Jarrod Dyson, Kendall Graveman and Billy Hamilton became free agents on Wednesday, the first day MLB players could declare. Mississippi State alum Graveman promptly re-signed today with his 2020 team, Seattle. The Mariners declined an option to bring right-hander Graveman back, then re-signed him for less money ($1.25 million). Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, finished 2020 with the Chicago White Sox. At 36, the outfielder may be near the end. Taylorsville High product Hamilton finished 2020 with the Chicago Cubs; he played sparingly for the Cubs and the New York Mets, hitting .125 in 32 at-bats. … Former MSU standout Mitch Moreland, who had a good 2020, has a team option for one year at $3 million in his contract with San Diego. Uncertainty over whether the NL will have the DH in 2021 could affect the Padres’ decision. … Detroit has interviewed East Central CC alum Marcus Thames, the New York Yankees hitting coach, for its vacant managerial position. … Devin Williams, a Biloxi Shuckers alumnus, won the National League’s Trevor Hoffman Award as the reliever of the year after a jaw-dropping season for Milwaukee. He struck out 53 while walking only nine in 27 innings and yielded just one earned run. … Former Jackson Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey recently was named the Washington Nationals’ new pitching coach. He was a longtime coach in Tampa Bay (2006-17). … The Dominican Winter League reportedly will start its season on Nov. 15. Whether any MLB players will participate is unclear. … In Mississippi State’s Fall World Series finale on Tuesday, Team Queso finished off Team Goat with a 3-2 victory. Josh Hatcher hit a three-run home run for Team Queso, and Kamren James belted a two-run shot for Team Goat. Spencer Price got a dramatic save. Fall ball is ongoing at Ole Miss and Southern Miss. … From the Great Idea Dept.: Sports Force Park in Vicksburg hosted the first annual “JUCO Games on the River” in early October, with 11 of the state’s 15 MACCC schools participating in a four-day, round-robin event.
On this date five years ago, the Biloxi Shuckers ended the 54-game road trip that launched their inaugural season with a victory at Birmingham. They stood at 33-21 when they won their first game at MGM Park, which had been under construction, the next night. The Shuckers went on to clinch the first-half championship in the Southern League South on June 14 with a win over the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park. That Shuckers team, a Milwaukee affiliate, featured Josh Hader, Orlando Arcia (who hit the first homer at MGM), Adrian Houser and Brent Suter, among others, and reached the SL Championship Series before falling to Chattanooga. … On June 5, 1992, Pete Young, the ex-Mississippi State and McComb High star, made his MLB debut for Montreal, throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Young posted a 3.86 ERA in 17 games over two years with the Expos. … Among the big wave of minor league players released in recent days by major league clubs are: Southern Miss alum Luke Reynolds (by the Chicago Cubs), ex-Mississippi State standout Jacob Billingsley (Houston), MSU product Hunter Stovall (Philadelphia), former Ole Miss star Chris Ellis (St. Louis), George County High alum Walker Robbins (St. Louis) and ex-MSU standout Daniel Brown (Milwaukee). Ellis, also a former M-Braves pitcher, made his big league debut last summer, appearing in one game for Kansas City. … Looking ahead to next week’s draft: If State’s Justin Foscue goes in the first round (as widely projected), the second baseman will be the 13th Bulldogs player to be picked in the opening round since the draft started in 1965. That’s more than all but 14 other schools, according to mlb.com. Stanford leads the way with 23 first-rounders, followed by Arizona State with 21. Six schools have had 13 first-round picks. … The Cotton States League is slated to open its season tonight with three games at two different fields at BNA Bank Park in New Albany. The wood-bat college summer league is in its 12th year. The new Southeast Collegiate League, based in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Baton Rouge, La., starts play next week. … New coaches are settling in at two state junior colleges. Luke Stanley, former Delta State player from Oxford, is the new Mississippi Delta CC coach, replacing Dan Rives, who moved into the AD chair. Longtime Holmes CC coach Kenny Dupont retired and is succeeded by Scott DeLoach, a former Mississippi State player from Madison.
