18 Jun

around the horn

Former Ole Miss stars Jacob Gonzalez and Tim Elko are expected to take part in tonight’s minor league showcase at Birmingham’s venerable Rickwood Field. Gonzalez and Elko, prospects for the Chicago White Sox, play for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, who will wear the uniform of the Black Barons in tribute to the Negro League club that played at Rickwood decades ago. The visiting Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay affiliate) will play as the Gray Sox. The game will be televised by MLB Network at 6 p.m. MLB’s Negro Leagues tribute game at Rickwood, the country’s oldest professional ballpark, between San Francisco and St. Louis is set for Thursday night. … Former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner was named the International League player of the week (June 11-16) after going 14-for-27 (.519) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in six games for St. Paul, Minnesota’s Triple-A club. Wallner, who hit a 481-foot homer on Sunday, has 16 bombs for the Saints and is batting .250 with 43 RBIs since the Twins sent him down in mid-April. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley had two more hits in Atlanta’s 2-1 win over Detroit on Monday and is 9-for-26 (.346) with three homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games. … If the name of the Texas A&M pitcher who was mowing down Kentucky hitters Monday in the College World Series sounds familiar, it might be because Ryan Prager is the son of former Jackson Generals standout Howard Prager. The younger Prager threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings before yielding a pair of knocks in the Aggies’ 5-1 win. He is 9-1 with a 2.88 ERA. His father played first base for the Double-A Generals, a Houston affiliate, in 1991-92 and reached Triple-A in St. Louis’ system. BTW, Kentucky’s hitting coach is former Mississippi State catcher Nick Ammirati, previously an assistant at Hinds Community College and USM.

17 Jun

powering up

The projected home run tally for Jordan Westburg this season was 11, according to Lindy’s Baseball 2024 Preview. Forget that. A month before the All-Star break, the former Mississippi State star already has hit 11. He reached that mark on Sunday with a blast against Zack Wheeler, one of four homers Baltimore hit against the Philadelphia ace in an 8-3 victory. Second-year big leaguer Westburg is hitting .278 with 42 RBIs, 37 runs and six steals in 66 games; he is going to get some consideration for the American League All-Star team. In the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby for 2024, Westburg stands second to Brent Rooker, the ex-MSU standout who has hit 13 bombs for Oakland. To this point in 2024, the once-promising derby competition is a two-horse race. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, led all MLB Mississippians (native or school alum) with 37 homers in 2023. Rooker followed with 30, and three others hit double figures. Lindy’s projected Riley to hit 35 in 2024, and he may be starting to perk up after a tough start. He has six, one each in Atlanta’s last three games. Riley’s homer on Sunday came hours after he learned that his personal hitting coach Mike Brumley had died in a car accident; Riley pointed and looked to the sky as he rounded first base. “He was in the back of my mind really all day,” Riley said in an mlb.com piece. No other Mississippi product has more than six homers this season. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, tied with Riley at six, was just starting to slug for Kansas City when he went on the injured list with a foot injury. He hit 20 homers last season and was projected at 17 for 2024. Nathaniel Lowe, another State alum, has hit just two for Texas. He hit 17 last year and 27 in 2022. His power outage is a concern for the defending but fading World Series champs. Colt Keith, the Detroit rookie from Biloxi High, hit 27 in the minors last year and was projected to go deep 10 times for the Tigers this season; he has three. Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner hit 14 for Minnesota in 2023 and was projected for 16 this year. He has 17 — but 16 of those have come in the minors, where he is today. P.S. The Chicago White Sox added USM product Chuckie Robinson to their 40-man roster on Sunday but did not call him up to the big leagues. Robinson, a catcher who got some big league time with Cincinnati two years ago, is hitting .228 with six homers and 25 RBIs at Triple-A Charlotte.

