13 Mar

as the wbc turns

If you’re not paying attention to the World Baseball Classic, you should be. Italy — Italy! — has advanced to the quarterfinals. The Venezuela-Dominican Republic game, loaded with MLB stars, had the feel of a World Series Game 7. Canada put up a record 18 runs in its win on Sunday. And then came Team USA vs. Mexico on Sunday night. Before a very pro-Mexico crowd of 47,534 at Arizona’s Chase Field, former Mississippi Braves standout Joey Meneses blasted two home runs to power the Mexicans to a stunning 11-5 victory. “I have never played in an atmosphere like that,” Patrick Sandoval, an MLB pitcher who plays for Mexico, told mlb.com. Meneses’ story is a great one. Signed by Atlanta in 2011, he played for the Double-A M-Braves in 2017, hitting .292 with nine homers and 45 RBIs. The Culiacan native moved on in 2018, changing organizations three times — and playing 894 minor league games all told — before getting a big league call from Washington last August. He hit an impressive .324 with 13 homers in 56 games as the Nationals’ regular first baseman. Then he took a major star turn on Sunday, driving in five runs to stun Team USA. “I have no words,” Meneses said. East Central Community College product Tim Anderson went 2-for-4 with three RBIs for the U.S., now 1-1 in pool play and facing a virtual must-win game tonight against Canada. Canada (1-0) features former M-Braves star Freddie Freeman and Mississippi State alum Jacob Robson, both of whom had productive games on Sunday. This is worth your attention.

10 Jan

a capital idea

Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star from McComb, reportedly has found a good home for 2023, reaching agreement with Washington on a 1-year, $2.25 million contract. The rebuilding Nationals, who have a need for lefty-hitting outfielders (among other things), will be Dickerson’s fourth team in three seasons. He spent 2022 with St. Louis, batting .267 with six homers (and a 0.0 WAR) in 96 games on a 1-year, $5M deal. Dickerson, 33, who broke in with Colorado in 2013, is a .281 career hitter with 134 homers, 27 of those during his All-Star season with Tampa Bay in 2017. He joins Mississippi State alum Adam Frazier (Baltimore) and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton (Chicago White Sox, minor league deal) as Mississippi-connected MLB free agents to sign this off-season. A handful of minor league free agents also have inked for 2023. The start of spring training is just a few weeks away. P.S. Jackson Prep junior Konnor Griffin has been named the top high school prospect in the 2024 draft by Baseball America. Griffin, an LSU commit who goes 6 feet 3, 180 pounds, batted .472 with six homers as a shortstop/outfielder and went 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA on the mound in 2022. BA’s new Top 100 list for the ’24 draft includes seven players committed to Mississippi State and four Ole Miss commits. … Belhaven University opens its season Feb. 7 against Rhodes College at Trustmark Park in Pearl, the Blazers’ new home field. BU and fellow NCAA Division III member Millsaps will play two their three Maloney Trophy games at the TeePee on Feb. 21 and March 7. The third game is March 28 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field. Belhaven’s first Collegiate Conference of the South game is March 17 at Maryville (Tenn.). (The CCS is a group of schools that recently broke away from the USA South.)

