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.
As the big league season grows shorter, the games get bigger. None was more significant Monday than the clash of contenders at T-Mobile Park, where ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn rose to the occasion and Mississippi State product Adam Frazier came up empty at a critical time. Lynn threw seven dominant innings to lead the Chicago White Sox to a 3-2 win against host Seattle. Frazier came on as a pinch hitter in the ninth for the Mariners with the tying and winning runs in scoring position and struck out to end the game. The White Sox, who have battled adversity all year, remained 2 games back in the American League Central, in third place behind leader Cleveland and Minnesota. The Mariners, who had won seven straight, dropped into a tie for the AL wild card lead with Tampa Bay; the White Sox are essentially out of that race. Lynn, 5-5 on the year but 4-1 over his last seven starts, allowed just three hits and an unearned run, struck out 11 and retired the last 17 batters he faced. He got 25 swings-and-misses. MSU alum Kendall Graveman worked a scoreless eighth for the ChiSox, preserving a 3-1 lead for his 23rd hold. Things got a little hairy for closer Liam Hendriks in the ninth, but he blew away Frazier on three pitches to seal the win, the fifth in six games for Chicago. Frazier, an All-Star for Pittsburgh in 2021, has had an uneven season for the M’s, hitting just .242. Game 2 of the three-game series is today. P.S. George County High product Justin Steele has been placed on the injured list with a back problem by the Cubs. … Ex-State star Dakota Hudson was optioned to Triple-A Memphis as St. Louis cleared a roster spot for Jack Flaherty. … Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters hit his first MLB homer Monday for Kansas City; he is batting .237 in 13 games.
There was a bit of an “old home week” vibe Tuesday night at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio, where the host Clippers and the Iowa Cubs hooked up in a Triple-A International League game. Pitchers from each of Mississippi’s Big 3 Division I schools went to the mound: Former Ole Miss standout Wyatt Short started and posted a win for the I-Cubs; Mississippi State product Konnor Pilkington started and took the loss for Columbus; and ex-Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty also worked for the Clippers, a Cleveland affiliate. (For the record, Delta State alum Trent Giambrone, an infielder, watched from the Iowa bench.) Short, a closer at UM and a reliever for most of his minor league career, made his third start and pitched a strong five innings in the I-Cubs’ 4-0 victory. The 5-foot-8 left-hander from Southaven is now 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA at Iowa in his sixth pro season. Wyatt has yet to get a big league call, unlike Pilkington and McCarty, both of whom have been up this year. Pilkington, a lefty from Pascagoula, yielded four hits, four walks and three runs with nine strikeouts in four innings, falling to 2-4, 5.66, with Columbus. He is 1-2, 4.17, in 12 MLB games this season. Hattiesburg native McCarty, a left-hander who has two big league wins for the Guardians, allowed one run in four innings Tuesday, trimming his ERA at Columbus to 3.58. … In an International League game at St. Paul, Minn., ex-USM star Matt Wallner and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton combined for four runs, four walks, two hits and a stolen base as Minnesota’s Triple-A club beat Omaha 10-6. The stolen base was the first for the veteran Hamilton in his second game with the Saints — and No. 402 in his minor league career. P.S. Several other former Ole Miss pitchers are in the news. Doug Nikhazy was promoted to Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system; he is slated to start Saturday. Taylor Broadway was traded to Boston from the Chicago White Sox to complete an earlier deal; the 2021 Rebels closer was pitching at Double-A Birmingham. Veteran big leaguer Mike Mayers, starting Tuesday for the Los Angeles Angels against the visiting New York Yankees, gave up three homers, including Aaron Judge’s No. 51, and took an L. Lance Lynn, 3-5, 5.00, for the White Sox but coming off one of his best starts, gets the ball tonight against Kansas City as the fading ChiSox try to stay in the playoff hunt.
