26 Feb

sunday punch

While it is much too early in the NCAA Division I season for defining moments, Mississippi’s Big 3 did deliver affirming wins on Sunday. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss each won the rubber game in a home series against an unheralded opponent. At Hattiesburg, USM (6-2) rallied to beat Missouri State 5-4. Four Golden Eagles pitchers allowed just one earned run and struck out 17 batters. Davis Gillespie and Seth Smith produced clutch hits, freshman Smith’s RBI double giving the Eagles the lead in the sixth inning at Taylor Park. At Oxford, where Rebel Nation has grown restless, Ole Miss (4-4) lowered the boom on High Point with a 25-2 victory. The Rebels smacked five homers, three doubles and a triple among 16 hits. Duke transfer Andrew Fischer, who had been scuffling, went 3-for-4 with a homer, four RBIs and four runs. Four UM pitchers yielded six hits, three walks and fanned 11 at Swayze Field. At Starkville, where things also seem a bit unsettled, State (4-4) whipped Georgia Southern 10-2. David Mershon put up a 4-for-5 with two RBIs, and Bryce Chance and Connor Hujsak drove in three runs each. Jurrangelo Cijntje delivered a much-needed strong start (five innings, one run) at Dudy Noble Field. What’s next? USM plays Nicholls State on Tuesday at MGM Park in Biloxi. Ole Miss hosts Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday. And that same day, State welcomes Jackson State (6-2), which is coming off a 7-3 loss to Mississippi Valley State. It was the first win for new Valley coach C.J. Bilbrey, who had seen his club crushed by the Tigers in the first two games of the non-league series. Jesus Campa, a transfer from El Paso Community College, worked eight solid innings for Valley.

24 Feb

spring flings

Who needs spring training? Ex-Ole Miss star Tim Elko, now a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, homered in his first at-bat in the team’s Cactus League opener on Friday. Power is Elko’s thing. He blasted 28 homers across three levels of the minors in 2023 and has 33 in his two-year pro career. The first baseman/DH hit 46 in his four years at Ole Miss and helped the Rebels win the national championship in 2022. He reached Double-A last season and should get to Triple-A at some point in 2024. The season is several weeks away, but Elko looked ready on Day 1. Also making an appearance for the ChiSox was Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who went 0-for-1. The veteran catcher, who has some big league time, signed with Chicago as a minor league free agent this off-season. … Elsewhere in spring openers: Former Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr., now a Kansas City minor leaguer, went 1-for-1 with a walk and an RBI for the Royals against Texas, which trotted out three Magnolia State products: Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe, the World Series-champion Rangers’ regular first baseman, was 0-for-2; Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim, a minor leaguer, went 0-for-2; and ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue, now on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, was hitless in two at-bats. … Ex-Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry Jr., a Minnesota minor leaguer, was 0-for-1 with two walks and two runs for the Twins, while USM product Matt Wallner, a starting outfielder for the Twins, put up an 0-for-2. … MSU alum Konnor Pilkington allowed a run in his one inning of work for Arizona. … And former DeSoto Central standout Blaze Jordan, who reached Double-A in 2023, played some third base and went 0-for-1 for Boston.

22 Feb

here and there

Delta State, pegged for a sixth-place finish in the Gulf South Conference this season, opens league play this weekend with a 6-5 record. The Statesmen will take on Union University for a three-game set (Friday-Saturday). DSU was the preseason favorite in the league poll in 2023 and finished eighth before reaching the championship round in the league tournament. Go figure. DSU is batting .323 as a team with a staff ERA of 6.00. The Statesmen are led by Brett Burrell, batting .444 with 11 RBIs, and Brendan McCauley, .391 with a homer and seven RBIs. … Mississippi College (8-3, 2-1 GSC) plays on the road for the first time this weekend, visiting league foe Auburn-Montgomery. … Blue Mountain Christian (11-3) has 19 home runs, seven by Arderrius Townsend, a former Northwest Mississippi Community College star. … Belhaven University is 3-3 heading into its first home games, a three-game set this weekend against St. Thomas at Trustmark Park in Pearl. … Mississippi Valley State will play its first games under new coach C.J. Bilbrey when the Delta Devils meet Jackson State (4-1) in a non-conference series, games at Braddy Field on Friday and Sunday and one in Itta Bena on Saturday. Joseph Eichelberger is batting a crazy .714 for JSU. … Southern Miss’ Nick Monistere was 0-for-10 heading into Wednesday’s game at New Orleans, then put up a 3-for-4 with a homer, five RBIs, four runs and two walks in the 4-1 Golden Eagles’ 15-10 victory. … Mississippi State is 13th and Ole Miss 14th in the Nashville Tennessean‘s latest SEC power rankings — and that was before both lost midweek games. MSU is 2-2, UM 2-3. The Rebels are batting .181 and have a 5.23 ERA. P.S. Pencil former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson in as Miami’s starting shortstop. The former All-Star and batting champ reportedly has signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Marlins on the heels of a disappointing 2023 season (.245, one homer) with the Chicago White Sox. Jon Berti was in line for the Miami shortstop job.

