14 Oct

coming attractions

Minor league numbers don’t always translate to major league success, but there is certainly great promise in what the crop of Mississippi products displayed this season. Consider a 2021 All-Star team of state-connected players in the minors:
The pitching staff would feature Ethan Small (Mississippi State), who went 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA over three levels and earned Milwaukee’s organizational pitcher of the year honors; Konnor Pilkington (MSU), 7-6, 3.04 in Double-A for the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland; J.T. Ginn (MSU), 5-5, 3.03 in A-ball for the New York Mets; Kirk McCarty (Southern Miss), 9-6, 5.01 in Triple-A for Cleveland; Parker Caracci (Ole Miss), 2.29, 12 saves at two levels for Toronto; Colby White (MSU), 1.44, 11 saves over four levels for Tampa Bay.
Catcher: Thomas Dillard (Ole Miss), .247, 18 homers, 75 RBIs at High-A and Double-A for the Brewers, or Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), .245, 7, 44 in Double-A and Triple-A before hitting .290 with four bombs in the majors with Miami.
First base: Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), .296, 29, 80 at High-A and Double-A for Texas.
Second base: Justin Foscue (MSU), .275, 17, 51 at High-A and Double-A for the Rangers.
Shortstop: Jordan Westburg (MSU), .285, 14, 70 plus 13 steals at three levels for Baltimore.
Third base: Blaze Jordan (DeSoto Central), .324, 6, 25 in rookie and Low-A ball for Boston.
Outfield: Jacob Robson (MSU), .295, 7, 38 and 19 bags at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, with a brief trip to the majors, for Detroit; Jake Mangum (MSU), .285, 9, 47 and 14 steals in High-A and Double-A for the Mets; Joe Gray, Jr. (Hattiesburg High), .252, 20, 90 and 23 bags in A-ball for Milwaukee.
DH: Tyreque Reed (Itawamba CC), .271, 17, 71 in High-A and Double-A for the Red Sox, or Matt Wallner (USM), .265, 15, 47 in High-A ball for Minnesota.
Utility: Sam McWilliams (Meridian CC), .298, 14, 70 and 13 steals in A-ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers; Hunter Stovall (MSU), .316, 6, 46, 25 steals in High-A for Colorado; Ti’Quan Forbes (Columbia High), .267, 6, 28, 6 steals in Double-A and Triple-A for the White Sox; Colt Keith (Biloxi High), .286, 2, 32 in A-ball for the Tigers; Grae Kessinger (Ole Miss), .209, 9, 26, 12 bags in Double-A for Houston.
Six Mississippi products made MLB debuts in 2021, with Fortes, Justin Steele (George County) and Nick Sandlin (USM) getting extended looks. There is a rising tide of prospects behind that group hoping to make a splash in the big leagues in the near future.

16 Sep

something different

Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss standout from Picayune, has done quite a few noteworthy things in his eight-year pro career. Won a Southern League batting title. Played in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game. Played in the big leagues. On Wednesday night, the 28-year-old Lee did something entirely different: He pitched. Lee, an outfielder by trade, threw a scoreless eighth inning for Triple-A Louisville in a 12-3 loss at Memphis. A lefty hitter who throws righty, Lee didn’t allow a hit and walked just one in his mound debut. He went 1-for-3 as a hitter, lifting his average to .242 in 41 games with Cincinnati’s top minor league club. Lee played in eight games for the Miami Marlins in 2018 but has spent the past couple years bouncing around the minors. He was playing in the independent Atlantic League when the Reds signed him in June. He started the season with Chattanooga in the Double-A South. The Pearl River Community College product has a .262 career average in the minors over 676 games. P.S. Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim and Mississippi State product Justin Foscue went a combined 5-for-5 with four runs and six RBIs for Double-A Frisco on Wednesday. Both homered. Alas, the Texas Rangers affiliate lost 10-9 at Amarillo. Crim is batting .290 with eight bombs, and Foscue — a highly rated prospect — is at .247 with two homers, one in each of the last two games. Crim has 28 homers on the year at two levels, and Foscue, the 14th overall pick in 2020, has 17 at three levels.