The New Albany-based Cotton States League has expanded from six to eight teams for 2020 and is scheduled to begin its season on June 5. The wood-bat college summer league celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, with the Tippah County Tribe winning the championship. Returning for the Tribe are pitcher Braden Quesinberry, a Harding (Ark.) University alum who went 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA; J.T. McGee (Northern Kentucky), a .350 hitter with two homers and 13 RBIs; and Brandon Hale (Southeastern Louisiana), a .327 hitter. New to the Tribe roster is catcher Matthew Priest, a redshirt freshman at Mississippi College in 2020. More than 120 players from roughly 30 different schools participated last year, per the league’s website. Most of the players have a Mississippi connection. Many of the state’s junior colleges are represented, as are a number of four-year schools from various divisions. Mississippi State commit Blayze Berry is on the HillCountry Generals’ roster. The XPlorers’ roster lists Kyle Crigger from Louisiana Tech, Chris Swanberg from Memphis and Austin King from Alabama State. Another Memphis player, Ian Bibiloni, is with the North Delta Dealers along with Mississippi College’s Markarius “Woogie” Lee. Delta State’s Trace White is on the Tallahatchie Rascals team. Belhaven’s Nathan Herron (one of the CSBL’s top hitters in 2019) and Jared Heun are with the Golden Triangle Jets, as is UAB’s Hunter Hill. Blue Mountain’s Easton Williams is with the Tupelo Thunder, and Millsaps’ Sam Suggs is on the Mudcats’ roster. P.S. The Cape Cod League, widely considered the best of the college summer loops, cancelled its season, as did the New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Valley League. The popular Coastal Plain League delayed its start to July 1, and the Prospect League and Alaska League also have announced a tentative July 1 start. The Texas Collegiate League plans to open on July 3. The National Baseball Congress World Series, the big late summer amateur event in Wichita, hasn’t made a decision on hosting the event.
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.
Five Mississippi junior colleges are ranked in the most recent NJCAA Division II poll, but only one remains undefeated on the young season. Hinds Community College, ranked seventh (up from 17th in the preseason poll), moved to 8-0 on Tuesday by overpowering Jones College 8-5 and 9-7 in a non-conference twinbill at Vicksburg’s Sports Force Parks. The Eagles hit seven homers, two more than they’d hit all year to that point, and came from behind to win both games. “This is a sophomore-laden club that has that spirit about them,” Hinds coach Sam Temple told the Vicksburg Post. Jones, ranked fifth in one preseason poll, slipped to 2-7. Venezuela native Pablo Lanzarote leads the Eagles’ potent attack with a .522 average, two homers and 15 RBIs. Connor Carter, a sophomore out of Germantown High, is at .520 with two homers and a team-leading 11 runs. The HCC pitching staff carries a 1.94 ERA. Preston Johnson, out of Copiah Academy, is 1-0, 3.00 with 16 strikeouts in nine innings. Germantown product Harrison Haley and Warren Central alum Caleb Sterling are both 2-0 with sub-2.00 ERAs. … Pearl River (4-2) is ranked fourth in this week’s NJCAA poll, and Itawamba (5-3) is co-No. 7 with Hinds. Northeast, which has won nine of 10, all at its new home park, is ranked 12th.
Six Mississippi junior colleges, headed by defending region champion Pearl River CC, appear in the NJCAA Division II preseason Top 20 released today. PRCC is No. 5, Jones College No. 6, defending MACJC regular season champ Itawamba No. 7, Northwest 15th, Hinds 17th and Meridian 20th. Pearl River won the Region 23 Tournament in 2019 and went to the juco D-II World Series, finishing with a 41-14 record. Michael Avalon’s Wildcats lost state home run king Dexter Jordan to the MLB draft but will trot out several NCAA Division I commits, including lefty Kole Alford (Mississippi State), outfielder Reece Ewing (Southern Miss) and shortstop Bryson Ware (Auburn). Ware, a freshman out of Germantown High, is also a highly rated draft prospect. Ewing batted .300 with 11 homers for last year’s club. … In Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s poll released last week, Jones was ranked No. 5, PRCC 15th and Hinds 20th.
On the eve of the MACJC postseason, there are lots of numbers to digest. Five state junior colleges are ranked in the new NJCAA Division II Top 20, and all of them reached the postseason. No. 4 Itawamba Community College won the regular season title and the right to host the Region 23 Tournament, where top-ranked LSU-Eunice also has an automatic berth. The next eight teams in the MACJC standings face off in best-of-3 series this week to determine four more region tourney participants. Fifth-ranked Jones College (aka Jones County JC), which took second in the league, hosts Hinds; No. 9 Northwest hosts Northeast; No. 6 Pearl River hosts East Central; and No. 16 Meridian hosts Gulf Coast. … LSU-E, which leads the nation in staff ERA (2.56) and bats .340 as a team, could be a bear in the double-elimination region tourney. … Itawamba ranks fifth in the nation in ERA (3.43), third in fielding (.966) and is riding an 11-game winning streak. … The last team to beat ICC was Northwest, in Fulton back on April 16. … Keep an eye on PRCC, which ranks third in the nation in home runs, led by Dexter Jordan’s 15. … Northeast’s Drew Smith led the state in batting at .440 and also hit 13 homers. … Jones is the best hitting team in the state at .330. … Meridian enters on a five-game win streak. … Hinds, ranked ninth at 21-5 in early April, went 4-13 down the stretch and finished ninth in the league.
