Philadelphia and moved to Toronto in a trade deadline deal in 2018. Despite a somewhat wobbly launch (three hits, three runs, three strikeouts in his first inning) in his MLB debut, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander fared pretty well for Toronto during several call-ups over the course of the season. Overshadowed by fellow rookies Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, Waguespack went 5-5 with a 4.38 ERA working primarily as a starter for a team that limped in at 67-95. After the Blue Jays added starters Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson in the off-season, Waguespack, now 26, was seen as a bullpen piece heading into spring training this year. Toronto could be a team on the rise, and Waguespack is positioned to ride that wave.
The Washington Nationals are holding virtual ceremonies today to honor those who had a hand in their 2019 championship, the franchise’s first. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier and Ole Miss alum Aaron Barrett played for the Nats last season, though Barrett wasn’t on the postseason roster. While Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead homer in Game 7 of the World Series is arguably the biggest hit in Nationals postseason history, Tyler Moore delivered one seven years earlier that devoted Nats fans surely remember. Mississippi State and Northwest Rankin product Moore was drafted (three times, actually) by the Nationals and reached the big leagues with them on April 29, 2012. He had a good rookie season, batting .263 with 10 home runs in 75 games. The Nationals, who moved from Montreal in 2005, made the playoffs for the first time as a D.C. team in 2012, and Moore made the postseason roster. In Game 1 of the National League Division Series against St. Louis, he was called on to pinch hit in the eighth inning and delivered a two-run single that put the Nats ahead. They held on to win. “I just remember how fired up the guys were,” Moore recently told mlb.com. “It was just an awesome moment to win that first game.” It was the only postseason at-bat Moore got in a five-year MLB career that ended in 2017. The Nats would lose that series – and every other postseason series they played before the magical run of 2019.
There was a reference to Jermaine Van Buren in the wind of the internet today. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, a seamhead of great renown, compiled an All-Presidential team in honor of a visit he made to the White House on this date in 2006. On a 25-man roster with the likes of Gary Carter, Homer Bush, Lou Clinton, Dan Ford and J.J. Hoover was – ta da — Jermaine Van Buren, the former Hattiesburg High star who pitched in 16 MLB games in 2005-06. Van Buren, no relation to the eighth president, Martin, was a dominant prep pitcher (21 strikeouts in one seven-inning game) and a second-round draft pick by Colorado in 1998. He stalled in the Rockies’ system, revived his career in the indy Central League and finally made the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs. He got his lone win with Boston in ’06, finishing up with a 9.00 ERA. Van Buren pitched in various leagues, including China, until 2010.
The New Albany-based Cotton States League has expanded from six to eight teams for 2020 and is scheduled to begin its season on June 5. The wood-bat college summer league celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, with the Tippah County Tribe winning the championship. Returning for the Tribe are pitcher Braden Quesinberry, a Harding (Ark.) University alum who went 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA; J.T. McGee (Northern Kentucky), a .350 hitter with two homers and 13 RBIs; and Brandon Hale (Southeastern Louisiana), a .327 hitter. New to the Tribe roster is catcher Matthew Priest, a redshirt freshman at Mississippi College in 2020. More than 120 players from roughly 30 different schools participated last year, per the league’s website. Most of the players have a Mississippi connection. Many of the state’s junior colleges are represented, as are a number of four-year schools from various divisions. Mississippi State commit Blayze Berry is on the HillCountry Generals’ roster. The XPlorers’ roster lists Kyle Crigger from Louisiana Tech, Chris Swanberg from Memphis and Austin King from Alabama State. Another Memphis player, Ian Bibiloni, is with the North Delta Dealers along with Mississippi College’s Markarius “Woogie” Lee. Delta State’s Trace White is on the Tallahatchie Rascals team. Belhaven’s Nathan Herron (one of the CSBL’s top hitters in 2019) and Jared Heun are with the Golden Triangle Jets, as is UAB’s Hunter Hill. Blue Mountain’s Easton Williams is with the Tupelo Thunder, and Millsaps’ Sam Suggs is on the Mudcats’ roster. P.S. The Cape Cod League, widely considered the best of the college summer loops, cancelled its season, as did the New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Valley League. The popular Coastal Plain League delayed its start to July 1, and the Prospect League and Alaska League also have announced a tentative July 1 start. The Texas Collegiate League plans to open on July 3. The National Baseball Congress World Series, the big late summer amateur event in Wichita, hasn’t made a decision on hosting the event.
