09 Jul

heat check

With five multi-hit games over his last nine, Nathaniel Lowe is heating up. So, too, it seems are the Texas Rangers, the defending World Series champs who floundered through much of the first three months of the 2024 season. Mississippi State alum Lowe went 3-for-4 with an RBI on Monday as the Rangers whipped the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 for their fourth straight win and sixth in the last eight. Texas is 43-48, 5.5 games out of first in the American League West, 7 games out of a wild card berth. “We’re poised to make some things happen …,” Lowe told The Associated Press. No team has repeated as champion since the New York Yankees in 2000. Lowe, batting .276 on the season, has hit at a .370 clip over his last seven games and .339 over his last 15. His power is down this season, but he has three homers in his last nine games, lifting his total to six. He averaged 21 bombs the last three years. While winning a Gold Glove at first base in 2023, Lowe was also a key cog in a Rangers offense that led the AL in runs and OPS. Still trotting out a scary lineup, the Rangers currently rank eighth in those categories. With 22 runs in their last two games and 52 in the last eight, they appear to be heating up.

03 Jul

rise and fall

The hard fall of Tim Anderson created a loud thud on Tuesday when the former batting champion and All-Star shortstop was designated for assignment by one of the worst teams in baseball. East Central Community College alum Anderson, a .278 career hitter, was batting .214 with no homers for Miami. Fittingly, he struck out Sunday in his final at-bat with the Marlins, giving him 68 strikeouts in 234 ABs this season. He was on a one-year, $5M contract after being cut loose by the Chicago White Sox following a poor 2023 season. Speculation is Anderson, 31, will be released; he may well get another shot somewhere. … Grae Kessinger, ex-Ole Miss star, was recalled from Triple-A by Houston and was in uniform for the Astros’ game at Toronto on Tuesday, though he did not play. Kessinger, 0-for-11 in MLB ABs this year, was batting .283 with two homers and 11 RBIs at Sugar Land. … Ex-Mississippi State star Jordan Westburg, now with Baltimore, apparently will fall short of beating out Jose Ramirez for the starting nod at third base for the American League in fan balloting for the All-Star Game. Voting ends today. … MSU product Nathaniel Lowe, who had just two homers as of June 25, has hit four in his last seven games, including two in Texas’ 7-0 victory against San Diego on Tuesday. (It was his bobblehead night.) He averaged 21 homers over the previous three years for the Rangers. … Former Ole Miss standout Anthony Servideo was sent back to Double-A Bowie from Triple-A Norfolk by Baltimore. Servideo, a third-round pick in 2020, was batting .212 in 14 games for the Tides; he was hitting .196 for Bowie when he was promoted to fill a roster need. … Cleveland sent Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin (5-0, one save, 3.49 ERA) on a rehab assignment to Triple-A Columbus. He worked a scoreless inning Tuesday. The reliever has been on the injured list since June 17. … Ole Miss alum Dylan DeLucia was promoted from rookie ball to Low-Class A Lynchburg by Cleveland. He made two appearances in the Arizona Complex League, his first outings since being drafted in 2022. He did not pitch Tuesday. … Former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt, Milwaukee’s No. 4 prospect (see previous post), cracked MLB Pipeline’s new Top 100 minor league prospects list at No. 96. Pratt is in A-ball. USM alum Hurston Waldrep, who already has debuted with Atlanta this season, is No. 70, up from 72 in the previous ranking.

06 Jun

yeah, but …

The good news for Grae Kessinger is, he’ll get off the bench. The bad news, delivered on Tuesday, is that he’s no longer in the big leagues. The former Ole Miss star from Oxford was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land by the Houston Astros and was in the Space Cowboys’ lineup on Wednesday. Kessinger, 26, made the Astros’ opening day roster as a backup infielder but had only 11 at-bats (and no hits) all season. He missed about 10 days while on the injured list in early May. A second-round pick by Houston in 2019, Kessinger debuted in the big leagues on June 7 of last year. He got his first hit four days later and first (and only) homer on July 4. All told, he hit .200 in 40 at-bats for the Astros in 2023. Kessinger scuffled his first couple of years in pro ball but hit .283 for Sugar Land last year before his promotion. The grandson of former MLB All-Star — and Ole Miss coach — Don Kessinger, Grae was an All-America shortstop at UM who hit .312 with 15 homers over his last two years in Oxford. He “celebrated” his return to Triple-A by ripping a single in his first at-bat on Wednesday at Salt Lake. … Kessinger’s demotion drops the number of active Mississippians (native or school alum) in the big leagues to 17. P.S. Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue began a rehab assignment in the Arizona Complex League on Wednesday. Foscue made his MLB debut for Texas on April 5, went 1-for-2 in two pinch at-bats and then landed on the IL on April 8 with an oblique strain.

