17 Nov

roster watch

Colby White, whose meteoric rise in the Tampa Bay system was derailed by an arm injury last spring, has made the Rays’ 40-man roster. White, a Hattiesburg native drafted out of Mississippi State in 2019, had Tommy John surgery last April and missed the 2022 season. In 2021, the right-handed reliever rose through four levels of the minors, never missing a beat. He had a 1.86 ERA at Triple-A Durham and earned a non-roster invite to spring training. In 58 pro games, he has a 1.76 ERA and 12 saves. Look for him to debut with Tampa Bay sometime in 2023. … J.P. France, another ex-State standout, was added to Houston’s 40-man list after putting up a 3.90 ERA as a swingman at Triple-A Sugar Land. France, a right-hander, was drafted in the 14th round in 2018. He’ll try to earn a spot in the world champion Astros’ loaded bullpen in the spring. … Former Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty was designated for assignment by Cleveland, meaning he’s off the 40-man and available as a waiver claim by other clubs. The diminutive lefty made his MLB debut for Cleveland last season and went 4-3, 4.54. He was 4-1, 3.38, at Triple-A Columbus, bouncing up and down during the season. The Guardians actually lost him on waivers to Baltimore last summer but reclaimed him shortly thereafter. … Ex-MSU standout Jake Mangum was left unprotected by the New York Mets, who could potentially lose the switch-hitting outfielder in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Mangum hit .306 last season between Double-A and Triple-A and is a .284 career hitter in three pro campaigns. … Among Atlanta’s 40-man additions is shortstop Braden Shewmake, who played for the 2021 Double-A South champion Mississippi Braves. Shewmake, who goes 6 feet 4, 190 pounds, batted just .228 with 12 homers for the M-Braves but had several hot streaks and plays a good shortstop. He hit .259 at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022 before going down with a knee injury in August. He is the Braves’ No. 5 prospect (MLB Pipeline). P.S. Silver City native and Ole Miss alum Jack Reed, who got World Series rings with the New York Yankees in 1961 and ’62, died on Nov. 10. Reed hit .233 in 129 big league at-bats from 1961-63 and frequently was used as a defensive replacement/pinch runner for Mickey Mantle. Reed’s one homer was a game-winner in a 22-inning contest in 1962.

03 Nov

touching the bases

The jaw-dropping no-hitter by Houston in Game 4 on Wednesday night — following Philadelphia’s jaw-dropping five-homer game on Tuesday night — ensures that there will be a Game 6 in Houston on Saturday night. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale is scheduled to be the home plate umpire for that game. Barksdale, who worked first base in Game 4, has been umpiring in MLB since 2000 (full-time since 2006) and is highly rated by those who rate such things. He was 18th in overall accuracy out of 96 umps who worked behind the plate in 2022, per umpscorecards.com. He has received a number of major assignments: the World Baseball Classic, the All-Star Game and multiple postseason series, including two World Series. He was behind the plate for Game 5 of the 2019 Series between the Astros and Washington (and made a couple of memorable ball-strike calls). … The Astros have thrown 15 no-hitters in their 61-year history. Among them are a combo effort in 2003 that was started by Weir’s Roy Oswalt and finished by former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner and a true no-no in 1986 by ex-Jackson Mets ace Mike Scott. … Oswalt, incidentally, pitched for both the Astros (10 seasons) and Phillies (two) and aided in postseason runs by both clubs. A Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, he won 163 games, second only to Guy Bush among state natives, in a stellar big league career. … Today is the 69th birthday of Sunflower native Larry Herndon, who played 14 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with Detroit in 1984. Herndon, who went to high school in Memphis and attended Tennessee State, batted .274 with 107 homers and 92 steals as an outfielder with St. Louis, San Francisco and the Tigers. In Game 1 of the ’84 Series against San Diego, Herndon hit a go-ahead two-run homer that propelled the Tigers to victory. He went 5-for-15 in the five-game series. He coached in the Detroit system in 2022. … Props to former Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Max Fried and Biloxi Shuckers alum Trent Grisham for winning National League Gold Gloves. … Chris Ellis, the ex-Ole Miss and M-Braves standout, has elected free agency after being dropped from Baltimore’s 40-man roster. Ellis, 30, missed virtually the entire ’22 season with a shoulder injury.

