30 Jun

tagging up

Snapshots from the newsy week that was (or wasn’t):
Sunday, June 23: Biloxi High product Colt Keith registers the third four-hit game of his rookie campaign and adds his fourth homer for Detroit in a win over the Chicago White Sox. … Philadelphia announces that ex-Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull, moved to the bullpen in May, would return to its rotation.
Monday, June 24: Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn of St. Louis beats Atlanta for his third win, though ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley takes him deep for his eighth homer. … Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet (White Sox) and Lucedale’s Justin Steele (Cubs) get no-decisions in losses by their respective Chicago clubs. Steele has a 3.08 ERA but no wins in 11 starts. … Former Mississippi Braves third baseman C.J. Alexander makes his MLB debut for Kansas City (0-for-3).
Tuesday, June 25: Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale works behind the plate for the Yankees-Mets game at CitiField in which Garrett Cole surrenders four homers. … Tampa Bay sends Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack, on the injured list since May 18, on a rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League. … San Francisco promotes former Mississippi State star and first-round pick Will Bednar (3.18 ERA in six games at High-Class A) to Double-A Richmond.
Wednesday, June 26: Turnbull throws 36 pitches in three innings in his first start for the Phillies since April 30, then departs with a “lat strain” that lands him on the IL. … Texas activates former MSU standout Justin Foscue, on the IL since April 8 with an oblique, and options him to Triple-A. … MSU alum Nathaniel Lowe belts his first homer since May 14 for Texas; he has three on the year. … Houston anounces that MSU product J.P. France (0-3, 7.46, in five starts) will have season-ending shoulder surgery. … Madison Central High alum Braden Montgomery of Texas A&M is named second-team All-America by d1baseball.com. MSU’s Khal Stephen and St. Andrew’s High alum Banks Tolley of Appalachian State make the third team.
Thursday, June 27: Ex-State star Jordan Westburg is a finalist at third base in the American League after the first phase of MLB All-Star voting. … Ole Miss product James McArthur registers his 14th save and former Copiah Academy and MSU standout Hunter Renfroe makes two key throws from right field in Kansas City’s 2-1 win over first-place Cleveland.
Friday, June 28: Riley hits his ninth homer in Atlanta’s win vs. Pittsburgh and has six bombs (plus a .352 average) over his last 15 games. … Renfroe homers, his eighth, in Kansas City’s win against Cleveland, and MSU alum Brent Rooker goes deep for Oakland, his 15th. … Ex-MSU standout Dakota Hudson absorbs his MLB-worst 11th loss, surrendering five runs in five innings for Colorado in a loss to the White Sox. Hudson’s ERA is 5.84.
Saturday, June 29: Former Ole Miss star Nick Fortes, a .163 hitter, doubles in the tying run and then scores the go-ahead tally in the seventh in lowly Miami’s 3-2 win over Philadelphia. … After a frustration-fueled outburst in the dugout by Steele, the Cubs rally to beat Milwaukee. Steele goes six innings, allows three runs — and gets another no-decision.

27 Jun

hello and good-bye

From the That’s Just Too Weird file: On this date in 2003, Matt Miller, Leland native and Delta State alum, made his major league debut for Colorado. Also on this date in 2003, former Southern Miss star Kevin Young played the last game of his MLB career for Pittsburgh. As fate would have it, the Rockies were playing the Pirates at PNC Park that day. And in the sixth inning, Miller came on in relief. The third batter he faced was Young, pinch-hitting for the Bucs. It was his final AB. Miller struck him out, his first career K. Miller would go on to make 99 more MLB appearances, posting a 2.72 ERA. (He is also the answer to a great trivia question: Who threw the last pitch of the 25-year Texas League era at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium? Miller recorded the final out for Tulsa against the Generals on Sept. 4, 1999.) Young, one of the best players to come out of USM, played 12 years in the majors, all but one with the Pirates, for whom he debuted in 1992. He batted .258 with 144 homers, second only to Brian Dozier (192) among USM alums in the majors.

