31 May

draft watch

Eight players with Mississippi connections — five of them at Mississippi State — are ranked among the Top 200 MLB draft prospects in MLB Pipeline’s latest chart. The top in-state prospect is still Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin, who — at No. 9 — is also the highest-rated high school player in the country. According to one clever scouting report, if Home Depot were a ballplayer, it would be Griffin. In other words, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound outfielder/shortstop/pitcher has all the tools. An LSU signee, he reportedly led the nation with 85 stolen bases this season while leading the Patriots to another state title. Braden Montgomery, the ex-Madison Central High star now playing outfield at Texas A&M, is ranked No. 8 on the MLB Pipeline list. MSU outfielder Dakota Jordan — the state’s Ferriss Trophy winner — is No. 29, switch-pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje No. 31, right-hander Khal Stephen No. 87, righty Nate Dohm No. 164 and first baseman Hunter Hines No. 174. Montgomery and the Bulldogs will be on display this weekend in NCAA regionals, A&M facing Grambling State today, MSU going against St. John’s. Former Lewisburg High star Brady Tygart, a weekend starter for Arkansas this season, is rated the No. 180 draft prospect; he reportedly won’t pitch in the Razorbacks’ regional because of an injury concern. … The draft is in July. P.S. At the NJCAA Division II World Series, East Central Community College knocked off Brunswick (N.C.) 5-3 on Thursday and plays the Dolphins again today for a berth in the final. Barret Rodgers went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs for ECCC and Parker Martin threw five shutout innings in relief in Thursday’s win. LSU-Eunice plays St. Johns River State (Fla.) in the other semifinal. Today’s winners will play for the championship on Saturday.

30 May

there’s a drive …

Power matters in college baseball. Power wins. Twelve of the top 20 teams in total home runs are in the NCAA Tournament, seven of them as No. 1 seeds, three more as 2-seeds. The national leader in homers — with 147 — is SEC champion and No. 1 overall seed Tennessee, which is hosting the Knoxville Regional where Southern Miss was shipped. Virginia, which is hosting the Charlottesville Regional where Mississippi State was assigned, ranks ninth in homers with 113. Both teams feature multiple players who can rake. Neither USM (41-18) nor State (38-21), both 2-seeds, would be regarded as teams that rely heavily on power. USM has hit just 63 homers this season, ranking 138th overall. State’s got 73, barely cracking the top 100 at No. 98. Tennessee has five players with double-figure homer totals, led by Christian Moore with 28 and Billy Amick with 19. USM’s leader is Slade Wilks with 14. Indiana, USM’s first-round opponent in the regional, blasted 78 homers this season, and Northern Kentucky, the 4-seed in Knoxville, hit 86. On the flip side, USM’s pitching, which has posted a 5.00 ERA (54th nationally), has done a fair job of limiting long-ball damage, allowing 60 homers. MSU pitchers, in a remarkable turnaround from 2023, have put up a 4.15 ERA this season, 12th-best in the country. They’ve yielded 63 homers. The Bulldogs’ first-round opponent is St. John’s, which has only 41 homers. The 4-seed in Charlottesville is Penn, which has hit 55. Virginia’s top slugger is Harrison Didawick, who has 23 bombs, leading three others in double digits. Dakota Jordan is sitting on 17 for the Bulldogs, though his power tailed off down the stretch. Hunter Hines has hit 15 bombs. There is more to the game than hitting home runs, of course, but it certainly helps to have that weapon in your lineup. Nothing changes a game like a three-run bomb.

30 May

playing pepper

Three straight wins in elimination games have put East Central Community College into the semifinal round of the NJCAA Division II World Series. The third-seeded Warriors (54-8) play 2-seed Brunswick (N.C.) today at Enid, Okla. (LSU-Eunice, the top seed, is in the other semi.) A clutch two-run double by Marvin Jackson and six strong innings from Chris Bilingsley helped ECCC beat South Arkansas 6-4 on Wednesday, and Jayden Adcox went 4-for-4 with five RBIs and Reid Hall pitched a hitless final three innings in a 13-4 romp past Madison (Wisc.) later Wednesday. … Former Smithville High star Jared Johnson pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his fifth save as High-Class A Rome beat Greenville 10-8. Johnson, who has a 2.37 ERA in 14 appearances for the Atlanta affiliate, is tied for the second-most saves in the South Atlantic League. … Ole Miss alum Derek Diamond moved to 3-0 with a 2.70 after a solid five-inning outing (one run, seven strikeouts) for High-A Greensboro (Pittsburgh system). Diamond was a 2022 draftee off the Rebels’ national title team. … Anthony Alford, the ex-Petal High star, is enjoying the hitter-friendly Mexican League, having banged out nine hits in 25 at-bats (.360) in his first seven games for Campeche. Former big leaguer Alford was recently released by Cincinnati. … Jackson native James Steels, who had a brief major league career before becoming a Mexican League star, was born on this date in 1961. Steels might best be remembered as the Texas League player of the year in 1984, when he was with Beaumont in the San Diego system. The Golden Gators lost to the Jackson Mets in the league championship series. … Jackson native Jim Bivin, who had a brief major league career with Philadelphia, enjoyed his 15 minutes of MLB fame on this date in 1935, when he retired Babe Ruth on a ground out in his final at-bat. Ruth, playing for Boston, was replaced in the bottom of the first inning by Ludlow native Hal Lee.

