17 Jul

draft watch

There are always surprises in the MLB draft, which begins today (6 p.m., MLB Network/ESPN). It would be a bit of a surprise if a player from Mississippi is picked in the first round. A sampling of mock drafts (Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, The Sporting News) turns up just one instance of a state player pegged in the top 30: Baseball America has Mississippi State pitcher Landon Sims going 28th to Houston. Sims, the closer on the national title team in 2021, had Tommy John surgery this spring, creating questions about his status as a first-rounder. BA rated Sims No. 22 among draft prospects. MLB Pipeline placed Sims No. 44 among its Top 250 draft prospects, three spots behind Bulldogs catcher Logan Tanner. Bradley Loftin, a lefty pitcher at DeSoto Central High, is No. 77; Northeast Mississippi Community College righty Colby Holcombe No. 134; Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst No. 155; MSU outfielder Brad Cumbest No. 173; Jackson Academy outfielder Dakota Jordan No. 177; Madison Central catcher Ross Highfill No. 197; and South Panola outfielder Emaarion Boyd No. 245. Baseball America ranks Tanner No. 68, Dunhurst No. 139 and Holcombe No. 154. No state high school players made BA’s Top 200, though the magazine did rank four state schools in its final Top 50 for 2022: No. 2 Sumrall, No. 5 Northwest Rankin, No. 21 Jackson Prep and No. 33 Madison-Ridgeland Academy. Day 1 of the draft includes the first two rounds plus supplemental picks, a total of 80. The 20-round draft runs through Monday and Tuesday. P.S. Twelve players from state schools were drafted in 2021, including two first-rounders (MSU’s Will Bednar, No. 14, and UM’s Gunnar Hoglund, No. 19). Hoglund, like Sims this year, was coming off arm surgery. … Two Jackson State players made the list of HBCU draft prospects compiled by blackcollegenines.com. Right-hander Nik Gallatas and infielder Ty Hill are joined on that list by Grambling State right-hander Shemar Page, a former Pearl River CC star from Laurel, and Southern U. outfielder O’Neill Burgos, a Brookhaven Academy and Jones College alum. Page, also a hitter at Grambling, was the SWAC pitcher of the year. … A recent mlb.com feature focused on the small number of top three overall draft picks who failed to reach the major leagues. On that list are former MSU pitcher B.J. Wallace, No. 3 by Montreal in 1992, and Oak Park High third baseman Ted Nicholson, No. 3 by the Chicago White Sox in 1969. Wallace had injury issues, while Nicholson’s career may have been short-circuited by military duty.

01 Feb

fitting tribute

MLB Network did a nice tribute to former big leaguer Jeff Innis, who died Sunday at 59 from cancer. Old Jackson Mets fans will remember Innis, a skinny, sidearming right-hander who served two stints at Smith-Wills Stadium, in 1984 and again in ’86. He was humble and witty in those days — and an effective reliever for two good teams. MLBN’s Tom Verducci, who also wrote a piece for si.com about Innis, called him a “calm port in a busy storm” with the New York Mets of the late ’80s and hailed his “humility and kindness.” Other tributes from former teammates echoed those sentiments. Innis said in a 1986 interview that he was buried in the bullpen at Illinois when he decided to start throwing sidearm. Despite a low-80s fastball, he showed enough potential that the Mets drafted him in the 13th round in 1983. Innis put up a 4.25 ERA and eight saves for the Texas League champion JaxMets in 1984 and, after being bumped back to A-ball in 1985, became the closer (2.45 ERA, 25 saves) for the ’86 team that reached the TL title series. Innis was never a star during seven seasons with the big Mets, but he was a good pitcher: 3.05 ERA in 288 games. He was also a good guy who evidently touched a lot of lives.

08 Sep

must see tv

Tonight’s marquee game in the big leagues has to be Toronto at New York, slated to be televised by MLB Network at 6:05 CDT from Yankee Stadium. Three Mississippians are among the cast: McComb natives and Mississippi junior college products Corey Dickerson and Jarrod Dyson play for the suddenly sizzling Blue Jays; Louisville native and East Central CC product Marcus Thames is the hitting coach for the Jekyll-and-Hyde Yankees, currently in an ugly slide. The Blue Jays (75-62) have won six in a row and nine of 10 to move within 2 games of the second wild card berth in the American League. They lead all of MLB in homers and have hit seven in the first two games of this series. The Yankees, who had ripped off a 13-game win streak that moved them to the top of the wild card standings, have dropped four straight and eight of 10. New York (78-60) lost the first two games of this series 8-0 and 5-1, failing to record a walk or an extra-base hit in successive games for only the fourth time in team history. Dickerson (Meridian CC) is batting .277 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 29 games for the Jays since he was acquired in a trade with Miami. He’ll lead off tonight against Yankees rookie right-hander Luis Gil. Dyson (Southwest CC), a recent waiver claim from Kansas City, serves mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. He is at .220 for the season with 10 steals, two for Toronto. It’s surely been a frustrating season for Thames, in his fourth year as the Yanks’ hitting coach. A lineup loaded with sluggers ranks 11th in the league in scoring, first in grounding into double plays and seventh in strikeouts. Only one batter in tonight’s lineup is batting above .266.

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.

