23 May

you gotta be impressed

Kemp Alderman, following what his coach called one of the best individual seasons in Ole Miss history, won the Ferriss Trophy on Monday during a ceremony in Philadelphia. The junior from Decatur and Newton County Academy joins a list of previous Ferriss winners that includes Hunter Renfroe, Drew Pomeranz, Brent Rooker, Chris Stratton and Nick Sandlin. Alderman was among five deserving finalists for the 2023 award, given annually to the best player in the state by the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. As the five were being introduced prior to the announcement, it was tempting to fantasize about the type of club you could build around just this group. They are that good. In the leadoff spot, you’d have Ty Hill from Jackson State. The Saltillo native carried a .400 average most of the season before slipping to .390. He hit six homers, drove in 53 runs, scored 50, stole eight bases and drew 49 walks, posting a .524 on-base percentage. “He’d have more hits, but they won’t pitch to him,” JSU broadcaster Rob Jay said. Slot Slade Wilks in the 2-hole. The Southern Miss junior from Columbia hit .305 with 18 homers, 53 RBIs and a .650 slugging percentage. “What a player he has been,” USM coach Scott Berry said. “I’ve never had anybody who hits it as hard as Slade.” Berry recounted seeing Wilks hit a ball into the pines beyond right field at Taylor Park in Hattiesburg — as a 9th-grader. Alderman would hit third. He put up a .376 average, 19 homers, 61 RBIs, a .440 on-base average and a .709 slug. “He hits it as hard and as far anybody I’ve ever seen,” Rebels coach Mike Bianco said. Alderman didn’t have an immediate impact in Oxford. “To his credit, he went to work,” Bianco said. “He kept getting better and better.” Alderman thanked his coach for giving him the opportunity to play at his “dream school.” Mississippi State’s Hunter Hines fits the cleanup mold. The sophomore from Madison Central hit .297 with 22 homers, 61 RBIs and a .683 slug. “From his first BP (batting practice) until now, he’s been the best hitter in our program,” said State coach Chris Lemonis. “He loves to hit … and hunt.” Every team needs an ace, and USM’s Tanner Hall has certainly been that. The junior right-hander from Louisiana won the 2022 Ferriss Trophy and is having arguably a better 2023 season. He was 11-3 with a 2.45 ERA, a .203 average against and 100 strikeouts with 30 walks in 88 innings. “He’s had amazing back-to-back years,” Berry said. “He started every first game of every Sun Belt series and won nine of the 10.” You could round out the roster of this fantasy club with other players from the more than a dozen Ferriss nominees, some of which were all-conference selections at the smaller schools. The state is brimming with talent.

12 May

five for the ferriss

Each of the state’s so-called Big 4 NCAA Division I schools is represented among the five finalists for the Ferriss Trophy, given annually to the state’s best player by the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. The 2023 finalists are Kemp Alderman of Ole Miss, Tanner Hall from Southern Miss, Ty Hill of Jackson State, Hunter Hines from Mississippi State and Slade Wilks of USM. Hall, the only pitcher in the group, won the trophy in 2022. Previous winners include current big leaguers Chris Stratton, Hunter Renfroe, Nick Sandlin and Brent Rooker. The 2023 Ferriss Trophy, named in honor of former major leaguer and legendary Delta State coach Boo Ferriss, is sponsored by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the Pearl River Resort. The ceremony is set for May 22 at the resort in Philadelphia.

23 May

the winner is …

Here’s a bit of topical trivia: Who was the first Ferriss Trophy winner to make the big leagues? It was Drew Pomeranz, who debuted with Colorado in 2011, a year after he won the Ferriss and was drafted in the first round (fifth overall) by Cleveland. The 2022 Ferriss Trophy, given annually to the state’s best player at a four-year school, was awarded today to Southern Miss pitcher Tanner Hall during a ceremony at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Hall, 20, just a sophomore, may get his shot at pro ball and the big leagues someday. Only one of the first six Ferriss winners made the major leagues; Ed Easley (2007) got a cup of coffee with St. Louis in 2015. Ole Miss alum Pomeranz is still playing, though the big left-hander is currently on the injured list with San Diego. Last year’s winner, Mississippi State’s Tanner Allen, is in High-Class A with Miami, currently batting .233. The 2019 winner, State’s Jake Mangum (who also won as a freshman in 2016) is in Double-A in the New York Mets’ chain, hitting .283. Three other previous winners are now in the majors: Chris Stratton (Pittsburgh), Hunter Renfroe (Milwaukee) and Nick Sandlin (Cleveland). Brent Rooker, who made his MLB debut in 2020, is in Triple-A with San Diego.

