On paper, it was a mismatch. On the field, for three innings at least, it was not. George County High product Justin Steele, making just the 15th start of his big league career, cruised into the fourth inning Sunday at Wrigley Field with a 1-0 lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Walker Buehler. A wonky fourth — two infield hits, two walks, a wild pitch — cost Steele and the Chicago Cubs the lead, and the young left-hander couldn’t answer the bell for the fifth, departing with a thumb injury after his warmup tosses. The Dodgers, with Buehler going seven innings, won the game 7-1. Buehler entered the game, his 100th career start, with a 3-1 record and a 2.12 ERA. Steele was 1-3, 5.50, winless since beating Milwaukee (and fellow Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff) in his first start of 2022. Originally set for a Monday start, Steele found out only hours before ESPN’s Sunday night feature that he’d be getting the ball against the National League’s best team, the one with three MVPs in the lineup. He struck out Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman to start the game and yielded just a lone hit (to Cody Bellinger) through three. The wheels started to come off in the fourth. Steele, 26, battled long and hard — eight years — to reach the big leagues in 2021. He’s now battling to nail down a role with a rebuilding Cubs club, and there certainly have been encouraging signs. P.S. Two other Mississippians made Mother’s Day starts and experienced mixed results. Konnor Pilkington, former Mississippi State standout, made his first career start — fourth appearance — for Cleveland and lasted 3 2/3 innings (two runs allowed) in a game the Guardians won 4-3 against Toronto. Ex-State star Dakota Hudson, having an erratic season for St. Louis, went four innings, yielding five hits, four walks and three runs in a game the Cardinals lost 4-3 to San Francisco.
Far from the MLB playoff races, where teams are looking to next year and players are seeking to make good impressions, the Chicago Cubs met the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Wednesday. Justin Steele, the former George County High star, made one of those good impressions. The Cubs’ rookie left-hander threw five shutout innings for his first win since shifting from the bullpen to the rotation. Relying mainly on two different fastballs, Steele allowed one hit, walked three, hit a batter and fanned three in the 3-0 victory. “I thought the fastball looked electric, to be honest with you,” Cubs manager David Ross said in an mlb.com story. Steele, who has made four starts, is 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA overall in 15 games for the fourth-place Cubs. Drafted in 2014, the 26-year-old Steele logged over 300 innings in an injury-plagued minor league journey before making his big league debut on April 12. Meanwhile, for the last-place Twins, ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker was a bright spot, getting the club’s only two hits, both singles. Rooker, also looking to make an impression for 2022, is batting .201 with six homers in 38 games. Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford, hoping to secure a 2022 job with Pittsburgh, hit his second homer of the season in the last-place Pirates’ loss to the Chicago White Sox. The oft-injured Alford is batting .180 in 23 games. MSU product Nate Lowe, toiling for last-place Texas, went 1-for-3 in a loss to Colorado. Lowe is batting .321 over his last 15 games and .261 with 14 homers on the season, his first with the Rangers. P.S. Mississippi State alum Will Bednar, the first Mississippian picked in this year’s draft (14th overall), made his pro debut on Monday, working a 1-2-3 inning for San Francisco’s Arizona Complex League club. … The White Sox put shortstop Tim Anderson on the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring issue; the former East Central Community College star, an MVP candidate, had missed several games recently with sore legs.