25 Jun

draft auditions

Eric Cerantola, who did not make Mississippi State’s travel roster for Omaha, headed to Cary, N.C., instead to work out in the MLB Draft Combine. According to mlb.com’s Jim Callis, it was a worthwhile trip. Cerantola reportedly hit 96 mph four times and registered the highest spin rate among 13 pitchers who threw in a Thursday session. Cerantola, a big righty from Canada, was considered a potential first-round pick headed into 2021 but had a poor year for the Bulldogs. After starting the season in the rotation, he wound up appearing in just 10 games, posting a 5.71 ERA. He struck out 24 in 17 1/3 innings but walked 11, hit six batters and threw four wild pitches. Callis writes that Cerantola “has some stiffness in his delivery that makes it tough for him to locate his pitches.” Rated No. 248 by MLB Pipeline, his work at the combine might entice an MLB club to take a chance on him. … Braden Montgomery, the star of Madison Central’s state championship team, is showcasing skills as both a hitter and pitcher at the combine. “I picked up pitching more recently, but I’ve always been a hitter,” he said in a recent interview on MLB Network. “So, there are some days where maybe I’ll turn out a poor pitching performance, but I’ll hit well and feel like I won’t have to pitch anymore or turn out a really good pitching performance, and I don’t hit well at all. So, I enjoy them both.” The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Montgomery is a switch-hitting outfielder and righty pitcher. He had nine hard-hit (95 mph-plus) balls in a BP session this week; the top number in that session was 15. He broad-jumped 11.04 feet and scored 11.31 on the agility drill, both among the best scores in his groups. He is a Stanford signee who’ll go high in the draft. He is ranked No. 65 by MLB Pipeline, just four spots behind Ole Miss’ Doug Nikhazy.

27 Jun

doing it proud

There was no official proclamation, but it happened. Out of the blue, we got McComb Day in the major leagues. Jarrod Dyson and Corey Dickerson, both natives of the sleepy Pike County city that also gave us Bo Diddley, Britney Spears and Brandy, produced “Quick Pitch”-worthy highlights on Wednesday while sparking their respective teams to big wins. Dyson, a McComb High graduate, filled up the box score batting leadoff for Arizona, which beat the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers 8-2. Three hits, including a double, plus a run, an RBI and two stolen bases. With 19 bags, he leads the National League. Dyson also robbed LA’s Joc Pederson of a home run, reaching over the center-field wall to pull one back. MLB Network was all over that highlight. Dickerson, who played high school ball up the road from McComb at Brookhaven Academy, went 4-for-4 with three doubles, three RBIs and three runs as Pittsburgh pounded first-place Houston 14-2. Dickerson recently returned from a two-month stint on the injured list and is batting .333 over his 19 games. One of Dickerson’s doubles came on a pitch that bounced in front of the plate; MLB Network featured that one on “Quick Pitch,” as well. … For the record, the list of McComb natives to make the big leagues also includes Adrian Brown, Dalton Jones, Blake Stein and Matt Tolbert.

28 Jun

that’s a bummer

This year was going to be different for Zack Cozart. After enduring four straight losing seasons in Cincinnati, the ex-Ole Miss star signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels, a star-studded club expected to contend for the postseason. If the Angels do make the playoffs, Cozart will only be watching. The team announced Wednesday night that the veteran infielder will have season-ending shoulder surgery. The news broke during the Angels’ game at Boston, and MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci called it “a key injury” for the team, which is winning but still searching for top-of-the-lineup consistency. “That’s another option that is gone now,” Verducci said. Cozart, a 2017 National League All-Star who batted .297 with 24 homers for the Reds, had been slow to adjust to his new league, batting .219 with five homers in 58 games. He had started at third base, second and shortstop. This is the second major injury for the 32-year-old in four years; he missed most of the 2015 season with a knee.

01 Apr

fun fact

During the broadcast of Shohei Ohtani’s MLB pitching debut today on MLB Network, it was noted that only three players in big league history have produced both a 10-win season and a 10-home run season at some point in their career. Ohtani, whom the Los Angeles Angels plan to use as both a DH and a starting pitcher, did it in the same season twice in Japan. The great Babe Ruth did both in 1918, when he was with the Boston Red Sox, going 13-7 on the mound and hitting 11 homers, the first of 17 straight double-digit homer seasons. Rick Ankiel, who broke in as a pitcher and converted to the outfield, did it during his career (1999-2013) but not in the same season. The only other player to achieve this impressive feat was Jackson native Ewell Albert “Reb” Russell, who played in the early 1900s. Russell, a left-hander, won 23 games as a rookie for the Chicago White Sox in 1913 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. He hit nine more the next year in what was his final fling in the majors.

22 Jan

looking up

MLB Network’s list of the top 10 center fielders in the game does not include Billy Hamilton. Rest assured, there are any number of teams that would love to have the Collins native and ex-Taylorsville High star – but he has work to do to crack the list of elite center fielders. Hamilton, in his first full MLB season with Cincinnati, stole 56 bases, scored 72 runs, drove in 49, hit six homers and legged out eight triples in 152 games. In the field, he made just two errors while registering 342 putouts and 10 assists. But Hamilton batted just .250, put up a sub-par .292 on-base percentage and drew just 34 walks while fanning 117 times. The apparent leader in the National League rookie of the year race much of the season, he scuffled late and wound up second to New York pitcher Jacob deGrom. For sure, Hamilton’s speed is off the charts. If he can get on base more in 2015, he just might climb into that top 10 chart heading into 2016. P.S. Connor Barron’s stock may be rising, which is good news for Southern Miss fans. The former Sumrall High star, a third-round MLB draft pick in 2011 who went undrafted last summer, has been rated the No. 8 senior in the country by Perfect Game. Barron was the Texas Collegiate League player of the year last summer after batting .344. The former shortstop, now playing center field for the Golden Eagles, hit .246 (.316 in C-USA play) with four homers and 20 RBIs as a junior. … Also on the rise is Greer Holston, a right-hander at St. Stanislaus High. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior reportedly made a big impression on scouts at last weekend’s Under Armour Preseason All-America Tournament in Arizona.