On Sept. 16, 2007, Seth Smith — a September call-up by the Colorado Rockies — made his big league debut, launching an 11-year career that should have gotten more acclaim than it did. The left-handed hitting outfielder, a Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss alumnus, went 0-for-2 in that first game but went 5-for-6 thereafter, making enough of an impression that the Rockies kept him on their postseason roster. He was 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs as a pinch hitter as the Rockies rolled into the World Series before losing to Boston. Ten years later, early in his final season, Smith hit a big home run that won a game for Baltimore. “It was a good, professional at-bat,'” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said at the time. “He’s a good guy to have up in that situation.” That would be a great summation of Smith’s career. He batted .261 with a .344 on-base percentage, banging out 126 homers among his 934 career hits, scoring 525 runs and driving in 458 while playing for five different organizations. Soft-spoken and deeply religious, Smith never sought the limelight. He never made an All-Star team or won a World Series ring, but he had a positive impact everywhere he went. He played on four teams that reached the postseason, batting .262 with four homers, and on six winning clubs overall. In his last season, with the ’17 Orioles, Smith batted .258 with 13 homers in 111 games. He played his last game on his 35th birthday, Sept. 30. Then he retired — with no fanfare, no formal announcement — and returned to Mississippi, settling into family life.
Will Verdung hit 25 home runs in two seasons at Itawamba Community College, tying former Indians slugger Tyreque Reed for the most in program history. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise what Verdung did in his first at-bat in pro ball. The Corinth native hit a three-run homer today for the Florida Complex League Braves, Atlanta’s rookie-level affiliate. Verdung finished 1-for-3 against the FCL Orioles in Sarasota. Verdung, the MACCC’s player of the year for 2023, was drafted in the 13th round by the Braves earlier this month. A 6-foot-1, 185-pound third baseman, Verdung batted .389 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season and was a second-team NJCAA Division II All-America pick. He had signed with Southern Miss. … USM alum Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s first-round pick out of Florida, has yet to make his pro debut. More Braves stuff: Kudos to Mississippi Braves alum Daysbel Hernandez for picking up the win for Atlanta on Sunday against Milawukee. Hernandez struck out the side in his one inning of relief work. … Kudos to current M-Braves lefty Luis De Avila for being named Southern League pitcher of the week after tossing six no-hit innings with 11 strikeouts at Tennessee on Sunday. De Avila, 5-5, 3.04 ERA, has a current streak off 11 no-hit innings. … Atlanta traded prospects Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon, both of whom were on the M-Braves’ roster, to Colorado for major league reliever Pierce Johnson.
Before the curtain fell on June, a handful of Mississippians delivered performances worthy of raucous applause. Bidding for a spot on the National League All-Star team, Justin Steele — the lefty from Lucedale — pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings for the Chicago Cubs in a 10-1 win Friday against Cleveland. Steele is 9-2 with a 2.43 ERA, tied for second-most wins in the NL and tops in ERA. He should be in Seattle, for sure. … Austin Riley, the slugger from Southaven, went 3-for-5 with his 15th home run in Atlanta’s 16-4 demolition of Miami, its closest pursuer in the NL East. Riley, batting .270 with 43 RBIs, 55 runs and a .459 slugging percentage, was a finalist at third base in the All-Star voting and deserves a spot on the roster as a reserve. It would also be great to see him in the Home Run Derby. … Down in the minors, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner continues to build his case for a return to the big leagues with Minnesota. He went 3-for-5 with a single, double and triple for Triple-A St. Paul a day after hitting two home runs for the Saints. He is at .307 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs. Sent down on May 29 — despite getting seven hits in a four-game stretch for the Twins — Wallner hit .320 with five bombs in June for St. Paul. … Colt Keith, the former Biloxi High star, hit a 473-foot home run for Triple-A Toledo and is 7-for-13 in three games since Detroit promoted him from Double-A. The 21-year-old lefty-hitting third baseman is ticketed to play in the All-Star Futures Game on July 8 in Seattle. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Hunter Stovall, quietly having a nice year for Triple-A Albuquerque, delivered a walk-off hit for the Isotopes in a 4-3 win against El Paso. Stovall, a sixth-year pro, is batting .281 with six homers and 26 RBIs for Colorado’s top farm club. … In Low-Class A, former South Panola High standout Emaarion Boyd went 2-for-4 with three runs, two walks and a stolen base — his 39th of the year — in a win for Clearwater. The Philadelphia prospect is batting .276 (.400 OBP) with 46 runs in 52 games in his first full pro season.
