Longtime Jackson-area fans looking for a nostalgia fix should peruse the lists of MLB coaches. Dave Magadan, the skinny hitting machine who passed through Smith-Wills Stadium with the Jackson Mets back in 1985, is the hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies. Ron Gideon, another former JaxMets star, is the Rockies’ first-base coach. Alan Zinter, who played on the last JaxMets team in 1990, is Cincinnati’s hitting coach. Washington’s staff includes bench coach Tim Bogar, a shortstop at Smith-Wills, and pitching coach Jim Hickey, who served in that role for the Jackson Generals way back when. Bobby Magallanes, who played for the Generals, is an assistant hitting coach for Atlanta, where former Mississippi Braves skipper Brian Snitker is the manager. Chris Holt, a former Gens pitcher, is Baltimore’s pitching coach, and onetime Generals hitting coach Dave Hudgens fills that role for Toronto. Eric Duncan, who played for the M-Braves in 2010, is Miami’s hitting coach, and M-Braves alum Antoan Richardson coaches first base for San Francisco. Other Mississippi connections on big league staffs: Louisville native and former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames (New York Yankees hitting coach); Laurel native Bobby Dickerson (San Diego third base coach); Biloxi native and Mississippi State alum Chris Young (Chicago Cubs bullpen coach); former Biloxi Shuckers pitching coach Chris Hook (Milwaukee pitching coach); and Jackson native Donnie Veal (Chicago White Sox rehab pitching coach). P.S. The Los Angeles Angels still list Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway as their pitching coach, but he is currently suspended and under investigation for inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment. It’s highly unlikely he’ll return to that job. … Former Southern Miss standout Kevin Young has joined the Pittsburgh Pirates’ broadcast team. He spent 11 of his 12 MLB seasons with the Bucs.
Excluding all the former Mississippi Braves in Atlanta, the most Mississippi-flavored team in the big leagues is the Chicago White Sox, a loaded club that will start the season with four familiar names on its roster. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson is the blossoming star at shortstop, former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn is in the starting rotation, ex-Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet is in the bullpen and former Taylorsville High standout Billy Hamilton has made the team as a reserve outfielder. Hamilton, now with his eighth club, is one of the fastest players in the game and factors in as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Anderson, who won a batting title in 2019, is entrenched as the leadoff batter and unofficial team spokesman. Lynn, 33 and entering his 10th MLB campaign, was added in an off-season trade and brings a 3.57 career ERA and bulldog mentality. And then there’s Crochet, the 6-foot-6 left-hander who debuted last September just weeks after being drafted (11th overall out of Tennessee) and absolutely lit it up. He allowed three hits, one walk, no runs and fanned eight in six innings of work. Of his 85 pitches, 45 were 100 mph or faster. In nine frames this spring, he allowed two earned runs on six hits and four walks while striking out eight. Crochet’s velocity has been down a little this spring, but he says that’s of no real concern. “Everybody wants to see 100,” he told mlb.com last week. “I want to see 100, too, but my arm is feeling good. I’m competing out there as best as I can. Everything is feeling in sync. All my pitches are starting to get better every time I go out there.” Keep an eye on the ChiSox. P.S. In a bit of a surprise move, Minnesota assigned Mississippi State product Brent Rooker to its alternate site. The rookie outfielder had played well in camp, but the Twins have opted to go with 29-year-old journeyman Kyle Garlick on the 26-man roster. … Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central standout, will start the season on Detroit’s injured list. The right-hander is in COVID-19 protocol and has yet to be cleared to return. He reportedly is doing fine and eager to get back with the club, though it may be mid-April before that happens. … Other notable 40-man roster members currently on the IL: Jonathan Holder (Cubs), Bobby Wahl (Milwaukee), Dakota Hudson (St. Louis, out for the year) and Demarcus Evans (Texas).
Frustration is relative. Mississippi State is hurting, having been battered in three straight games at home by Arkansas. “We got manhandled,” a downcast coach Chris Lemonis said in his postgame video conference. One Bulldogs player called the performance “embarrassing.” State, a consensus national top five last week, slipped to 17-7, 2-4 in the SEC and tumbled in the polls. Suddenly, the Bulldogs have things to prove. Comes now a game tonight at Dudy Noble Field against Mississippi Valley State, where frustration is at a whole ’nother level. The Delta Devils are 0-9, 0-6 in the SWAC. They’ve scored just eight runs all season. Their pitchers are struggling to get outs (.380 batting average against), but so is their defense (35 unearned runs allowed). Valley is 0-27 all-time against State. If there was ever a good time for the Devils to catch the Bulldogs, tonight isn’t it. Frustration is relative.
