09 May

fun while it lasted

On paper, it was a mismatch. On the field, for three innings at least, it was not. George County High product Justin Steele, making just the 15th start of his big league career, cruised into the fourth inning Sunday at Wrigley Field with a 1-0 lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Walker Buehler. A wonky fourth — two infield hits, two walks, a wild pitch — cost Steele and the Chicago Cubs the lead, and the young left-hander couldn’t answer the bell for the fifth, departing with a thumb injury after his warmup tosses. The Dodgers, with Buehler going seven innings, won the game 7-1. Buehler entered the game, his 100th career start, with a 3-1 record and a 2.12 ERA. Steele was 1-3, 5.50, winless since beating Milwaukee (and fellow Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff) in his first start of 2022. Originally set for a Monday start, Steele found out only hours before ESPN’s Sunday night feature that he’d be getting the ball against the National League’s best team, the one with three MVPs in the lineup. He struck out Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman to start the game and yielded just a lone hit (to Cody Bellinger) through three. The wheels started to come off in the fourth. Steele, 26, battled long and hard — eight years — to reach the big leagues in 2021. He’s now battling to nail down a role with a rebuilding Cubs club, and there certainly have been encouraging signs. P.S. Two other Mississippians made Mother’s Day starts and experienced mixed results. Konnor Pilkington, former Mississippi State standout, made his first career start — fourth appearance — for Cleveland and lasted 3 2/3 innings (two runs allowed) in a game the Guardians won 4-3 against Toronto. Ex-State star Dakota Hudson, having an erratic season for St. Louis, went four innings, yielding five hits, four walks and three runs in a game the Cardinals lost 4-3 to San Francisco.

25 Mar

present arms

Pitchers took center stage on Thursday in MLB spring training. Former Mississippi State and Wheeler High standout Brandon Woodruff, fresh off agreeing to a $6.8 million contract for 2022, made his Cactus League debut and promptly got knocked around by Arizona. The right-hander, an emergent ace for the Brewers, yielded six hits, a walk and four runs in three innings. “I don’t like to stink,” he said in a published report following the game, while noting that he was working on a new slider. … George County High product Justin Steele started for the Chicago Cubs against the Los Angeles Angels. The first batter he faced was Shohei Ohtani. “I was really looking forward to that, like last night I was thinking about that,” he told NBC Sports Chicago. Left-hander Steele walked Ohtani, walked one more batter in the frame but allowed nothing else in his two innings of work. After making his MLB debut last year, Steele is vying for a job in the rotation in 2022. … Ex-State star Jonathan Holder, in Cubs camp as a non-roster invitee, pitched one inning and gave up a game-winning homer to Taylor Ward. Holder had a 4.38 ERA over five seasons with the New York Yankees but missed virtually all of 2021 with a shoulder problem. … Ole Miss alum James McArthur, a newcomer to Philadelphia’s 40-man roster, worked against Pittsburgh and gave up three hits and a run in 2/3 inning in his second spring outing. … MSU product J.P. France, a non-roster pitcher in Houston’s camp, pitched a scoreless inning against Washington. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis, recently re-signed as a minor leaguer by Baltimore, has yet to make his spring debut but is looking forward to that opportunity. The right-hander told baltimorebaseball.com he aims to “take care of business and earn my spot back.” He went 1-0 with a 2.15 ERA in seven games last season. … Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull apparently is headed to salary arbitration with Detroit. The right-hander reportedly asked for $2.1 million for this season, and the team offered $1.325M. The arbitrator will chose one of the two figures. Turnbull threw a no-hitter last season before having Tommy John surgery that could force him to miss all of 2022. He is 11-25, 4.25 over four years with the Tigers.

