09 Jun

draft board

Only one in-state player – Mississippi State’s Justin Foscue — is projected by mlb.com to get picked in Wednesday’s first round of the MLB draft. The junior second baseman is pegged to go to Minnesota as the No. 27 pick in the latest mock draft. Former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, a big left-hander now at Tennessee, is predicted to go 14th overall to Texas. ESPN’s latest mock draft has Crochet going to Texas at 14, Foscue to the New York Mets at 19 and State shortstop Jordan Westburg to the Los Angeles Dodgers at 29. … The highest any state college player has been picked is second: State’s Will Clark in 1985. The top high school pick is Ted Nicholson, taken third overall out of Laurel’s Oak Park in 1969. … Nine in-state players appear in mlb.com’s Top 200 draft prospects list, with DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan the highest rated prep player at No. 42. All the attention given Jordan in recent years doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. In an interview published by Baseball America last summer, Jordan said he “would describe myself as being respectful to the game and just always hustling and playing hard. … Wearing my jersey right and making sure everything is done right.” Jordan said his favorite player is Miguel Cabrera, and he thinks his swing is similar to the former Triple Crown winner’s. Jordan, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and a Mississippi State signee, has prodigious power, ranking among the top 10 power hitters in the draft per MLB Pipeline. … Colt Keith, who played at Biloxi High the last two years after moving from Arizona, is considered one of the best two-way players in this year’s draft class. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Keith is a right-handed pitcher and a left-handed hitting shortstop/third baseman. He is an Arizona State signee. His approach to the game? “I think for me, and I encourage other baseball players too, always play like it’s your last game,” he told WXXV-TV of Gulfport. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks and Brandon’s Kellum Clark are other possible high school picks in this year’s abbreviated five-round draft. … The lone state juco player in mlb.com’s Top 200 is lefty Dalton Fowler (No. 154), a sophomore at Northwest Mississippi CC in 2020. The 6-foot-6 Fowler, from Tennessee, was picked in the 27th round in 2019 by the New York Mets but didn’t sign. He was 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA this season and 6-2, 3.76 as a freshman.

28 May

good company

To make a list that includes Christy Mathewson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez is rather impressive. Roy Oswalt, the former Holmes Community College standout from Weir, has done just that, having been chosen by mlb.com as the best right-handed starting pitcher in Houston Astros history. His inclusion in this 30-man club is backed by strong credentials: 143 wins (second-most among Astros pitchers to Joe Niekro), three All-Star Game appearances, an NLCS MVP honor and an ERA title. Oswalt was drafted by the Astros in the 23rd round in 1996 and spent his first 10 big league campaigns in Houston. Overall, he went 163-102 with a 3.36 ERA in 13 seasons; his win total is second all-time to Guy “Mississippi Mudcat” Bush (176) among Magnolia State natives. P.S. Oswalt got the nod over Ryan, who spent nine of his 27 seasons with the Astros (106 wins, two All-Star Games) and was named the top righty starter for both the Angels and Rangers.

19 May

draft doodles

The first Mississippi native to hear his name called in the 2020 MLB draft could very well be Garrett Crochet, an Ocean Springs product who pitched at Tennessee the last three years. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound left-hander was pegged to go 14th overall to Texas in a recent mock draft by mlb.com’s Jim Callis. Crochet made just one appearance this season because of a sore shoulder but is 10-9 with four saves and a 4.64 ERA in 36 career games (13 starts). From Prospects Live scouting report: “He hides the ball well, and then delivers from a tremendously difficult angle for hitters right or left handed to barrel. His plus velocity and movement make it an even more treacherous task to overcome.” Crochet was a late-round pick in 2017 at Ocean Springs High. The first round of the remote draft, which has been whacked to five rounds this year, is set for June 10. Justin Foscue, the Mississippi State second baseman (and an Alabama native), was listed as the 29th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in mlb.com’s mock draft. P.S. Taking a look back at the draft of 2015, two Mississippi products were picked in the first five rounds: DeSoto Central’s Austin Riley (supplemental first round by Atlanta) and Pearl River Community College’s Jacob Taylor (fourth round, Pittsburgh). Riley, a third baseman, reached the majors in 2019. Taylor, a pitcher, saw injuries end his career in A-ball in 2018. Two other Mississippians went in the 10th round that year: Ole Miss’ Scott Weathersby and Delta State’s Witt Haggard, both pitchers. Both are out of the game. Two late-round picks are still kicking: Cody Carroll (22nd round, Southern Miss) has pitched in The Show, and Demarcus Evans (25th round, Petal High) is on Texas’ 40-man roster. … In 2010, only one Mississippian was picked in the first five rounds: Drew Pomeranz, the fifth overall selection out of Ole Miss by Cleveland. The tall lefty has had a peripatetic MLB career but has enjoyed some success, including an All-Star Game appearance. Corey Dickerson, then at Meridian CC, went in the eighth round in 2010 to Colorado. Dickerson, from McComb, is also an established big leaguer who has been an All-Star and won a Gold Glove. There were two ninth-round picks from the state that year: pitcher Aaron Barrett out of Ole Miss and Chris Lofton from Jones County JC. Barrett has pitched in the majors, making a valiant comeback in 2019. Lofton, an outfielder, topped out in A-ball in 2014.

