12 Jul

star trekkin’

Buckle up. Lots of All-Star stuff coming in the next few days. The HBCU Swingman Classic is set for tonight (7 p.m., MLB Network) at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Jackson State had a bunch of offensive standouts this past season, and several are in the game: Joseph Eichelberger (.375 hitter), Robert Tate Jr. (.352, .458 OBP), Lenny Montesano (11 homers, 16 doubles) and Rodney Hibler Jr. (34 steals). Tigers pitchers Christian Womble and Isaiah Williams are also on the rosters, along with Mississippi Valley State’s Dreylin Holmes and Alcorn State’s Garrett Palladino. … On Saturday, there is a high school home run derby competition at Globe Life in which Jacob Parker of Purvis will compete. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound lefty hitter has slugged 24 homers the past three years at Purvis. Later Saturday (3:10 p.m., MLB Network), former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt is slated to play in the All-Star Futures Game. Shortstop Pratt, a second-year pro and the state’s Gatorade player of the year in 2023, is Milwaukee’s No. 4-ranked prospect and is batting .295 with 19 bags at Low-Class A Carolina. … Sunday brings the first day of the MLB draft (4 p.m., ESPN) from Fort Worth, Texas. If Baseball America’s mock draft is accurate, four Mississippi-connected players could be chosen among the first 26 picks. Among them are three of the last four Gatorade state players of the year — Konnor Griffin, Dakota Jordan and Jordan Montgomery — plus Mississippi State switch-pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje. Montgomery and Cijntje reportedly will attend Sunday’s event; Griffin is having a watch party at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Expect several more players from the state to be called on Monday and Tuesday as the 20-round draft continues. … MLB’s Home Run Derby is set for Monday, though, regrettably, there is no Austin Riley, Brent Rooker or Hunter Renfroe in the field. … On Tuesday, it’s the main event, the 94th All-Star Game, with Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet (Chicago White Sox) and ex-MSU standout Jordan Westburg (Baltimore) suiting up for the American League squad.

07 Jul

star gazing

Garrett Crochet, the Ocean Springs High product who leads the American League in strikeouts, was justly rewarded with a spot on the American League All-Star team. Crochet is 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA and 146K’s for the Chicago White Sox. The rosters were announced Sunday on ESPN; there will be changes before the game is played on July 16 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Also making the AL team was former Biloxi Shuckers pitcher Corbin Burnes, now with Baltimore. He is 9-3, 2.32. Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, made the National League roster as a reserve. Ex-M-Braves catcher William Contreras, now with Milwaukee, previously was voted in as a starter by fans. … The full list of Home Run Derby (July 15) participants has yet to be revealed. It would be a treat to see Nathaniel Lowe of the hometown Texas Rangers, Brent Rooker, Hunter Renfroe or Austin Riley in the derby. Each of those Mississippi products has light-tower power. … Magnolia Heights High product Cooper Pratt is slated to participate in the July 13 All-Star Futures Game for minor league prospects at Globe Life. He is No. 4 on Milwaukee’s chart. … The All-Star festivities get started on July 12 with the HBCU Swingman Classic. The Magnolia State will be well-represented with six Jackson State players and one each from Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State on the rosters. This is the second annual all-star game for players from NCAA Division I historically black schools. JSU’s Joseph Eichelberger, Robert Tate Jr., Lenny Montesano, Rodney Hibler Jr., Christian Womble and Isaiah Williams are joined on the rosters by Valley’s Dreylin Holmes and Alcorn’s Garrett Palladino. Former big leaguers Ken Griffey Sr. and Lloyd McClendon will manage the two teams. … Of note: The only other time the Texas Rangers hosted the All-Star Game was 1995, when former Mississippi State standout Buck Showalter managed the AL team in a 3-2 loss at The Ballpark in Arlington. He was manager of the New York Yankees, who had the best record in the AL when the 1994 season was halted by a players strike.

