08 Feb

there’s another one

Konnor Griffin, outfielder/pitcher at Jackson Prep, is generally regarded as the state’s top high school prospect in the 2024 MLB draft, a potential first-rounder. Samuel Richardson, third baseman at Lewisburg High, might be another first-round candidate. Lindy’s preseason magazine ranks Richardson as the No. 33 prospect in the draft, the ninth-highest ranked high school player. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-handed hitter, cited for his raw power in various scouting reports, batted .301 with six homers, 23 RBIs, 11 doubles and five triples for MHSAA Class 6A state champion Lewisburg in 2023. A Missouri commit, he is one of four state-connected players in Lindy’s Top 50. Griffin (No. 8), ex-Madison Central High star Braden Montgomery of Texas A&M (No. 13) and Mississippi State’s Dakota Jordan (No. 25) are the others. Those three are also highly ranked by MLB Pipeline, which doesn’t have Richardson on its latest chart of the top 100. Both Griffin and Richardson made MaxPreps’ preseason high school All-America team. Lewisburg opens its season Thursday at Center Hill. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Christian Bethancourt and Johan Camargo (Panama), Andrelton Simmons and Hendrik Clementina (Curacao) and Jairo Ascencio (Dominican Republic) have helped their teams reach the semifinal stage of the Caribbean Series in Miami. The semis are Thursday at loanDepot Park, the title game on Friday.

09 Jul

summer shopping season

In MLB’s amateur draft, which begins tonight (6 p.m., MLB Network/ESPN) and runs through Tuesday, major league clubs will find the tool shed in Mississippi is well-stocked. In its incredibly comprehensive Draft Preview issue, Baseball America IDs six Mississippi products among the prospects with top five tools in various scouting categories. Ranked first among high school players in strike zone discipline is Cooper Pratt, the Magnolia Heights Academy star pegged by BA as the No. 63 overall prospect in the draft. Pratt, a 6-foot-4 shortstop committed to Ole Miss, hit .468 this season, won a state title and was named Gatorade player of the year. Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez, expected to go in the first round as the first state product off the board, is rated No. 5 among college hitters in strike zone discipline. Shortstop Gonzalez, BA’s No. 8 overall prospect, hit .327 (.435 OBP) this season and .319 (.427) for his career in Oxford. He played on the national title team in 2022 and on two Collegiate National Teams. Two of the best defensive catchers reside in the Magnolia State: Oxford High’s Campbell Smithwick, an Ole Miss commit, is pegged second among high school prospects and the Rebels’ Calvin Harris No. 4 among college players. (Harris can swing the bat a little, too; he hit four homers in a game back in May.) Southern Miss’ Tanner Hall, a first-team All-America this season, has the fourth-best changeup among college pitchers, per BA’s ratings. Hall went 12-4 with a 2.48 ERA this season, 9-3, 2.81, in 2022 and pitched in the NCAAs both years. Ole Miss’ Kemp Alderman is ranked No. 5 in power; the Ferriss Trophy winner belted 19 homers this year and hit .376. At 6 feet 3, 250 pounds, he can mash. Worth noting: Mississippi State’s Colton Ledbetter is ranked as the 46th-best overall prospect by BA, second-highest to Gonzalez among state players. He is expected to attend today’s televised ceremony for the first two rounds. … Pittsburgh has the No. 1 pick. Milwaukee has the 18th (and the 33rd), and Atlanta goes 24th.

