If either Ole Miss or Mississippi State were looking ahead to this weekend’s main event in Starkville, it did not show on Tuesday. The Rebels, behind Cael Baker’s six RBIs, thumped Austin Peay 13-1 and the Bulldogs, blasting five home runs, dismissed Arkansas State 18-10 in midweek “tuneups” before the huge SEC clash set for Dudy Noble Field. Game 1 of the three-game series is Friday at 6 p.m. SEC Network will televise it. Both teams enter with 8-4 league marks, tied for second in the West, and top 10 national rankings. Kids on sandlots across Mississippi dream of playing in such a series. This weekend, some get that chance. On paper, this is the classic great pitching (State) vs. great hitting (UM) matchup. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC in ERA and tops in punchouts; the Rebels lead in runs and are second in batting. But Ole Miss’ pitching staff has its fair share of pro prospects, and State’s lineup has produced eight or more runs in a game 13 times. Chops are being licked on both sides. Anything can happen in this series – and probably will. … All eyes in the Magnolia State will not be trained on Starkville, however. Surging Southern Miss (21-10, 8-3 C-USA) has a four-game set at nationally ranked Louisiana Tech, which took three of four from the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg last month. Jackson State, led by Chenar Brown (.379, eight homers, 39 RBIs), is an amazing 15-0 in SWAC play and welcomes rival Alcorn State for a three-game set at Braddy Field.
Brandon Woodruff gets the start today in Milwaukee’s home stadium, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its grand opening this month. Former Mississippi State star Woodruff delivered one of the greatest moments in the ballpark’s history three years ago, one Mississippi baseball aficionados surely remember. Miller Park, which opened on April 6, 2001, has a new name this season: American Family Field. (Ugh.) A writer for mlb.com recently ranked the top five games in Miller Park history, and coming in at No. 4 was Oct. 12, 2018, Game 1 of the NLCS, a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Woodruff, in his first MLB postseason, took a star turn that night, pitching two perfect innings in relief and hitting a 407-foot home run off Clayton Kershaw in the third inning. P.S. More stadium stuff: PNC Park in Pittsburgh also opened 20 years ago with three Mississippians in the starting lineups for Cincinnati and the host Pirates in Game 1 on April 9, 2001. Vicksburg native Dmitri Young, Cincy’s left fielder, scored the first run at the new yard. In the first inning, he was hit by a pitch and came around on Sean Casey’s homer. The Pirates’ leadoff batter was McComb’s Adrian Brown, the center fielder, who struck out to start a 1-for-4 day. Also in the Pittsburgh lineup was ex-Southern Miss star Kevin Young, who played first base and went 1-for-3. The Reds won the game 8-2. … Los Angeles Dodgers fans will finally get to experience the renovated Dodger Stadium this month. The team will be allowed to host fans at 20 percent capacity – about 11,000 people — at the onset of the regular season. The World Series champs’ home opener is April 9. Under the direction of Jackson native Janet Marie Smith (see previous post), the Dodgers spent $100 million renovating the stadium ahead of the 2020 season, which was delayed to July and played without fans because of the pandemic. Smith, a Mississippi State grad, previously oversaw stadium projects at Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Turner Field and has consulted on many others.
Nineteen games into its season, Southern Miss still isn’t hitting. Pitching, on the front and back end of games, has carried the Golden Eagles to a 13-6 record and will be leaned on again this weekend in Hattiesburg in their C-USA opening series against Louisiana Tech. “We’ll hang our hat on our guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish to this point,” USM coach Scott Berry said in a video conference with media this week. Batting .208 as a team, USM faces a tough Tech pitching staff (3.27 ERA) led by No. 1 starter Jonathan Fincher (3-0, 1.50). The nationally ranked Bulldogs (14-5), coached by Mississippi native and former USM assistant Lane Burroughs, roll out three .300 hitters and are at .287 as a club. USM counters with a pitching staff that ranks among the nation’s best in ERA (2.91) and walks per nine innings (2.16), which Berry cites as a key stat. The starting pool of Hunter Stanley, Walker Powell, Ben Ethridge and Drew Boyd has been consistently effective, and closer Garrett Ramsey has been lights out. Taking over Stanley’s role from 2020, former Northwest Rankin High and Hinds Community College star Ramsey is seven-for-seven in save opps, has yet to allow a run in 7 2/3 innings and features a 14-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Runs may be at a premium at Taylor Park this weekend.