04 Jun

time to step it up

At 29-31 and 4.5 games out of first place in the American League West, the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers are not where they want to be. Neither is Nathaniel Lowe, the Mississippi State alum who has manned first base for the club since 2021. Lowe is batting just .256 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 39 games after starting the season on the injured list with a strained oblique. He has just eight hits and no homers in his last 46 at-bats and has been sitting lately against left-handed starters. Two years ago, Lowe won a Silver Slugger (.302, 27 homers). His numbers dipped in 2023 to .262 with 17 bombs, but he won a Gold Glove and hit three homers during the team’s run to the championship. Lowe, 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter in a 2-1 loss to Detroit on Monday night, figures to be in the starting lineup tonight against Tigers right-hander Jack Flaherty. The Rangers have been beset by injuries this season, including the hard-luck case of ex-MSU star Justin Foscue, who got his first big league hit on April 7 and went on the injured list the next day with a dreaded oblique strain. He is currently on the 60-day IL. … Like Lowe, former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley is having a sub-par season for a scuffling Atlanta team that finds itself 7 games back of first-place Philadelphia in the National League East. An All-Star and Silver Slugger winner last year, Riley is hitting .234 with three homers and 19 RBIs. After sitting for 12 days with a side injury, Riley is 5-for-28 with one RBI in seven games since he returned to the lineup. He hasn’t homered since May 3. He has averaged 36 homers the past three seasons. Injuries also have been an issue for the Braves (33-24), whose streak of six straight division titles could be in real jeopardy. They begin a series at Fenway Park against Boston tonight.

05 May

blast from past

Joining a list that includes Mark McGwire can be pretty impressive, at least when it comes to hitting dingers. Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker blasted two home runs in one inning on Saturday, becoming the first Oakland player to do so since McGwire in 1996. Rooker, born in 1994, told mlb.com he grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Germantown, Tenn., and followed McGwire during the slugger’s time with the Redbirds. “Being able to do anything the same as him is a huge accomplishment, and something that’s really cool for me,” Rooker said. Rooker’s bombs came in a 10-run third inning that propelled the surprising A’s to a 20-4 win over visiting Miami. Oakland is 17-17 with six straight victories. Rooker, a 2023 All-Star who also homered on Friday, is batting .240 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 22 games, having spent 10 days on the injured list last month. As a BTW: Ex-Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes hit his first homer of the year for the lowly Marlins, 9-26. Also overshadowed by Rooker’s exploits was a four-hit game by another former Bulldogs masher, Nathaniel Lowe, who led Texas to a 15-4 rout of Kansas City. Lowe started the season on the IL and is batting .333 with a homer and four RBIs in 13 games since his return. He picked up two of those RBIs on Saturday. “I’m three weeks late to the party,” he told mlb.com, “so I have to get going.” The Rangers, 18-16 and second in the American League West to Seattle, visit division rival Oakland for a four-game series beginning Monday. P.S. William Carey University beat Blue Mountain Christian for the SSAC Tournament championship, the third tourney title in the last four years for coach Bobby Halford, who has a shelf full of trophies over his 39-year career. The Crusaders (34-14 with eight straight wins) will host an NAIA Opening Round tourney next week. BMC also gets an NAIA bid. … Delta State won an elimination game in the GSC Tournament and will play again today against Lee in Oxford, Ala. … Hinds Community College swept host Northwest Mississippi CC in their MACCC playoff series and advances to next week’s NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament in Poplarville. No. 1-ranked East Central, No. 13 Jones and Meridian all won their best-of-3 series openers on Saturday and will play again today.

