03 Apr

a change in the wind

The first five Mississippi-connected starting pitchers to go to the bump in MLB this season pitched relatively well but didn’t have much to show for it: two losses, three no-decisions and a stint on the injured list. If there was some sort of hex at work, it ended Tuesday night when Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central High star, took his turn. In his debut for Philadelphia, on a cold and rainy night at Citizens Bank Park, Turnbull threw five innings, allowed a lone unearned run, struck out seven and got the win against Cincinnati thanks in part to Bryce Harper’s three home runs. Turnbull was 1-4 with a 7.26 ERA for Detroit in an injury-curtailed 2023, then posted a 2.25 this spring after signing as a free agent with the Phillies. Later Tuesday, Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet, making his second start of 2024 — and second career start — with the Chicago White Sox, went seven strong innings to beat Atlanta. Two wins in one day for the Mississippi boys. … To recap the seemingly cursed start for the Mississippians: Crochet went out on opening day last Thursday for the ChiSox, allowed one run in six innings but took an L in a 1-0 defeat against Detroit. … That same day, ex-George County High star Justin Steele pitched well but suffered a hamstring injury in the fifth inning and got a no-decision for the Cubs vs. Texas; he is now on the IL. … On Saturday, Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, back with his original club this year, battled through four shutout innings for St. Louis against the Los Angeles Dodgers but was shelved after an untimely rain delay. The Cardinals went on to win. … On Sunday, Mississippi State product J.P. France worked 5 2/3 innings for Houston against the New York Yankees, yielding three runs, but got a no-decision in a game the Astros would lose late. … On Monday, ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson, in his Colorado debut, pitched 5 1/3 solid innings against the Cubs but took the loss because of three unearned runs, the product of a “little league homer” by Christopher Morel that was misplayed by Rockies left fielder Nolan Jones.

21 Nov

market report

The Brandon Woodruff situation is intriguing. It was reported Monday that the former Mississippi State star, a free agent, is attracting attention from “a majority” of MLB clubs. He is a 30-year-old two-time All-Star with a career record of 46-26 and a 3.10 ERA. Of course, he may not be able to pitch in 2024 because of recent shoulder surgery. For that reason, cost-conscious Milwaukee non-tendered the big right-hander from Wheeler, who was due a raise for next season from the $10.8 million he made in 2023. When he was healthy last season, Woodruff was good: 5-1, 2.28. He figures to be quite a catch for a club that can afford to wait for his return. Injuries also have impacted the future of two other Mississippi products. Dakota Hudson and Spencer Turnbull also became free agents when their 2023 clubs did not offer a contract for next season. Ex-State star Hudson, who is 38-20, 3.84, for his MLB career, missed most of the 2021 season after suffering an arm injury late in 2020. A 16-game winner in 2019, he has struggled to recapture that form. He had some good moments in 2023 but apparently not enough for St. Louis — which needs starting pitching — to keep him around. Hudson is only 28; he also could be a nice catch. Turnbull, the former Madison Central High standout, threw a no-hitter in May of 2021 and was 4-2, 2.88, for Detroit that season when he went down with an arm injury. He hasn’t been the same since. He missed all of 2022 and was ailing most of last season, when he posted a 7.26 ERA in limited MLB time. At 31, he may still have some value as a back-end starter. So many teams need starting pitchers. To wit: Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, 36 and coming off very uneven season with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, has signed as a free agent with the Cardinals, his original club, for one year and $11M.