Intrastate competition was on the college menu Wednesday night, with Mississippi State topping Southern Miss 4-1 in Pearl and Ole Miss whipping Jackson State 12-1 in Oxford. It would be folly to draw too many conclusions based solely on these games, but some observations are in order: 1) USM needs to start putting the bat on the ball. 2) The hype about State’s pitching depth appears justified. 3) Ole Miss’ “slump” appears to be over. 4) JSU should be focused on its SWAC opener this weekend. … USM (4-4) managed three hits and struck out 20 times against State. The Golden Eagles are batting .179 as a team with 83 strikeouts in 240 at-bats. That really needs to change. … State (6-2 and a consensus top 10 team) got a great start from Houston Harding, who fanned nine in five innings, and brilliant relief work from three others, including Preston Johnson, a Hinds Community College transfer who punched out six in two innings in his D-I debut. Bulldogs pitchers have a 3.00 ERA and 111 K’s over 72 innings. … After scoring just 10 runs in losing a three-game set to Central Florida, Ole Miss (7-2 and a consensus top 10) scored 28 in back-to-back wins against Memphis and JSU. The Rebels put up seven in the first inning vs. JSU’s rattled starter Brandon Valentin. Tim Elko, who hit three homers in 14 games in 2020, homered for the second straight day. … JSU, 0-8 all-time vs. UM, may be outmanned against SEC competition but should still be a force in the SWAC. The Tigers (3-5) visit Alabama State this weekend. Keep an eye on Chandler Dillard, a former Germantown High star and Copiah-Lincoln CC transfer who is batting .333 with nine RBIs. He hit .426 in 2020.
3 – Wins by Ole Miss against top 10 teams in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown, earning the Rebels their first No. 1 ranking by Baseball America and D1baseball.
11 – Combined RBIs by Mississippi State’s Luke Hancock and Rowdey Jordan in a 2-1 finish at the State Farm event in Texas.
45 – Strikeouts by Southern Miss pitchers in going 2-1 against Northwestern State; Hunter Stanley and Ben Ethridge combined for 25 K’s.
7 – Home runs by Pearl River Community College’s Tate Parker, leading NJCAA Division II. Northwest CC’s Peyton Mills is second with six.
11 – Hits by Kirkland Trahan, who has two homers, six RBIs and seven runs, for 2-4 Delta State.
8 – Hits by Ken Scott, who has a homer and four RBIs, for 0-6 Mississippi College.
11 – Runs by Nick Lucido, who is 11-for-22, for 4-2 Belhaven.
8 – RBIs by Mason Little, who is 9-for-21, for 2-4 Millsaps.
2 – Wins in two starts by Connor Adams, who has a 2.70 ERA, for 4-2 William Carey.
0 – Combined runs by Jackson State (0-3) and Mississippi Valley State (0-2); Alcorn State hasn’t gotten on the field yet.