With a sixth-inning double Saturday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Corey Dickerson reached a pretty cool milestone: 1,000 career hits. McComb native Dickerson, 34, got his first big league hit in 2013 with Colorado, which drafted the lefty-hitting outfielder out of Meridian Community College in 2010. Now with Washington, Dickerson has played for eight different clubs over his career and has been an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. He has 136 career homers and 460 RBIs. The career hits leader among Mississippi natives is Dave Parker with 2,712. Three others (Buddy Myer, Ellis Burks and Frank White) reached the 2,000-hit level. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner now has 18 career hits after a 4-for-4 effort for Minnesota on Saturday. Wallner, who has played in just 28 games over his young MLB career, hit his first homer of 2023 in the win against Toronto; he hit two last season. … USM will play for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title Sunday in Montgomery, Ala., after beating Appalachian State 11-1 in an elimination game on Saturday. USM lost an earlier game to the Mountaineers. In the win, Will Armistead threw a seven-inning four-hitter and Matthew Etzel and Reece Ewing banged out three hits apiece in a 15-hit attack. … East Central Community College got run-ruled 12-2 by Southeastern Iowa on Saturday in the NJCAA Division II World Series and plays an elimination game Sunday vs. Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. … William Carey University won its opener Friday against Bellevue (Neb.) and will play again Monday in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. R.J. Stinson hit an RBI double and scored on a Jake Lycette sac fly to give the Crusaders a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Preston Ratliff pitched the ninth to nail down the win, Carey’s 48th of the season.
There will be a small crowd of Mississippi-connected pitchers on the proverbial comeback trail when major league spring training camps open next month. MLB veterans Spencer Turnbull, Garrett Crochet and Drew Pomeranz and minor league prospects Ryan Rolison and Colby White missed the entire 2022 season rehabbing from arm injuries that required surgery. Ole Miss product Rolison and Mississippi State alum White appeared to be on the brink of their big league debut last season before injury shut them down. Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High star, hasn’t pitched in a game since May of 2021. The Detroit right-hander had Tommy John surgery that summer, shortly after throwing a no-hitter on May 18. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA over nine starts in 2021 and is 11-25, 4.25, for his MLB career with the Tigers. He is penciled in as one of their top starters, assuming he regains his 2021 form. Ocean Springs native Crochet, a flame-throwing left-hander with the Chicago White Sox, had Tommy John surgery last spring, a blow to the White Sox’s bullpen. Crochet, 23, exploded on the scene in 2020, shortly after being drafted out of Tennessee. He has a 2.54 ERA over his two MLB campaigns with 73 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. It’ll be interesting to see how his velocity is affected by the injury. Former Ole Miss star Pomeranz, now with San Diego, went down with a flexor tendon injury late in the 2021 season and had surgery that off-season. The big left-hander made some rehab appearances last summer but never made it back to the Padres’ active roster, missing all the drama of their ’22 season. Now 34, the former first-round pick had a 1.75 ERA as a key bullpen piece for the Padres in 2021 and carries a 3.91 career ERA. Rolison, another UM alum and former first-rounder, was derailed by shoulder surgery last year. The 25-year-old lefty, who has slipped on Colorado’s prospect list to No. 22, reached Triple-A in 2021. Over three minor league seasons, he is 12-12, 4.35, in 50 games. He’ll likely debut with the Rockies sometime this season. White, a Hattiesburg native drafted out of MSU in 2019, had Tommy John surgery last April after going to camp with Tampa Bay as a non-roster invitee. He made the 40-man this off-season. In 2021, the right-handed reliever, now 24, rose through four levels of the minors with the Rays. He had a 1.86 ERA at Triple-A Durham and in 58 pro games overall has a 1.76 ERA and 12 saves. His MLB debut may be coming soon. P.S. Here’s a prep player to watch in 2023 and beyond: Samuel Richardson, a junior third baseman at Lewisburg, was recognized by mlb.com as one of the top hitting prospects at last weekend’s DREAM Series in Arizona. Richardson, who played at Senatobia last year, was among the 80 players, predominantly African-American, invited to the annual instructional event held on MLK Day weekend and sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball. … Mel Rojas Jr., who played for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, got the walk-off hit on Wednesday night as Licey won the Dominican Winter League championship. Ex-M-Braves catcher and longtime big leaguer Jesus Sucre also plays for Licey.
