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.

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.

19 Jun

picks of the lot

For baseball fans who love lists and rankings — and that’s virtually all of us — Bleacher Report has put together an interesting list/ranking of the best players drafted at each of the top 30 slots since 1965. Two of them played their Double-A baseball in the Jackson area: Jason Heyward, rated the best 14th overall pick, and Lance Berkman, pegged as the best at No. 16. Both were impressive during their time in Double-A; if you saw them, you know. Berkman was plucked by Houston out of Rice in 1997 and played for the Jackson Generals at Smith-Wills Stadium the very next season. He hit .306 with 24 homers and 89 RBIs for the Gens en route to a big league career that warranted Hall of Fame consideration. Heyward was drafted by Atlanta out of an Atlanta area high school in 2007 and arrived in Mississippi and Trustmark Park in mid-2009. He hit .352 with seven homers in 49 games for the M-Braves. Still playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Heyward — who homered in his first MLB at-bat in 2010 — has enjoyed a decorated 15-year career in the majors. … Rafael Palmeiro, drafted 22nd overall out of Mississippi State by the Chicago Cubs in 1985, was rated the second-best pick at that spot. Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was No. 1. Will Clark, drafted second overall out of State by San Francisco in 1985, fell somewhere behind Justin Verlander and Reggie Jackson on the list of best No. 2’s. BR named Alex Rodriguez — over Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones, among others — as the best overall No. 1 pick. Some baseball fans would beg to differ. P.S. The infield at Trustmark Park in Pearl has been re-sodded; a crew appeared to be finishing up the work today. Because of “unplayable field conditions” (not related to rain), the M-Braves had to relocate their last homestand (June 11-16) to Madison, Ala., home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The team’s next homestand is slated for June 25-30; they last played at the TeePee on June 2.

18 Jun

around the horn

Former Ole Miss stars Jacob Gonzalez and Tim Elko are expected to take part in tonight’s minor league showcase at Birmingham’s venerable Rickwood Field. Gonzalez and Elko, prospects for the Chicago White Sox, play for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, who will wear the uniform of the Black Barons in tribute to the Negro League club that played at Rickwood decades ago. The visiting Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay affiliate) will play as the Gray Sox. The game will be televised by MLB Network at 6 p.m. MLB’s Negro Leagues tribute game at Rickwood, the country’s oldest professional ballpark, between San Francisco and St. Louis is set for Thursday night. … Former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner was named the International League player of the week (June 11-16) after going 14-for-27 (.519) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in six games for St. Paul, Minnesota’s Triple-A club. Wallner, who hit a 481-foot homer on Sunday, has 16 bombs for the Saints and is batting .250 with 43 RBIs since the Twins sent him down in mid-April. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley had two more hits in Atlanta’s 2-1 win over Detroit on Monday and is 9-for-26 (.346) with three homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games. … If the name of the Texas A&M pitcher who was mowing down Kentucky hitters Monday in the College World Series sounds familiar, it might be because Ryan Prager is the son of former Jackson Generals standout Howard Prager. The younger Prager threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings before yielding a pair of knocks in the Aggies’ 5-1 win. He is 9-1 with a 2.88 ERA. His father played first base for the Double-A Generals, a Houston affiliate, in 1991-92 and reached Triple-A in St. Louis’ system. BTW, Kentucky’s hitting coach is former Mississippi State catcher Nick Ammirati, previously an assistant at Hinds Community College and USM.

17 Jun

powering up

The projected home run tally for Jordan Westburg this season was 11, according to Lindy’s Baseball 2024 Preview. Forget that. A month before the All-Star break, the former Mississippi State star already has hit 11. He reached that mark on Sunday with a blast against Zack Wheeler, one of four homers Baltimore hit against the Philadelphia ace in an 8-3 victory. Second-year big leaguer Westburg is hitting .278 with 42 RBIs, 37 runs and six steals in 66 games; he is going to get some consideration for the American League All-Star team. In the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby for 2024, Westburg stands second to Brent Rooker, the ex-MSU standout who has hit 13 bombs for Oakland. To this point in 2024, the once-promising derby competition is a two-horse race. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, led all MLB Mississippians (native or school alum) with 37 homers in 2023. Rooker followed with 30, and three others hit double figures. Lindy’s projected Riley to hit 35 in 2024, and he may be starting to perk up after a tough start. He has six, one each in Atlanta’s last three games. Riley’s homer on Sunday came hours after he learned that his personal hitting coach Mike Brumley had died in a car accident; Riley pointed and looked to the sky as he rounded first base. “He was in the back of my mind really all day,” Riley said in an mlb.com piece. No other Mississippi product has more than six homers this season. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, tied with Riley at six, was just starting to slug for Kansas City when he went on the injured list with a foot injury. He hit 20 homers last season and was projected at 17 for 2024. Nathaniel Lowe, another State alum, has hit just two for Texas. He hit 17 last year and 27 in 2022. His power outage is a concern for the defending but fading World Series champs. Colt Keith, the Detroit rookie from Biloxi High, hit 27 in the minors last year and was projected to go deep 10 times for the Tigers this season; he has three. Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner hit 14 for Minnesota in 2023 and was projected for 16 this year. He has 17 — but 16 of those have come in the minors, where he is today. P.S. The Chicago White Sox added USM product Chuckie Robinson to their 40-man roster on Sunday but did not call him up to the big leagues. Robinson, a catcher who got some big league time with Cincinnati two years ago, is hitting .228 with six homers and 25 RBIs at Triple-A Charlotte.