02 Apr

birds of a feather

On a Baltimore team loaded with youthful talent, Jordan Westburg is fitting right in. The second-year big leaguer out of Mississippi State hit his first walk-off home run on Monday night, giving the Orioles (3-1) a 6-4 victory against Kansas City. “I just love being a part of this clubhouse,” Westburg, 25, said in a postgame TV interview. “It’s just so much fun to play here in Baltimore.” A first-round pick out of Starkville in 2020, Westburg debuted with the Orioles last summer and hit .260 with three homers in 68 games for a playoff-bound club. He hit just 10 homers in three years at State but blasted 60 in the minors in three seasons. He started at second base Monday but has also played third and shortstop, versatility that should serve him well. Westburg was 0-for-3 Monday when he dug in against the Royals’ Nick Anderson in the ninth inning and drove an 0-2 pitch the opposite way and into the right-field seats at Camden Yards. “I’m pretty excited about that one,” the normally even-keeled Westburg said. P.S. Former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley hit the first homer of 2024 by a Mississippian in the majors, a three-run bomb earlier Monday in the Braves’ 9-0 win at Chicago’s frigid Guaranteed Rate Field. Riley, who has 135 career homers, has started at third base on opening day for the Braves for five straight seasons. The team had six different starters in an eight-year stretch following the Chipper Jones era. … Ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue might get his first big league opportunity with Texas after Rangers third baseman Josh Jung went down Monday with an injury (fractured wrist). Foscue was a late cut this spring and is now at Triple-A Round Rock. … Former Bulldogs ace Ethan Small is rehabbing an oblique injury and is not currently with San Francisco, which acquired the left-hander in a spring trade with Milwaukee.

19 Mar

circle the date

The news was stunning even for the guy who was the subject of the announcement. Garrett Crochet, the former Ocean Springs High star, has been named the opening day starter for the Chicago White Sox; it’ll be the first career big league start for the fifth-year pro. “Very shocked to say the least,” Crochet said in an Associated Press story. The former first-round pick (2020) out of Tennessee has made 72 relief appearances over three seasons with the ChiSox, posting a 2.71 ERA. He entered spring training hoping to earn a spot in the rotation and has been very impressive, routinely hitting 100 mph while striking out 12 batters in nine scoreless innings. “I’ve worked my tail off this spring,” the 6-foot-6, 245-pound left-hander said. He has been rewarded. Chicago opens on March 28 against Detroit. … In Chicago’s Cactus League game on Monday, ex-Southern Miss standout Chuckie Robinson went 1-for-2 with a couple of RBIs. The 29-year-old catcher, in camp as a non-roster invitee, has played quite a bit this spring and hit .292 with a homer and four RBIs in 24 at-bats. Robinson has some big league experience. The White Sox aren’t exactly stacked at catcher, with 37-year-old Martin Maldonado listed as the starter, backed by 33-year-old Max Stassi and Korey Lee. P.S. While Texas has announced that Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe will miss the start of the season with an oblique injury, the Rangers have not named a replacement at first base. Justin Foscue, another former Bulldogs slugger, is in the running to start along with several others, including ex-Mississippi College star Blaine Crim, a non-roster player in camp. Foscue went 0-for-3 Monday and is batting .243 with one homer over 37 ABs this spring.

11 Mar

next dog up

First, there was Rafael Palmeiro. Then Will Clark, followed by Palmeiro again, then Mitch Moreland and most recently Nathaniel Lowe. Now, it looks like Justin Foscue might join the list of Mississippi State products to start at first base on opening day for the Texas Rangers. An oblique injury may keep Lowe, the starter the past three seasons, on the shelf at the start of this season. Foscue, still learning the position this spring, reportedly stands a good chance of getting the nod on March 28, when the world champion Rangers open at home against the Chicago Cubs. Foscue — Texas’ No. 5 prospect — was held out of the Cactus League games over the weekend after reporting some pain in his side but was in the lineup today. He has hit .308 this spring in 26 at-bats. He batted .266 with 18 homers and 14 steals at Triple-A Round Rock in 2023, where he did play nine games at first. Defense might be the key for Foscue as he battles MLB veteran Jared Walsh, a non-roster invitee, for the first-base job the remainder of the spring. “It’s just (about) continuing to get reps in,” Foscue, a first-round pick out of MSU in 2020, told mlb.com. Palmeiro was the Rangers’ starter from 1989-93 and then again from 2001-03. In between, his former “Thunder and Lightning” partner Clark manned the spot (1994-96 and ’98). Moreland came along in 2013 and also opened at first in 2016. Lowe was acquired from Tampa Bay in a trade and took over in 2021, winning a Silver Slugger the next season. P.S. MSU alum Jordan Westburg, Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel and ex-Ole Miss standouts Errol Robinson and Anthony Servideo all played in a Baltimore split-squad game on Sunday. Only Westburg is on the big league roster.