29 May

pitching pipeline

Seems like only yesterday — technically, it was two weeks ago — that Spencer Schwellenbach was making his Double-A debut — and tossing six shutout innings — for the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park. Tonight, he’s scheduled to make his big league debut for Atlanta against Washington at Truist Park. The 23-year-old right-hander joins the long, long, long list of pitchers the Braves have pumped through their system, through Pearl, and into the majors over the past 20 years. It’s quite a list. Not all of them have had great success, but many have. It all started with Blaine Boyer, who jumped from the M-Braves to Atlanta in June 2005. He pitched 12 years in the majors, making 447 appearances. Charlie Morton, still pitching for the Braves, has 133 career wins. Mike Minor won 83. Julio Teheran has 81 W’s, Alex Wood 77, Max Fried 67, Matt Harrison 50, Tommy Hanson 49. Craig Kimbrel, one of the best closers of all-time, has 429 saves and 53 wins on his ledger — and still counting. In just the past few years, M-Braves fans have watched the likes of Michael Soroka, Huascar Ynoa, Ian Anderson, Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Jared Shuster, Dylan Dodd, Darius Vines and A.J. Smith-Shawver blow through the TeePee and crash The Show. With Strider and Smith-Shawver having hit the injured list this spring, the Braves have a need for starters. Their brass has deemed Schwellenbach, their No. 3 prospect, ready. A second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2021, he was 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA this season — 2-0, 0.00, with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings for the M-Braves. Worth noting: Former Southern Miss star Hurston Waldrep, the No. 2 prospect, may not be far behind; he is 3-4 with a 2.92 in Mississippi.

29 May

star quality

Don’t look now, but Jordan Westburg is putting up numbers worthy of All-Star consideration. After a 2-for-3, two-RBI performance for Baltimore on Tuesday, the Mississippi State product is batting .291 with 34 RBIs, ranking second among American League third baseman in both categories. (Westburg also has played second base and shortstop, but his primary spot has been the hot corner.) Over 51 games, the second-year big leaguer is tied for third among AL third baseman with 28 runs and is fourth in homers (eight), on-base percentage (.351) and OPS (.859). Westburg, named AL player of the week in mid-April, currently has a five-game hit streak with eight hits during that span. It doesn’t hurt his cause that the Orioles are 34-19, second in the AL East to New York. Westburg, 25, was a first-round pick out of MSU in 2020 and debuted with the O’s last summer, batting .260 with three homers in 68 games. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss standout Gunnar Hoglund improved to 6-2 after throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday for Double-A Midland against Corpus Christi. Hoglund leads the Texas League in wins and has a 3.76 ERA over 10 appearances (nine starts) for the Oakland affiliate. The 6-foot-4 right-hander was a first-round pick by Toronto in 2021 — after going 10-5, 3.68, in three seasons in Oxford — and was acquired from Oakland in 2022 in the Matt Chapman trade.