17 Feb

opening acts

Shout-outs to some standouts from Opening Day in NCAA Division I:
Ethan Lege: The senior outfielder went 3-for-6 with a run and two RBIs, including the go-ahead knock in the 13th inning, as Ole Miss beat Hawaii 5-4 at Murakami Stadium.
Nikko Mazza: The junior right-hander out of Madison-Ridgeland Academy threw 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out eight, in Southern Miss’ 4-1 win over Marist at Taylor Park in Hattiesburg.
Bryce Chance: The junior outfielder, also an MRA product, hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning as Mississippi State rallied past Air Force 8-4 before an announced 11,000-plus at Dudy Noble Field.
Davione Hull: The senior outfielder, from Grenada by way of Mississippi Valley State, went 1-for-3 with two RBIs, a walk and a steal in Jackson State’s 9-5 loss to Texas Southern in the Cactus Jack HBCU Classic in Houston.
Kalum Banks Jr.: The junior first baseman went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in Alcorn State’s 10-4 loss to Southern University in the Cactus Jack event.

15 Feb

here it comes

The wrapper comes off for NCAA Division I schools on Friday and there is great anticipation around the state as to what may be revealed in 2024. There is a new coach at Southern Miss and another at Mississippi Valley State. Star players are gone from every team, and the rosters at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, in particular, have been stocked with newcomers, many of them portal transfers. Here’s a quick look at some players to watch in the early going:
At USM, where Christian Ostrander takes over for Scott Berry as the man in charge, the key player might prove to be veteran Slade Wilks. The senior DH from Columbia hit .289 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs for the 2023 Golden Eagles and was a Ferriss Trophy finalist. Ostrander calls him the “oak tree in that lineup.” USM, which went 46-20 last year and hosted a Super Regional (losing to Tennessee), opens at Taylor Park against Marist.
At State, where the Bulldogs return sluggers Hunter Hines (a Ferriss finalist) and Dakota Jordan, the emphasis has to be on improved pitching. Nate Dohm, 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior right-hander with strikeout stuff, figures to play a key role there. A transfer from Ball State in 2023, he went 6-4 with a 4.07 ERA in 17 appearances for a team that finished 27-26 and had an SEC-worst 7.01 ERA. Dohm and the Bulldogs start with Air Force at Dudy Noble.
At Ole Miss, where MLB draftees Jacob Gonzalez, Kemp Alderman (Ferriss Trophy winner) and Calvin Harris have moved on, the transfer portal brought in a host of newcomers. Notable among them is Luke Hill, a Baton Rouge native who played at Arizona State last season. Hill, who hit .314 with six homers and 42 RBIs as a freshman for the Sun Devils, takes over at shortstop, where Gonzalez was a three-year star. The Rebels, national champs in 2022, tumbled to 25-29 last year. They open at Hawaii.
At Jackson State, where last year’s 28-25 record and two-and-out finish in the SWAC Tournament was a disappointment, the Tigers must replace their best hitter, Ty Hill (a Ferriss finalist), and a top starter, Jesse Caver. Offensive spark could come from Myles White, a senior second baseman who batted .327 (.462 OBP), drove in 23 runs and scored 36 in 49 games. The Tigers open in the six-team Cactus Jack HBCU Classic in Houston, where they’ll play Texas Southern in their first game, Alcorn State in their second.
P.S. Alcorn, coming off an 8-40 season, opens against Southern University on Friday in the Cactus Jack event. Valley, 15-36 in 2023, will launch the C.J. Bilbrey era on Feb. 23 at Jackson State.