Chad Bradford was back in uniform (sorta) on Sunday as the Oakland A’s celebrated their 2002 team — Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” gang that won a then-record 20 straight games — before the club played the New York Yankees at Oakland Coliseum. Former Southern Miss and Hinds Community College star Bradford was a key member of that A’s team, posting a 3.11 ERA, four wins and two saves over 75 games. The submarine-style right-hander had a 3.26 ERA in 561 MLB games. … In a pregame ceremony at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes threw a ceremonial first pitch to son Ke’Bryan Hayes before the Phillies played the Pittsburgh Pirates. The elder Hayes spent three of his 14 big league seasons with the Phils. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pirates’ third baseman, went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a 5-0 win. The duo reportedly will do another first-pitch thing at Yankee Stadium next month. Charlie Hayes won a ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. … Garrett Mitchell became the 56th Biloxi Shuckers alumnus to make the majors when the outfielder debuted for Milwaukee on Sunday, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs in a 9-7 win vs. the visiting Chicago Cubs. Mitchell, a former first-round pick from UCLA, played parts of the last two seasons with the Shuckers, who arrived on the Coast in 2015. … Dylan Moore, who played for both the Shuckers and the Mississippi Braves, hit a big three-run homer for Seattle on Sunday in a 4-0 win against Cleveland in a battle of playoff contenders. … M-Braves alum Drew Waters, who debuted with Kansas City last week, had two hits, two walks, two runs and two RBIs for the Royals in a 15-6 romp over San Diego. … Ex-M-Braves star Michael Harris II, who made the jump from Mississippi in May, went 4-for-4 for Atlanta in its 6-3 loss at St. Louis. It was the second four-hit game for the rookie of the year candidate, who is batting .298 with 13 homers, 45 RBIs and 15 steals. … George County High product Justin Steele, 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA for the Cubs this year, won’t make the trip to Toronto this week because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. … Former USM star Matt Wallner belted his fourth homer for Triple-A St. Paul — and 25th bomb overall in 2022 — as the Minnesota affiliate beat Iowa in the International League. Ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Holder gave up four runs in an inning of work and took the loss for the I-Cubs; the onetime big leaguer has a 10.29 ERA in seven appearances. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren improved to 7-4, with a 3.38 ERA, as the Yankees’ Double-A Somerset club beat New Hampshire in the Eastern League. Warren, drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana last year, went 2-3 in A-ball this season, his first pro duty.
A pair of Mississippi natives went toe-to-toe at Wrigley Field on Sunday in a veritable must-win game for the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers did win, but, much to their chagrin, so did St. Louis, which got a clutch performance from another Magnolia State product in its seventh straight victory. Just another day of drama in the National League Central. Chicago Cubs left-hander Justin Steele, the pride of Lucedale, outpitched Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff of Wheeler, but the Brewers rallied late against the Cubs’ leaky bullpen for a 5-2 win, avoiding a series sweep. Steele allowed just two hits with nine strikeouts in six scoreless innings; the George County High alum has a 3.25 ERA in 23 starts for a Cubs team that has long been out of contention. Mississippi State product Woodruff, making his 19th start, threw 105 pitches over 5 2/3 innings. Two of his pitches left the yard — homers by Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki. The Brewers’ rally from that 2-0 hole kept them within 5 games of the surging Cardinals in the division. Milwaukee led St. Louis by 3 games on Aug. 1, when the controversial trade of closer Josh Hader went down. They are 7-11 since. “We can get on a roll here and we can look back at this and talk about it like we always do and say this is a stretch where we got through it and started playing good baseball,” Woodruff said in an mlb.com article. “We’ll see what happens.” Playing at Arizona on Sunday, the Cardinals fell behind 4-3 in the third inning as starter Jose Quintana struggled. Enter Tupelo native and ex-MSU standout Chris Stratton, who stopped the Diamondbacks cold for 2 2/3 innings, paving the way for the Cardinals to rally late for a 6-4 win. Stratton, a trade acquisition from Pittsburgh, has a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 relief innings for the Cardinals. Milwaukee and St. Louis will have to wage their battle remotely for a while; they don’t go head-to-head again until Sept. 13-14 at Busch Stadium. P.S. MSU product Nathaniel Lowe hit his 18th homer — a 424-footer — for Texas in a win at Minnesota on Sunday. He is batting .386 over his last 15 games, .295 on the year. … McLaurin High alum Davis Bradshaw, back on his home turf with Double-A Pensacola (see previous post), went 6-for-13 in the rain-plagued series against the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Bradshaw is batting .310 in 14 games since being promoted to Miami’s Double-A club.
