While it’s anyone’s guess at this point who might become the next Mississippian to debut in the majors, mlb.com has offered up three players as top prospects to watch in 2024. Former Jackson Prep star Will Warren (New York Yankees), Biloxi High product Colt Keith (Detroit) and Southern Miss alumnus Hurston Waldrep (Atlanta) appear close to breaking through. Warren, a 2021 draftee out of Southeastern Louisiana, is the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) after posting a 10-4 record with a 3.35 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. The right-hander throws hard and features a wipeout sweeper/slider, per reports. Keith, a 2020 draftee, is Detroit’s No. 2 prospect and could crack the Tigers’ lineup at second base this spring. He hit .306 with 27 home runs last season between Double-A and Triple-A and had a memorable 6-for-6 game with a cycle. Right-hander Waldrep was the Braves’ first-round pick (24th overall) out of Florida back in July and put up a 1.53 ERA while pitching at four minor league levels, including a brief stop with the Mississippi Braves. The Braves are not shy about promoting young arms. … Also worthy of keeping an eye on is Justin Foscue, the ex-Mississippi State standout who ranks as the No. 6 prospect in Texas’ system and made the organization’s minor league All-Star team at second base. He hit .266 with 18 homers in Triple-A and posted a .394 on-base average, walking more times than he struck out. P.S. Boston recently announced that former MSU star Jonathan Papelbon will be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame next spring. He is Boston’s all-time saves leader (219) and won a World Series with the team in 2007. … Tampa Bay has signed Zac Houston, another State product, to a minor league deal. In the minors since 2016, the right-hander has a 3.18 career ERA in 230 games.
Kudos to Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, for making the All-MLB first team for the second time in three years. Atlanta third baseman Riley is joined on the first team by fellow former Mississippi Braves Ronald Acuna Jr. (also recently named the Hank Aaron Award winner), Freddie Freeman and Spencer Strider (who should have gotten stronger Cy Young Award consideration). M-Braves alum Ozzie Albies was a second-team selection, as was Biloxi Shuckers product Devin Williams. … Luke Waddell, Jesse Franklin V, Luis De Avila, AJ Smith-Shawver and Drake Baldwin — 2023 M-Braves alums — were selected by milb.com as Atlanta Organization All-Stars. David McCabe, Ignacio Alvarez and Keyshawn Ogans — stars at High-Class A Rome — also made that team and likely will make it to Mississippi in 2024 (see previous post). … With the addition of free agent Hunter Renfroe, the Kansas City organization is practically overflowing with Mississippi connections. Former Mississippi State standout Renfroe, the veteran outfielder, joins fellow Bulldogs alum Chris Stratton, another recent signee, and Ole Miss product James McArthur, a 2023 rookie, on the Royals’ big league roster. Stratton and McArthur are both relievers. KC added ex-Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr., an outfielder, to its farm system in the Rule 5 draft, plucking the once-highly touted outfielder from Milwaukee. Also in the minors are recent draft picks Dustin Dickerson (Southern Miss), Eric Cerantola (MSU), Hayden Dunhurst (UM), Brandon Johnson (UM) and Brennon McNair (Magee). … Good to see that former USM standout Chuckie Robinson has signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. A catcher who has some MLB experience, Robinson hit .290 with 13 homers in Triple-A for Cincinnati this past season and had been playing in the Dominican Winter League.
Kansas City, which hasn’t had a winning season in eight years, is stockpiling bullpen arms for 2024 and has added free agent Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State ace from Tupelo, to that mix. Veteran right-hander Stratton, 33, reportedly has signed a two-year deal with the Royals: $3.5 million in 2024 with a player option for $4.5M in ’25. Stratton had a 3.94 ERA between St. Louis and Texas last season, earning his first World Series ring with the Rangers. In 302 career big league games, most of them as a reliever, he has a 4.34 ERA, a 37-24 record and 12 saves. The Royals tied for the fewest saves in MLB last year with 28 (in 53 opportunities) and posted a staff ERA of 5.17 while going 56-106. In addition to Stratton, the club recently signed Seth Lugo and Will Smith and traded for Nick Anderson in an effort to improve its relief corps. Former Ole Miss star James McArthur emerged as a potential closer last season, putting up a 0.00 ERA and four saves in 12 games in September and October as a 26-year-old rookie. The Royals won the World Series in 2015 but have not sniffed the postseason since.
