Different season, different league, same old Thomas Dillard. The former Ole Miss slugger, who led the independent Atlantic League in homers this summer, has hit three bombs in 11 games in the Mexican Pacific League, Mexico’s winter league. Dillard, a switch-hitting first baseman, belted 39 homers for Lexington in his first year of indy ball and batted .258 with 100 RBIs. Now playing for Culiacan, Dillard is hitting .308 with nine RBIs. As a senior at Oxford High in 2016, Dillard led the nation with 16 homers and went on to hit 31 in three years at UM, including 14 as a junior in 2019. He spent three seasons in Milwaukee’s system, belted 12 homers for Double-A Biloxi in 2022 but was released after the season. Playing for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks in the Atlantic League — a Triple-A caliber loop — and now in the MPL, Dillard is showing that he still has plenty of thunder in his bat. P.S. Blaine Crim, the ex-Mississippi College star who played in Triple-A for Texas this season, mashed a home run in his first game in the Dominican Winter League but has just one hit since. He is 2-for-20 for Escogido. Crim hit 22 homers for Round Rock this summer and has 83 homers in his four-year minor league career. Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who had a good year (.290, 13 homers) in Triple-A for Cincinnati, is hitting .278 with three doubles for Cibao in the DWL. Also in the league is Ole Miss product David Parkinson, who got a win with three scoreless innings of work in his only appearance to date for Escogido. Parkinson, on a bit of a roller coaster since being drafted by Philadelphia in 2017, spent most of the 2023 season in Double-A, going 9-5 for Reading.
There will be a small crowd of Mississippi-connected pitchers on the proverbial comeback trail when major league spring training camps open next month. MLB veterans Spencer Turnbull, Garrett Crochet and Drew Pomeranz and minor league prospects Ryan Rolison and Colby White missed the entire 2022 season rehabbing from arm injuries that required surgery. Ole Miss product Rolison and Mississippi State alum White appeared to be on the brink of their big league debut last season before injury shut them down. Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High star, hasn’t pitched in a game since May of 2021. The Detroit right-hander had Tommy John surgery that summer, shortly after throwing a no-hitter on May 18. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA over nine starts in 2021 and is 11-25, 4.25, for his MLB career with the Tigers. He is penciled in as one of their top starters, assuming he regains his 2021 form. Ocean Springs native Crochet, a flame-throwing left-hander with the Chicago White Sox, had Tommy John surgery last spring, a blow to the White Sox’s bullpen. Crochet, 23, exploded on the scene in 2020, shortly after being drafted out of Tennessee. He has a 2.54 ERA over his two MLB campaigns with 73 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. It’ll be interesting to see how his velocity is affected by the injury. Former Ole Miss star Pomeranz, now with San Diego, went down with a flexor tendon injury late in the 2021 season and had surgery that off-season. The big left-hander made some rehab appearances last summer but never made it back to the Padres’ active roster, missing all the drama of their ’22 season. Now 34, the former first-round pick had a 1.75 ERA as a key bullpen piece for the Padres in 2021 and carries a 3.91 career ERA. Rolison, another UM alum and former first-rounder, was derailed by shoulder surgery last year. The 25-year-old lefty, who has slipped on Colorado’s prospect list to No. 22, reached Triple-A in 2021. Over three minor league seasons, he is 12-12, 4.35, in 50 games. He’ll likely debut with the Rockies sometime this season. White, a Hattiesburg native drafted out of MSU in 2019, had Tommy John surgery last April after going to camp with Tampa Bay as a non-roster invitee. He made the 40-man this off-season. In 2021, the right-handed reliever, now 24, rose through four levels of the minors with the Rays. He had a 1.86 ERA at Triple-A Durham and in 58 pro games overall has a 1.76 ERA and 12 saves. His MLB debut may be coming soon. P.S. Here’s a prep player to watch in 2023 and beyond: Samuel Richardson, a junior third baseman at Lewisburg, was recognized by mlb.com as one of the top hitting prospects at last weekend’s DREAM Series in Arizona. Richardson, who played at Senatobia last year, was among the 80 players, predominantly African-American, invited to the annual instructional event held on MLK Day weekend and sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball. … Mel Rojas Jr., who played for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, got the walk-off hit on Wednesday night as Licey won the Dominican Winter League championship. Ex-M-Braves catcher and longtime big leaguer Jesus Sucre also plays for Licey.
Ryan Rolison and Ethan Small currently are polishing their pitching skills — and renewing their college rivalry — in the Dominican Winter League after finishing last season in Triple-A. When next we see these highly rated prospects in the States, they might just be rivals in the major leagues. Rolison, a left-hander out of Ole Miss, recently was added to Colorado’s 40-man roster; he’ll go to spring training vying for a rotation spot. Small, a lefty out of Mississippi State, likely will go to Milwaukee’s spring camp as a non-roster invitee with a real shot at making the club. Both have pitched exceedingly well in the DWR. Rolison, who had an injury-riddled 2021 minor league campaign, is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in five starts for Licey with 24 strikeouts in 20 innings. Small had a 1.98 ERA between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville and has carried that stuff into the winter season, going 2-1, 1.80 over five starts for Escogido.
