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.

17 Jun

powering up

The projected home run tally for Jordan Westburg this season was 11, according to Lindy’s Baseball 2024 Preview. Forget that. A month before the All-Star break, the former Mississippi State star already has hit 11. He reached that mark on Sunday with a blast against Zack Wheeler, one of four homers Baltimore hit against the Philadelphia ace in an 8-3 victory. Second-year big leaguer Westburg is hitting .278 with 42 RBIs, 37 runs and six steals in 66 games; he is going to get some consideration for the American League All-Star team. In the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby for 2024, Westburg stands second to Brent Rooker, the ex-MSU standout who has hit 13 bombs for Oakland. To this point in 2024, the once-promising derby competition is a two-horse race. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, led all MLB Mississippians (native or school alum) with 37 homers in 2023. Rooker followed with 30, and three others hit double figures. Lindy’s projected Riley to hit 35 in 2024, and he may be starting to perk up after a tough start. He has six, one each in Atlanta’s last three games. Riley’s homer on Sunday came hours after he learned that his personal hitting coach Mike Brumley had died in a car accident; Riley pointed and looked to the sky as he rounded first base. “He was in the back of my mind really all day,” Riley said in an mlb.com piece. No other Mississippi product has more than six homers this season. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, tied with Riley at six, was just starting to slug for Kansas City when he went on the injured list with a foot injury. He hit 20 homers last season and was projected at 17 for 2024. Nathaniel Lowe, another State alum, has hit just two for Texas. He hit 17 last year and 27 in 2022. His power outage is a concern for the defending but fading World Series champs. Colt Keith, the Detroit rookie from Biloxi High, hit 27 in the minors last year and was projected to go deep 10 times for the Tigers this season; he has three. Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner hit 14 for Minnesota in 2023 and was projected for 16 this year. He has 17 — but 16 of those have come in the minors, where he is today. P.S. The Chicago White Sox added USM product Chuckie Robinson to their 40-man roster on Sunday but did not call him up to the big leagues. Robinson, a catcher who got some big league time with Cincinnati two years ago, is hitting .228 with six homers and 25 RBIs at Triple-A Charlotte.

16 Jun

caught in a draft

A host of Magnolia State products will have the opportunity to enhance their draft stock at the upcoming MLB Draft Combine, which runs Tuesday-Sunday at Chase Field in Phoenix. Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin; former Madison Central High star Braden Montgomery of Texas A&M; Mississippi State’s Dakota Jordan, Hunter Hines, Jurrangelo Cijntje, Khal Stephen and Nate Dohm; Ole Miss’ Hunter Elliott; Pearl River Community College’s Conner Ware; Lewisburg High’s Samuel Richardson; and former Lewisburg standout Brady Tygart of Arkansas are on the list of scheduled attendees. Griffin, Montgomery, Cijntje and Jordan are ranked among the top 29 draft prospects by MLB Pipeline. The draft is July 14-16. Players will get to participate in technological evaluations of their “cognitive skills, speed of processing, athletic performance and on-field talent,” per a story on mlb.com. A pro-style workout, strength tests and a game for prep players are also on the docket. Of note: Griffin — the Gatorade national player of the year — said in an MLB Central appearance last week that he doesn’t plan to participate in on-field activities. Asked on MLB Central to evaluate himself as a draft prospect, Griffin, in a polite and unassuming manner, said: “I know the skill set that I have. I feel like I’m a five-tool guy … one of the few five-tool guys in this draft.” An LSU commit, he pitched and played shortstop and outfield while at Prep but projects as an outfielder in pro ball. MLB Central’s Mark DeRosa said Griffin also has the “sixth tool,” aka makeup: “It’s beyond real.” … Montgomery’s Texas A&M team is in the College World Series in Omaha, though the first-team All-America outfielder is sidelined with an ankle injury. … Jordan won the Ferriss Trophy as Mississippi’s top college player. … Elliott had elbow surgery earlier this year and did not pitch for Ole Miss this season. … Ware, a Germantown High alum and LSU signee, made only seven appearances for PRCC, posting a 1.80 ERA and two saves. … Richardson, a preseason All-America pick and top draft prospect, had an off year, batting .211 with seven homers, per MaxPreps. … Vicksburg native and former big leaguer Dmitri Young is among the ex-players slated to work with the attendees, and former Mississippi State star and MLB manager Buck Showalter will be part of the MLB Network crew covering the event.

16 Jun

who’s hot?

