05 Jan

’22 targets

Assuming there is a major league season in 2022, Mississippians in the majors will be chasing some noteworthy milestones. Start with Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum from McComb. He’s a free agent at the moment, but, at age 32, the left-handed hitting outfielder shouldn’t have trouble finding a team and adding to his career total of 917 hits. The thousand mark is within reach. He had 91 in an injury-shortened ’21 season. Making it to a 1,000 career hits in MLB is no minor feat. Mitch Moreland, another free agent, is sitting on 186 home runs. He could reach 200 with a healthy year. He hit 10 last season at age 36 despite missing a chunk of time with injuries. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory currently sits sixth on the list of career homer leaders among Mississippi natives. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn needs nine strikeouts to reach 1,600 career, a mark reached by only 185 pitchers; the big right-hander could do it in his first start. He had 176 K’s last season in a banner year for the Chicago White Sox. Teammate Tim Anderson, the White Sox’s shortstop and an East Central Community College product, has 91 homers and 91 steals over six MLB campaigns. He should get to 100 in each category with ease. He put up 17 homers and 18 steals in 2021. Veteran outfielder Jarrod Dyson, 37, a free agent, has played in 992 games (.244 average, 266 steals in 12 seasons). The McComb native surely wants a chance to get to 1,000. Ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, coming off a career year but joining a new team (Milwaukee), could crack 150 career homers in 2022. He has 128 after belting 31 for Boston a year ago. He also has 465 career hits; No. 500 is clearly in his sights. Former State ace Chris Stratton has worked 399 innings over six big league seasons. The right-hander, 31, is coming off his best year, having won seven games, saved eight and posted a 3.63 ERA for lowly Pittsburgh.

28 Dec

catching up

Colby White, a Mississippi State product drafted by Tampa Bay in 2019, made the Rays’ Organization All-Star team as selected by milb.com. White, a right-handed reliever, posted a 1.44 ERA while rising through four levels of the minors in 2021. Would not be a surprise to see him in the big leagues in 2022. One scout has compared White to Craig Kimbrel, which is some high praise. … Ole Miss alum and erstwhile big leaguer Jacob Waguespack has signed with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. Waguespack spent all of 2021 in the minors for Toronto; he went 5-5 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 games for the Blue Jays in 2019-20. … Ex-State standout Jonathan Holder, who recently re-signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs, has been invited to big league spring camp. Holder, an MLB vet with a 4.38 ERA, did not pitch in the majors in 2021 because of a shoulder problem. He made two appearances in the Cubs’ minor league system and was dropped from the 40-man roster after the season. … Former MSU star Travis Chapman, a longtime minor league manager and coach, has been named the New York Yankees’ first base coach. … The Biloxi Shuckers got a shout-out (sorta) in Sports Illustrated’s year-end issue thanks to one of the craziest games of 2021. In a May 6 Double-A South contest at Birmingham, the Shuckers drew 13 walks and an HBP in one inning, scoring 12 runs en route to a 14-6 win over the Barons. SI’s Steve Rushin labeled it “Baron Wasteland” in his witty summary of the year’s oddest events. … The change in ownership of the Mississippi Braves franchise (from the Atlanta Braves/Liberty Media to Diamond Baseball Holdings) won’t affect the team’s affiliation with Atlanta or its location in Pearl, but one has to wonder if a name change might happen down the road. … Ready or not, the college season in Mississippi is slated to open on Feb. 2, when Rust College visits Tuskegee for a doubleheader that will also mark the debut of Bearcats coach John Bates. William Carey University, another NAIA program, opens at home in Hattiesburg on Feb. 4 against Lindsey Wilson. NAIA Tougaloo College starts Feb. 5 with a twinbill at Xavier of New Orleans. Tougaloo recently named its home field after longtime coach Earl Sanders, the ex-Jackson State star; the Bulldogs’ first game there is set for Feb. 19.