Scanning the stat charts from the Dominican Winter League, a few familiar names pop up, including two Mississippi college products. Ex-Mississippi State star Nate Lowe, who played 21 games for Tampa Bay this past season, is getting some bonus work with Escogido, while former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis, who became a free agent last spring, is pitching for Cibao. Lowe, a 25-year-old first baseman, spent most of 2020 in the Rays’ alternate camp. He hit seven homers as a rookie in 2019 and four more this season; he played in one wild card game but was not on the postseason roster thereafter. “We believe that (Lowe’s power) can be an attraction in the league,” Escogido’s GM, Jose Gomez Frias, told en24.news. Ellis made one MLB appearance with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick in 2019, then was returned to St. Louis’ system. He had a shaky ’19 season in Triple-A and ultimately was released last May when big league clubs were purging their minor league rosters. Once a highly rated prospect, Ellis, 28, has 164 minor league appearances under his belt. He went 8-2 for the 2016 Mississippi Braves, two years after winning 10 games for Ole Miss. … The DWL season began Sunday. The Mexican Pacific League season also is under way; no Mississippians appear on the current rosters.
Following up on a fairly dominant 2019 season in Texas’ system, Demarcus Evans has posted seven scoreless outings in nine appearances in the Dominican Winter League. The big right-hander out of Petal High has a 2.60 ERA with nine strikeouts and seven walks in 10 innings for Escogido. In his fifth pro season, the 23-year-old Evans started 2019 in high Class A and finished it with Double-A Frisco, where he had an 0.96 ERA, six saves and 60 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings. He was, according to Baseball America, the only minor league pitcher to record triple-digit strikeouts in 60 or fewer innings. BA named Evans as the relief pitcher on its all-classification Minor League All-Star team, and he also made MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Year. Oddly enough, Evans, who became a fulltime reliever in 2017, is not currently among the Rangers’ Top 30 in MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings. He has a career 2.53 ERA and has averaged 13.7 punchouts per nine innings. … Ole Miss alum Chris Ellis has been extremely effective out of the bullpen for Monterrey in the Mexican Pacific League. He has a 0.50 ERA in 18 one-inning appearances. Ellis, 27, made one MLB appearance (for Kansas City) last season and spent the rest of the year with Triple-A Memphis in St. Louis’ system.
After a rough season in Triple-A, Chris Ellis is trying to iron some things out in the Mexican Pacific League. The former Ole Miss (and Mississippi Braves) right-hander has made two appearances for Monterrey, yielding a run on two hits in two innings. Ellis made his big league debut in March with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick but was promptly returned to the St. Louis organization and spent the season at Triple-A Memphis. He was 5-5 with a 7.18 ERA. … Also playing winter ball are Mississippi State product Jacob Robson and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque, both Detroit farmhands. Robson, who batted .267 with nine homers and 25 steals at Triple-A Toledo, is off to a 3-for-9 start with a homer for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. Scivicque, a onetime M-Braves catcher, is 2-for-7 in two games for Gigantes del Cibao of the DWL. He hit .295 with nine homers this year between Triple-A and Double-A. P.S. Neither of the Mississippi college products on the National League Championship Series teams has had an impact heading into Game 3 tonight in Washington. Former Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier played two innings at second base for the Nationals as part of a double-switch in Game 2. He didn’t bat. Ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson is slated to start Game 4 for St. Louis on Tuesday; he did not work in the first two games.
Cody Reed’s strong finish this past season has attracted attention. The left-hander out of Horn Lake and Northwest Mississippi Community College is ranked the No. 2 prospect in Cincinnati’s organization by Baseball America. Reed, a second-round pick by Kansas City in 2013, reached Double-A in the Royals’ system last summer before being traded to the Reds as part of the Johnny Cueto deal. He went to Double-A Pensacola of the Southern League and put up a 6-2 record with a 2.17 ERA in eight starts for a Blue Wahoos team that made the postseason. The 6-foot-5 Reed had 60 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 49 2/3 innings. Rated the No. 9 prospect by mlb.com, Reed’s big league arrival date is projected as 2018. He may get there well before that. … Wondering if Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State All-American from Tupelo, might work his way into San Francisco’s rotation next spring. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, rated the No. 14 prospect in the Giants’ system by mlb.com but not yet on the 40-man roster, finished 2015 at Triple-A Sacramento, going 4-5 with a 3.86 ERA. Stratton was a first-round pick in 2012 whose pro career got off to a rocky start when he was hit in the head by a batted ball during a practice. But he may have proved himself ready for a chance at The Show last summer, and the Giants need some arms. … Jackson native Donnie Veal, in his 11th year of pro ball, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League, where he has not allowed a run in seven appearances (2 2/3 innings) for Cibaenas. Veal spent some time with Atlanta last season (14.54 ERA) and Triple-A Gwinnett (no earned runs in 16 innings) before landing in the independent Atlantic League. The left-hander had a 1.45 ERA in 20 games for Long Island. … Also in the DWL is Hattiesburg native Robert Carson, another erstwhile big leaguer who pitched in the Atlantic League (with Bridgeport) this season. Carson, a lefty, has a 4.76 ERA in eight games for Cibao.
