A pair of former Mississippi high school standouts will be on center stage today and Saturday for MLB Network’s afternoon showcase games. George County High product Justin Steele, the National League ERA leader, starts today (1:20 p.m.) for the Chicago Cubs against Miami at Wrigley Field. Left-hander Steele is 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA (and a 0.96 WHIP) in six starts. He faced the Marlins in his last outing, getting a no-decision despite yielding just two runs in six innings. On Saturday (1:15 p.m.), Madison Central alumnus Spencer Turnbull will be on the bump for Detroit against St. Louis (and Adam Wainwright) at Busch Stadium. Turnbull, returning this season from almost two years on the shelf following arm surgery, is 1-4 with a 6.84 in six starts. The right-hander has lasted just four innings in each of his previous two outings. Before getting hurt in May 2021, he was 4-2 with a 2.88 and a no-hitter on his resume. P.S. Philadelphia has designated former Ole Miss star James McArthur for assignment. The right-hander, yet to make the big leagues in six pro seasons, has a 7.31 ERA in Triple-A this season. He’ll likely clear waivers and remain in the organization.
The current list of National League ERA leaders includes an array of familiar names, from Clayton Kershaw to Marcus Stroman to Atlanta sensation Spencer Strider. But the leader of this pack is a left-hander from Mississippi who is having a breakout season. Justin Steele, former George County High standout, trimmed his ERA to a 1.19 by throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday in the Chicago Cubs’ 6-0 win against San Diego at frigid Wrigley Field. Steele is 4-0 — tied for the NL lead in wins — over five starts with victories against the Padres, Oakland, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas. “I’ve just been trying my hardest to be consistent …,” Steele said in an Associated Press article. He has gone at least 5 1/3 in each of his starts and hasn’t allowed more than four hits or two runs in any of them. His WHIP is 0.89. Drafted out of high school in 2014 (fifth round) by the Cubs, Steele battled through injuries before finally reaching the majors in 2021. He moved into the Cubs’ rotation last year and went 4-7, 3.18, in 24 outings. That effort appears to have been just a tease about what was to come.
Justin Steele’s spring debut was pushed back a few days because he was feeling some fatigue in his left arm. The former George County High star appeared to have plenty of zip in that wing on Friday night, when he threw two perfect innings as the front man in the Chicago Cubs’ seven-man no-hitter against San Diego. In a Cactus League game televised on MLB Network, Steele breezed — 18 pitches — through a Padres lineup that included Trent Grisham, Jake Cronenworth, Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz. After doing an in-game interview from the dugout, the 27-year-old lefty threw 25 more pitches in the bullpen. “Their lineup is going to be really good,” Steele said of the Padres in an mlb.com story. “It’s good to get out there and compete again.” In his second MLB season in 2022, Steele went 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts for a sub-.500 Cubs team. He reportedly worked long hours in the off-season adding a change-up (which he didn’t have to roll out Friday) to his arsenal. Steele slots in as perhaps the No. 3 starter for a Chicago team that spent some big money in the off-season to make a postseason push. “He’s one of the guys we’re gonna rely heavily on,” Cubs manager David Ross told mlb.com. P.S. Ex-Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Detroit’s No. 4-rated prospect (per MLB Pipeline), hit his first career spring homer on Friday in a Grapefruit League contest against Philadelphia. Keith, a non-roster invitee in Tigers camp, hit .301 with nine homers in High-Class A last season, his second as a pro.
Seven years ago, the Chicago Cubs selected Justin Steele in the fifth round of the amateur draft out of George County High. On Monday, the left-hander from Lucedale made his big league debut, completing a long journey full of ups and downs. Steele, 25, came on in relief at Milwaukee and struck out the first batter he faced to end an inning. He then battled through the next frame, escaping a base-loaded jam without yielding a run. Steele was twice an organization All-Star in the Cubs’ system and has a career ERA of 3.62 in the minors. He also made a lot of trips to the injured list, which limited him to 80 appearances from 2014-19. He spent last season at the Cubs’ alternate site. Steele was recalled from that camp on Monday when the Cubs placed three pitchers on the COVID-19 list. How long he’ll remain on the active roster isn’t certain, but after seven years, he is officially in the MLB books. That in itself is quite an achievement.