15 Dec

star watch

They don’t play the game to pick up personal honors such as milb.com Organization All-Star, but the recognition is cool. Jake Mangum, the former Jackson Prep and Mississippi State standout, became the latest Mississippian to make the grade when milb.com released the New York Mets’ list earlier this week. After batting .285 with nine homers, 47 RBIs and 14 steals in 2021, the lefty-hitting Mangum was named one of the Mets’ minor league all-star outfielders. Mangum is 25 and spent most of last season — his second in pro ball — at the Double-A level. He isn’t a highly rated prospect in the system, but the SEC’s all-time hits leader certainly opened eyes with his 2021 production, flashing some much-needed power. Mets farm director Jeremy Barnes hailed Mangum’s “insane bat-to-ball skill.” He’s also fast and plays a pretty good center field. … Not all of the Organization All-Stars have been released. The list of Mississippi products who’ve been named so far includes Jordan Westburg (MSU), Baltimore shortstop; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit outfielder; J.P. France (MSU), Houston right-hander; Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami catcher; Thomas Dillard (UM), Milwaukee first baseman; Joe Gray, Jr. (Hattiesburg), Milwaukee outfielder; and Ethan Small (MSU), Milwaukee left-hander. Robson and Fortes made their MLB debuts in 2021. P.S. Atlanta’s all-star team includes several 2021 Mississippi Braves and a player whose arrival in 2022 will be greatly anticipated: Michael Harris II. The lefty-hitting outfielder, 6 feet, 195 pounds, was the Braves’ minor league player of the year and is ranked as their No. 1 prospect by Baseball America. He hit .294 with seven homers, 64 RBIs and 55 runs at High-A Rome last summer.

30 Nov

rivalry renewed

Ryan Rolison and Ethan Small currently are polishing their pitching skills — and renewing their college rivalry — in the Dominican Winter League after finishing last season in Triple-A. When next we see these highly rated prospects in the States, they might just be rivals in the major leagues. Rolison, a left-hander out of Ole Miss, recently was added to Colorado’s 40-man roster; he’ll go to spring training vying for a rotation spot. Small, a lefty out of Mississippi State, likely will go to Milwaukee’s spring camp as a non-roster invitee with a real shot at making the club. Both have pitched exceedingly well in the DWR. Rolison, who had an injury-riddled 2021 minor league campaign, is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in five starts for Licey with 24 strikeouts in 20 innings. Small had a 1.98 ERA between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville and has carried that stuff into the winter season, going 2-1, 1.80 over five starts for Escogido.

23 Nov

touching the bases

Obscured by bigger names making the MLB Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, Jonathan Papelbon certainly rates some attention. The former Mississippi State standout — who turns 41 today — pitched 12 years in the big leagues and stands 10th on the all-time saves list with 368. The glowering right-hander posted a 2.44 career ERA, made six All-Star teams and won a World Series ring with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, saving each of the last three games in the sweep against Colorado. That’s pretty impressive stuff. Four of the top seven on the career saves list are in the Hall, though one who ranks above Papelbon — Jackson Generals alum Billy Wagner — has yet to make the cut while being on the ballot since 2016. … Another ex-Gens star, outfielder/DH Bobby Abreu, is also back on the ballot for 2022 election. Abreu batted .291 career with 288 homers, 400 steals and eight 100-RBI seasons. Still, he is considered a long-shot candidate. … While several Mississippi-connected major leaguers are free agents looking for 2022 jobs, there are a bunch of minor leaguers doing the same. Baseball America’s list includes one-time big leaguers Jacob Waguespack (Ole Miss), Aaron Barrett (UM), Cody Carroll (Southern Miss) and Braxton Lee (UM). Former Mr. Baseball Ti’Quan Forbes (Columbia High), Ben Bracewell (MSU), Conor Fisk (USM) and Bradley Roney (USM) are also in the market. … Former Itawamba Community College standout Tim Dillard appeared on MLB Tonight on Monday and on MLB Network’s Hot Stove today. Dillard pitched in 624 pro games — almost 1,600 innings — from 2003-20 and spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues with Milwaukee. The engaging Dillard, who relishes weirdness (@dimtillard), is now a broadcaster with the Brewers. Among the things he discussed on air were following his dad, Ole Miss alum and ex-big leaguer Steve, around minor league clubhouses; converting from an over-the-top pitcher to sidearmer; converting from player to broadcaster; sleeping on friends’ sofas; and growing a scraggly beard.

