24 Feb

spring flings

Who needs spring training? Ex-Ole Miss star Tim Elko, now a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, homered in his first at-bat in the team’s Cactus League opener on Friday. Power is Elko’s thing. He blasted 28 homers across three levels of the minors in 2023 and has 33 in his two-year pro career. The first baseman/DH hit 46 in his four years at Ole Miss and helped the Rebels win the national championship in 2022. He reached Double-A last season and should get to Triple-A at some point in 2024. The season is several weeks away, but Elko looked ready on Day 1. Also making an appearance for the ChiSox was Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who went 0-for-1. The veteran catcher, who has some big league time, signed with Chicago as a minor league free agent this off-season. … Elsewhere in spring openers: Former Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr., now a Kansas City minor leaguer, went 1-for-1 with a walk and an RBI for the Royals against Texas, which trotted out three Magnolia State products: Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe, the World Series-champion Rangers’ regular first baseman, was 0-for-2; Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim, a minor leaguer, went 0-for-2; and ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue, now on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, was hitless in two at-bats. … Ex-Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry Jr., a Minnesota minor leaguer, was 0-for-1 with two walks and two runs for the Twins, while USM product Matt Wallner, a starting outfielder for the Twins, put up an 0-for-2. … MSU alum Konnor Pilkington allowed a run in his one inning of work for Arizona. … And former DeSoto Central standout Blaze Jordan, who reached Double-A in 2023, played some third base and went 0-for-1 for Boston.

22 Feb

here and there

Delta State, pegged for a sixth-place finish in the Gulf South Conference this season, opens league play this weekend with a 6-5 record. The Statesmen will take on Union University for a three-game set (Friday-Saturday). DSU was the preseason favorite in the league poll in 2023 and finished eighth before reaching the championship round in the league tournament. Go figure. DSU is batting .323 as a team with a staff ERA of 6.00. The Statesmen are led by Brett Burrell, batting .444 with 11 RBIs, and Brendan McCauley, .391 with a homer and seven RBIs. … Mississippi College (8-3, 2-1 GSC) plays on the road for the first time this weekend, visiting league foe Auburn-Montgomery. … Blue Mountain Christian (11-3) has 19 home runs, seven by Arderrius Townsend, a former Northwest Mississippi Community College star. … Belhaven University is 3-3 heading into its first home games, a three-game set this weekend against St. Thomas at Trustmark Park in Pearl. … Mississippi Valley State will play its first games under new coach C.J. Bilbrey when the Delta Devils meet Jackson State (4-1) in a non-conference series, games at Braddy Field on Friday and Sunday and one in Itta Bena on Saturday. Joseph Eichelberger is batting a crazy .714 for JSU. … Southern Miss’ Nick Monistere was 0-for-10 heading into Wednesday’s game at New Orleans, then put up a 3-for-4 with a homer, five RBIs, four runs and two walks in the 4-1 Golden Eagles’ 15-10 victory. … Mississippi State is 13th and Ole Miss 14th in the Nashville Tennessean‘s latest SEC power rankings — and that was before both lost midweek games. MSU is 2-2, UM 2-3. The Rebels are batting .181 and have a 5.23 ERA. P.S. Pencil former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson in as Miami’s starting shortstop. The former All-Star and batting champ reportedly has signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Marlins on the heels of a disappointing 2023 season (.245, one homer) with the Chicago White Sox. Jon Berti was in line for the Miami shortstop job.

