It wasn’t all cupcakes and balloons for Konnor Pilkington on his 25th birthday, though the night did have a happy ending. The Mississippi State product from Pascagoula got the start for Cleveland against the Los Angels on Monday — in a game featured on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Edition — and he no-hit the Angels for 3 1/3 innings. But the big lefty, working with a lead, yielded two-run home runs to Matt Duffy and Mike Trout in consecutive innings that tied the score. Pilkington departed after the fifth and watched from the dugout as the Guardians rallied to win 5-4 in a tense game in which both managers were ejected. Cleveland increased its lead in the American League Central to 3 games. Pilkington, a rookie, has been called up eight different times from Triple-A Columbus yet has managed a fairly steady performance in his big league opportunities. Over 14 games, 10 starts, he has a 4.30 ERA and a 1-2 record. At Columbus, he is 2-4, 5.66. A third-round pick out of State by the Chicago White Sox in 2018, Pilkington was traded to Cleveland last summer. He and former Southern Miss pitchers Nick Sandlin and Kirk McCarty, also a rookie, have been contributors for what appears to be a playoff-bound club. P.S. The Dodgers became the first team to clinch a postseason berth by beating Arizona 6-0 on Monday. Former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman, in his first year in L.A., has been a driving force in the star-studded lineup. Not to be overlooked is the performance of another M-Braves alum, right-hander Evan Phillips. Phillips, who passed through Pearl in 2016-17, notched his 18th hold on Monday and trimmed his ERA to 1.33 in 55 appearances. He has six wins and two saves for the National League West behemoth.
The curtain calls in the dramas that played out in Pittsburgh and Seattle on Sunday went to the leading men: Albert Pujols of St. Louis and the Mariners’ Eugenio Suarez. But their supporting cast also rates some applause. In the Cardinals’ 4-3 win against the Pirates, former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton got the last two outs in eighth inning, stranding two runners, and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson then drove in St. Louis’ first run in the ninth and was on board for Pujols’ 697th homer, which put the Cards ahead. In Seattle, MSU alumnus Adam Frazier produced two hits, two RBIs, two runs and a stolen base as the Mariners built a five-run lead through seven innings against Atlanta. The Braves made an incredible comeback — fueled by Michael Harris II and Robbie Grossman — to take the lead in the ninth before homers by Julio Rodriguez and Suarez won it for the M’s 8-7. Stratton, a trade deadline acquisition by the Cardinals (from Pittsburgh), has pitched well for his new team. In 13 appearances covering 17 innings, the veteran middle reliever has a 2.65 ERA and a 3-0 record. Dickerson, after a horrid first half with the Cards, has hit .398 with two homers, 15 RBIs and 11 runs since the All-Star break. St. Louis has virtually locked up the National League Central. Frazier has run hot-and-cold for Seattle, which has a firm grip on a wild card berth in the American League. The lefty-hitting second baseman, always steady with the glove, is batting .242 with three homers, 35 RBIs, 59 runs and nine stolen bases over 137 games.
After getting limited at-bats during a month with Kansas City, Brent Rooker was optioned back to Triple-A Omaha on Friday. The Mississippi State product went 4-for-25 with the Royals. Two of those hits came in his KC debut back on Aug. 13. Kansas City traded with San Diego to get Rooker, a 27-year-old outfielder, at the August deadline, and it was assumed he’d get more of an opportunity with the lowly Royals than he did with the Padres (seven at-bats). It didn’t happen. Rooker, the 35th overall pick by Minnesota in 2017 after an All-America career at State, has hit well in the minors but not so much in the big leagues. Including his two seasons with the Twins, he is batting .200 with 10 homers and 86 strikeouts in 81 MLB games. Between Triple-A El Paso and Omaha this year, he has slugged 22 homers and batted .286. He has a .267 career average in the minors with 96 bombs but has struck out in roughly a third of his ABs. Wonder if he’ll get another shot with the Royals? P.S. Former Ole Miss star Nick Fortes went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs to help Miami beat the New York Mets 6-3 on Friday — and to help streaking Atlanta move into first place in the National League East. The Braves blasted four home runs and won 6-4 at Seattle. … Biloxi clinched the season series (see previous post) against the Mississippi Braves with an 8-3 win at MGM Park. The Shuckers are 16-12 vs. their Double-A Southern League rival with two games remaining this weekend.