02 Sep

hit parade

Matt Wallner’s power isn’t in question. The key to the ex-Southern Miss star’s long-term success, according to the scouting report by MLB Pipeline, is improving his overall hit tool. Minnesota Twins brass have to be beaming over what they saw on Thursday night, when their No. 5 prospect put on a veritable hitting clinic at Triple-A St. Paul. Wallner hit for the cycle, banging out five hits all told, including his fifth homer for the Saints, and driving in six runs in an 18-6 victory against Omaha. “It felt pretty good,” Wallner told milb.com. “It was the first time I’ve ever been able to do something like that in my life, so it was pretty fun.” The career home run leader at USM, Wallner now has 26 homers this season, not including the jaw-dropping one he blasted in the All-Star Futures Game. The 6-foot-5, lefty-hitting outfielder batted .299 with 21 homers at Double-A Wichita before being promoted to St. Paul on July 14. He is at .245 in 37 games for the Saints. He is still striking out at a high clip — 49 in 139 at-bats — but has 27 walks, boosting his on-base percentage to .379. A Minnesota native, Wallner was the 39th overall pick in 2019 by the Twins, the team he dreamed of playing for as a kid. He is close. … Jordan Westburg, the former Mississippi State star and Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect, homered for the third straight game for Triple-A Norfolk, giving the infielder 14 for the Tides and 23 on the season. Overall, between Double-A and Triple-A, Westburg is batting .253 with 85 RBIs. The 30th overall pick in 2020, he is also close to his MLB debut. P.S. In MLB, it was quite a night for Mississippi Braves alums. Rookie Spencer Strider set a franchise record with 16 strikeouts in a dominating performance during Atlanta’s 3-0 win vs. Colorado; Austin Riley hit his 33rd homer for the Braves, and rookie Michael Harris II hit his 14th. Joey Meneses, up after 10 years in the minors, hit a walk-off homer for Washington to cap a four-hit game and is batting .354 with seven homers in 25 games. In that same game, a 7-5 Nationals win, 2021 M-Braves star Shea Langeliers hit his third homer and drove in three runs for Oakland.

13 Aug

worth noting

Though prospects Michael Harris II, Vaughn Grissom, C.J. Alexander, Jared Shuster and Darius Vines, among others, have been plucked from their roster, the Mississippi Braves are still kicking. Atlanta’s Double-A club beat Tennessee 16-14 on the road Friday night and is 20-17, second place in the Southern League South in the second half. Recent arrival Javier Valdes, a catcher, is batting .353 with two homers and six RBIs in four games. Cade Bunnell, who has moved to shortstop to replace Grissom, is batting .400 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 14 games for the M-Braves. Outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy, in 25 games since arriving from A-ball, is hitting .289 with three homers and 16 RBIs. And first baseman Drew Lugbauer, on the roster all season, leads the SL with 23 homers. If the pitching can hold up, this club appears to have the firepower to make a run at the second-half title and a playoff berth. … Overshadowed by the exploits of Harris and Grissom with Atlanta, Joey Meneses, another former M-Braves star, has had quite a debut in The Show himself. Playing for Washington, Meneses is batting .370 with four homers in eight games since being called up. The 30-year-old Mexico native, who played in Pearl in 2016-17, logged more than 3,000 at-bats over 11 years in the minors, hitting .281. “I feel like, up here, you have a little bit more energy and more motivation, obviously,” he told the Washington Post regarding his hot start. … Southern Miss product Chuckie Robinson had a great seat — the Cincinnati bench — for Thursday night’s Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa. Called up for the first time in his pro career, he did not get in the game and is now back with Triple-A Louisville. Hopefully, that won’t be his only major league experience. … Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton was outrighted to Triple-A Jacksonville by Miami on Friday. Used primarily as a pinch runner, the veteran Hamilton scored nine runs and stole seven bases in 20 games but had just one hit in 13 at-bats. … Ex-South Panola standout Emaarion Boyd, one of two prep players drafted out of the state in July, is 2-for-5 with two walks and a caught stealing in two games for Philadelphia’s Florida Complex League team. The 11th-round pick was considered one of the fastest players in the 2022 draft.