20 Feb

eye on …

Frierson Field, Clinton. William Carey University and Mississippi College, both off to good starts, renew their rivalry today. For the NCAA Division II Choctaws (7-3), Wesley Sides is on a jaw-dropping tear, batting .552 with six homers and 15 RBIs. MC has two other hitters, Cole Drake and J.T. Vance, with four homers each. And Caleb Reese, who has three bombs, is sitting on 35 career homers, tied for second on the school’s all-time list. (Richey Hines is No. 1 on that chart with 57. Yes, 57.) MC’s staff ERA is a tad troubling: 5.89. NAIA Carey (7-3) has been sparked offensively by Braydon Coffey at .462 and R.J. Stinson at .382. The Crusaders have just three homers as a team but do sport a 3.74 ERA. Closer John Snyder has five saves. … MC leads the series 6-2, per Carey’s website. Carey leads 14-9, per MC’s. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, who is unlikely to pitch this season after shoulder surgery, has re-signed with Milwaukee, a two-year deal. The former All-Star is 46-26 with a 3.10 ERA for his career.

06 Feb

better than most

In recognition of Black History Month, take a moment to appreciate the career of Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, arguably the best all-around player the Magnolia State has ever produced. His 1996 season with the Colorado Rockies might be the best single season any Mississippi native has put up in the big leagues. Born in Vicksburg in 1964, Burks also lived in Jackson for a time before his family moved to Texas. He was drafted out of Ranger College, a Texas juco, in the first round of the 1983 January draft by Boston. He debuted in MLB in 1987 at age 22 — amid Willie Mays comparisons — and batted .272 with 20 home runs as a Red Sox rookie. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound outfielder’s career ended in 2004, when injuries limited him to a handful of games, none in the postseason, for the Red Sox in their historic World Series-winning campaign. In between, he made two All-Star games, won two Silver Slugger awards and received a Gold Glove. He is now a scout for San Francisco. In 1996, as one of Colorado‚Äôs Blake Street Bombers, Burks batted .344 with 40 homers, 128 RBIs, a league-leading 142 runs, 45 doubles, 211 hits, 32 stolen bases and a 7.9 WAR, earning third place in the National League MVP voting. Among Mississippi natives, Burks is first in career homers (352), second in runs, RBIs and hits and fourth in stolen bases and batting average. And note that injuries curtailed several of his 18 seasons. On the career WAR chart, Burks is second among Mississippi-born position players with a 49.8; Jackson native Chet Lemon had a 55.6, aided considerably by his defense. Surprisingly, Burks lasted just one year on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, getting just two votes in 2010. But make no mistake: He had an impact, on and off the field. In 2004, when the Red Sox arrived back in Boston after winning the World Series in St. Louis, it was Burks — at the suggestion of Pedro Martinez — who got the honor of carrying the championship trophy off the plane. P.S. Mississippi State alum Ethan Small has landed with San Francisco, traded for cash by Milwaukee which had DFA’d the left-hander last week. … Mississippi College product Blaine Crim has received a non-roster invite to Texas’ spring camp.

29 Oct

carry on

Different season, different league, same old Thomas Dillard. The former Ole Miss slugger, who led the independent Atlantic League in homers this summer, has hit three bombs in 11 games in the Mexican Pacific League, Mexico’s winter league. Dillard, a switch-hitting first baseman, belted 39 homers for Lexington in his first year of indy ball and batted .258 with 100 RBIs. Now playing for Culiacan, Dillard is hitting .308 with nine RBIs. As a senior at Oxford High in 2016, Dillard led the nation with 16 homers and went on to hit 31 in three years at UM, including 14 as a junior in 2019. He spent three seasons in Milwaukee’s system, belted 12 homers for Double-A Biloxi in 2022 but was released after the season. Playing for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks in the Atlantic League — a Triple-A caliber loop — and now in the MPL, Dillard is showing that he still has plenty of thunder in his bat. P.S. Blaine Crim, the ex-Mississippi College star who played in Triple-A for Texas this season, mashed a home run in his first game in the Dominican Winter League but has just one hit since. He is 2-for-20 for Escogido. Crim hit 22 homers for Round Rock this summer and has 83 homers in his four-year minor league career. Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who had a good year (.290, 13 homers) in Triple-A for Cincinnati, is hitting .278 with three doubles for Cibao in the DWL. Also in the league is Ole Miss product David Parkinson, who got a win with three scoreless innings of work in his only appearance to date for Escogido. Parkinson, on a bit of a roller coaster since being drafted by Philadelphia in 2017, spent most of the 2023 season in Double-A, going 9-5 for Reading.