25 Jun

choosing a side

A current Mississippi Braves player, say maybe Ian Mejia or Justin Dean, might put up some head-turning numbers before this season — the team’s last at Trustmark Park — is over. Still, it’s unlikely any of the 2024 M-Braves will crack this lineup of the club’s all-time best. (Note: This team is based on the player’s performance with the M-Braves, not his major league success.)
At pitcher: Todd Redmond (13-5, 3.52 ERA, as the Southern League pitcher of the year for the 2008 pennant winner).
At catcher: Shea Langeliers (.258, 22 homers as an SL All-Star for the ’21 pennant winner).
At first base: Ernesto Mejia (.297, 26 homers, 99 RBIs in 2011).
At second base: Tommy LaStella (.343, 41 RBIs and 32 runs in 2013).
At third base: Kyle Kubitza (.295, eight homers, 55 RBIs, 21 steals in 2014).
At shortstop: Tyler Pastornicky (.299, six homers, 50 runs and 20 steals in 2011).
In the outfield: Drew Waters (.319, 35 doubles, 63 runs, 13 steals as the SL MVP in 2019); Matt Young (.289, 10 triples, 81 runs, 42 steals in 2009); Brandon Jones (.293, 15 homers, 74 RBIs, 12 steals in 2007).
DH: Dustin Peterson (.282, 12 homers, 38 doubles, 88 RBIs in 2016).
Closer: Luis Valdez (28 saves in 2008).
Honorable mention: Outfielder Mycal Jones, who played parts of six years in Mississippi, batting .247 with 121 RBIs, 195 runs and 78 steals.
P.S. A team based on MLB success — considering that more than 170 players have passed through Pearl en route to the big leagues — is almost too easy. Here’s a quick shot: Morton, Kimbrel, McCann, Freeman, Albies, Riley, Swanson, Acuna, Heyward, Francoeur.

23 Jun

tiger tales

Any conversation about the greatest major league teams of all-time has to include the 1984 Detroit Tigers, who started 35-5 en route to 104 wins and went 7-1 in the postseason to claim the World Series title. The “Bless You Boys” team, celebrating its 40th anniversary this season, was managed by Sparky Anderson and led by an array of stars, including a pair of Mississippi natives who were key cogs in the stacked lineup. Jackson native Chet Lemon played center field, led the American League in fielding percentage (.995) and hit .287 with 20 homers, 76 RBIs, 34 doubles, six triples and 77 runs. Sunflower native Larry Herndon, also a good defender, played left field and batted .280 with seven homers, 43 RBIs and 52 runs. Jack Morris was the ace of the staff, but closer Willie Hernandez, acquired from Philadelphia late in spring training, won both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards. The regular lineup featured — in addition to Lemon and Herndon — Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Darrell Evans. Signed as a free agent in the off-season, the 37-year-old Evans said, “I picked Detroit because it’s a hungry city and I’m hungry, too. I want that ring on my finger.” Street & Smith’s preseason magazine picked the Tigers to run second to Baltimore in the AL East. They never spent a day out of first place. The Tigers won their opener 8-1 against Minnesota with Lemon getting a triple and scoring a run and Herndon picking up a hit and an RBI. They started 9-0 and 16-1 and fairly coasted to the division title. They blew through Kansas City 3-0 in the ALCS and beat San Diego 4-1 in the Series. Lemon went 5-for-17 with an RBI and two steals against the Padres. Herndon went 5-for-15, including a go-ahead homer in Game 1, and caught the final out of Game 5 in left field. It was the only ring either of them won in lengthy careers, and Detroit hasn’t won a World Series since then either. P.S. The current Tigers team, picked by some to win the AL Central, got off to a hot start but has faded of late. And there is a Mississippian on the team: Second baseman Colt Keith, the former Biloxi High standout — and the state’s Gatorade player of the year in 2019 — who got the big contract this year before ever playing an MLB game.

22 Jun

welcome back

Dylan DeLucia, College World Series hero for Ole Miss two years ago, finally made his pro debut on Friday, pitching two clean innings with one strikeout for the Cleveland Guardians’ Arizona Complex League rookie team. One of the hitters he retired was Eloy Jimenez, a rehabbing big leaguer on the Chicago White Sox’s ACL team. DeLucia, 23, was a sixth-round draft pick by Cleveland in 2022 but has been on the shelf ever since because of injuries, including Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2023. In the Rebels’ remarkable postseason run in 2022, DeLucia beat Southern Miss in the Hattiesburg Super Regional and Auburn and Arkansas in the CWS, in which he earned MVP honors. He went 8-2 with a 3.68 ERA in his one season in Oxford. He transferred in from Northwest Florida State College, a juco where he posted a 15-2 record over two seasons. P.S. Tim Anderson delivered a walk-off single for Miami in a 3-2 win vs. Seattle and is batting .311 over his last 15 games. All 19 hits in that stretch are singles. The former East Central Community College standout, who was hitting .188 on June 5, has lifted his season average to .232 with no homers, nine RBIs and four steals over 207 at-bats. … Ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe came off the injured list Friday for Kansas City and went 0-for-3 with a walk in a loss to Texas. He is batting .197 with six homers.

