The junior college season, which will serve up an array of delectable games this week, delivered quite the appetizer on Saturday. Kaden Irving belted a go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning to propel Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to an 8-7, season-opening win against Baton Rouge in Perkinston. Saucier native Irving, 6 feet 2, 235 pounds, is a reverse transfer from Ole Miss. “We know what he’s capable of,” Gulf Coast coach Bob Keller said in a school release. “We’re glad he chose us.” Marc Stephens went 3-for-4 with two RBIs for the Bulldogs, who play again today at Baton Rouge. Pearl River, ranked No. 3 in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll, opens Tuesday against Coastal Alabama South in Poplarville. No. 13 Meridian opens Friday in the Panama City Beach Baseball Classic, facing Wallace-Dothan of Alabama. PRCC is also in the Panama City event, a three-day, 16-team affair featuring juco teams from across the South. Tenth-ranked East Central, the defending MACCC and Region 23 champion, opens Saturday in a twinbill against Marion Military Institute of Alabama. Other openers of note: Itawamba is at Bevill State (Ala.) on Wednesday; Hinds hosts Logan College (Ill.) on Friday; Holmes welcomes Bevill State on Saturday; and Northeast hosts Columbia State (Tenn.) on Saturday.
Brandon Parker, former West Harrison High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, will make his home debut this week for the Mississippi Braves, who are hosting Rocket City in a seven-game Southern League series at Trustmark Park. Parker, an outfielder now in his fourth pro season, is 3-for-13 since Atlanta moved him to Double-A from High-Class A Rome, where he hit .250 with five homers and 21 RBIs. As a freshman at Gulf Coast in 2018, Parker was the NJCAA Division II player of the year. He set the school home run record with 24 and batted .424 with 81 RBIs that year. The Braves drafted him in 2019. On Rocket City’s roster is former Itawamba CC and Mississippi State left-hander Houston Harding, who has a 9.48 ERA (thanks mainly to a couple of rocky outings) in 13 appearances for the Los Angeles Angels’ affiliate. The Coldwater native had a 1.32 ERA at High-A Tri-City before being promoted in late June. … Biloxi High product Colt Keith and ex-Ole Miss ace Gunnar Hoglund were named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week. Keith, a top Detroit prospect, went 11-for-24 with three homers for Triple-A Toledo last week, when he was also named the International League’s player of the week. Hoglund, Oakland’s No. 19 prospect and a first-round pick (by Toronto) in 2021, threw five hitless innings with seven strikeouts in his debut for High-A Lansing. … Former Magnolia Heights Academy standout Cooper Pratt, a sixth-round pick this year by Milwaukee, helped the Brewers’ Arizona Complex League team win the league championship. Pratt, a shortstop, batted .356 for the ACL Brewers. … Former MSU pitchers Jackson Fristoe and Eric Cerantola have been promoted by their respective organizations. Fristoe moved up to Low-A Tampa in the New York Yankees’ system and Cerantola to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in the Kansas City system. … Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin and ex-Madison Central star Braden Montgomery, now at Texas A&M, have been ranked among the top 10 2024 major league draft prospects by MLB Pipeline. Griffin, an outfielder/pitcher, is a senior this year. Montgomery, also a two-way player, recently transferred from Stanford, where he was an All-Pac-12 performer.
17 — Quality starts by George County High product Justin Steele of the Chicago Cubs. The All-Star left-hander went six innings Thursday, allowing two earned runs, and propelled the Cubs to a 5-4, 10-inning win against Pittsburgh. Steele is 14-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 24 starts this season. “I want to be the guy that we rely on,” he told mlb.com.
10 — Runs allowed by ex-Mississippi State standout J.P. France, who took the loss for slumping Texas in a 17-1 defeat against Boston. Rookie France (9-5) lasted just 2 1/3 innings in his worst outing. The Rangers’ lead in the American League West is 1 game over Seattle and Houston.
55 — RBIs this season by former MSU star Brent Rooker, who belted his 22nd homer in Oakland’s 8-5 win over the White Sox. Rooker, the SEC Triple Crown winner in 2017, leads the team in homers, RBIs and batting average at .245.
117 — Hits this season by MSU product Jake Mangum, who banged out two more — including a grand slam — in Triple-A Jacksonville’s 8-4 win over Columbus. Mangum, 27, in his first year in Miami’s system, is batting .315 with five homers, 46 RBIs and 12 steals.
1 — Hit by Kellum Clark, the ex-MSU standout from Brandon, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI in his second game for the Low-Class A St. Lucie Mets.
1 — Hit by Brandon Parker, the Saucier native, West Harrison High alum and ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star who made his Double-A debut for the Mississippi Braves at Montgomery. Parker, who also drove in a run and drew a walk, is the first Mississippi high school alum to play for the M-Braves since DeSoto Central’s Austin Riley debuted on May 5, 2018, according to a team release. Parker is the first state native to play for the M-Braves since Jackson’s Zack Bird, a Murrah High alum, pitched in three games in 2015.