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.

25 Sep

rounding third …

The 1-2 punch of Blaine Crim and Justin Foscue, a pair of Magnolia State college products, delivered again for Round Rock on Sunday and powered the Express into the Triple-A Pacific Coast League playoffs. Ex-Mississippi College star Crim went 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs and Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue added a double and two RBIs as Round Rock, a Texas affiliate, beat Tacoma 11-6. The Express, winners of seven of their last nine, will tangle with Oklahoma City (Los Angeles Dodgers) for the PCL title. Crim hit .289 with 22 homers and 85 RBIs in his fourth pro season. Foscue, the Rangers’ sixth-rated prospect in his third season, batted .266 with 18 homers and 84 RBIs. … Biloxi High product Colt Keith went 1-for-5 for Triple-A Toledo to finish his 2023 season with a .306 average, 27 home runs and 101 RBIs. Detroit’s No. 2 prospect, Keith, 22, played at Double-A and Triple-A this season, his third in the minors. … Kudos to Rick Sweet, who was the Jackson Generals’ first manager in 1991-92, for becoming Triple-A Nashville’s all-time winningest skipper with 321 victories over four seasons. Nashville is a Milwaukee farm club; ex-MSU standout Ethan Small went 2-4 with a 3.18 ERA and three saves in 38 games for Sweet’s Sounds this year. … In the big leagues, James McArthur, former Ole Miss star, struck out Yordan Alvarez with the tying run on base to save Kansas City’s 6-5 win at Houston, the last-place Royals’ third straight win vs. the Astros. Combined with Texas’ sweep at Seattle, the Astros are now 2.5 games back of the first-place Rangers in the American League West. McArthur, a rookie, has a win and two saves vs. Houston in his last five appearances. He has not allowed a run in 10 September games. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn posted a third straight strong start (two runs in six innings) for the playoff-bound Dodgers, who beat San Francisco 3-2 in 10 innings. On the heels of a pair of bad outings, the 36-year-old Lynn has allowed just seven runs in 18 innings (3.50 ERA) in his last three; he is 6-2, 4.50, since the Dodgers acquired him at the trade deadline. Lynn has extensive postseason experience, having made 27 appearances since 2011.

16 Sep

here and there

Mashing three home runs, including Wes Clarke’s 26th of the year, Biloxi pounded Montgomery 9-2 on Friday night at MGM Park to stay alive in the fight for the second-half title in the Southern League South. The Double-A Shuckers, a Milwaukee farm club, must win the last two games against the Biscuits to make the postseason for the first time since 2019. … South Panola High product Emaarion Boyd went 2-for-4 with a run and a stolen base as Clearwater beat Lakeland 2-1 to reach the championship series in the Low-Class A Florida State League. The Threshers, a Philadelphia affiliate, will play Jupiter (Miami) for the league title. Ex-Ole Miss star Kemp Alderman is a starting outfielder for Jupiter. … Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim smacked homers No. 19 and 20 and ex-Mississippi State standout Justin Foscue added his 16th as Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) beat Las Vegas 7-3 in a matchup of Pacific Coast League division leaders. Crim and Foscue combined for six RBIs. … MSU alum Zac Houston, 28, now in his seventh minor league season, got a win in relief for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), striking out four Buffalo batters in two scoreless innings. Houston, who has a 4.62 ERA, is averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings for the RailRiders. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has a 3.17 career ERA while averaging 13.7 punchouts per nine. … The independent American Association’s Wolff Cup Finals begin tonight with the Kansas City Monarchs — featuring MSU alums Jacob Robson and Gavin Collins — taking on Chicago Dogs. … In MLB, former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner went 2-for-2 with an RBI to help Minnesota beat the Chicago White Sox 10-2 and reduce its magic number to 7 for clinching the American League Central crown. … Ex-George County High standout Justin Steele suffered a rare rocky outing (six runs on two homers in six innings) as the Cubs fell at Arizona 6-4. Steele is 16-4 with a 2.73. The Cubs are clinging to the second wild card in the National League, with the Diamondbacks and three other clubs in hot pursuit. … MSU products Jordan Westburg and Adam Frazier were a combined 0-for-5 with three strikeouts as Baltimore lost to visiting Tampa Bay 7-1 and fell into a tie for first place with the Rays in the AL East.