16 Jun

caught in a draft

A host of Magnolia State products will have the opportunity to enhance their draft stock at the upcoming MLB Draft Combine, which runs Tuesday-Sunday at Chase Field in Phoenix. Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin; former Madison Central High star Braden Montgomery of Texas A&M; Mississippi State’s Dakota Jordan, Hunter Hines, Jurrangelo Cijntje, Khal Stephen and Nate Dohm; Ole Miss’ Hunter Elliott; Pearl River Community College’s Conner Ware; Lewisburg High’s Samuel Richardson; and former Lewisburg standout Brady Tygart of Arkansas are on the list of scheduled attendees. Griffin, Montgomery, Cijntje and Jordan are ranked among the top 29 draft prospects by MLB Pipeline. The draft is July 14-16. Players will get to participate in technological evaluations of their “cognitive skills, speed of processing, athletic performance and on-field talent,” per a story on mlb.com. A pro-style workout, strength tests and a game for prep players are also on the docket. Of note: Griffin — the Gatorade national player of the year — said in an MLB Central appearance last week that he doesn’t plan to participate in on-field activities. Asked on MLB Central to evaluate himself as a draft prospect, Griffin, in a polite and unassuming manner, said: “I know the skill set that I have. I feel like I’m a five-tool guy … one of the few five-tool guys in this draft.” An LSU commit, he pitched and played shortstop and outfield while at Prep but projects as an outfielder in pro ball. MLB Central’s Mark DeRosa said Griffin also has the “sixth tool,” aka makeup: “It’s beyond real.” … Montgomery’s Texas A&M team is in the College World Series in Omaha, though the first-team All-America outfielder is sidelined with an ankle injury. … Jordan won the Ferriss Trophy as Mississippi’s top college player. … Elliott had elbow surgery earlier this year and did not pitch for Ole Miss this season. … Ware, a Germantown High alum and LSU signee, made only seven appearances for PRCC, posting a 1.80 ERA and two saves. … Richardson, a preseason All-America pick and top draft prospect, had an off year, batting .211 with seven homers, per MaxPreps. … Vicksburg native and former big leaguer Dmitri Young is among the ex-players slated to work with the attendees, and former Mississippi State star and MLB manager Buck Showalter will be part of the MLB Network crew covering the event.

13 Jun

cruise control

Before he went on the injured list on May 12 with a broken finger, Blaze Jordan was cruising along on a 17-game hitting streak. He returned to the Double-A Portland lineup on Wednesday and got right back in gear. The DeSoto Central High product — Boston’s No. 19 prospect — banged out a two-run double in his first at-bat and finished 2-for-5 in the Sea Dogs’ 5-4 win at Reading. After a sputtering start to his first full year in Double-A, the 21-year-old Jordan is hitting .288 with two homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs in 27 games. A renowned power hitter in his amateur days, Jordan was a third-round draft pick as a 17-year-old by the Red Sox in 2020. His power potential began to show last season, when he hit 18 homers between High-Class A Greenville and Portland. He batted .324 in 73 games at Greenville and was named a South Atlantic League postseason All-Star; he was also a Red Sox Organization All-Star for the second straight year. Jordan, who goes 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, is a corner infielder whose future may be at first base. His right-handed stroke seemingly is well-suited for Fenway Park. P.S. A couple of former Ole Miss stars are playing major roles for Birmingham, which has the best record (38-21) in the Double-A Southern League. Shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, promoted from A-ball last month, is hitting .321 after a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort in a 4-3 win Wednesday against Pensacola. He has a homer, 15 RBIs and 14 runs in 21 games for the Barons, a Chicago White Sox affiliate. Tim Elko, the Barons’ first baseman/DH, is hitting .298 — fourth in the SL — and ranks in the top 10 with six homers and 28 RBIs. Gonzalez — a first-round pick in 2023 — and Elko — 10th round, 2022 — were teammates on Ole Miss’ ’22 national championship club. … Hunter Renfroe has a bone bruise in his left foot, not a broken toe, the Kansas City Royals have announced. The former Mississippi State standout went on the IL on Tuesday. His recovery time likely will be shorter than originally expected.

12 Jun

going places

Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters got back in The Show and former Biloxi Shuckers star Carlos F. Rodriguez got his first MLB shot among a flurry of Tuesday transactions involving players with Mississippi ties. Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel was promoted to Double-A in the Baltimore system; ex-Ole Miss standout Brandon Johnson moved up to Double-A in the Kansas City chain; former Mississippi State bullpen ace Landon Sims jumped to High-Class A in the Arizona system; and USM product Hunter Stanley came off the injured list at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland organization. … Waters — Southern League player of the year in 2019 — was recalled by Kansas City to replace Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State star who went on the injured list with a broken toe. Waters, hitting .277 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in Triple-A, went 0-for-4 in his first MLB game of 2024. The Royals also placed Bulldogs alum Adam Frazier on the bereavement list. … Rodriguez, Milwaukee’s No. 6 prospect who went 9-6, 2.77 ERA, for the Shuckers in 2023, allowed two runs in 3 2/3 innings and took a loss against Toronto. … Etzel, a 2023 draftee by the Orioles, was batting .306 with four homers and 31 steals at High-A Aberdeen; he got a knock in his first at-bat for Class AA Bowie. … Johnson was 3-3, two saves, 4.13, in High-A for the Royals. … Sims, a star on MSU’s national title team, had a 4.38 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings at Low-A Visalia. … Stanley, on the IL for about a month, has a 5.85 ERA over six games for Columbus. P.S. Kirk McCarty, former USM standout from Hattiesburg, threw seven shutout innings in his Chinese Professional Baseball League debut last week and allowed two runs in five innings on Tuesday for CTBC Brothers. He is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA. The well-traveled McCarty has won 18 games the past three seasons: four in Triple-A, four in MLB with Cleveland, nine in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2023 plus the one in the CPBL. He won 22 games for USM from 2015-17.

