18 Jun

around the horn

Former Ole Miss stars Jacob Gonzalez and Tim Elko are expected to take part in tonight’s minor league showcase at Birmingham’s venerable Rickwood Field. Gonzalez and Elko, prospects for the Chicago White Sox, play for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, who will wear the uniform of the Black Barons in tribute to the Negro League club that played at Rickwood decades ago. The visiting Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay affiliate) will play as the Gray Sox. The game will be televised by MLB Network at 6 p.m. MLB’s Negro Leagues tribute game at Rickwood, the country’s oldest professional ballpark, between San Francisco and St. Louis is set for Thursday night. … Former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner was named the International League player of the week (June 11-16) after going 14-for-27 (.519) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in six games for St. Paul, Minnesota’s Triple-A club. Wallner, who hit a 481-foot homer on Sunday, has 16 bombs for the Saints and is batting .250 with 43 RBIs since the Twins sent him down in mid-April. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley had two more hits in Atlanta’s 2-1 win over Detroit on Monday and is 9-for-26 (.346) with three homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games. … If the name of the Texas A&M pitcher who was mowing down Kentucky hitters Monday in the College World Series sounds familiar, it might be because Ryan Prager is the son of former Jackson Generals standout Howard Prager. The younger Prager threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings before yielding a pair of knocks in the Aggies’ 5-1 win. He is 9-1 with a 2.88 ERA. His father played first base for the Double-A Generals, a Houston affiliate, in 1991-92 and reached Triple-A in St. Louis’ system. BTW, Kentucky’s hitting coach is former Mississippi State catcher Nick Ammirati, previously an assistant at Hinds Community College and USM.

17 Jun

powering up

The projected home run tally for Jordan Westburg this season was 11, according to Lindy’s Baseball 2024 Preview. Forget that. A month before the All-Star break, the former Mississippi State star already has hit 11. He reached that mark on Sunday with a blast against Zack Wheeler, one of four homers Baltimore hit against the Philadelphia ace in an 8-3 victory. Second-year big leaguer Westburg is hitting .278 with 42 RBIs, 37 runs and six steals in 66 games; he is going to get some consideration for the American League All-Star team. In the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby for 2024, Westburg stands second to Brent Rooker, the ex-MSU standout who has hit 13 bombs for Oakland. To this point in 2024, the once-promising derby competition is a two-horse race. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, led all MLB Mississippians (native or school alum) with 37 homers in 2023. Rooker followed with 30, and three others hit double figures. Lindy’s projected Riley to hit 35 in 2024, and he may be starting to perk up after a tough start. He has six, one each in Atlanta’s last three games. Riley’s homer on Sunday came hours after he learned that his personal hitting coach Mike Brumley had died in a car accident; Riley pointed and looked to the sky as he rounded first base. “He was in the back of my mind really all day,” Riley said in an mlb.com piece. No other Mississippi product has more than six homers this season. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, tied with Riley at six, was just starting to slug for Kansas City when he went on the injured list with a foot injury. He hit 20 homers last season and was projected at 17 for 2024. Nathaniel Lowe, another State alum, has hit just two for Texas. He hit 17 last year and 27 in 2022. His power outage is a concern for the defending but fading World Series champs. Colt Keith, the Detroit rookie from Biloxi High, hit 27 in the minors last year and was projected to go deep 10 times for the Tigers this season; he has three. Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner hit 14 for Minnesota in 2023 and was projected for 16 this year. He has 17 — but 16 of those have come in the minors, where he is today. P.S. The Chicago White Sox added USM product Chuckie Robinson to their 40-man roster on Sunday but did not call him up to the big leagues. Robinson, a catcher who got some big league time with Cincinnati two years ago, is hitting .228 with six homers and 25 RBIs at Triple-A Charlotte.

16 Jun

who’s hot?