08 Sep

have a day

Mississippians in the minors made some major noise on Thursday. Start with the clamor out of El Paso, where Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue went 4-for-5 with two homers, two doubles and five RBIs as visiting Round Rock beat the host Chihuahuas 11-10 in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Foscue, the Texas Rangers’ No. 6 prospect, is batting .271 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs. Teammate Blaine Crim, former Mississippi College star, had two hits and two RBIs for the Express and is batting .285 with 74 RBIs. At the Double-A level, ex-Pascagoula High standout Willie Joe Garry Jr. entered the game for Wichita in the top of the ninth inning, stole second base and scored the game-winning run against Corpus Christi on a throwing error by the catcher. Garry, breaking out since his move up to Double-A in the Minnesota system, is batting .273 with seven steals, 13 runs, four homers and 19 RBIs in 25 games for the Wind Surge. In a brilliant Double-A pitchers’ duel at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Southern Miss product Walker Powell put up six scoreless innings (three hits, two walks, six strikeouts) for Tennessee, matching the effort of Atlanta prospect Luis De Avila (one hit, three walks, 11 K’s). The Smokies, a Chicago Cubs’ farm team, got a run in the eighth to beat the Mississippi Braves 1-0. Powell lowered his ERA to 3.57 and trimmed his Southern League-best WHIP to 1.07. At High-Class A Wisconsin, ex-Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. went 3-for-4 with a double, three runs and an RBI to boost the Timber Rattlers — a Milwaukee affiliate — past Cedar Rapids 11-6. Gray is batting .249 with 17 doubles and 57 RBIs. At High-A Bowling Green, MSU product Kamren James hit a homer — his ninth — and drove in four runs, but the Hot Rods, a Tampa Bay affiliate, lost to visiting Greensboro 19-10. And finally, at Low-A St. Lucie, ex-Brandon High and MSU star Kellum Clark hit his first professional home run, banged out two other hits and drove in four runs to power the Mets to a 14-7 win against Daytona. A 2023 draftee, Clark is batting .250 in 10 games for St. Lucie after hitting .308 in rookie ball.

23 Aug

triple-a mashers

They played a Triple-A baseball game in Louisville on Tuesday that produced a football-type score and saw a couple of Mississippi products deliver big hits. Biloxi High alum Colt Keith hit his seventh homer, drove in three runs and scored three to help Toledo smack down the host Bats 24-10. Ex-Southern Miss star Chuckie Robinson went 2-for-4 with his 11th homer and drove in five runs for Louisville. Keith, one of Detroit’s top prospects, is hitting .258 and appears on the cusp of a big league call-up, though it might not happen in 2023. Robinson, in his seventh pro season, is having a huge year for Cincinnati’s top farm club, batting .315 with 66 RBIs. He is a .261 career hitter in the minors and hit .136 in 25 games with the Reds last summer. (Former Madison Central standout Spencer Turnbull, on a rehab assignment with Toledo, started and yielded three runs in 3 2/3 innings, running his ERA to 7.71 in four starts for the Mud Hens.) … At Triple-A Round Rock, where the scoring also ran high, Mississippi College product Blaine Crim went 4-for-5 with his 16th homer to power the Express to a 9-6 win over Salt Lake. Crim, in his fourth season in Texas’ system, is batting .296 with 62 RBIs. He has yet to receive an MLB look.