03 Jul

best-laid plans

The Chicago White Sox, the heavy favorite in the American League Central entering the 2022 season, signed Kendall Graveman last off-season to bolster their bullpen as a set-up man. The former Mississippi State standout has done well. The White Sox, due in part to injuries, have not. Graveman has a 2.34 ERA, 13 holds, five saves and a 2-1 record in 33 games for the White Sox, who are 37-39 and in third place in a relatively weak division. Pressed into duty as a closer when Liam Hendriks went down with an injury on June 14, Graveman went 3-for-3 in saves and allowed just one earned run in six appearances. That came on Saturday, when, pitching for the second straight day at San Francisco, Graveman allowed three hits and a score while protecting a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning. Now in his eighth MLB season, Graveman broke in as a starter, moved to closer in 2020 with Seattle and became a set-up man with Houston last season, helping the Astros reach the World Series. Making a return trip to the Fall Classic with the ChiSox might have seemed very realistic when Graveman signed, but it doesn’t look that way now, through no fault of his own. P.S. Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett has announced that he’ll throw his final pitch on July 4, ending a pro career that goes back to 2010 and includes 95 MLB appearances. Barrett overcame numerous injuries to pitch in 2019 for Washington and subsequently earn a World Series ring. Now 34, he is currently with Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley team.

07 May

on this date

Brian Dozier, who had been a four-year star at Southern Miss, made his major league debut on May 7, 2012, just 10 short years ago, launching one of the most productive careers ever by a USM alum. In that first game, Dozier went 1-for-4 as Minnesota’s shortstop in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Target Field. Dozier played only seven full seasons in the big leagues but touched all the significant bases: He was a record-setter, an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and a World Series champion. He batted .244 with 192 homers and 115 steals in his career. His 42 homers in 2016 set a record for American League second basemen. He homered in his first postseason at-bat and later won a ring with the 2019 Washington Nationals. He retired, somewhat surprisingly at age 33, prior to the 2021 season after barely playing (for the New York Mets) in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. Drafted by the Twins in the eighth round in 2009 as a shortstop, Dozier didn’t stick at that position once he reached the majors. The Twins moved him to second base, which he had not played since he was a kid, after his 2012 big league trial, which ended abruptly in August. As time would tell, it was a salient move. P.S. Continuing a USM/Twins theme, Matt Wallner had a five-hit, two-homer day on Friday for Wichita in the Texas League. The 6-foot-5 left-handed slugger, the 39th overall pick by Minnesota in the 2019 draft, is batting .243 with six homers and 19 RBIs in his first Double-A season. He was scuffling along at .073 with one homer on April 21, but has gone 14-for-29 since, including the explosion in Friday’s doubleheader.

07 Jul

whatever happened to …

Aaron Barrett, the ex-Ole Miss standout who completed a courageous MLB comeback from injuries two years ago, is still pitching — and coming back from yet another injury. Barrett, 33, is with Washington’s Double-A Harrisburg club, where he has a 3.00 ERA in two appearances. He started this season on the Triple-A injured list following spring knee surgery. Barrett was an effective reliever as a rookie for the Nationals in 2014, putting up a 2.66 ERA. He hurt his arm late in 2015 and missed most of the next three seasons following Tommy John surgery and a career-threatening broken humerus bone. Against all odds, he made it back to Washington in 2019, appearing in three games for the eventual world champion. He didn’t play in the 2019 postseason but threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a roaring crowd at Nationals Park prior to the National League Wild Card Game. Several hours later, the Nationals pulled off a dramatic comeback to beat Milwaukee 4-3. Barrett pitched briefly for the Nats in 2020 and re-signed as a minor leaguer in the off-season. P.S. Blaine Crim’s fast start to his pro career – a .348 average at two levels of rookie ball in 2019 — was derailed by the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. The former Mississippi College star may be getting back on track. Now at High-A Hickory in the Texas system, Crim hit his eighth home run Tuesday and boosted his average to .269 with 37 RBIs as a middle-of-the-order bat for the Crawdads. Crim was a 19th-round pick in 2019 by the Rangers after winning Gulf South Conference player of the year honors at MC.