28 Dec

catching up

Colby White, a Mississippi State product drafted by Tampa Bay in 2019, made the Rays’ Organization All-Star team as selected by milb.com. White, a right-handed reliever, posted a 1.44 ERA while rising through four levels of the minors in 2021. Would not be a surprise to see him in the big leagues in 2022. One scout has compared White to Craig Kimbrel, which is some high praise. … Ole Miss alum and erstwhile big leaguer Jacob Waguespack has signed with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. Waguespack spent all of 2021 in the minors for Toronto; he went 5-5 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 games for the Blue Jays in 2019-20. … Ex-State standout Jonathan Holder, who recently re-signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs, has been invited to big league spring camp. Holder, an MLB vet with a 4.38 ERA, did not pitch in the majors in 2021 because of a shoulder problem. He made two appearances in the Cubs’ minor league system and was dropped from the 40-man roster after the season. … Former MSU star Travis Chapman, a longtime minor league manager and coach, has been named the New York Yankees’ first base coach. … The Biloxi Shuckers got a shout-out (sorta) in Sports Illustrated’s year-end issue thanks to one of the craziest games of 2021. In a May 6 Double-A South contest at Birmingham, the Shuckers drew 13 walks and an HBP in one inning, scoring 12 runs en route to a 14-6 win over the Barons. SI’s Steve Rushin labeled it “Baron Wasteland” in his witty summary of the year’s oddest events. … The change in ownership of the Mississippi Braves franchise (from the Atlanta Braves/Liberty Media to Diamond Baseball Holdings) won’t affect the team’s affiliation with Atlanta or its location in Pearl, but one has to wonder if a name change might happen down the road. … Ready or not, the college season in Mississippi is slated to open on Feb. 2, when Rust College visits Tuskegee for a doubleheader that will also mark the debut of Bearcats coach John Bates. William Carey University, another NAIA program, opens at home in Hattiesburg on Feb. 4 against Lindsey Wilson. NAIA Tougaloo College starts Feb. 5 with a twinbill at Xavier of New Orleans. Tougaloo recently named its home field after longtime coach Earl Sanders, the ex-Jackson State star; the Bulldogs’ first game there is set for Feb. 19.

30 Sep

meaningful moment

Austin Riley drove in three runs in Atlanta’s win on Wednesday night, and Hunter Renfroe’s 30th homer helped Boston secure a victory. Important contributions in critical games. But the feel-good story of the night from a Mississippi perspective was what happened in a relatively meaningless game in Pittsburgh. Trent Giambrone, a 25th-round draft pick out of Delta State five years ago, delivered a pinch-hit single in his first major league at-bat for the Chicago Cubs. Louisiana native Giambrone, who was not on the 40-man roster, was called up from Triple-A Iowa after fellow infielder Patrick Wisdom was placed on the injured list. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone was not having a good year with the I-Cubs, batting just .174, but the Cubs apparently wanted to reward him for grinding through 493 games in their minor league system. He had some good numbers — 17 homers, 26 steals in the Double-A Southern League in 2018 and 23 bombs with Iowa in 2019 — and was impressive in several spring training trials with the big club. His eighth-inning single Wednesday had teammates in the dugout standing and applauding — a moment Giambrone will always remember. He became the sixth Mississippi product to debut in MLB this season and the ninth Delta State alum to make The Show. Others on that list: Barry Lyons, Stewart Cliburn, Eli Whiteside and Jim Miles (the first in 1968). P.S. Shea Langeliers, fresh off winning a championship with the Mississippi Braves and earning Atlanta’s minor league player of the year honor, made his Triple-A debut on Wednesday. Catching and batting sixth, Langeliers went 0-for-3 with a walk in Gwinnett’s 6-1 win over Jacksonville. He hit .258 with 22 homers for the M-Braves.

25 Sep

perfect timing

Dakota Hudson returned just in time to have a hand in an historic win by St. Louis on Friday. The Mississippi State product, coming back from elbow surgery a year ago this month, worked 3 2/3 solid innings for the W as the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 12-4 to match the franchise record with 14 straight wins. The Cards won Game 1 of the doubleheader 8-5, beating George County High alum Justin Steele in the process. Surging St. Louis, which blasted eight homers on the day at Wrigley Field, has climbed from 3 games back of the second wild card in the National League to 5 games ahead of that pack. “It was just fun to get out there and compete,” said Hudson, who relieved Jack Flaherty — also making an injury comeback — in the first inning and allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts as he pitched through the fourth of the 7-inning game. A former first-round draft pick, Hudson is now 24-10 with a 3.20 ERA since arriving in the big leagues in 2018. … The last Cardinals team to win 14 straight was the Dizzy Dean-led Gas House Gang of 1935. P.S. On a crazy night at Trustmark Park, the Mississippi Braves took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Double-A South Championship Series with an 11-9 victory against Montgomery. The M-Braves go for the title tonight at the TeePee. Game 3 featured three homers (Drew Lugbauer, Greyson Jenista and C.J. Alexander) by the slugging M-Braves, who built an 11-4 lead with a six-run eighth. The last three outs proved a little hard to come by. It took three pitchers to nail it down in the ninth, when the Biscuits hit two bombs. With what was left of a crowd of about 2,000 screaming for the final out, Nolan Kingham ended it with a controversial strikeout, stranding the tying runs at first and third. He was the last of 12 pitchers who took the mound for the two clubs. There were 24 hits and four errors in the near 4-hour game plus a weird 5-2-6-4-6 double play that featured M-Braves shortstop Braden Shewmake running down two baserunners.