No trophy is on the line when the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers engage in their season series each year. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were such a thing? The Magnolia Cup? Catfish Clash? Blues Bowl? It might help generate a little more interest in the Southern League rivalry that has been going on since Biloxi became a league member in 2015. The teams sit at the bottom of the league in attendance in 2022, Biloxi at 137,298 and Mississippi at 135,467. That’s kinda sad. The season series has been competitive. The teams met for the 27th time on Thursday at Biloxi’s MGM Park, and the Shuckers — Milwaukee’s Double-A affiliate — beat the M-Braves — Atlanta’s farm club — 5-3 before an announced crowd of 2,015. Biloxi now leads the season series 15-12 with three games remaining. The series was even at 9-9 before the Shuckers took five of six at Trustmark Park in Pearl in August. Ouch. The M-Braves won the first two games of the current six-game set by identical 13-2 scores, bashing eight home runs. Take that. The M-Braves’ Drew Lugbauer, the SL’s home run leader, hit two on Wednesday, boosting his total to 26. Of his team-record 44 career homers, 16 have come at MGM Park. The Shuckers won Thursday’s game on the strength of two homers — the first of the season — by Terence Doston. The M-Braves, 30-28 in the second half, still have a mathematical shot at the South Division title; they are the defending league champs. The Shuckers (25-34) have been eliminated, reduced to a potential spoiler role. In the overall league standings, the Shuckers (59-67) lead the M-Braves (59-68) by a half-game. P.S. Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward and Shuckers alum Brent Suter are among the 30 nominees for the 2022 Roberto Clemente Award. The annual award “recognizes the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” Heyward is with the Chicago Cubs, Suter pitches for the Brewers.
There may have been cosmic forces at work on Wednesday in Corpus Christi, Texas. Grae Kessinger, the ex-Ole Miss star and Oxford native, got four hits, including a home run, in a doubleheader for the host Hooks, Houston’s Double-A team. Fifty-eight years ago, on Sept. 7, 1964, Kessinger’s grandfather, ex-Ole Miss star Donnie, made his major league debut, going 1-for-2 for the Chicago Cubs and launching a brilliant 16-year career. The younger Kessinger, in his third pro season, is chasing the big league dream and making some strides. A good-fielding shortstop like his grandfather, Kessinger’s bat has perked up in recent weeks at Corpus Christi. He batted .276 in August and is at .333 in six September games, lifting his season average to .212. (He hit .109 in April.) Kessinger has 15 homers, 48 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in his second Double-A tour. A second-round pick in 2019 after an All-America career at UM, Kessinger has been in the Astros’ big league camp each of the last two springs and played in the Arizona Fall League last year. He is 25 and recently slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart, so he may be feeling a sense of urgency as this minor league season draws to a close. P.S. On the topic of hot hitting, Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe leads all of MLB in batting average over the last 30 days. He got two more hits, including his 24th homer, for Texas on Wednesday and is batting .383 with eight bombs and 21 RBIs in his last 28 games.
Every day in the season is filled with highs and lows. Here’s a few from Tuesday:
Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star, drove in the go-ahead run with a sac fly in the sixth inning and Atlanta’s bullpen made it stand up for a 10-9 win at Oakland that gave the Braves a share of the National League East lead.
Logan Tanner, the Mississippi State alum, hit his first professional home run for Daytona, Cincinnati’s Low-Class A affiliate. Tanner, a second-round pick in July, also walked twice and scored three times; he is batting .204.
Reed Trimble, the Southern Miss product, went 3-for-5 with a couple of RBIs and a run for Low-A Delmarva (Baltimore). He is batting .296 with 18 RBIs and 19 runs in 30 games for the Shorebirds.
Joe Gray Jr., the former Hattiesburg High star, went 3-for-5 with a couple of doubles for High-A Wisconsin, though the Milwaukee prospect is batting just .192 in a pivotal season.
Dakota Hudson, ex-State standout, probably not thrilled at being sent to Triple-A by St. Louis, pitched 8 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts in his first appearance for Memphis against Norfolk.
Hunter Renfroe hit his 25th homer and fellow former Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff allowed just one run in seven innings for Milwaukee, but …
Renfroe and Woodruff watched the Brewers’ bullpen blow a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning and ultimately lose 10-7 in 10 to Colorado, further damaging their playoff hopes.
Buck Showalter, the ex-State standout and current New York Mets manager, watched his club fall to Pittsburgh 8-2, its third straight loss to a last-place club, and slip into a tie for first with the surging Braves in the NL East.
Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College product trying to get back to the majors, gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning of work for Double-A Montgomery (Tampa Bay). The veteran lefty saw his ERA rise to 7.71 for the Biscuits.
James Beard, the Loyd Star High alum, went 0-for-3 with three punchouts for High-A Winston-Salem in the Chicago White Sox’s system. Beard, batting .206, has fanned 17 times in 34 at-bats since being promoted from Low-A.
Regi Grace, the ex-Madison Central star, yielded three hits, a walk and four runs in his High-A debut with Cedar Rapids (Minnesota). He had four wins, four holds, two saves and a 4.45 ERA at Fort Myers.
