Garrett Crochet, the only Mississippian ranked in MLB Pipeline’s new list of the Top 100 minor league prospects, provided a sneak preview of his potential last September. Not to get carried away, but it was a fairly jaw-dropping debut from the Chicago White Sox’s 2020 first-round pick. The 6-foot-6 left-hander from Ocean Springs by way of Tennessee pitched six scoreless innings over five appearances. He allowed three hits, struck out eight, walked none. He struck out the first batter he faced as a pro: a called third strike at 100 mph. But there’s so much more. To say Crochet throws hard sells him way short. According to a recent mlb.com article, there were 311 100 mph-plus pitches all told in 2020. Crochet threw 45 of those. And he only threw 85 pitches. “He’s already the hardest-throwing White Sox pitcher ever,” the mlb.com story said. He also throws a quality slider and a changeup. Crochet left his one postseason appearance with an arm injury that proved to be minor. There is great anticipation to see what he does this year for a strong White Sox team. Crochet likely will pitch out of the bullpen initially in 2021, but at some point he’ll move to the rotation, which was his role at UT. … Crochet is No. 56 on the top prospects list. (Obviously, it’s a tough crowd.) Former Mississippi Braves stars Cristian Pache (12), Ian Anderson (18) and Drew Waters (35) also made the list, as did Ke’Bryan Hayes (9), son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie. Pache, Anderson and Hayes had nice MLB debuts in 2020.
Billy Wagner, the former Jackson Generals standout who ranks sixth on MLB’s all-time saves list, made progress toward the Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Wagner was named on 46.4 percent of the ballots (up from 31.7) in his sixth year on the list. The left-hander, who pitched at Smith-Wills Stadium for the Double-A Gens in 1995 (plus a couple of rehab appearances), has 422 saves, a 2.31 ERA and averaged almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings. As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci notes: “Wagner ranks among the most difficult pitchers to hit. Ever. Even now, with a proliferation of strikeouts in the game.” He was a seven-time All-Star. Still, it’s a long way from 46.4 to the 75 percent needed for induction. And closers don’t seem to get a lot of love. Other former Jackson Mets/Generals standouts like Jeff Reardon, Randy Myers, Todd Jones and Rick Aguilera never came close to making the Hall. … Ex-Gens outfielder Bobby Abreu, in his second year on the ballot, survived the cut for 2022. Players must appear on at least 5 percent of submitted ballots in order to remain on the list the following year; Abreu hit 8.7 this year. A two-time All-Star, and a strong defensive player, he batted .291 with 288 homers, 400 steals and eight 100-RBI seasons. Only a handful of players all-time have achieved 250-plus homers AND 400-plus steals. Playing in Jackson in 1994, he batted .303 with 16 homers, 73 RBIs and 12 steals. If there were a Mississippi minor league Hall of Fame, Abreu would be in it. … Mississippi State alum Jonathan Papelbon will appear on the ballot for the first time in 2022. He had an outstanding 12-year career, posting 368 saves (ninth all-time) and a 2.44 ERA while making six All-Star Games and winning a ring with the 2007 Boston Red Sox. He might be able to stay on the ballot for a couple of years, but making the Hall seems unlikely. … The only Mississippi-connected players enshrined in Cooperstown are former Negro Leagues stars Cool Papa Bell, a Starkville native, and William Foster, who grew up in Rodney and attended Alcorn State. (Columbus native Red Barber is in the broadcasters wing.) Others you could build a case for include Dave Parker, Frank White, Buddy Myer, Guy Bush and even Roy Oswalt, the former Holmes Community College star from Weir who surprisingly lasted just one year on the ballot (2019).
Though his projected big league debut is two years away, Mississippi State product Justin Foscue is a player to keep an eye on in 2021. Foscue, drafted 14th overall by Texas last summer, has been rated the No. 8 second base prospect in the game by MLB Pipeline. Shortly after the draft, the Rangers put Foscue on their 60-man roster and invited him to the alternate training camp. Not every 2020 draft pick got that chance. He is already at their spring training facility in Arizona and, per an interview last week on milb.com’s “The Show Before The Show” podcast, is brimming with confidence as his first actual pro season approaches. “They told me they believe in my abilities,” Foscue said. “They believe in me. I appreciated them telling me that.” He said he has devoted a lot of off-season work on his defense. “That’s where I can take the biggest jump,” he said on the podcast. Foscue, who turns 22 on March 2, is likely to spend the ’21 season in the minors – “unless something crazy happens,” he said. When he eventually encounters the bright lights, big crowds and electric moments of the major leagues, his time at State and Dudy Noble Field will have him well-prepared. As Foscue said during the podcast: “(Dudy Noble) is the best place to play in college baseball. The best. By far. Not even close. … I’m so happy I got the opportunity to play there.”
Ready for some live baseball? Head for Blue Mountain on Jan. 30. The much-anticipated 2021 college season will commence in the Magnolia State two weeks from today, when Blue Mountain College hosts Rust College in a twinbill at the BMC SportsPlex. The Toppers are slated to play their first 19 games at home. BMC went 10-15 before play was abruptly halted in 2020, the NAIA program’s 11th season. … NCAA Division II members Mississippi College and Delta State are scheduled to open Feb. 6, as is NAIA Tougaloo. NAIA William Carey opens Feb. 12. Belhaven University’s schedule lists an invitational tournament, co-hosted with fellow NCAA Division III member Millsaps College, for Smith-Wills Stadium between Feb. 12-21. The NCAA Division I start date is Feb. 19, though the Big 3’s schedules have not been posted. Jackson State’s schedule lists the Tigers’ first game as Feb. 23 at Mississippi State.
