06 Jul

change in the wind?

The zero is gone. Maybe the luck has changed, too. Justin Steele, the lefty from Lucedale, winless in 12 starts this season for the Chicago Cubs, got on the board Friday and did it in emphatic fashion. Steele threw a two-hitter at the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field. He walked two, fanned seven. He threw just 95 pitches, only four in locking down the W in the ninth inning. It was Steele’s first career complete game in 76 starts over four seasons. As he jogged to the mound for the ninth, the p.a. played his walk-out song, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” and the Wrigleyville crowd got loud. “It was a special moment. Something I’ll never forget,” Steele said in an mlb.com piece. Steele won 16 games for the Cubs in 2023 and made the All-Star Game. The George County High product got hurt in the season opener this year, went on the injured list and endured nothing but tough luck after his return — before Friday, that is. He is now 1-3 despite a 2.95 ERA. Today at Wrigley there is a Justin Steele bobblehead giveaway. Talk about good timing. … Steele’s complete game was the first by a Mississippi native in MLB since Brandon Woodruff tossed one on Sept. 11 of last year. There were none in 2022. For the record — and as an indicator of how the game has changed — the career mark for complete games by a Mississippian is 188 by Claude Passeau (1935-47). Guy Bush (1923-45) posted 151. Roy Oswalt (2001-13) had 20. P.S. From all indications, Colt Keith has found his power midway through his rookie season. The former state player of the year from Biloxi High hit two 400-foot home runs Friday for Detroit, fueling a 5-4 win at Cincinnati. Lefty hitter Keith, 6 feet 2, 211 pounds, now has seven bombs on the year, four in his last 15 games. He didn’t hit his first MLB homer until May 24. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Keith hit 38 homers over his three minor league seasons.

05 Jul

fenway flashback

Oil Can Boyd rocked and fired and threw a strike to Rich Gedman. Kinda like old times at Fenway Park. But on Thursday, the pair of former Boston teammates were on the field at Polar Park in Worcester, Mass., taking part in a first-pitch ceremony honoring Boyd, the Meridian native and ex-Jackson State star. For their Throwback Thursday promotion, the Worcester Red Sox — Boston’s Triple-A affiliate — invited Boyd, 64, as the special guest. A July 4 crowd of 9,400-plus, including a large contingent of Boyd’s family and friends, cheered on The Can, who gave a brief speech in which he toasted Gedman, the WooSox’s hitting coach and Boyd’s batterymate in Boston in the 1980s. “A southern kid from Mississippi and a northern kid from Worcester, Massachusetts, made a connection that lasts for life,” Boyd said, per an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Drafted in 1980, Boyd came up in the Red Sox’s system but never pitched in Worcester; the team moved there from Pawtucket in 2021. He debuted in MLB in 1982 and enjoyed a colorful and complicated career, winning 78 games and losing 77. He and Gedman were on the Red Sox’s ill-fated World Series team in 1986. Boyd pitched in independent ball into his 40s and is credited with 152 wins all told in pro ball.

05 Jul

star-spangled performance

There is something special about having a big day on July 4, when baseball tends to command center stage in the sports world. Brent Rooker, the Mississippi State product now with the Oakland A’s, rose to the occasion on Thursday, going 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI (plus a stolen base!) in Oakland’s 5-0 win over the visiting Los Angeles Angels. Rooker is making a strong case for a second straight trip to the All-Star Game. He is batting .273 with 17 homers and 50 RBIs. He went 6-for-10 with two homers in the A’s three-game sweep of the Angels and is batting .352 over his last 15 games. The full All-Star rosters will be announced Sunday. “Just being candid and being honest, I think the numbers I’ve put up this year are right in line with the rest of the guys that will be there,” Rooker told mlb.com. “If I’m there, awesome.” Rooker is also a trade candidate for a last-place A’s team that is 33-56 and going nowhere in 2024. … Other star-spangled performances from July 4: Ex-State standout Jordan Westburg, another All-Star candidate, hit his 14th home run for Baltimore. Former Southern Miss star Nick Sandlin came off the injured list and got the last three outs in a win by surging Cleveland. Biloxi High product Colt Keith hit his fifth home run in a 2-for-4 day for Detroit. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-4 with an RBI for Kansas City. Former DeSoto Central standout Austin Riley went 1-for-3 with an RBI for Atlanta. P.S. Down in the minors, ex-USM star Justin Storm notched his fourth win with two solid innings of work for Low-Class A Jupiter in the Miami system. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound left-hander, a 2023 draftee, has a 1.40 ERA, an 0.97 WHIP, two saves and 35 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings over 16 games this season. The Madison Central alum isn’t currently listed among the Marlins’ Top 30 prospects (by MLB Pipeline), but he must be knocking on that door. … Bryson Ware, former Germantown High and Pearl River Community College standout, blasted two homers for Low-A Clearwater (Philadelphia system) and now has nine bombs and 40 RBIs on the year.