Continuing to make his case for a return to the big leagues, Matt Wallner enjoyed another four-hit game — with a home run — on Saturday for Triple-A St. Paul. The ex-Southern Miss star, who also had a four-hit game on Thursday, is batting .396 in June (.458 OBP) with seven homers and 16 RBIs. He was sent down by Minnesota on April 16 following a horrid start. After his recent hot streak, the left-handed slugger is at .246 with 14 homers and 40 RBIs for St. Paul. … Grae Kessinger is also building a case for a return to The Show. The Ole Miss product went 3-for-5 for Triple-A Sugar Land on Saturday and is batting .341 since his June 5 demotion by Houston. Kessinger, a versatile infielder, rarely played (11 at-bats) while he was with the Astros, who are struggling mightily at 32-39. … Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, making his case to stay in the big leagues with Detroit, went 4-for-6 in the Tigers’ 13-5 whipping of the Astros on Saturday. After an early June swoon, rookie Keith, 22, is 7-for-13 in his last three games, boosting his average to .235. He has three homers and 20 RBIs. “For me, it’s not about the stats or the data,” he recently said in a FanGraphs article. “It’s a comfort-level thing.” … In four games since he was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett from Mississippi, Nacho Alvarez is making his case as a prospect to watch in Atlanta’s system. He put up a 4-for-4 game Saturday and is 9-for-18 with two homers in four games for the Stripers. With the Double-A M-Braves, the 21-year-old shortstop hit .265 with no homers in 49 games. … In Low-Class A, former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt is bidding for a move up in Milwaukee’s system. Pratt had a three-hit game for Carolina on Saturday — his fourth three-knock game in his last eight — and is raking at a .429 clip in June. For the season, the second-year pro, 19, is at .310 with two homers, 24 RBIs and 15 steals. He is the Brewers’ No. 8-rated prospect.

14 Jun

just stuff

There were some notable home runs on Thursday: Nacho Alvarez, promoted from the Mississippi Braves to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, hit his first home run of 2024, helping the Stripers beat Nashville 8-7. … Geraldo Quintero of the M-Braves hit his second homer of the season and his second at Rocket City, in Madison, Ala., where the M-Braves won a “home” game 7-5 on the playable field conditions of Toyota Field. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner blasted two homers for Triple-A St. Paul (Minnesota affiliate) and now has six this month and 13 overall for the Saints. … DeSoto Central High alum Blaze Jordan hit his third homer and first since coming off the injured list Wednesday (see previous post) for Double-A Portland (Boston). … In the big leagues, former M-Braves standout Justyn-Henry Malloy, in his ninth MLB game, hit his second homer for Detroit and first at Comerica Park in a Tigers win. … There were also some notable pitching performances, most notably Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet’s outing for the Chicago White Sox in a 3-2, 10-inning win at Seattle. The big left-hander struck out a career-best 13 while allowing two hits and one run in seven innings. He is now tied for the MLB lead with 116 punchouts. … Lucedale native Justin Steele also got a no-decision, throwing six shutout innings for the Cubs in their loss to Tampa Bay. Steele has a 3.22 ERA in nine starts but has yet to register a win. … Brandon native Will Warren, pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), took a shutout into the sixth inning against Rochester before yielding a three-run homer and departing the game. He got a no-decision in the RailRiders’ loss. After a brutal May, Jackson Prep product Warren (4-4, 7.01, on the year) has a 2.81 ERA in three June starts. P.S. Former Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. has been released by Kansas City. A second-round pick in 2018 by Milwaukee, Gray was batting .136 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He hit .213 for his career with 51 homers and 70 steals, never having any success above A-ball. Only 24, he might draw some interest from independent teams.

12 Jun

going places

Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters got back in The Show and former Biloxi Shuckers star Carlos F. Rodriguez got his first MLB shot among a flurry of Tuesday transactions involving players with Mississippi ties. Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel was promoted to Double-A in the Baltimore system; ex-Ole Miss standout Brandon Johnson moved up to Double-A in the Kansas City chain; former Mississippi State bullpen ace Landon Sims jumped to High-Class A in the Arizona system; and USM product Hunter Stanley came off the injured list at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland organization. … Waters — Southern League player of the year in 2019 — was recalled by Kansas City to replace Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State star who went on the injured list with a broken toe. Waters, hitting .277 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in Triple-A, went 0-for-4 in his first MLB game of 2024. The Royals also placed Bulldogs alum Adam Frazier on the bereavement list. … Rodriguez, Milwaukee’s No. 6 prospect who went 9-6, 2.77 ERA, for the Shuckers in 2023, allowed two runs in 3 2/3 innings and took a loss against Toronto. … Etzel, a 2023 draftee by the Orioles, was batting .306 with four homers and 31 steals at High-A Aberdeen; he got a knock in his first at-bat for Class AA Bowie. … Johnson was 3-3, two saves, 4.13, in High-A for the Royals. … Sims, a star on MSU’s national title team, had a 4.38 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings at Low-A Visalia. … Stanley, on the IL for about a month, has a 5.85 ERA over six games for Columbus. P.S. Kirk McCarty, former USM standout from Hattiesburg, threw seven shutout innings in his Chinese Professional Baseball League debut last week and allowed two runs in five innings on Tuesday for CTBC Brothers. He is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA. The well-traveled McCarty has won 18 games the past three seasons: four in Triple-A, four in MLB with Cleveland, nine in the Korean Baseball Organization in 2023 plus the one in the CPBL. He won 22 games for USM from 2015-17.