10 Sep

four of a kind

A shout-out to a quartet of Mississippians who delivered ace-worthy efforts on Saturday. In Triple-A, Jonathan Holder, ex-Mississippi State star from Gulfport, notched his first win of the season, throwing two scoreless relief innings for Salt Lake of the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. The 30-year-old Holder is still grinding, three years after he last pitched in a big league game. He has filled many roles for Salt Lake, making four starts and registering six holds and one save in four chances. He sits at 1-5 with a 5.55 ERA in 61 1/3 innings. Holder, once a key bullpen piece for the New York Yankees, spent a couple of injury-riddled years in the Chicago Cubs’ system before signing a minor league deal with the Angels this past off-season. Down in Low-Class A, Landon Harper, a Southern Miss alum from Meridian, notched his fifth save of the year, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth, for Augusta in the Atlanta system. Harper, a 2022 draftee, is 6-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 31 relief appearances for the GreenJackets. In the big leagues, Lucedale native Justin Steele registered his 20th quality start of the season for the Cubs, throwing seven innings of one-run ball against Arizona in a battle of wild card contenders. Steele, 16-3 with a 2.49, got a no-decision in a game the faltering Cubs would lose in 10 innings at Wrigley Field. At Toronto, former Ole Miss standout James McArthur made his second MLB start — as an “opener” — for Kansas City and threw two clean innings against the Blue Jays, who scored four times against Zack Greinke over the next four innings. McArthur, who yielded seven runs in his MLB debut in June, has an 8.53 ERA in 10 games but hasn’t allowed a run in his last four appearances.

13 Aug

three-pronged success

One by one, three Magnolia State products took the mound on Saturday and delivered the kind of performance playoff-chasing teams need this time of year in the big leagues. “Bring in the sheets,” as Oppenheimer might say. Former George County High star Justin Steele and Mississippi State alums Brandon Woodruff and J.P. France steered their teams to meaningful wins. Steele, a 2023 All-Star and a Cy Young contender in the National League, toughed out five innings for the Chicago Cubs at Toronto, yielding six hits and three runs. The left-hander left with a lead, which the bullpen squandered, but watched the Cubs rally to win 5-4. He is 13-3 with a 2.79 ERA, tied for the NL lead in wins and second in ERA. “(T)he year he’s had has been insane,” teammate Julian Merryweather told mlb.com. The Cubs, on a 19-6 roll, stayed within 2.5 games of NL Central leader Milwaukee, which beat the White Sox 3-2 behind Woodruff. The big right-hander from Wheeler worked 6 1/3 innings in his second start after four months on the injured list. He allowed four hits, a walk and two runs. In four outings this year, the two-time All-Star is 2-1 with a 1.99. “He’s in a really good place after two starts (off the IL),” manager Craig Counsell said in an mlb.com piece. In Houston, France continued his remarkable season, which might garner some rookie of the year consideration. He went seven innings in an 11-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels. He has won five straight — one in relief — and stands 9-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 17 games. He leads American League rookies in wins and would be second in the league in ERA if he had enough innings to qualify. “(J)ust trying to pitch my game,” the bespectacled righty told mlb.com. The Astros’ win kept them 2.5 games back of AL West leader Texas, which never seems to lose. (Ex-State star Chris Stratton pitched three scoreless innings in the Rangers’ 9-3 win vs. San Francisco on Saturday, his fifth scoreless appearance since being acquired at the trade deadline.) P.S. Tanner Allen, the 2021 SEC player of the year and Ferriss Trophy winner at MSU, was promoted to Double-A Pensacola in the Miami organization. He did not play Saturday. … Northwest Mississippi Community College product Dalton Fowler made his pro debut in the Florida Complex League, throwing an inning (two runs) for Tampa Bay’s rookie team. Fowler, a Southaven native, was a ninth-round pick by the Rays out of Memphis, where he was the American Athletic Conference’s pitcher of the year in 2023. … Fowler’s Memphis teammate Dalton Kendrick, an Hernando High alum and the AAC’s saves leader last season, was drafted in the 18th round by the Angels but has yet to appear in a game.

