10 Apr

simply the best

As yet another era of Double-A baseball in the Jackson area enters its final chapter, raise a glass to the seven championship teams produced over the years. The JaxMets won Texas League titles in 1981, ’84 and ’85. The Generals (a Houston affiliate) won TL pennants in 1993 and ’96 at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Pearl-based Mississippi Braves won the Southern League title in 2008 and the Double-A South crown in 2021. The best team among that bunch arguably would be the ’84 JaxMets, who could run out a starting nine made up entirely of future major league players. That club, managed by Sam Perlozzo, featured Lenny Dykstra, Billy Beane, Al Pedrique, Mark Carreon, Greg Olson, Randy Milligan, Calvin Schiraldi, Randy Myers and Floyd Youmans, among others. They went 83-53 overall and won both halves handily in the TL East. Schiraldi was 14-3 with a 2.88 ERA and was the league’s pitcher of the year. Dykstra led the league in runs with 100 and stole 53 bases while batting .275. Beane, in what he called his “junior year” in Jackson, had a breakout season: .281, 20 homers, 72 RBIs, 26 steals. Pedrique led the league’s shortstops with a .961 fielding percentage. Bill Max, who never made the majors, had a TL-best 16 game-winning RBIs plus 11 bombs. All told, 19 players who appeared on the JaxMets’ roster in 1984 made it to The Show. P.S. Jackson teams also won championships in various low-level minor leagues in 1908, 1913, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1940 and 1947 — according to the Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia.

23 Mar

watch for it

As spring training winds down, Will Warren is ramping up his bid to make the New York Yankees’ starting rotation. The Jackson Prep product pitched five strong innings on Friday, allowing three hits, two walks and a lone run in a Grapefruit League game against the New York Mets. Right-hander Warren, the Yanks’ No. 8-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, is competing with several others for the fifth starter job. He is 3-1 with a 3.52 ERA in five games this spring. “He’s got the starter repertoire, a lot of confidence and a great demeanor on the mound,” New York manager Aaron Boone said in an mlb.com article. “He’s done a nice job and earned (a chance) to be in this position.” The 26-man roster should be announced soon. The team opens March 28 at Houston. Featuring a wipeout slider, Warren went 10-4 with a 3.35 between Double-A and Triple-A last season. After going 7-0, 1.39, as a senior at Jackson Prep in 2017, Warren signed with NCAA Division I Southeastern Louisiana, where he posted a 3.90 ERA in 53 games over four seasons. The Yankees drafted him in the eighth round in 2021, and he has made steady progress in their system. P.S. Pitching against Warren and the Yankees on Friday was ex-Southern Miss star Tyler Stuart, drafted by the Mets in the sixth round in 2022. The 6-foot-9 Stuart allowed two runs in three innings against the likes of Juan Soto, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Rated the Mets’ No. 18 prospect, Stuart was 7-2, 2.44, between High-Class A and Double-A in 2023.

01 Jan

here and there

One month from today, the college season gets under way in the Magnolia State when William Carey University hosts Missouri Baptist and Blue Mountain Christian welcomes Lane College. Carey went 49-11 in 2023 and reached the NAIA World Series. Crusaders coach Bobby Halford will begin his 39th season at the helm with 1,300 career victories. Blue Mountain finished 26-25 last season, qualifying for the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, where the 6-seed Toppers beat Carey before bowing out in a rematch. … Former big leaguer Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High slugger, finished 2023 with a bang, getting four hits including a home run on Saturday in the Mexican Pacific League. Bradley is batting .281 with three homers and 19 RBIs for Monterrey. He hit 30 bombs for Charleston in the independent Atlantic League last summer. Bradley played in 97 MLB games for Cleveland from 2019-22. … On the topic of slugging, DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley made mlb.com’s list of the 10 longest home runs in 2023. Riley tied for ninth with a 473-footer on April 3 at St. Louis; it was the first of his 37 homers on the year for Atlanta. The longest homer of 2023 was belted by — who else? — Shohei Ohtani, a 493-footer in June. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Chad Smith recently signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets; the right-hander posted a 6.59 ERA in 10 games for Oakland in 2023.