32 — Consecutive games reaching base by the M-Braves’ Jesse Franklin V, who homered (No. 14) and walked three times in the team’s loss to Montgomery.
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.
The Mississippi Braves’ lineup got a little stronger on Saturday when Jesse Franklin V made his 2023 debut. Batting third at Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium, Atlanta’s No. 14-rated prospect struck out in his first two at-bats but homered to center in his third, possibly a good sign for a power hitter who missed more than a year after elbow surgery. Franklin, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound, lefty-swinging outfielder, is considered the top power hitter among the Braves’ prospects. Drafted in the third round out of Michigan in 2020, he blasted 24 homers at High-Class A Rome in his pro debut in 2021 and hit two more in 15 games for the Double-A M-Braves before going down with his injury in April of last year. He also stole 19 bases at Rome and got two bags last year, so he’s not a one-tool pony. Despite Franklin’s homer and another by veteran slugger Drew Lugbauer, the M-Braves lost 3-2 at Pensacola and fell to 9-17. They conclude their two-week road trip today and return to Trustmark Park on Tuesday. Franklin fortifies a lineup that also includes No. 13 prospect Cal Conley, off to a slow start; Justin Dean, a former Top 30 prospect who played center field for the 2021 Southern League title team; and Lugbauer, who has 51 homers in three years with the M-Braves. The M-Braves also have added No. 4 prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, a right-hander whose Double-A debut Friday was cut short by rain after two (shutout) innings. This team ought to get better. … At High-A Rome on Saturday, former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Brandon Parker hit his first home run of 2023 and is batting .255 for the R-Braves. He hit 10 homers at Low-A Augusta last year. An NJCAA Division II player of the year at Gulf Coast, Parker, an outfielder, hit 38 bombs while at Perk. P.S. Props to J.P. France, the Mississippi State alum who threw five shutout innings for Houston against Seattle in his big league debut. … In something of a surprise move, Detroit optioned Spencer Turnbull to Triple-A Toledo today, presumably for some fine-tuning at a lower level. The Madison Central High alum has a 7.26 ERA over seven starts.
As the junior college season begins to warm, the hot spots for today are Poplarville and Perkinston. Pearl River Community College, tied for second in this week’s NJCAA Division II poll, hosts Mississippi Delta in a doubleheader showdown of 3-1 conference teams. PRCC, ranked No. 1 in preseason, is 22-4 and 10-2 at home. The visiting Trojans are 7-12-1 overall but have beaten Mississippi Gulf Coast and East Mississippi (twice) in league play. Gulf Coast, 2-2 in the MACCC, welcomes Itawamba (3-1) in another key matchup. No. 6 Meridian, also 3-1, hosts 0-4 Holmes and 13th-ranked Jones (3-1) is at East Mississippi (1-3). Hinds, 2-2 in conference and ranked 17th, visits 0-4 Coahoma. Northeast and East Central are also off to 3-1 starts. The Tigers are at Southwest (1-3) and the Warriors are at Baton Rouge. … Individual standouts include ICC’s Matthew Martinolich, batting .486; Gulf Coast’s Charlie Keller (12 home runs); Hinds’ Connor Chisolm (34 runs); Meridian’s Dalton McIntyre (18 steals); PRCC’s Cooper Cooksey (5-0, 0.83 ERA); MCC’s Cole Boswell (5-0, 0.96); and Northwest’s Brayden Sanders (4 saves, 0.00 ERA).
Clearly, there was something magical in the Mississippi air today. There was a walk-off homer in Oxford, another in Starkville and a late, tie-breaking rally in Hattiesburg. Kemp Alderman, former Newton County Academy standout, gave Ole Miss a 7-6 win against Purdue with a 10th-inning bomb, his second of the game and eighth of the season for the 13-2 Rebels. Kellum Clark, the former Brandon High star, hit the winner for Mississippi State in the ninth, his fifth jack of the season beating Lipscomb 4-3. Southern Miss scored a run in the seventh and four in the eighth — two coming on a homer by Danny Lynch — to beat Valparaiso 8-3. P.S. For anyone who might’ve missed it: One of the worst called strikes imaginable ended Mississippi Valley State’s 7-3 loss at New Orleans on Friday night. Home plate umpire Reggie Drummer punched out Valley’s Davon Mims on a 1-2 offering that was low and away, nowhere near the plate and almost a wild pitch. (The video is all over the Internet.) On the previous pitch, also a questionable called strike, Mims had taken exception, jumped into the air, twirled around and then tapped the plate with his bat. Apparently, Drummer didn’t like that. … Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Brandon Parker, a minor leaguer in Atlanta’s system, got a hit today in his first big league spring training at-bat.
Jesse Caver: Jackson State’s senior right-hander threw eight shutout innings, yielding four hits, to lead the Tigers to a 3-0 win over New Orleans in the MLB Andre Dawson Classic on Friday. Caver, a 2022 transfer from Lipscomb, is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in three games for the 3-2 Tigers. Of note: Junior Jonah Posey, an East Mississippi Community College product, pitched the ninth for the save and has a 0.00 ERA in three appearances, and Ty Hill homered for JSU.