08 Jul

around the horn

Kudos to Alcorn State pitcher Kewan Braziel. The left-hander from North Carolina threw a scoreless inning in Friday’s inaugural HBCU Swingman Classic in Seattle, but more significantly, he received the T-Mobile Impact Award, recognizing his leadership skills on and off the field in his community. The award was presented in-game by Ken Griffey Jr. Jackson State’s Ty Hill had an RBI walk and an infield single in the game at T-Mobile Park, and teammates Erik Gonzalez, Jesse Caver and Jatavis Melton along with Mississippi Valley State’s Narvin Booker and Victor Figueroa also participated. … Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin went 1-for-3 in the high school All-Star game that preceded the HBCU contest at T-Mobile. Griffin and Lewisburg High star Samuel Richardson are slated to participate in a home run derby prior to today’s All-Star Futures Game (6 p.m., Peacock). Biloxi High alum Colt Keith, a Detroit prospect, is Mississippi’s lone rep in the prestigious Futures Game. … In a matchup of two of MLB’s most disappointing teams, the Chicago White Sox beat St. Louis 8-7 in a wonky game at Guaranteed Rate Field. Former Mississippi State ace Chris Stratton came on for the Cardinals with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and walked in the go-ahead run on four pitches. Ex-MSU star Kendall Graveman got the save for Chicago — his seventh — but not before yielding a hit and a walk in the ninth inning. … Around the minors: David Parkinson, former Ole Miss standout who has had a turbulent pro career, allowed one run in five innings (despite four hits and five walks) to get the win for Double-A Reading. The left-hander is 3-4 with a 5.32 ERA. He was Philadelphia’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, went 1-11, 7.64, in 2021, elected to not play in 2022 and has been on and off the development list this season. … For Triple-A Round Rock, former State standout Justin Foscue hit a pair of homers and now has 10 on the season. The Texas Rangers prospect is batting .281 with 39 RBIs. … For Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox affiliate), erstwhile big leaguer Billy Hamilton of Taylorsville homered — his first in 75 at-bats this season. … In the High-Class A Midwest League, Beloit beat Wisconsin 6-3 as a bunch of Mississippi products played roles. Davis Bradshaw (McLaurin High/Meridian Community College) had two hits and two RBIs, Tanner Allen (MSU) had a hit and a stolen base and Kyle Crigger (Corinth High/Itawamba CC) got a four-out save for Beloit (Miami system). Joe Gray Jr. (Hattiesburg High) had a hit, a run and an RBI for Wisconsin (Milwaukee). … At Low-A Clearwater, former South Panola star Emaarion Boyd led off the ninth with a walk, went to second on a wild pitch, took third on a fly ball and scored the game-winning run on a grounder to third. The fleet-footed Boyd is batting .285 with 50 runs (and 41 steals) in 57 games for the Phillies’ farm club.

07 Jul

northwestern exposure

Jackson State hasn’t had a player picked in the MLB draft since 2017. For Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State, it’s been eight years since they had a player drafted. Seven players from those schools will get a little more exposure in the inaugural HBCU Swingman Classic, scheduled for tonight at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, where scouts and team execs will be gathered for the major league All-Star Game next week. Jackson State’s Ty Hill — a Ferriss Trophy finalist this year — and teammates Jatavis Melton, Jesse Caver and Erik Gonzalez, Valley’s Narvin Booker and Victor Figueroa and Alcorn’s Kewan Braziel are among the 50 players from historically black NCAA Division I schools invited to Seattle. In addition to workouts, two squads will play a game tonight (9:30 on MLB Network). No player from Mississippi’s three HBCUs is ranked among the top 200 draft prospects by mlb.com or Baseball America. More exposure might be just what one of them needs. “Not everyone goes to a Power 5 conference,” Ken Griffey Jr., who created this event, recently told MLB Network. Hill is a particularly interesting case. He hit .399 with a .507 on-base average for his three years at JSU. He walked 96 times, fanned 74. This past season, Hill — noticeably smaller than his listed 6 feet 1, 210 pounds — batted .387 with six homers, 16 doubles, four triples and 53 RBIs. He can handle third base, second or the outfield. Obviously, the Saltillo High product can play the game. Whether his abilities transfer to pro ball, who really knows? He might just need a chance. … Prior to the HBCU game is the MLB/USA Baseball High School All-American Game for 2024 draft prospects. Jackson Prep star Konnor Griffin, rated the No. 1 prospect by some services, is expected to play. He is an LSU commit. Also on the rosters are Noah Sheffield, son of Gary, and Adrian Beltre Jr. A replay of the game will air at 10 a.m. Saturday on MLBN. … The All-Star Futures Game is set for Saturday in Seattle at 6 p.m. (live on Peacock). Former Biloxi High star and 2019 Gatorade player of the year Colt Keith, a top Detroit prospect, is on the American League roster. The lefty-swinging third baseman is batting .335 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. Also watch for Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Jackson Chourio, a highly regarded Milwaukee prospect. Atlanta’s representative is right-hander Spencer Schwellenbach, who is at Low-A Augusta. The Futures Game will re-air on MLBN Sunday at 8 a.m.