24 Apr

stuff of dreams

The real Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals star, batted .296 with 366 homers over a sweet 15-year MLB career that rated more Hall of Fame consideration than it got. The virtual Lance Berkman, now “playing” for the all-time Astros team in the computer-generated MLB Dream Bracket tournament, has been pretty darn good, too. The “Big Puma” is batting .447 with three homers and 12 RBIs through 10 games over two series (see mlb.com for all the box scores). The Astros have reached the quarterfinals with wins against the Orioles and Tigers. Roy Oswalt, the Weir High and Holmes Community College alum, is 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA in three starts for the Astros’ dream team. Oswalt spent 10 years with Houston and was arguably as good in that stretch (143-82, 3.24 ERA) than any pitcher the Astros ever trotted out. That includes Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard and Mike Scott, the other members of the Dream Bracket rotation. Billy Wagner, another ex-Generals standout with Hall of Fame cred, has three saves for the all-time Astros, who’ll meet the Yankees in the next round.

22 Apr

feeling a draft

Eight players in Mississippi are ranked among the Top 150 in mlb.com’s new list of draft prospects. That’s more rated players than all but five states – and more than the likes of Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama. Many things about the 2020 draft remain unclear, including when it might be held and how many players will be picked. The curtailed scouting season adds some extra intrigue. Mississippi State second baseman Justin Foscue is the highest rated of the local products at No. 32, which doesn’t necessarily imply that’s where he’ll be drafted. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg is No. 37 and teammate J.T. Ginn is 44th. DeSoto Central first baseman Blaze Jordan is the top-rated prep player in the state at No. 42 and is joined on the list by two other high schoolers, Biloxi’s Colt Keith (88) and Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks (112). Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan made the list at Nos. 111 and 128, respectively. … Servideo is one player who no doubt improved his stock in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. After a poor showing in the Cape Cod League last summer, the Florida native came out sizzling for the Rebels this year, batting .390 with five homers, 17 RBIs and nine steals in 17 games. At 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, he’s a lefty hitter with good speed and defensive versatility.

15 Apr

inspired by the man

“When I saw Jackie Robinson go to the big leagues, I knew that was my way of getting out of the cotton fields.” It didn’t work out exactly that way for the kid from the Mississippi Delta who made that comment to mlb.com a few years ago. He was 13 when Robinson broke major league baseball’s color line on April 15, 1947, and he chased the baseball dream for many years. But his career path ultimately turned to music. And that worked out quite well for Sledge native Charley Pride, who is a Country Music Hall of Famer with 12 gold albums to his credit. Pride played in the Negro Leagues, briefly in the low minors and had a few tryouts with major league clubs before his music career took off. He remains a baseball fan and is part of the Texas Rangers ownership group. For many years, Pride has attended spring training with the club and sung the national anthem before Rangers games, including in the 2010 World Series.