The Mississippi Braves ran into some stout pitching at Tennessee on Thursday night, the most effective of the three arms that shut them down belonging to former Southern Miss right-hander Walker Powell. In a 1-0 Smokies victory, Powell worked five innings in middle relief, yielding three hits and a walk while striking out seven. He got the win, improving to 3-2, 2.40 ERA, in seven games for the Chicago Cubs’ Double-A affiliate. On the year, at three different levels, the 6-foot-8 Powell is 10-2, 3.02. Signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent out of the MLB Draft League last summer, Powell is one of 14 former USM pitchers currently in pro ball. Pitching has become a hallmark of the Golden Eagles program, and it showed in this year’s draft, with five USM pitchers getting picked. Another was signed as a non-drafted free agent. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have had higher profile draftees in recent years, but USM is producing its fair share. Nick Sandlin, a second-round pick by Cleveland in 2018, is the lone USM alum currently in the majors; he has a 2.51 ERA as a reliever for the first-place Guardians. Cody Carroll, drafted back in 2015, and Kirk McCarty, a 2017 draftee, also have pitched in the big leagues, though both are currently in Triple-A. McCarty has been up-and-down with Cleveland this season and has posted two wins. J.C. Keys is in Double-A in the Cincinnati system, and Ryan Och, Hunter Stanley and Jarod Wright are in A-ball. The 2022 crop of draftees includes Dalton Rogers (a third-round pick by Boston), Ben Ethridge, Garrett Ramsey, Landon Harper and Tyler Stuart. Hunter Riggins signed after the draft. Stuart is the only one of that group to debut, throwing one inning in rookie ball. P.S. Kudos to Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, who got a well-deserved four-year contract extension. The school’s all-time winningest coach — and No. 3 all-time among SEC coaches — won the national championship this season along with his second batch of national coach of the year awards in three seasons. He may also finally have won over Ole Miss fans.
A pair of Mississippians will make the walk through the corn field and onto the Field of Dreams tonight in Dyersville, Iowa: George County High alum Justin Steele for the Chicago Cubs and ex-Southern Miss star Chuckie Robinson for Cincinnati. Robinson was called up as the Reds’ 27th man for the special event. He’ll be the third catcher on the roster, so it’s unlikely he’ll make his MLB debut — but you never know. There’s magic in that corn field. Steele, a second-year big leaguer, pitched Wednesday for the Cubs, so he’ll be down tonight. Robinson, who helped USM win a Conference USA title in 2016, was drafted by Houston that summer. Considered a strong defensive catcher, he was a Midwest League All-Star in 2017 and MVP of the Class A league’s championship series. He had a seven-RBI game in A-ball in 2018. The Reds took him in the Rule 5 draft in December 2020. He started this season at Double-A Chattanooga and was at Triple-A Louisville when he got the call-up. He is batting .263 with five homers and 23 RBIs overall in 2022. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn started last year’s Field of Dreams Game for the Chicago White Sox, and ex-East Central Community College standout Tim Anderson memorably won the game for the ChiSox with a walk-off homer into the corn. … Pascagoula’s Willie Joe Garry played in Tuesday’s minor league Field of Dreams Game for Cedar Rapids, a Minnesota affiliate. P.S. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker was called up from Triple-A by Kansas City on Wednesday but did not make his Royals debut that night and isn’t in today’s lineup. He was mashing at Omaha (.450 with three homers in five games). Rooker has big league time with both Minnesota and San Diego.