28 May

circle the wagons

The resilience of the East Central Community College Warriors will be tested today in Enid, Okla. In its opener Monday at the NJCAA Division II World Series, ECCC squandered a 10-1 lead and lost to Madison (Wisc.) College 12-10. The third-seeded Warriors (51-8) play an elimination game today against Southeastern Iowa. Powered by home runs from Mo Little, Barret Rodgers and Cyrus Rone, ECCC led 10-1 after five innings with ace Luke Cooley on the bump. Cooley departed in the sixth after throwing 110 pitches (just 61 strikes), and six relievers were unable to close the door on Madison. The WolfPack (39-12) scored six times in the sixth, once in the seventh and four more in the ninth to steal the game. ECCC did not manage a hit over the last four innings. If there is a silver lining for the Warriors, they do have Marbin Lezcano (8-1, 3.17 ERA) available for today’s game. … Meanwhile, in San Diego, one of East Central’s most famous alums also had a rough day. Tim Anderson — who led the Warriors to a state title back in 2013 — committed two errors at shortstop in a pivotal seventh inning that cost Miami in a 2-1 loss to the Padres. Anderson also went 0-for-2 at the plate, dropping his average to .203. “I can’t be worse than that,” Anderson told mlb.com after the game. “So I can only get better, so that’s a positive.” The Marlins signed Anderson — .279 career hitter, 98 homers, 120 steals — to a one-year, $5 million deal in the off-season, hoping he could reverse a troubling trajectory. It hasn’t happened. A batting champion with the Chicago White Sox in 2019 and an All-Star in 2022, he slumped to .245 with just one homer last year. The White Sox declined an option in his contract and cut him loose. In 40 games for Miami, the 30-year-old Alabama native has yet to homer and has just three extra-base hits. Never a great fielder, he has six errors and .959 fielding percentage this season, both poor numbers.

27 May

special occasion

The mood tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl should be celebratory. It’s Memorial Day, which traditionally mixes well with baseball, and the Mississippi Braves are back home and playing as well as any team in the minors. Atlanta’s Double-A club just swept a six-game series at Chattanooga and has won seven straight overall, 11 of their last 13. The bats have perked up of late, with 30 runs over the last four games. Tonight’s starting pitcher, Hurston Waldrep, one of the Braves’ top prospects, has won three straight starts. He is 3-3 with a 2.64 ERA on a staff with a 3.36, which ranks among the best in Double-A. Recently added prospect Spencer Schwellenbach has yet to allow a run in two starts. Middle reliever Hayden Harris has been virtually untouchable with a 0.59 in 13 games. Shortstop Nacho Alvarez, the top position player prospect in Atlanta’s system, has lived up to billing with slick defense, a .278 average, 13 RBIs and 16 steals. Five M-Braves rank among the top 15 base stealers in the Southern League, led by Geraldo Quintero with 17 bags. The team will wear patriotic-themed jerseys against Montgomery tonight (6:05 first pitch) with a pregame flyover scheduled and — of course — postgame fireworks. P.S. Austin Riley, ex-DeSoto Central High standout, is back in Atlanta’s lineup today for the first time since May 12. He is batting second behind Ozzie Albies at Truist Park. Riley is hitting .245 with three homers and 18 RBIs. With Ronald Acuna down, it’s time to get going. … Something has gone horribly wrong for Will Warren, the former Jackson Prep star now in the New York Yankees’ system. Warren, who contended for a spot in the big league rotation in the spring, is 0-4 with a 15.88 ERA in four May starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He gave up seven earned runs in three innings on Sunday. Warren was 3-0 with a 2.33 in five April starts.

27 May

travel plans

Mississippi State, snubbed as a regional host, will pack its bags and head to California this week, if Baseball America’s NCAA Tournament projections are accurate. BA has State ranked 15th in its latest poll but seeded second in the Santa Barbara Regional, where 18th-ranked UCSB of the Big West is the No. 14 national seed. The actual regional assignments for the 64-team field will be announced later today. Southern Miss, champion of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and ranked 22nd by BA, is projected to travel to Tallahassee, Fla., where Florida State is the No. 8 national seed. Five SEC teams got regionals, including Georgia, which was knocked out of the SEC Tournament in the first round. No Sun Belt team is hosting; Louisiana-Lafayette is projected to make the field, as a 2-seed like USM. P.S. Defense, or lack thereof, often makes a difference when the heat is on in postseason play, as both USM and Jackson State witnessed on Sunday. USM benefited from a pair of errors by Georgia Southern in the ninth inning of the Golden Eagles’ 14-11 win in Sunday’s SBC tourney title game. USM scored five times in the ninth, three of the runs unearned. (USM, error-free on Sunday, also got plenty of offense from the likes of Dalton McIntyre, Davis Gillespie and Slade Wilks, plus another lockdown relief effort from Colby Allen.) Jackson State took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth but committed a pair of costly errors, helping Grambling State win 6-5 and claim the SWAC Tournament title and automatic bid to the NCAAs. JSU made four errors all told, leading to three unearned runs. Grambling did not make an error.

