11 Oct

honor roll

Matt Wallner arrived this season, maybe a little ahead of schedule. An injury opened up a spot in the Minnesota outfield in mid-September and the ex-Southern Miss slugger got the call. He responded by hitting a home run in his first big league game and finished with two homers, a .228 average and 10 RBIs in 18 games. Staying in the big leagues can be tougher than getting there, but that’s Wallner’s mission for next season. For 2022, he certainly rates a spot as an outfielder on the Mississippi minor league All-Star squad. Wallner, a left-handed hitter, batted .277 with 27 homers and 95 RBIs at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. MLB Pipeline named him the Twins’ hitting prospect of the year. The picks for the other outfield spots are Mississippi State alum Jake Mangum and Meridian Community College product Davis Bradshaw. Mangum, a Jackson Prep grad, hit .306 with four homers, 35 RBIs, 43 runs and 14 steals in 72 games, finishing the year in Triple-A for the New York Mets. He missed a chunk of time with a back injury. McLaurin native Bradshaw, in the Miami system, batted .304 with 31 RBIs, 39 runs and 13 steals in 97 games between High-Class A and Double-A. At catcher, there’s Chuckie Robinson, a former USM star who also reached the big leagues this year with Cincinnati. A strong defensive backstop, Robinson batted .266 with five homers and 25 RBIs at the Double-A and Triple-A levels before finishing the season with the Reds. First base belongs to ex-Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim, who batted .293 with 24 homers and 96 RBIs, finishing the year in Triple-A for Texas. Another Rangers prospect, former State star Justin Foscue, is the second baseman of choice. He batted .288 with 15 homers and 81 RBIs in Double-A. At shortstop, there’s Jordan Westburg, who was named by Baltimore as its minor league player of the year, quite an honor considering the load of talent in that system. Westburg hit .265 with 27 homers, 106 RBIs and 12 bags between Double-A and Triple-A. Blaze Jordan, the young masher out of DeSoto Central, is the pick at third base after batting .289 with 12 homers and 68 RBIs at two levels of A-ball. Jordan, a 2020 draftee by Boston, is still only 19. At DH, there’s Brent Rooker, the former State star who has a fair amount of big league time on his resume. He hasn’t hit in The Show, but in Triple-A this year he blasted 28 homers and hit .289 with 87 RBIs. Traded twice last season, he is now in the Kansas City system. The best starting pitcher among Mississippians in the minors was Will Warren, a Jackson Prep product in the New York Yankees’ organization. Warren went 9-9 with a 3.91 ERA, finishing the year in Double-A and rising to No. 8 on their prospect chart. The top reliever was Tyler Samaniego, a Northeast Mississippi CC product. The lefty was 4-4 with a 2.45 ERA and 14 saves for Pittsburgh, finishing in Double-A. USM alum Walker Powell, a swingman in the Chicago Cubs’ system, posted an 11-2 record and 2.76 ERA over three levels. Former Ole Miss standout Wyatt Short, who also pitched in dual roles for the Cubs, went 7-2, 3.33, spending most of the season in Triple-A. Ex-Delta State star Dalton Moats put up a 3.60 ERA in 51 games as a middle reliever at Triple-A in the Tampa Bay chain. Also rating a mention is MSU product J.P. France, who went 3-4, 3.90, with four saves while climbing to Triple-A with Houston. … Five Mississippians made their MLB debut in 2022: Wallner, Robinson, USM alum Kirk McCarty (who is on Cleveland’s postseason roster), State product Konnor Pilkington and ex-Bulldogs ace Ethan Small.

17 Sep

let the dogs out

Friday was a banner day for ex-Mississippi State stars in the big leagues and the minors. Start in Milwaukee, where Bulldogs alumnus Hunter Renfroe led off the ninth inning with a double and eventually scored the walk-off run in a 7-6 victory against the New York Yankees. (Garrett Mitchell, a rookie who spent most of this season at Double-A Biloxi, got the winning knock for the Brewers, clinging to hope in the National League wild card race.) Move to St. Louis, where Chris Stratton threw three pitches, got one key out and notched the win for the Cardinals, who are closing in on the NL Central title. Stratton got the final out of the seventh inning with two runners on base and St. Louis rallied in the bottom half to go ahead and ultimately beat Cincinnati 6-5. Stratton is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA since he joined the Cards in August and has a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. At Tampa Bay, Nathaniel Lowe blasted his 25th homer to help also-ran Texas beat the wild card-chasing Rays 4-3. Tampa Bay is third in the American League wild card standings, behind Toronto and Seattle. … Down in the minors: Justin Foscue homered and drove in four runs as Frisco, Texas’ Double-A club, clinched the second-half title in the Texas League South; Jordan Westburg went 5-for-5 with his 17th homer for Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore), his 26th overall this season; and Brent Rooker smacked his fifth homer for Triple-A Omaha (Kansas City), his 24th all told in the minors this season.