Before the dust gets kicked up again in the MACJC, here’s how the teams stack up with roughly two weeks left in the regular season: Fourth-ranked Itawamba Community College (14-4) and No. 11 Northwest Mississippi (15-5), after their split on Tuesday, remain in a virtual tie for first in the standings. No. 6 Pearl River and No. 9 Jones County, both on extended winning streaks, are third at 12-6. Gulf Coast (11-7) and East Central (12-8) are in a virtual tie for fifth, and No. 10 Meridian and 14th-ranked Hinds are knotted in seventh at 10-7. Copiah-Lincoln sits at 9-9. Yes, it’s going to be a mad scramble to the finish and on into the playoffs. The big doubleheader this weekend is Saturday’s matchup of Northwest and Meridian in the Queen City. … Pitching – good pitching — has been a main storyline this season. MACJC schools occupy the Nos. 7 to 11 spots in the NJCAA Division II team stats for ERA. Itawamba, featuring ace Houston Harding, has a 3.28, Northwest a 3.29 and Pearl River a 3.34. Meridian’s Braden Forsyth, who has worked as a starter and reliever, has a 1.15, while Harding, 8-0 as a starter, is at 1.72. PRCC’s Miles Smith has 69 strikeouts, eighth in the nation. Jones County leads state schools in batting with a .337 average, led by Brandon Hale at .398. Pearl River has mashed 59 homers, second-most in the country. Dexter Jordan has 10, and Wiley Cleland and Kasey Donaldson nine apiece. Meridian’s Kace Garner leads the state with 12 bombs, and Gulf Coast’s Brandon Parker has 10.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College sits alone at the top of the MACJC standings after completing a pair of sweeps last week and surely will break into the NJCAA Division II poll this week. The surging Bulldogs improved to 9-1 in the league by rolling past Copiah-Lincoln and Mississippi Delta and are 17-5 overall. Freshman Dee Hawthorne has swung a hot bat for Gulf Coast. After a big day against Delta on Saturday, including a grand slam, he is batting .500 with five homers and 22 RBIs. The league standings got a little shaken up after some showdowns last week, and national poll positions will be affected. “That’s MACJC baseball. It’s a battle and a grind,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. No. 2 Jones County stumbled, splitting a twinbill with No. 14 Hinds before being swept by 10th-ranked Itawamba. ICC, 21-4 and second in the league at 8-2, got a grand slam from Kyle Crigger and stellar pitching from Houston Harding, Austin King and Daniel Rowland in Saturday’s sweep of Jones. No. 5 Pearl River and No. 9 Meridian battled to a split on Saturday, with PRCC winning the opener 20-18 behind Matt Taylor’s six RBIs and MCC taking the nightcap 5-4 thanks to a timely homer by Kace Garner and clutch pitching from Braden Forsyth. MCC is 6-2 in the league, as is Hinds. PRCC is 5-3, a notch behind No. 18 Northwest (7-3) and in a virtual tie with Jones (6-4). Northwest took twinbills from East and Southwest last week, notching coach Mark Carson’s 400th win in the process. The aptly named Hammer Franks had five hits and four RBIs in the Southwest games. Not to be overlooked: East’s Jaxen Forrester threw a no-hitter against East Central on Friday, striking out nine and walking two over seven innings in a 10-1 victory, which was the Lions’ first league win of the year.
Just when it looked like the Jones County Junior College program was starting to slip, Chris Kirtland’s Bobcats ripped off 17 wins in their first 18 games this year. They’ve jumped from unranked in preseason to No. 2 in the nation. They take a 20-2 overall record (5-1 MACJC) into a doubleheader today at 14th-ranked Hinds CC (15-4, 3-1). Kirtland, in his fourth season as JCJC head coach, has a fairly stunning 158-26 record. A longtime assistant under Christian Ostrander (now at Southern Miss), Kirtland won the 2016 NJCAA Division II national title in his first year in charge. In 2017, the Bobcats “slipped” to 46-4 and lost in the Region 23 Tournament. Last year, they “fell” to 38-11 and were upset by Hinds in the best-of-3 round of the state playoffs. But anyone expecting a down year in Ellisville in 2019 was misinformed. Led by an influx of talented freshmen, JCJC looks as formidable as ever. O’Neill Burgos, from Brookhaven, is hitting .398, Bailee Hendon of Vancleave .396. Versatile Blake Johnson, from Gulfport via Tulane, has seven homers and three saves. Lane Thomas is 5-0 with a 1.72 ERA and fellow frosh Coleton Ausburn 5-0, 3.10. Brandon Hale, a sophomore from Pontotoc, is batting .385 with four homers and a team-leading 29 runs. “Our team has gotten to a point where the expectations can motivate you,” Kirtland said before the season began. “The expectations can take your play to another level at times.”