05 Nov

getting close

Ryan Rolison did not make it to the big leagues this season, but it’s a safe bet the ex-Ole Miss star will get the call in 2021. The 6-foot-2 left-hander, a 2018 first-round pick and Colorado’s No. 2-rated prospect, was in the Rockies’ alternate camp during the 2020 season. In a recent milb.com assessment of the Rockies’ minor league system, Rolison was pegged as “the next big thing.” “So he took steps in the right direction toward a major league career here at some point over the next year-ish,” Colorado assistant GM Zach Wilson said in the story. “When that happens, I don’t know, but he’s got himself closer to that over the last year.” Rolison, projected as a big league starter, throws four pitches and has demonstrated good command in pro ball: 132 strikeouts and 40 walks in 131 innings. He is 8-8 with a 4.40 ERA after finishing the 2019 season in the high-A California League. The Tennessee native was 16-7, 3.50 during two standout years in Oxford. Rolison will likely go to spring training to compete for a spot in a rotation that needs help after Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez and Kyle Freeland. … Three Magnolia State products made their MLB debut in 2020: Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, ex-Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet and Petal High’s Demarcus Evans. P.S. Washington has re-signed Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Barrett, who has a career 4.01 ERA, pitched in two games this season.

22 Sep

welcome back

For the first five weeks of this season, Nate Lowe was stuck in Tampa Bay’s alternate camp, squeezed off of the active roster by the sheer number of infielders. On Sept. 1, an injury to one of those infielders prompted the Rays to recall the former Mississippi State standout. It’s almost an understatement to say he has made the most of the opportunity. The lefty-hitting first baseman is batting .260 with four home runs, 11 RBIs and nine runs in 17 games for a club that is bearing down on a division title and top seed in the American League playoffs. “It’s so fun to come to work every day,” he said in an mlb.com article. Lowe had a blast on Monday night, scoring both of the Rays’ runs in a 2-1 win against the New York Mets and ace Jacob deGrom. Lowe, batting cleanup, walked to lead off the second inning and scored on a sac fly, then hit a laser of a homer to center field in the fourth. That was one of just four hits allowed by deGrom, who fanned 14 in seven innings. Lowe, who hit .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a rookie in 2019, reported for spring training this year much fitter, having dropped about 20 pounds (to 220) from his 6-foot-4 frame. Lowe hit just five homers in 63 games at MSU in 2016 but has found his power stroke in the pros. He hit 43 homers in the minors in 2018 and ’19 as he soared through the Rays’ system. P.S. Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett has gone on the injured list for Washington with a right triceps strain. Barrett made two relief appearances this season; he battled back from myriad arm injuries to return to the big leagues in 2019 for the first time in four years.

15 Sep

game on out west

Petco Park should be the center of MLB attention tonight. The hard-charging San Diego Padres, with some Mississippi connections kicking in, host the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of a hot National League West series. The Padres closed to within 1.5 games of the Dodgers with a 7-2 win on Monday night, their eighth straight victory. They’ve made up 4 games in the standings over the last 10. “Of course we’re amped,” Trent Grisham, the former Biloxi Shuckers star who homered off Clayton Kershaw on Monday, told mlb.com. Grisham’s post-homer posturing riled up the Dodgers’ bench, perhaps adding more juice to a growing rivalry. Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz threw a scoreless inning in relief for San Diego and maintained his 0.00 ERA. Over 17 appearances, the big lefty, a high-priced free agent addition in the off-season, has eight holds and four saves. He has worked two straight days, so he might be down tonight, but ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland won’t be. Moreland, who doesn’t hit left-handers well, sat out against Kershaw on Monday, but the veteran first baseman is in the lineup tonight against right-hander Tony Gonsolin. Moreland was batting .328 with eight homers when the Padres traded with Boston to get him. He has hit just .167 with a homer and four RBIs in 11 games with San Diego. He’s bound to get going, and the last two games of this series are bound to be good. P.S. Washington has recalled Ole Miss alum Aaron Barrett from its alternate camp. The 32-year-old right-hander made an admirable comeback from injuries (see previous posts) to reach the majors last year for the first time since 2015.