21 Jun

it happens

There are pot holes on the road to the big leagues, and a trio of Mississippians in the minors — each one a former high draft pick with MLB aspirations — ran smack into a few on Thursday. Former Mississippi State star J.T. Ginn, ex-Ole Miss standout Doug Nikhazy and former Southern Miss ace Tanner Hall endured rough starts for their respective clubs, with Ginn and Nikhazy getting tagged with losses. Ginn, a second-round pick in 2020 now in Triple-A with Oakland, allowed four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings for Las Vegas. Making his fifth Triple-A start, the right-hander fell to 0-2 with a 6.66 ERA. He went 4-1, 4.15, at Double-A Midland to rate the promotion. Left-hander Nikhazy, a second-round pick in 2021, coughed up five runs in five innings for Double-A Akron and got his first decision in 11 outings. He is 0-1 despite a 3.17 ERA over 48 1/3 innings for the Cleveland affiliate. Hall, a fourth-round pick last summer, worked four innings and yielded four runs for Low-Class A Fort Myers, escaping with a no-decision. Hall is 0-0, 4.08, in eight appearances. Minnesota has limited Hall’s innings after he started the season on the injured list (glute strain); he has pitched just 17 2/3. To be sure, there will be better days for this trio. … One Mississippi product did get a win in the minors on Thursday: Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, 32, former big leaguer in his 12th pro season, worked a clean 1 1/3 in the middle innings and plucked a victory for Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s system. He is 2-3, 5.04, in 21 games for the Bisons. P.S. Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin has been named the national player of the year by Baseball America. The outfielder/shortstop/pitcher, an LSU signee, is projected as a first-round pick in next month’s MLB draft. “I’ve tried to do my best to prepare him for that part of it,” Jay Powell, the former big league pitcher who is Prep’s pitching coach, told BA, “for the things he’s going to be faced with when he gets into professional baseball.” … MSU alum Hunter Hines put on a power show during Wednesday’s workouts at the MLB Draft Combine in Arizona. The lefty-hitting first baseman reportedly hit five 400-foot homers, with a best of 441.7, during his batting practice session. The ex-Madison Central star, No. 174 in MLB Pipeline’s draft prospect rankings, hit 54 homers in three seasons in Starkville and 13 in the Cape Cod League last summer.

20 Jun

rickwood connections

Historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham is the center of the baseball universe today, hosting the San Francisco-St. Louis MLB game that pays tribute to the Negro League clubs and players, many of them Mississippians, that called the ballpark home from 1924 into the 1950s. An array of black stars, Hall of Famers among them, passed through Rickwood during those years, and quite a few of the game’s great white players also appeared in exhibitions there. Hall of Famer and former Alcorn State player and coach Bill Foster pitched for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1925, throwing a one-hit shutout in his lone appearance, per baseball-reference.com. The legendary Satchel Paige broke into pro ball with the 1927 Black Barons, and one of his teammates was Jackson native Columbus Lance. The real heyday of the Black Barons was the mid-1940s, when the team won three league championships in a six-year span. The primary catcher on the 1943 title winner was Meridian native Paul Hardy, who played 11 years in the Negro Leagues. The ’43 Black Barons also featured the likes of Piper Davis, Clyde “Big Splo” Spearman, Felix McLaurin and Johnny Markham. The Birmingham club also won Negro American League pennants in 1944 and ’48, with the late, great Willie Mays, at 17, starring for the latter team. Jackson native Curtis Hollingsworth was a pitcher on the 1946 and ’47 Birmingham teams. P.S. Former Southern Miss standout Nick Sandlin has gone on the 15-day injured list for Cleveland with back inflammation. He has five wins and a 3.49 ERA in 33 relief appearances for the first-place Guardians. … Mississippi State alum Rowdey Jordan hit a seventh-inning grand slam for Double-A Binghamton on Wednesday, accounting for all the team’s runs in a 4-1 win vs. Akron. Jordan, a fourth-year pro, is batting .264 with six homers and 28 RBIs for the New York Mets’ affiliate. … Congrats to Northwest Mississippi Community College outfielder Cade Greer, who won an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove. Greer, from Olive Branch, handled 108 chances without an error as a sophomore for the Rangers.