Setting Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine for 90 years takes us to 1930, the year Ludlow native Hal Lee made his big league debut. There was an offensive explosion in the game that season, due in large part to a juiced ball. The average batting average was .294. Both leagues set records for home runs and runs. Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs, a record that still stands. Lee didn’t quite catch that wave. He only got 37 at-bats for the Brooklyn Robins in 1930 and hit .162. Two years later, with the Philadelphia Phillies, he redeemed himself. The right-handed hitting outfielder, nicknamed Sheriff, hit .303 with 18 homers, 45 RBIs, 42 doubles and 10 triples. Nice numbers. Lee was overshadowed on his own team, however, by the likes of Chuck Klein (.348, 38 homers, 137 RBIs, 50 doubles), Don Hurst (.339, 24 homers, 143 RBIs) and Pinky Whitney (.298, 13 homers, 124 RBIs). Yes, hitters generally flourished in the ’30s. Lee, who died in 1989, is one of six former Mississippi College players to reach the majors and is arguably the most accomplished. He hit .275 over seven seasons with 33 homers and 323 RBIs. He played in more games, hit for a better average, drove in more runs and scored more runs than the better-known Harry Craft, who batted .253 over his six seasons (1937-42).
The first Mississippi native to hear his name called in the 2020 MLB draft could very well be Garrett Crochet, an Ocean Springs product who pitched at Tennessee the last three years. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound left-hander was pegged to go 14th overall to Texas in a recent mock draft by mlb.com’s Jim Callis. Crochet made just one appearance this season because of a sore shoulder but is 10-9 with four saves and a 4.64 ERA in 36 career games (13 starts). From Prospects Live scouting report: “He hides the ball well, and then delivers from a tremendously difficult angle for hitters right or left handed to barrel. His plus velocity and movement make it an even more treacherous task to overcome.” Crochet was a late-round pick in 2017 at Ocean Springs High. The first round of the remote draft, which has been whacked to five rounds this year, is set for June 10. Justin Foscue, the Mississippi State second baseman (and an Alabama native), was listed as the 29th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in mlb.com’s mock draft. P.S. Taking a look back at the draft of 2015, two Mississippi products were picked in the first five rounds: DeSoto Central’s Austin Riley (supplemental first round by Atlanta) and Pearl River Community College’s Jacob Taylor (fourth round, Pittsburgh). Riley, a third baseman, reached the majors in 2019. Taylor, a pitcher, saw injuries end his career in A-ball in 2018. Two other Mississippians went in the 10th round that year: Ole Miss’ Scott Weathersby and Delta State’s Witt Haggard, both pitchers. Both are out of the game. Two late-round picks are still kicking: Cody Carroll (22nd round, Southern Miss) has pitched in The Show, and Demarcus Evans (25th round, Petal High) is on Texas’ 40-man roster. … In 2010, only one Mississippian was picked in the first five rounds: Drew Pomeranz, the fifth overall selection out of Ole Miss by Cleveland. The tall lefty has had a peripatetic MLB career but has enjoyed some success, including an All-Star Game appearance. Corey Dickerson, then at Meridian CC, went in the eighth round in 2010 to Colorado. Dickerson, from McComb, is also an established big leaguer who has been an All-Star and won a Gold Glove. There were two ninth-round picks from the state that year: pitcher Aaron Barrett out of Ole Miss and Chris Lofton from Jones County JC. Barrett has pitched in the majors, making a valiant comeback in 2019. Lofton, an outfielder, topped out in A-ball in 2014.
Mitch Moreland, the pride of Amory, has played in three World Series. Two of his teams — the 2011 Rangers and 2018 Red Sox – are included in “Dream Bracket 2: Dream Seasons,” another mlb.com production that starts next week. The 64-team computer-generated tournament features some of the best teams in history (two from each current franchise post-World War II, plus three Negro League clubs and the 1994 Expos) in single-elimination best-of-7 series. And, yes, Mississippians abound on the rosters. Like Mississippi State alum Moreland, Grenada native Dave Parker is on two teams: the ’79 Pirates and the ’88 A’s. The ’84 Tigers feature Jackson native Chet Lemon and Sunflower’s Larry Herndon as starting outfielders. Joe Gibbon of Hickory and Ole Miss and Vinegar Bend Mizell, from Leakesville, are on the ’60 Pirates, who shocked the Yankees in the World Series. The ’97 Marlins, another surprise champion, list Southern Miss product Pat Rapp and MSU alum Jay Powell on their pitching staff. The ’35 Pittsburgh Crawfords, a truly great Negro League team, also had two Mississippians: Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell (Starkville) and Bill Harvey (Clarksdale). The ’61 Yankees, one of the best teams of all-time, deployed Silver City’s Jack Reed from their bench. The Royals’ two world title winners featured Magnolia State natives: Greenville’s Frank White on the ’85 club and McComb’s Jarrod Dyson on the ’15 team. Fulton and USM product Brian Dozier is on the roster of the reigning champion, the ’19 Nationals, and Ole Miss alum Jeff Fassero was a starting pitcher for the ’94 Expos, who were denied a postseason opportunity by the players’ strike. There are other natives and college alums scattered among these teams, and quite a few ex-state minor league products, as well. The champion ’86 Mets roster shows 13 former Jackson Mets. Might be a team to watch.