Demarcus Evans and Garrett Crochet made their major league debuts on Friday night, but the two former Mississippi prep standouts took very different paths to The Show. Their results were a little different, too. Evans, a 25th-round draft pick out of Petal High by Texas in 2015, spent five years honing his craft in the minors; he posted a 0.90 ERA in 2019. First batter he faced on Friday: Albert Pujols. The Los Angeles Angels’ future Hall of Famer sent Evans’ second pitch — a 93-mph fastball — over the wall in Anaheim for his 662nd career home run. Evans plunked the next batter, Justin Upton, but the the 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander got out of his only inning with no further damage. Crochet, an Ocean Springs High alum who pitched at Tennessee the last three years, was drafted 11th overall in June by the Chicago White Sox. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound lefty became the first player since Brandon Finnegan with Kansas City in 2014 to make his MLB debut in the same year he was drafted. For Crochet, who has been working out in the White Sox’s alternate camp, this was his first professional game. First batter he faced: Brian Goodwin of Cincinnati. Crochet struck him out, then struck out the next batter and retired the third on a grounder to first base. He threw six of his 13 pitches at 100 mph or more, including two clocked at 101-plus, in his lone inning. “I felt like I was on top of the world and just truly living the dream,” he told mlb.com. It was surely a dream come true for Evans, as well, and he’ll have better days. Crochet has set his bar pretty high. It’s gonna be fun to see what they do next.
The long wait for the call to the big leagues came on Tuesday. Now Demarcus Evans waits, anxiously no doubt, for the call to the Texas bullpen that will signal his MLB debut. There’s a fair chance it’ll come tonight when the Rangers play the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Former Petal High star Evans, a 25th-round pick by the Rangers in 2015, is a 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander with tantalizing stuff: an exploding fastball and sharp-breaking curve. “He’s going to come at you with a pretty good fastball—probably one of the best fastballs I’ve seen,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said in a Sports Illustrated story. Evans reportedly has been throwing well in the alternate camp. He had an exceptional 2019 season, split between high-A and Double-A. In 60 innings, he struck out 100 batters (with 39 walks) and posted a 0.90 ERA. Baseball America named Evans the closer on its all-classification minor league All-Star team. Having switched from starter to reliever during the 2017 season, he has averaged almost 14 strikeouts per nine innings over his pro career. … Considering the offensive struggles Cleveland has been experiencing, it’s a wonder the Indians haven’t given Bobby Bradley a call. The former Harrison Central High standout, who is in their alternate camp in Eastlake, Ohio, could add some thunder to a club that ranks near the bottom of the majors in runs and home runs. The lefty-hitting first baseman/DH has 147 homers over six minor league campaigns and has hit 27 or more in a season four times. He hit 33 at Triple-A Columbus last year, plus another during his brief big league stint. Scouting reports say the 24-year-old Bradley has power to all fields. Sports Illustrated noted earlier this year that the Indians “need to know if they have an MLB-ready first baseman waiting in the wings” to replace Carlos Santana next year. What better time to get a clue. The Indians have lost seven in a row and entered play today in third place, 6 games out, in the American League Central, clinging to the second wild card.
As we watch for the next Mississippian to break through in the big leagues, it’s worth noting that a great debut really isn’t much of a predictor about a player’s career. Some superstars had forgettable first games, and plenty of short-term journeymen started off with a bang. Take the case of Meredith “Mo” Sanford, the former Starkville High star who had an MLB debut that made jaws drop back in 1991. Sanford was a 6-foot-6, 220-pound right-hander whose potential in high school was intriguing enough that a Rolling Stone writer, looking for the “next big thing,” visited Starkville and did a feature for the magazine in the spring of 1984. “I’m not telling you this kid can throw a baseball through a car wash without getting it wet,” a scout told the Rolling Stone writer. “He’s still kind of raw. He’s big and he throws hard and he just turned seventeen and he’s going to get better and who the hell really knows?” Sanford threw hard enough to get drafted in the third round in ’84 by the New York Yankees. He opted instead for a scholarship to Alabama, where he labored rather unspectacularly for four years. He was drafted as a senior in 1988 by Cincinnati in Round 32. Under the tutelage of pro instructors, Sanford pitched well in the minors, advanced quickly and on Aug. 9, 1991, got the call to the majors. He started against San Diego, and in the bottom of the first inning he struck out, in succession, Bip Roberts, Tony Fernandez and Tony Gwynn. He wound up going seven innings, allowing two hits and a lone, unearned run in the Reds’ 5-1 victory. He punched out eight, walked one. Unfortunately, Sanford never quite bottled that lightning again, finishing 2-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 27 games spread over three seasons with three different clubs. His last MLB appearance came with Minnesota in 1995, a forgettable outing (three runs in 2/3 of an inning) against Milwaukee. He pitched in various pro leagues for five more years, chasing the magic of Aug. 9, 1991.
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.