26 May

it’s crunch time

With a win today, Jackson State will be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. The Tigers (36-19) play old rival Grambling State in Atlanta for the SWAC Tournament championship. The winner — and only the winner — will get an NCAA berth. JSU has been a consistent winner under coach Omar Johnson, but getting into an NCAA regional out of a one-bid league is a tough task. The Tigers have only done it three times, twice under Johnson. The 4-seed out of the East Division this year, they got to the brink with a 4-2 victory against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. Lenny Montesano went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs, and Je-andrick Lourens and three relievers combined on a six-hitter. Do the Tigers have any pitching left for the title game? … Southern Miss goes for its second straight Sun Belt Tournament title today against Georgia Southern at Montgomery, Ala. The Golden Eagles advanced with a weather-interrupted, come-from-behind 7-5 win Saturday over Appalachian State. Nick Monistere homered and Slade Wilks had two more hits and two RBIs as USM won the marathon contest. Colby Allen got the last four outs for his seventh save. The Eagles, under first-year coach Christian Ostrander, are 40-18, having reached 40 wins for the eighth straight year. … William Carey University cruised into the NAIA World Series with an 11-game win streak but went 2-and-out in Lewiston, Idaho, falling to Cumberlands (Ky.) 6-4 in an elimination game on Saturday. Carey ends the season with a 37-16 record. … East Central Community College got off to a sensational start this season, winning its first 31 games, and will have a shot at a fantastic finish starting today in the NJCAA Division II World Series at Enid, Okla. The Warriors (51-7) lost in the Region 23 Tournament but received an at-large bid to the World Series and are seeded third. Led by All-MACCC outfielder Mo Little (.354, 11 homers, 73 RBIs) and MACCC pitcher of the year Luke Cooley (8-1, 2.20 ERA, 110 strikeouts), the Warriors will play Monday against the winner of the delayed Montgomery (Md.)-Madison (Wisc.) first-round game. … Four MHSAA champions were crowned on Saturday at Trustmark Park in Pearl: Vancleave in Class 5A, Sumrall in 4A, St. Andrew’s in 2A and Taylorsville in 1A. P.S. Landon Harper, former Southern Miss pitcher from Meridian, was promoted to the Double-A Mississippi Braves on Saturday. He joins Saucier native and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC alum Brandon Parker, a current M-Braves outfielder, on the list of Mississippians to suit up for the Pearl-based club. Others: Zack Bird, Brent Leach, Van Pope, Jay Powell, Austin Riley, Michael Rosamond and John Thomson.

25 May

more to come

The wait is over for Colt Keith. After 141 big league at-bats, the ex-Biloxi High standout connected Friday night on his first home run, a 400-foot drive to right-center at Comerica Park that helped Detroit beat Toronto 6-2. “I feel like I’ve been dreaming of that for a while,” Keith told The Associated Press. “It was kind of a blur when it happened.” The Tigers’ patience with the left-handed hitting second baseman has begun to pay off. He was batting .152 as recently as May 5 but has raked at a .404 clip over his last 15 games, boosting his average to .236. He has 16 RBIs. The power was bound to come. Keith, a 2020 fifth-round pick, hit 38 homers in 126 minor league games, including 27 last year between Double-A and Triple-A. Before he ever played an MLB game, Detroit signed him to a six-year, $28.6 million contract, which, with options and bonuses, could be worth some $80M. He looks like a foundation piece for the Tigers, who have pooled some young talent on their roster. P.S. Today in Cooperstown, N.Y., MLB will hold the Hall of Fame East-West Classic: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game as part of a weekend celebration. Among the ex-big leaguers scheduled to play in the exhibition game are Pascagoula native Tony Sipp, former Jackson Generals standout Melvin Mora and Jerry and Scott Hairston, whose grandfather Sam was a Crawford native and Negro Leagues star in the late 1940s. A bunch of Mississippians played in the old East-West Game (1933-53), including Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell and Bill Foster as well as Luke Easter, Howard Easterling, Sam Jethroe, Bob Boyd, Rufus Lewis and Buddy Armour. … Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, released from the minors by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, signed with San Francisco and was in uniform for the Giants on Friday. The big left-hander last pitched in a big league game in 2021. … Mississippi State bowed out of the SEC Tournament in an emotionally charged 6-5 loss to Tennessee. Jaw-dropping stat for the Bulldogs: Dakota Jordan and Hunter Hines were a combined 1-for-34 in four games. … Kudos to George County High, which claimed the MHSAA Class 6A state title Friday with a win over Warren Central.