26 Oct

on this date

In one of the greatest accomplishments in a long and laudable career, former Jackson Generals star Freddy Garcia pitched Chicago to a victory over Houston on Oct. 26, 2005, clinching the White Sox’s first championship in 88 years and becoming the first Venezuela native to win a World Series game. Garcia pitched in pro ball from 1995 to 2019, appearing in 565 games in five different countries and posting a 224-158 record with a 3.92 ERA, per baseballreference.com. Originally signed by the Astros, he pitched for the Generals, Houston’s Double-A team, in 1998 before being traded to Seattle in the famous Randy Johnson deal. Garcia won 156 games over 15 big league seasons, made two All-Star teams and won an ERA title. Only Felix Hernandez has more wins among Venezuelan-born pitchers. Garcia was 6-3, 3.26, in 11 postseason games and beat Boston, the Los Angeles Angels and the Astros in the White Sox’s 2005 title run. He threw seven shutout innings against Houston in a 1-0 victory that completed a series sweep. His last MLB season was with Atlanta in 2013, when he started Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. He stood to get the win before the Braves’ bullpen blew the save and lost the series. Garcia was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2019 but didn’t get enough votes to stay on. He’s deserving of further consideration by one of the Hall’s special committees.

24 Oct

and so they meet again

Philadelphia and Houston, headed for a World Series showdown, have met once before in the postseason — in the wild and wooly 1980 National League Championship Series. It was a best-of-5 that went the distance and then some, featuring four extra-inning games, ultimately won by the Phillies in the 10th inning of Game 5 at the Astrodome. One of the heroes of that dramatic 8-7 win was former Mississippi State star Del Unser, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and produced two clutch hits, a big RBI and two huge runs. Unser, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, was an All-SEC and All-America outfielder at State, playing on two SEC title teams in the mid-1960s. He began a 15-year big league career with the Washington Senators in 1968. By 1980, he was 35 years old and a bench player — a pinch hitter extraordinaire — on a Phillies club that included Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa and Pete Rose. The lefty-hitting Unser batted .264 in 123 at-bats that season. In the NLCS, he was 0-for-3 before entering Game 5 with two outs and two on and the Phillies down 5-4. He singled off Ken Forsch to tie the score, then scored on a Manny Trillo triple that put the Phils up 7-5. Houston tied it in the bottom of the eighth. Unser came up again in the 10th with one out. He doubled off Frank LaCorte and scored what proved to be the game-winner on a double by Garry Maddox. The Phillies went on to win the World Series over the Kansas City Royals; Unser was 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs in that series. He retired after the 1982 season with a .258 career average, 481 RBIs and 617 runs. The 1980 postseason was the only one he ever played in. He certainly made the most of it.

21 Oct

a dose of history

The Houston Astros, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this season, gave a nod to their first World Series team by having a star pitcher from that club, Mississippi native Roy Oswalt, throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Thursday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Oswalt, the ex-Holmes Community College standout from Weir, was a 20-game winner for the 2005 Astros, who won the National League pennant — Oswalt won the clincher vs. St. Louis — before falling to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. That it took 43 years for Houston to make that first Fall Classic seems hard to fathom now. Up 2-0 on the New York Yankees in the current ALCS, the Astros are on the cusp of a fourth World Series appearance since 2017, when they won their first and only championship (under controversial circumstances). They’ve been in the ALCS six straight years. Yet this franchise had an inglorious start. Houston’s first team, the expansion Colt .45s, were managed by Ellisville native and former big leaguer Harry Craft. They went 64-96 in ’62. Craft was dismissed late in the 1964 season with a 191-280 record. The team became the Astros in 1965, moving into the Astrodome, and finally posted a winning season in 1972. Pascagoula native Harry Walker was the manager of that team — until he was fired in August despite having a winning record. In 1980, the Astros finally made the playoffs for the first time. Houston’s Double-A team, the Jackson Generals, took up residence at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1991 and helped fuel the Astros teams that won four NL Central titles in a five-year stretch (1997-2001) before finally reaching the World Series in 2005. They didn’t make the postseason again for 10 years, going through a rough rebuilding process that is now bearing fruit year after year. P.S. On this date in 1986, former Jackson Mets star Lenny Dykstra led off Game 3 of the World Series at Fenway Park with a home run off Meridian native Oil Can Boyd. The New York Mets, down 0-2 in the Series, won the game 7-1 over Boston and ultimately won the title in seven games. Boyd allowed six runs in seven innings in his only Series appearance.