16 Sep

fall guys

Four Mississippi products, each having battled injuries this season, are on the preliminary rosters for the Arizona Fall League, the select circuit for minor league prospects. Mississippi State alums Will Bednar and J.T. Ginn, ex-Southern Miss star Reed Trimble and former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith are slotted to play in the six-team AFL, which starts its season on Oct. 3. Bednar, the MVP of the 2021 College World Series and the 14th overall pick in the ’21 draft by San Francisco, is 1-3 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 games at the Low-Class A level. Ginn, a second-round pick in 2020, has made 10 starts this year in Double-A in Oakland’s system, posting a 1-4, 6.11 ledger. Ginn was traded by the New York Mets to the A’s for Chris Bassitt during spring training. Trimble, an outfielder and 2021 draftee, is hitting .291 in Low-A ball for Baltimore. Keith, drafted in 2020 by Detroit, hit .301 with nine homers in an abbreviated season at High-A. He was Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019. Among Atlanta’s AFL contingent are current Mississippi Braves Justyn-Henry Malloy and Allan Winans. They’ll be with the Scottsdale team, along with Trimble and Bednar. Ginn will go to Mesa and Keith to Salt River. The rosters could change before or during the season. A bevy of Top 100 overall prospects are scheduled to participate, including four of MLB Pipeline’s Top 20.

07 Sep

nature of the game

Every day in the season is filled with highs and lows. Here’s a few from Tuesday:
Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star, drove in the go-ahead run with a sac fly in the sixth inning and Atlanta’s bullpen made it stand up for a 10-9 win at Oakland that gave the Braves a share of the National League East lead.
Logan Tanner, the Mississippi State alum, hit his first professional home run for Daytona, Cincinnati’s Low-Class A affiliate. Tanner, a second-round pick in July, also walked twice and scored three times; he is batting .204.
Reed Trimble, the Southern Miss product, went 3-for-5 with a couple of RBIs and a run for Low-A Delmarva (Baltimore). He is batting .296 with 18 RBIs and 19 runs in 30 games for the Shorebirds.
Joe Gray Jr., the former Hattiesburg High star, went 3-for-5 with a couple of doubles for High-A Wisconsin, though the Milwaukee prospect is batting just .192 in a pivotal season.
Dakota Hudson, ex-State standout, probably not thrilled at being sent to Triple-A by St. Louis, pitched 8 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts in his first appearance for Memphis against Norfolk.
Hunter Renfroe hit his 25th homer and fellow former Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff allowed just one run in seven innings for Milwaukee, but …
Renfroe and Woodruff watched the Brewers’ bullpen blow a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning and ultimately lose 10-7 in 10 to Colorado, further damaging their playoff hopes.
Buck Showalter, the ex-State standout and current New York Mets manager, watched his club fall to Pittsburgh 8-2, its third straight loss to a last-place club, and slip into a tie for first with the surging Braves in the NL East.
Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College product trying to get back to the majors, gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning of work for Double-A Montgomery (Tampa Bay). The veteran lefty saw his ERA rise to 7.71 for the Biscuits.
James Beard, the Loyd Star High alum, went 0-for-3 with three punchouts for High-A Winston-Salem in the Chicago White Sox’s system. Beard, batting .206, has fanned 17 times in 34 at-bats since being promoted from Low-A.
Regi Grace, the ex-Madison Central star, yielded three hits, a walk and four runs in his High-A debut with Cedar Rapids (Minnesota). He had four wins, four holds, two saves and a 4.45 ERA at Fort Myers.

28 Aug

prime nine

Down on the farm, a bundle of Mississippi products enjoyed a productive day at the plate on Saturday. Topping the chart: Reed Trimble, the former Southern Miss star. The second-year pro, recently activated from the injured list, went 3-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs for Low-Class A Delmarva in the Baltimore system.
Blaine Crim, Mississippi College alum, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs for Double-A Frisco (Texas).
Justin Foscue, the ex-Mississippi State star and a highly rated prospect for Texas, went 2-for-4 with an RBI at Frisco.
Tim Elko, a 2022 draft pick out of Ole Miss, went 3-for-5 with three runs and an RBI at Low-A Kannapolis (Chicago White Sox).
Emaarion Boyd, a 2022 draftee from South Panola High, went 3-for-4 with a stolen base for Low-A Clearwater (Philadelphia).
Kamren James, a 2022 draftee out of MSU, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in a win for Tampa Bay’s rookie team in the Florida Complex League championship series.
Hunter Stovall, former State standout, went 2-for-4 with an RBI, the game-winner in the ninth inning, for Double-A Hartford (Colorado).
Grae Kessinger, ex-Ole Miss star, went 2-for-4 with an RBI for Double-A Corpus Christi (Houston).
Blaze Jordan, the DeSoto Central High product, went 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs for High-A Greenville (Boston).
P.S. Brandon Woodruff could use a little luck. The former MSU standout from Wheeler threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts for Milwaukee against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. However, the Brewers didn’t score while he was on the mound, rallying late for a 7-0 win. Woodruff has five no-decisions in August despite a 2.70 ERA over 30 innings. He is 9-3, 3.31, on the year with eight no-decisions.

