Has Delta State found its footing? Hard to tell just yet. The Statesmen whipped Arkansas-Monticello 10-5 on Wednesday at Ferriss Field, fueled by hot-hitting leadoff batter Chad Ragland. DSU – 90-9 all-time against the Boll Weevils — has won three of its last five on the heels of a five-game losing streak. Nationally ranked in NCAA Division II early in the season, the Statesmen are 13-10 overall, 6-6 in the Gulf South Conference, which they were picked to win by league coaches. Ragland, a junior college transfer from Florida, has been a major bright spot. He is batting .449 with 21 runs and six steals. Darek Sargent, who homered on Wednesday, leads the club with three homers and has 16 RBIs. Hayden White and Jake Barlow also have been producing runs. Hunter Riggins, a 2019 All-GSC and All-America pick, has been solid, per expectations, but the other starting pitchers have been inconsistent. Moreover, new coach Rodney Batts’ team is 1-7 on the road heading into a GSC series at West Alabama this weekend. … The state’s other D-II program, Mississippi College, went on the road for the first time last weekend and lost two of three to Shorter. The Choctaws, nationally ranked in mid-February, are 11-9, 6-3 GSC; they were pegged for a third-place finish in the league. MC has another road test this weekend at West Georgia. MC is digging the long ball, with a GSC-best 24 home runs as a team. Chauncey Callier, a .357 hitter, leads the way with six bombs. Caleb Reese has five and Ken Scott four. The tradeoff for that power: MC also leads the league in strikeouts. That can be a problem.
Mississippi State’s resilience will be tested this weekend as the team absorbs the impact of losing ace J.T. Ginn for the season and slugging first baseman Tanner Allen for an extended period. Ginn reportedly had Tommy John surgery, which typically involves a year of recovery. A first-round MLB draft pick out of Brandon High in 2018, he is eligible to be drafted again this summer. Allen, State’s leading hitter in 2019, has a broken hand. The Bulldogs, scuffling at 7-4, host Quinnipiac this weekend. … In other news: Nationally ranked Ole Miss, surging at 11-1, hosts Princeton (0-4) this weekend; it’s the first ever meeting between the two. … Delta State (10-8) has lost five straight – its longest skid since 1979 – heading into a Gulf South series against Auburn-Montgomery (6-10, 5-4) at Ferriss Field. DSU is 4-5 in league play after being swept at West Florida last weekend. … William Carey swept SSAC player (R.J. Stinson) and pitcher (Sloan Dieter) of the week honors after winning a league series against nationally ranked Faulkner and hopes to ride that momentum in an SSAC series this weekend against visiting Brewton-Parker. … Belhaven, 6-7 with four straight wins (including a 12-11 conquest of rival Millsaps), hosts Hardin-Simmons in an American Southwest series this weekend. BU is 3-3 in the league. … Pearl River Community College’s Leif Moore earned NJCAA Division II pitcher of the week honors after tossing six no-hit innings with 16 strikeouts vs. Nunez (La.) last week. Moore, from Biloxi’s St. Martin High, is 2-0, 0.00 ERA for the 10-2 Wildcats, ranked No. 2. Hinds (10-0) is ranked third, Northwest (12-1) seventh, Itawamba (9-3) ninth and Northeast (12-2) 12th. … Nationally ranked DeSoto Central High went 2-0 in the Perfect Game Showdown at Hoover, Ala., on Thursday and is 8-1 on the year. Blaze Jordan, generally regarded as the state’s top player, is batting .467 with four doubles and four triples. Cade Smith is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks, another of the state’s best, hit four homers in his team’s first four games. … Travis Demeritte, who slugged 32 homers in two seasons with the Mississippi Braves, hit two homers off Gerrit Cole on Thursday in Grapefruit League play. Demeritte, vying for an outfield job with Detroit, also hit two bombs in a game on Monday. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier is 4-for-13 in five games in his bid to win the second base job with San Diego this spring. … Harrison Central alum Bobby Bradley, hoping to make Cleveland’s club, is 7-for-19 with two homers and five RBIs in Cactus League play. … MSU product Mitch Moreland, pulled from Boston’s game on Sunday with what was described as a minor hamstring problem, has not played since.