30 Jul

present arms

Stars must have been aligned on Saturday night. By some cosmic coincidence, five Magnolia State college products got the ball as starting pitchers in minor league games, scattered from Double-A to Low-Class A. Collectively, they pitched pretty darn well, allowing five runs and striking out 21 batters over 25 innings all told. Only one got a decision, however, and that was a loss. Most impressive among the bunch was former Ole Miss star Gunnar Hoglund, who delivered four perfect innings, fanning three, for Low-A Stockton (Oakland system). The 19th overall pick in the 2021 draft (by Toronto), Hoglund spent several weeks on the injured list this season and has scuffled (6.32 ERA in nine starts) since his return. Saturday’s outing certainly was a good sign. The hard-luck loser on Saturday was Southern Miss alum Dalton Rogers. He threw 5 2/3 innings for High-A Greenville (Boston), allowing just two runs. He dropped to 1-3 with a 5.11 ERA; he had a 2.49 ERA in Low-A to start the season. Ex-Ole Miss star David Parkinson, in pro ball since 2017, worked 6 2/3 for Double-A Reading (Philadelphia), allowing a lone run with six strikeouts. He trimmed his ERA to 4.61. Former USM standout Hunter Stanley tossed 4 2/3 innings for Double-A Akron (Cleveland), giving up a lone run with four strikeouts. He trimmed his ERA to 5.02. Houston Harding, a Mississippi State and Itawamba Community College product, made his first start for Double-A Rocket City (Los Angeles Angels) in the Southern League and went four innings, allowing one run (a home run). Harding had a 1.32 ERA in A-ball this season but has not been as effective (12.42) in nine Double-A appearances. Saturday’s start was a positive step. P.S. A pair of Mississippians in the majors hit noteworthy homers: Tim Anderson belted his first in over a year and Brent Rooker hit his first since appearing in the All-Star Game. East Central Community College product Anderson, who has 98 career bombs, hit a leadoff shot for the Chicago White Sox, his first in 327 at-bats this season. Slumping for much of the season, Anderson is 20-for-57 (.351) since the All-Star break. Ex-MSU star Rooker’s homer was his 17th for Oakland but first in 20 days. His bomb at Colorado went 462 feet, longest by an A’s player this year. He is batting .269 since the break, .248 on the year.

06 Jul

show of arms

Mississippi State alum J.P. France was at it again on Wednesday, producing a sixth straight quality start for Houston and picking up the win in the surging Astros’ 6-4 victory over Colorado. The rookie right-hander (4-3, 3.26 ERA in 11 starts) yielded three runs in six innings as Houston moved within 2 games of first-place Texas in the American League West. France led a parade of Magnolia State products who delivered outstanding pitching performances on Wednesday. All-Star Justin Steele, the former George County High star, gave up three runs in six innings but got a no-decision in a game the Chicago Cubs would win 4-3 at Milwaukee; Columbus native Michael Rucker got the win in relief. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, ex-Jackson Prep standout Will Warren tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings for the New Yankees’ top farm club and improved to 4-3, 4.37, in eight starts there. The Southeastern Louisiana alum — the Yankees’ No. 7 prospect — was 3-0 in Double-A this season. In Double-A, former Southern Miss standout Walker Powell surrendered three runs (three solo homers) in six innings and got a no-decision in a game Tennessee (Cubs) would win 4-3 in 10 over Birmingham. The 6-foot-8 Powell is 4-4, 4.16, in 14 games for the Smokies. Topping that performance in High-A was Tyler Stuart, another USM product, who allowed two runs over six innings for Brooklyn (New York Mets) in a 4-3 win against Wilmington. Stuart, a 2022 draftee, is 4-0 with a 1.55 in 14 starts for the Cyclones. P.S. Houston’s rookie catcher Yainer Diaz hit two homers on Wednesday. The last two rookie catchers with a multi-homer game for the Astros were former Jackson Generals Mitch Meluskey (2000) and Tony Eusebio (1994). … St. Louis recalled ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson from the minors, but his second MLB appearance this season did not go as well as his first (two runs, two hits, three walks in 2 2/3 early relief). .. Oakland has designated Ole Miss alum Chad Smith for assignment; he had a 6.75 ERA in nine games.