Continuing to make his case for a return to the big leagues, Matt Wallner enjoyed another four-hit game — with a home run — on Saturday for Triple-A St. Paul. The ex-Southern Miss star, who also had a four-hit game on Thursday, is batting .396 in June (.458 OBP) with seven homers and 16 RBIs. He was sent down by Minnesota on April 16 following a horrid start. After his recent hot streak, the left-handed slugger is at .246 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs for St. Paul. … Grae Kessinger is also building a case for a return to The Show. The Ole Miss product went 3-for-5 for Triple-A Sugar Land on Saturday and is batting .341 since his June 5 demotion by Houston. Kessinger, a versatile infielder, rarely played (11 at-bats) while he was with the Astros, who are struggling mightily at 32-39. … Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, making his case to stay in the big leagues with Detroit, went 4-for-6 in the Tigers’ 13-5 whipping of the Astros on Saturday. After an early June swoon, rookie Keith, 22, is 7-for-13 in his last three games, boosting his average to .235. He has three homers and 20 RBIs. “For me, it’s not about the stats or the data,” he recently said in a FanGraphs article. “It’s a comfort-level thing.” … In four games since he was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett from Mississippi, Nacho Alvarez is making his case as a prospect to watch in Atlanta’s system. He put up a 4-for-4 game Saturday and is 9-for-18 with two homers in four games for the Stripers. With the Double-A M-Braves, the 21-year-old shortstop hit .265 with no homers in 49 games. … In Low-Class A, former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt is bidding for a move up in Milwaukee’s system. Pratt had a three-hit game for Carolina on Saturday — his fourth three-knock game in his last eight — and is raking at a .429 clip in June. For the season, the second-year pro, 19, is at .310 with two homers, 24 RBIs and 15 steals. He is the Brewers’ No. 8-rated prospect.

15 Jun

turning point?

Fingers are crossed in Braves Nation. “Getting Austin (Riley) involved is huge for us,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker told The Associated Press after Friday’s 7-3 win over Tampa Bay. “I’ve been obviously working hard to get it right. To see some results is nice,” former DeSoto Central High standout Riley said after his 3-for-4, three-RBI night. Braves fans are knocking on wood. Did anyone need a big game more than Riley? He entered Friday’s contest in a 1-for-19 skid. He was hitting .185 with no homers and two RBIs over his previous 15 games, which followed a two-week stint on the bench with a side injury. Some critics were already calling it a “lost season.” On Friday, he had an RBI double in the first inning and the next inning blasted a 422-foot home run, his fourth of the year but first since May 3. He boosted his average to .230. This is a guy who hit .281 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs, won a Silver Slugger at third base and was an All-Star for the second time in 2023. The wobbling, injury-plagued Braves (37-30) need his production. Plus, he’s the kind of guy you root for. No bat flips, no showboating. No smack talk, no whining. He just shows up and plays hard, like a modern-day Dale Murphy. The loss of Michael Harris II to the injured list Friday with a hamstring injury makes a return to form by Riley even more vital for the Braves in the coming weeks. P.S. Is Tim Anderson finally escaping his season-long funk? The ex-East Central Community College star had a three-hit game for Miami on Friday and now has nine hits over his last four games. He has lifted his average to .221, though he still hasn’t homered and has just seven RBIs in 52 games for the lowly Marlins (23-46). With the Chicago White Sox, Anderson won a batting title in 2019, a Silver Slugger at shortstop in 2020 and was an All-Star in 2021 and ’22. Marlins fans have not seen that player.

14 Jun

just stuff

There were some notable home runs on Thursday: Nacho Alvarez, promoted from the Mississippi Braves to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, hit his first home run of 2024, helping the Stripers beat Nashville 8-7. … Geraldo Quintero of the M-Braves hit his second homer of the season and his second at Rocket City, in Madison, Ala., where the M-Braves won a “home” game 7-5 on the playable field conditions of Toyota Field. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner blasted two homers for Triple-A St. Paul (Minnesota affiliate) and now has six this month and 13 overall for the Saints. … DeSoto Central High alum Blaze Jordan hit his third homer and first since coming off the injured list Wednesday (see previous post) for Double-A Portland (Boston). … In the big leagues, former M-Braves standout Justyn-Henry Malloy, in his ninth MLB game, hit his second homer for Detroit and first at Comerica Park in a Tigers win. … There were also some notable pitching performances, most notably Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet’s outing for the Chicago White Sox in a 3-2, 10-inning win at Seattle. The big left-hander struck out a career-best 13 while allowing two hits and one run in seven innings. He is now tied for the MLB lead with 116 punchouts. … Lucedale native Justin Steele also got a no-decision, throwing six shutout innings for the Cubs in their loss to Tampa Bay. Steele has a 3.22 ERA in nine starts but has yet to register a win. … Brandon native Will Warren, pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), took a shutout into the sixth inning against Rochester before yielding a three-run homer and departing the game. He got a no-decision in the RailRiders’ loss. After a brutal May, Jackson Prep product Warren (4-4, 7.01, on the year) has a 2.81 ERA in three June starts. P.S. Former Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. has been released by Kansas City. A second-round pick in 2018 by Milwaukee, Gray was batting .136 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He hit .213 for his career with 51 homers and 70 steals, never having any success above A-ball. Only 24, he might draw some interest from independent teams.