There is a Mississippian on the roster of one of the two Iowa-based teams slated to play tonight in the minor league Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa. Former Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry is an outfielder for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Minnesota’s High-Class A affiliate. Garry, who recently came off the injured list, is batting .179 with 10 steals in his fourth pro season. Drafted out of ‘Goula in 2018, Garry is a .199 career hitter who stole 24 bases in 2021. (Listed on Quad Cities’ roster but on the season-long IL is ex-Mississippi State pitcher Eric Cerantola, drafted by Kansas City in 2021.) Tonight’s game will be televised by MLB Network at 6:30 CDT. … Ex-State standout Logan Tanner, the second-highest drafted Mississippi product this summer, made his pro debut on Monday with Cincinnati’s Arizona Complex League team. The Hattiesburg native, a second-round pick by the Reds, went 0-for-3. … The Mississippi Braves are at Tennessee this week for a six-game Southern League series in which they could encounter a couple of Magnolia State products. Ex-Southern Miss star Walker Powell is 2-2 with a 2.88 ERA in six games (three starts) for the Smokies, a Chicago Cubs affiliate. The 6-foot-8 Powell has nine wins over three levels in the Cubs’ system in 2022, his second pro season. Infielder Delvin Zinn, a Pontotoc native and Itawamba Community College alum, has played sparingly this season and is batting .095. He is a .237 career hitter. … The big league Cubs have announced that former M-Braves star Jason Heyward will be released after this season with a year left on his eight-year, $184 million contract. He is batting .174 with seven homers and is on the IL, probably for the remainder of this season. Heyward, 32, a key figure for the Cubs on their historic World Series winner in 2016, arrived in Mississippi as one of the top prospects in baseball in 2009. He hit .352 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 47 Double-A games. He famously homered in his first MLB at-bat with Atlanta the next year. The Cubs also have released former M-Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a defensive whiz who was hitting just .173. Simmons, 32, hit .293 for the M-Braves in 2012 and carries a .263 career average in the big leagues. … In Atlanta’s deflating series against the New York Mets last weekend, there were good signs from ex-M-Braves star Ronald Acuna, who went 8-for-19 with two doubles and a home run. He also won the Chevrolet Electric Play of the Week award for a home run-robbing catch in right field in Friday’s game, the only one the Braves won. Acuna is batting .267 with nine homers, 28 RBIs and 23 steals. Atlanta, playing at Boston tonight, needs more from him.
Two of the most prominent sluggers in Mississippi college baseball history played a little version of home run derby in the eighth inning of an International League game Friday night at Omaha’s Werner Field. Matt Wallner, Southern Miss’ career homer leader, went deep for St. Paul, a two-run shot in the top half, and Brent Rooker, who led the SEC in homers in 2017 while winning the Triple Crown at Mississippi State, belted a three-run bomb for the host Storm Chasers in the bottom half. (St. Paul won the slugfest 15-6.) For Wallner, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect, it was his first Triple-A home run in his 14th game at that level. He hit 21 in Double-A before his promotion. The left-handed hitting outfielder went 2-for-5 on Friday to lift his average to .179. He hit .299 in Double-A. Rooker’s homer was his second in his second game for Omaha following his trade to Kansas City from San Diego. He belted 19 at Triple-A El Paso, where he batted .272 for the Padres affiliate. The right-handed hitting outfielder, a former top prospect, has 95 minor league homers and 10 MLB bombs (all with Minnesota) in 67 big league games. He was the 35th overall pick by the Twins in the 2017 draft and was traded to the Padres just before this season began. P.S. Former George County High standout Justin Steele matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts for the Chicago Cubs on Friday. The lefty was pulled with two outs in the fifth inning after throwing 93 pitches against Miami. The Cubs won 2-1. … MSU product Dakota Hudson, in his second start for St. Louis since coming off the injured list, threw four-plus innings (78 pitches) against the New York Yankees, allowing three runs in a game the Cardinals would win 4-3.
Justin Foscue looks ready to take the next step on the minor league ladder. The ex-Mississippi State standout rapped two doubles and a homer and drove in three runs for Double-A Frisco on Thursday night. With 10 hits, including three home runs, in his last 12 games, the 23-year-old infielder is batting .281 with seven homers and 48 RBIs in his first full Double-A campaign. He is rated Texas’ No. 4 prospect in the new MLB Pipeline rankings. He has played mostly second base this season but also has seen some time at third. Foscue was drafted 14th overall in the 2020 draft that followed the pandemic-shortened college season; only two Bulldogs position players have been picked higher: Will Clark (No. 2 in 1985) and Hunter Renfroe (No. 13, 2013). Foscue is batting .279 overall with 24 bombs in his two pro seasons. It’ll be interesting to see who gets to the big leagues first, Foscue or his former State keystone mate Jordan Westburg, Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect now in Triple-A. P.S. Brent Rooker, traded from San Diego to Kansas City, hit his first home run for Triple-A Omaha on Thursday. The former State star has 20 homers on the season. … MSU product and veteran big leaguer Jonathan Holder has been assigned to Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs’ system after a brief rehab assignment in rookie ball. He has been on the injured list all season.