There are always surprises in the MLB draft, which begins today (6 p.m., MLB Network/ESPN). It would be a bit of a surprise if a player from Mississippi is picked in the first round. A sampling of mock drafts (Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, The Sporting News) turns up just one instance of a state player pegged in the top 30: Baseball America has Mississippi State pitcher Landon Sims going 28th to Houston. Sims, the closer on the national title team in 2021, had Tommy John surgery this spring, creating questions about his status as a first-rounder. BA rated Sims No. 22 among draft prospects. MLB Pipeline placed Sims No. 44 among its Top 250 draft prospects, three spots behind Bulldogs catcher Logan Tanner. Bradley Loftin, a lefty pitcher at DeSoto Central High, is No. 77; Northeast Mississippi Community College righty Colby Holcombe No. 134; Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst No. 155; MSU outfielder Brad Cumbest No. 173; Jackson Academy outfielder Dakota Jordan No. 177; Madison Central catcher Ross Highfill No. 197; and South Panola outfielder Emaarion Boyd No. 245. Baseball America ranks Tanner No. 68, Dunhurst No. 139 and Holcombe No. 154. No state high school players made BA’s Top 200, though the magazine did rank four state schools in its final Top 50 for 2022: No. 2 Sumrall, No. 5 Northwest Rankin, No. 21 Jackson Prep and No. 33 Madison-Ridgeland Academy. Day 1 of the draft includes the first two rounds plus supplemental picks, a total of 80. The 20-round draft runs through Monday and Tuesday. P.S. Twelve players from state schools were drafted in 2021, including two first-rounders (MSU’s Will Bednar, No. 14, and UM’s Gunnar Hoglund, No. 19). Hoglund, like Sims this year, was coming off arm surgery. … Two Jackson State players made the list of HBCU draft prospects compiled by blackcollegenines.com. Right-hander Nik Gallatas and infielder Ty Hill are joined on that list by Grambling State right-hander Shemar Page, a former Pearl River CC star from Laurel, and Southern U. outfielder O’Neill Burgos, a Brookhaven Academy and Jones College alum. Page, also a hitter at Grambling, was the SWAC pitcher of the year. … A recent mlb.com feature focused on the small number of top three overall draft picks who failed to reach the major leagues. On that list are former MSU pitcher B.J. Wallace, No. 3 by Montreal in 1992, and Oak Park High third baseman Ted Nicholson, No. 3 by the Chicago White Sox in 1969. Wallace had injury issues, while Nicholson’s career may have been short-circuited by military duty.
The awards keep rolling in for Mississippi college products in what has been another banner year in the Magnolia State. Mississippi State’s Tanner Allen and Landon Sims and Ole Miss’ Doug Nikhazy have been named to Baseball America’s first-team All-America squad. Those three are also semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which will be announced in July. Ole Miss’ Taylor Broadway was a second-team All-America pick by BA. A boatload of other honors already have come down. To wit: Allen, the SEC’s player of the year (and Ferriss Trophy winner), and Nikhazy were also first-team A-A picks by Collegiate Baseball Magazine. Southern Miss’ Reed Trimble was a first-team Freshman All-America choice by the NCBWA, and Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez was a second-teamer. Those two along with Jackson State’s Chenar Brown made Collegiate Baseball’s freshman honor roll. Delta State’s Jake Barlow was named a D2CCA first-team All-America, in addition to several other national accolades. Mississippi College’s Caleb Reese was a D2CCA All-South Region first-teamer; William Carey’s Sloan Dieter was a second-team NAIA All-America pick; and Belhaven’s Brett Sanchez made first-team All-West Region in NCAA Division III. Pearl River Community College’s Landon Gartman and Tate Parker made the NJCAA Division II first-team All-America list. They were the MACCC’s pitcher and player of the year. Walker Powell of USM was the C-USA pitcher of the year, and JSU swept the SWAC’s honors: Ty Hill was player of the year, hitter of the year and newcomer of the year, Anthony Becerra was pitcher of the year, Steven Davila relief pitcher of the year and Brown the freshman of the year.