19 May

the final five

The most familiar name on the list of finalists for the 2022 Ferriss Trophy is Tim Elko, who is enjoying a monster fifth year in the Ole Miss program. The other four have put up numbers impressive enough to separate themselves from a huge field of candidates and merit recognition from the coaches and scouts who pick the final five. The Ferriss Trophy, named for legendary coach Boo Ferriss and first awarded in 2004, goes to the most outstanding four-year college player in the state. The winner will be announced in a ceremony on Monday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson. Joining Elko on the list are R.J. Yeager of Mississippi State, Southern Miss’ Tanner Hall, Delta State’s Harrison Haley and Brett Sanchez of Belhaven. Elko is batting .301 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs for the resurgent Rebels, who have seemingly recovered from a midseason slump. Yeager, in his first season at MSU as a grad transfer from Mercer, has been a consistent hitter for an inconsistent club, batting .328 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs. Hall is a sophomore right-hander who emerged as an ace in 2022 on a strong USM pitching staff that carried the team into the top 10 earlier this season; he is 7-2 with a 2.60 ERA. Haley, a former Hinds Community College standout from Madison, is in his first year at Delta State after transferring from Southeastern Louisiana. He is 10-1 with a 3.84 ERA for an NCAA Division II regional team. Sanchez has been at Belhaven for three seasons after starting his career at Dakota State. The right-hander went 8-1 with a 2.01 for the Division III Blazers, who went 28-16, most wins for the program in seven years. In 2009, Belhaven two-way star Craig Westcott won the Ferriss Trophy and remains the only winner from a school other than the “Big 3” D-I programs; BU was NAIA at the time. State’s Tanner Allen was the 2021 winner. Previous winners include current big leaguers Drew Pomeranz, Hunter Renfroe, Chris Stratton and Nick Sandlin.

25 May

trophy tradition

Kudos to Tanner Allen, the Mississippi State standout who was a most-deserving winner of the Ferriss Trophy, awarded to the state’s best player by the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Allen, also named the SEC Player of the Year, has filled the stat sheet all season for the highly ranked Bulldogs. The Alabama native has a .387 batting average, .618 slugging average, eight homers, 53 RBIs, 54 runs and eight stolen bases. A lefty-hitting outfielder, Allen likely will be a fairly high pick in this summer’s MLB draft. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 149 prospect. It’s interesting to note that five of the previous nine Ferriss winners have reached the big leagues: Drew Pomeranz, Chris Stratton, Hunter Renfroe, Brent Rooker and Nick Sandlin. All but Rooker, back in Triple-A, are currently in The Show. (Pomeranz is on the injured list.) The most recent Ferriss winner, Jake Mangum, is in Double-A. Mangum won the award in 2019 – it wasn’t given in 2020 – and also in 2016, when he was the first freshman to receive it. P.S. The inaugural HBCU World Series has been cancelled. MEAC champion Norfolk State opted not to play in the event that was scheduled for this weekend at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. Southern University would have represented the SWAC.

11 May

who’s it gonna be?

When you’ve got three NCAA Division I programs ranked in the Top 25 and a fourth with an unbeaten conference season, an NAIA program with a conference title under its belt and a D-II team currently battling for a league crown, you’re going to have a bunch of players with great numbers. Only one can win the Ferriss Trophy, given annually to the state’s best. The finalists have been named: Tanner Allen and Landon Sims from Mississippi State and Kevin Graham, Gunnar Hoglund and Doug Nikhazy of Ole Miss. Outfielder Allen is having a monster year for a top five team: .379, eight homers, 46 RBIs, 50 runs. Sims, the Bulldogs’ closer, is 3-0 with six saves and a 0.56 ERA in 14 appearances. Outfielder/first baseman Graham is batting .339 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs, 44 runs for UM, and pitchers Hoglund (4-2, 2.87, 96 punchouts) and Nikhazy (6-2, 2.47), both highly rated MLB draft prospects, have been outstanding, though Hoglund is now shelved with an arm injury. Consider for a moment the players who didn’t make the final five: Bulldogs pitcher Will Bednar has eye-catching stats: 5-1, 3.31 ERA, 80 strikeouts in 49 innings. And he’s a highly rated draft prospect, too. Rebels reliever Taylor Broadway has nine saves, four wins and a 2.73 ERA in 19 games. Reed Trimble has been Southern Miss’ most productive hitter — .306, 10 homers, 45 RBIs, 43 runs – while Walker Powell (8-2) and Ben Ethridge (6-1) have sparkled on the mound. Jackson State (24-0 in the SWAC), which has never had a Ferriss winner, rolls out Ty Hill (.431), Chenar Brown (.357, eight homers, 45 RBIs), Nik Galatas (9-2) and Anthony Becerra (8-1). Then there’s the small schools. NAIA William Carey, SSAC champion, features two-way star Sloan Dieter (.331, 15 homers, 52 RBIs and an 8-2, 1.89 pitching ledger). And at D-II Delta State, Jake Barlow is hitting .314 with 17 homers, most in the state, and 58 RBIs. The winner will be named on May 24. Only one can win. It’s a tough call. P.S. A future Ferriss winner or two might be playing in this week’s MAIS Class 5A championship series, which will be loaded with NCAA Division I talent. The pitching staffs alone feature Riley Maddox (Ole Miss signee), Mason Nichols (Ole Miss) and Will Gibbs (Mississippi State) of Jackson Prep and Bryce Chance (Mississippi State), Niko Mazza (Southern Miss) and Brayden Jones (Ole Miss) of MRA. Prep (33-3) is No. 2 in MaxPreps’ state rankings, MRA (27-9) No. 7.