20 Nov

watch for it

A pair of Magnolia State connections are on the roster of one of the teams in tonight’s Arizona Fall League championship game, one a familiar name, the other less so. Former Mississippi State star Justin Foscue, a first-round pick by Texas in 2020 and a top-rated prospect, is the second baseman for Surprise, which meets Mesa (6 p.m., MLB Network) for the fall league title. One of the Saguaros’ key bullpen arms is left-hander Jacques Pucheu, a Gulfport native and East Mississippi Community College alum who plays in the Cincinnati system. Foscue capped his first pro season with a good showing in the AFL, batting .257 with five homers and 15 RBIs. He is the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) and could be in the big leagues very soon. Pucheu’s story is quite different. Undrafted out of Austin Peay in 2019, he played briefly in independent ball before the Reds signed him that summer. After the idle 2020 season, he worked at three levels in 2021, spending most of the season at High-A Dayton. Obviously, Reds brass liked what they saw and sent him to the AFL, where he fared quite well against more highly rated prospects, posting a 1.93 ERA in seven appearances, 14 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner, a Minnesota prospect (No. 14), had an outstanding AFL campaign, hitting .303 with six homers and 18 RBIs for Scottsdale. The lefty-hitting outfielder played in High-A this season. P.S. Three state college products, all pitchers, were placed on 40-man protected rosters by MLB clubs on Friday: Ryan Rolison (Ole Miss) by Colorado, Konnor Pilkington (MSU) by Cleveland and James McArthur (Ole Miss) by Philadelphia. Rolison, a first-rounder in 2018, had an injury-dampened 2021 season (5.27 in 16 starts) but is the Rockies’ No. 3 prospect. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Ozzie Albies won MLB’s Heart and Hustle Award, which honors a player who best embodies the values, spirit and tradition of the game. A committee of former players makes the selection. “I don’t know anybody who has any more fun playing baseball than that kid,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker recently told mlb.com. East Central CC alum Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox) and former MSU star Adam Frazier (San Diego) were among the 30 nominees. … The Braves’ new 40-man additions include Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP as an M-Braves outfielder, and two members of the 2021 M-Braves Double-A South championship team, pitchers Freddy Tarnok and Brooks Wilson.

12 Nov

tagging up

Kudos to Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who became the first Atlanta third baseman since Chipper Jones 21 years ago to claim a Silver Slugger Award. Riley batted .303 with 33 homers, 107 RBIs and 91 runs for the world champion Braves. He posted a 6.1 WAR. Three other former Mississippi Braves also won Silver Sluggers: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Max Fried. Riley did not make the final three in the National League MVP voting but certainly garnered consideration from the baseball writers. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn did make the final three in the American League Cy Young voting. … Four state college products have been outrighted to the minors after clearing waivers as major league clubs set their winter rosters. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Holder, who didn’t pitch in 2021, was moved by the Chicago Cubs, former Delta State star Trent Giambrone by the Cubs, UM alum Chris Ellis by Baltimore and Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed by Tampa Bay. … None of the Magnolia State products playing in the Arizona Fall League made the rosters for Saturday’s Fall Stars Game, though a couple have pretty solid credentials. Southern Miss alum Matt Wallner, a Minnesota prospect, is batting .273 with five homers (tied for the league lead) and 13 RBIs. Ex-UM standout Grae Kessinger, a Houston prospect, is hitting .276 with two homers and 10 RBIs. MSU product Justin Foscue (Texas) has scuffled (.204, three homers) after a hot start, and Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, Jr., (Milwaukee) hasn’t gotten anything going (.077). … While Atlanta seeks to re-sign Freeman, a potential first baseman of the future is putting up nice numbers in the AFL. Drew Lugbauer, who belted 18 homers for the Double-A South champion M-Braves, is batting .405 with five homers and 13 RBIs in Arizona. … Four Mississippi players rank among the top 68 in prospectslive.com’s recently updated list of the top 200 MLB draft prospects for 2022. Mississippi State’s Landon Sims, closer for the national champs, is No. 25; his batterymate Logan Tanner is No. 34; Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst is No. 39; and Madison Central High catcher Ross Highfill is No. 68.

30 Oct

shout-out to …

Barry Lyons, who touched all the bases on his path to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that was announced Friday. Lyons was born in Biloxi, played high school ball there, became an All-America catcher at Delta State and starred for the 1985 Jackson Mets, who won the Texas League championship. He made his big league debut with the New York Mets in 1986, though he did not have a postseason appearance for the World Series champs. Lyons is still heavily involved in baseball on the Coast.
David Dellucci, an All-America outfielder at Ole Miss and an SEC batting champion who also earned the state Hall of Fame nod. Dellucci played 13 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who delivered a clutch hit (again) for Atlanta, driving in the first run with a third-inning double in the 2-0 win Friday night against Houston in Game 3 of the World Series. “Hunting windows,” as he likes to say, Riley has produced seven RBIs this postseason.
Ian Anderson, the ex-Mississippi Braves ace who threw five no-hit innings at the Astros in Game 3. Anderson, who had a hand in a no-no with the M-Braves in 2019, has a 1.26 career postseason ERA, tied with Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee for the second-best by any pitcher over his first eight starts.
Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State standout and Astros reliever who had not allowed a home run to a right-handed batter all year before the Braves’ Travis d’Arnaud took him deep on Friday night. Graveman has yielded just two runs in nine postseason innings for the Astros after posting a 3.13 ERA during the season.
Desmond Jennings, the former Itawamba CC two-sport star who turns 35 today. Jennings played seven years in the big leagues with Tampa Bay, batting .245 with 55 homers and 95 stolen bases.

