Different season, different league, same old Thomas Dillard. The former Ole Miss slugger, who led the independent Atlantic League in homers this summer, has hit three bombs in 11 games in the Mexican Pacific League, Mexico’s winter league. Dillard, a switch-hitting first baseman, belted 39 homers for Lexington in his first year of indy ball and batted .258 with 100 RBIs. Now playing for Culiacan, Dillard is hitting .308 with nine RBIs. As a senior at Oxford High in 2016, Dillard led the nation with 16 homers and went on to hit 31 in three years at UM, including 14 as a junior in 2019. He spent three seasons in Milwaukee’s system, belted 12 homers for Double-A Biloxi in 2022 but was released after the season. Playing for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks in the Atlantic League — a Triple-A caliber loop — and now in the MPL, Dillard is showing that he still has plenty of thunder in his bat. P.S. Blaine Crim, the ex-Mississippi College star who played in Triple-A for Texas this season, mashed a home run in his first game in the Dominican Winter League but has just one hit since. He is 2-for-20 for Escogido. Crim hit 22 homers for Round Rock this summer and has 83 homers in his four-year minor league career. Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who had a good year (.290, 13 homers) in Triple-A for Cincinnati, is hitting .278 with three doubles for Cibao in the DWL. Also in the league is Ole Miss product David Parkinson, who got a win with three scoreless innings of work in his only appearance to date for Escogido. Parkinson, on a bit of a roller coaster since being drafted by Philadelphia in 2017, spent most of the 2023 season in Double-A, going 9-5 for Reading.
The Chicago White Sox kept testing Tim Elko this season. The ex-Ole Miss slugger passed each one. Elko hit a grand slam in Double-A Birmingham’s season finale on Sunday, giving him 28 home runs over three levels in his second pro season. He batted .295 overall and drove in 106 runs. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman, a 10th-round draftee in 2022, started the season at Low-Class A Kannapolis, where he hit .297 with 17 bombs in 66 games. Promoted to High-A Winston-Salem, he batted .319 with five homers in 31 games before moving up to Birmingham in the challenging Southern League, where hit .269 with six homers in 34 games. Elko, of course, hit a lot of big homers at Ole Miss: 46 over five seasons, including 24 for the 2022 national champions. P.S. Other big knocks from Mississippians on Sunday: In the big leagues, Mississippi State product Adam Frazier lashed a two-out, two-strike double down the left-field line in the ninth inning, driving in the tying run for Baltimore at Camden Yards. The Orioles beat Tampa Bay 5-4 in 11 innings to clinch an American League playoff berth. … In the Low-A Carolina League, ex-State standout Colton Ledbetter, a 2023 draftee, hit a two-run homer and picked up another RBI to power Charleston (a Tampa Bay affiliate) to 4-2 win over Down East in Game 1 of the league championship series. … In the independent Atlantic League, Southern Maryland sent out a message congratulating Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee on his 1,000th career hit, coming in the Blue Crabs’ season finale. Picayune native Lee, who batted .297 for the Blue Crabs, won a Southern League batting title in 2017 and has three MLB hits from 2018 on his ledger. The 1,000 hits includes 76 he got in one year at Ole Miss; the total doesn’t include Lee’s hits at Pearl River Community College.
It seemed like a good omen for Atlanta, which hits tons of home runs and scores bunches of runs in the first inning, when Austin Riley blasted a 447-foot, two-run homer in the opening inning Wednesday night to put the Braves on top of Philadelphia. And a good omen it was. With Spencer Strider and a couple of relievers taking it home, the Braves clinched the National League East by beating the Phillies 4-1 at Citizens Bank Park, celebrating their sixth straight division crown on the field of one of their main rivals. DeSoto Central High alum Riley’s homer was his 35th, three off his career-high set in 2022. That bomb was one of a handful of noteworthy homers by Mississippians in pro ball. Former Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe hit his 16th, a three-run shot in the fourth inning, as Texas won its fifth straight game, 10-0 at Toronto, and remained one game back of Houston in the wild American League West. For the Rangers, that win may have helped assuage the pain they felt in learning that ace Max Scherzer is done for the year. Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner’s 12th homer of the season got Minnesota on the board in the third inning against visiting Tampa Bay, but the Twins ultimately fell 5-4. Wallner has homered roughly once every 14 at-bats for the Twins this year. The Twins lead the AL Central by 7.5 games over Cleveland but have lost three of four and have yet to clinch. In the minors, Biloxi High product Colt Keith continued his breakout path, belting his 11th home run for Triple-A Toledo and 25th overall in 2023. Keith, 22, a third-year pro in Detroit’s system, is batting .309 (.932 OPS) with 95 RBIs. In the independent Atlantic League, ex-Ole Miss standout Thomas Dillard extended his league-leading homer total with his 37th for Lexington. Dillard hit 37 homers in three years in affiliated ball in Milwaukee’s system and 31 in three seasons at UM. The Greenwood native is batting .254 with 97 RBIs for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks, who are out of playoff contention in the APBL. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his debut for Triple-A Durham on Wednesday as a defensive replacement in center field. Hamilton, 33, who has 931 professional stolen bases, was signed by Tampa Bay on Aug. 30 after being released by the Chicago White Sox. There is speculation the Rays, a playoff contender in the AL, will bring him up as a speed specialist for the stretch run.
Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, who has reached Triple-A at age 21 in his third pro season, is ranked No. 26 in MLB Pipeline’s newly released Top 100 minor league prospects. Keith is the lone Mississippi product in the overall rankings. The former Gatorade player of the year is Detroit’s No. 2 prospect and is currently hitting .270 with three homers and 19 RBIs at Toledo while playing mainly third base. There are 19 other state college or prep alums in the team Top 30 rankings. Six players from this year’s draft class were slotted in, including Southern Miss alum Hurston Waldrep, who is Atlanta’s No. 2. Ole Miss product Jacob Gonzalez is the Chicago White Sox’s No. 4, fellow former Rebels star Kemp Alderman is Miami’s No. 9 and former Mississippi State star Colton Ledbetter is Tampa Bay’s No. 9. Ledbetter, a left-handed hitting outfielder, is 7-for-17 with a homer in his first five pro games. Cooper Pratt, the state’s 2023 player of the year at Magnolia Heights Academy, is Milwaukee’s No. 10, and ex-USM star Tanner Hall is Minnesota’s No. 15. Of particular note, Justin Foscue, the 14th overall pick out of MSU in 2020, is ranked as Texas’ No. 6 and is having a good year at Triple-A Round Rock, batting .262 with 11 homers, 49 RBIs and 65 runs in 86 games. With third baseman Josh Jung currently out with a broken thumb, the Rangers might give Foscue a call in the near future. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves’ roster includes four of Atlanta’s Top 30: lefty Luis De Avila (No. 13), shortstop Cal Conley (No. 21), outfielder Jesse Franklin V (No. 22) and righty Tyler Owens (No. 27). Former M-Braves right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver, now at Triple-A Gwinnett, is the lone Atlanta prospect in the Top 100 at No. 58. He has already debuted in MLB. P.S. Ex-USM star Nick Sandlin threw four pitches Thursday, got a ground ball to escape a base-loaded situation in the sixth inning and earned his seventh hold in Cleveland’s 4-3 win against Toronto. Sandlin has a 3.45 ERA for the second-place Guardians. … Former Ole Miss standout Thomas Dillard and ex-Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley traded homers in the independent Atlantic League on Thursday. Dillard’s 31st was not enough for Lexington, which fell 8-6 to Bradley (23 bombs) and Charleston.
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.
Mississippi certainly seems to have a knack for producing power hitters. It’s a thing, as they say. Check the Atlantic League batting leaders today and you’ll find ex-Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard on top in the home run category. Playing for Barry Lyons’ Lexington Counter Clocks in the independent league, Dillard mashed his 21st homer on Wednesday in a 9-4 win against Staten Island. The lefty-hitting first baseman has moved two homers ahead of former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley, who led the league about a month ago. Power has been Dillard’s calling card for much of his career. He led the nation in homers as a senior catcher at Oxford High with 16, earning All-America honors and state player of the year recognition from USA Today. At Ole Miss, he belted 14 homers and hit .310 as a junior and was drafted in the fifth round by Milwaukee in 2019. He played three seasons in the Brewers’ system, hitting .241 with 37 homers — 12 at Double-A Biloxi in 2022 — but striking out 356 times in 986 at-bats. Milwaukee released him last December. Lyons was happy to add him to the roster this spring for his first Lexington team. Dillard, only 25, still strikes out a fair bit but has posted a .269 average (.412 on-base percentage) and 53 RBIs for the 30-31 Counter Clocks. P.S. Madison Central product Braden Montgomery did his Shohei Ohtani act on Wednesday for Team USA, hitting a two-run homer and striking out the side in an inning of work against Chinese Taipei. Montgomery is 3-for-15 with two homers and four RBIs for the Collegiate National Team, which begins a five-game series against Japan on Friday.
