13 Mar

head of the class

The first test for East Central Community College since it jumped to the head of the class could be a challenging one. The undefeated Warriors, ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA Division II poll released on Monday, take on No. 15 Meridian today in a doubleheader at the Clark/Gay Complex in Decatur. Of course, the Warriors are fairly accustomed to big games. ECCC is 25-0, 2-0 in the MACCC, and was ranked 10th in the preseason poll coming off a state and region championship season that ended in the juco World Series. Brady McGee, from Lake, leads the attack with a .439 average, seven homers, 28 RBIs, 36 runs and 13 steals. Barret Rogers is at .414 with four homers and 33 RBIs and Brandon’s Mo Little checks in at .390 with six homers, 36 RBIs and 11 bags. On the bump, Waynesboro’s Luke Cooley is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA and 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Marbin Lezcano, from Panama, is 2-0 with a 3.58. Meridian (17-7, 2-0) is led by Blaise Priester (.393, five, 27) and Grenada’s Landon Waters (4-0, one save, 1.33). … Pearl River (22-5, 2-0) is ranked No. 5 in the new poll and will host Southwest today. Jones (20-4, 2-0), unranked in preseason, is now 13th as it heads into a twinbill at Hinds. P.S. Lewisburg High, the top-ranked prep team in the state, will play in the Southeastern High School Baseball Classic, a four-team event which starts Friday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Oak Grove will play Christian Brothers from Memphis in Friday’s opener at 4 p.m., and at 6:30, Lewisburg takes on Houston, another Memphis school. The winners will play Saturday, with the winner there advancing further in the tournament. Nationally ranked Lewisburg features preseason All-America and pro prospect Samuel Richardson.

03 Oct

just rewards

Former Biloxi High star Colt Keith had a game on May 16 he’ll surely never forget. And now he has an award to commemorate it. Keith, playing for Double-A Erie in the Detroit system, went 6-for-6, hitting for the cycle, with two home runs and seven RBIs. Keith received MLB Network’s award for Best Single-Game Performance, announced during Monday night’s MiLB Awards Show. In his third pro season, Keith — Detroit’s No. 2 prospect — reached Triple-A and finished 2023 with a .306 average, 27 homers and 101 RBIs. An all-Mississippi minor league All-Star team would have to include Keith, who could slot in at second base, his secondary position. Here’s a position-by-position roster:
Starting pitcher: Will Warren (Jackson Prep), 10-4, 3.35 ERA, at Double-A and Triple-A (New York Yankees system)
Relief pitcher: Landon Harper (Southern Miss), 6-3, five saves, two holds, 3.34, in Low-Class A (Atlanta)
Catcher: Chuckie Robinson (USM), .290, 13 homers, 74 RBIs, at Triple-A (Cincinnati)
First base: Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), .289, 22 homers, 85 RBIs, at Triple-A (Texas)
Second base: Keith
Third base: Blaze Jordan (DeSoto Central High), .296, 18 homers, 86 RBIs, at High-A and Double-A (Boston)
Shortstop: Grae Kessinger (Ole Miss), .283, six homers, 32 RBIs, at Triple-A (now with Houston)
Outfield: Jake Mangum (Mississippi State), .298, five homers, 52 RBIs, 16 steals, at Triple-A (Miami); Emaarion Boyd (South Panola High), .262, 36 RBIs, 68 runs, 56 steals, in Low-A (Philadelphia); Davis Bradshaw (Meridian Community College), .314, .383 OBP, four triples, 47 runs, at High-A and Double-A (Miami)
DH: Tim Elko (UM), .295, 28 homers, 106 RBIs, in A-ball and Double-A (Chicago White Sox)
Utility: Justin Foscue (MSU), .266, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, in Triple-A (Texas)
P.S. The best season by a player drafted from the state this year was posted by USM product Matthew Etzel, a 10th-round selection by Baltimore who batted .323 with two homers, 25 RBIs and 21 steals in 30 games over three levels, topping out in High-A. Former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt, a sixth-rounder by Milwaukee, hit .356 in 12 games in rookie ball and won a championship. Kellum Clark, the last player picked (20th round) from the state out of MSU, hit .262 with a homer and eight RBIs in 22 games at the rookie and Low-A levels in the Mets’ system.