31 May

spotlight on …

Chicago will be hoppin’ today with both the White Sox and the Cubs in town, and a pair of Mississippi products will be on the mound for the home teams. At Guaranteed Rate Field, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn looks to win his fourth straight start for the underachieving White Sox, scuffling along at 23-34. They meet the star-studded Los Angeles Angels. At Wrigley Field, former George County High star Justin Steele looks to recapture his early season form after going 0-2 in his last three starts for the disappointing Cubs (24-30). They play Tampa Bay, the best team in baseball. Lynn got off to an awful start in 2023, as did the ChiSox. He has improved to 4-5 and lowered his ERA to 5.83 by allowing just four runs in his last 19 innings. Today’s start will be the 297th career for the 36-year-old right-hander. For Steele, a 27-year-old lefty, today will be career start No. 45. He was 6-0 after beating St. Louis on May 10 but has been a bit wobbly of late. Cincinnati roughed him up for five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings on May 26, pushing his ERA to 2.77. P.S. No American League reliever has had a better May than Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman of the White Sox. He has not allowed a run in 11 outings, posting four saves and two holds. … In college ball: William Carey University lost for the first time Tuesday night in the NAIA World Series but will play on today against Lewis-Clark State, the home team in Lewiston, Idaho. … On the prep front: Kudos to Lewisburg, St. Stanislaus and Resurrection Catholic for winning series openers in the MHSAA state championships in Pearl.

29 May

buckle up

Trustmark Park in Pearl will be filled this week with Urchins and Hornets and Dragons and Knights. The MHSAA state championships begin Tuesday. Twelve teams from every corner of the state will decide six titles. Mr. Baseball picks from three classes are among the throng of players who will take the field. There will be players who’ll go on to bigger schools and bigger things, and there will be many for whom this is their last hurrah. Emotions will run high.
The best-of-3 battles begin Tuesday morning with a gathering of Eagles: The Class 1A finalists are West Union and Resurrection Catholic from Pascagoula. Greer Manning tops West Union with a .485 average and eight homers and a 1.62 ERA on the bump (per MaxPreps). Cole Tingle has been a sparkplug for Resurrection with a .414 average and six pitching wins.
The second feature on Tuesday is Amory-St. Stanislaus in 3A. Amory went 30-4 despite playing most of the season with no home field after the devastating March tornado. Walker Maranto and Bryce Glenn have led the Panthers through. The Rock-a-Chaws from the Coast are powered by Chesley Rhodes (.468, seven homers, 43 RBIs.)
Saltillo and East Central meet in Tuesday’s 5A nightcap. Drake Douglas and Baylor Roberts were clutch performers for Saltillo’s Tigers in the North series win against Ridgeland. Southern Miss signee T.J. Dunsford — chosen Mr. Baseball in 5A by the MHSAA and the Mississippi Association of Coaches — leads the East Central Hornets from Moss Point with .434 average.
On Wednesday, the Urchins from East Union battle the Dragons from Pisgah in 2A. East Union’s Rett Johnson, Mr. Baseball in this class, is hitting a sizzling .545. For Pisgah — just 20 miles down the road from Pearl — Colton Coleman hit .437, scored 33 runs and stole 12 bags.
In 4A on Wednesday, Mr. Baseball JoJo Parker, a Mississippi State commit, leads the Purvis Tornadoes with a .482 average, 15 homers, eight wins and a 1.66 ERA. West Lauderdale’s Knights feature Cannon Graham and Brett Busbea, who came up big in the North clincher vs. Mooreville.
The 6A final — Wednesday’s finale — matches Lewisburg and Gulfport, who knocked out Germantown and Northwest Rankin, respectively, in the North and South finals. Austin Hannigan, a .358 hitter with 20 steals, and MSU signee Gage Haley (.345) are among the leaders for Lewisburg’s Patriots. For Gulfport’s Admirals, Dawson Hall had a monster series against Northwest Rankin.
Game 2 in each series is set (in the same order) for Thursday and Friday. Any Game 3’s would start Saturday. Six celebrations are guaranteed.