05 Dec

four months out

The 2023 Mississippi Braves deployed several position players who put up some nice numbers, but there really wasn’t a player who moved the needle on the excitement meter. No Michael Harris II or Ronald Acuna or Dansby Swanson type. Might there be one in 2024? Baseball America ranks three position players among Atlanta’s top 10 prospects, and it’s possible all three could be with the M-Braves when they open on the road on April 5. David McCabe, a corner infielder/DH, is No. 6; catcher Drake Baldwin No. 7; and shortstop Ignacio Alvarez No. 8. McCabe, 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, played at two Class A levels in 2023 and hit .276 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs, then hit .278 in the Arizona Fall League. A college draftee out of UNC-Charlotte, the 23-year-old McCabe is projected as Atlanta’s DH in 2027. Baldwin, a Missouri State alum, is rated as the top power-hitting prospect in the Braves’ system after mashing 16 homers at three levels in 2023. A lefty hitter, he played 14 games (.321, one homer) for the M-Braves late last season before finishing in Triple-A. The most dynamic of those three prospects is Alvarez, the highest rated position player (at No. 8) on Atlanta’s Top 30 by MLB Pipeline. The 20-year-old Alvarez, drafted out of a California junior college, played at High-Class A Rome last season and hit .284 with seven homers, 66 RBIs and 16 steals. BA rates him the best overall hitter in the Atlanta system. Also worth keeping an eye on are infielders Keshawn Ogans and Gerald Quintero, both of whom had solid seasons at Rome in 2023 and could move up. Quintero is a second baseman in the Ozzie Albies mold — 5 feet 5, 155 pounds — who stole 29 bases while batting .251 for the R-Braves. He has 96 career steals in three years. Ogans, out of Cal-Berkley, hit .266 with nine homers at Rome and .299 in the AFL, where he made the Fall Stars Game. … The M-Braves’ best position players in 2023 included infielder Luke Waddell, a Southern League postseason All-Star who batted .290 and stole 26 bases, and outfielder Cody Milligan — injured for a chunk of time — who hit .280. Cal Conley, a middle infielder, has dropped to No. 21 (per MLB Pipeline) on the Braves’ prospect chart after batting .219 (with 32 bags) in 2023. Outfielder Jesse Franklin V — projected by Baseball America as Atlanta’s starting left fielder in 2027 — hit .232 with 15 homers and 21 steals last season and is now rated the No. 22 prospect. P.S. Former Jackson Mets catcher — and MLB manager — John Gibbons and ex-M-Braves outfielder Antoan Richardson have been named to the New York Mets’ coaching staff as bench coach and first-base coach, respectively.

20 Oct

the right stuff

The Arizona Fall League has been described as an All-Star game every night, and Mississippi State product Rowdey Jordan is showing that he belongs among the highly rated prospects in the league. Jordan — who isn’t among the New York Mets’ Top 30 prospects — had a three-hit game for Glendale on Thursday night, raising his average to .275 in 11 games. The switch-hitting infielder/outfielder scored twice and picked up his sixth double, which is tied for the AFL lead. He has eight runs and three RBIs. Alabama native Jordan batted .323 with 10 homers for State’s national championship team in 2021 and was drafted, as a senior, in the 11th round by the Mets. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Jordan reached Double-A Binghamton late in 2022 and spent all of 2023 there, hitting .230 with 13 homers, 63 RBIs and 30 steals. P.S. Jordan’s teammate on the ’21 Bulldogs, College World Series star Will Bednar has had a rocky go in the AFL as he attempts to get his pro career on track. Bednar, the 14th overall pick in 2021 by San Francisco, has a 9.82 ERA in four appearances for Scottsdale. The right-hander, beset by injuries since he was drafted, has allowed four runs on three hits and seven walks in 3 2/3 innings. He does have six strikeouts. Once the Giants’ No. 4 prospect (by MLB Pipeline), Bednar is now listed 26th. He went 1-2, 4.22, in four games in rookie ball this season.

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.

22 Sep

tough times in ‘the town’

Thursday’s game represented Brent Rooker’s season in a nutshell. The ex-Mississippi State star blasted a two-run homer — his fifth in eight games and 28th of the year — for Oakland. Yay. It came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game the A’s would lose 7-3 to Detroit, the eighth straight loss for the worst team (46-107) in baseball. Ugh. Rooker also struck out three times, giving him 160 on the year in 432 at-bats. That’s not a good ratio. On top of that, he made a throwing error in right field, one of three Oakland misplays. Perhaps it was a good thing only 6,160 people were there to see all this. Rooker, in his fourth MLB season with his fourth team, made the All-Star Game this season. But he isn’t guaranteed a job with the A’s for 2024, when the Las Vegas-bound team will be a lame duck at Oakland Coliseum. Rooker, 28, is batting .241 this year with a .324 on-base percentage and 64 RBIs. P.S. In Triple-A, former MSU star Justin Foscue hit a grand slam and drove in six runs all told for Round Rock in the Texas system. Foscue, the 14th overall draft pick in 2020 and a highly rated Rangers prospect, is batting .265 with 17 home runs, 79 RBIs and 14 steals for the Express, which is contending for a playoff berth in the Pacific Coast League. He has played first, second and third base this season. … In Double-A, Southern Miss product Walker Powell worked five inning (three hits, one run, six strikeouts) to boost Tennessee (Chicago Cubs) past Chattanooga and into the Southern League Championship Series. Powell won a league-high 11 games for the Smokies during the regular season. MSU alum Rowdey Jordan, a .230 hitter with 13 bombs this year, had a 1-for-4 night as Binghamton (New York Mets) beat Somerset and reached the Eastern League finals.