02 Aug

flip the calendar

Blaine Crim surely hated to see July come to an end, but the former Mississippi College standout can’t be disappointed in how August began. Crim, playing for High-A Hickory in the Texas Rangers’ organization, went 2-for-5 with his 20th homer and two RBIs on Sunday to power the Crawdads to a 12-7 win against Greenville. This comes on the heels of a July in which the 24-year-old first baseman hit .393 (.843 slugging percentage) with 12 home runs. Often hitting behind Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue in the Hickory lineup, Crim is batting .300 on the season with 61 RBIs. His 20 homers is tied for the High-A East lead. An Alabama native, Crim was the Gulf South Conference player of the year at MC in 2019 and was drafted in the 19th round by the Rangers that summer. He batted .373 for the Choctaws in ’19, leaving school as the career hits leader, and continued to mash in the minors, hitting .335 with eight homers at short-season Class A Spokane. Missing a full season of work in 2020 — when there was no minor league ball — doesn’t seem to have fazed Crim. P.S. Billy Hamilton’s running, diving, sliding catch in the rain back on July 6 was rated the No. 1 play for July by MLB Network. Alas, the Taylorsville High product, now with the Chicago White Sox, landed on the injured list Sunday with an oblique strain.

26 Jul

very interesting …

Mississippi State product Justin Foscue, a first-round pick by Texas in the 2020 draft, homered in his eighth straight game on Sunday. (Note: The big league record is eight straight.) Foscue went deep for High-A Hickory in the completion of a game suspended last Friday. His streak began on July 9 when he was on a rehab assignment with the Arizona Complex League Rangers. He is batting .324 with 10 homers and 23 RBIs for Hickory. Foscue didn’t play in Sunday’s regularly scheduled game, but ex-Mississippi College star Blaine Crim did. And he homered in his second straight game and for the 12th time in July. Crim is batting .298 with 19 homers and 58 RBIs for Hickory. … The remains of the 2021 season will be a lot more interesting for Adam Frazier now that the ex-State standout has been traded from Pittsburgh to San Diego. The Pirates are mired in last place in their division. The Padres are in a heated battle with San Francisco and Los Angeles in the National League West. Frazier, 29, was a coveted trade piece, with several teams reportedly expressing interest. The All-Star second baseman is batting .324 and leads the big leagues in hits with 125. According to mlb.com, Frazier is only the third player in the modern era to be traded midseason while leading MLB in hits. The others: Willie McGee (1990) and Red Schoendienst (1957). Frazier is a left-handed hitter with some pop (39 career homers) who has played six different positions over his six seasons in the majors. … It wasn’t surprising that All-Stars Lance Lynn and Brandon Woodruff gave us quite the pitchers’ duel on Sunday night (see previous post). The surprise was that former Ole Miss star Lynn delivered the game’s biggest hit, a two-run single off MSU product Woodruff that propelled the Chicago White Sox to a 3-1 win over Milwaukee in a matchup of division leaders. Lynn’s second-inning hit, on an 0-2 fastball, was his first since 2017. It came in his first plate appearance in over two years. Woodruff, a good-hitting pitcher, also had a knock off Lynn but came up empty in a key at-bat in the fifth inning. Down 3-1 with a runner at second and one out, Woodruff took a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch.