14 Feb

going camping

Major league spring training camps are open and buzzing in Florida and Arizona. Here’s the list of Mississippians (natives and school alums) who are or soon will be in MLB camps:
40-man roster
Hitters
Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami; Justin Foscue (Mississippi State), Texas; Adam Frazier (MSU), Kansas City; Grae Kessinger (UM), Houston; Nathaniel Lowe (MSU), Texas; Hunter Renfroe (MSU), Kansas City; Austin Riley (DeSoto Central HS), Atlanta; Brent Rooker (MSU), Oakland; Matt Wallner (Southern Miss), Minnesota; Jordan Westburg (MSU), Baltimore.
Pitchers
Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs), Chicago White Sox; J.P. France (MSU), Houston; Kendall Graveman (MSU), Houston (injured); Dakota Hudson (MSU), Colorado; Lance Lynn (UM), St. Louis; James McArthur (UM), Kansas City; Michael Rucker (Columbus), Philadelphia; Nick Sandlin (USM), Cleveland; Ethan Small (MSU), San Francisco; Justin Steele (Lucedale), Chicago Cubs; Chris Stratton (MSU), Kansas City; Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central HS), Philadelphia; Colby White (MSU), Tampa Bay.
Non-roster invitees
Hitters
Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), Texas; Colt Keith (Biloxi HS), Detroit; Jake Mangum (MSU), Tampa Bay; Chuckie Robinson (USM), Chicago White Sox; Errol Robinson (UM), Baltimore.
Pitchers
Jonathan Holder (MSU) Texas; Zac Houston (MSU), Tampa Bay; Konnor Pilkington (MSU), Arizona; Drew Pomeranz (UM), Los Angeles Angels; Chad Smith (UM), New York Mets; Jacob Waguespack (UM), Tampa Bay; Hurston Waldrep (USM), Atlanta; Will Warren (Jackson Prep), New York Yankees.
Current free agents
Hitters: Tim Anderson (East Central CC); Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC); Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville); Pitchers: Mike Mayers (UM); Brandon Woodruff (MSU).

02 Feb

spotlight on …

Kendall Williams, an Olive Branch native and Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer, made an appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show today and spoke some words of wisdom about his chances of someday cracking the loaded Dodgers’ pitching staff. “If I do my job, there’ll be a job for me,” said the 23-year-old right-hander, who also talked about his rise to Triple-A in 2023 and about meeting Shohei Ohtani recently at Dodger Stadium. The 6-foot-6 Williams posted a 4-7 record and 3.73 ERA over four levels in 2023 and made the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game. He’s not on the 40-man roster and didn’t receive a non-roster invite to spring training, but he figures to get a look there at some point. Williams transferred from Olive Branch to IMG Academy in Florida during his sophomore year and was drafted in the second round in 2019 by Toronto, which traded him to LA the next fall. … Among the Mississippians to receive non-roster invites thus far are ex-Southern Miss standout Hurston Waldrep (Atlanta), Mississippi State alum Konnor Pilkington (Arizona), ex-Bulldogs standout Jonathan Holder (Texas), Ole Miss product Chad Smith (New York Mets) and UM alum Jacob Waguespack and ex-MSU stars Jake Mangum and Zac Houston (all with Tampa Bay). P.S. Ethan Small, a former first-round draft pick out of MSU, was designated for assignment by Milwaukee after the Brewers acquired two prospects from Baltimore in the Corbin Burnes trade. Left-hander Small likely will wind up with a new team. Also DFA’d on Thursday was Columbus native Michael Rucker by the Chicago Cubs, who signed free agent Hector Neris. Rucker, 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 35 MLB games in 2023, grew up in Washington and was drafted out of BYU. … William Carey University, ranked No. 4 in NAIA, lost its opener on Thursday, 5-3 to visiting Missouri Baptist, a 44-win team last year. Andrew Shirah, 10-1 for the Crusaders in 2023, yielded four hits, three walks and four runs in his three innings and took the loss. Preseason All-America pick R.J. Stinson went 1-for-5. … Belhaven University has scheduled an alumni game for Saturday (noon) at Trustmark Park in Pearl, the NCAA Division III Blazers’ home field for 2024. Andrew Gipson has taken the reins as BU coach. … Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley went 0-for-4 in Mexico’s 6-5 loss to Curacao on Thursday in the Caribbean Series in Miami. Mexico plays again tonight vs. Puerto Rico. Former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. did not appear in Venezuela’s 3-1 victory over the Dominican Republic on Thursday. Acuna played for the Venezuelan Winter League champion Tiburones de La Guaira this season and was listed on the preliminary roster for the CS.

18 Jan

globe-trotter

On the heels of a strong season in the Korean Baseball Organization, Kirk McCarty will travel over to Taiwan in 2024 to play for CTBC Brothers of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. The former Southern Miss standout and Hattiesburg native pitched in Major League Baseball for Cleveland in 2022. A diminutive left-hander, the 28-year-old McCarty went 9-6 with a 3.39 ERA in the KBO last season after going 4-3, 4.54, in 13 games for the Guardians the year before. He was released by Cleveland after the 2022 season. McCarty has a fairly impressive resume. He was an All-State performer and a strikeout machine at Oak Grove High, going 25-3 and winning a pair of state titles. He was a two-time All–C-USA pitcher at USM, going 22-4, 3.50, in three seasons in Hattiesburg. Drafted in the seventh round by Cleveland in 2017, McCarty was 23-28, 4.30, overall in the minors, 13-8 in Triple-A. He made his MLB debut on April 24, 2022. P.S. Today is the birthdate of another USM pitcher who made the majors: Hugh Laurin Pepper. Pepper, born in 1930 in Vaughan, died in 2018. A Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, he was a baseball and football standout at USM, throwing a no-hitter in 1954 and rushing for 1,000 yards in 1952. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’54 and played parts of four seasons in the big leagues.