One of the behind-the-scenes stars of the San Diego Padres’ remarkable 2020 season was bench coach Bobby Dickerson, who was born in and still resides in Laurel. Dickerson, who helped the Padres improve their infield defense en route to making the postseason for the first time in 14 years, has been named Baseball America’s Major League Coach of the Year. BA described Dickerson like this: “Big motor, no-nonsense, motivating personality, no fear, creative, dedicated and unselfish enough that he will move mountains just to help a player improve even a few degrees.” The 2020 season was Dickerson’s first with the Padres. He had a heart attack in May but was with the team when the season began in late July. Dickerson played college ball at Nicholls State and minor league ball for several years before becoming a coach and manager. He managed in the Southern League for four years at West Tenn (2002-05). He landed a big league coaching job with Baltimore in 2011 and spent eight years with the Orioles and one with Philadelphia before joining Jayce Tingler’s staff in San Diego. Dickerson’s son Dustin, who played at West Jones High, was Southern Miss’ starting shortstop in 2020. … Baseball America previously honored former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman as its MLB player of the year and ex-M-Braves skipper Brian Snitker as the manager of the year.
Only one in-state player – Mississippi State’s Justin Foscue — is projected by mlb.com to get picked in Wednesday’s first round of the MLB draft. The junior second baseman is pegged to go to Minnesota as the No. 27 pick in the latest mock draft. Former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, a big left-hander now at Tennessee, is predicted to go 14th overall to Texas. ESPN’s latest mock draft has Crochet going to Texas at 14, Foscue to the New York Mets at 19 and State shortstop Jordan Westburg to the Los Angeles Dodgers at 29. … The highest any state college player has been picked is second: State’s Will Clark in 1985. The top high school pick is Ted Nicholson, taken third overall out of Laurel’s Oak Park in 1969. … Nine in-state players appear in mlb.com’s Top 200 draft prospects list, with DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan the highest rated prep player at No. 42. All the attention given Jordan in recent years doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. In an interview published by Baseball America last summer, Jordan said he “would describe myself as being respectful to the game and just always hustling and playing hard. … Wearing my jersey right and making sure everything is done right.” Jordan said his favorite player is Miguel Cabrera, and he thinks his swing is similar to the former Triple Crown winner’s. Jordan, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and a Mississippi State signee, has prodigious power, ranking among the top 10 power hitters in the draft per MLB Pipeline. … Colt Keith, who played at Biloxi High the last two years after moving from Arizona, is considered one of the best two-way players in this year’s draft class. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Keith is a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed hitting shortstop/third baseman. He is an Arizona State signee. His approach to the game? “I think for me, and I encourage other baseball players too, always play like it’s your last game,” he told WXXV-TV of Gulfport. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks and Brandon’s Kellum Clark are other possible high school picks in this year’s abbreviated five-round draft. … The lone state juco player in mlb.com’s Top 200 is lefty Dalton Fowler (No. 154), a sophomore at Northwest Mississippi CC in 2020. The 6-foot-6 Fowler, from Tennessee, was picked in the 27th round in 2019 by the New York Mets but didn’t sign. He was 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA this season and 6-2, 3.76 as a freshman.
One of the more intriguing names floating about in connection with the upcoming MLB draft (June 3-5) is James Beard. The Loyd Star outfielder is rated by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline as the fastest prep player in the 2019 draft class. MLB Pipeline, which ranks Beard No. 127 on its list of the top 200 prospects, says his speed compares to Billy Hamilton’s — and he has better bat skills. He hit .429 with 10 homers and 26 steals this season. A Meridian Community College commit, the 6-foot, 190-pound Beard is among 12 state-connected players in MLB Pipeline’s latest top 200, four rating in the top 100. At No. 54 is Kendall Williams, a 6-foot-6 right-hander from Olive Branch who now plays at IMG Academy in Florida. Mississippi State lefty Ethan Small – a 26th-round pick in 2018 — is rated No. 56, Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner No. 60 and Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy No. 66. Ealy, a two-sport star who signed with Ole Miss, is widely considered a first-round talent, but his college commitment seemingly has caused his draft stock to drop. On draftsite.com, Ealy was pegged to go sixth overall and Wallner 34th with Ole Miss’ Thomas Dillard, Williams and State’s Jake Mangum projected as second-round picks and UM’s Cooper Johnson and Grae Kessinger as third-rounders. Northwest Mississippi Community College left-hander Dalton Fowler, a freshman, appears to be the top juco prospect in the state (MLB Pipeline has him at No. 150). Other high school players of note are Pearl River Central’s Hayden Dunhurst, a switch-hitting catcher and UM signee, and Smithville High right-hander/catcher Jared Johnson, a State commit who was recently featured in Baseball America.
