10 Jul

all that glitters

There were several glittering performances from Mississippians in pro ball on Tuesday: Jordan Westburg, the ex-Mississippi State standout, celebrated his appointment to the American League All-Star team (as a replacement) by smacking his 15th homer in Baltimore’s loss to the Chicago Cubs. … Biloxi High alum Colt Keith went 2-for-5 — that’s 12 hits in seven games — with his eighth homer as Detroit fell to Cleveland. … Gunnar Hoglund, former Ole Miss star, threw five shutout innings and notched his Texas League-leading ninth win for Double-A Midland in Oakland’s system. … Ex-South Panola High standout Emaarion Boyd, in his lone at-bat, singled in the tying and winning runs in the ninth inning for High-Class A Jersey Shore (Philadelphia). … Kemp Alderman, 2023 Ferriss Trophy winner at Ole Miss, hit his first homer of the season for Low-A Jupiter (Miami). … Mississippi College product Blaine Crim went 3-for-4 with his 17th double for Triple-A Round Rock (Texas). … But the brightest performance of the day was delivered by ex-MSU star Justin Foscue, who went 5-for-5 — a career-best — with three RBIs for Round Rock. Itching to get another shot at the big leagues — he was 1-for-2 back in April — Foscue is batting .276 with two homers and 14 RBIs for the Express.

12 Jul

seeing is believing

Numbers can be deceiving. Some of the newfangled defensive metrics paint Austin Riley as a sub-par third baseman. Regular followers of the Atlanta Braves know this ain’t so. Anyone who watched Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Seattle also got an eyeful of the type of plays Riley makes routinely for the Braves. In the fifth inning, having just entered the game, the ex-DeSoto Central High star charged in, fielded a grounder with one hand and threw out the batter. In the bottom of the eighth, after the National League had taken the lead, Riley speared a 106.2 mph line drive off the bat of Brent Rooker and, from one knee, threw across to first to double off a runner. Both were key plays in the NL’s 3-2 win, which snapped a nine-game losing streak in the Midsummer Classic. Riley also went 1-for-2 at the plate and is 2-for-4 in his two All-Star appearances. Justin Steele, the lefty from Lucedale, pitched a scoreless inning for the NL in his All-Star debut; he was on the bump when Riley made the first of his two glittering plays. Former Mississippi State star Rooker, also an All-Star rookie, went 1-for-2 for the American League; his sixth-inning double was a big hit in the inning in which the AL took a 2-1 lead. P.S. On the final day of the MLB draft, three more players from state schools were selected: The Braves took Itawamba Community College third baseman Will Verdung — the MACCC’s player of the year — in the 13th round; Detroit took Tupelo High right-hander Johnathan Rogers in the 20th round; and the New York Mets plucked MSU’s Kellum Clark in Round 20. In all, 14 players were drafted out of Mississippi, four each from Ole Miss and Southern Miss. Worth noting: Landon Tomkins, a former Hinds CC and Northwest Rankin pitcher, was drafted in Round 10 out of Louisiana Tech by Pittsburgh. … Today marks the 50th anniversary of Dave Parker’s MLB debut with the Pirates. The Grenada native went 0-for-4 that day but went on to bat .290 with 339 homers in a 19-year career that included an MVP award, two World Series rings, two batting titles, seven All-Star nods, three Gold Gloves and a Home Run Derby crown.

11 Jul

down memory lane

There are 12 — count ’em, 12 — players in Seattle for tonight’s MLB All-Star Game who did minor league time with one of Mississippi’s two Double-A clubs. Four will not participate for various reasons, but there are three in the National League starting lineup: Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman and Orlando Arcia. On the bench for the NL are Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies and in the bullpen Craig Kimbrel, Josh Hader and Corbin Burnes. Selected for the game but sitting this one out are Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Dansby Swanson and Devin Williams. Acuna, Arcia, Riley, Albies, Strider and Elder are among the eight Atlanta players named to the NL team.
Here’s a quick trip down the Mississippi memory lane: Freeman, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, arrived in Mississippi — along with Jason Heyward — on July 4, 2009. Bugged by some injury issues, he hit .248 with two homers and 24 RBIs in 41 games for the M-Braves. Acuna’s stint in Pearl was a bit more spectacular: He homered on the first pitch he saw at Trustmark Park in 2017 and hit eight more in 57 games, batting .326 and swiping 14 bases. Arcia was Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect when he played in Biloxi in 2015; he spent the entire year with the Shuckers and hit .307. Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, played parts of two years (2017 and ’18) with the M-Braves and hit over .300 with 14 homers in 75 games all told. Albies arrived in Pearl in 2016 (as a shortstop) and in 82 games hit .321 with four homers and 33 RBIs. Swanson, now with the Chicago Cubs, came up midway through the 2016 season, took over at shortstop and batted .261 with eight homers in 81 games for the M-Braves before Atlanta called him up that August. Strider and Elder both pitched for the ’21 M-Braves, who won the league championship. Strider went 3-7 with a 4.71 ERA but fanned 94 batters in 63 innings. Elder was 7-1 with a 3.21. Kimbrel, now with Philadelphia, blew through Pearl late in the 2009 season, going 6-for-6 in save opps with an 0.77 ERA in 12 games. Hader, now with San Diego, pitched for Biloxi — as a starter — in 2015 and ’16; in the latter season, he posted an 0.95 ERA in 11 games. Burnes, a Milwaukee starter, went 3-3, 2.10, for the Shuckers in 2017, and Williams, now the Brewers’ closer, toiled in Biloxi in 2019, going 7-2 with four saves and a 2.36 ERA in 31 appearances.
P.S. In addition to Riley, two other Magnolia State school alums are in Seattle. Brent Rooker, who has 16 homers for Oakland, is Mississippi State’s 12th All-Star selection. Lucedale native and George County High product Justin Steele, 9-2, 2.56 ERA, for the Cubs, was strongly considered for the starting job that went to Zac Gallen. The only Mississippi native to start an All-Star Game is Claude Passeau, who did so in 1946 while with the Cubs. He took the loss at Fenway Park. Passeau, born in Waynesboro, is buried in Lucedale.