The 2021 champions of the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves didn’t produce another trophy in 2022, finishing well off the pace in both halves of the Southern League season. What the M-Braves did produce were two players who made significant contributions in Atlanta’s playoff charge: likely National League rookie of the year Michael Harris II, who made the jump in May, and Vaughn Grissom, who followed in August. And that’s what the minor leagues are really all about. All told, nine M-Braves alums debuted in the big leagues in 2022 (not all with Atlanta): Harris, Grissom, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers, Freddy Tarnok, Joey Meneses, William Woods, Bryce Elder and Joey Wentz. A 10th, Alan Rangel, was recalled in late September but did not appear in a game. In total, more than 160 have made their MLB debuts since the M-Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005. While the team limped in with a 62-74 overall record under first-year manager Bruce Crabbe, six 2022 M-Braves made Atlanta’s organizational All-Star team as selected by milb.com. First baseman Drew Lugbauer, a fringy prospect, opened eyes with his 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. However, he batted just .213 and struck out 212 times. Cody Milligan was the pick at second base, Justyn-Henry Malloy at third (though he played mostly left field in Mississippi), Andrew Moritz in the outfield and Jared Shuster and Justin Yeager as pitchers. The top hitter, statistically, on the ’22 club was shortstop Cade Bunnell, who seemingly came from out of nowhere to bat .301 with eight homers. Shuster, a highly rated prospect who finished the season in Triple-A, posted a 2.73 ERA, best among the M-Braves’ starters. Tanner Gordon led in wins with nine and Justin Maese in saves with 11. Looking to next year, shortstop Cal Conley, currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, is a name to know. The Texas Tech product hit .251 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and 36 steals at High-Class A Rome. Another key player in 2023 figures to be outfielder Jesse Franklin, who began the year with the M-Braves but missed virtually all of the season with an injury. The M-Braves open the ’23 season on April 7 against Biloxi at Trustmark Park. P.S. The last time Philadelphia was in the National League Championship Series, back in 2010, former Weir High and Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt was one of the three (four?) aces on the Phillies’ pitching staff. Acquired in a midseason trade from Houston, Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch for the National League East champs. The staff also featured Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, but the Phils were knocked out by San Francisco. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier, who helped Seattle end its 21-year playoff drought, will be a free agent after the World Series. A 2021 All-Star in Pittsburgh, the lefty-hitting second baseman had a down year in 2022, batting .238. … Former Jackson Mets standout Dave Magadan is out as hitting coach in Colorado, which has had four straight losing seasons. Magadan was the third baseman on the JaxMets’ 1985 Texas League championship club.
Former Petal High star Anthony Alford has fit in nicely with the KT Wiz of the Korean Baseball Organization. Alford, a onetime big leaguer who played two games for Pittsburgh this season, is batting .268 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs for KT. … Ole Miss product and ex-major leaguer Jacob Waguespack is 2-6 with four saves, five holds and a 3.19 ERA in 27 appearances for Orix in Japan’s Pacific League. … Ex-UM standout and Picayune native Braxton Lee leads the independent Atlantic League in triples with nine and is batting .306 with 73 RBIs, 60 runs and 19 steals for playoff-bound Southern Maryland. The Blue Crabs are managed by Jackson native Stan Cliburn. … Jacob Robson, the Mississippi State alum who had a cup of coffee in the majors in 2021, is playing for the independent Kansas City Monarchs, who are in the semifinals of the American Association playoffs. Robson, a former Detroit farmhand, hit .278 with nine homers, 34 RBIs and nine steals for the Monarchs. His teammates include Mississippi Braves alum Mallex Smith and Casey Gillaspie, son of ex-MSU star Mark Gillaspie. … Former Hattiesburg High star and ex-big league pitcher Robert Carson is the pitching coach for the independent Quebec Capitales, who are in the Frontier League title series. … Colt Keith, the ex-Biloxi High standout, has been given an Arizona Fall League assignment by Detroit. Keith, a highly regarded third base prospect, hit .301 with nine homers at High-Class A West Michigan but didn’t play after June 10 because of a shoulder injury. The AFL season begins Oct. 3. More roster assignments will be announced in the coming days. P.S. Props to Ole Miss product Will Ethridge, who threw five shutout innings on Wednesday night to notch his first Double-A win for Hartford in the Colorado system. Ethridge, a 2019 draftee, is 1-1, 3.42 ERA, in seven games for the Yard Goats. He was 5-6, 5.65, in A-ball.
