08 May

championship stuff

For the second straight year, William Carey University wears the crown in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Behind a brilliant pitching performance by Chris Williams, the Crusaders beat Faulkner 7-0 Saturday, completing a 4-0 run through the double-elimination tournament at Columbus, Ga. R.J. Stinson hit a pivotal home run in a 13-6 win against Loyola-New Orleans earlier Saturday and drove in two more runs in the title-clincher. Carey (37-15) earns an automatic bid to the NAIA nationals at a regional site to be determined. Under coach Bobby Halford, in his 37th season, the Crusaders have won 18 conference titles (GCAC or SSAC) and been to eight NAIA tournaments. … Behind the brilliant pitching of Brett Sanchez, Belhaven University beat UT-Dallas 7-1 and moved into the championship round of its pod in the American Southwest Conference Tournament at Richardson, Texas. BU (28-14) plays UT-Dallas again today, needing one win to advance to the ASC title series. Sanchez (8-1) threw a complete-game six-hitter with nine strikeouts. Caleb Whittle homered for the Blazers. … Top-seeded Delta State lost to Lee University 9-3 and dropped into the losers bracket of the Gulf South Conference Tournament at Oxford, Ala. DSU (31-14) plays Montevallo today in an elimination game. … Wesley Lester’s 10th-inning grand slam boosted Northwest Mississippi Community College past Meridian 14-11 and into the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament. East Mississippi also won a Game 3 on Saturday, beating East Central 11-1, and joins Northwest, Hinds, Jones, LSU-Eunice and host Pearl River in the region tourney at Poplarville starting May 16. The region winner moves on to the NJCAA Division II World Series.

07 May

on this date

Brian Dozier, who had been a four-year star at Southern Miss, made his major league debut on May 7, 2012, just 10 short years ago, launching one of the most productive careers ever by a USM alum. In that first game, Dozier went 1-for-4 as Minnesota’s shortstop in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field. Dozier played only seven full seasons in the big leagues but touched all the significant bases: He was a record-setter, an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and a World Series champion. He batted .244 with 192 homers and 115 steals in his career. His 42 homers in 2016 set a record for American League second basemen. He homered in his first postseason at-bat and later won a ring with the 2019 Washington Nationals. He retired, somewhat surprisingly at age 33, prior to the 2021 season after barely playing (for the New York Mets) in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. Drafted by the Twins in the eighth round in 2009 as a shortstop, Dozier didn’t stick at that position once he reached the majors. The Twins moved him to second base, which he had not played since he was a kid, after his 2012 big league trial, which ended abruptly in August. As time would tell, it was a salient move. P.S. Continuing a USM/Twins theme, Matt Wallner had a five-hit, two-homer day on Friday for Wichita in the Texas League. The 6-foot-5 left-handed slugger, the 39th overall pick by Minnesota in the 2019 draft, is batting .243 with six homers and 19 RBIs in his first Double-A season. He was scuffling along at .073 with one homer on April 21, but has gone 14-for-29 since, including the explosion in Friday’s doubleheader.

06 May

winner, winner …

In a showdown of in-state rivals on foreign soil, William Carey University beat Blue Mountain College 12-8 Thursday in a winners bracket game of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament. Carey (35-15), the defending tourney champion, now gets a day off in the double-elimination event at Columbus, Ga., while BMC (28-25) faces Loyola-New Orleans for the right to play Carey again on Saturday. BMC upset 2-seed Loyola in the first round. Wiley Cleland drove in three runs and Branson Sharpley and Jordan Szush hit home runs to power Carey on Thursday. … Game 1 winners in the MACCC best-of-3 series were East Mississippi, Hinds, Jones College and Meridian. Jones was the only road team to win, beating Northeast in Booneville. The Game 2’s are set for today. The four series winners advance to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament starting May 16 in Poplarville. … Rust College received one of the four bids to the NAIA bracket of the Black College World Series. The Bearcats (16-13) will play Edward Waters on May 11 in their double-elimination pod. The pod winner will meet the Division II bracket champ in a title game. P.S. Delta State and Belhaven open today in their respective conference tournaments, with the Statesmen meeting Shorter in Oxford, Ala., in the Gulf South and the Blazers taking on Hardin-Simmons in Richardson, Texas, in the American Southwest.

05 May

eye on …

Colt Keith, the former Biloxi High star, hasn’t switched on the power yet in High-A ball, but his disciplined, “old-school” approach is producing nice results. Keith, who looks like a masher at 6 feet 3, 235 pounds, is batting .298 for West Michigan in the Detroit system. He has a .359 on-base percentage and has struck out just 19 times in 84 at-bats. One of the younger players in the Midwest League at 20, Keith has one home run, seven doubles, two triples and 14 RBIs. Drafted in the fifth round in 2020, Keith hit .286 with two homers at three levels last season in his pro debut. It figures that the power will come. For his part, Keith told motowntigers.com back in the spring that his approach is based on his disdain for striking out. “It’s a great mindset to have, staying with a short swing and putting the ball in play,” he said. Keith is primarily a third baseman but has also seen some time at second. MLB Pipeline rates him the No. 13 prospect in Detroit’s system, highlighting his athleticism and “quick, efficient left-handed swing.” Keith moved to Biloxi from Arizona in 2019 and was the state’s Gatorade player of the year that season. He was an Arizona State commit before the Tigers picked him in the curtailed 2020 draft and offered him a $500,000 bonus. P.S. Former Ole Miss and Mississippi Braves pitcher Chris Ellis, who made two appearances with Baltimore this season, will have shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the campaign.