01 Oct

a long-awaited party

They partied like it was 2001 in Seattle on Friday night when the Mariners clinched their first postseason berth since that storied season. Pause here for a brief trip down memory lane. The ’01 Mariners won a record 116 games with a team that included Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, Jamie Moyer and three former Jackson Generals who were part of a blockbuster trade in 1998. At the trade deadline that year, the M’s sent Randy Johnson to Houston for three players on the Double-A Generals’ roster: shortstop Carlos Guillen and pitchers Freddy Garcia and John Halama. In 2001 — by which time Johnson was in Arizona — those three were integral pieces in Seattle’s success. Guillen hit .259 as the regular shortstop, Garcia was 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA and Halama went 10-7. The ’01 Mariners went out with a whimper, losing to the New York Yankees in five games in the American League Championship Series. (The Yanks were later vanquished by Johnson and the Diamondbacks in the World Series.) The ’22 Mariners clinched with a walk-off 2-1 win against Oakland. Former Mississippi Braves shortstop Dylan Moore, who also played briefly in Biloxi, scored the M’s first run in the first inning after leading off with a single and stealing second, his 21st bag. Moore is batting .219 while playing seven different positions. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier, Seattle’s usual second baseman, didn’t play in Friday’s game. He has had a down year (.235, 38 points under his career average) but will be going to the postseason for the first time in his seven MLB campaigns. P.S. Another ex-M-Braves shortstop, Dansby Swanson, hit one of the three homers Atlanta got against Jacob deGrom in the 5-2 win on Friday that moved the Braves into a tie with the New York Mets atop the National League East. Swanson’s bomb was the 100th of his career. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley hit his 38th homer of the season and third career against deGrom. … Former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams combined on a five-hitter as Milwaukee beat Miami 1-0 and stayed a half-game back of Philadelphia in the battle for the third NL wild card. (San Diego, which has lost three in a row, hasn’t clinched a wild card, either.) Burnes (12-8) went eight innings, and Williams (15 saves) survived a wobbly ninth (a hit and two walks) by striking out the side.

08 Sep

cosmic connection?

There may have been cosmic forces at work on Wednesday in Corpus Christi, Texas. Grae Kessinger, the ex-Ole Miss star and Oxford native, got four hits, including a home run, in a doubleheader for the host Hooks, Houston’s Double-A team. Fifty-eight years ago, on Sept. 7, 1964, Kessinger’s grandfather, ex-Ole Miss star Donnie, made his major league debut, going 1-for-2 for the Chicago Cubs and launching a brilliant 16-year career. The younger Kessinger, in his third pro season, is chasing the big league dream and making some strides. A good-fielding shortstop like his grandfather, Kessinger’s bat has perked up in recent weeks at Corpus Christi. He batted .276 in August and is at .333 in six September games, lifting his season average to .212. (He hit .109 in April.) Kessinger has 15 homers, 48 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in his second Double-A tour. A second-round pick in 2019 after an All-America career at UM, Kessinger has been in the Astros’ big league camp each of the last two springs and played in the Arizona Fall League last year. He is 25 and recently slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart, so he may be feeling a sense of urgency as this minor league season draws to a close. P.S. On the topic of hot hitting, Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe leads all of MLB in batting average over the last 30 days. He got two more hits, including his 24th homer, for Texas on Wednesday and is batting .383 with eight bombs and 21 RBIs in his last 28 games.