On any given day, 90-some-odd games are played in affiliated pro ball at the different levels, from the big leagues to the rookies. There are Mississippians scattered throughout this landscape, at different stages of their careers, with different objectives in mind. Here’s a snapshot from Friday, starting in Mesa, Ariz., in the Arizona Complex League, where one of Kansas City’s rookie teams met Oakland’s. The Royals’ shortstop and No. 2 hitter is Brennon McNair, 19, a product of Magee High School and the lone prep player drafted out of Mississippi in 2021. McNair had a day Friday, going 4-for-4, with a double, three runs and a stolen base. For the year, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound McNair is batting .314 with a homer, eight RBIs, four doubles, four triples, two steals and 15 runs in 15 games. Just getting started on the road that leads to The Show, McNair is one to track. In addition to batting .527 with 11 homers as a senior at Magee, he was valedictorian and class president. … In Myrtle Beach, S.C., former Clinton High standout Christian Johnson made his Low-Class A debut for Charleston in the Tampa Bay system. Playing left field, he went 1-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base. Drafted in 2019, Johnson’s career got off to a sluggish start. He hit .168 in parts of three seasons at the rookie level. But the former 19th-round pick, 21 years old, is getting an opportunity at a higher level, and he made good Friday. … In Vancouver, B.C., Ole Miss alum Will Ethridge registered an encouraging start for Spokane, Colorado’s High-A team, allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and notching his first win since April 29. The 24-year-old right-hander, a fifth-round pick in 2019, is 3-4 with a 5.51 ERA in 12 starts this season, 10-12, 4.82 for his pro career. … At Reading, Pa., in the Double-A Eastern League, former Jackson Prep star Will Warren worked five innings (four hits, one run) for Somerset, the New York Yankees’ affiliate, but got a no-decision in a game the Patriots lost. Warren, 23, drafted just last year out of Southeastern Louisiana, is 3-2 with a 2.90 ERA in six Double-A starts. He already is rated the Yankees’ No. 27 prospect by MLB Pipeline. … In Nashville, Mississippi State product Ethan Small, who got a brief look with the Milwaukee Brewers this season, keeps putting up good numbers for the Triple-A Sounds. The lefty, a former first-round pick, improved to 5-3, 3.30, with a six-inning outing (six hits, three runs) on Friday against Indianapolis. Small, 25, lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his MLB debut back on May 30. He is bound to get another call-up soon. … In San Francisco, at Oracle Park, ex-Ole Miss star and big league veteran Lance Lynn delivered his best start of the season for the Chicago White Sox: six shutout innings, allowing only five baserunners. (The White Sox won the game 1-0 with a run in the ninth; MSU alum Kendall Graveman got the save, his fourth.) Lynn, 35, who missed two months of the season after knee surgery, is 1-1 with a 4.50 in four starts since his return. The scuffling ChiSox, third in the American League Central, need more vintage Lynn. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton was called up from Triple-A by Miami on Friday but didn’t get in the Marlins’ game. The well-traveled, 10-year big league vet had played one game for Jacksonville after signing on June 21; he hit .186 this season for Triple-A Tacoma in Seattle’s system before declaring free agency. … Petal’s Demarcus Evans, taken off Texas’ 40-man roster, was outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock’s roster. Evans last pitched in the majors in 2021; he has a 7.50 ERA in 12 games at Round Rock this year.
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.
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.