24 Sep

what’s on tap

At Trustmark Park in Pearl, the Mississippi Braves will try to take another step toward their second pennant when they host Montgomery in Game 3 (6:35 p.m.) of the Double-A South Championship Series. The M-Braves, 2008 champs in the Southern League, evened the series at 1-1 with an 8-5 win in the second game on Wednesday. Spencer Strider (3-7, 4.71 ERA), a 2020 Atlanta draft pick out of Clemson, goes to the bump for the M-Braves. The right-hander has 94 strikeouts in 63 innings over 14 starts. Trey Harris drove in three runs, Wendell Rijo homered, Justin Dean stole two bases and scored twice and the M-Braves bullpen finished with four scoreless innings in Game 2.
At Canal Park in Akron, Ohio, former Mississippi State standout Konnor Pilkington starts for the Akron Rubber Ducks in Game 3 of the Double-A Northeast title series against Bowie. The Ducks are up 2-0. Pilkington, a left-hander, went 3-2, 2.33 for Akron after coming over to Cleveland’s system from the Chicago White Sox. He is 7-6, 3.04 overall in 2021. Bowie’s shortstop is ex-State star Jordan Westburg, who hit .232 with four homers for the Baltimore farm club; he has 15 homers on the season.
At Wrigley Field, George County High product Justin Steele will try to stop St. Louis’ 12-game win streak when the rookie left-hander takes the mound for Chicago in Game 1 of a pair. Steele is 1-3, 5.12 in seven starts since the Cubs moved him from the bullpen. None of the Cardinals hitters have faced him. In the unlikely event the lowly Cubs sweep the Cardinals today, Milwaukee can clinch the National League Central with a win against the visiting New York Mets at American Family Field.
And at Fenway Park, there’s the always enthralling renewal of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Boston leads New York by 2 games in the American League wild card battle with Toronto lurking a game back of the Yanks. Gerrit Cole (15-8, 3.03) starts for the Yankees; ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, the Red Sox’s right fielder, is 3-for-18 with no RBIs career against the right-hander.

19 Sep

it’s your big debut

He didn’t join the exclusive club of major leaguers who have homered in their first career at-bat, but Nick Fortes did do something special on Saturday. The former Ole Miss standout hit a home run in his second career AB — he singled in his first — for Miami in a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh. Fortes, a catcher called up on Friday, took former Mississippi Braves right-hander Bryse Wilson deep in the fifth inning, a 413-foot shot. “I had goosebumps and chills down my spine,” said Fortes, who had a gaggle of family and friends watching at loanDepot park. Fortes began this season, his third in pro ball, at Pensacola in the Double-A South before moving to Triple-A Jacksonville. He had seven homers in 330 at-bats for those two clubs. He became one of eight Marlins to homer in his first game. Ex-Mississippi State star Will Clark and Louisville native Marcus Thames are the only Mississippians to homer in their first career at-bat. P.S. Milwaukee, with Biloxi Shuckers alums Devin Williams and Josh Hader getting the win and the save, clinched a playoff berth on Saturday by beating the Chicago Cubs. For the record, George County High product Justin Steele, the Cubs’ starter, got his first career hit (in nine ABs). Steele allowed two runs in four innings and wasn’t part of the decision. The rookie left-hander is 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA in his seven starts this season.