04 Jul

trade winds

Garrett Crochet and Matt Wallner picked up some nice awards on Wednesday. Rumor has it that both might soon have to pick up and move to new organizations. Crochet, the former Ocean Springs High (and Tennessee) standout, won the American League pitcher of the month award for June; the left-hander posted a 1.91 ERA and struck out 56 batters in 37 2/3 innings for the Chicago White Sox. Wallner, Southern Miss’ all-time home run leader, was named the Triple-A International League hitter of the month; the lefty slugger batted .324 with 12 homers, 28 RBIs and 27 runs for St. Paul in the Minnesota system. Crochet, 25, making just $800,000 this year and three years from free agency, is considered by some the most attractive pitching target for buyers. The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly already have made an offer for Crochet, and San Diego and Baltimore have been mentioned as possible suitors. In his first season as a starter, Crochet is 6-6 with a 3.02 ERA for a weak White Sox club. He is a likely All-Star. Wallner, sent to the minors in mid-April because he wasn’t hitting, has perked up at St. Paul (.255, 19 homers, 53 RBIs), and the Twins are said to be “getting calls” on the 26-year-old outfielder. Wallner’s power is intriguing; he has 17 MLB homers in 107 games. Plus, he has a big throwing arm. He is making just $746K in 2024 and is six years from free agency. … The Dodgers, among other clubs, are also said to be interested in Oakland outfielder Brent Rooker, the ex-Mississippi State standout who hit his 17th homer on Wednesday. The MLB trade deadline is July 30. P.S. Austin Riley did not win a player of the month award — and definitely isn’t on the trade market — but the former DeSoto Central star had a June worthy of mention. The Atlanta third baseman, sluggish out of the gate this season, hit .289 (.373 OBP) with six homers, 13 RBIs and 17 runs for the month. With 144 career homers, including one in July, he has caught Charlie Hayes for 11th place on the all-time home run list for Mississippians.

03 Jul

rise and fall

The hard fall of Tim Anderson created a loud thud on Tuesday when the former batting champion and All-Star shortstop was designated for assignment by one of the worst teams in baseball. East Central Community College alum Anderson, a .278 career hitter, was batting .214 with no homers for Miami. Fittingly, he struck out Sunday in his final at-bat with the Marlins, giving him 68 strikeouts in 234 ABs this season. He was on a one-year, $5M contract after being cut loose by the Chicago White Sox following a poor 2023 season. Speculation is Anderson, 31, will be released; he may well get another shot somewhere. … Grae Kessinger, ex-Ole Miss star, was recalled from Triple-A by Houston and was in uniform for the Astros’ game at Toronto on Tuesday, though he did not play. Kessinger, 0-for-11 in MLB ABs this year, was batting .283 with two homers and 11 RBIs at Sugar Land. … Ex-Mississippi State star Jordan Westburg, now with Baltimore, apparently will fall short of beating out Jose Ramirez for the starting nod at third base for the American League in fan balloting for the All-Star Game. Voting ends today. … MSU product Nathaniel Lowe, who had just two homers as of June 25, has hit four in his last seven games, including two in Texas’ 7-0 victory against San Diego on Tuesday. (It was his bobblehead night.) He averaged 21 homers over the previous three years for the Rangers. … Former Ole Miss standout Anthony Servideo was sent back to Double-A Bowie from Triple-A Norfolk by Baltimore. Servideo, a third-round pick in 2020, was batting .212 in 14 games for the Tides; he was hitting .196 for Bowie when he was promoted to fill a roster need. … Cleveland sent Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin (5-0, one save, 3.49 ERA) on a rehab assignment to Triple-A Columbus. He worked a scoreless inning Tuesday. The reliever has been on the injured list since June 17. … Ole Miss alum Dylan DeLucia was promoted from rookie ball to Low-Class A Lynchburg by Cleveland. He made two appearances in the Arizona Complex League, his first outings since being drafted in 2022. He did not pitch Tuesday. … Former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt, Milwaukee’s No. 4 prospect (see previous post), cracked MLB Pipeline’s new Top 100 minor league prospects list at No. 96. Pratt is in A-ball. USM alum Hurston Waldrep, who already has debuted with Atlanta this season, is No. 70, up from 72 in the previous ranking.