19 May

arm robbery

Home runs by Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani were certainly highlight-worthy plays in the Los Angeles Angels’ 6-5 win at Baltimore on Thursday. Not to be overlooked was Hunter Renfroe’s throw in the bottom of the ninth inning. The former Mississippi State standout took a ball that hopped off the right-field wall, whirled and cut down former Bulldogs teammate Adam Frazier at second base for the second out of the inning. Angels manager Phil Nevin called the throw “incredible.” “I’ve seen him make a couple against me, I know that,” Nevin said in a TV interview. “It’s nice to have it on my side once.” Renfroe, in his first season with the Angels, has five assists from right field in 43 games in 2023 and 62 all told in his big league career. (And runners don’t challenge him all that often.) Renfroe is hitting .250 with 10 homers, a total matched by Trout and Ohtani on Thursday. P.S. East Central Community College plays No. 1 LSU-Eunice today for the NJCAA Division II Region 23 championship and a berth in the juco World Series. ECCC beat LSU-E in a winners bracket game Thursday, then lost to the Bengals in a later rematch. LSU-E eliminated defending national champ Pearl River in between. … Kudos to: Southern Miss’ Tanner Hall for notching his 11th win of the season — and USM’s 14th straight — with eight shutout innings against Louisiana-Lafayette; Mississippi State’s Amani Larry for his walk-off home run against Texas A&M; former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman, now with the Dodgers, for his 300th career homer; former Ole Miss standout Doug Nikhazy for his first Double-A win for Cleveland’s Akron club; Jackson Prep product Will Warren for a win in his Triple-A debut for the New York Yankees’ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team; and Jackson Prep for claiming its sixth straight MAIS 6A state title with a win over Madison-Ridgeland Academy.

17 May

what’s going on …

In Hattiesburg today, William Carey University is in the championship phase of the NAIA Opening Round tourney, awaiting the winner of the Ave Maria-Houston-Victoria game. Carey already has beaten both of those teams and will advance to the NAIA World Series with another victory, either today or Thursday. … In Eunice, La., today, East Central Community College takes on LSU-Eunice in a winners bracket game and Pearl River meets Itawamba in a losers bracket game of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. ECCC, the MACCC champion, has wins over ICC and Meridian in the tournament. LSU-U, ranked No. 1 in the nation, has wins over Northeast and Pearl River. Meridian and Northeast have been eliminated. … In Hattiesburg this weekend, Southern Miss, chasing a Sun Belt Conference title, plays host to Louisiana-Lafayette in a three-game league series to end the regular season. The Golden Eagles will honor retiring coach Scott Berry on Friday. There will be a lot of emotion at Taylor Park. … Jackson State, trying to maintain momentum for the SWAC Tournament, heads to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a league series against Bethune-Cookman. The Tigers are just 12-15 in the SWAC but have won their last four series. … Taps have been played on Ole Miss’ postseason chances, but Mississippi State clings to hope as it hosts Texas A&M to wrap up the regular season. State is 8-19 in the SEC, trailing both Georgia and Missouri by 2 games in the standings. Those three are vying for the last two SEC tourney berths. MSU basically needs to sweep A&M and get some help from LSU (vs. Georgia) and Auburn (vs. Missouri). … The MHSAA playoffs are down to the final 24 with North and South championships to be decided this week. In Class 6A, Northwest Rankin and Gulfport will battle for the South crown and Germantown and Lewisburg for the North. The state championship series in all six classes will be held at Trustmark Park in Pearl from May 30-June 2.