02 Sep

resume building

Far from the MLB playoff races, where teams are looking to next year and players are seeking to make good impressions, the Chicago Cubs met the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Wednesday. Justin Steele, the former George County High star, made one of those good impressions. The Cubs’ rookie left-hander threw five shutout innings for his first win since shifting from the bullpen to the rotation. Relying mainly on two different fastballs, Steele allowed one hit, walked three, hit a batter and fanned three in the 3-0 victory. “I thought the fastball looked electric, to be honest with you,” Cubs manager David Ross said in an mlb.com story. Steele, who has made four starts, is 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA overall in 15 games for the fourth-place Cubs. Drafted in 2014, the 26-year-old Steele logged over 300 innings in an injury-plagued minor league journey before making his big league debut on April 12. Meanwhile, for the last-place Twins, ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker was a bright spot, getting the club’s only two hits, both singles. Rooker, also looking to make an impression for 2022, is batting .201 with six homers in 38 games. Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford, hoping to secure a 2022 job with Pittsburgh, hit his second homer of the season in the last-place Pirates’ loss to the Chicago White Sox. The oft-injured Alford is batting .180 in 23 games. MSU product Nate Lowe, toiling for last-place Texas, went 1-for-3 in a loss to Colorado. Lowe is batting .321 over his last 15 games and .261 with 14 homers on the season, his first with the Rangers. P.S. Mississippi State alum Will Bednar, the first Mississippian picked in this year’s draft (14th overall), made his pro debut on Monday, working a 1-2-3 inning for San Francisco’s Arizona Complex League club. … The White Sox put shortstop Tim Anderson on the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring issue; the former East Central Community College star, an MVP candidate, had missed several games recently with sore legs.

30 Aug

big league chew

Boston will be without slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe again tonight when it takes on first-place Tampa Bay in the opener of a big, four-game American League East series. Renfroe’s father and “best friend,” Todd, died from cancer last Thursday and the Crystal Springs native has been on bereavement leave since then. He had eight hits – four homers – over a seven-game stretch Aug. 17-25 and is batting .258 with 25 homers overall. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe was cut loose by the Rays after last season and signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. … Jarrod Dyson made his Toronto debut on Sunday, entering the game against Detroit as a pinch runner, then staying in to play center field. The Blue Jays are team No. 7 on the former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout’s career list. … Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley returned from the injured list for Cleveland over the weekend, going 2-for-9 in a series against Boston. Bradley is at .214 with 11 homers for the season with the Indians, clinging to wild card hopes in the AL. … Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin has been on Cleveland’s 10-day IL since Aug. 12 with no clear date for a return for the rookie right-hander. He reportedly is working out in Arizona. … Though there are no reports of an injury, MSU product Mitch Moreland did not leave the bench during the last three games of Oakland’s four-game series vs. the New York Yankees. Moreland is batting .227 with 10 homers. … Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton continued his rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte, going 1-for-3 Sunday. He is 3-for-19 with one stolen base in six games for the Chicago White Sox’s top affiliate. … Dakota Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago, made a rehab start for St. Louis’ Class A Palm Beach team on Saturday. The State product worked two scoreless innings, throwing 24 pitches and hitting 94 mph. … Former State star Jonathan Holder made his second rehab appearance of 2021 on Friday, yielding a homer in one inning for the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa club.

26 Aug

full speed ahead

Speed is the highlight tool in Jake Mangum’s bag. It was on full display Wednesday. The former Mississippi State star, playing center field for Double-A Binghamton, made three diving catches, one charging in, one going to his left and one to his right. (Check out the video on milb.com.) He also stole a base, his 12th of the season in 70 games for the New York Mets’ Double-A club, and just to show some versatility, belted his seventh home run in a 7-5 win at New Hampshire. Mangum is hitting .296 (.341 on-base percentage) with 21 doubles, four triples, 39 RBIs and 55 runs. The Flowood native was rated one of the fastest players in 2019 draft when the Mets took him – as an MSU senior – in the fourth round. Oddly enough, he has slipped off their Top 30 prospect chart. But if he keeps producing, that hardly matters. P.S. Loyd Star High alum James Beard was generally considered the fastest player in the 2019 draft, and he was picked in the fourth round, a few spots ahead of Mangum, by the Chicago White Sox. Now playing at Low-A Kannapolis, the 20-year-old Beard has nine steals and a .193 average in 63 games. … For the record, the top base-stealer among Mississippians in the minors in 2021 is Delvin Zinn, the ex-Itawamba Community College star now in the Cubs’ system. The fifth-year pro has 43 bags – 42 at High-A South Bend, one (in four attempts) in 17 games at Double-A Tennessee.