04 May

may madness

Tournament baseball, with its air of finality, rarely fails to produce great drama. We’ve already seen it: Millsaps College, pushed into a winner-take-all game after a crushing 25-10 loss to Rhodes last Saturday, responded hours later with a 7-2 win to advance to the Southern Athletic Association championship series. Ryan Erwin and Wil Wood, both on very short rest, stepped up on a combo nine-hitter and Avery Brock hit a big home run for the 6-seeded Majors (24-19). They’ll meet top-seeded Birmingham-Southern (36-8) in a best-of-3 in Birmingham this coming weekend (Sunday-Monday) for an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Expect more drama this week. On tap today: William Carey, defending champion of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, plays Mobile and Blue Mountain meets Loyola-New Orleans in the first round of the event at Columbus, Ga. The winner of the double-elimination tourney gets an automatic bid to the NAIA nationals. Third-seeded Carey (33-14) placed three players on the all-conference first team: outfielders R.J. Stinson and Chris Williams and pitcher A.J. Stinson, 9-0 this season. Alex Frilliman and Dylan Hale made the team for BMC (28-23), seeded seventh. On Thursday: The MACCC best-of-3 series begin. East Central Community College is at East Mississippi, Mississippi Gulf Coast is at Hinds, Jones College is at Northeast and Northwest is at Meridian. Regular season champion Pearl River, ranked No. 2 in the nation, clinched a berth in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament, which starts May 16 in Poplarville. The four playoff winners will advance to the six-team bracket, which will also include LSU-Eunice. On Friday: Delta State begins play in the Gulf South Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed, meeting 8-seed Shorter in the first round at Oxford, Ala. The Statesmen (30-13) won their 22nd GSC regular season title last weekend and will be seeking a 16th tournament crown. The winner of the eight-team double-elimination tourney gets an automatic bid the NCAA D-II Tournament. Belhaven (26-14) plays Hardin-Simmons at Richardson, Texas, in the first round of double-elimination pod play in the D-III American Southwest Conference Tournament.

03 May

time to pitch in

The Mississippi Braves, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Trustmark Park, are 8-13, and one doesn’t have to dig too deep into the numbers to uncover a reason for the poor start. The team ERA is 4.78, which ranks sixth in the eight-team Southern League. The WHIP is 1.46, second-worst in the league. This is highly unusual for the M-Braves, who ranked second, first and second in the league in ERA in the past three seasons. Maybe the ERA will improve as the team plays more games at the TeePee, one of the best pitchers’ parks in the minors. Maybe it starts this week against Pensacola, one of the weakest hitting and lowest scoring teams in the SL. Darius Vines starts tonight’s opener; he is a rated prospect who is better than his numbers: 1-1, 5.50 ERA. Wednesday starter Jared Shuster, Atlanta’s No. 10 prospect, has been outstanding: 2-2, 1.88, 28 strikeouts, five walks in 24 innings. But none of the other scheduled starters in the series has an ERA under 5.17. Closer Justin Maese is 3-for-3 in saves but has an ugly 7.27 ERA. Middle reliever Hayden Deal has a 1.06 and has been a key bullpen piece. The M-Braves have some hitters. Top prospect Michael Harris II has been as good as advertised: .333, four homers, 19 RBIs, 16 runs. Drew Lugbauer has slugged seven homers with 15 RBIs and 18 runs. Riley Delgado (.333), Luke Waddell (.296) and C.J. Alexander (.293) also have swung it well. … The World Series trophy won by the parent Braves last fall will make an appearance at the ballpark on Friday night. P.S. Anthony Alford, the ex-Petal High star, has signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and will report to Triple-A Columbus. Alford, previously with Pittsburgh, recently became a free agent (see previous posts).

02 May

not a surprise

It was easy to see this coming: Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High star, was designated for assignment today by Cleveland. The once-touted power prospect had barely played for the Guardians this season, going 2-for-17 with nine strikeouts. Perhaps another club will make a waiver claim on the 26-year-old first baseman and give him a fresh start. Bradley had an uneven 2021 season in Cleveland (.208, 16 homers) but went into spring training as the expected starter at first base. But a poor spring and the emergence of Owen Miller and Josh Naylor relegated Bradley to the bench. He has 156 homers over seven minor league seasons, including 33 in Triple-A in 2019. That’s tantalizing power that some organization might take a chance on. … Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford, DFA’d last week by Pittsburgh, cleared waivers and elected free agency. The oft-injured Alford, 27, has batted .209 with eight homers over parts of six MLB seasons split between Toronto and the Pirates. His future looks cloudy at best.