14 Jul

power grid

While the big league stars were out in Colorado on Tuesday, former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker generated some luminosity down in Triple-A. Rooker blasted three home runs and drove in a career-high seven runs to power St. Paul to a 19-1 win over Columbus. Rooker, who started this season in Minnesota but didn’t hit enough to stick, now has 17 homers on the season, tied for the most in the Triple-A East. The right-handed hitting outfielder/DH is batting .245 with 41 RBIs for the Saints as he awaits another big league shot. “(Y)ou have to just stay confident in yourself and make the right adjustments,” he told milb.com. “I believe in myself and know I can be successful (in the big leagues).” … In Double-A, Ole Miss alum Grae Kessinger hit his sixth homer for Houston’s Corpus Christi club. The infielder, in his second pro season, has lifted his average to .213 with a recent hot streak. … In High-A, ex-State star Justin Foscue and former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim, hitting 2-3 in the Hickory lineup, produced long balls. Crim, who has been on a tear, has 13 homers and Foscue, a 2020 draftee, four for the Texas affiliate. (Foscue’s former Bulldogs teammate and 2020 draftee Jordan Westburg went 2-for-5 for Aberdeen (Baltimore) in that same game.) … In Low-A, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product Brandon Parker went yard for Augusta, an Atlanta farm club. Parker, in his second pro season, has six homers but is batting just .174. … And in the Florida Complex League on Monday, ex-DeSoto Central High star Blaze Jordan got his first pro homer. The storied slugger, 18, a third-round pick by Boston last year, is hitting .194 through eight games. P.S. Bobby Wahl, the former Ole Miss pitcher, has been released by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wahl, 29, who has big league time, has an 11.12 ERA in 15 games this season for three minor league teams in the Milwaukee and L.A. systems.

07 Jul

whatever happened to …

Aaron Barrett, the ex-Ole Miss standout who completed a courageous MLB comeback from injuries two years ago, is still pitching — and coming back from yet another injury. Barrett, 33, is with Washington’s Double-A Harrisburg club, where he has a 3.00 ERA in two appearances. He started this season on the Triple-A injured list following spring knee surgery. Barrett was an effective reliever as a rookie for the Nationals in 2014, putting up a 2.66 ERA. He hurt his arm late in 2015 and missed most of the next three seasons following Tommy John surgery and a career-threatening broken humerus bone. Against all odds, he made it back to Washington in 2019, appearing in three games for the eventual world champion. He didn’t play in the 2019 postseason but threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a roaring crowd at Nationals Park prior to the National League Wild Card Game. Several hours later, the Nationals pulled off a dramatic comeback to beat Milwaukee 4-3. Barrett pitched briefly for the Nats in 2020 and re-signed as a minor leaguer in the off-season. P.S. Blaine Crim’s fast start to his pro career – a .348 average at two levels of rookie ball in 2019 — was derailed by the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. The former Mississippi College star may be getting back on track. Now at High-A Hickory in the Texas system, Crim hit his eighth home run Tuesday and boosted his average to .269 with 37 RBIs as a middle-of-the-order bat for the Crawdads. Crim was a 19th-round pick in 2019 by the Rangers after winning Gulf South Conference player of the year honors at MC.

08 Jun

piling up points

If DraftKings daily fantasy points had been a thing in 1940, Harry Craft would have piled up a whopping 53 on June 8 of that year. The folks on MLB Network’s Quick Pitch show would have been fawning all over Craft’s performance. The Ellisville native, who played six big league seasons, hit for the cycle on June 8, 1940, starring for Cincinnati against visiting Brooklyn at Crosley Field. In the Reds’ 23-2 win, Craft – the team’s 7-hole hitter – went 5-for-5 with a walk, an HBP, six RBIs and four runs. The only fantasy column he didn’t tally in was stolen bases. Best known as a standout defensive center fielder, Craft hit .253 that season and won a World Series ring though he only had one at-bat in the series. A Mississippi College alum who garnered two nicknames during his career – “Wildfire” and “Popeye” – Craft played only two more years after 1940, joining the Navy in 1942. He later managed the Kansas City A’s and Houston Colt .45s.

