The challenge of the Arizona Fall League appears to have brought out the best in Matt Wallner. The former Southern Miss standout, the school’s career home run leader, is off to a scorching start in the desert with six hits in his first 16 at-bats. The lefty-hitting outfielder, a top prospect in Minnesota’s system, went 3-for-5 Monday with his second home run in Scottsdale’s 7-6 loss to Salt River. Wallner batted .265 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in High-A ball this season, his second as a pro. He spent a chunk of time on the injured list. MLB Pipeline projects the Twins’ No. 14 prospect could make the big leagues next season, which he’ll likely start in Double-A. … Salt River’s leadoff batter in Monday’s game was Joe Gray, Jr., the ex-Hattiesburg High star and a Milwaukee prospect. He is off to a sluggish start in the prospect-filled AFL, batting .071 after an 0-for-5. … Mississippi State product Justin Foscue, a Texas farmhand, hit his first homer of the fall in Surprise’s 5-3 victory against Peoria. Foscue is batting .364 on the heels of a big first pro summer that saw him reach Double-A. … Peoria’s starting pitcher was Ole Miss alum James McArthur, who worked four innings and yielded one run (not Foscue’s homer) with six strikeouts. McArthur is in his fourth year in Philadelphia’s chain.
Minor league numbers don’t always translate to major league success, but there is certainly great promise in what the crop of Mississippi products displayed this season. Consider a 2021 All-Star team of state-connected players in the minors:
The pitching staff would feature Ethan Small (Mississippi State), who went 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA over three levels and earned Milwaukee’s organizational pitcher of the year honors; Konnor Pilkington (MSU), 7-6, 3.04 in Double-A for the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland; J.T. Ginn (MSU), 5-5, 3.03 in A-ball for the New York Mets; Kirk McCarty (Southern Miss), 9-6, 5.01 in Triple-A for Cleveland; Parker Caracci (Ole Miss), 2.29, 12 saves at two levels for Toronto; Colby White (MSU), 1.44, 11 saves over four levels for Tampa Bay.
Catcher: Thomas Dillard (Ole Miss), .247, 18 homers, 75 RBIs at High-A and Double-A for the Brewers, or Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), .245, 7, 44 in Double-A and Triple-A before hitting .290 with four bombs in the majors with Miami.
First base: Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), .296, 29, 80 at High-A and Double-A for Texas.
Second base: Justin Foscue (MSU), .275, 17, 51 at High-A and Double-A for the Rangers.
Shortstop: Jordan Westburg (MSU), .285, 14, 70 plus 13 steals at three levels for Baltimore.
Third base: Blaze Jordan (DeSoto Central), .324, 6, 25 in rookie and Low-A ball for Boston.
Outfield: Jacob Robson (MSU), .295, 7, 38 and 19 bags at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, with a brief trip to the majors, for Detroit; Jake Mangum (MSU), .285, 9, 47 and 14 steals in High-A and Double-A for the Mets; Joe Gray, Jr. (Hattiesburg High), .252, 20, 90 and 23 bags in A-ball for Milwaukee.
DH: Tyreque Reed (Itawamba CC), .271, 17, 71 in High-A and Double-A for the Red Sox, or Matt Wallner (USM), .265, 15, 47 in High-A ball for Minnesota.
Utility: Sam McWilliams (Meridian CC), .298, 14, 70 and 13 steals in A-ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers; Hunter Stovall (MSU), .316, 6, 46, 25 steals in High-A for Colorado; Ti’Quan Forbes (Columbia High), .267, 6, 28, 6 steals in Double-A and Triple-A for the White Sox; Colt Keith (Biloxi High), .286, 2, 32 in A-ball for the Tigers; Grae Kessinger (Ole Miss), .209, 9, 26, 12 bags in Double-A for Houston.
Six Mississippi products made MLB debuts in 2021, with Fortes, Justin Steele (George County) and Nick Sandlin (USM) getting extended looks. There is a rising tide of prospects behind that group hoping to make a splash in the big leagues in the near future.