02 Oct

into the mist

In what was probably — probably — the last game of Buck Showalter’s managerial career, the New York Mets’ disappointing season ended with a blowout loss — 9-1 to Philadelphia at CitiField. Former Mississippi State star Showalter announced before Sunday’s game that he would not be returning for a third season with the Mets. He was greeted with a standing ovation from Mets fans when he took out the lineup card pregame. A 101-win playoff team in 2022, the Mets suffered some key injuries and tumbled to 74-87 this year. “It’s not the ending I wanted, but I still love the city and the players,” Showalter told The Associated Press. He has won 1,726 games (.509 win percentage) over 22 years with five different clubs, claiming four manager of the year awards, including in 2022. His teams went 0-for-6 in postseason series, bowing out last year in a wild card series against San Diego. … The question about Showalter’s future in New York was one of several involving Mississippians in the majors headed into the off-season. To wit: Will East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson be back with the Chicago White Sox? The team holds an option on his contract, but the combustible former batting champ hit just .245 with one home run and scuffled on defense at shortstop. … Will ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe and Meridian CC product Corey Dickerson land jobs for 2024? Renfroe, who belted 20 homers in 2023, was waived in August by the Los Angeles Angels, claimed by Cincinnati and then released before season’s end. Dickerson, who hit .250 in 50 games, was released by last-place Washington in August. … What’s next for Spencer Turnbull? The former Madison Central High standout, who threw a no-hitter for Detroit early in 2021, missed all of 2022 after elbow surgery and endured more injury issues this season, which he finished in the minors. He was 1-4 with a 7.26 ERA for the Tigers, 0-1, 6.23, in the minors, pitching just twice in September. … Is Drew Pomeranz done? The Ole Miss product, 34, who has a 3.91 career ERA and a World Series ring, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2021 because of injuries and made just seven minor league appearances this year. He is a free agent for 2024. … Two players who finished strong and possibly solidified their jobs for 2024: Ex-MSU star Brent Rooker and former Ole Miss standout James McArthur. Journeyman Rooker, an All-Star in his first year with Oakland, belted his 30th homer on Sunday; he hit. 306 with six bombs over his last 15 games. McArthur, a rookie in his first year in Kansas City’s system, notched a two-inning save against the Yankees on Sunday. In his last seven appearances, the tall right-hander went 1-0 with four saves and did not allow a run in nine innings.

30 Aug

steele-y performance

No Mississippi native has won a Cy Young Award. Justin Steele, the left-hander from Lucedale, is building a mighty strong case. Steele threw six shutout innings Tuesday night to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 victory against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field. The former George County High star has 15 wins, tied for the National League lead, and a 2.69 ERA, second in the loop. He also has a league-best 18 quality starts, perhaps none bigger or better than Tuesday’s. The Cubs’ win snapped the first-place Brewers’ nine-game win streak and trimmed second-place Chicago’s deficit to 4 games in the NL Central. Steele was struck in the left leg, just above the knee, by a line drive in the second inning but, unfazed, went on to throw 111 pitches, allowing just six hits and one walk while fanning eight. When he got a punch out for the final out of the sixth, he walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the 33,294 at the Friendly Confines. “I loved it. I love pitching in that environment,” Steele told mlb.com. Steele out-dueled former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young winner (2021), who pitched seven brilliant innings for Milwaukee. … Cliff Lee, a Meridian Community College alum from Arkansas, won the American League Cy Young in 2008 with Cleveland. Former Jackson Mets standout Mike Scott won the NL award in 1986 with Houston. The award was initiated in 1956. P.S. The AL West race sure looks like fun. Seattle, Texas and Houston are tied at the top after Tuesday’s results. Mississippi State product J.P. France picked up his 10th win for the Astros, going 5 2/3 (two runs) to beat Boston 6-2 at Fenway Park. France gained a measure of revenge against the Red Sox, who pounded the rookie right-hander for 10 runs in a loss last week. Ex-State star Chris Stratton got the final two outs of the sixth inning, stranding two inherited runners, to pluck the win for Texas, which beat the New York Mets 2-1 at CitiField. Stratton has a 2.00 ERA in 11 games for the Rangers.