03 Jul

very cool moment

Before the Oakland A’s played on Sunday, manager Mark Kotsay addressed the team in the clubhouse and, in a very cool way, informed them that Brent Rooker had made the All-Star Game, voted in as a DH by his peers. Rooker, the former Mississippi State slugger, buried his face in his hands as his teammates applauded and cheered. (Watch the video; it’s emotional.) Rooker went to spring training with the A’s — his fourth organization in a year’s time — unsure of a roster spot. He not only made the club but was one of baseball’s hottest hitters in April, batting .358 with nine homers and 22 RBIs that month. He has cooled off of late (.191, three homers, 39 strikeouts in his last 30 games), but Kotsay stressed that Rooker was deserving of the All-Star nod and hailed his “perseverance and grit” in getting to where he is. “It’s overwhelming,” said Rooker, seemingly as humble a guy as you could hope to meet. He thanked his teammates for making him feel welcome as a newcomer in the spring. Rooker didn’t start Sunday’s game but entered as a pinch hitter and belted his team-leading 14th homer in the A’s 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He is batting .243 with 41 RBIs, also a team-high. P.S. Fingers are crossed in Baltimore after Jordan Westburg, the rookie out of MSU, was hit by a pitch on the left arm Sunday. He was expected to undergo an MRI. The HBP came with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and pushed the winning run across in a 2-1 victory against Minnesota. It was Westburg’s third RBI in six games in the majors; he is batting .263. He stayed in the game at second base in the ninth. … Braden Montgomery, the Madison Central High product and current Stanford star, hit a two-run homer for Team USA in a 10-0 romp over Chinese Taipei. He is 2-for-12 in the team’s three games to date; he has not yet pitched in the series.

02 Jul

here it comes …

Baseball fans need to strap in. A rollicking good time is ahead, particularly for devoted followers of all things Mississippi. Aside from the usual array of major and minor league games all week — Biloxi is hosting Mississippi on Monday and the M-Braves are at home the rest of the week — Team USA (the college version) is playing a series in the Carolinas against Chinese Taipei that runs through July 4 and then hooks up against Japan from July 7-12. Braden Montgomery, the former Madison Central High and current Stanford star, is on the Team USA roster. July 7 brings the HBCU Swingman Classic to kick off MLB’s All-Star festivities in Seattle. Several Mississippi college alums are on the rosters, including Jackson State’s Ty Hill, a Ferriss Trophy finalist this year. July 8 is the All-Star Futures Game, with ex-Biloxi High star Colt Keith, a rising Detroit Tigers prospect, scheduled to play at T-Mobile Park. July 9 is the start of the MLB draft, and there are several Mississippians who could go in the first two rounds (see Jacob Gonzalez and Kemp Alderman of Ole Miss, Cooper Pratt of Magnolia Heights Academy, Colton Ledbetter of Mississippi State). The draft continues on July 10 and 11. July 10 is the Home Run Derby at T-Mobile; the eight-man lineup has yet to be finalized, but there might be a Mississippian in the field. July 11 brings the Midsummer Classic itself with three Magnolia State products on the rosters plus a plethora of former M-Braves and Biloxi Shuckers. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley made the National League team as a reserve, joined by George County High product Justin Steele, selected to the NL pitching staff. Ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker made the American League squad as a reserve pick.