29 Aug

that’s pretty big

The Texas Rangers have won 74 games this season, rapped out an MLB-best 1,226 hits and scored an American League-leading 731 runs. So when manager Bruce Bochy says that Nathaniel Lowe’s ninth-inning single on Monday was “as big a hit as we’ve had this year,” he is saying a lot. Former Mississippi State standout Lowe’s two-out, two-RBI knock gave the slumping Rangers a 4-3 lead over the New York Mets, and they held on to win for just the second time in 11 games. The Rangers, recently passed in the AL West standings by red-hot Seattle, remained a game back of the Mariners and tied with Houston. With a 3-2 lead in the ninth, Mets manager Buck Showalter, another State product from way back, elected to walk Corey Seager and load the bases ahead of Lowe. Lowe, who had previously extended his hit streak to 10 games, smacked a 2-1 pitch from Trevor Gott into right field to put Texas ahead. Lowe called it a “team win.” It was the team’s first win in 48 games this season in which they trailed after eight innings. While many of the Rangers have slumped of late, Lowe — a Silver Slugger winner in 2022 — has not. He is batting .297 over his last 15 games and is at .282 with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs for the year. P.S. In what passes as a showdown in the AL Central, first-place Minnesota beat second-place Cleveland 10-6, getting a 438-foot homer from Southern Miss alum Matt Wallner, his 10th. The Twins’ lead is 7 games. … Other than that bizarre and somewhat scary incident involving several so-called “fans,” former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna enjoyed an MVP-caliber night at Colorado. Acuna went 4-for-5, hit his 29th homer, stole his 60th and 61st bases, drove in five runs and scored four to power Atlanta to a 14-4 win. No player in MLB history has hit 30 homers and swiped 60 bags in the same season.

22 Aug

going places

Coming soon to the Mississippi Braves’ lineup: Brandon Parker. The former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star from Saucier, just off the injured list, has been promoted to Double-A, though he is not starting tonight at Montgomery. A 2019 draftee by Atlanta, after winning NJCAA Division II player of the year honors at Perk, Parker was hitting .250 with five homers, 21 RBIs and 10 steals for the High-Class A Rome Braves. He has been on the injured list since July 25 and just completed a rehab assignment in rookie ball. The 6-foot, 205-pound outfielder has 26 career homers in 231 minor league games. … Parker might get a chance during the six-game series against the Biscuits to face former Mississippi State standout Colby White, whose journey back from arm surgery has led him back to Montgomery, where he spent part of the 2021 season en route to reaching Triple-A in Tampa Bay’s system. White, on the Rays’ 40-man roster, has a 1.86 career ERA in 74 minor league games since 2019. … Also moving up today is ex-MSU standout Kellum Clark, a 20th-round pick by the New York Mets in July. He was hitting .308 in rookie ball, earning a promotion to Class A St. Lucie.

05 Aug

a clash at camden

Buck Showalter had some good times in Baltimore. Friday night was not one. Ex-Mississippi State star Showalter’s fading New York Mets lost to the surging Orioles 10-3 as another ex-Bulldogs star played a big role for the winners. Jordan Westburg, Baltimore’s rookie second baseman, went 2-for-3 with two walks, a homer, three RBIs and two runs. Since his June 26 call-up, Westburg is batting .276 with a pair of homers and 11 RBIs. His homer Friday was his first at Camden Yards. It was a three-run shot in the bottom of the seventh that turned a 6-2 game into a 9-2 rout. “It was cool, pretty cool,” Westburg said in a postgame interview. The Orioles moved to 68-42, 2 games up on Tampa Bay in the American League East. Showalter managed the O’s from 2010-18, posted four winning seasons, made three playoff appearances and won a manager of the year award before the roster was gutted the last two seasons. He was welcomed back Friday with a pregame video tribute and got a standing ovation from Baltimore fans. He won a manager of the year award — his fourth — with the Mets last year and made the postseason. But things have gone sideways in 2023. The roster — with the highest payroll in the game — was gutted at the trade deadline. Friday’s loss dropped the Mets’ record to 50-59, fourth in the National League East, 21 games back of Atlanta. They managed just four hits Friday, and their bullpen was awful in the sixth and seventh innings, when the O’s scored eight times. “We have to play better, and some people that are getting an opportunity have to take advantage of it,” Showalter said in an Associated Press story.