Former Ole Miss star Ryan Rolison got his first Cactus League start today, worked three innings and likely made a good final impression. The left-hander, a 2018 first-round pick who is not yet on the 40-man roster and won’t break camp with the big club, allowed two walks, a hit and a run in the first inning against San Diego but sailed through the next two. He finished his spring with a 5.19 ERA and eight strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings over four games. He is generally rated among the team’s top two or three prospects and may get the big league call before the season is very old. “I’ve done a lot of work cleaning up some mechanical delivery things, and I feel my stuff is ready to play in the big leagues and I’m confident in my stuff,” Rolison said in an mlb.com story early in camp. “I’m ready to make an impact.” He has posted an 8-9 record with a 3.94 in his two minor league seasons and spent last summer in the Rockies’ alternate camp. … Drew Pomeranz, another former Ole Miss standout and first-round pick (2010), pitched an inning for the Padres and struck out the side. He did not allow a run and fanned nine in his four spring appearances. The veteran left-hander, 32, will be a key piece in San Diego’s bullpen. “I don’t care when I pitch,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m here to help the team win. … They want me to close, that’s fine. They want me to pitch the sixth, seventh, eighth, that’s fine, too.”
The tone was set on opening day at Dub Herring Park in Poplarville. The Pearl River Community College Wildcats slugged five home runs in a doubleheader sweep of East Central CC on Feb. 3, and the laser show has continued all season for a team that has climbed to first place in the state standings and to No. 2 in the national poll. PRCC (21-5, 11-3 MACCC) has 53 home runs, third-most in NJCAA Division II. They hit eight in one game in February. The Wildcats are slugging .577 as a team. They take a seven-game win streak into today’s big doubleheader at Hinds (14-10, 12-6). Pablo Lanzarote leads the Eagles with eight homers. PRCC has four players with eight or more. Kasey Donaldson and Graham Crawford each hit their ninth on Friday, two of the four the team belted in a 10-0, 5-inning win against Holmes. Tate Parker also has nine; Von Seibert sits at eight and Eric Newsom at five. That makes for a pretty scary lineup. But the Wildcats can also scratch out a win, as they did in Game 2 against Holmes on Friday. They got just five hits, pushed across the winning run in the sixth on a sac fly and used some gritty pitching from Dakota Lee to close it out. “What makes this league so tough and people don’t understand about junior college baseball is you play a doubleheader and there is no guarantee Game 1 is going to be like Game 2 and vice versa,” PRCC coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. Landon Gartman tops the team’s pitchers with a 4-0 record and 2.10 ERA; the other three regular starters are a combined 10-1. P.S. East Central is second in the league standings at 14-4, and Itawamba is third at 10-4, percentage points ahead of Hinds.
Ole Miss fans love history and they love Archie, and the current Rebels team has triggered chatter about both. The Rebels are 6-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1969, which, as the folks on the SEC Now show dutifully pointed out today, is back when Archie Manning was their shortstop. Manning was not the star of the ’69 team, which was the last of coach Tom Swayze’s four league champions, and neither was future big leaguer Steve Dillard, also an infielder on that club. The team’s two All-SEC picks were Whitey Adams and Ed McLarty. John Shaw, who held UM’s career stolen base record for many years, was on that team, along with pitching stalwarts Fred Selser and Ken Kauerz. The ’69 Rebels won the SEC title by beating Florida in a playoff series, won a regional (called a district championship in those days) and went to the College World Series, where they were ousted in their third game by Texas. It’s much, much too soon to suggest the current Rebels are bound for such glory, but they do have the ingredients of a great club. Led by SEC Triple Crown contender Tim Elko, the big first baseman who is batting .341 with nine homers and 34 RBIs, UM (20-4) is batting .282 as a team and scoring 7.5 runs a game. Pro prospects Gunnar Hoglund (3-0, 2.63 ERA) and Doug Nikhazy (2-1, 3.10) have lived up to their billing. Yes, the SEC schedule is a gauntlet: There are nationally ranked teams lurking practically every weekend. But the Rebels have woken up some inspiring echoes.
Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High standout, will not be on Cleveland’s opening day roster, the team announced. Bradley was competing at first base this spring with the more experienced Jake Bauers. Bradley is hitting .303 in the Cactus League to Bauer’s .200, but Bauers is out of minor league options. Bradley, who played briefly in the majors in 2019, is not. Bradley has big-time power and no doubt will get to Cleveland sometime this season. … Though Minnesota has not named a starting left fielder, signs point to Brent Rooker, the Mississippi State product whose 2020 debut was curtailed by an injury. Rooker, batting .286 with a home run this spring, was in the lineup, in left and batting fifth, for today’s Grapefruit League game against Atlanta. Rooker’s competition is 29-year-old journeyman Kyle Garlick, another right-handed hitter who has four homers this spring. Rooker’s defense still needs polish, but the Twins, who made him the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft, seem to love the thunder in his bat. “You’re looking for ways to get a guy like that in the lineup because you know he can do damage, you know he can be a very productive major league offensive player,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said in an mlb.com piece. “That’s something that we can say with some certainty and feel good about it.” … Outfielder Eloy Jimenez’s injury surely increases the chances that Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton will make the Chicago White Sox’s 26-man roster. The speedy outfielder is in camp on a minor league deal. … Ex-State standout Jonathan Holder, battling for a bullpen role with the Chicago Cubs, is on the shelf with a “pec injury” and may be on the injured list when the season starts. He put up an 8.10 ERA in four games this spring. The veteran right-hander was signed in December after five seasons with the New York Yankees, for whom he posted a 4.38 ERA in 157 games. He reportedly still has minor league options remaining. … The Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation is accepting applications through April 23 for the 10-week Charley Pride Fellowship Program, an internship designed to promote diversity. The Grammy-winning Pride, a Sledge native who played minor league ball, was a part-owner of the Rangers for a time and was often around the team. A field at the team’s spring training complex bears his name. Pride died in 2020. … Zack Shannon, the former Delta State slugger, recently was released by Arizona. He hit .289 with 26 home runs in two seasons in the low minors. He blasted 50 homers — a school and state record 31 as a senior — in two years at DSU.
Nineteen games into its season, Southern Miss still isn’t hitting. Pitching, on the front and back end of games, has carried the Golden Eagles to a 13-6 record and will be leaned on again this weekend in Hattiesburg in their C-USA opening series against Louisiana Tech. “We’ll hang our hat on our guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish to this point,” USM coach Scott Berry said in a video conference with media this week. Batting .208 as a team, USM faces a tough Tech pitching staff (3.27 ERA) led by No. 1 starter Jonathan Fincher (3-0, 1.50). The nationally ranked Bulldogs (14-5), coached by Mississippi native and former USM assistant Lane Burroughs, roll out three .300 hitters and are at .287 as a club. USM counters with a pitching staff that ranks among the nation’s best in ERA (2.91) and walks per nine innings (2.16), which Berry cites as a key stat. The starting pool of Hunter Stanley, Walker Powell, Ben Ethridge and Drew Boyd has been consistently effective, and closer Garrett Ramsey has been lights out. Taking over Stanley’s role from 2020, former Northwest Rankin High and Hinds Community College star Ramsey is seven-for-seven in save opps, has yet to allow a run in 7 2/3 innings and features a 14-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Runs may be at a premium at Taylor Park this weekend.
If sports polls are a show of respect, then Mississippi baseball is getting plenty of it. Mississippi State is ranked No. 2 and Ole Miss No. 4 in Baseball America’s NCAA Division I poll, and both schools are in the top 10 in just about every other D-I ranking. Jackson State, off to a 6-0 start in SWAC play, is ranked No. 1 in the Black College Nines HBCU Top 10. Pearl River Community College is No. 2 in the NJCAA’s Division II poll, and three other state jucos are also ranked, including East Central (which is No. 16 despite leading the MACCC standings with a 13-3 record). William Carey is No. 14 in the current NAIA poll and shouldn’t lose much ground after going 1-2 at No. 6 Faulkner last weekend, dropping the rubber game 6-5 in 10 innings. Belhaven, 13-5 and 8-1 in the American Southwest Conference, got votes in this week’s d3baseball.com Top 25 poll. (Note: There are 389 D-III baseball schools vying for attention.) And then there’s the high school ranks, where Madison Central has risen to No. 4 in the MaxPreps Top 25. The Jaguars, led by Stanford signee Braden Montgomery and State signee Hunter Hines, are 14-0 and have won by such scores as 20-2, 21-5, 16-0, 15-1, 15-3 and 13-1.
FanGraphs, the stats-driven website, doesn’t put much stock in Atlanta’s third base situation, ranking the Braves 25th among the 30 MLB clubs at the position entering 2021. That throws shade on Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who figures to get most of the playing time at third base. And he does have some things to prove, though raw power isn’t among them. He showed that off today against Pittsburgh. He mashed his first two home runs of the spring – 440 feet on a 1-2 curveball, then another deep bomb on a first-pitch sinker. He struck out in his third at-bat. Riley, 23, has 26 homers in 132 big league games but has batted just .232 with a lot of strikeouts and few walks. He hasn’t hit much in Florida this spring: 5-for-25 with one RBI before today. But neither has veteran Jake Lamb (.194, one homer), brought in presumably to push Riley for the job. The Braves have enough big bats elsewhere in the lineup that they don’t need Riley to carry them. Still, improved production would be nice. The Braves aren’t inclined to wait too long for that to happen. P.S. Mississippi State alum Adam Frazier, hitting a ridiculous .563 for the Pirates, smacked his second homer in as many days in today’s game.