02 Jul

reach for the stars

Magnolia Heights product Cooper Pratt is going where a number of former Mississippi-connected stars have gone before: the All-Star Futures Game. Pratt, a top Milwaukee prospect, has been named to the National League roster for the July 13 contest at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. He follows the likes of Colt Keith, Billy Hamilton, Hunter Renfroe, Matt Wallner, Nathaniel Lowe, Dakota Hudson and Ethan Small as selectees for this prestigious game. Pratt, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound shortstop, was drafted in the sixth round by the Brewers in 2023 after earning state player of the year honors as a two-way standout at MAIS state champion Magnolia Heights. An Ole Miss commit, he got $1.35M to sign with the Brewers and already is rated the No. 4 prospect in their loaded system. “He’s a cage rat … and one of our more explosive athletes,” Brewers minor league hitting instructor Brenton Del Chiaro recently told Brewers Beat. Pratt, 19, playing at Low-Class A Carolina — for a first-half championship team in the Carolina League — is hitting .313 with two homers, 31 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. He batted .356 in rookie ball last summer. MLB Pipeline projects his big league arrival as 2027 — but that could change. … Former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland, who spent a chunk of his MLB career with Texas, will serve as first-base coach for the AL team in the Futures Game. Most of the coaches have Rangers connections.

09 Jul

whatever happened to …

Trent Giambrone, the former Delta State standout, is having a standout season as the shortstop and leadoff batter for the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League. Giambrone, 29, is batting .280 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs in what is his eighth professional season. He put up a 2-for-4 on Saturday, driving in a pair of runs for the Revolution in a 10-7 win against Lexington. Giambrone, listed at 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, defied the odds as a 25th-round draft pick by reaching the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2021. He is one of nine DSU alums to play in the majors. He got a pinch single in his first at-bat and was 2-for-13 overall as a September call-up. He went back to the minors in 2022 and became a free agent at season’s end, signing with York this spring. Giambrone batted .351 over two years at DSU but didn’t replicate that success in the minors (.231 career). However, he appears to have found a happy place in the Atlantic League, a good quality loop where several Mississippians are currently playing. P.S. Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard, playing for Lexington on Saturday, went 3-for-4 with two doubles and his league-best 22nd home run (see previous post). … Tim Elko, another ex-Rebels star, put up a 3-for-4 with a triple and four RBIs for High-Class A Winston-Salem in the White Sox’s organization. In 10 games at this level, Elko — a ’22 draftee — is batting .308 with a homer and eight RBIs. Half of his 12 hits are extra-base knocks. … Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Detroit’s No. 1 prospect (per mlb.com), went 1-for-1 with a walk in Saturday’s All-Star Futures Game in Seattle. Keith is batting .335 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A this season. … The Tigers’ previous no-hitter before Saturday’s combo job was thrown by Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull on May 18, 2021, at Seattle. Turnbull, who missed all of the 2022 season following Tommy John surgery, is back on the injured list now (neck injury) but is throwing off a mound. He is 1-4 with a 7.26 ERA in seven starts this year.

07 Jul

northwestern exposure

Jackson State hasn’t had a player picked in the MLB draft since 2017. For Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State, it’s been eight years since they had a player drafted. Seven players from those schools will get a little more exposure in the inaugural HBCU Swingman Classic, scheduled for tonight at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, where scouts and team execs will be gathered for the major league All-Star Game next week. Jackson State’s Ty Hill — a Ferriss Trophy finalist this year — and teammates Jatavis Melton, Jesse Caver and Erik Gonzalez, Valley’s Narvin Booker and Victor Figueroa and Alcorn’s Kewan Braziel are among the 50 players from historically black NCAA Division I schools invited to Seattle. In addition to workouts, two squads will play a game tonight (9:30 on MLB Network). No player from Mississippi’s three HBCUs is ranked among the top 200 draft prospects by mlb.com or Baseball America. More exposure might be just what one of them needs. “Not everyone goes to a Power 5 conference,” Ken Griffey Jr., who created this event, recently told MLB Network. Hill is a particularly interesting case. He hit .399 with a .507 on-base average for his three years at JSU. He walked 96 times, fanned 74. This past season, Hill — noticeably smaller than his listed 6 feet 1, 210 pounds — batted .387 with six homers, 16 doubles, four triples and 53 RBIs. He can handle third base, second or the outfield. Obviously, the Saltillo High product can play the game. Whether his abilities transfer to pro ball, who really knows? He might just need a chance. … Prior to the HBCU game is the MLB/USA Baseball High School All-American Game for 2024 draft prospects. Jackson Prep star Konnor Griffin, rated the No. 1 prospect by some services, is expected to play. He is an LSU commit. Also on the rosters are Noah Sheffield, son of Gary, and Adrian Beltre Jr. A replay of the game will air at 10 a.m. Saturday on MLBN. … The All-Star Futures Game is set for Saturday in Seattle at 6 p.m. (live on Peacock). Former Biloxi High star and 2019 Gatorade player of the year Colt Keith, a top Detroit prospect, is on the American League roster. The lefty-swinging third baseman is batting .335 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. Also watch for Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Jackson Chourio, a highly regarded Milwaukee prospect. Atlanta’s representative is right-hander Spencer Schwellenbach, who is at Low-A Augusta. The Futures Game will re-air on MLBN Sunday at 8 a.m.

