There is perhaps no Mississippian in the minors who’ll be more compelling to watch in 2022 than Blaze Jordan. The 19-year-old Southaven native, who just completed his first season of pro ball in 2021, is one of the top prospects in Boston’s Winter Warm-Up program, underway this week in Fort Myers, Fla. A power-hitting prodigy, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jordan was drafted in 2020 out of DeSoto Central High and debuted last summer, batting .324 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 28 games between the rookie Florida Complex League and Low-A Salem. The Red Sox were pleased with Jordan’s adjustment to the pro life. “It’s a lot to handle for a young player, and I think Blaze showed the ability to do all those things,” Red Sox farm director Brian Abraham told Boston-based eagletribune.com. Jordan, the Red Sox’s No 9 prospect per mlb.com, played mostly third base in 2021 but also saw time at first. The club reportedly wants him to continue to get fitter and faster. He’ll likely stay in A-ball this season. P.S. Curious to see how much support Jonathan Papelbon gets in the Hall of Fame voting, which will be revealed today. The Mississippi State alum, eligible for the first time, has 368 saves, a 2.44 ERA, six All-Star Game nods and a World Series ring. But it’s a very crowded and complicated ballot. … How would Deion Sanders’ career have played out had he devoted all of his time and energy to baseball? It would have been fun to see. Ex-MSU star Buck Showalter managed Sanders in the minors and told mlb.com’s Mike Lupica that Sanders had “a level of speed unlike I ever saw on a ballfield.” Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Fame member and currently Jackson State’s football coach, batted .263 with 39 homers, 186 stolen bases and 43 triples in nine years (641 games) in the majors, rarely playing regularly. He “could impact a game in so many different ways, people would’ve lost count,” said Showalter, the veteran big league skipper recently hired by the New York Mets.
Jackson State’s baseball team will get some prime exposure on MLB Network next month. The Tigers are playing in the annual Andre Dawson Classic, a showcase event for HBCU programs, and will face SWAC rival Southern University on MLB Network on Feb. 19 (1 p.m.). The Andre Dawson Classic runs Feb. 18-20 in New Orleans and features seven HBCUs in its eight-team field. JSU is playing in the event for the first time. The Tigers open on Feb. 18 against Grambling State and will play Prairie View on Feb. 20. JSU went 24-0 in the SWAC and 34-9 overall in 2021 but lost in the ninth inning of the league tournament title game and missed out on an NCAA bid. JSU returns Nik Galatas and Chenar Brown, picked by Collegiate Baseball Magazine as the preseason pitcher and player of the year in the SWAC. P.S. The start of the college season is less than two weeks away. On Feb. 2, NAIA member Rust College visits Tuskegee for a doubleheader. William Carey University, another NAIA program, opens at home in Hattiesburg on Feb. 4 against Lindsey Wilson. NAIA Tougaloo College starts Feb. 5 with a twinbill at Xavier in New Orleans. … Defending MACCC champion Pearl River Community College starts its season on Feb. 9 at home against Baton Rouge CC. PRCC is one of four state jucos ranked in Collegiate Baseball’s Division II Top 20. East Central (the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament runner-up) is No. 6, Pearl River No. 9, Meridian No. 14 and Itawamba No. 17. Jones College has a new coach for 2022 with Wes Thigpen moving to Ellisville after a stint at Gulf Coast. The Bobcats open on Feb. 7 at Shelton State (Ala.). Bob Keller is the new coach at Gulf Coast, which opens Feb. 5 in a tournament at Bay Minette, Ala.
Bobby Abreu is among the most accomplished former Jackson Generals players. He hit .291 for his big league career with a .395 on-base average, 288 homers and 400 steals, one of just six players all-time in the 250/400 club. He was a two-time All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove and a Home Run Derby. Abreu, a star right fielder for the 1994 Generals (Houston’s Double-A club), is on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot for the third time, and there is an interesting piece on mlb.com in which a panel of experts debate Abreu’s credentials. The consensus would seem to be that he won’t make the writers’ cut and likely would need to get in down the road via one of the veterans committees. Pitcher Billy Wagner, also still on the writers’ ballot, stands a much better chance of being the first ex-Gens star to be elected. … Jackson native and longtime big leaguer Chet Lemon is featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s weekly e-newsletter. The Card Corner item, which includes a nice story, is Lemon’s 1988 Fleer card. Lemon batted .273 over 16 years in MLB before an illness ended his career in 1991. He was a three-time All-Star, won a ring with the 1984 Detroit Tigers and still holds the American League record of 512 putouts, set in 1977 with Chicago. Lemon’s son Marcus played for the Mississippi Braves in 2011. … Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim is playing for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican (Roberto Clemente) League Championship Series, which is being televised on FS2. Game 4 is Wednesday night at 5 p.m. Crim, a Texas Rangers farmhand, batted .406 for Mayaguez this season after mashing 29 homers in the minors in 2021. … Mississippi State product Justin Foscue was named a Rangers Organization All-Star by milb.com after batting .275 with 17 homers at three levels in 2021. He also played well in the Arizona Fall League. But the second baseman’s big league path is currently blocked by Marcus Semien, who signed a huge free agent contract with Texas.
Assuming there is a major league season in 2022, Mississippians in the majors will be chasing some noteworthy milestones. Start with Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum from McComb. He’s a free agent at the moment, but, at age 32, the left-handed hitting outfielder shouldn’t have trouble finding a team and adding to his career total of 917 hits. The thousand mark is within reach. He had 91 in an injury-shortened ’21 season. Making it to a 1,000 career hits in MLB is no minor feat. Mitch Moreland, another free agent, is sitting on 186 home runs. He could reach 200 with a healthy year. He hit 10 last season at age 36 despite missing a chunk of time with injuries. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory currently sits sixth on the list of career homer leaders among Mississippi natives. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn needs nine strikeouts to reach 1,600 career, a mark reached by only 185 pitchers; the big right-hander could do it in his first start. He had 176 K’s last season in a banner year for the Chicago White Sox. Teammate Tim Anderson, the White Sox’s shortstop and an East Central Community College product, has 91 homers and 91 steals over six MLB campaigns. He should get to 100 in each category with ease. He put up 17 homers and 18 steals in 2021. Veteran outfielder Jarrod Dyson, 37, a free agent, has played in 992 games (.244 average, 266 steals in 12 seasons). The McComb native surely wants a chance to get to 1,000. Ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, coming off a career year but joining a new team (Milwaukee), could crack 150 career homers in 2022. He has 128 after belting 31 for Boston a year ago. He also has 465 career hits; No. 500 is clearly in his sights. Former State ace Chris Stratton has worked 399 innings over six big league seasons. The right-hander, 31, is coming off his best year, having won seven games, saved eight and posted a 3.63 ERA for lowly Pittsburgh.