From all indications, the Chicago Cubs are now in wait-till-next-year mode. Former George County High star Justin Steele is making a strong case to be part of the 2022 plan. Left-hander Steele threw five shutout innings for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, yielding just four hits and fanning five in his fourth start since the Cubs decided to return him to that role. Steele has a 1.15 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings over those four starts. He posted a 2.03 ERA in 11 relief appearances in his long-awaited MLB debut this year – he was drafted in 2014 — before a hamstring injury put him on the injured list in late May. Steele reportedly improved his slider during his time in the Cubs’ alternate camp last summer and now features an impressive array of pitches, including a high-90s fastball. “I’m really starting to settle into my mechanics, really feeling smooth out there, been a while since I’ve felt so smooth,” Steele, 26, said in a bleachernation.com article last week following his third start for the I-Cubs. P.S. Jacob Waguespack, the Ole Miss alum, also picked up a win Thursday, his sixth of the year at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s chain. Waguespack, who has big league time, was cut from the 40-man roster in March and sent to Buffalo, where he has gone 6-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 games (nine starts). … Wondering what Atlanta’s plan is for Drew Waters, the ex-Mississippi Braves standout and 2019 Southern League MVP? The switch-hitting outfielder had a four-hit game Thursday for Triple-A Gwinnett and is batting .262 with eight homers, 27 RBIs, 43 runs and 16 steals. He has power and speed and might be able to inject some life into the Braves’ frequently sleepy offense.
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.
The top-rated pitching prospect on the Chicago Cubs’ Double-A roster is Lucedale’s Justin Steele. But the oft-injured Steele has been outperformed on the Tennessee club by another Mississippi native who hasn’t yet cracked the MLB Pipeline prospect ratings. Southaven’s Wyatt Short, a former Ole Miss standout, is 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA and six saves for the Smokies. In 38 1/3 innings, he has 40 strikeouts and 11 walks. And he made the Southern League All-Star Game last month. “I feel like I’m really scratching the surface here,” he recently told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, “so hopefully as the year goes on, it only gets better and better.” The 5-foot-8 left-hander, drafted in the 13th round in 2016, has a 2.49 career ERA and 35 saves in 47 opportunities. He posted 11 saves as UM’s closer in 2016 and finished his Rebels career with 24. … Meanwhile, Steele, a lefty starter and the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect, has spent much of the season on the injured list and is 0-6 with a 5.59 ERA in 11 games for the Smokies. He bounced back strong last summer from Tommy John surgery, finished the 2018 season in Double-A, pitched in the Arizona Fall League and went to big league camp as a member of the Cubs’ 40-man roster. Not much has gone well since.
In his fifth year in pro ball, Justin Steele is still in the low minors, though he isn’t exactly spinning his wheels. George County High product Steele appeared to be having a breakout season at the advanced Class A level in 2017 when an arm injury sent him to the disabled list in early August. As it turned out, the left-hander needed Tommy John surgery. After a quicker-than-usual recovery, Steele seems to be humming along nicely back at Myrtle Beach, the Chicago Cubs’ high-A team. On Sunday, he went five innings, allowing two runs and fanning seven, to improve to 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts. He had a 1.47 ERA in the Arizona League to begin his comeback. Steele was a dominant hurler at George County, posting a 0.98 ERA and tossing two no-hitters as a senior. The Cubs picked him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, and he passed on a scholarship to Southern Miss to sign. Now 23, Steele is rated the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) and twice has made their organizational postseason all-star team, including last year when he went 6-7, 2.92 at Myrtle Beach before the injury detour. Though he has yet to be tested in Double-A, he appears to be part of the Cubs’ future plans.
Ole Miss product Lance Lynn had made 146 career starts, minors and majors, heading into Tuesday’s turn against the New York Yankees. For the first time, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander finished what he started. Lynn notched his first complete game, beating the Yankees 6-0 with a five-hitter. “It was definitely one to remember,” Lynn told The Associated Press. “To do it against the Yankees is exciting, especially if it’s your first one as a professional.” Lynn walked three and struck out two, throwing 126 pitches. He had won just one of his previous six starts but is now 6-2 with a 3.12 ERA. For his MLB career, Lynn is 40-20. And his Cardinals have won 10 of 13 to get to 29-23, 1½ games behind Milwaukee in the National League Central. P.S. Another name to watch in the upcoming MLB draft: Justin Steele, a left-hander at George County High. Baseball America ranks the Southern Miss signee as the No. 120 prospect overall. Steele, 6 feet 2, 170 pounds, went 5-1 with a 0.98 ERA, struck out 92 and walked just 12 in 43 innings.