28 Oct

a mississippi moment

The Boston Red Sox, cursed for so many years, won their second World Series in a four-year span on this date in 2007, and the four-game sweep ended with a faceoff between two Mississippi college alums. Mississippi State product Jonathan Papelbon struck out ex-Ole Miss star Seth Smith for the final out of the Red Sox’s 4-3 win against Colorado in Game 4 at Coors Field. Though both would play on for many more years, that moment marked the last World Series appearance for either. Smith, a Jackson native and Hillcrest Christian grad, was a rookie in 2007, having gotten just eight at-bats (five hits) during the regular season. The lefty-hitting outfielder retired after the 2017 season with a .261 career average and 126 homers. Papelbon was in his third MLB campaign in 2007; he notched 37 saves that season and saved the last three games of the ’07 Series. He finished his career in 2016 with 368 saves, currently 10th on the all-time list. Papelbon and Smith, who had faced each other during their college days, met just twice more in the majors after the ’07 moment. Papelbon got Smith in a 2010 Red Sox-Rockies game, and Smith doubled off Papelbon in a 2014 San Diego-Philadelphia contest. A footnote: Papelbon’s glove from the ’07 Series went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame; the ball from the final out, strangely enough, was chewed up by Papelbon’s dog. P.S. Ex-MSU standout Kendall Graveman pitched a clean ninth inning Wednesday night for Houston in his first career World Series appearance. The last few years have been quite a roller-coaster for Graveman. He missed part of 2018 (with Oakland) and all of 2019 (with the Chicago Cubs) after Tommy John surgery, then missed time in 2020 (with Seattle) because of complications from a benign bone tumor in his neck. He moved from starter to the bullpen after that and moved from Seattle to Houston in a jolting trade in July.

26 Oct

classic anniversaries

It is guaranteed that a Mississippi product will get a ring after the 2021 World Series. Either former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley or Mississippi State alumnus Kendall Graveman will be celebrating when the series ends. “This is why you play the game …,” Houston reliever Graveman said in an MLB Network interview. “I’m ultimately honored and blessed to be in this position, to play the game at the highest level but also on the biggest stage in baseball.” Atlanta third baseman Riley said in an interview with an Atlanta TV station that he was happy to see longtime Braves star Freddie Freeman and manager Brian Snitker make the Series. “I’ve been very blessed to be along for the ride,” said Riley, who made some pretty strong contributions to the trip. This October marks the 10th anniversary of a World Series that also featured Mississippians on opposing sides, and fans can only hope this year’s Fall Classic produces similar drama. St. Louis beat Texas in seven games in the 2011 Series, with Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn earning a ring and ex-MSU standout Mitch Moreland coming up empty. That Series is best remembered for Albert Pujols’ three-homer game, a Cardinals bullpen mix-up in Game 5 and David Freese’s walk-off homer in Game 6 that capped an incredible St. Louis comeback. Lynn and Moreland had their moments. Lynn, a rookie reliever, pitched in five of the games, getting a win in Game 3 with 2 1/3 strong innings and pitching a clean eighth in Game 7, a 6-2 victory. Moreland, in his second MLB season and second Series, was just 1-for-10 but homered in Game 5, a 4-2 Texas win that put the Rangers up 3-2 in the series. … It was 20 years ago that Arizona stunned the New York Yankees in another seven-game classic, winning on Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off hit against Mariano Rivera. Former Ole Miss star David Dellucci was a reserve outfielder on that Diamondbacks team, which had been largely constructed by former State star Buck Showalter, the first manager of the 1998 expansion team. He was fired after the 2000 season, reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. “I would think that this is killing him,” an anonymous source told the New York Times after the Series. … Twenty-five years ago, the Yankees beat the Braves in six games, famously overcoming a 2-0 deficit. Hattiesburg native and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, New York’s third baseman, caught a foul pop for the final out that year. … Thirty years ago, Minnesota beat Atlanta in a classic seven-game series that featured two worst-to-first clubs. Former Jackson State standout Marvin Freeman was a reliever for the Braves back then, and five — count ’em, five — Jackson Mets alums pitched for the Twins that season: Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, Terry Leach, David West and Tom Edens. … The 1961 Yankees, featuring home run king Roger Maris, won the Fall Classic that year over Cincinnati. Silver City native Jack Reed appeared in three games for the Yanks as a defensive replacement, which had been his primary role that season. He didn’t get an at-bat — but did get a ring. Corinth’s Don Blasingame batted .143 in the five games as the Reds’ leadoff batter. … Eighty years ago, in the 1941 Series made famous by Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike, Morton native Atley Donald helped the Yankees beat Brooklyn in five games. Donald was the starter in Game 4, yielding four runs in four innings, but was bailed out when Owen’s misplay in the ninth extended the game and fueled New York’s 7-4 comeback.