16 Jun

who’s hot?

Continuing to make his case for a return to the big leagues, Matt Wallner enjoyed another four-hit game — with a home run — on Saturday for Triple-A St. Paul. The ex-Southern Miss star, who also had a four-hit game on Thursday, is batting .396 in June (.458 OBP) with seven homers and 16 RBIs. He was sent down by Minnesota on April 16 following a horrid start. After his recent hot streak, the left-handed slugger is at .246 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs for St. Paul. … Grae Kessinger is also building a case for a return to The Show. The Ole Miss product went 3-for-5 for Triple-A Sugar Land on Saturday and is batting .341 since his June 5 demotion by Houston. Kessinger, a versatile infielder, rarely played (11 at-bats) while he was with the Astros, who are struggling mightily at 32-39. … Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, making his case to stay in the big leagues with Detroit, went 4-for-6 in the Tigers’ 13-5 whipping of the Astros on Saturday. After an early June swoon, rookie Keith, 22, is 7-for-13 in his last three games, boosting his average to .235. He has three homers and 20 RBIs. “For me, it’s not about the stats or the data,” he recently said in a FanGraphs article. “It’s a comfort-level thing.” … In four games since he was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett from Mississippi, Nacho Alvarez is making his case as a prospect to watch in Atlanta’s system. He put up a 4-for-4 game Saturday and is 9-for-18 with two homers in four games for the Stripers. With the Double-A M-Braves, the 21-year-old shortstop hit .265 with no homers in 49 games. … In Low-Class A, former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt is bidding for a move up in Milwaukee’s system. Pratt had a three-hit game for Carolina on Saturday — his fourth three-knock game in his last eight — and is raking at a .429 clip in June. For the season, the second-year pro, 19, is at .310 with two homers, 24 RBIs and 15 steals. He is the Brewers’ No. 8-rated prospect.

15 Jun

turning point?

Fingers are crossed in Braves Nation. “Getting Austin (Riley) involved is huge for us,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker told The Associated Press after Friday’s 7-3 win over Tampa Bay. “I’ve been obviously working hard to get it right. To see some results is nice,” former DeSoto Central High standout Riley said after his 3-for-4, three-RBI night. Braves fans are knocking on wood. Did anyone need a big game more than Riley? He entered Friday’s contest in a 1-for-19 skid. He was hitting .185 with no homers and two RBIs over his previous 15 games, which followed a two-week stint on the bench with a side injury. Some critics were already calling it a “lost season.” On Friday, he had an RBI double in the first inning and the next inning blasted a 422-foot home run, his fourth of the year but first since May 3. He boosted his average to .230. This is a guy who hit .281 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs, won a Silver Slugger at third base and was an All-Star for the second time in 2023. The wobbling, injury-plagued Braves (37-30) need his production. Plus, he’s the kind of guy you root for. No bat flips, no showboating. No smack talk, no whining. He just shows up and plays hard, like a modern-day Dale Murphy. The loss of Michael Harris II to the injured list Friday with a hamstring injury makes a return to form by Riley even more vital for the Braves in the coming weeks. P.S. Is Tim Anderson finally escaping his season-long funk? The ex-East Central Community College star had a three-hit game for Miami on Friday and now has nine hits over his last four games. He has lifted his average to .221, though he still hasn’t homered and has just seven RBIs in 52 games for the lowly Marlins (23-46). With the Chicago White Sox, Anderson won a batting title in 2019, a Silver Slugger at shortstop in 2020 and was an All-Star in 2021 and ’22. Marlins fans have not seen that player.