12 Jan

looking ahead

There were some splashy pro debuts last summer from Mississippians taken in the 2023 draft — see Colton Ledbetter, Cooper Pratt, Matthew Etzel — but Tanner Hall, the fourth player chosen out of the state, did not make an official appearance. The most-decorated pitcher in Southern Miss history will make a much-anticipated debut sometime this season in Minnesota’s system. Hall, a 6-foot-1, 186-pound right-hander, was a two-time All-America pick, a two-time conference pitcher of the year and the 2022 Ferriss Trophy winner. He posted a 22-8 career record and 2.92 ERA in three seasons at USM. Not a hard thrower, Hall might best be described as a crafty right-hander who relies on a changeup and control. He averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings at USM. The Twins drafted him in the fourth round ($510,000 bonus), and he is rated their No. 15 prospect by MLB Pipeline. … The ’24 MLB draft is roughly six months away, but when the high schools and colleges hit the field there are several players with local ties who’ll be getting lots of attention from pro scouts. Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin (No. 8), former Madison Central High star Braden Montgomery of Texas A&M (No. 10) and Mississippi State’s Dakota Jordan (No. 27) are ranked among the top 100 prospects by MLB Pipeline, and MSU’s Hunter Hines reportedly just missed that list. … Ole Miss’ Campbell Smithwick, former Oxford High catcher, made Baseball America’s short list of potential impact freshmen for the coming season, which starts for NCAA Division I schools on Feb. 16. … A well-maintained, 20-year-old, 5,500-seat ballpark in a metro area with a population of 400,000-plus might be attractive to an independent team owner. Pearl is losing its Double-A team after the 2024 season (see previous post), and there’s really no telling what the future might hold for Trustmark Park. But indy ball could be a possibility. Jackson has hosted indy teams before at Smith-Wills Stadium. There are slew of independent leagues out there, and four of them (American Association, Atlantic, Frontier and Pioneer) are designated as partners of Major League Baseball and collaborate with MLB on various initiatives. Both the AA and the FL have teams in the midwest. … Reports are that Garrett Crochet, the Ocean Springs High product now with the Chicago White Sox, is going to be moved to the team’s starting rotation this spring. A first-round pick out of Tennessee in 2020, the hard-throwing left-hander has a career ERA of 2.71 in 72 relief appearances. He missed the 2022 season following elbow surgery. P.S. On the transaction front: Ex-Ole Miss star Errol Robinson has signed a minor league deal with Baltimore. The 29-year-old shortstop, a minor league vet, played in the St. Louis chain in 2023. … Former Mississippi State and MLB pitcher Jonathan Holder has signed as a minor league free agent with Texas. He had a 5.40 ERA in Triple-A for the Los Angeles Angels last year. … Ex-MSU star Travis Chapman is returning to the New York Yankees’ staff as first base coach and infield instructor. … Ex-Delta State standout Barry Lyons, after a season of managing in the independent Atlantic League, recently announced he is returning to his ambassador role with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers in his hometown.

24 Dec

on your marks

While it’s anyone’s guess at this point who might become the next Mississippian to debut in the majors, mlb.com has offered up three players as top prospects to watch in 2024. Former Jackson Prep star Will Warren (New York Yankees), Biloxi High product Colt Keith (Detroit) and Southern Miss alumnus Hurston Waldrep (Atlanta) appear close to breaking through. Warren, a 2021 draftee out of Southeastern Louisiana, is the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) after posting a 10-4 record with a 3.35 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. The right-hander throws hard and features a wipeout sweeper/slider, per reports. Keith, a 2020 draftee, is Detroit’s No. 2 prospect and could crack the Tigers’ lineup at second base this spring. He hit .306 with 27 home runs last season between Double-A and Triple-A and had a memorable 6-for-6 game with a cycle. Right-hander Waldrep was the Braves’ first-round pick (24th overall) out of Florida back in July and put up a 1.53 ERA while pitching at four minor league levels, including a brief stop with the Mississippi Braves. The Braves are not shy about promoting young arms. … Also worthy of keeping an eye on is Justin Foscue, the ex-Mississippi State standout who ranks as the No. 6 prospect in Texas’ system and made the organization’s minor league All-Star team at second base. He hit .266 with 18 homers in Triple-A and posted a .394 on-base average, walking more times than he struck out. P.S. Boston recently announced that former MSU star Jonathan Papelbon will be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame next spring. He is Boston’s all-time saves leader (219) and won a World Series with the team in 2007. … Tampa Bay has signed Zac Houston, another State product, to a minor league deal. In the minors since 2016, the right-hander has a 3.18 career ERA in 230 games.