George County High is getting a lot of love in the national polls, especially from Collegiate Baseball Magazine. CB has the Rebels at No. 5 in its most recent rankings (March 11); Brandon Davis’ team has won three times since that poll was released to improve to 12-0. MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 poll puts George County at No. 7, and Perfect Game has the Rebels ninth in the nation. Catcher/pitcher Logan Tanner, a Mississippi State commit, is the team’s star attraction. He is batting .448 with two homers and 18 RBIs and is 4-0 with a 0.81 ERA on the bump. But Tanner is hardly a lone star: Senior Ethan Coleman is batting .529 with 20 runs, and senior Trevor McDonald is 5-0, 0.29. DeSoto Central (13-2) also shows up in the Perfect Game Top 50 poll at No. 29. MaxPreps produces a computer ranking, and on that chart, Brandon is the top team in the state and 38th in the nation. The Bulldogs (11-4) are led by Kellum Clark, a junior who’s raking at .500 with seven home runs, and Trey McCormick, 3-0 with a 1.31. No. 2 in the state per MaxPreps’ computer is Biloxi (13-2). The Indians feature Cade Mohan (.351) and Matthew Delano (4-0, 0.78). … Jerrion Ealy, generally regarded as the state’s top prep pro prospect, is off to a great start in his senior season at Jackson Prep, batting .425 with nine doubles, 12 RBIs, 16 runs and eight steals in 13 games. The two-sport star has signed with Ole Miss.
Jackson Prep two-sport standout Jerrion Ealy will pick a college on football’s National Signing Day next week, and four months later a major league baseball club will pick him, possibly in the first round of the draft. A lot of folks are very interested to see what path Ealy, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound running back/outfielder, will take. “(A)ll options are on the table right now,” he recently told an ESPN writer. Ealy, who was once committed to Ole Miss but is now considering other schools, as well, could pass on the pro offer and play both sports in college. He could try to play pro baseball in the summer and college football in the fall, keeping the NFL in view. Or he could forget football and focus on baseball. Ealy is likely to go high enough in the June draft that he’ll receive an appealing bonus offer. “(He has) upside and athleticism you do see go very early in the draft just because there are such few kids like that throughout the country,” a scout told ESPN. From Perfect Game’s scouting report: “Has all the tools to be an All-Star type player.” For what it’s worth, ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford tried the pro baseball/college football duet and wound up dropping football; he is currently on Toronto’s major league roster. Ole Miss star receiver A.J. Brown, who’ll go high in the upcoming NFL draft, also has a pro baseball contract; a 19th-round pick out of Starkville High by San Diego in 2016, he has gone to extended spring training with the Padres the past three years but has not yet played a minor league game. Former UM defensive back Senquez Golson passed on a lucrative offer to play pro baseball out of Pascagoula High and was ultimately drafted in the NFL; plagued by injuries – always a major concern in that sport – he has yet to play in a regular season game. P.S. Interesting that five of the players named to The Clarion-Ledger’s Dandy Dozen for 2019 are catchers, including the best player on what might be the state’s best team. George County High, runner-up in MHSAA Class 6A in 2018, is the lone Mississippi school appearing in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s preseason Top 30 poll. The Rebels, 27-6 last year, are ranked No. 21. There were no state schools in CB’s final 2018 poll. George County’s top player is Logan Tanner, a pitcher/catcher who went 8-2, 1.64 ERA and batted .341 in 2018. The Rebels open Feb. 19 in Lucedale against Pascagoula.
After a sluggish start at the Triple-A level, Mason Robbins has kicked into gear the last couple of weeks. The former George County High and Southern Miss star is batting .385 over his last 10 games for Charlotte, the Chicago White Sox’s top minor league affiliate. Robbins was hitting just .227 through 18 games for the Knights when he hit his first homer on May 29. Something may have clicked. In his next game, the lefty-hitting corner outfielder went 3-for-4, and he’s been rolling ever since, lifting his average to .284. He has two homers, 17 RBIs, 14 runs, four doubles and three triples. Robbins, 25 and in his fifth pro season, has hit at every level, sporting a .285 career average. He has acknowledged that he needs to hit for more power. For some, that’s the last tool to develop, and it might be the key for Robbins to reach the big leagues. P.S. Robbins’ brother Walker, a fifth-round pick out of George County by St. Louis in 2016, is on the roster of the rookie-level Johnson City club, which opens next week. Walker Robbins, also a lefty-hitting outfielder, has hit .179 over his first two seasons. Expect him to pick it up in 2018. … A third Robbins brother, Logan, went 7-1 with a 4.66 ERA this season as a redshirt junior at Louisiana Tech. The left-hander was not drafted. Logan Robbins was undefeated (18-0) as a starter at Jones County Junior College and his only loss at LaTech came in a C-USA contest against USM.