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 would appear that Demarcus Evans has conquered the Carolina League. The large right-hander from Petal has an 0.81 ERA with six saves in eight chances and a 4-0 record for high Class A Down East in the Texas system. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 12 appearances and hasn’t yielded a hit in nine of the last 10. In 22 1/3 innings, Evans has 40 strikeouts, though his walk total is a tad high at 17. This is the 22-year-old Evans’ fifth year in pro ball and second as a full-time reliever. He was 9-for-9 in saves with a 1.77 ERA at the low-A level in 2018. He got a hit a little in the Arizona Fall League but has certainly redeemed himself this season. Reports say he has an exploding fastball and an excellent curve. A promotion to Double-A can’t be far off.
Chuckie Robinson added to his bling collection on Tuesday, scoring the winning run in the Carolina League championship game for Buies Creek. If you’re keeping score, that’s three titles in three years for the former Southern Miss standout. USM won a Conference USA crown with Robinson behind the plate in 2016, and he picked up a championship ring last year with Quad Cities, Houston’s low Class A club in the Midwest League. Robinson was the MVP in the MWL Championship Series, capping a year in which he batted .274 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs. At high-A Buies Creek this season, he didn’t have the big numbers — .238, seven homers, 30 RBIs – but he came up large in the one-game title showdown against Potomac. With the score tied 1-1, Robinson led off the bottom of the 11th inning with a single and later scored from second base on another single. The former 21st-round pick, an outstanding defensive catcher, slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart at midseason this year but is no doubt still on the club’s radar.
In a Carolina League contest in North Carolina on Sunday, a couple of former Mississippi college stars played their own little game of “top that.” Southern Miss product Chuckie Robinson ultimately came out ahead. He hit a grand slam in the third inning and then added a tie-breaking three-run blast in the eighth as Buies Creek (a Class A Houston affiliate) beat visiting Down East (Texas Rangers) 10-7. LeDarious Clark, the former East Mississippi Community College standout, went deep twice for Down East, which rallied from a 7-0 deficit and eventually tied the score on Clark’s three-run homer in the seventh inning. Clark, a 12th-round pick in 2015 by the Rangers out of West Florida, had three hits and raised his average to .278 with five homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games for the Wood Ducks. Robinson, a 21st-rounder in 2016 by the Astros out of USM, hit homers No. 5 and 6 on the year for Buies Creek and now has 23 RBIs. A recent surge (.324 in his last 10 games) has boosted his average to .218. “It’s always good and rewarding when you have a good game at the plate, but I’ve been working hard and I’ll continue to work hard,” Robinson told milb.com. He was a Midwest League All-Star at catcher in 2017 and is the Astros’ No. 26 prospect (per MLB Pipeline).
Playing ball in Myrtle Beach, S.C., comes with certain built-in distractions, but Magnolia State products Justin Steele and Trent Giambrone have found their focus in the popular vacation destination. Steele, a left-hander out of George County High, and Giambrone, a second baseman/outfielder from Delta State, were key figures in the Pelicans’ first-half championship in the Class A Carolina League. The Chicago Cubs’ high-A affiliate went 43-27 to claim the South Division title in a walk last month. Steele, who took a loss against Buies Creek on Thursday night, is 6-5 with a league-best 2.40 ERA in 16 starts. He has a 1.93 ERA over his last 10 outings. A fifth-round pick in 2013 and currently rated the Cubs’ No. 22 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Steele, 21, has made mechanical adjustments this year that appear to be paying off. Giambrone, a 25th-round selection just last year, hit .292 in rookie ball in his debut season and was jumped to high-A to start 2017. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone, 23, is batting .262 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and 49 runs for the Pelicans. He is batting .385 over his last 10 games. The next stop for Steele and Giambrone, probably in 2018, would be a very different kind of vacation destination. Kodak, Tenn., up in the Great Smoky Mountains, is the home of the Tennessee Smokies, the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.
BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem, N.C., was the scene on Wednesday of an impressive display of hitting prowess from a couple of minor-league Mississippians with big-league aspirations. Gulfport native and ex-Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley, one of the top prospects in the Cleveland organization, went 3-for-5 with a three-run home run as visiting Lynchburg beat the host Dash 12-6 in the Class A Carolina League clash. But even in defeat, Mason Robbins, a Leakesville native and former Southern Miss star, grabbed the headlines for Winston-Salem. Robbins hit for the cycle, getting both his first homer and triple of the season. It was the first cycle of Robbins’ career, “something you can cross off your bucket list in baseball,” he told milb.com. Robbins, a lefty-hitting outfielder, was a 25th-round pick in 2014 and isn’t among the ChiSox’s top-rated prospects. But he’s progressing in the system, hitting .275 for his career with 11 homers, 13 triples and 85 RBIs. Currently riding a hot streak, he’s at .259 with one homer, one triple and six RBIs in 2016. Bradley, a left-hitting first baseman, is batting .278 with five homers and 22 RBIs as a 19-year-old in the high-A Carolina League. For Bradley, who belted 27 homers in low-A ball in 2015, it’s not so much if he makes The Show as when.