09 Jun

a case for cooperstown

Today is Dave Parker’s 73rd birthday, which makes it a good time to ask, Why is he not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame? There is only one native Mississippian in Cooperstown: Starkville’s Cool Papa Bell, a star in the Negro Leagues. Parker, born in Grenada, should be there, too. He was a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time batting champion, two-time World Series champ and one-time National League MVP. He was drafted out of a Cincinnati high school in 1970 and played in the majors from 1973-91, batting .290 with 2,712 hits, 339 home runs and 1,493 RBIs. He had one of the best right-field arms in the game in his prime. Nicknamed “The Cobra,” he was baseball’s first million-dollar-a-year player. He had a controversial side. He endured weight problems and injuries at various times and was embroiled in the cocaine scandal of the early ’80s. That’s probably what hurt him with the BBWAA voters; he fell off that ballot in 2011, never coming close to election. His fate now rests with the special selection committees. Parker, who is battling Parkinson’s, is in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame. He really ought to be in Cooperstown. P.S. Hurston Waldrep is set to become the 22nd Southern Miss alumnus to play in the big leagues. The right-hander is slated to start for Atlanta today at Washington. Waldrep, the Braves’ top draft pick in 2023 and current No. 2 prospect, pitched at USM in 2021-22 before finishing his college career at Florida. … Former USM standout Justin Storm, a seventh-round pick by Miami last summer, is having a fine season at Low-Class A Jupiter. The Madison Central High alum, a 6-foot-7 lefty, is 3-1 with a 0.55 ERA in 10 games. The lone run he allowed in a three-inning stint on Saturday against Lakeland was a homer by former William Carey standout Patrick Lee, who recently signed with Detroit as a free agent. … Ex-Madison Central star Braden Montgomery suffered a broken ankle Saturday in Texas A&M’s win against Oregon in the NCAA Super Regional. He is done for the season. Montgomery — a likely first-round MLB draft pick next month — hit .322 with 27 homers for the Aggies.

07 Jun

a winning blend

The Mississippi spice was strong in Kansas City’s big 4-3 win against Cleveland on Thursday at Progressive Field. Ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with an RBI double; MSU alum Adam Frazier doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning; and Ole Miss product James McArthur pitched a clean ninth for his 12th save. The Royals improved to 37-26 and climbed to within 4 games of the first-place Guardians in the American League Central. Renfroe, after a very cold start (.189), is showing signs of heating up, hitting .271 with two homers, seven RBIs and 11 runs in his last 15 games. The Crystal Springs native hit his fifth homer in Tuesday’s game. Frazier, who also scuffled out of the gate (.210), is batting .275 with six runs over his last 15. McArthur has been a fairly reliable closer despite a 4.91 ERA (inflated by a couple of bad outings). The fourth Mississippian on the KC roster is reliever Chris Stratton (2-3, 5.76 ERA, three saves), another State alum who didn’t get in Thursday’s game. Stratton, Renfroe and Frazier — each a free agent signee this past off-season — were teammates in Starkville in 2011-12. “Really blessed to be able to play this game with people that you know and care about,” Stratton recently told the Kansas City Star. “It’s a lot of fun.” Winning helps. … Down on the Royals farm, former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters went 3-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs to pace Triple-A Omaha to a 16-6 win over Memphis. Waters, clamoring for a call-up, is batting .271 with six homers and 30 RBIs. At Double-A Northwest Arkansas, former MSU standout Eric Cerantola is 2-2 with a 2.41 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 11 games. And at High-Class A Quad Cities, ex-Southern Miss star Dustin Dickerson hit his first homer of 2024 as part of a 2-for-4 effort in the River Bandits’ 5-3 win Thursday against Wisconsin. Dickerson, a shortstop, is hitting .250 with 13 RBIs and 23 runs in 40 games in his first full pro season. Ole Miss alum Brandon Johnson is 3-3, 4.09, with two saves in 17 relief appearances for QC. P.S. Ex-USM standout Matt Wallner homered in both ends of a doubleheader for Triple-A St. Paul and now has six homers in his last nine games — 11 on the season — for the Minnesota affiliate; he is batting .214 with 32 RBIs. … Cheers all around for Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin, named Gatorade’s national high school player of the year. An LSU signee and highly rated MLB draft prospect, Griffin follows the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Upton, Zack Greinke, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield as the winner of this award.

03 Jun

what’s that sound?