Jake Mangum had an SEC record 383 hits (and a .357 career average) at Mississippi State and has 370 hits (.289 average) in four minor league seasons. But he is still pursuing major league hit — and at-bat — No. 1. The former Jackson Prep star will resume his quest to make the big leagues next spring with a third different pro organization, having been traded Friday from Miami to Tampa Bay to complete an earlier deal. Mangum, 27, said on X (Twitter) he is “excited for the opportunity … . I’ll give it all I got.” Originally drafted by the New York Mets in 2019, the switch-hitting outfielder was traded to Miami last year and batted .298 (.346 OBP) with five homers, 52 RBIs and 16 stolen bases at Triple-A Jacksonville. Mangum, considered an outstanding defensive player, likely will get an invitation as a minor leaguer to Tampa Bay’s big league camp in the spring. The Rays’ 40-man roster currently lists four outfielders: Randy Arozarena, Josh Lowe, Manuel Margot and Jose Siri.
While the world waits for Shohei Ohtani to pick a team, some here in the ‘Sip are just wondering when the local guys are going to sign. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn signed with St. Louis on Nov. 21. Since then … crickets. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson and MSU alum Chris Stratton (a World Series champ in 2023) were ranked among the top 89 available free agents by USA Today. They’re still out there. So are Brandon Woodruff (unlikely to pitch in 2024 after arm surgery), Dakota Hudson and Spencer Turnbull, a trio of quality pitchers who became free agents after USA Today published its rankings. Hunter Renfroe, the veteran slugger (177 career homers) out of Crystal Springs and MSU, hasn’t landed. (At one time, Atlanta was rumored to be interested, but the Braves have since filled — maybe — their left field void.) Other Mississippi connections with big league experience still looking for jobs include Billy Hamilton (326 career steals), Drew Pomeranz (289 career games pitched), Demarcus Evans, Chuckie Robinson, Mike Mayers and Jonathan Holder. Some of these guys may retire, but many surely want to play on in 2024. It feels like a wave of signings is coming soon.
Having stalled in the low minors in Milwaukee’s system, ex-Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. will get a fresh start in 2024 with Kansas City. The 23-year-old outfielder was the first pick in the minor league phase of today’s Rule 5 draft. A second-round pick in MLB’s amateur draft in 2018 and a top 10 prospect with the Brewers as recently as 2022, Gray has batted .218 with 51 home runs and 66 steals in five pro seasons, only briefly reaching Double-A. Promoted to Biloxi in May of this past season, Gray went 2-for-37 with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 10 games before being sent back to A-ball. Gray is listed on Kansas City’s Triple-A Omaha roster but is likely to be tested at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in the Texas League next season. … Former Southern Miss star Dustin Dickerson and Magee High product Brennon McNair played in A-ball in the Kansas City chain in 2023. P.S. Former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout Tony Sipp is among the ex-major leaguers already committed to play in The East-West Classic: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game in Cooperstown, N.Y., next May 25. Scott and Jerry Hairston Jr., grandsons of Crawford native and former Negro Leagues star Sam Hairston, also are on the initial rosters. The National Baseball Hall of Fame will open “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball” exhibit on Memorial Day weekend.