15 Jun

season on the blink

To say it’s been a tough year for Mississippi-connected pitchers in the big leagues would be an understatement. Almost seems like there is a curse. Nine starters began the season on various 40-man rosters. Currently, two are on an active roster, and one of those is a veteran having his worst season. Four are on the injured list, caught up in the epidemic of arm injuries sweeping baseball. Three are stuck in the minors, and one of those missed a month with an injury. J.P. France, a rookie with Houston out of Mississippi State, has been good since his May 6 call-up, posting a 2-1 record and 3.54 ERA in seven games. He’s the bright spot. The other active pitcher, 36-year-old ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, is 4-7 with a 6.75 for the Chicago White Sox. His career numbers: 127-91, 3.66. Something ain’t right. Back on April 1, at a frigid Wrigley Field, Justin Steele and Brandon Woodruff hooked up in a dandy duel. Lucedale native Steele threw six shutout innings, fanning eight for the Chicago Cubs. Wheeler’s Woodruff allowed one run in six innings, also striking out eight, for Milwaukee. A harbinger of great things? Not really. Woodruff made only one more start before landing on the IL. He’s still there. Steele was fairly brilliant (6-2, 2.65) over 12 starts, but he is hurt, on the IL since May 31. Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central High standout with Detroit, came off Tommy John surgery this season, went 1-4 with a 7.26 and was headed to the minors before landing back on the IL. Then there’s Colorado’s Ryan Rolison, the former first-round pick out of Ole Miss. He missed all of 2022 after shoulder surgery but seemed on the brink of his big league debut last month when — alas — he went back on the IL after two brutal Triple-A starts. Dakota Hudson, the ex-MSU star, went to spring training with St. Louis hoping to regain a job in the starting rotation. He scuffled, was optioned to Triple-A, got hurt and is slowly working his way back. He started for Memphis at Jacksonville on Wednesday, gave up nine runs (six earned) in 3 2/3 innings and fell to 3-4, 5.84. Also in the minors — and scuffling — are MSU alum Konnor Pilkington (6.92 for Arizona’s Triple-A club) and Ole Miss product James McArthur (6.82 for Kansas City’s Triple-A team).

05 Jun

three things

1 — After playing some six hours of do-or-die baseball over a 10-hour period, leaving the field after midnight on Sunday, Southern Miss earned the right to play again today. With a second straight Super Regional appearance on the line, the Golden Eagles will be up for it. USM meets Penn at 2 p.m. at Plainsman Park for the championship of the Auburn Regional. The Eagles scored a 9-4 revenge win against Samford in their first game on Sunday, then knocked off undefeated upstart Penn 11-2 in the nightcap. Heroes were all over the place. Matthew Etzel, Slade Wilks and Nick Monistere drove in two runs apiece against Samford, and three pitchers turned in a workmanlike effort, scattering 11 hits. The battle against Penn was toe-to-toe until the ninth, when USM scored eight times. Monistere, the freshman out of Northwest Rankin High, scored twice and drove in three more runs, and Dustin Dickerson, suddenly a slugger in the postseason, hit a three-run homer. But the big star was 6-foot-6 lefty Justin Storm, who retired 17 of the 18 batters he faced — 10 via strikeout — after coming on in relief.
2 — Former Ole Miss star Grae Kessinger is getting his first big league call-up today with the Houston Astros, who play at Toronto. Kessinger — the grandson of longtime MLB star and Ole Miss alum Don Kessinger — is having a big year at Triple-A Sugar Land, batting .284 with six homers and 32 RBIs. He has played shortstop, second and third base. Kessinger was drafted in the second round in 2019 and had put up very modest numbers before this season, his first in Triple-A. It’s unclear what Kessinger’s role will be; the Astros apparently are concerned about an oblique injury that has kept second baseman Jose Altuve out for a couple of games. The only other Mississippi product to debut in MLB this season also plays for the Astros. Right-hander J.P. France, a Mississippi State alum, was called up May 6 and has nailed down a spot in the Houston rotation.
3 — AJ Smith-Shawver, 20 years old and two years out of high school, made an impressive debut with Atlanta on Sunday, retiring seven of the eight batters he faced in relief against Arizona, and joins a ridiculously long and impressive list of former Mississippi Braves pitchers who have had a positive impact in The Show. The parade started with Blaine Boyer in 2005; he was one of four members (the others: Macay McBride, Anthony Lerew and Zach Miner) from the M-Braves’ original rotation to make the majors. Since then, we’ve seen the likes of Chuck James, Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, Matt Harrison, Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Luis Avilan, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, Max Fried, A.J. Minter, Michael Soroka, Ian Anderson, Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd. (That’s not the entire list.) Smith-Shawver was a seventh-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2021; he started this season in A-ball and made just two appearances for the Double-A M-Braves during his rapid rise. Atlanta’s scouting and development staff deserves a round of applause.