Dodgers-Giants is one of the game’s best rivalries with a rich history spanning many decades. They met Friday night for the first time in a postseason series — San Francisco won 4-0 behind the brilliant Logan Webb — but this isn’t the first time the two have clashed in a win-or-go home October series. They’ve squared off twice in a playoff for the National League pennant, most famously in 1951, when Bobby Thomson hit the legendary walk-off homer in Game 3, but also in 1962, when a third baseman out of Southern Miss played a big role for the victorious Giants. Jim Davenport, who played 13 years for San Francisco, had one of his best seasons in 1962, batting .297 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs on a team that also included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Felipe Alou. Davenport was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner that year. He continued to sizzle in the best-of-3 series vs. the Dodgers that broke a tie atop the NL standings. In a Game 1 win, he went 2-for-3 with a homer off Sandy Koufax. The Giants dropped Game 2, but Davenport went 2-for-6 with an RBI and a run. In the deciding game, he had a hit in four trips, but his biggest contribution was drawing a bases-loaded walk that forced in the go-ahead run in the Giants’ four-run ninth that led to a 6-4 win. Davenport, called Peanut or Peanuts by teammates, didn’t fare as well in the World Series, which the Giants lost to the New York Yankees in seven games. He went 3-for-22 in his only Fall Classic appearance.
Mississippi State — make that defending national champion Mississippi State — starts its Fall World Series today at Dudy Noble Field. Game 2 of the annual intrasquad showdown is Friday and Game 3 Monday. The Bulldogs, who beat Samford last Saturday in the first of their two fall games, return Kamren James, Logan Tanner and Landon Sims from the championship club and national coach of the year Chris Lemonis added what Baseball America rates as the 10th-best recruiting class in the nation. State plays Alabama in Starkville on Oct. 15. … Southern Miss begins fall practice on Friday with the first of three intrasquad scrimmages set for the weekend at Taylor Park. Coach Scott Berry, who has 435 wins and is 34 shy of the school record, got a contract extension in the off-season after guiding the Golden Eagles to their seventh NCAA Tournament appearance. They lost in the Oxford Regional final. … Ole Miss, which started fall ball on Oct. 1, has games slated for Oct. 16 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock and Oct. 30 vs. Alabama, both at Swayze Field. The Pizza Bowl, the Rebels’ annual intrasquad showdown, is set for Nov. 12. Ole Miss is coming off a Super Regional appearance, a loss in three games at Arizona. … Three of the state’s HBCUs have new coaches this fall, including Reggie Williams, a former major leaguer, at Alcorn State and Stanley Stubbs, previously Rust College’s coach, at Mississippi Valley State. John Bates was promoted from Stubbs’ staff to replace him at Rust. … The NCAA Division I start date for 2022 is Feb. 18. Ole Miss will host Charleston Southern that day. State, USM and the SWAC schools have not released their full schedules.
A wrist injury cost Matt Wallner some valuable time this season. The former Southern Miss star will get to make up some of the missed at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, which starts Oct. 13. Wallner, Minnesota’s 14th-rated prospect by mlb.com, is one of five Mississippi products bound for the AFL, a sort of select league for top minor leaguers. Grae Kessinger, Justin Foscue, James McArthur and Joe Gray Jr. also merited AFL assignments from their respective organizations, as did Shea Langeliers and several other Mississippi Braves alumni. Wallner, a lefty-hitting outfielder, hit .265 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 66 games in High-A ball in the Twins’ system; he’ll play for Scottsdale. Ole Miss alum Kessinger, an infielder, batted .209 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and 12 steals in Double-A for Houston. The Astros’ No. 23 prospect will play for Glendale. Ex-Mississippi State standout Foscue, another infielder, batted .275 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in three levels of Texas’ system. The 2020 draftee is rated the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect; he’s bound for Surprise. McArthur, a right-hander out of Ole Miss, went 2-6 with a 4.48 ERA for Philadelphia’s Double-A club. A 2018 draftee, he’ll pitch for Peoria. Gray, an outfielder from Hattiesburg High, hit .252 with 20 homers, 90 RBIs and 23 steals in A-ball in a long-awaited breakout season in Milwaukee’s chain. The Brewers’ No. 9 prospect is assigned to Salt River. … Langeliers, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, hit 22 homers and was a stalwart behind the plate for the Double-A South champion M-Braves. He’s on Peoria’s roster.