01 Jul

bravissimo

Before the curtain fell on June, a handful of Mississippians delivered performances worthy of raucous applause. Bidding for a spot on the National League All-Star team, Justin Steele — the lefty from Lucedale — pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings for the Chicago Cubs in a 10-1 win Friday against Cleveland. Steele is 9-2 with a 2.43 ERA, tied for second-most wins in the NL and tops in ERA. He should be in Seattle, for sure. … Austin Riley, the slugger from Southaven, went 3-for-5 with his 15th home run in Atlanta’s 16-4 demolition of Miami, its closest pursuer in the NL East. Riley, batting .270 with 43 RBIs, 55 runs and a .459 slugging percentage, was a finalist at third base in the All-Star voting and deserves a spot on the roster as a reserve. It would also be great to see him in the Home Run Derby. … Down in the minors, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner continues to build his case for a return to the big leagues with Minnesota. He went 3-for-5 with a single, double and triple for Triple-A St. Paul a day after hitting two home runs for the Saints. He is at .307 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs. Sent down on May 29 — despite getting seven hits in a four-game stretch for the Twins — Wallner hit .320 with five bombs in June for St. Paul. … Colt Keith, the former Biloxi High star, hit a 473-foot home run for Triple-A Toledo and is 7-for-13 in three games since Detroit promoted him from Double-A. The 21-year-old lefty-hitting third baseman is ticketed to play in the All-Star Futures Game on July 8 in Seattle. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Hunter Stovall, quietly having a nice year for Triple-A Albuquerque, delivered a walk-off hit for the Isotopes in a 4-3 win against El Paso. Stovall, a sixth-year pro, is batting .281 with six homers and 26 RBIs for Colorado’s top farm club. … In Low-Class A, former South Panola High standout Emaarion Boyd went 2-for-4 with three runs, two walks and a stolen base — his 39th of the year — in a win for Clearwater. The Philadelphia prospect is batting .276 (.400 OBP) with 46 runs in 52 games in his first full pro season.

30 Jun

answering the call

Despite a rash of injuries, defending World Series champion Houston has stayed afloat in the American League playoff pool, and one of the unexpected heroes is rookie right-hander J.P. France. France, who capped his college career at Mississippi State, threw seven shutout innings at St. Louis on Thursday night as the Astros routed the Cardinals 14-0. It was the fifth straight quality start for France, who is 3-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 10 starts since being recalled from the minors in early May. “I just was able to locate, and it was one of those games where everything was working …, ” he told mlb.com. With the win, Houston (44-37) moved past the Los Angeles Angels and into second place alone in the AL West, 5 games back of first-place Texas (49-32). The Astros and Rangers start a four-game series at Globe Life Field tonight. France, who started his college career at Tulane, went 5-5, 3.84, at MSU in 2018 and was a 14th-round draft pick as a senior that summer. He made the Astros’ 40-man roster this past off-season and made his big league debut May 6, throwing five shutout innings at Seattle. Grae Kessinger, the ex-Ole Miss star and another Astros rookie, got into Thursday’s game as a defensive replacement at first base. He went 0-for-1 with a walk and is 1-for-10 in his six MLB games. He is 1,930 hits behind grandfather Don but just six back of uncle Keith on the Kessinger hit list. … The Angels (44-39) lost 9-7 at home to the Chicago White Sox as a trio of Mississippi products played key roles for the enigmatic Sox. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn (5-8, 6.47) got the win despite yielding three homers — including MSU alum Hunter Renfroe’s 14th — and five earned runs in six innings. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, in an 0-for-24 spiral entering the game, went 2-for-5 and scored twice. And MSU product Kendall Graveman (3.06 ERA in 36 appearances) closed out the win despite allowing two runs — on a Shohei Ohtani bomb — in the ninth. P.S. Kudos to former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman and Biloxi Shuckers alum Orlando Arcia for making the National League All-Star team, joining ex-M-Braves standout Ronald Acuna, and to Madison Central High alum Braden Montgomery, now at Stanford, for making the final roster of the Collegiate National Team.

23 Jun

seattle star power

The Major League All-Star Game in Seattle may have an old home week feel for Atlanta Braves players. The amazing Ronald Acuna already has made the National League squad — the fourth selection for the former Mississippi Braves star — as the top vote-getter in Phase One of the balloting. Six other Braves, including three more former M-Braves and one Biloxi Shuckers alum, made the cut for Phase 2 of the voting, which opens Monday. Plus, former Atlanta and M-Braves standout Freddie Freeman, now playing first base for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is also a finalist. Austin Riley, ex-DeSoto Central High star and a 2022 All-Star, is a finalist at third base. Ozzie Albies — who leads the NL in RBIs — is among the last two candidates at second base; Michael Harris II, reigning rookie of the year and currently swinging a torrid bat, is among the four outfield finalists; and ex-Shucker Orlando Arcia, having a breakout season, is in the running at shortstop. Atlanta pitchers, most notably former M-Braves Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder, could also be picked for the NL team. Atlanta has the best record in the league and is routinely packing Truist Park. … Phase 2 of the voting will be available exclusively online at mlb.com and on team sites. The voting process ends June 29. The game is July 11 at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.