03 Jul

best-laid plans

The Chicago White Sox, the heavy favorite in the American League Central entering the 2022 season, signed Kendall Graveman last off-season to bolster their bullpen as a set-up man. The former Mississippi State standout has done well. The White Sox, due in part to injuries, have not. Graveman has a 2.34 ERA, 13 holds, five saves and a 2-1 record in 33 games for the White Sox, who are 37-39 and in third place in a relatively weak division. Pressed into duty as a closer when Liam Hendriks went down with an injury on June 14, Graveman went 3-for-3 in saves and allowed just one earned run in six appearances. That came on Saturday, when, pitching for the second straight day at San Francisco, Graveman allowed three hits and a score while protecting a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning. Now in his eighth MLB season, Graveman broke in as a starter, moved to closer in 2020 with Seattle and became a set-up man with Houston last season, helping the Astros reach the World Series. Making a return trip to the Fall Classic with the ChiSox might have seemed very realistic when Graveman signed, but it doesn’t look that way now, through no fault of his own. P.S. Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett has announced that he’ll throw his final pitch on July 4, ending a pro career that goes back to 2010 and includes 95 MLB appearances. Barrett overcame numerous injuries to pitch in 2019 for Washington and subsequently earn a World Series ring. Now 34, he is currently with Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley team.

26 Jun

up-date in arms

Surely there are Oklahoma players and fans wondering this today: How can Ole Miss possibly top the brilliant pitching performance of Jack Dougherty, Mason Nichols and Josh Mallitz on Saturday, which followed the brilliant pitching performance of Dylan DeLucia on Thursday? How deep is that well? Heads up Sooners, ’cause here comes Hunter Elliott, who’ll start Game 2 of the College World Series with the national title in the Rebels’ grasp. Elliott, the freshman left-hander from Tupelo, has, in his last four starts, beaten LSU, Southern Miss and Arkansas and pitched masterfully in a no-decision against Miami. He is 5-3, 2.70 ERA, on the season. And he’ll have Rebel Nation roaring with every strike he throws in Omaha today. … The Houston Astros’ three-man no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Saturday marked the first time the Yanks had been no-hit since June 11, 2003, when Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner started and finished, respectively, a six-man no-no for the Astros at the old Yankee Stadium. … Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn’s return to the Chicago White Sox’s rotation has not exactly sparked a team resurgence (see previous post). Lynn, coming off knee surgery, is 1-1 with a 6.19 ERA in his three starts, and the team is 6-6 since his return. He was roughed up Saturday by Baltimore. In 16 innings, Lynn has yielded 20 hits and three walks. … Mississippi State alum Ethan Small, bidding for another shot in The Show, threw seven strong innings for Nashville on Saturday, leading Milwaukee’s Triple-A club to a 2-1 win against Gwinnett. Small (4-3, 3.18) allowed three hits and one run and punched out 10, getting rehabbing big leaguer Eddie Rosario twice. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren had the “unicorn slider” (see previous post) working Saturday, hurling 5 1/3 shutout innings in a win for Double-A Somerset in the Yankees’ chain. The right-hander allowed four hits and three walks with seven K’s. There is speculation, per MLB Trade Rumors, that the Yankees might use Warren as trade bait for a big league arm.

16 Jun

prospecting at petco

The state’s high school player of the year and a handful of Mississippi State players are among the 255 prospects taking part in this week’s MLB Draft Combine at Petco Park in San Diego. Jackson Academy star Dakota Jordan is one of two Mississippi high school players at the combine, joined by Emaarion Boyd from South Panola. MSU alums Logan Tanner, Landon Sims (recovering from spring Tommy John surgery), Kamren James and Jackson Fristoe are also there, along with Southern Miss’ Tyler Stuart and Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Colby Holcombe. Three Ole Miss players — Hayden Dunhurst, Derek Diamond and T.J. McCants — are on the list of invitees, but, of course, they have other business to attend to in Omaha. MLB Network will televise portions of the workouts today and Friday beginning at 11 a.m. The MLB draft starts on July 17. Sims, who missed most of the 2022 season after helping the Bulldogs win the national title in 2021, is pegged to go 35th overall to Kansas City by MLB Pipeline in its latest mock draft; the right-hander is the only state player projected to go on the first day. … Holcombe, a State commit, is one of the most intriguing players at the combine. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound right-hander from Alabama went 7-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 12 starts for Northeast, striking out 115 batters in 65 2/3 innings. P.S. MSU product Nathaniel Lowe was part of a history-making occurrence on Wednesday but not in a desirable way. Lowe, playing for Texas, was the first strikeout victim in both of the immaculate innings recorded by Houston pitchers. It’s a rare feat: nine pitches, all strikes, three strikeouts. The Astros’ Luis Garcia and Phil Maton turned the trick, reportedly the first time an MLB team has done it twice in the same game. To his credit, Lowe is batting .276 with eight homers for the Rangers.