The Mississippi Braves will open the Double-A South Championship Series at Montgomery, a Tampa Bay affiliate against which the M-Braves have an unhappy history. The M-Braves, regular season champs in the league, will take on the Biscuits on Tuesday in Game 1 of the 5-game series. Game 3 (and any remaining games) will be played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park beginning Friday. The M-Braves lost their inaugural game against Montgomery in 2005 and also lost their home opener to the Biscuits that season. In 2007, when the M-Braves made the playoffs for the first time, Montgomery knocked them out. This is the M-Braves’ fifth playoff appearance; they won the Southern League pennant in 2008. Mississippi ranks second in the Double-A South in ERA and homers but seventh in batting average. Montgomery is third in batting average, fourth in homers and fourth in ERA. … Several Magnolia State products were on the final regular season roster of minor league teams making the postseason. Ex-Mississippi State star Konnor Pilkington is with Akron, which meets Bowie and Bulldogs alum Jordan Westburg in the Double-A Northeast title series. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner plays for Cedar Rapids, which is in the High-A Central series. Ex-MSU standout Hunter Stovall and Ole Miss alum Will Ethridge are with Spokane in the High-A West. Will Bednar, a first-round pick from State this year, finished his 2021 campaign with San Jose, which is in the Low-A West series. And former Northeast Mississippi Community College standout Tyler Samaniego pitches for Bradenton in the Low-A Southeast. … The Triple-A seasons continue through this month. P.S. After a Triple-A tour during which practically nothing went right, former Ole Miss star David Parkinson went down to Double-A and got a shot of confidence on Sunday. Parkinson, 1-11 with a 7.93 ERA for Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia system, threw three clean innings to notch a save in Reading’s last game of the season.
Yes, it’s been quite a summer for Ryan Rolison, the former Ole Miss star. And not in a good sense. The left-hander, a hot prospect in Colorado’s minor league system, had earned a promotion to Triple-A Albuquerque back in May. The big leagues were in sight. But in June, just as he was settling in with the Isotopes, he suffered appendicitis and had to have his appendix removed. Later that month, working out while still on the injured list, he broke his left hand. He finally returned to Albuquerque’s rotation on Aug. 27. In three starts, he has allowed 15 runs in 12 2/3 innings. On Tuesday night, at Oklahoma City, opposed by rehabbing big leaguer Clayton Kershaw, Rolison cruised through two innings, battled through a scoreless third, but hit a wall in the fourth. He was pulled after allowing three runs, leaving with the bases loaded. Reliever Jake Bird then gave up a grand slam. Rolison’s line: 3 2/3 IP, 7 hits, 2 walks, an HBP, 6 runs and 4 strikeouts. For the season at Albuquerque, he is 1-2, 7.56 ERA. Rated the Rockies’ No. 3 prospect, the former first-round pick stood a good chance of making his MLB debut in 2021 before the summer setbacks. That’ll probably have to wait until year. He certainly seems to have the tools for success. “Rolison needs to continue to trust his stuff and be aggressive with it,” says the MLB Pipeline scouting report. P.S. Ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner, now at High-A Cedar Rapids in Minnesota’s chain, hit a grand slam Tuesday as part of a three-hit night. Wallner, the 39th overall pick in 2019 and the Twins’ No. 14 prospect, is batting .260 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right fielder slumped in August after a strong July but may be poised for a finishing kick.
Mississippi college products Jordan Westburg, Reed Trimble and Anthony Servideo are part of what MLB Pipeline rates as the strongest farm system among major league clubs. Baltimore also has the worst record in the majors, which for the state trio could mean there is great opportunity for quick advancement. Westburg, a shortstop out of Mississippi State, was the 30th overall draft pick in 2020 and is rated the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect. He’s in Double-A. Servideo, a shortstop from Ole Miss, was picked in Round 3 in 2020 and is rated No. 27, while Southern Miss alum Trimble, a supplemental pick following Round 2 this year, checks in at No. 21. All three would appear to be at least two years away from the majors. Atlanta’s system is rated 23rd, though there are four overall top 100 prospects in the organization. Much of the Braves’ young talent already is in the big leagues. Former Smithville High right-hander Jared Johnson is No. 30 in the Braves’ chain. Milwaukee is No. 25. MSU alum Ethan Small (5), Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, Jr. (9) and ex-UM standout Thomas Dillard (25) are ranked in the Brewers’ Top 30. P.S. MSU product J.P. France, who threw seven shutout innings (one hit, nine strikeouts) for Sugar Land last Friday, was named the Triple-A West’s pitcher of the week. France, a 2018 draftee, is 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA for Houston’s top affiliate. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Brady Feigl made his Triple-A debut Monday for Oakland’s Las Vegas club, yielding two runs with five punchouts in 4 2/3 innings. Feigl, a 2018 draftee and the A’s No. 23 prospect, was 7-7, 3.96 in Double-A. Ex-State standout Ben Bracewell, an eighth-year pro, got the save in Las Vegas’ win over Oklahoma City; he has two saves, four wins, eight holds and a 4.18 ERA for the Aviators.