01 May

debut alert

Former Southern Miss star Nick Sandlin worked a 1-2-3 inning, capped by a strikeout, in his major league debut today for Cleveland. The sidearming right-hander, who had former big league catcher A.J. Pierzynski raving about his stuff on the FS1 broadcast, retired the Chicago White Sox’s Leury Garcia on a fly ball, Tim Anderson on a bouncer to third base and Adam Eaton via punchout in the sixth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. Sandlin was a second-round pick by the Indians out of USM in 2018 and posted a 2.68 ERA over 49 minor league games. He was a true ace at USM, going 13-5 with 20 saves as the closer in 2016-17 and 10-0 with a 1.06 ERA as a starter in 2018. He was the Ferriss Trophy winner that final season.

28 Apr

double duty

Far from the bright lights of the big leagues, where Shohei Ohtani is generating lots of buzz for his two-way heroics, Sloan Dieter of William Carey University is doing some impressive double-duty stuff down in Hattiesburg. A senior from Lake Charles, La., Dieter was named on Monday the Southern States Athletic Conference’s player of the week for last week. It was the second straight week he has won the award and the fourth time in his three years at WCU he has claimed it. He has also won the SSAC pitcher of the week award three times. Last week, Dieter, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander, hit .583 with two homers, five RBIs and five runs as the Crusaders went 5-0. He also threw a seven-hit shutout with nine strikeouts last week. He is batting .333 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs for the 30-10 Crusaders and has posted a 7-2 record with a 1.81 ERA. He rates some Ferriss Trophy consideration. For his college career, Dieter is batting .307 with 25 homers and has a 17-5 record with a 2.94 ERA.

17 May

while we wait

As we await the announcement on Monday of the 2019 Ferriss Trophy winner, it feels like a good time to check in on the last two winners of the state’s top college player award, both now in the minor leagues. Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin, last year’s honoree, is dealing at Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. The sidearming right-hander, a second-round pick last June, has an 0.79 ERA in 10 games (11 1/3 innings) with 17 strikeouts. He earned his first save with a two-inning effort on Thursday night, fanning four of the eight batters he faced. Sandlin zipped through four levels of the minors in 2018, topping out at Akron, and posted a 3.00 ERA, two wins and five saves in 25 games. The Indians moved Sandlin back to the bullpen after he served as the No. 1 starter for USM last year. The 2017 Ferriss winner, Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, moved quickly up Minnesota’s ladder after being a supplemental first-rounder in June ’17, starting this season at Triple-A Rochester. But the righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman has scuffled at the new level, batting just .222 with six homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 43 times in 90 at-bats. Rooker hit 40 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. P.S. Cody Reed, the veteran lefty out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, was recalled today by Cincinnati from Triple-A Louisville. He got into one game with the Reds earlier this season and has 40 appearances over the past four years.

12 Apr

where are they now?

There were seven former Ferriss Trophy winners still playing in 2018, three in the big leagues, three in the minors and one still in college. The number is down to six now. Auston Bousfield, the 2014 winner of the prestigious college award while at Ole Miss, announced his retirement prior to the start of spring training. He finished last year in Triple-A in the San Diego system, batting .239 at El Paso. That was also his career average over five seasons. Drafted in the fifth round in 2014, that summer in short-season Class A might’ve been his best. Of the 15 Ferriss winners to date, four have made the majors: the current crop of Drew Pomeranz, Chris Stratton and Hunter Renfroe plus Ed Easley, who retired a couple of years ago. Brent Rooker, the 2017 winner after his monster season at Mississippi State, is currently in Triple-A with Minnesota and will get the big league call soon enough. Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin, last year’s winner, is currently assigned to Double-A by Cleveland. Jake Mangum, the only freshman Ferriss winner, is still banging out hits at State, having been drafted twice already. He could become the first two-time Ferriss winner.