15 Aug

farm to table

Time to take a moment to appreciate the quality of pitching talent that has been funneled through Double-A Mississippi and into Atlanta. If you’ve frequented Trustmark Park in Pearl in recent years, you know about these guys. It’s been quite a treat. The Braves take a six-game win streak into this week’s titanic National League East clash with the New York Mets. Five of those six games were started by M-Braves alums, including the last three at Miami, where young guns Kyle Muller, Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder — all just up from Triple-A — held the Marlins to five runs in 18 combined innings. Elder, 23, who went 7-1 for the 2021 Double-A South champion M-Braves, was brilliant on Sunday, allowing one run in seven innings with 10 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he got no support and a no-decision. All told, former M-Braves have 53 of Atlanta’s 70 wins this season. They’ve made 113 of the 116 starts. Spencer Strider (M-Braves ’21), a rookie of the year candidate, is 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA heading into tonight’s start against the Mets’ Carlos Carrasco. Graybeard Charlie Morton (M-Braves ’07), the Tuesday starter, is 5-5, 4.26. The Braves haven’t announced a starter for Thursday (vs. Jacob deGrom), but it’ll likely be either 14-game winner Kyle Wright (M-Braves ’18) or All-Star and 10-game winner Max Fried (M-Braves ’17-18). Anderson (M-Braves ’18-19), a postseason star for the world champion Braves last fall, has 10 wins despite not having his best stuff this year. And there’s this news: Erstwhile staff ace Mike Soroka (M-Braves ’17), who is 15-6, 2.86, in his injury-interrupted career, is slated for a rehab assignment on Tuesday at High-Class A Rome. (It also bears mentioning that the Braves have developed a slew of other pitchers now on other clubs, including Alex Wood, Mike Minor, Bryse Wilson, Sean Newcomb and Tucker Davidson.) Atlanta’s scouting and development personnel have done a helluva job in recent years. Brimming with young talent, the Braves put a World Series trophy on the shelf in 2021 and are well-positioned to add more. Pitching is always the key, and they’ve got it.

11 Sep

present arms

It went in the box score as a hold (H, 20 to be precise), but that designation doesn’t do justice to what former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader did for Milwaukee on Monday night. In a huge game at Wrigley Field, Hader struck out all six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings, preserving the Brewers’ one-run lead in what ended as a 3-2 win against the Chicago Cubs. The Brewers cut the Cubs’ lead in the National League Central to 1 game heading into tonight’s contest, the second of the three-game set. In the eighth inning, Hader cut down Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. That’s big time. A lefty with vicious stuff, Hader now has 127 punchouts, a Brewers record for relievers. “To have any type of record is a great feeling,” he told mlb.com. Hader pitched, as a starter, in Biloxi in 2015 and ’16. In the latter season he gave a preview of what was to come in The Show, posting a 0.95 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 57 innings. … In San Francisco, the fingerprints of former Mississippi Braves were all over Atlanta’s 4-1 win against the Giants, which moved the Braves 5 games ahead of Philadelphia atop the NL East. Ozzie Albies went 2-for-4 (with a triple) and scored twice, driven in both times by Dansby Swanson (sac fly, squeeze bunt). More significant perhaps was the pitching of three left-handers, all M-Braves alums. Sean Newcomb worked six innings for the W, moving to 12-8 with a 3.82 ERA. Jonny Venters tossed a scoreless eighth inning for his 12th hold, and A.J. Minter closed it out for his 14th save. Though he has had some notable hiccups, his ERA is now 3.36. Minter was in Mississippi in 2016 and ’17, pitching mostly in middle relief. He had only two saves in his minor league career.