Mitch Moreland, who spent parts of four seasons in a Red Sox uniform, returned to Boston Tuesday as a member of the Oakland A’s and got a standing ovation as he dug in for his first at-bat. Before the series between the two division leaders began, the former Mississippi State star from Amory was showered with high praise from the other clubhouse. “Mitch is a good player, man, and a great person, and what he brought to the equation in the clubhouse was kind of like a sense of calmness, you know?” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in a story on nesn.com. “He’s one of my favorites, to be honest with you.” Moreland helped Cora and the Red Sox win a World Series in 2018. Cora said the left-handed hitting first baseman “was probably one of the most important players that we had in ’18.” Moreland went 1-for-4 in Tuesday’s game as the A’s took a 3-2 win. He is batting .220 with four homers and 15 RBIs as Oakland’s primary DH. A 12-year veteran, Moreland is a .251 career hitter with 180 homers and, befitting his “2-Bags” nickname, 210 doubles. P.S. Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl is on a rehab assignment with the Biloxi Shuckers, Milwaukee’s Double-A affiliate, and likely will pitch in this week’s series against the Mississippi Braves. The oft-injured Wahl has pitched in 17 MLB games over parts of three seasons stretching back to 2017. He was a fifth-round pick by Oakland in 2013.
When you’ve got three NCAA Division I programs ranked in the Top 25 and a fourth with an unbeaten conference season, an NAIA program with a conference title under its belt and a D-II team currently battling for a league crown, you’re going to have a bunch of players with great numbers. Only one can win the Ferriss Trophy, given annually to the state’s best. The finalists have been named: Tanner Allen and Landon Sims from Mississippi State and Kevin Graham, Gunnar Hoglund and Doug Nikhazy of Ole Miss. Outfielder Allen is having a monster year for a top five team: .379, eight homers, 46 RBIs, 50 runs. Sims, the Bulldogs’ closer, is 3-0 with six saves and a 0.56 ERA in 14 appearances. Outfielder/first baseman Graham is batting .339 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs, 44 runs for UM, and pitchers Hoglund (4-2, 2.87, 96 punchouts) and Nikhazy (6-2, 2.47), both highly rated MLB draft prospects, have been outstanding, though Hoglund is now shelved with an arm injury. Consider for a moment the players who didn’t make the final five: Bulldogs pitcher Will Bednar has eye-catching stats: 5-1, 3.31 ERA, 80 strikeouts in 49 innings. And he’s a highly rated draft prospect, too. Rebels reliever Taylor Broadway has nine saves, four wins and a 2.73 ERA in 19 games. Reed Trimble has been Southern Miss’ most productive hitter — .306, 10 homers, 45 RBIs, 43 runs – while Walker Powell (8-2) and Ben Ethridge (6-1) have sparkled on the mound. Jackson State (24-0 in the SWAC), which has never had a Ferriss winner, rolls out Ty Hill (.431), Chenar Brown (.357, eight homers, 45 RBIs), Nik Galatas (9-2) and Anthony Becerra (8-1). Then there’s the small schools. NAIA William Carey, SSAC champion, features two-way star Sloan Dieter (.331, 15 homers, 52 RBIs and an 8-2, 1.89 pitching ledger). And at D-II Delta State, Jake Barlow is hitting .314 with 17 homers, most in the state, and 58 RBIs. The winner will be named on May 24. Only one can win. It’s a tough call. P.S. A future Ferriss winner or two might be playing in this week’s MAIS Class 5A championship series, which will be loaded with NCAA Division I talent. The pitching staffs alone feature Riley Maddox (Ole Miss signee), Mason Nichols (Ole Miss) and Will Gibbs (Mississippi State) of Jackson Prep and Bryce Chance (Mississippi State), Niko Mazza (Southern Miss) and Brayden Jones (Ole Miss) of MRA. Prep (33-3) is No. 2 in MaxPreps’ state rankings, MRA (27-9) No. 7.