Colt Keith: The former Biloxi High standout homered in his first Triple-A at-bat on Wednesday and finished 3-for-4 for Toledo, Detroit’s top affiliate. He had 14 homers in Double-A.
Jordan Westburg: The Mississippi State alum went 2-for-5 with an RBI double for Baltimore and is batting .417 with at least one hit in each of his first three MLB games.
Adam Frazier: The State product hit a game-tying homer — his ninth — with Westburg aboard in the eighth inning for the Orioles, who fell 11-7 in 10 to Cincinnati.
Hunter Renfroe: The former State star belted his 13th homer for the Los Angeles Angels, his first since June 13. He is tied with Brent Rooker for second-most bombs in the majors among Mississippians, one back of Austin Riley.
Nick Sandlin: The Southern Miss product pitched a clean 1 1/3 innings in relief for Cleveland and got the win vs. Kansas City as the Guardians moved into first place in the American League Central. Sandlin is 4-3 with a 3.14 ERA.
James McArthur: The ex-Ole Miss standout made his MLB debut for the Royals — and it didn’t go well: seven earned runs in one inning of work, a 63.00 ERA.
Thomas Dillard: The Ole Miss alum hit his 16th homer for Lexington in the independent Atlantic League and is fourth in the loop in homers.
Bobby Bradley: The Gulfport native hit his 17th homer for Charleston in the Atlantic League and is tied for second in that category.
Hunter Hines: The MSU star went 0-for-5 for Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League but picked up his 22nd RBI, which leads the collegiate summer league. He also leads the loop in homers with six.
Braden Montgomery: The Madison Central alum, now at Stanford, went 2-for-5 in the final Stars vs. Stripes Series game and finished 5-for-17 with three RBIs in four games at the Collegiate National Team training camp.
Mason Nichols: The Ole Miss standout threw a scoreless inning in the Stars vs. Stripes game and finished with a 3.00 ERA and four strikeouts in three appearances in the training camp.
Tanner Hall: The Southern Miss ace was named a first-team All-America by Baseball America, the latest in a series of honors for the MLB draft prospect.
Braden Shewmake: The former Mississippi Braves shortstop hit for the cycle for Triple-A Gwinnett, a first for the Atlanta affiliate. Shewmake, who made a brief big league appearance this season, is batting .232 with eight homers.
P.S. From the Always a Mississippi Connection Dept.: Ex-MSU star Brent Rooker went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts for Oakland in Domingo German’s perfect game for the New York Yankees. In the last perfect game, on Aug. 15, 2012, ex-Itawamba Community College star Desmond Jennings struck out as a ninth-inning pinch hitter for Tampa Bay in Felix Hernandez’s perfecto for Seattle.
Bobby Bradley will hit bombs. That we know. The former Harrison Central High star hit 180 home runs in eight seasons in affiliated ball, and he has 14 — tied for the league lead — in his first season in the independent Atlantic League. What is a little different this year for the 27-year-old Bradley has been his ability to put the ball in play. He went 3-for-4 (with a homer) in a 9-8 win by the Charleston Dirty Birds on Saturday and raised his average to .288. He has a .362 on-base average, a .667 slug. High strikeout totals (and defensive limitations) were Bradley’s big issue in affiliated ball. He punched out more than a thousand times in 820 games. In his last MLB stint with Cleveland in 2022, he hit .118 with nine strikeouts in 17 at-bats before being shipped to the minors and ultimately released. He has fanned 36 times in 37 games (132 at-bats) for Charleston. Atlantic League pitching isn’t bad; there are a lot of veteran arms around the circuit. Bradley, primarily a first baseman, has shown defensive versatility by playing some left field this year. Whether he has a path back to affiliated ball, who knows? But it’s good to see the once-highly rated prospect having some success again. P.S. Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals standout, was somehow bypassed for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but he has been named to the Cape Cod League Hall of Fame, no minor honor. The star-studded college summer league, which began its centennial season on Saturday, named its 2023 class on Friday. Berkman hit a league-best .352 for Wareham in 1996. Two years later, after being drafted in the first round out of Rice by Houston, Berkman had a big year for the Double-A Gens, hitting .306 with 24 homers and 89 RBIs. He was a six-time All-Star and a World Series champ in the majors, finishing with a .293 career average over 15 seasons.