07 Mar

who’s on first

Nathaniel Lowe, the Texas Rangers’ regular first baseman, got a day off Wednesday. Filling in for the ex-Mississippi State standout were a pair of Magnolia State products, both of whom are putting up good numbers this spring. Former State star Justin Foscue, the Rangers’ No. 5-ranked prospect, went 1-for-3 in Wednesday’s game against Colorado in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is batting .348 in 23 at-bats this spring. Blaine Crim, a Mississippi College alum, replaced Foscue at first base mid-game and went 1-for-2 with a two-run homer. He is hitting .333 with seven RBIs in 21 Cactus League ABs. Foscue, primarily a middle infielder in his three years of minor league ball, is getting time at first base this spring and could make the defending World Series champs’ roster as the backup to Lowe. A first-round pick in 2020, Foscue reached Triple-A in 2023 and batted .266 with 18 homers and 84 RBIs. Crim was a 19th-round pick out of MC in 2019 and has done nothing but rake in pro ball. He hit .289 with 22 homers and 85 RBIs at Triple-A Round Rock last season. Crim isn’t on the 40-man roster but appears poised to make the jump this season if a need arises. For the record, Lowe is entrenched at first base. He won a Gold Glove in 2023 and a Silver Slugger in 2022. Last season, the lefty hitter batted .262 with 17 bombs and 82 RBIs. He has 62 homers in three years with the Rangers.

06 Feb

better than most

In recognition of Black History Month, take a moment to appreciate the career of Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, arguably the best all-around player the Magnolia State has ever produced. His 1996 season with the Colorado Rockies might be the best single season any Mississippi native has put up in the big leagues. Born in Vicksburg in 1964, Burks also lived in Jackson for a time before his family moved to Texas. He was drafted out of Ranger College, a Texas juco, in the first round of the 1983 January draft by Boston. He debuted in MLB in 1987 at age 22 — amid Willie Mays comparisons — and batted .272 with 20 home runs as a Red Sox rookie. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound outfielder’s career ended in 2004, when injuries limited him to a handful of games, none in the postseason, for the Red Sox in their historic World Series-winning campaign. In between, he made two All-Star games, won two Silver Slugger awards and received a Gold Glove. He is now a scout for San Francisco. In 1996, as one of Colorado‚Äôs Blake Street Bombers, Burks batted .344 with 40 homers, 128 RBIs, a league-leading 142 runs, 45 doubles, 211 hits, 32 stolen bases and a 7.9 WAR, earning third place in the National League MVP voting. Among Mississippi natives, Burks is first in career homers (352), second in runs, RBIs and hits and fourth in stolen bases and batting average. And note that injuries curtailed several of his 18 seasons. On the career WAR chart, Burks is second among Mississippi-born position players with a 49.8; Jackson native Chet Lemon had a 55.6, aided considerably by his defense. Surprisingly, Burks lasted just one year on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, getting just two votes in 2010. But make no mistake: He had an impact, on and off the field. In 2004, when the Red Sox arrived back in Boston after winning the World Series in St. Louis, it was Burks — at the suggestion of Pedro Martinez — who got the honor of carrying the championship trophy off the plane. P.S. Mississippi State alum Ethan Small has landed with San Francisco, traded for cash by Milwaukee which had DFA’d the left-hander last week. … Mississippi College product Blaine Crim has received a non-roster invite to Texas’ spring camp.