10 Jan

a capital idea

Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star from McComb, reportedly has found a good home for 2023, reaching agreement with Washington on a 1-year, $2.25 million contract. The rebuilding Nationals, who have a need for lefty-hitting outfielders (among other things), will be Dickerson’s fourth team in three seasons. He spent 2022 with St. Louis, batting .267 with six homers (and a 0.0 WAR) in 96 games on a 1-year, $5M deal. Dickerson, 33, who broke in with Colorado in 2013, is a .281 career hitter with 134 homers, 27 of those during his All-Star season with Tampa Bay in 2017. He joins Mississippi State alum Adam Frazier (Baltimore) and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton (Chicago White Sox, minor league deal) as Mississippi-connected MLB free agents to sign this off-season. A handful of minor league free agents also have inked for 2023. The start of spring training is just a few weeks away. P.S. Jackson Prep junior Konnor Griffin has been named the top high school prospect in the 2024 draft by Baseball America. Griffin, an LSU commit who goes 6 feet 3, 180 pounds, batted .472 with six homers as a shortstop/outfielder and went 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA on the mound in 2022. BA’s new Top 100 list for the ’24 draft includes seven players committed to Mississippi State and four Ole Miss commits. … Belhaven University opens its season Feb. 7 against Rhodes College at Trustmark Park in Pearl, the Blazers’ new home field. BU and fellow NCAA Division III member Millsaps will play two their three Maloney Trophy games at the TeePee on Feb. 21 and March 7. The third game is March 28 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field. Belhaven’s first Collegiate Conference of the South game is March 17 at Maryville (Tenn.). (The CCS is a group of schools that recently broke away from the USA South.)

23 Aug

an ode to speed

The stolen base ain’t what it used to be, usurped by the home run at most levels of the game. Small ball generally has given way to the quest for power and the big inning. But speed can still be a valuable tool. And Mississippi has a long history of producing players who have it. From Cool Papa Bell — the Negro Leagues legend from Starkville who is credited with 285 official stolen bases — to Billy Hamilton — the Taylorsville product who has 321 career bags in MLB and once got a record 155 in a single season in the minors. Eight Mississippi natives, none currently active, have 150 or more steals in the majors, nine if you include Bell. Silento Sayles set a national high school record with 103 bags in 2013 at Port Gibson. Gulfport’s Marcus Lawton stole 111 bases in the minors in 1985, one of just a few to reach that milestone. Major league scouts still hunt speed, and it no doubt was a key factor in Philadelphia’s decision to draft South Panola High’s Emaarion Boyd in the 11th round of the 2022 draft. Boyd swiped two bases in a Florida Complex League game on Monday, giving him six in eight pro games. He is batting .333. Tishomingo County’s Spence Coffman, drafted in the 19th round by San Diego, also was rated as a plus-runner. He stole 17 bags as a prep senior but is 0-for-1 in four rookie-ball games. The current steals leader among Mississippians in the minors is James Beard, former Loyd Star standout, who has 25 bags at the Low-Class A level in the Chicago White Sox’s system. Beard was considered the fastest high school player available in the 2019 draft, and he went in the fourth round. Alas, he is hitting just .163 this year (.185 career), clouding his prospects for advancement. Jake Mangum, the ex-Mississippi State and Jackson prep star, was one of the fastest college players in the 2019 draft, and he went in the fourth round to the New York Mets, eight picks after Beard despite being a much more accomplished hitter. Mangum swiped 17 bases in 53 games in his pro debut and has 39 career bags. A .280 career hitter, he has reached Triple-A, knocking on the door to the big leagues. Speed is good, but without the hit tool, a player’s chances of advancement aren’t so good. To wit: Sayles, drafted by Cleveland, stole 36 bases in 200 minor league games but retired in A-ball with a .222 career average in 2017. Lawton, for all his speed, made it to the big leagues for just a cup of coffee (10 games in 1989) and finished with one career steal, 164 fewer than his brother Matt, not as fast but a better hitter. Wiggins native D.J. Davis, a first-round pick by Toronto in 2012, got 134 bags over seven seasons but never got past A-ball. Pontotoc’s Delvin Zinn stole 42 bases in A-ball last year but has seen his career stall in Double-A, currently batting .113 (with seven steals) at Tennessee in the Chicago Cubs’ system. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray Jr., a second-rounder in 2018, has 17 steals in 110 games at the High-A level for Milwaukee but also has a .192 average. Pascagoula’s Willie Joe Garry stole 24 bases last year and has 12 this season in A-ball but is floundering around the .200 mark. Maybe someday, considering the radical changes MLB is making in the grand old game, there will be a designated runner, whose only job is to pinch run, ala Herb Washington, the Belzoni native who played such a role with the 1974-75 Oakland A’s. He stole 31 bases and never batted or played the field before being unceremoniously released.