As the Cincinnati Reds look ahead to 2019, they’re surely giving strong consideration to making Cody Reed a part of their starting rotation. The ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College standout from Horn Lake showed his potential on Saturday against the Chicago Cubs. Going head-to-head with Cubs ace Jon Lester, Reed threw five scoreless innings, yielding just two hits and striking out 10. Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart told mlb.com that it was the best he’d ever seen Reed throw and could be a “springboard outing” for the 25-year-old left-hander. Reed got a no-decision — the Reds ultimately lost 1-0 to the first-place Cubs — but trimmed his ERA to 4.32 in his 15th appearance and fifth start this season. He was recalled from Triple-A Louisville in mid-August and given a spot in the rotation shortly thereafter. In 16 career starts spread over three seasons, Reed is still looking for his first win. His lone MLB victory came as a reliever. Based on Saturday’s performance, that breakthrough W could be coming soon. P.S. Four Mississippians earned spots on Baseball America’s Classification All-Star teams, one at each of the top four levels of the minors. Mississippi State alum Dakota Hudson, now pitching in the big leagues with St. Louis, made the Triple-A team; former Bulldogs star Nathaniel (Nate) Lowe (in Tampa Bay’s system) is the first baseman on the Double-A team; MSU product Reid Humphreys (Colorado) is the closer on the high Class A team; and ex-Ole Miss standout David Parkinson (Philadelphia) made the low-A team as a starter. Lowe, named to the all-classification All-Stars second team after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs across three levels, is on the Triple-A Durham team that just won the International League pennant. Mississippi Braves 2018 alums Touki Toussaint and Ian Anderson, both hurlers, were chosen as first-team all-classification All-Stars by BA.
There were two significant firsts involving former Magnolia State prep stars in the majors on Friday, one in San Francisco, the other in Cleveland. Start with Chris Stratton, the former Tupelo High (and Mississippi State) standout who threw his first big league shutout, leading the Giants past Colorado 2-0. And then there was Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central alum who threw a 1-2-3 inning in his MLB debut for Detroit against the Indians. Stratton allowed just two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts against the powerful Rockies lineup. Now 10-9 with a 4.66 ERA, Stratton called it “one for the record books there for me.” The win against the National League West leader stopped an 11-game losing streak for the Giants, and they celebrated both that and Stratton’s gem on the field postgame. The Tigers also celebrated a win against a first-place club, and Turnbull played a key role, delivering a shutdown seventh inning after his club had taken a 4-2 lead in the top half. With a contingent of family and friends at Progressive Field, the 25-year-old right-hander retired Yan Gomes (by punchout), Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor. Detroit won 5-4 against the American League Central leader, which was denied a division-clinching victory. P.S. Baseball America has published a correction to its ranking of the states by pro players produced (see previous post). Mississippi still ranks fourth in players produced per 100,000 people, behind Florida, California and Georgia and ahead of the likes of Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. BA’s original state population numbers were wrong, which threw off its ratios.