11 Jun

three things

1 — On a Mississippi Braves team that lacks power, Brandon Parker has begun to supply some. The ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star homered on Saturday and Sunday at Pensacola and enters this week’s homestand with a team-leading five. The right-handed hitting outfielder, who has four homers (and a .444 average) in June, has played in only 33 of the team’s 57 games. The slumping M-Braves (25-32) — last in the Southern League with 21 home runs — host Rocket City for a six-game series starting tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Parker’s power potential is likely what drew Atlanta’s interest when it drafted him in 2019. At Gulf Coast in 2018 and ’19, Parker belted 38 homers, setting the school record with 24 as a freshman, when he was the NJCAA Division II player of the year. The Saucier native entered 2024, his first full year in Double-A, with 26 bombs over four pro seasons.
2 — Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe, just beginning to swing a big bat for Kansas City, suffered a broken left big toe in Monday’s game against the New York Yankees. He is likely headed for the injured list. Renfroe took a nine-game hitting streak into Monday’s game. His recent surge — .326 over his last 15 games — has boosted his average to .200, and he has six homers and 26 RBIs. The Crystal Springs native is in his first year with the Royals and ninth MLB campaign overall. With 183 career homers, he is seventh among Mississippi natives on the all-time list.
3 — Don’t be surprised if Jackson Academy’s team batting average jumps in 2025. The Raiders have hired former big leaguer Corey Dickerson — a career .280 hitter over 11 MLB seasons — as their new coach. Dickerson, from McComb, played at Brookhaven Academy and Meridian CC before he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies. He played last season for Washington (released in August) and finished his career with 1,028 hits and 136 home runs. He made an All-Star team and won a Gold Glove. … JA went 13-20-1 under Parker Harris this season.

07 Jun

a winning blend

The Mississippi spice was strong in Kansas City’s big 4-3 win against Cleveland on Thursday at Progressive Field. Ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with an RBI double; MSU alum Adam Frazier doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning; and Ole Miss product James McArthur pitched a clean ninth for his 12th save. The Royals improved to 37-26 and climbed to within 4 games of the first-place Guardians in the American League Central. Renfroe, after a very cold start (.189), is showing signs of heating up, hitting .271 with two homers, seven RBIs and 11 runs in his last 15 games. The Crystal Springs native hit his fifth homer in Tuesday’s game. Frazier, who also scuffled out of the gate (.210), is batting .275 with six runs over his last 15. McArthur has been a fairly reliable closer despite a 4.91 ERA (inflated by a couple of bad outings). The fourth Mississippian on the KC roster is reliever Chris Stratton (2-3, 5.76 ERA, three saves), another State alum who didn’t get in Thursday’s game. Stratton, Renfroe and Frazier — each a free agent signee this past off-season — were teammates in Starkville in 2011-12. “Really blessed to be able to play this game with people that you know and care about,” Stratton recently told the Kansas City Star. “It’s a lot of fun.” Winning helps. … Down on the Royals farm, former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs to pace Triple-A Omaha to a 16-6 win over Memphis. Waters, clamoring for a call-up, is batting .271 with six homers and 30 RBIs. At Double-A Northwest Arkansas, former MSU standout Eric Cerantola is 2-2 with a 2.41 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 11 games. And at High-Class A Quad Cities, ex-Southern Miss star Dustin Dickerson hit his first homer of 2024 as part of a 2-for-4 effort in the River Bandits’ 5-3 win Thursday against Wisconsin. Dickerson, a shortstop, is hitting .250 with 13 RBIs and 23 runs in 40 games in his first full pro season. Ole Miss alum Brandon Johnson is 3-3, 4.09, with two saves in 17 relief appearances for QC. P.S. Ex-USM standout Matt Wallner homered in both ends of a doubleheader for Triple-A St. Paul and now has six homers in his last nine games — 11 on the season — for the Minnesota affiliate; he is batting .214 with 32 RBIs. … Cheers all around for Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin, named Gatorade’s national high school player of the year. An LSU signee and highly rated MLB draft prospect, Griffin follows the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Upton, Zack Greinke, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield as the winner of this award.