30 Mar

nasty stuff

One of the new age measures of a good pitch is something called “expected weighted on-base average allowed.” By that measure, former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff’s four-seam fastball was among the best in the game in 2019, his .264 mark ranking behind only Gerrit Cole’s, according to the good folks at mlb.com. Woodruff’s four-seamer made their list of the top five “nastiest” in MLB, joining those of Cole, Josh Hader, Yu Darvish and Jordan Hicks. Woodruff was pretty good by the old-fashioned measures, as well, posting an 11-3 record and a 3.62 ERA in 121 2/3 innings for Milwaukee, with 143 strikeouts, 30 walks and a .240 batting average against. The big right-hander’s average velocity on his four-seamer, per mlb.com, was 96.3 in 2019, his third season with the Brewers and first as a full-time starter. Woodruff’s stuff has garnered attention since his days at Wheeler High, where, as a senior in 2011, he punched out 100 batters in 49 1/3 innings and was drafted in the fifth round by Texas. He chose to go to State, where he had trouble harnessing his stuff during an underwhelming three-year career. As a junior in 2014, he made 15 appearances, posting a 6.75 ERA with 29 strikeouts, 25 walks (plus four hit batsmen) in 37 1/3 innings. But the stuff was still good enough for the Brewers to pluck Woodruff in the 11th round, and in 2016, things started to click. Woodruff went 14-9, 2.68 at two minor league levels that season; at Double-A Biloxi, he struck out 124 in 113 2/3 innings with just 30 walks. After his “nasty” big league breakthrough last season, he may well have a Cy Young Award in his future.

20 Feb

golden oldie

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the so-called “Miracle on Grass,” the U.S. Olympic Team’s unexpected gold medal performance in the Sydney Olympics. The team USA Baseball sent to the 2000 Games was a collection of minor leaguers and MLB journeymen that lacked any real star power. Hence, the “miracle.” Writers for mlb.com have put together a compelling oral history of the event, and among those frequently quoted in the story is Roy Oswalt, the Weir native and ex-Holmes Community College star who had a big hand in two of Team USA’s victories in the tournament. At the time, Oswalt was a 23-year-old Houston Astros prospect, a 23rd-round draft pick who hadn’t pitched above Class AA in his four pro seasons. He had gone 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA at Double-A Round Rock during the 2000 season, flashing the stuff that would carry him to 163 wins in the majors. But at the time, he wasn’t widely known, nor were many – if any – of his teammates. “On the way over there, we were getting bashed and hammered by the media saying we had no chance against Cuba,” he told mlb.com. “No one knew who these [U.S. players] were, who they’re sending over here.” Oswalt, on a staff that included Ben Sheets and Jon Rauch, pitched seven shutout innings against South Korea in pool play and came back with six strong against the Koreans in the semifinals. Behind Sheets’ pitching and a big homer by Mike Neill, the Americans stunned heavy favorite Cuba in the gold medal game. “Tommy (Lasorda, the team manager) told everyone that he had won World Series and all kinds of stuff in Major League Baseball,” Oswalt told mlb.com, “but nothing he had done in his life amounted to what had just happened.”

28 Aug

in the distance

Jerrion Ealy, Jackson Prep’s two-sport star, checks in at No. 10 on mlb.com’s new list of the top 10 high school prospects for the 2019 draft. (Just think: It’s less than 10 months away!) The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Ealy, an outfielder who has signed with Ole Miss in football, is widely hailed for his speed. He stole 18 bases and legged out five triples at Prep this past season while hitting .364 in 77 at-bats, according to MaxPreps. Ealy participated in both the Under Armour and Perfect Game all-star contests and the East Coast Pro Showcase this summer. Perfect Game rates Ealy the No. 4 prep prospect. … Southern Miss outfielder Matt Wallner was ranked No. 8 by mlb.com on the 2019 college prospect list published last week. Wallner, a lefty hitter who also pitches, batted .351 with 16 homers for the Golden Eagles in 2018 and spent time with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League over the summer.

28 Jun

birthday props

Richard Hidalgo, Jackson Generals star of the mid-1990s, got some recognition today – his 43rd birthday – in a column on mlb.com by Joe Posnanski. Posnanski was highlighting “most surprising” major league seasons, of which Hidalgo had one in 2000. In his fourth MLB campaign, he batted .314 with 44 homers and 122 RBIs as Houston’s centerfielder, far and away the best year of a modest career. Hidalgo was a highly rated and impressive-looking Astros prospect when he played in Jackson in 1995 and ’96, hitting .280 with 28 homers over those two seasons. He could play the outfield, too, and throw and run. He spent nine years in the big leagues and finished with 171 bombs. As good as Hidalgo’s 2000 season was, it didn’t make Posnanski’s “most surprising” top 10. But former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell’s 1989 season with San Francisco did. Mitchell, who played at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1983, hit .291 with 47 homers and 125 RBIs that year, winning National League MVP honors on a pennant-winning team that included Will Clark. (And, yes, that was also the year Mitchell made his famous over-the-shoulder, bare-handed catch.)