It’s no shocker, really, that Florida high schools produce more pro baseball players per capita than any other state. Lot of athletes, lot of warm weather. From 2011-17, 1,311 Sunshine State products appeared on MLB-affiliated rosters, which comes to 4.16 players per 100,000 people, according to a study by Baseball America published in its Sept. 7-21 issue. Fourth on this list is — drumroll, please — Mississippi, with 3.31 players per 100,000 people. That’s more per capita than California, Texas, Arizona or Louisiana, to name a few. That’s kind of amazing. Magnolia State high schools produced 149 pros in the seven-year span that BA surveyed. Hattiesburg — presumably, the baseball-rich Pine Belt area — produced 11, earning the designation of “hotbed” in Mississippi. Another Hattiesburg kid was drafted in the second round this year — Joe Gray, now in the Milwaukee system. … Among those 149 prep products is Hunter Renfroe, the pride of Copiah Academy. Renfroe, now with the San Diego Padres, is about as hot as anybody from anywhere of late. He hit two home runs on Saturday, giving him 12 in his last 30 games and 19 for the year. He is batting .259 — .302 over his last 30 games — and has 56 RBIs, including a major league-best 27 in August. Also deserving of a nod is Tony Sipp, the ex-Moss Point High star who threw another clean inning in middle relief for Houston in a win on Saturday. The situational lefty has a 2.20 ERA in 44 games and is at 1.61 over his last 30 appearances for the first-place Astros. Renfroe and Sipp are among the 15 Mississippi prep products who have appeared in the big leagues in 2018. Don’t know the per capita rating on that but it’s gotta be up there.
The career path that took Chipper Jones to the Hall of Fame veered through Mississippi in 2006. Anyone who was there for those two days in August surely has not forgotten. Jones’ visit to Trustmark Park in Pearl on a rehab assignment created a hoopla that hasn’t been matched by any other Mississippi Braves games played there in the 14 years of the stadium’s existence. The announced crowds on Aug. 11 and 12, 2006, were 7,577 and 7,652 — and those are legit figures. To his everlasting credit, Jones signed autographs for fans and did pre- and postgame media sessions. He was engaging. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy reminiscing about his previous Double-A days in 1992, when he crushed it in Greenville. They played his signature walk-up song, “Crazy Train,” on the P.A. when he batted, and the crowd went nuts when he got his one hit in the six at-bats he took. Fellow Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine also made rehab appearances with the M-Braves — Smoltz threw one inning in a road game — and HOFer Jeff Bagwell did a rehab stint with the Jackson Generals at Smith-Wills Stadium. But they didn’t generate the excitement that Jones did. Fernando Valenzuela’s visit to Smith-Wills in 1991 drew a standing-room only throng, but he came in with the visiting team, the Midland Angels. There was a very different vibe for Jones, a former No. 1 overall pick by Atlanta whose ascendance had been tracked for years by the many Atlanta Braves fans in the area. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson worked a 1-2-3 inning in his MLB debut for St. Louis on Saturday, striking out the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. … Richton High alum JaCoby Jones, batting .122 over a 15-game stretch, needed a highlight moment and produced one on Saturday, belting a two-run homer in Detroit’s 2-1 win against Cleveland. Jones is hitting .208 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 95 games for the Tigers. He left Saturday’s game with an apparent injury that he later deemed “nothing serious.” … Former State star Mitch Moreland returned to Boston’s lineup after missing two games with a minor ailment; he contributed a hit and an RBI in the Red Sox’s 10-4 victory over Minnesota. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College product from McComb, went on the 10-day disabled list for Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury. Dickerson is hitting .318 with 11 bombs and 44 RBIs. … Former M-Braves Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna grace the cover of the latest issue (Aug. 3-24) of Baseball America, which has a feature piece on the “Baby Braves” behind Atlanta’s resurgent season.
West Jones High will roll into Brandon on Thursday with a target on its back. The Mustangs moved into the top 10 in Baseball America’s new prep rankings, up to No. 9 from 16th on April 3. West Jones (22-1) is the only state school in the Top 25. MaxPreps ranks West Jones fourth in Mississippi, behind Madison Central, Northwest Rankin and Gulfport. Brandon (20-6) is No. 6. The Mustangs are led by dual threat Dustin Dickerson, who is batting .371 with three homers and 19 RBIs and is 6-0 with a 0.30 ERA as a pitcher. Evan Bynum is also 6-0 with a 0.81. Kris Riley leads the team with four bombs, Colson Harris with 19 RBIs and sophomore Sam Hill with a .411 average. The Mustangs’ only loss is to Hattiesburg, fifth in the MaxPreps poll. Brandon features state player of the year candidate J.T. Ginn, who is batting .460 with nine homers and carries a 4-0, 0.55 pitching ledger.