06 Jun

yeah, but …

The good news for Grae Kessinger is, he’ll get off the bench. The bad news, delivered on Tuesday, is that he’s no longer in the big leagues. The former Ole Miss star from Oxford was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land by the Houston Astros and was in the Space Cowboys’ lineup on Wednesday. Kessinger, 26, made the Astros’ opening day roster as a backup infielder but had only 11 at-bats (and no hits) all season. He missed about 10 days while on the injured list in early May. A second-round pick by Houston in 2019, Kessinger debuted in the big leagues on June 7 of last year. He got his first hit four days later and first (and only) homer on July 4. All told, he hit .200 in 40 at-bats for the Astros in 2023. Kessinger scuffled his first couple of years in pro ball but hit .283 for Sugar Land last year before his promotion. The grandson of former MLB All-Star — and Ole Miss coach — Don Kessinger, Grae was an All-America shortstop at UM who hit .312 with 15 homers over his last two years in Oxford. He “celebrated” his return to Triple-A by ripping a single in his first at-bat on Wednesday at Salt Lake. … Kessinger’s demotion drops the number of active Mississippians (native or school alum) in the big leagues to 17. P.S. Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue began a rehab assignment in the Arizona Complex League on Wednesday. Foscue made his MLB debut for Texas on April 5, went 1-for-2 in two pinch at-bats and then landed on the IL on April 8 with an oblique strain.

04 Jun

time to step it up

At 29-31 and 4.5 games out of first place in the American League West, the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers are not where they want to be. Neither is Nathaniel Lowe, the Mississippi State alum who has manned first base for the club since 2021. Lowe is batting just .256 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 39 games after starting the season on the injured list with a strained oblique. He has just eight hits and no homers in his last 46 at-bats and has been sitting lately against left-handed starters. Two years ago, Lowe won a Silver Slugger (.302, 27 homers). His numbers dipped in 2023 to .262 with 17 bombs, but he won a Gold Glove and hit three homers during the team’s run to the championship. Lowe, 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter in a 2-1 loss to Detroit on Monday night, figures to be in the starting lineup tonight against Tigers right-hander Jack Flaherty. The Rangers have been beset by injuries this season, including the hard-luck case of ex-MSU star Justin Foscue, who got his first big league hit on April 7 and went on the injured list the next day with a dreaded oblique strain. He is currently on the 60-day IL. … Like Lowe, former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley is having a sub-par season for a scuffling Atlanta team that finds itself 7 games back of first-place Philadelphia in the National League East. An All-Star and Silver Slugger winner last year, Riley is hitting .234 with three homers and 19 RBIs. After sitting for 12 days with a side injury, Riley is 5-for-28 with one RBI in seven games since he returned to the lineup. He hasn’t homered since May 3. He has averaged 36 homers the past three seasons. Injuries also have been an issue for the Braves (33-24), whose streak of six straight division titles could be in real jeopardy. They begin a series at Fenway Park against Boston tonight.

03 Jun

crash landings

A feel-good story involving a couple of Mississippi homeboys seemed to be developing on a sunny Sunday at Trustmark Park. Then the Montgomery Biscuits cruelly flipped the script, handing the Mississippi Braves a 13-5 defeat and putting a cap on their 1-5 homestand. Brandon Parker, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College slugger from Saucier, and Landon Harper, the ex-Southern Miss pitcher from Meridian, played starring roles as the M-Braves took a 5-4 lead in the sixth inning. Parker hit two home runs, a solo shot in the second inning and then a three-run blast in the sixth that put the M-Braves ahead. Harper, making his first home appearance, came on in relief in the fifth and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out three. But Montgomery, the first-place club in the Southern League South, piled up six runs in the seventh to take command, and the M-Braves went quietly from there. Both Parker and Harper were unlikely heroes. Parker, who doesn’t play regularly, entered the game batting .160 with one homer. Harper, recently called up from A-ball, allowed three runs in three innings in his first Double-A appearance last week. They did their part on Sunday, but little else went right for the M-Braves, who entered this homestand last Monday riding a seven-game win streak. They leave on a four-game slide and with a 23-28 record, 7 games behind the Biscuits. P.S. The college season in Mississippi came to a close on Sunday night with both Southern Miss and Mississippi State losing in their respective NCAA regionals. Both won elimination games earlier Sunday but basically ran out of pitching in the nightcaps, falling to the top seeds, USM to Tennessee, State to Virginia. The Golden Eagles finish 43-20, the Bulldogs 40-23.