The 2023 Mississippi Braves deployed several position players who put up some nice numbers, but there really wasn’t a player who moved the needle on the excitement meter. No Michael Harris II or Ronald Acuna or Dansby Swanson type. Might there be one in 2024? Baseball America ranks three position players among Atlanta’s top 10 prospects, and it’s possible all three could be with the M-Braves when they open on the road on April 5. David McCabe, a corner infielder/DH, is No. 6; catcher Drake Baldwin No. 7; and shortstop Ignacio Alvarez No. 8. McCabe, 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, played at two Class A levels in 2023 and hit .276 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs, then hit .278 in the Arizona Fall League. A college draftee out of UNC-Charlotte, the 23-year-old McCabe is projected as Atlanta’s DH in 2027. Baldwin, a Missouri State alum, is rated as the top power-hitting prospect in the Braves’ system after mashing 16 homers at three levels in 2023. A lefty hitter, he played 14 games (.321, one homer) for the M-Braves late last season before finishing in Triple-A. The most dynamic of those three prospects is Alvarez, the highest rated position player (at No. 8) on Atlanta’s Top 30 by MLB Pipeline. The 20-year-old Alvarez, drafted out of a California junior college, played at High-Class A Rome last season and hit .284 with seven homers, 66 RBIs and 16 steals. BA rates him the best overall hitter in the Atlanta system. Also worth keeping an eye on are infielders Keshawn Ogans and Gerald Quintero, both of whom had solid seasons at Rome in 2023 and could move up. Quintero is a second baseman in the Ozzie Albies mold — 5 feet 5, 155 pounds — who stole 29 bases while batting .251 for the R-Braves. He has 96 career steals in three years. Ogans, out of Cal-Berkley, hit .266 with nine homers at Rome and .299 in the AFL, where he made the Fall Stars Game. … The M-Braves’ best position players in 2023 included infielder Luke Waddell, a Southern League postseason All-Star who batted .290 and stole 26 bases, and outfielder Cody Milligan — injured for a chunk of time — who hit .280. Cal Conley, a middle infielder, has dropped to No. 21 (per MLB Pipeline) on the Braves’ prospect chart after batting .219 (with 32 bags) in 2023. Outfielder Jesse Franklin V — projected by Baseball America as Atlanta’s starting left fielder in 2027 — hit .232 with 15 homers and 21 steals last season and is now rated the No. 22 prospect. P.S. Former Jackson Mets catcher — and MLB manager — John Gibbons and ex-M-Braves outfielder Antoan Richardson have been named to the New York Mets’ coaching staff as bench coach and first-base coach, respectively.
A month into the Puerto Rican Winter League season, former Delta State standout Trent Giambrone is leading the circuit in home runs. Giambrone has hit three homers in 21 games for first-place Criollos de Caguas and is batting .200 with three doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs. The 29-year-old infielder, who had a cup of coffee with the Chicago Cubs in 2021, played in the independent Atlantic League this past season and hit .287 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs. Drafted by the Cubs in 2016 after a highly decorated college career at Jones County Junior College and NCAA Division II DSU, the 5-foot-8 Giambrone batted .233 with 62 homers and 72 RBIs in six minor league seasons and went 2-for-13 for the Cubs in ’21. He became a minor league free agent after the 2022 season.
After a three-year hiatus, Dave Clark will be back on a major league staff in 2024. The ex-Jackson State star from Tupelo will be the first base coach for Houston and its new manager, Joe Espada. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Clark, who played a year for the Astros, coached five years with the club and even managed the team for 13 games in 2009. Clark last coached in MLB with Detroit from 2014-20; he spent last year as a manager in the Pioneer League, an independent developmental league. A renowned slugger at Shannon High and JSU — where he was a SWAC MVP — Clark was the 11th overall pick in the 1983 draft by Cleveland. Playing parts of 13 seasons with six teams in the majors, the lefty-hitting outfielder batted .264 with 62 home runs and 284 RBIs, finishing up with Houston in 1998. Expectations in Space City have changed considerably since Clark’s previous time there, 2009-13, when the team never had a winning season. The Astros lost to Texas in the American League Championship Series this past season under former skipper Dusty Baker and have made the postseason seven years in a row, winning two World Series in that span. … There are three players with Mississippi ties on the Astros’ current 40-man roster: former Mississippi State pitchers Kendall Graveman and J.P. France and ex-Ole Miss shortstop Grae Kessinger.