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.

27 Jun

‘like a movie’

Ex-Mississippi State star Jordan Westburg stood in the batter’s box for his first big league at-bat with both raindrops and chants of “Westy, Westy” cascading from above at Camden Yards in Baltimore. “It felt like something out of like a movie, or something that you dream, honestly,” he told mlb.com after Monday’s game, a 10-3 win over Cincinnati. Westburg walked (and later scored) in that first at-bat, picked up an RBI on a fielder’s choice grounder in his second and singled in his third. His debut was the lead story on MLB Network’s Quick Pitch. A first-round draft pick out of MSU in 2020, Westburg is the O’s No. 3-ranked prospect and was having a big year at Triple-A Norfolk before getting the call-up. He started at second base — where he made a slick play — and hit seventh in the order. … Westburg wasn’t the only Mississippi product to get a promotion on Monday. Detroit has moved former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, its No. 1 prospect and the No. 43 overall (per mlb.com), to Triple-A Toledo. The 21-year-old third baseman is expected to debut on Wednesday at Columbus. Keith hit .325 with 14 homers and 50 RBIs at Double-A Erie and helped the club win a first-half championship. He also has been chosen to play in the All-Star Futures Game in Seattle on July 8. (Other Mississippians who have played in that game include Billy Hamilton, Hunter Renfroe, Nathaniel Lowe, Dakota Hudson, Ethan Small and Matt Wallner.) … Who’ll be next among Mississippians in the minors to move up the ladder? Possibly Blaze Jordan, the slugger from DeSoto Central who is currently at High-Class A Greenville in the Boston system. Jordan, 20, is hitting .328 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs in his first full season at Greenville, where he finished 2022. Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom recently said of the team’s No. 10 prospect, “(H)e’s definitely got our attention.” And then there’s Tim Elko, the Ole Miss product who is batting .297 with 17 homers and 57 RBIs at Low-A Kannapolis in the Chicago White Sox’s chain. Elko, at 24, is a little old for this level and seemingly deserves a bump up.

17 Jul

saturday in the park

At Trustmark Park in Pearl, Vaughn Grissom kept raking and Drew Lugbauer slugged another home run for the red-hot Double-A Mississippi Braves. Grissom, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect, hit a two-run triple to the gap in right-center and Lugbauer added his 20th homer — high off the batter’s eye in dead center field — to help the M-Braves (13-4) to a 6-2 win over Rocket City. In five games in Pearl, Grissom is batting .500 (11-for-22) with a homer and five RBIs. He hit .312 with 11 homers at High-A Rome before being promoted.
At Nationals Park in Washington, newly minted All-Star Austin Riley hit his 27th homer for Atlanta and fellow All-Star and M-Braves alum Max Fried won his 10th game as the Braves beat the Nats 6-3. Ex-DeSoto Central High standout Riley is batting .284, slugging .577 and has 61 RBIs and 54 runs in 91 games. Fried went seven innings to move to 10-3 with a 2.84 ERA.
At Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Matt Wallner, the ex-Southern Miss star, hit a two-run homer in the All-Star Futures Game. M-Braves pitcher Jared Shuster yielded a home run in to his former M-Braves batterymate Shea Langeliers, now in Oakland’s system. Langeliers was named the game’s MVP. Wallner, recently promoted to Triple-A in the Minnesota system, hit 21 homers in Double-A this season.
At SRP Park in North Augusta, S.C., Brandon Parker, the Saucier native and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product, hit his seventh homer for Low-A Augusta in Atlanta’s system and boosted his average to .282 (.333 in July) with a two-hit game. Parker hit .185 at Augusta in 2021.
P.S. Kudos to Team USA and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco for a bronze medal finish in an international tournament in The Netherlands. Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez hit .250 with a homer and four RBIs, Rebels teammate Hunter Elliott posted a 1.31 ERA in two games and Southern Miss’ Tanner Hall won his lone start. … Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Devin Williams, now a set-up reliever in Milwaukee, reportedly has been added to the National League All-Star team. Fellow Shuckers alum Josh Hader, the Brewers’ closer, was picked but elected not to participate.