01 May

according to plan

The Milwaukee Brewers were looking for thump in the middle of the lineup when they pulled a surprise trade for Hunter Renfroe last fall. The Crystal Springs native, after a slow start this season, appears to have found his home run stroke. Renfroe mashed his third homer in two games on Saturday, helping the streaking Brewers pound the Chicago Cubs 9-1. The Brewers are 13-7 with five straight wins. Renfroe is batting .310 with four homers in his last seven games. He has five homers and 10 RBIs on the year, and his 3-for-5 effort Saturday boosted his average to .253. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe crushed 31 homers for Boston in 2021, but the Red Sox dealt him to the Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects after the season. Renfroe, also an outstanding right fielder, made mlb.com’s All-Underrated Team before this season. He hasn’t made an All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove. He’s due for a breakthrough there. With 133 career homers since 2016, Renfroe is closing in on the top 10 all-time among Mississippi natives. Matt Lawton is No. 11 with 138. Charlie Hayes ranks 10th with 144. P.S. Atlanta fans surely cringe when they see what Shea Langeliers is doing in Triple-A for Oakland. The young catcher has hit five homers in his last six games and has nine on the year to go with a .301 average at Las Vegas. After blasting 22 bombs for the Double-A South champion Mississippi Braves last year, Langeliers was one of the four prospects the Braves sent to the A’s for Matt Olson.

28 Apr

where are they now?

Will Bednar, one of the heroes of Mississippi State’s national title run last year, has made a smooth transition to pro ball. The right-hander, the 14th overall pick in the July draft, threw five no-hit innings Wednesday night for San Jose in the San Francisco system. “I don’t try to get too high or too low, but it’s definitely a confidence booster …,” he told milb.com after Wednesday’s outing. Bednar has yet to get a win in four starts for the Low-Class A club but has a 1.62 ERA and 19 strikeouts over 16 2/3 innings. He was limited to seven innings last summer after signing with the Giants as the top draft pick from the state. Among the other 2021 draftees: Gunnar Hoglund — taken 19th overall by Oakland out of Ole Miss — is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. … Ole Miss product Doug Nikhazy is 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in three starts for High-A Lake County in the Cleveland system. … Reed Trimble, taken by Baltimore out of Southern Miss, is on the injured list (shoulder surgery) and has yet to play this season. He batted .200 in 22 games in his pro debut lat season. … Tanner Allen, SEC player of the year and Ferriss Trophy winner at MSU, is batting .255 with a homer and seven RBIs for Miami’s High-A Beloit team. … Eric Cerantola, MSU alum, is 1-1, 4.76 at Low-A Columbia in the Kansas City organization. … Ex-Bulldogs standout Christian MacLeod, a Minnesota draftee, is on the 60-day injured list at Low-A Fort Myers and hasn’t pitched in 2022. … Taylor Broadway, Ole Miss’ closer in 2021, is pitching at Double-A Birmingham, where he has made three appearances after a recent promotion. He has a 9.45 ERA overall in six outings. … USM product Ryan Och has worked nine innings and yielded one run for San Diego’s High-A Fort Wayne club. … Will Warren, a Jackson Prep alum drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana, is 1-1, 2.65 in four starts at High-A Hudson Valley in the New York Yankees’ chain. P.S. Former State standout Kendall Graveman got his first save for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, working two perfect innings as the ChiSox stopped an eight-game skid with a 7-3 win against Kansas City. Graveman, primarily a set-up reliever, has a 1.74 ERA in nine games. … Recent transactions of note: Chris Ellis went on the 10-day IL in Baltimore, Pittsburgh designated Anthony Alford for assignment, and Cleveland demoted both Konnor Pilkington and Kirk McCarty to Triple-A.

27 Apr

remember him?

There were times a few years back when Travis Demeritte looked like a budding star in the Atlanta system. Those who follow the Mississippi Braves would remember. With the Double-A M-Braves in 2017 and ’18, Demeritte belted 32 home runs, stole 11 bases and made a Southern League All-Star Game appearance. He was versatile enough to play second base, third and the outfield. But he was prone to slumps, struck out a lot and batted just .227 over those two seasons. In 2019, three years after he was acquired in a minor league trade with Texas, Demeritte was traded away to Detroit. In February of 2021, the Braves got him back as a waiver claim. On Tuesday night, in his third game for Atlanta, he finally took a star turn for the Braves. Demeritte homered — his first in the big leagues in three years — and made a great catch in right field, sliding into foul territory, as the Braves beat the visiting Chicago Cubs 3-1. Demeritte didn’t hit much in his 66 games with the Tigers in 2019 and ’20 but batted .282 with 21 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett last year and was swinging it well when Atlanta called him up last week. Once Ronald Acuna returns to the Braves’ active roster, Demeritte’s opportunities likely will diminish. But the former first-round pick — 30th overall by Texas out of Winder-Barrow High in Georgia in 2013 — showed what he is capable of on Tuesday night. It was good to see. P.S. For the current M-Braves, Drew Lugbauer hit his fifth homer — second-most in the SL — and Michael Harris II extended his on-base streak to 16 games (out of 16) in a 6-3 win at Montgomery.