It didn’t take long for Bobby Bradley to endear himself to Cleveland fans. In the top of the first inning of his big league debut on Sunday, the first baseman from Gulfport made a nice catch going back on a foul pop. In the second inning, on the second pitch he saw, Bradley stroked a deep fly ball to left field that hit near the corner and bounced into the Progressive Field stands for a run-scoring ground-rule double. On SiriusXM radio, Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton screeched with excitement. Bradley later scored on a throwing error as the Indians bolted ahead en route to an 8-3 win over Detroit. Fans gave Bradley an ovation when he was lifted for a pinch runner after drawing a walk in the eighth inning to cap his 1-for-3 debut. “Just unreal,” Bradley told mlb.com. “I think it’s gonna kick in for me at some point today that today actually happened. I mean, it’s a day I’ll never forget.” Bradley, 23, has been a highly rated prospect in the Indians’ system since he was drafted in the third round out of Harrison Central High in 2014. He won three minor league home run titles as he rose through the system and was leading the International League at the time of his call-up. Family and friends were in the stadium for his debut. He is the 16th Mississippi high school product to play in The Show in 2019. P.S. Bradley wasn’t the only Mississippian to produce a highlight or two on Sunday. Richton High alum JaCoby Jones led off the Tigers-Indians game with his ninth homer of the year and then added another hit. Wheeler High product Brandon Woodruff notched his ninth win of the year and struck out a career-high 12 as Milwaukee beat Cincinnati. Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton went 2-for-3 with a run and two steals in Kansas City’s victory. Brookhaven Academy alum Corey Dickerson and Mississippi State product Adam Frazier had pinch hits for Pittsburgh and Tupelo High alum Chris Stratton tossed a scoreless inning in the Pirates’ amazing 11-10, 11-inning win against San Diego. Former Copiah Academy standout Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Padres. Itawamba AHS alum Brian Dozier had a pinch hit in a losing cause for Washington, and East Central Community College product Tim Anderson went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a loss for the Chicago White Sox.
DeSoto Central High, the only Mississippi school appearing in the Collegiate Baseball and MaxPreps national rankings, starts its postseason journey against visiting Warren Central on Thursday in the second round of the MHSAA Class 6A North playoffs. The Jaguars are 26-2, ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball and 11th by MaxPreps. Sophomore third baseman Blaze Jordan leads the Jags’ attack with a .448 average, eight homers and 38 RBIs. The Mississippi State commit was the MaxPreps national player of the week for April 8-14, when he went 8-for-9 with three homers and nine RBIs (eight in one game). Junior outfielder Kyle Booker is batting .417 with 34 runs, and senior Colby Crocker (6-1, 1.09 ERA) leads a strong pitching staff. Warren Central, which beat Tupelo in the first round, is 20-9-1. … DeSoto Central may be on a collision course for the state championship with Biloxi (25-3), which is actually rated above the Jaguars in MaxPreps’ computer poll. Biloxi starts 6A South postseason play at home against Petal on Thursday. Senior catcher Nick Skaggs leads the Indians, batting .374 with four homers and 37 RBIs. … The 6A championship series is slated to start May 15 at Pearl’s Trustmark Park.
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.
It’s no shocker, really, that Florida high schools produce more pro baseball players per capita than any other state. Lot of athletes, lot of warm weather. From 2011-17, 1,311 Sunshine State products appeared on MLB-affiliated rosters, which comes to 4.16 players per 100,000 people, according to a study by Baseball America published in its Sept. 7-21 issue. Fourth on this list is — drumroll, please — Mississippi, with 3.31 players per 100,000 people. That’s more per capita than California, Texas, Arizona or Louisiana, to name a few. That’s kind of amazing. Magnolia State high schools produced 149 pros in the seven-year span that BA surveyed. Hattiesburg — presumably, the baseball-rich Pine Belt area — produced 11, earning the designation of “hotbed” in Mississippi. Another Hattiesburg kid was drafted in the second round this year — Joe Gray, now in the Milwaukee system. … Among those 149 prep products is Hunter Renfroe, the pride of Copiah Academy. Renfroe, now with the San Diego Padres, is about as hot as anybody from anywhere of late. He hit two home runs on Saturday, giving him 12 in his last 30 games and 19 for the year. He is batting .259 — .302 over his last 30 games — and has 56 RBIs, including a major league-best 27 in August. Also deserving of a nod is Tony Sipp, the ex-Moss Point High star who threw another clean inning in middle relief for Houston in a win on Saturday. The situational lefty has a 2.20 ERA in 44 games and is at 1.61 over his last 30 appearances for the first-place Astros. Renfroe and Sipp are among the 15 Mississippi prep products who have appeared in the big leagues in 2018. Don’t know the per capita rating on that but it’s gotta be up there.
Topps Baseball 2018 Series 2 Card No. 383. That card is not likely to be a hot commodity among big-time collectors, but any Mississippi baseball aficionado will get a charge out of seeing it. It’s a JaCoby Jones base card – but there’s a bonus. The card features an action shot of Jones, the young Detroit Tigers outfielder from Richton, as he rounds third base in an apparent home run trot. He is about to get a low-5 hand-slap from the Tigers’ third-base coach, Dave Clark, the former Shannon High slugger. Two Magnolia State prep legends on one card. Jones was Mr. Baseball in the state in 2010 before going off to LSU. He was a third-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2013 and debuted in the majors with the Tigers in 2016. Way back in 1980, Clark set a state record for homers with 23 at Shannon. He went on star at Jackson State and was drafted 11th overall by Cleveland in 1983. He played 13 seasons in the majors, batting .264 with 62 homers and earning a reputation as one of the game’s top pinch hitters in his heyday. He is in his fifth season as a Detroit coach. P.S. Jones, aka “Juicy J,” is currently on an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo. He is batting .204 with eight homers this season for the Tigers.