Justin Foscue: The Mississippi State alum homered in his first at-bat for Texas on opening day in spring training. Foscue, who has 32 minor league bombs in two seasons, is in Rangers camp in Arizona as a non-roster invitee.
Taylor Broadway: The ex-Ole Miss closer threw a scoreless inning for Boston in a spring exhibition game against Northeastern in Florida. Broadway, in camp as an NRI, has a 4.20 ERA in two minor league campaigns.
Sean Smith: The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College sophomore is second in NJCAA Division II with 24 RBIs and tied for second in homers with seven for the 4-6 Bulldogs. Smith, a Pascagoula native, is batting .500.
P.S. All 30 MLB teams are scheduled to play today in Florida and Arizona. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn will start for the Chicago White Sox, and ex-Rebels standout Mike Mayers is slated to start for Kansas City, his new club. Some other faces in new places who could make appearances today: Hunter Renfroe with the Los Angeles Angels, Corey Dickerson with Washington, Adam Frazier with Baltimore and Brent Rooker with Oakland.
September call-ups aren’t what they used to be. MLB teams can add only two players to their active roster starting today, not the dozen or so — a lot of them rookies — that many used to bring up for the final month. That’s a shame in a way. A lot of careers were launched by young players who got a chance as a September addition. A handful of Mississippi products have debuted on Sept. 1 over the years. To wit: Luther Hackman, the big right-hander out of Columbus, started and went six innings, allowing five runs, for Colorado in 1999. The next year, former Mississippi State star Matt Ginter debuted for the Chicago White Sox with a scoreless inning. Nettleton’s Bill Hall got the call in 2002 from Milwaukee and went 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter. Fred Lewis, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Hattiesburg, smacked an RBI double (off Rich Hill) as a pinch hitter for San Francisco. And in 2010, Itawamba CC alum Desmond Jennings started in center field and went 0-for-3 for Tampa Bay. … Among today’s call-ups is 31-year-old Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High standout who was added by Minnesota. The Twins are the 11th different big league club he has signed with since 2018, his third this year. Hamilton, an intriguing September call-up by Cincinnati back in 2013, is a .239 career hitter, but he can steals bases — he’s the all-time Mississippi-born leader — and play center field with the best of ’em.
Fluor Field at the West End in Greenville, S.C., is modeled after Boston’s Fenway Park, where the players on the roster of the High-Class A Greenville Drive aspire to play someday. Blaze Jordan made his Drive debut at Fluor Field on Tuesday, and Red Sox fans should be excited that the club’s No. 6 prospect looked very much at home. The 19-year-old former DeSoto Central High standout went 3-for-4 with two home runs, one over the mini-Green Monster in left field, the other to left-center. “I think it’s safe to say he likes hitting in this ballpark,” one of Greenville’s radio broadcasters said. Jordan, a third-round pick in 2020, hit .286 with eight homers and 57 RBIs at Low-A Salem this season before his promotion. Considered one of the top power hitters in the Red Sox’s system — “Jordan’s massive power has been good as advertised,” according to MLB Pipeline — he has 16 homers in 124 pro games. There will be more. … There was a lot of player movement in the minors on Tuesday. To wit: Mississippi State product Rowdey Jordan moved up to Double-A Binghamton in the New York Mets’ system and went 1-for-4 in his debut. Ex-Ole Miss star Will Ethridge was promoted to Double-A Hartford in the Colorado chain and worked four scoreless innings in his first appearance. Brandon Parker, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum from Saucier, was bumped up to High-A Rome by Atlanta; he hit .282 with 10 homers at Low-A Augusta. MSU product Logan Tanner, drafted in the second round by Cincinnati last month, was assigned to Low-A Daytona after one game in rookie ball; he went 0-for-3 in his Daytona debut. Several other 2022 draftees have been assigned to rookie clubs, including former Ole Miss star Tim Elko (0-for-3 in his Arizona Complex League debut for the Chicago White Sox) and high school draftees Emaarion Boyd (Philadelphia) and Spence Coffman (San Diego). The Double-A Mississippi Braves saw two key players moved to Triple-A Gwinnett: right-hander Darius Vines and catcher Hendrik Clementina. P.S. The injury-riddled White Sox have lost East Central CC alum Tim Anderson, their All-Star shortstop and leadoff batter, for 4-6 weeks with a finger ligament tear. It’s his second stint on the IL. The White Sox lost Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet (for the year) and ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn (for two months) in spring training. Lynn has been shaky (2-5, 5.88 ERA) since returning. … Shohei Ohtani joined Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history to win at least 10 games and hit at least 10 homers in the same season. Two other players have won 10 and hit 10 in different seasons: Rick Ankiel and Jackson native Ewell Albert “Reb” Russell. Russell, a left-hander, won 23 games for the 1913 White Sox and posted three other double-digit win seasons before hurting his arm in 1918. He spent some time in the minors, came back to the big leagues in 1922 with Pittsburgh and belted 12 homers in 60 games.