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.

02 Jul

whatever happened to …

Reed Trimble, the oft-injured ex-Southern Miss star, is having a terrific season at High-Class A Aberdeen in the Baltimore system. The switch-hitting outfielder, 24, is batting .296 with two homers, seven doubles, three triples, 16 RBIs, 16 runs and 13 steals in 40 games. On Monday, he flashed his all-around skills against Greensboro, going 2-for-4 with a homer, a double, a steal, two RBIs and three runs. Drafted 65th overall by the Orioles in 2021 — after hitting .345 with 17 homers for USM — Trimble has been on and off the injured list many times over four pro seasons. He has played in just 104 games, hitting .245 overall, but may be finding his stride this summer. … Drafted 570th overall by San Diego in 2022, former Tishomingo County High standout Spence Coffman is blossoming in his third tour of the Arizona Complex League. Coffman, 20, a shortstop, ranks among the league leaders with a .326 average and 14 steals. He has driven in 21 runs and scored 22 for the Padres’ rookie-level club. … Drafted 60th overall in 2018 (by Milwaukee) and released last month (by Kansas City), Joe Gray Jr. has landed in the independent Atlantic League, where he is batting .250 in nine games for Gastonia. P.S. Ole Miss alum Andrew Fischer — who reportedly has entered the transfer portal (again) — is among the top sluggers in the Cape Cod League with three homers and 12 RBIs for Brewster. Fischer hit 20 homers for the Rebels in 2024 after transferring in from Duke. Other notables in the Cape: Southern Miss’ Davis Gillespie is hitting .276 with four runs for Bourne; Ole Miss’ Campbell Smithwick is batting .304 for Chatham; and Mississippi State’s Gavin Black has a 0.00 ERA with 10 strikeouts over 8 1/3 innings for Wareham. … The Tupelo Thunder has bolted to a 9-2 start in the Cotton States League, led by two-way standout Hayden Roberts. The Itawamba Community College product from Belden leads the New Albany-based college summer league in hitting at .545 and has 12 RBIs and 12 runs. He also has a 2-0 record and 2.33 ERA in four starts on the mound. Left-hander Chris Robinson, a former Eupora High star, is 3-0, 2.21, in four starts for the Thunder.

01 Jul

on a good roll

Landon Harper, the former Southern Miss closer from Meridian, has developed into a middle-relief weapon for the Mississippi Braves. The right-hander threw four shutout innings Sunday, allowing just one hit, in a game the M-Braves would win 3-2 in 11 innings over Montgomery at Trustmark Park. Since being promoted to Double-A on May 25, Harper is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP in eight appearances. Harper pitched at Northeast Lauderdale High and Pearl River Community College before moving to USM in 2022. He posted 12 saves for the Golden Eagles that season, when they won 47 games and topped LSU in the Hattiesburg Regional before falling to Ole Miss in the Super Regional. Drafted by Atlanta in the 14th round in ’22, Harper had six wins and five saves at Low-Class A Augusta in 2023. P.S. Throwing almost nothing but fastballs, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn worked six shutout innings with six punchouts for St. Louis in a 2-0 win Sunday over Cincinnati. Lynn, 37, winning his second straight start, is 4-3, 3.59, this season and has 140 career wins and 1,990 career strikeouts. … Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet struck out 11 batters for the Chicago White Sox against Colorado, the left-hander’s sixth double-digit strikeout effort in 18 starts. He has 141 K’s in 101 1/3 innings, 56 K’s in 37 2/3 June innings. … Former Mississippi State star Colton Ledbetter, playing in High-A for Tampa Bay, had a nice June: .297 with five homers and 16 RBIs for Bowling Green. A second-round pick in 2023, the lefty-hitting outfielder is batting .261 with nine homers and 38 RBIs on the season.

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.