19 Jun

picks of the lot

For baseball fans who love lists and rankings — and that’s virtually all of us — Bleacher Report has put together an interesting list/ranking of the best players drafted at each of the top 30 slots since 1965. Two of them played their Double-A baseball in the Jackson area: Jason Heyward, rated the best 14th overall pick, and Lance Berkman, pegged as the best at No. 16. Both were impressive during their time in Double-A; if you saw them, you know. Berkman was plucked by Houston out of Rice in 1997 and played for the Jackson Generals at Smith-Wills Stadium the very next season. He hit .306 with 24 homers and 89 RBIs for the Gens en route to a big league career that warranted Hall of Fame consideration. Heyward was drafted by Atlanta out of an Atlanta area high school in 2007 and arrived in Mississippi and Trustmark Park in mid-2009. He hit .352 with seven homers in 49 games for the M-Braves. Still playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Heyward — who homered in his first MLB at-bat in 2010 — has enjoyed a decorated 15-year career in the majors. … Rafael Palmeiro, drafted 22nd overall out of Mississippi State by the Chicago Cubs in 1985, was rated the second-best pick at that spot. Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was No. 1. Will Clark, drafted second overall out of State by San Francisco in 1985, fell somewhere behind Justin Verlander and Reggie Jackson on the list of best No. 2’s. BR named Alex Rodriguez — over Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones, among others — as the best overall No. 1 pick. Some baseball fans would beg to differ. P.S. The infield at Trustmark Park in Pearl has been re-sodded; a crew appeared to be finishing up the work today. Because of “unplayable field conditions” (not related to rain), the M-Braves had to relocate their last homestand (June 11-16) to Madison, Ala., home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The team’s next homestand is slated for June 25-30; they last played at the TeePee on June 2.

18 Jun

eye on …

Patrick Lee, former William Carey University standout, took a winding road to reach affiliated baseball. Currently playing outfield — and faring well — for the Low-Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers, Lee wasn’t drafted out of high school — Resurrection Catholic in Pascagoula — or following a five-year stint at Carey, where he batted .335, stole 74 bases and played in the NAIA World Series in 2023. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Lee got a spot in the MLB Draft League last summer and hit .279 with 29 stolen bases. The Draft League is for players hoping to catch the eye of scouts ahead of the draft, but Lee didn’t get a call last summer. This spring, he signed with Evansville in the independent Frontier League and after batting .410 in 11 games there got an offer from the Detroit Tigers. He signed on May 25. Through 16 games at Lakeland, Lee is batting .289 with a homer, 11 runs, nine steals and a .467 OBP. At 24, he is a little old for the Low-A level and might be in line for a bump to High-A soon. P.S. Willie Joe Garry Jr., a Pascagoula High product, is currently playing for Schaumberg in the Frontier League, batting .191 in five games. Garry, drafted out of ‘Goula by Minnesota in 2018, spent six years in the Twins’ system, reaching the Double-A level briefly. The 24-year-old outfielder, a career .206 batter, was hitting .132 at High-A Cedar Rapids when he was released on May 21. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Dallas Woolfolk, a Hernando native, is also on the Schaumberg roster.

18 Jun

around the horn

Former Ole Miss stars Jacob Gonzalez and Tim Elko are expected to take part in tonight’s minor league showcase at Birmingham’s venerable Rickwood Field. Gonzalez and Elko, prospects for the Chicago White Sox, play for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, who will wear the uniform of the Black Barons in tribute to the Negro League club that played at Rickwood decades ago. The visiting Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay affiliate) will play as the Gray Sox. The game will be televised by MLB Network at 6 p.m. MLB’s Negro Leagues tribute game at Rickwood, the country’s oldest professional ballpark, between San Francisco and St. Louis is set for Thursday night. … Former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner was named the International League player of the week (June 11-16) after going 14-for-27 (.519) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in six games for St. Paul, Minnesota’s Triple-A club. Wallner, who hit a 481-foot homer on Sunday, has 16 bombs for the Saints and is batting .250 with 43 RBIs since the Twins sent him down in mid-April. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley had two more hits in Atlanta’s 2-1 win over Detroit on Monday and is 9-for-26 (.346) with three homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games. … If the name of the Texas A&M pitcher who was mowing down Kentucky hitters Monday in the College World Series sounds familiar, it might be because Ryan Prager is the son of former Jackson Generals standout Howard Prager. The younger Prager threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings before yielding a pair of knocks in the Aggies’ 5-1 win. He is 9-1 with a 2.88 ERA. His father played first base for the Double-A Generals, a Houston affiliate, in 1991-92 and reached Triple-A in St. Louis’ system. BTW, Kentucky’s hitting coach is former Mississippi State catcher Nick Ammirati, previously an assistant at Hinds Community College and USM.