29 Apr

rivals assemble

The results of last weekend left both Delta State and Mississippi College a little deflated. DSU lost two of three at home, including an L on Senior Day at Ferriss Field, while MC was swept on the road by Lee University, the No. 2 team in NCAA Division II. Well, forget all that. The Statesmen and Choctaws will be plenty fired up this weekend. The old rivals meet in a three-game set to finish the regular season at Frierson Field in Clinton. They’ll play a single game Friday and a pair on Saturday. DSU (22-14, 19-13 Gulf South) has clinched a berth in next week’s GSC Tournament; MC (15-18, 12-16) is still hunting. The all-time series tilts heavily to DSU, 43-12. But it’s 11-7 since 2015, when the Choctaws returned to D-II status and the GSC. Both teams can trot out some good arms – DSU’s Hunter Riggins (6-4, 3.03 ERA) and MC’s Jackson Bridges (5-3, 4.67), for example – but it would not be a shock to see the long ball determine the series winner. The Statesmen lead the GSC in homers with 50, topped by Jake Barlow with 12 and Hayden White with eight. MC is fourth with 42 homers, led by Ken Scott’s 10 and nine each from Caleb Reese and Dylan Duplechain. The teams didn’t play in last year’s aborted season, making this the first meeting between coaches Rodney Batts, who is in his second year in Cleveland, and Jeremy Haworth, now in his sixth at Clinton.

20 Apr

what a week

Mississippi College’s Dylan Marsh had the magic touch last week. The senior right-hander from Lake Cormorant (via Louisiana-Monroe) pitched in four games for the Choctaws and notched two saves and two wins. Not surprisingly, he earned the Gulf South Conference’s pitcher of the week honor, which was announced today. Marsh worked a total of seven innings, allowing just two hits and an unearned run while fanning 11. He got the wins in MC’s back-to-back, extra-inning, walk-off victories over Auburn-Montgomery on Sunday. Those wins stretched the Choctaws’ streak to seven. They have climbed to 15-15 overall and 12-13 in the GSC with two league series remaining, including the finale vs. Delta State. Dakota Kennedy has paced the MC attack with a .385 average. Ken Scott and Caleb Reese have supplied power with eight homers each, and Dylan Duplechain has added seven. Jackson Bridges (5-2), Payton Russell (3-3) and Bryce Lewis (2-4) have been reliable starters. MC currently sits seventh in the league standings. DSU is tied for fourth at 18-11. The top eight teams make the GSC Tournament field. … DSU’s Hayden White, a junior from Madison and MRA, was named the GSC player of the week after hitting .667 with three homers, seven RBIs and 10 runs in four wins. He is at .367 with eight homers and 37 RBIs for the year. The Statesmen (21-11 overall) have won 15 of their last 16.

14 Jul

there were other days

On this date in 1942, Ellisville native Harry Craft struck out in the last at-bat of the last game of a big league career that sparkled early on before fizzling out rather quickly. The Mississippi College alumnus entered pro ball in 1935 and made the majors in 1937, hitting .310 in a brief stint with Cincinnati as a 22-year-old. He batted .270 with 15 homers and 83 RBIs as the Reds’ regular center fielder the next year. He slipped to .256 with 13 homers in 1939, then scuffled for a couple of years before bottoming out in ’42 at age 27. He was batting .177 when the Reds traded him shortly after that final game to the New York Yankees. He served in the Navy for three years during World War II and returned to play in the minors with the Yankees until retiring in 1949. But Craft stayed in the game, in some capacity or another, until 1991, four years before his death, and the highlights of his time are rather fascinating. To wit: He acquired two nicknames during his playing days, Popeye and Wildfire. … He led National League outfielders in putouts and fielding percentage in 1938. … He caught the final out of Johnny Vander Meer’s second straight no-hitter in ’38. … He hit for the cycle in a 1940 game, one of just a handful of Mississippians to accomplish that feat. … He won a World Series title with the Reds in 1940, though he played in only one game in the Series. … In 1949, he was Mickey Mantle’s first manager in the minor leagues. … He became the second Mississippi native (after Harry Walker) to manage a major league club in 1957 when he was hired by the Kansas City Athletics. … In 1961, he was one of the “head coaches” who took turns running games for the Chicago Cubs. … In 1962, he became the first manager of the expansion Houston Colt .45s, and they beat the Cubs 11-2 in their debut at old Colt Stadium.