27 Aug

whatever happened to …

Cody Reed, the ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake, is toiling in Double-A as he tries to make his way back to the big leagues with Tampa Bay. The 29-year-old left-hander, now in his 10th pro season, has a 3.00 ERA in four games for Montgomery, having struck out seven and walked one in six innings. Reed was an effective reliever for the Rays in 2021 with a 3.72 ERA and three holds in 12 appearances before an injury (and surgery) halted his season in late May. He made a handful of rehab appearances in the minors, became a free agent after the season, re-signed with the Rays and then got hurt again in the spring. He finally returned to duty in mid-July and has pitched in 10 games all told. Reed isn’t on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster, but experienced lefties are always in demand, so it would not be a surprise to see him back in The Show in September for the playoff-hunting Rays. P.S. On the topic of lefties and comebacks, Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, on San Diego’s injured list all season, has a 7.71 ERA in five rehab games spread over three levels. He is currently at Triple-A El Paso. When healthy and in form, Pomeranz, 33 and in his 13th pro season, can certainly help the Padres in their playoff push. He had a 1.75 ERA for San Diego in 2021 and a 1.45 in 2020 with a combined 22 holds and four saves.

24 Aug

minor matters

Former Southern Miss star Chuckie Robinson, having received his second big league call-up on Tuesday, might be in line for his debut tonight when Cincinnati plays Philadelphia. Robinson joined the Reds for the recent Field of Dreams Game but did not play and was sent back to Triple-A the next day. The right-handed hitting catcher, now in his seventh pro year, was batting .253 with two homers and 12 RBIs at Louisville after starting the season in Double-A. Cincinnati’s No. 1 catcher, Austin Romine, is batting .194. The Phillies are starting a left-hander tonight. … The minor league transaction wire was humming on Tuesday. In other noteworthy moves: Mississippi State product Jake Mangum, coming off a rehab stint in rookie ball, was assigned to Double-A Binghamton and promptly went 2-for-5 with a homer for the New York Mets’ affiliate. Mangum was in Triple-A when he went on the injured list in late May. … Ex-Ole Miss slugger Tim Elko was promoted from the rookie level to Low-Class A Kannapolis by the Chicago White Sox and went 1-for-4 in his first game. He was batting .154 with three homers in the Arizona Complex League. In a related move, the White Sox bumped Loyd Star High product James Beard from Kannapolis to High-A Winston-Salem. He went 0-for-4. Beard was batting .163 with four homers and 25 stolen bases in Low-A. … USM alum and former big leaguer Cody Carroll was released from San Francisco’s Triple-A Sacramento club. He had a 7.62 ERA over 31 appearances. … Ex-USM standout Jarod Wright was activated from the IL at High-A South Bend in the Cubs’ system; he is 2-4, 4.60 ERA this season. … MSU alum Peyton Plumlee was activated at Low-A Fayetteville in the Houston chain. He had been on the IL all season before making a rehab appearance in rookie ball. … When Milwaukee put left-hander Aaron Ashby on the IL, it did not recall Ethan Small, the former State star and No. 12 prospect who has made two big league appearances this season, both fairly shaky. The left-hander is 6-4, 3.50, at Triple-A Nashville but has not been sharp of late. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt caught the first eight innings for Tampa Bay on Tuesday, homered and drove in three runs and then pitched a scoreless ninth in an 11-1 blowout of the Los Angeles Angels. The homer was Bethancourt’s eighth. He has made eight career pitching appearances (7.36 ERA). Oddly enough, ex-M-Braves infielder Phil Gosselin got the last three outs for the Angels working in the eighth. … Bryce Harper went deep twice in his first rehab game for Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley team, both bombs coming against former M-Braves pitchers, Jared Shuster and William Woods, now at Gwinnett.

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.