Matt Wallner is making noise in Triple-A, though it might not be enough just yet to pique the interest of the Minnesota Twins. Former Southern Miss standout Wallner homered for the fourth time in six games — that’s what he does — in St. Paul’s 6-1 win Sunday against Rochester. The left-hitting DH/outfielder is 8-for-29 (.276) in his last nine games, raising his average to .200. He has nine homers and 30 RBIs for the Saints. The Twins sent Wallner down on April 16, when he was 2-for-25 with one home run (off a position player). It appears Minnesota, contending in the American League Central, could use some outfield help, but Wallner likely will have to demonstrate more consistency before he gets a call. He has struck out 60 times (and walked just 20) in 150 at-bats for St. Paul. USM’s all-time homer leader, Wallner hit 14 in 76 games for the Twins last year, when he batted .249. For what it’s worth, he has a very good throwing arm. P.S. In his first start for Triple-A Gwinnett, USM alum Hurston Waldrep struck out 11 batters in six innings but allowed three runs — two on a first-inning bomb by Heston Kjerstad — and took the loss against Norfolk. Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, Waldrep had a 2.92 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings for the Double-A Mississippi Braves this season.

03 Jun

crash landings

A feel-good story involving a couple of Mississippi homeboys seemed to be developing on a sunny Sunday at Trustmark Park. Then the Montgomery Biscuits cruelly flipped the script, handing the Mississippi Braves a 13-5 defeat and putting a cap on their 1-5 homestand. Brandon Parker, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College slugger from Saucier, and Landon Harper, the ex-Southern Miss pitcher from Meridian, played starring roles as the M-Braves took a 5-4 lead in the sixth inning. Parker hit two home runs, a solo shot in the second inning and then a three-run blast in the sixth that put the M-Braves ahead. Harper, making his first home appearance, came on in relief in the fifth and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out three. But Montgomery, the first-place club in the Southern League South, piled up six runs in the seventh to take command, and the M-Braves went quietly from there. Both Parker and Harper were unlikely heroes. Parker, who doesn’t play regularly, entered the game batting .160 with one homer. Harper, recently called up from A-ball, allowed three runs in three innings in his first Double-A appearance last week. They did their part on Sunday, but little else went right for the M-Braves, who entered this homestand last Monday riding a seven-game win streak. They leave on a four-game slide and with a 23-28 record, 7 games behind the Biscuits. P.S. The college season in Mississippi came to a close on Sunday night with both Southern Miss and Mississippi State losing in their respective NCAA regionals. Both won elimination games earlier Sunday but basically ran out of pitching in the nightcaps, falling to the top seeds, USM to Tennessee, State to Virginia. The Golden Eagles finish 43-20, the Bulldogs 40-23.

02 Jun

connect four (plus one)

Spencer Turnbull had been a little erratic since moving to the Philadelphia bullpen in early May, but he was a smooth operator on Saturday in a clutch relief situation. The big right-hander out of Madison Central High threw three hitless innings for the mighty Phillies in a 6-1 win over St. Louis, notching his first win since April 19, when he was in the rotation. After starter Ranger Suarez departed Saturday’s game (line drive off his pitching hand in the second inning), the Phillies turned the game over to the bullpen. Turnbull worked innings 4-6. His ERA was 1.67 in his six starts to begin the season. He moved to the pen to accommodate the return of Taijuan Walker, and his ERA was 7.00 over his first six relief appearances, a new role for the six-year veteran. Saturday’s effort was nearly perfect. “Turnbull really picked us up tonight,” manager Rob Thomson told mlb.com. “If he does have to make Ranger’s (next) start, I am comfortable with him at 80 pitches, five (innings) — something like that.” … Three other Mississippi high school products pitched in MLB games on Saturday: George County alum Justin Steele, in his sixth start since coming off the injured list, wasn’t sharp on a rainy day in Chicago. He yielded seven hits and four walks in five innings against Cincinnati, but four of the five runs he was charged with were unearned. The Cubs rallied late to win 7-5. Steele, a 2023 All-Star, remains winless with a 4.10 ERA. … Ocean Springs product Garrett Crochet turned in another sizzling effort for the White Sox: one run over six innings with eight strikeouts. But the lowly ChiSox blew a lead and lost to Milwaukee 4-3. Crochet, in his first season as a starter, is 5-5 with a 3.49 for a 15-44 team. … Former Tupelo High star Chris Stratton threw a scoreless inning for Kansas City in a 7-3 loss to San Diego. Stratton has a 5.76 ERA, two wins, three saves and three holds in 23 relief appearances for the Royals. P.S. In the NCAA Tournament, a fifth state prep product, Niko Mazza out of MRA, delivered one of the best pitching performances of the postseason: a two-hit shutout in a 6-0 elimination game win for Southern Miss against Northern Kentucky in the Knoxville Regional. Mazza registered his ninth win of the year.