16 Jul

star power

The No. 1 player in the Hitter Power Rankings announced Thursday by mlb.com is not in Monday’s Home Run Derby. Nor is ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley in the MLB All-Star Game, though he keeps building his case to be named as a replacement should one be needed on the National League squad. Riley, the aircraft carrier for Atlanta’s potent offense, leads the majors in total bases with 201. He hit his 26th homer — second in the NL — in Friday’s win at Washington. He is batting .424 with eight homers and 17 RBIs in his past 16 games and is currently riding an 11-game hit streak. Star stuff, for sure. Riley has said he’d love to participate in a Home Run Derby if (when?) he makes an All-Star Game. One imagines the 6-foot-3, 240-pound third baseman could put on quite a show. If we could put together a home run derby contest solely of Mississippians in pro ball, it would be compelling theater. You’d have Riley, who has blasted a 441-footer this season; Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe, who has 13 bombs for Milwaukee, including a 444-foot shot; Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe (12 homers, including a 439-footer, for Texas); Southern Miss product Matt Wallner (21 in Double-A for Minnesota); ex-State star Brent Rooker (16 in Triple-A for San Diego); MSU alum Jordan Westburg (16 at Double-A and Triple-A for Baltimore); former Mississippi College star Blaine Crim (13 at Double-A for Texas); and the DeSoto Central slugging legend Blaze Jordan (eight in A-ball for Boston). P.S. Wallner is in today’s All-Star Futures Game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. There is an unofficial batting practice home run derby during that event, and he’d be one to watch. … Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale, a veteran MLB umpire, has been named as one of the umps for Tuesday’s All-Star Game; he’ll work first base. … Oxford High catcher Campbell Smithwick participated in Friday’s MLB-USA Baseball High School All-American Game at Dodger Stadium. … St. Louis has placed MSU product Dakota Hudson on the injured list with a neck strain. Hudson is 6-6 with a 4.10 ERA on the year — 2-4, 6.16 in his last seven starts. … Atlanta prospect Vaughn Grissom is batting .556 in four games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, who won Friday on a walk-off homer by Justyn-Henry Malloy to improve to 12-4 in the second half.

15 Jul

going places

Promoted to Triple-A St. Paul by Minnesota, Matt Wallner went 0-for-4 in his debut with the Saints on Thursday. On Saturday, the former Southern Miss slugger will be in Los Angeles, where he is slated to play in the All-Star Futures Game at Dodger Stadium with other top prospects. In his last game at Double-A Wichita on Wednesday, Wallner, the Twins’ No. 8-rated prospect, put up a 4-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs. For the year at Wichita, he hit .299 with 21 homers, 64 RBIs and eight steals. The 6-foot-5, lefty-hitting outfielder leads all Twins players in homers in 2022 while also improving his plate discipline. In 278 at-bats in his first Double-A season, he had 107 strikeouts, 62 walks and a .436 on-base percentage. “Just trying to take my walks when I can and just try to be more selective on pitches to drive the ball more and hit for more power,” Wallner told mlb.com. “I think it’s helped the average, as well.” Wallner joins an impressive list of Mississippi products who have participated in the Futures Game, including Billy Hamilton, Hunter Renfroe, Nathaniel Lowe, Dakota Hudson and Ethan Small. P.S. USM product Kirk McCarty has been reclaimed by Cleveland off waivers from Baltimore, which claimed the rookie left-hander off waivers from the Guardians last week. McCarty is 0-2, 9.00 ERA, in three MLB games with Cleveland, which assigned him to Triple-A Columbus, where he has spent most of this season. … In keeping with the USM theme, former Golden Eagles star Reed Trimble, on the injured list (shoulder surgery) all season, was assigned to Baltimore’s Florida Complex League club, going 0-for-3 in his Thursday debut. Trimble was a second-round supplemental draft pick (65th overall) in 2021 and batted .200 with eight RBIs and 14 runs in 22 games in the low minors.