09 Aug

transaction action

A virtual horde of minor leaguers started new assignments on Tuesday, and among Mississippi products, none made a bigger splash than former Southern Miss star Matthew Etzel. Etzel homered in his debut for Low-Class A Delmarva in the Baltimore organization. The 2023 draftee was promoted from rookie ball, where he was off to a sizzling start (see previous post). Atlanta promoted three Mississippians. Itawamba Community College alum Will Verdung moved from the Florida Complex League to Low-A Augusta and went 1-for-5. Hurston Waldrep, a USM alum and the Braves’ first-round pick (from Florida) last month, moved from Augusta to High-A Rome, as did ex-Smithville High standout Jared Johnson, who pitched a scoreless inning on Tuesday. Colton Ledbetter, a ’23 draftee out of Mississippi State, went 0-for-3 for Low-A Charleston (Tampa Bay); he hit .400 in the FCL. Former USM star Dustin Dickerson, also a ’23 draftee, went 0-for-3 in his debut for High-A Quad Cities in the Kansas City system; he hit .357 in the Arizona Complex League. Ex-Ole Miss standout Tim Elko made his Double-A debut in the Chicago White Sox chain, going 1-for-5 for Birmingham; he hit 22 homers in the two levels of A-ball. Meridian Community College product Davis Bradshaw went 0-for-3 at Double-A Pensacola (Miami) after a move up from High-A Beloit, where he hit .317; Bradshaw got a look in Double-A last year. Ole Miss alum Anthony Servideo was bumped from Double-A Bowie to High-A Aberdeen in the Orioles’ system and went 1-for-4; he was hitting .218 at Bowie. Landon Tomkins, an ex-Hinds CC standout and a ’23 draftee, was reactivated by Pittsburgh at Low-A Bradenton and pitched an inning (two unearned runs) in his second pro game. P.S. Four former Mississippi Braves hit a total of five homers for four different teams in the big leagues on Tuesday: Ronald Acuna for Atlanta, William Contreras for Milwaukee, Drew Waters for Kansas City and Joey Meneses (two) for Washington. Braden Shewmake hit one for Triple-A Gwinnett.

29 Jul

remember the time

On this date in 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies — defending World Series champs — swung a big trade with Cleveland for left-hander Cliff Lee, the former Meridian Community College star and 2008 Cy Young Award winner. Lee went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA down the stretch for the Phillies and 4-0 in the postseason, but the team lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. Lee was traded to Seattle in the off-season. On July 29, 2010, the Phillies, again eyeing a postseason run, traded with Houston for Roy Oswalt, the former Holmes CC standout who had won an ERA title in 2006. Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 for the Phils and 1-1 in the postseason as the team lost to San Francisco in the National League Championship Series. After the 2010 season, Philadelphia brought Lee back as a free agent. The Phils entered the 2011 season with a fantastic rotation — famously hailed as the “legion of arms” on the cover of Sports Illustrated — of Lee, Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. The team won 102 games — Lee won 17, Oswalt nine — and the NL East title but fell in the division series to St. Louis. Lee and Oswalt both lost their starts. Oswalt left after the 2011 season and was soon out of the game. Lee pitched three more years in Philly with only modest success. Neither would appear in another postseason game, and the Phillies didn’t make the postseason again until last year. P.S. Props to Millsaps College coach Jim Page and former Mississippi State and big league pitcher Paul Maholm for their formal induction today into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, a very deserving honor for each.

19 Jun

punching ’em out

There was no joy in Seattle for Lance Lynn and the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, but a record-tying effort deserves some bit of fanfare. Ole Miss alum Lynn struck out 16 batters, matching a franchise mark set in 1954. “My stuff was good,” Lynn told mlb.com, “but we lost. It doesn’t matter how many you strike out if you don’t win the game.” The White Sox’s 5-1 loss dropped their record to 31-42. Lynn is 4-8 with a 6.51 ERA. But Sunday’s outing was one of his best in a tough year. He threw 114 pitches over seven innings, allowed four hits, two walks and three runs. Lynn has 1,817 career punchouts, third-most — for the time being — among Mississippians in MLB history. Now in his 12th big league season, the burly right-hander struck out 246 batters in 2019, most by a Mississippian in a single season. On the career chart, Weir’s Roy Oswalt finished with 1,852 and Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee got 1,824. Ex-Ole Miss star Jeff Fassero had 1,104, Greenwood native and Mississippi State product Paul Maholm 984 and Leakesville native Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell 918. Baseball Reference credits Negro Leagues star and Hall of Famer Bill Foster, an Alcorn State alumnus who grew up in Rodney, with 922; he likely had more than that. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run as Miami beat Washington to climb 10 games over .500 for the first time in 12 years. The Marlins are 41-31, 5 games back of Atlanta in the National League East. Fortes is batting .243 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 47 games as Miami’s catcher; the team reportedly likes his work behind the plate.