Trent Giambrone: The ex-Delta State star, now in the Chicago Cubs’ system, had a hit and an RBI in Cactus League play on Sunday and is now 8-for-14 this spring. Over the last three springs, he is batting .352 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 11 runs in 32 games. He is in camp as a non-roster invitee.
Wesley Reyes: The Jackson State senior went 2-for-3 with a key home run and four RBIs as the Tigers beat Alcorn State 10-6 on Sunday to complete a SWAC sweep. Reyes is batting .394.
Tyler Keenan: The Ole Miss preseason All-America pick banged out four hits and drove in two runs as the Rebels beat Indiana to complete a 3-0 run through a tournament in Greenville, N.C. Keenan went 7-for-13 with two homers and four RBIs for the weekend.
Matt Guidry: The Southern Miss senior went 3-for-4 with two homers, four RBIs and four runs in a 13-1 win against Valparaiso in a tourney game in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday. The Oak Grove High product is batting .359 with two homers and 11 RBIs on the season.
Tanner Allen: The Mississippi State junior had a double and triple, three RBIs and two runs on Saturday in the only game the Bulldogs won in their trip to Long Beach State.
Sloan Dieter: The William Carey two-way standout threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and drove in three runs in the Crusaders’ 10-0 win over NAIA No. 6 Faulkner on Friday. The senior is 3-1 with a 1.26 ERA and is hitting .250 with two homers and 14 RBIs.
Ken Scott: The Mississippi College junior, from Meridian via East Central Community College, hit two home runs and drove in four as the Choctaws won the rubber game Sunday of a Gulf South series vs. Union.
Hunter White: The Belhaven senior, from Mantachie by way of Northwest Mississippi CC, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to pace the Blazers to 15-5 win Saturday and a sweep of an American Southwest Conference series at Mary Hardin-Baylor. He is batting .433.
Jimmy Johnstone: The Millsaps senior was 3-for-3 with an RBI and three runs as the Majors beat Southwestern University 17-3 on Sunday. He is hitting .357.
Will Garriga: The Blue Mountain senior from Hurley belted a walk-off double in the 12th inning as the Toppers took down Martin Methodist in the first game of a Saturday twinbill.
The addition of a 26th roster spot for major league clubs this season could help former Delta State star Trent Giambrone land a job with the Chicago Cubs this spring. Giambrone has received a non-roster invite to big league camp and figures to compete for a utility role. The fifth-year pro, who goes 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, can play virtually anywhere and has some power, having hit 23 homers in Triple-A last year. He is a .250 career hitter and played well in the Cubs’ camp last spring. Also on the Cubs’ NRI list, for the first time in his five years in pro ball, is ex-Ole Miss left-hander Wyatt Short, who posted a 2.95 ERA and nine saves between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. Ethan Small, the first player from Mississippi picked in last summer’s draft (28th overall out of Mississippi State), will be in Milwaukee’s camp as an NRI. The left-hander, already rated among the Brewers’ top prospects, pitched only 21 innings in the low minors last year. Ex-Ole Miss standout Ryan Rolison, Colorado’s first-round pick in 2018, received his first invite to Rockies’ camp, while MSU alum Brent Rooker, a supplemental first-round choice by Minnesota in 2017, will be back in the Twins’ camp for a second year. Other NRIs from the state include: Cooper Johnson (Ole Miss), Detroit; Jack Kruger (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Henri Lartigue (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Chuckie Robinson (Southern Miss), Houston; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit; Kade Scivicque (Southwest CC), Detroit; Tim Dillard (Itawamba CC), Texas; and Jacob Lindgren (MSU), Chicago White Sox.