It ain’t Red Sox-Yankees (also happening on this sports-packed weekend), but Counter Clocks-Blue Crabs is a burgeoning rivalry that should get the attention of Mississippi baseball aficionados. The Lexington Counter Clocks, managed by Biloxi native Barry Lyons, and the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, managed by Jackson native Stan Cliburn, are slated for a three-game Atlantic League series at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, Md., beginning tonight. It is the first meeting this season of the two former big league catchers. Lyons is in his first year with the Counter Clocks, while Cliburn is a veteran of the independent league. Cliburn’s club leads the APBL North Division with a 21-13 record. Lyons’ team is 16-20, third in the South. The Blue Crabs’ top hitter is former Ole Miss standout Braxton Lee, batting .349. Ex-Rebels star Thomas Dillard is batting .235 with six homers and 17 RBIs for the Counter Clocks. … On the MLB docket, the two best teams record-wise, Tampa Bay and Texas, open a compelling three-game set tonight at Tropicana Field. On the undercard in this series is the first meeting as opposing players for the Brothers Lowe, former Mississippi State star Nathaniel of the Rangers and Josh of the Rays. A bunch of family and friends are expected to attend. … The Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers continue their Southern League series tonight at Pearl’s Trustmark Park. The Milwaukee-affiliated Shuckers have won two of the first three in the six-game set and lead the season series 7-5. … The NCAA Super Regionals begin tonight — Tennessee-Southern Miss starts Saturday — and one of the most interesting matchups is South Carolina-Florida, a longtime SEC rivalry. Both teams feature a Southern Miss transfer: Will McGillis is the Gamecocks’ usual leadoff batter and Hurston Waldrep is one of the Gators’ top starting pitchers. … The Cape Cod League, the best of the college summer loops, begins its centennial season Saturday. There are a handful of Mississippi products on the current rosters, including Mississippi State’s Ross Highfill and K.C. Hunt with Falmouth, State’s Hunter Hines with Yarmouth-Dennis and Ole Miss’ Mason Nichols with Hyannis. There is a lot of roster movement during the season, so there may be more Mississippians arriving later.
Justin Steele, former George County High standout, ran his record to 6-0 on Wednesday, throwing six strong innings for the Chicago Cubs in a 10-4 win over rival St. Louis at Wrigley Field. “It was a fun game,” he told The Associated Press. Steele, who has a 1.82 ERA, yielded three earned runs, the first time in 15 starts dating to 2022 that the left-hander had allowed more than two. … For the other Chicago team, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn gave up a career-high seven earned runs against Kansas City and saw his record drop to 1-5 and ERA rise to 7.51. The crumbling White Sox also placed Taylorsville native Billy Hamilton on the injured list. The 11-year veteran, now basically a pinch-running specialist, had scored two runs and stolen two bases in three games since his call-up earlier this month. … On a brighter note for White Sox fans, former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet posted back-to-back scoreless outings on Tuesday and Wednesday at Triple-A Charlotte as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. … In the independent Atlantic League, Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley hit his fourth home run for Charleston. It was just the fifth hit of the young season for the ex-big leaguer, batting .147 for the Dirty Birds. Braxton Lee, the ex-Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss star, lifted his average to .378 with a 2-for-3 game and drove in three runs in a win for Southern Maryland; Jacques Pucheu, an East Mississippi CC alum, made his fourth straight scoreless relief appearance for the Blue Crabs. … Tyler Tolve, an Atlanta catching prospect, went 0-for-4 with a walk and a run in his Double-A debut Wednesday in a win by the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park. Tolve hit .261 with 12 homers at High-Class A Rome in 2022. … Former Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr. went 0-for-4 for Double-A Biloxi at MGM Park and saw his average dip to .038 (1-for-26) in six games since Milwaukee promoted him to the Shuckers. … Jackson Prep product Will Warren, a New York Yankees prospect, leads the Double-A Eastern League in strikeouts with 37. He is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts for Somerset. Ex-Ole Miss star Tim Elko (White Sox system) leads the Class A Carolina League in homers with 10, and ex-South Panola High standout Emaarion Boyd (Philadelphia system) tops the Class A Florida State League with 18 stolen bases. Davis Bradshaw (Miami system), a Meridian CC and McLaurin High alum, had three hits Wednesday to raise his average to .378, second in the Class A Midwest League. … The first-round pairings are set for Monday’s NJCAA Divison II Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La. State champion East Central will play Itawamba; defending national champ Pearl River draws Meridian; and Northeast gets No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The winner of the double-elimination tourney goes to the juco World Series in Enid, Okla.