A Mississippi product took the field in each of the five big league games played on Monday night. Only one enjoyed a postgame celebration. Mike Mayers, the former Ole Miss standout, worked a clean eighth inning and earned his sixth hold in the Los Angeles Angels’ gritty 5-4 win against Houston. Pitching for the third straight day and 18th time this season, Mayers trimmed his ERA to 4.58. Three Mississippi State alumni were on the losing side: Adam Frazier went 1-for-3 in Pittsburgh’s 14-1 loss to Cincinnati, Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-3 in Boston’s 4-1 loss to Baltimore and Nate Lowe put up a 1-for-3 in Texas’ 3-1 defeat against San Francisco. And ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a 1-for-4 in Miami’s 5-2 loss to Arizona. … Dickerson’s average slipped to .316, but he still leads all Mississippians in the majors in batting; Frazier is at .308. P.S. In the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers begin a six-game series at MGM Park tonight. It’s the Shuckers’ home opener. Lefty Hayden Deal (0-1, 1.80), the M-Braves’ opening day starter, is expected to get the nod in Game 1. Former State star Ethan Small is likely to start in the series. The 2019 first-round pick made his Double-A debut on May 7, allowing four runs in three innings in a loss at Birmingham.
Why do we love this game? Crazy days like Saturday. Where to begin? In Hattiesburg, Walker Powell throws a no-hitter and Ben Ethridge follows with a three-hit shutout as Southern Miss sweeps Middle Tennessee State. In Columbia, S.C., Tanner Allen goes 4-for-5 with three RBIs to spark Mississippi State past South Carolina and clinch the big SEC series. In College Station, Texas, Tim Elko, in his third plate appearance since tearing an ACL in early April, hits a three-run homer to help Ole Miss beat Texas A&M and secure Mike Bianco’s 800th win in Oxford. In Jackson, Jackson State scores 19 runs in the third inning en route to beating hapless Mississippi Valley State 19-5, improving to 23-0 in SWAC play. In Oxford, Ala., Blayke Dendy hits a grand slam and Christian Day throws a complete game to pace Delta State to an upset of top-seeded Lee University in the GSC Tournament. In Mobile, Ala., Jorge Ramos tosses a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts to lead William Carey past top-seeded Loyola (New Orleans) and into the championship game of the SSAC Tournament. In Pearl, Atlanta prospect Shea Langeliers homers twice as the Double-A Mississippi Braves win their first game of the season by knocking off Pensacola. In Atlanta, former M-Braves star William Contreras belts a game-tying three-run double and then scores the winning run in the 12th inning as the Braves rally past Philadelphia. In Miami, former Biloxi Shuckers standout Adrian Houser goes six strong innings and hits a homer to drive Milwaukee past the Marlins. In Kansas City, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson singles twice and scores twice in an eight-run first inning that propels the Chicago White Sox past the Royals. Can’t wait to see what today brings.
The key for Matt Wallner, as it is for many power-hitting prospects, is making enough contact for the power to play. The former Southern Miss standout made contact in three of his four at-bats on Wednesday night for High-A Cedar Rapids – and the results were very good. Wallner, Minnesota’s No. 13-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, went 3-for-4 with two home runs and a career-best six RBIs. He has 10 homers – and 82 strikeouts — over his 67-game pro career. The 6-foot-5, left-handed-hitting outfielder tied the USM single-season record for homers in 2019 with 23 and finished his three years in Hattiesburg with a school-record 58. … It was a big night for big flies among Mississippians in the minors. Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, back in Triple-A for Minnesota, hit one out for St. Paul. The Twins’ No. 12 prospect is 3-for-29 with one homer in eight big league games this season. Ex-Ole Miss star Grae Kessinger homered for Double-A Corpus Christi in Houston’s system. Columbia High product Ti’Quan Forbes went deep for Birmingham (Chicago White Sox) in its season-opening win over Biloxi in the Double-A South. He also stole a base and committed an error at third base. And at the White Sox’s Low-A Kannapolis club, former Loyd Star standout James Beard, known more for his speed than his power, hit a grand slam. … Also of note: Ole Miss alum Nick Fortes, in his Double-A debut, had two hits for Pensacola (Miami Marlins) in its 2-1 win against Mississippi in the M-Braves’ home opener. Former Ole Miss standout Anthony Servideo and ex-State star Jordan Westburg made their pro debuts for Low-A Delmarva (Baltimore Orioles) in a doubleheader against Salem. Servideo was 1-for-5 with four walks, Westburg 2-for-8 with an RBI.