Rodney Batts checked off wins Nos. 1 and 2 as Delta State coach over the weekend and, perhaps, relaxed a little bit. There are tough acts to follow, and then there’s the Delta State job. Batts took the reins from Mike Kinnison, recent American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee who won 981 games and a national championship at the NCAA Division II school in Cleveland. No. 2 on the DSU wins list is Dave “Boo” Ferriss, another ABCA Hall of Famer who won 639 games and is immortalized by a bronze statue that stands in front of the DSU playing facility that bears his name. No. 3 on the DSU wins list is the coach whose eight-year tenure bridged the Ferriss and Kinnison eras: Bill Marchant, who won 283 games, including a school record 53 in 1996, and made two trips to the College World Series. Batts played for Marchant. Batts’ first DSU team entered the season ranked as high as 11th nationally and pegged to win the Gulf South Conference. Go get ’em. After splitting a Saturday doubleheader with East Central (Okla.) in Cleveland, the Statesmen took Sunday’s rubber game 8-6 as Wyatt Pratt went 4-for-5 with three runs and Kevin Granger homered. In other opening acts: Mississippi College took a series from Harding in Clinton, getting quality starts from Luke Files and David Dunn in Saturday’s twinbill sweep and some hot hitting from Caleb Reese, who was 5-for-9 with a homer, four RBIs and two runs in the series. … William Carey took a pair from Missouri Baptist in Hattiesburg on Saturday, outscoring the visitors 18-2. Sloan Dieter and Jay Simpson picked up wins with dominant starts, and Quartez Brown went 5-for-8 with four runs. … Blue Mountain is 0-4 after losing two doubleheaders to visiting William Wood.
Five Mississippians made their big league debut in 2019: Chris Ellis, Nate Lowe, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley. Who’ll be next to break through? Smart money would be on Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High standout who recently was added to Texas’ 40-man roster. A right-handed reliever – and strikeout machine — he hasn’t pitched above Double-A but will go to spring training with a chance to make the opening day roster. Minnesota has an opening at first base after non-tendering C.J. Cron, and ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker could well be among the candidates vying for the job come spring. Rooker has All-World credentials, having earned that designation with his performance in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament, during which he hit three homers in 20 at-bats, including a big game-winner (see previous post). The three-year pro batted .281 with 14 homers in 65 games in Triple-A in 2019. He isn’t currently on the Twins’ 40-man and didn’t play any first base last year but does have experience there. George County High product Justin Steele is still on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster and is rated their No. 11 prospect (MLB Pipeline). But the left-hander is coming off an injury-dampened season that saw him go 0-6 with a 5.59 ERA in Double-A. About to enter his seventh pro campaign, he needs to break through soon. Delta State alum Trent Giambrone is not on the Cubs’ 40-man but had a solid Triple-A season (.241, 23 homers, 17 steals) and could be in the mix for a role as a utility player in 2020. He is No. 28 on the Cubs’ prospect chart. Former MSU star Jacob Robson, a lefty-hitting outfielder, batted .267 with nine homers and 25 steals in Triple-A for Detroit and figures to get a long look in the spring, as does Ole Miss product David Parkinson, a lefty starter who was 10-9, 4.08 for Philadelphia’s Double-A club. Robson is the Tigers’ No. 27 prospect, Parkinson the Phillies’ No. 18. Neither is on the major league roster. … Another debut to watch for is that of Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-Forrest County AHS and MLB star Charlie. The younger Hayes, who was born in Texas, is Pittsburgh’s No. 2 prospect and recently was added to the 40-man roster. A plus-defender at third base, Hayes batted .265 with 10 homers at Triple-A in 2019. He’ll probably be in the opening day lineup.
Looking to the 2020 season, there are big holes to fill at each of the state’s Big 3 Division I schools. All lost significant players (see Ethan Small, Matt Wallner, Grae Kessinger … to name a few) to the MLB draft from their NCAA Tournament teams of 2019. Fall ball, the first phase of the rebuild, is under way. The first fall ball exhibition game involving the Big 3 is slated for Saturday when Louisiana-Lafayette visits Mississippi State at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs, who brought in the nation’s No. 7 recruiting class (per Perfect Game), started a slate of 12 intrasquad games on Sept. 13. The three-game Fall World Series is scheduled for Oct. 10-12. State will travel to UAB on Oct. 20 to conclude its fall season. … Ole Miss, with a recruiting class ranked No. 2 in the country, opens fall ball today. The Rebels’ first exhibition game is against Arkansas State on Oct. 12 and the second is vs. Memphis on Oct. 25. Both games are in Oxford. The annual Pizza Bowl that ends the fall session is on Nov. 15. … Southern Miss, which opened fall practice on Sept. 14, plays crosstown rival William Carey at Taylor Park on Oct. 13 and travels to Alabama on Oct. 27. … Division II Delta State, under new coach Rodney Batts, opened practice on Sept. 9; the three-game Green-White Series starts on Oct. 19.