It’ll be interesting to see how ex-Mississippi Braves standout Todd Cunningham fits into Atlanta’s plans in 2015. Cunningham, a switch-hitting outfielder, is batting .282 with five runs and two steals through 11 games with Licey in the Dominican Winter League. This after batting .287 with eight homers, 58 RBIs and 19 bags at Triple-A Gwinnett this past season. Cunningham, a second-round pick out of Jacksonville State in Alabama in 2010, has hit at every level, including a 2-for-8 showing in the big leagues in 2013. With the M-Braves in 2012, he impressed with a .309 average, three homers, 51 RBIs and 24 steals. He is currently leading off for Licey and playing center field. He can play anywhere in the outfield, which might make him a valuable piece for the remodeled Braves. P.S. John Lindsey, the veteran slugger from Hattiesburg, has nine homers through 21 games in the Mexican Pacific League. He is batting .282 with 20 RBIs for Navojoa.
Four months from today, the Mississippi Braves will open the 2015 season — their 11th at Trustmark Park in Pearl — against the Tennessee Smokies. Sure, it’s a little early to start a countdown … but what the heck. Here’s a shot in the dark at how the team might line up come April 9. At catcher, Tyler Tewell, who batted .251 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs at Class A Lynchburg. Braeden Schlehuber (.230, 41 RBIs for the M-Braves) could return at that spot. At first base, Seth Loman, the minor league veteran who was re-signed after hitting .261 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs in an injury-interrupted campaign. At second base, Emerson Landoni, who batted .271 for the M-Braves before getting sent down to open the job for rising prospect Jose Peraza. At shortstop, Daniel Castro, another midseason call-up from Lynchburg who batted .277 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 51 games. At third base, Kevin Ahrens, a former Toronto first-rounder who hit .266 with seven homers, 65 RBIs and 41 doubles at Lynchburg. In the outfield, David Rohm (.255 in Mississippi), Will Skinner (.253, 11 homers, 52 RBIs at Lynchburg) and Cuban Dian Tascano, 25, who reportedly agreed to terms with Atlanta on Monday and needs some minor league seasoning. Also in the outfield picture are Matt Lipka and Robby Hefflinger, each coming off a poor, injury-marred season. The rotation may well be headed by Lucas Sims, Atlanta’s top pick in 2012 who went 8-11 with a 4.19 ERA at Lynchburg, or Tyrell Jenkins, acquired from St. Louis in the Jason Heyward deal. Greg Ross (7-3, 2.08) impressed with the M-Braves in 2014, and Jarrett Miller (8-9, 4.04) was a steady arm in Lynchburg. J.R. Graham, who had a rough 2014 coming back from injury, might well be back in the bullpen. Alex Wilson (16 saves, 2.02 ERA) was an outstanding closer at Lynchburg. As for who’ll be managing the 2015 M-Braves, Atlanta has not yet announced its minor league staff assignments, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Aaron Holbert back at the helm for a fourth year. He has done a commendable job. P.S. Former Petal High star Anthony Alford is plugging away with decent results in the Australian Baseball League. Alford, a Toronto prospect, is hitting just .239 but has a .346 on-base percentage and 21 runs in 18 games as Canberra’s leadoff batter. He hit his second homer on Sunday. … Former Hattiesburg High standout Robert Carson, hoping to get back to the big leagues, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League and has not allowed a run in three appearances for the Gigantes del Cibao. The big left-hander, who has a 6.82 career ERA in 31 MLB games (all with the New York Mets), is now in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system, his third organization.
The calendar still says 2014, but in a real sense the 2015 season already has started for Tyler Moore. And it has started well. The former Northwest Rankin High, Meridian Community College and Mississippi State star hit his fourth home run on Sunday in the Dominican Winter League. Moore has 10 hits all told in 28 at-bats (.357) with 10 RBIs for Toros del Este. Moore, who spent most of 2014 with Triple-A Syracuse, will go to spring training in February vying for an MLB roster spot with Washington – or perhaps with some other big league club. The right-handed slugger, who has spent parts of three seasons in the majors with the Nationals, has 18 career MLB homers and 106 minor league bombs. P.S. Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford, returning to baseball in Toronto’s system, will play the outfield for Canberra in the Australian Baseball League. The Cavalry’s season starts Nov. 6. Alford, the former Ole Miss and Southern Miss football player, is joined on the Canberra roster by Marcus Lemon, a onetime Mississippi Braves player who is the son of Jackson native and former MLB star Chet Lemon.