Three Mississippi State products avoided arbitration hearings by agreeing to new MLB contracts on Friday. Brandon Woodruff, who has emerged as the ace of the Milwaukee staff, got a nice pay raise, jumping from a 2020 salary of $633,100 to a reported $3.3 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The right-hander from Wheeler, a 2019 All-Star, is 19-11 with a 3.66 ERA in three-plus seasons in the majors. He went 3-5, 3.05 in last year’s abbreviated campaign. Chris Stratton, also an MSU alum, got $1.1M deal from Pittsburgh in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The Tupelo native, who made $507,500 in 2020, is 18-18 with a 4.97 ERA over parts of five seasons and posted a 3.90 in 27 relief outings last season. Ex-State star Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh’s second baseman last year, agreed to a $4.3M contract as a second-year arbitration eligible player. The .273 career hitter made $2.8M last year, when he batted .230. There has been speculation he’ll be traded before the season starts.
For Luke Easter, it was Sept. 29, 1951. For Dmitri Young, it was May 6, 2003. Great days at the plate by those two Mississippi natives have been rated among the top 5 all-time single-game performances for their respective MLB teams. Writers for mlb.com compiled the lists. Jonestown native Easter’s big day came in at No. 4 for Cleveland and Vicksburg native Young’s was No. 4 for Detroit. Easter — who became on Aug. 11, 1949, the first black Mississippian to play in the major leagues — went 4-for-6 with two homers, a triple, three runs and five RBIs against Detroit on Sept. 29, 1951. One of his homers was a grand slam and the other a game-tying blast in the bottom of the eighth inning. Young went 5-for-5 with two homers, two triples and five RBIs on May 6, 2003, at Baltimore. His 15 total bases were one shy of Ty Cobb’s club record. On April 4, 2005, Young hit three homers on opening day for the Tigers. That rare feat – only three others have ever done it — didn’t make Detroit’s top five. … The Kansas City Royals’ page on mlb.com didn’t have a top 5 list as of Tuesday, but if one was produced, Frank White’s Aug. 3, 1982, performance would surely be on it. The Greenville native hit for the cycle with four RBIs. His fourth and final hit was a two-out triple in the bottom of the ninth that drove in the game-winning run against Detroit. P.S. Easter hit .274 with 93 homers in his brief big league career; he was 34 when he debuted. Young, who went to high school in California, hit .292 with 171 bombs and made two All-Star Games over his 13 seasons. White, who grew up in Missouri, was a .255 hitter, five-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glover and a world champ (in 1985) who ought to be in the Hall of Fame.
The likely delayed start of spring training for most minor leaguers scuttles what might have been a cool scene this spring in Fort Myers, Fla., site of Boston’s spring training facility. Imagine a batting practice session that includes three big dudes from Mississippi, each a newcomer to the Red Sox, each with a well-earned reputation as a masher. Imagine Hunter Renfroe, Tyreque Reed and Blaze Jordan taking their hacks in a group. Wouldn’t that be something to see? Renfroe, 6 feet 1, 230 pounds, from Crystal Springs by way of Mississippi State, has 97 home runs over his four-plus big league seasons. The Red Sox signed him as a free agent in December. Reed is from Houlka and an Itawamba Community College product. The 6-1, 250-pound first baseman has hit 41 bombs in two-plus minor league seasons at the rookie and A-ball levels. The Red Sox took him from the Texas organization in December’s Rule 5 draft. Jordan, from prep powerhouse DeSoto Central, was drafted in the third round in 2020 and jumped in as the organization’s No. 15 prospect. The 6-2, 220 third baseman has yet to play a game above the high school level, but he has been making headlines as a slugger since he was a pre-teen. He won the high school home run derby at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Renfroe, Reed and Jordan, launching missiles into the Florida sky at JetBlue Park. Maybe next year. P.S. Baseball America has reported that Double-A and Class A level players won’t start spring training until after the big league and Triple-A clubs have left. That means a later start and finish to the season for the lower minors, including the Class AA Mississippi and Biloxi teams. Additionally, there will be no postseason at those levels. MLB, now running the streamlined minor leagues, has not released any schedules.
Professional baseball will return to Mississippi in 2021. Presumably. The Double-A Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers are selling season tickets, though the Southern League doesn’t have a schedule up yet. The cancelled 2020 minor league season left central Mississippi without a pro team for the first time since 2001 and just the second time since 1975, when the old Jackson Mets moved into Smith-Wills Stadium. The Texas League franchise departed in 1999 and the independent DiamondKats played just one season (2000) before folding. The indy Senators began their four-year run at Smith-Wills in 2002. But there was a pro team playing in the state 20 years ago. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the swan song of the Greenville Bluesmen. The independent team played at Legion Field from 1996-2001 in first the Big South League and then the Texas-Louisiana League (along with the DiamondKats). The Bluesmen are remembered in some circles as the team that made a 1998 trade for a pitcher involving 10 pounds of catfish. (You can look it up.) They also won back-to-back Big South titles in 1996 and ’97. Alas, their Texas-Louisiana League years weren’t so good. They finished last every season, going 34-62 overall in 2001. Patrick O’Sullivan was the best player on that team; the former New York Mets draft pick, who played many years of pro ball, hit .323 with 18 homers. Tunica native Keith Dunn won 11 games. Southern Miss alum Danny Stout and Jackson native Sim Shanks also played on that club. There’s rich baseball history in Greenville. It’s the birthplace of former MLB stars George Scott and Frank White, and the city hosted minor league clubs in various leagues going back to 1902.