17 Aug

touching the bases

There is much to absorb from a busy Tuesday. Start with Charlie Morton’s brilliance against the first-place New York Mets. The former Mississippi Braves pitcher threw 6 2/3 shutout innings, yielding three hits and fanning 12, in Atlanta’s 5-0 win — its eighth straight — at Truist Park. The Braves are 3.5 games back in the National League East. … Down at High-Class A Rome, M-Braves alum Mike Soroka, on a big league rehab assignment, struck out eight batters in four scoreless innings. He hasn’t pitched in an MLB game since Aug. 3, 2020. … The Braves gave rookie sensation Michael Harris II, who started this season at Double-A Mississippi, a well-deserved new contract: $72 million over eight years. (Don’t the Braves need to find some cash to re-sign Dansby Swanson?) … The tally is now 160 (at least) of M-Braves alums who have reached the majors with the promotions of Freddy Tarnok by the Braves and Shea Langeliers by Oakland. Tarnok was 2-2 with a 4.31 ERA for the M-Braves this season before moving to Triple-A Gwinnett. Langeliers, a star on last year’s Double-A South championship club before being traded, doubled on the first pitch he saw for the A’s. He was hitting .283 with 19 homers at Triple-A Las Vegas. … Former Mississippi State star Adam Frazier had two hits, two RBIs and two runs in surging Seattle’s 8-2 win against the Los Angeles Angels. Frazier is hitting .318 in his last seven games for the American League wild card leader, which has won 35 of its last 50. … MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, on with a bunt single — yes, a bunt — in the 11th inning, scored the game-winning run for Milwaukee in a 6-5 victory vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fellow former Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff struck out eight L.A. batters in five innings. … Ole Miss product Nick Fortes homered twice and scored a third time in run-starved Miami’s 4-3 win over San Diego. Fortes is at .259 with six homers. … Ex-MSU standout Nathaniel Lowe went 3-for-4 in Texas’ loss to Oakland and is batting .400 in August, .291 on the season. … Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, moving closer (maybe) to returning to San Diego’s active roster, got two outs and gave up a three-run homer in a rehab appearance for Triple-A El Paso. The 33-year-old lefty has been on the shelf all season. … Ex-MSU star Jake Mangum, on the injured list at Triple-A Syracuse since May 23 with a back problem, went 0-for-2 in a rehab game for the Mets’ Florida Complex League club. Mangum was hitting .333 in 11 games at Syracuse. … DeSoto Central High product Blaze Jordan had a 4-for-5 game with his third homer for High-A Greenville in Boston’s system. Jordan is batting .435 in six games at his new level. … Logan Tanner, drafted out of MSU in the second round last month by Cincinnati, got his first two hits as a pro at Low-A Daytona. He is 2-for-17. … Third-round pick Dalton Rogers, a Southern Miss alum, pitched a scoreless inning in his pro debut for Boston’s rookie team in the FCL. … Ex-State standouts Jordan Westburg (in Baltimore’s system) and Justin Foscue (Texas) are ranked Nos. 80 and 82 in MLB Pipeline’s new Top 100 Prospects list.

12 Aug

wings of eagles

The Mississippi Braves ran into some stout pitching at Tennessee on Thursday night, the most effective of the three arms that shut them down belonging to former Southern Miss right-hander Walker Powell. In a 1-0 Smokies victory, Powell worked five innings in middle relief, yielding three hits and a walk while striking out seven. He got the win, improving to 3-2, 2.40 ERA, in seven games for the Chicago Cubs’ Double-A affiliate. On the year, at three different levels, the 6-foot-8 Powell is 10-2, 3.02. Signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent out of the MLB Draft League last summer, Powell is one of 14 former USM pitchers currently in pro ball. Pitching has become a hallmark of the Golden Eagles program, and it showed in this year’s draft, with five USM pitchers getting picked. Another was signed as a non-drafted free agent. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have had higher profile draftees in recent years, but USM is producing its fair share. Nick Sandlin, a second-round pick by Cleveland in 2018, is the lone USM alum currently in the majors; he has a 2.51 ERA as a reliever for the first-place Guardians. Cody Carroll, drafted back in 2015, and Kirk McCarty, a 2017 draftee, also have pitched in the big leagues, though both are currently in Triple-A. McCarty has been up-and-down with Cleveland this season and has posted two wins. J.C. Keys is in Double-A in the Cincinnati system, and Ryan Och, Hunter Stanley and Jarod Wright are in A-ball. The 2022 crop of draftees includes Dalton Rogers (a third-round pick by Boston), Ben Ethridge, Garrett Ramsey, Landon Harper and Tyler Stuart. Hunter Riggins signed after the draft. Stuart is the only one of that group to debut, throwing one inning in rookie ball. P.S. Kudos to Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, who got a well-deserved four-year contract extension. The school’s all-time winningest coach — and No. 3 all-time among SEC coaches — won the national championship this season along with his second batch of national coach of the year awards in three seasons. He may also finally have won over Ole Miss fans.