12 Jun

stars come out

The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference, which had four teams in the top 13 of the final NJCAA Division II poll in mid-May, placed six players on the D-II All-America teams announced today. Meridian CC’s Cole Boswell made the first team. The Southern Miss signee, the MACCC pitcher of the year, went 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA and averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings for the Eagles, who finished 38-12 and were ranked No. 3 in the final poll issued before the postseason. Four state juco products made second-team A-A, led by Itawamba infielder Will Verdung, the state’s position player of the year and another USM signee. Verdung hit .389 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs. Also on the second team: Pearl River’s Cooper Cooksey, who led the nation with a 1.32 ERA; Hinds infielder Dylan Coleman; and Mo Little, DH for East Central, which won the state and Region 23 titles and played in the juco World Series. Gulf Coast outfielder Sean Smith made the third team. P.S. In case you missed it: Cooper Pratt, shortstop/pitcher for Magnolia Heights Academy, won Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year award for 2023, joining an impressive list. An Ole Miss signee and highly rated MLB draft prospect, Pratt hit .469 with 38 steals and went 10-0, 0.14, on the mound for the MAIS 5A champions. Dakota Jordan, a Jackson Academy alum now at Mississippi State, won the 2022 award, preceeded in recent years by Braden Montgomery of Madison Central, Blaze Jordan of DeSoto Central, Colt Keith of Biloxi and J.T. Ginn of Brandon. Montgomery is now at Stanford, while Blaze Jordan, Keith and Ginn are in pro ball.

03 Jun

old-school artist

Power is all the rage in baseball. Check the box scores. Who hit one out? Blaze Jordan, Joe Gray Jr. and Colt Keith, all products of Mississippi high schools, blasted home runs in the minors on Friday, as did former Mississippi State star Hunter Stovall. Cheers all around. The art of hitting a single, of just putting a ball in play that results in a base knock, doesn’t have the wow factor. It’s kind of a shame. Here’s a tip of the cap to a guy who seems to have mastered that old-school art. Davis Bradshaw, former McLaurin High and Meridian Community College standout, hit a single on Friday for High-A Beloit in the Miami organization. It was his 33rd single among his 37 hits; he has no homers. The lefty-hitting Bradshaw is batting .398; he was at .415 in mid-May. He was out for a couple of weeks last month, so he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the Midwest League leaderboard, but he would be second in hitting in all of the minors if he did. Bradshaw has struck out just 16 times and walked eight in 93 at-bats over 29 games. Drafted out of MCC back in 2018, Bradshaw, now 25, carries a .307 career average — but has only two home runs. The lack of power is no doubt holding him back. He is not a rated prospect. He got a look in Double-A last year and hit .286 but was back in A-ball to start 2023. And he went right back to banging out singles, keeping that old-school art alive. P.S. Southern Miss and Auburn might have anticipated meeting on Day 2 of regional play, but they surely didn’t expect the clash to come in the losers bracket. The top two seeds in the Auburn Regional were upset by Samford and Penn. That’s baseball. BTW, Josh Rodriguez, who hit that massive 10th-inning homer for Samford on Friday, was a first-team All-MACCC pick at Hinds Community College last year. … Props to East Union (Class 2A) and Purvis (4A) for winning MHSAA state titles Friday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Amory plays St. Stanislaus for the 3A crown and Saltillo battles East Central for the 5A title today.

28 May

worth noting

With a sixth-inning double Saturday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Corey Dickerson reached a pretty cool milestone: 1,000 career hits. McComb native Dickerson, 34, got his first big league hit in 2013 with Colorado, which drafted the lefty-hitting outfielder out of Meridian Community College in 2010. Now with Washington, Dickerson has played for eight different clubs over his career and has been an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. He has 136 career homers and 460 RBIs. The career hits leader among Mississippi natives is Dave Parker with 2,712. Three others (Buddy Myer, Ellis Burks and Frank White) reached the 2,000-hit level. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner now has 18 career hits after a 4-for-4 effort for Minnesota on Saturday. Wallner, who has played in just 28 games over his young MLB career, hit his first homer of 2023 in the win against Toronto; he hit two last season. … USM will play for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title Sunday in Montgomery, Ala., after beating Appalachian State 11-1 in an elimination game on Saturday. USM lost an earlier game to the Mountaineers. In the win, Will Armistead threw a seven-inning four-hitter and Matthew Etzel and Reece Ewing banged out three hits apiece in a 15-hit attack. … East Central Community College got run-ruled 12-2 by Southeastern Iowa on Saturday in the NJCAA Division II World Series and plays an elimination game Sunday vs. Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. … William Carey University won its opener Friday against Bellevue (Neb.) and will play again Monday in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. R.J. Stinson hit an RBI double and scored on a Jake Lycette sac fly to give the Crusaders a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Preston Ratliff pitched the ninth to nail down the win, Carey’s 48th of the season.