As the big league season grows shorter, the games get bigger. None was more significant Monday than the clash of contenders at T-Mobile Park, where ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn rose to the occasion and Mississippi State product Adam Frazier came up empty at a critical time. Lynn threw seven dominant innings to lead the Chicago White Sox to a 3-2 win against host Seattle. Frazier came on as a pinch hitter in the ninth for the Mariners with the tying and winning runs in scoring position and struck out to end the game. The White Sox, who have battled adversity all year, remained 2 games back in the American League Central, in third place behind leader Cleveland and Minnesota. The Mariners, who had won seven straight, dropped into a tie for the AL wild card lead with Tampa Bay; the White Sox are essentially out of that race. Lynn, 5-5 on the year but 4-1 over his last seven starts, allowed just three hits and an unearned run, struck out 11 and retired the last 17 batters he faced. He got 25 swings-and-misses. MSU alum Kendall Graveman worked a scoreless eighth for the ChiSox, preserving a 3-1 lead for his 23rd hold. Things got a little hairy for closer Liam Hendriks in the ninth, but he blew away Frazier on three pitches to seal the win, the fifth in six games for Chicago. Frazier, an All-Star for Pittsburgh in 2021, has had an uneven season for the M’s, hitting just .242. Game 2 of the three-game series is today. P.S. George County High product Justin Steele has been placed on the injured list with a back problem by the Cubs. … Ex-State star Dakota Hudson was optioned to Triple-A Memphis as St. Louis cleared a roster spot for Jack Flaherty. … Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters hit his first MLB homer Monday for Kansas City; he is batting .237 in 13 games.
Blaine Crim, the ex-Mississippi College standout, batted .323 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in August, capping his strong month with a three-hit, two-homer, five-RBI game for Double-A Frisco last Wednesday. August ended. Crim’s mashing did not. On Sunday, he homered for the fifth straight game in a win at Amarillo. That’s 22 homers on the season. He is batting .556 with 10 RBIs in four September games. He set a Frisco record with five hits in a game on Friday (see previous post). For the season, he is at .291 with 80 RBIs. No flash in the pan, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound first baseman has put up impressive numbers over three pro campaigns: .305 career average (.369 on-base percentage) with 59 homers. The Rangers have a strong farm system, but it is still hard to fathom how Crim does not appear on their Top 30 prospect list as compiled by MLB Pipeline. He has quite the resume. He batted .350 over four seasons at NCAA Division II MC and was the Gulf South Conference’s player of the year in 2019. Drafted in the 19th round by Texas, the Alabama native was the Northwest League MVP in 2019, a High-A East All-Star in 2021 and a Puerto Rican Winter League batting champion earlier this year. He went 4-for-12 in MLB spring training games in March. After the way Crim has handled the challenge of Double-A pitching over the past two seasons, it’ll be interesting to see what his future holds.
Shortly after he was drafted in July, former Ole Miss star Tim Elko said his experience against SEC competition and in NCAA Tournament play had prepared him well for pro ball. “I’ll feel pretty comfortable getting in there,” he told milb.com. He appears to have been right. Playing at Low-Class A Kannapolis in the Chicago White Sox’s system, the 23-year-old Elko has 10 hits in his last six games and boosted his average to .310 in 10 games there overall. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman, who set a single-season record with 24 homers for the national champion Rebels this season, started slowly in rookie ball, going 4-for-26 with 13 strikeouts, though three of the hits were homers. He moved up to Kannapolis on Aug. 23 and started to click against better quality pitching. He went 3-for-4 on Saturday, his second three-hit game for the Cannon Ballers. He has hit one homer, giving him four for the year. Elko cemented his place in Ole Miss lore when he returned from a serious knee injury in 2021 to help the Rebels’ drive to an NCAA Super Regional appearance. He was a team captain this season as a fifth-year senior, put on a stunning slugging performance in the Coral Cables Regional and made the College World Series All-Tournament team. The White Sox drafted Elko in the 10th round. “He’s got a chance to have a nice career in front of him,” Chicago scouting director Mike Shirley said at the time. P.S. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley homered for the fourth straight game Saturday in Atlanta’s 2-1 win vs. Miami. He has 35 round-trippers on the year, third-most in MLB. Great comment in an mlb.com story from rookie Michael Harris II, like Riley a former Mississippi Braves star: “I tell him every time he hits a home run [that] I wanna be like him when I grow up. … I really look up to him, and he’s a big leader in this clubhouse.” … UM product Drew Pomeranz reportedly suffered a setback in his injury rehab, casting doubt on whether he’ll pitch for San Diego this season. He had arm surgery a year ago in August. … St. Louis has announced that ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson will move to the bullpen. He is 7-7 with a 4.43 ERA as a starter this season.
Seat belts should have been required Friday night for the Amarillo fans in Hodgetown ballpark. They were subjected to a rough ride by a visiting Frisco RoughRiders team that bashed eight home runs, three by a pair of Mississippi products. Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim went 5-for-6 with his 20th homer and ex-Mississippi State star Justin Foscue added two bombs, his 13th and 14th, as Frisco steamrolled Amarillo 21-2 in a Texas League game. Crim set a Frisco record for hits in a game, boosting his average to .290, and scored four times. Both he and Foscue, the Texas Rangers’ No. 5 prospect, homered in the Riders’ record-setting 11-run fifth inning. The 21 total runs was also a franchise record. Foscue, batting .289 after a 3-for-6, drove in four runs and scored three. The host Sod Poodles, an Arizona affiliate, put third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes on the mound in the ninth. The former Mr. Baseball from Columbia High yielded two hits, including a homer, in his professional pitching debut. Forbes, in his eighth minor league season, did have two of Amarillo’s 10 hits. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his Minnesota debut on Friday and was caught stealing as a pinch runner in the eighth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He is 321-of-393 (81.7 percent) in his MLB career that started in 2013.