Boston will be without slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe again tonight when it takes on first-place Tampa Bay in the opener of a big, four-game American League East series. Renfroe’s father and “best friend,” Todd, died from cancer last Thursday and the Crystal Springs native has been on bereavement leave since then. He had eight hits – four homers – over a seven-game stretch Aug. 17-25 and is batting .258 with 25 homers overall. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe was cut loose by the Rays after last season and signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. … Jarrod Dyson made his Toronto debut on Sunday, entering the game against Detroit as a pinch runner, then staying in to play center field. The Blue Jays are team No. 7 on the former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout’s career list. … Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley returned from the injured list for Cleveland over the weekend, going 2-for-9 in a series against Boston. Bradley is at .214 with 11 homers for the season with the Indians, clinging to wild card hopes in the AL. … Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin has been on Cleveland’s 10-day IL since Aug. 12 with no clear date for a return for the rookie right-hander. He reportedly is working out in Arizona. … Though there are no reports of an injury, MSU product Mitch Moreland did not leave the bench during the last three games of Oakland’s four-game series vs. the New York Yankees. Moreland is batting .227 with 10 homers. … Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton continued his rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte, going 1-for-3 Sunday. He is 3-for-19 with one stolen base in six games for the Chicago White Sox’s top affiliate. … Dakota Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago, made a rehab start for St. Louis’ Class A Palm Beach team on Saturday. The State product worked two scoreless innings, throwing 24 pitches and hitting 94 mph. … Former State star Jonathan Holder made his second rehab appearance of 2021 on Friday, yielding a homer in one inning for the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa club.
It’s a long way from the quaint little ballfield at Copiah Academy to the glorious green cathedral that is Fenway Park — and not just in miles. But you can go the distance. Hunter Renfroe is living, home run-bashing proof of that. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State star crushed two homers over the Green Monster on Tuesday, powering the Boston Red Sox to a big 11-9 win over Minnesota. With an MLB-leading 10 homers in August, Renfroe now has 25 on the season, matching his career-best. He is having a resurgent season, batting .256 with 77 RBIs in his first year with the Red Sox, who are feverishly chasing an American League playoff berth. “Yeah, this is what I expect myself to do every year and even better most of the time,” Renfroe, a .234 career hitter with 122 homers in 546 games, said in an mlb.com article. Renfroe was not the only Mississippi-produced star who shined brightly on a Tuesday filled with compelling matchups. To wit: DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, who leads the all-Mississippi home run derby with 27, went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run for Atlanta in a tough loss to the New York Yankees in an interleague meeting of first-place teams. Former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went yard for Toronto, which suffered a hurtful loss to the Chicago White Sox. Dickerson has three homers and nine RBIs in 18 games since joining the Blue Jays. Mitch Moreland, ex-Amory High and MSU star, had two hits and an RBI for Oakland in a loss to Seattle in a game between postseason contenders. Former State standout Nate Lowe put up a career-best five hits, including his 13th homer, as Texas beat Cleveland. Lowe had not homered since July 1. And Petal High product Anthony Alford, fresh off the injured list, hit his first home run of the year for Pittsburgh. Alford, playing well in Triple-A when the Pirates brought him back up for another trial, is batting .163 in 17 big league games in 2021. Said Alford in an mlb.com story: “I’ve just got to find a way to persevere.” These days, don’t we all. P.S. Southern Miss alumnus Cody Carroll has signed a minor league contract with Miami and was assigned to the Marlins’ Florida Complex League team. The 28-year-old onetime major league pitcher was released by Baltimore from its Triple-A team earlier this month.