Though the Mississippi Braves’ season opener was postponed by rain on Tuesday night, there was a boatload of other games on opening day for minor league baseball and several Mississippians made a splash. Kirk McCarty, the ex-Southern Miss standout, went five innings (two earned runs) to get the win for Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland system. The left-hander is in his fourth pro season, first in Class AAA. Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison, a 2018 first-rounder and a top prospect in Colorado’s chain, went five innings (one run) for a win in his Double-A debut with Hartford. Jacob Robson, a fifth-year pro out of State, went 2-for-4 with a home run for Double-A Erie in Detroit’s system. The lefty-hitting outfielder has a .290 career average. Former Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry, Jr., homered for Fort Myers, Minnesota’s Low-A club. This is the third pro season for the former ninth-round pick. Ex-State star Justin Foscue and Ole Miss product Tyler Keenan, both 2020 draftees, made their official pro debuts in High-A ball. Both went hitless, Foscue for Hickory in the Texas system, Keenan for Everett in Seattle’s organization. P.S. Jared Johnson, the former Smithville High standout with the big arm, has popped in on Atlanta’s MLB Pipeline prospect list at No. 30. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander, a 14th-round pick in 2019, reportedly threw 97 mph in Instructional League last fall. He pitched in the rookie Gulf Coast League in 2019 and put up a 3.52 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings. He was almost unhittable at Smithville. Only 20, he is probably a couple of years away from appearing in Mississippi with the Double-A club but is worth keeping an eye on.
The 100th home run of Hunter Renfroe’s big league career sailed into the seats above the Green Monster on Tuesday night. It was his first homer at Fenway Park as a member of the Boston Red Sox, who signed the former Mississippi State star primarily to add some power to their lineup. After a sluggish start, Renfroe may be beginning to produce the desired thunder. He has homered twice in his last three games and, after a 3-for-4 effort in Tuesday’s win against Detroit, is batting .333 over his last seven games. “Just changing a little timing, making sure it’s a little better, that’s really what I’ve been working on in the cage a little bit and just staying with my approach,” the Crystal Springs native said in an mlb.com story. He is at .222 for the year with three bombs and 13 RBIs. … Ex-Bulldogs standout Mitch Moreland hit a two-run homer for Oakland in a win over Toronto on Tuesday, giving him 601 RBIs for his 12-year career. It was his 180th career homer. Moreland, who left Boston as a free agent and signed with the A’s in the off-season, is hitting .225 with four homers and 13 RBIs. … George County High product Justin Steele, a rookie with the Chicago Cubs, notched his first career MLB win Tuesday after pitching a scoreless ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cubs won Game 2 of the twinbill on David Bote’s walk-off hit. Steele, who won 16 games as an oft-injured starter in the minors going back to 2014, has posted a 3.68 ERA in six appearances this season with 12 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. P.S. Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers has been put on the 10-day injured list (undisclosed) by the Los Angeles Angels. The reliever has a 2.51 ERA in 14 games.
540 – Strikeouts by Mississippi State’s pitching staff this season, most in the nation. The Bulldogs (32-10) punched out 37 in their three-game sweep of Texas A&M over the weekend.
31 – Wins by Ole Miss this season, marking the 23rd straight year (excluding the shortened 2020 season) that the Rebels have posted at least 30 wins. They swept South Carolina over the weekend.
30 – Runs scored by Southern Miss in taking the last three games of a four-game set at Rice. The Golden Eagles improved to 29-14 and 16-7 in C-USA, second in the West.