13 Jun

cruise control

Before he went on the injured list on May 12 with a broken finger, Blaze Jordan was cruising along on a 17-game hitting streak. He returned to the Double-A Portland lineup on Wednesday and got right back in gear. The DeSoto Central High product — Boston’s No. 19 prospect — banged out a two-run double in his first at-bat and finished 2-for-5 in the Sea Dogs’ 5-4 win at Reading. After a sputtering start to his first full year in Double-A, the 21-year-old Jordan is hitting .288 with two homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs in 27 games. A renowned power hitter in his amateur days, Jordan was a third-round draft pick as a 17-year-old by the Red Sox in 2020. His power potential began to show last season, when he hit 18 homers between High-Class A Greenville and Portland. He batted .324 in 73 games at Greenville and was named a South Atlantic League postseason All-Star; he was also a Red Sox Organization All-Star for the second straight year. Jordan, who goes 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, is a corner infielder whose future may be at first base. His right-handed stroke seemingly is well-suited for Fenway Park. P.S. A couple of former Ole Miss stars are playing major roles for Birmingham, which has the best record (38-21) in the Double-A Southern League. Shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, promoted from A-ball last month, is hitting .321 after a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort in a 4-3 win Wednesday against Pensacola. He has a homer, 15 RBIs and 14 runs in 21 games for the Barons, a Chicago White Sox affiliate. Tim Elko, the Barons’ first baseman/DH, is hitting .298 — fourth in the SL — and ranks in the top 10 with six homers and 28 RBIs. Gonzalez — a first-round pick in 2023 — and Elko — 10th round, 2022 — were teammates on Ole Miss’ ’22 national championship club. … Hunter Renfroe has a bone bruise in his left foot, not a broken toe, the Kansas City Royals have announced. The former Mississippi State standout went on the IL on Tuesday. His recovery time likely will be shorter than originally expected.

12 Jun

this ain’t good

There was big news involving the Mississippi Braves early today. Nacho Alvarez, the highly touted shortstop prospect, was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, becoming the fourth top 11 Atlanta prospect promoted off the Double-A roster in the last two weeks. But later today, there was even bigger news, jaw-dropping news: The M-Braves’ scheduled home series against Rocket City has been moved to Madison, Ala., home of the Trash Pandas. Unplayable field conditions is the announced reason. First, Tuesday night’s series opener at Trustmark Park was curiously cancelled. Now tonight’s game is off, as well, with a five-game series to start Thursday at Rocket City. This ain’t a good look for a franchise that is moving to Columbus, Ga., next year. This season was supposed to be a celebration of the team’s 20 years in Mississippi. The M-Braves last played a home game on June 2 (before a reported crowd of 1,344). The infield looked pretty rough then. It looks worse now. Was no maintenance done while the team was on the road? This situation surely won’t sit well with the few fans the lame-duck team has left. They won’t see the M-Braves again in Pearl until June 25. If the field if playable, of course.

12 Jun

going places

Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters got back in The Show and former Biloxi Shuckers star Carlos F. Rodriguez got his first MLB shot among a flurry of Tuesday transactions involving players with Mississippi ties. Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel was promoted to Double-A in the Baltimore system; ex-Ole Miss standout Brandon Johnson moved up to Double-A in the Kansas City chain; former Mississippi State bullpen ace Landon Sims jumped to High-Class A in the Arizona system; and USM product Hunter Stanley came off the injured list at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland organization. … Waters — Southern League player of the year in 2019 — was recalled by Kansas City to replace Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State star who went on the injured list with a broken toe. Waters, hitting .277 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in Triple-A, went 0-for-4 in his first MLB game of 2024. The Royals also placed Bulldogs alum Adam Frazier on the bereavement list. … Rodriguez, Milwaukee’s No. 6 prospect who went 9-6, 2.77 ERA, for the Shuckers in 2023, allowed two runs in 3 2/3 innings and took a loss against Toronto. … Etzel, a 2023 draftee by the Orioles, was batting .306 with four homers and 31 steals at High-A Aberdeen; he got a knock in his first at-bat for Class AA Bowie. … Johnson was 3-3, two saves, 4.13, in High-A for the Royals. … Sims, a star on MSU’s national title team, had a 4.38 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings at Low-A Visalia. … Stanley, on the IL for about a month, has a 5.85 ERA over six games for Columbus. P.S. Kirk McCarty, former USM standout from Hattiesburg, threw seven shutout innings in his Chinese Professional Baseball League debut last week and allowed two runs in five innings on Tuesday for CTBC Brothers. He is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA. The well-traveled McCarty has won 18 games the past three seasons: four in Triple-A, four in MLB with Cleveland, nine in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2023 plus the one in the CPBL. He won 22 games for USM from 2015-17.