Wyatt Short, the former Ole Miss standout from Southaven, has been promoted to Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs’ system and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his debut on Sunday. Short, a 5-foot-8 left-hander, posted a 1.63 ERA and nine saves at Double-A Tennessee, where he was a Southern League All-Star this summer. He has a career 2.37 ERA with 16 wins and 38 saves in 136 relief appearances. Short was a 13th-round pick by the Cubs in 2016 and is one of six Mississippi products now in that organization. Ex-Mississippi State star and veteran big league pitcher Kendall Graveman signed as a free agent in the off-season but is on the injured list recovering from Tommy John surgery in July 2018. George County High alum Justin Steele is also on the Cubs’ 40-man roster, but the injury-hampered top 20 prospect, a 2014 draft pick, is on the IL at Double-A Tennessee. With Short at Iowa is Delta State product Trent Giambrone, the Cubs’ No. 28 prospect (per MLB Pipeline); the versatile Giambrone, a 2016 draftee, is batting .242 with 23 home runs. Playing the infield at Class A Myrtle Beach are former Southern Miss star Luke Reynolds and Itawamba Community College product Delvin Zinn. Zinn, a 2016 draftee, is hitting .233 with 12 RBIs and eight steals in 35 games since he moved up from low-A ball in early July. Reynolds, C-USA player of the year in 2018 and a 10th-round pick that year, was demoted from Myrtle Beach to low-A South Bend when Zinn moved up. He returned to the Carolina League on Aug. 2 and is 10-for-33 with a homer and five RBIs since.
Home runs just flew off Zack Shannon’s bat during his time at Delta State. He hit 50 in 110 games over two seasons at the NCAA Division II school. He blasted an all-division state record 31 homers in 2018, when he batted .406 and won D-II player of the year honors. A 15th-round pick by Arizona last summer, Shannon readily took off in pro ball, belting 14 homers while batting .354 in 54 games at the rookie level. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound slugger began the 2019 season in the Class A Midwest League and promptly hit some turbulence. He is batting .238 with 10 homers in 69 games for Kane County, and it’s been a struggle even to reach those modest numbers. “It’s all a roller coaster, and it’s just a matter of learning how to ride it the right way,” Shannon recently told the Aurora (Ill.) Beacon-News. He got a late start this season because of a hamstring injury in spring training and hit .162 with one homer in 10 April games. He was hurt again in May and finished that month at .190 with three homers. As recently as July 8, he was batting .193. But consider: Shannon has two three-hit games among his last seven, and he hit his 10th homer on Monday. Maybe he’s finally settled in for the rest of this ride.
At an emotional press conference in Cleveland on Monday, new Delta State coach Rodney Batts made a resounding statement about his plans for the team: “It’s gonna be no different. I am a product of this program.” Batts played at DSU for Bill Marchant, who played for Boo Ferriss, the patriarch of the proud program. Batts coached at DSU under Mike Kinnison, who played for Ferriss. Batts is just the fourth coach at DSU in the last 57 years. “That kind of stability has really benefitted our program,” Kinnison said while introducing Batts, who spent the previous five years as head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Kinnison, now the DSU athletic director, said he wanted if at all possible to stay within the DSU coaching tree in hiring his replacement. He said Batts is “the right choice at the right time” as he symbolically turned over the keys to program. “I’m here because of you,” Batts said with a nod to Kinnison. Batts spent 19 years at DSU as a player, grad assistant, volunteer assistant and full-time assistant. He said through tears Monday that the DSU campus was home, and he knew he had made the right decision to come back when scores of former Statesmen players began texting him after the news broke last week. DSU, one of the strongest NCAA Division II programs in the country, owns a national championship – Batts was an assistant under Kinnison during that 2004 season – and expects to contend for another every year. Said Batts: “I understand the challenge. I understand what it takes.”