21 – Wins, against no defeats, for Jackson State in SWAC play this season. The Tigers have one series left, at home against winless Mississippi Valley State next weekend.
20 – Wins, against 16 losses, this season for Belhaven heading into this week’s ASC Tournament in Marshall, Texas. Ace Brett Sanchez has nine of those wins and just one loss.
20 – Wins, against eight losses, for MUW, which is ranked No. 2 in the USCAA poll and awaiting word of an invite to the postseason.
9 – Current losing streak for Alcorn State, which finished the regular season at 6-18, 6-16 SWAC.
9 – Straight wins for William Carey, which will take a 30-10 record into the SSAC Tournament in Mobile, Ala., this week. The Crusaders are the fifth seed and play 4-seed Mobile on Wednesday.
7 – Blue Mountain’s seed in the SSAC Tournament; the Toppers (14-18) get 2-seed Faulkner in the first round on Wednesday.
5 – Delta State’s seed in this week’s GSC Tournament in Oxford, Ala. The Statesmen (24-15) took two of three from Mississippi College over the weekend. MC didn’t make the tourney field.
Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Oh, and sometimes you get a no-decision. That tells the tale of the three Mississippi products who started major league games on Saturday. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn got the W, ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull took the L and former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff didn’t factor in the decision of a game his team ultimately won. Turnbull was first up in a game featured on MLB Network. Facing the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, he gave up four runs in five innings as Detroit fell 6-4. The lanky right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts for a struggling Tigers team. Lynn returned from the injured list to work five innings, allowing three runs, for the Chicago White Sox in a 7-3 win against visiting Cleveland in FS1’s national game. Buoyed by East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson’s grand slam, Lynn improved to 2-1 with a 1.82 ERA. Woodruff took on the Los Angeles Dodgers in an MLB Network showcase game and allowed two runs — including Mookie Betts’ first-pitch leadoff homer — in six innings. It was 2-2 when Woodruff departed, and Milwaukee won the game 6-5 in 11 innings. He stands at 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA. He has allowed more than two runs just once in his six starts. P.S. There has been a flurry of movement recently involving Mississippians in MLB. In addition to Lynn leaving the IL, Nick Sandlin was called up by Cleveland (see previous post); Cody Reed came off the IL for Tampa Bay; Justin Steele was recalled by the Cubs; Brent Rooker was sent out by Minnesota; Garrett Crochet went on the IL for the White Sox; and Anthony Alford was assigned to the minors by Pittsburgh.
Some consider moving from starter to reliever a demotion of sorts. Former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman has made the switch with the Seattle Mariners and couldn’t be happier about it. “It’s been fun,” he recently told the Seattle Times. “The adrenaline’s a lot different. It’s a different ballgame coming out of the bullpen and I really don’t (miss starting). Mentality-wise, I really think I fit down there.” Numbers-wise, it also looks like a good fit. The 30-year-old right-hander picked up his third save – of both the season and his eight-year MLB career – by pitching the ninth inning Thursday to close out a 1-0 victory over Houston. The Astros were no-hit for 6 1/3 by Yusei Kikuchi. Graveman has been called on nine times by the Mariners and has yet to allow a run over 10 2/3 innings. He has yielded just two hits and two walks while fanning 12. He was 24-31 as a starter with an ERA well above 4.00 from 2015-2020. Graveman missed time last season, his first in Seattle, because of a benign bone tumor in his neck. He moved to the bullpen when he returned and has nailed down a leading role there in 2021. “He’s going out there and pumping 99 mile per hour sinkers, power sinkers,” M’s starter Justus Sheffield told the Seattle Times. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch.” … The Mariners (14-12) host the Los Angeles Angels (12-11) – Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols, et al. – this weekend. The Angels also have a Mississippi college product who’s thriving in a bullpen role: ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers. Mayers, a middling reliever in St. Louis most of his big league career, has blossomed with the Angels the past two seasons. He is 1-1 with a save and a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings this season. Ten of his 12 appearances have been scoreless.