Full squad workouts are under way in Florida and Arizona. Actual spring training games begin Sunday. Here’s a look at Mississippians in camp:
40-man roster members
Anthony Alford (Petal), Pittsburgh; Tim Anderson (East Central CC), Chicago White Sox; Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central), Cleveland; Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC), Miami; Adam Frazier (Mississippi State), Pittsburgh; JaCoby Jones (Richton), Detroit; Nate Lowe (MSU), Texas; Mitch Moreland (MSU), Oakland; Hunter Renfroe (MSU), Boston; Austin Riley (DeSoto Central), Atlanta; Brent Rooker (MSU), Minnesota
Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs), Chicago White Sox; Demarcus Evans (Petal), Texas; Kendall Graveman (MSU), Seattle; Jonathan Holder (MSU), Chicago Cubs; Dakota Hudson (MSU), St. Louis (DL); Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), Chicago White Sox; Mike Mayers (Ole Miss), Los Angeles Angels; Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), San Diego; Cody Reed (Northwest CC), Tampa Bay; Justin Steele (George County High), Chicago Cubs; Chris Stratton (MSU), Pittsburgh; Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central), Detroit; Jacob Waguespack (Ole Miss), Toronto; Bobby Wahl (Ole Miss), Milwaukee; Brandon Woodruff (MSU), Milwaukee
Gavin Collins (MSU), Cleveland; Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami; Justin Foscue (MSU), Texas; Trent Giambrone (Delta State) Chicago Cubs; Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville), Cleveland; Grae Kessinger (Ole Miss), Houston; Jack Kruger (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit
Ben Bracewell (MSU), Oakland; Cody Carroll (Southern Miss), Baltimore; Chris Ellis (Ole Miss), Tampa Bay; Jacob Lindgren (MSU), Chicago White Sox; Kirk McCarty (USM), Cleveland; David Parkinson (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Ryan Rolison (Ole Miss), Colorado; Nick Sandlin (USM), Cleveland; Ethan Small (MSU), Milwaukee
NCAA Division I schools in Mississippi have not yet started playing ball, but we already have a theme for 2021. Pitching. The state’s Big 3 are loaded with quality arms, and Jackson State has a couple to crow about, as well. Ole Miss’ Gunnar Hoglund and Doug Nikhazy and Mississippi State’s Christian MacLeod, Eric Cerantola and Will Bednar are showing up on various lists of top MLB draft prospects for this summer. Hoglund, Nikhazy and MacLeod are on the 55-player Golden Spikes Award watch list. Hoglund has been selected to — at last count — four preseason All-America teams. Nikhazy, MacLeod and Southern Miss ace Walker Powell were pegged as second-team All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball, and Powell is the preseason pitcher of the year in C-USA. JSU features Nik Galatas, chosen as the SWAC’s preseason pitcher of the year, and Steven Davila, a top closer in the league. The considerable depth of the Ole Miss and State staffs will be tested right out of the chute this weekend in the State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas, where they’ll face three nationally ranked Texas schools. USM opens at home Sunday with a doubleheader against Northwestern State; JSU is at Mercer in Georgia for a twinbill today. Defense wins championships in football. In basketball, shooting. In baseball, it’s pitching. Mississippi’s D-I schools are armed for the task.
Surely, sometime this season, when a decent number of fans are allowed back in Target Field, the Minnesota Twins will have a Brian Dozier Day of some sort. The former Southern Miss star, who announced his retirement on Thursday, deserves it. He was the face of the franchise for the better part of the seven years he spent with the team that drafted him out of USM in 2009. One Minneapolis columnist wrote that Dozier ranks as the third-best second baseman in the Twins’ long history, behind Hall of Famer Rod Carew and Chuck Knoblauch. Dozier hit more homers than any Twins second baseman in history and tied an MLB record for homers by a second baseman in a single season when he launched 42 in 2016. With 192 career bombs, Dozier ranks fifth all-time among Mississippi-born players. He topped 1,000 career hits and 100 career steals. But of course, he was about a lot more than numbers. He won several leadership and community service awards during his time in Minnesota. “He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever been around in my life,” Ron Gardenhire, one of Dozier’s managers, said in a Zoom call tribute arranged by the Twins on Thursday. It seems a shame that Dozier is done at 33, apparently healthy after barely playing in 2020. Players get old quick these days. But he said during a very upbeat Zoom call that he is at peace with his decision and is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and two young kids. He even joked about heading off to have a beer rather than to a ballfield. Dozier crammed a lot into his nine MLB seasons. He was an All-Star, a Home Run Derby participant, a Gold Glove winner and a World Series champion (with Washington in 2019). He deserves to be celebrated.
Former Southern Miss standout Nick Sandlin, whose rapid rise in Cleveland’s system was stalled by injury in 2019, has received an invitation to big league spring training as a non-roster player. Mississippi State product Gavin Collins, a catcher who played in high Class A in 2019, also got an invite to the Indians’ camp in Goodyear, Ariz. Teams are beginning to announce their non-roster invitees as it appears spring training will begin as scheduled in a couple of weeks. Sandlin, a sidearm-style right-hander, was a second-round pick in 2018 and reached Triple-A early in 2019 before a stress fracture in his arm ended his season. Sandlin got work in the Indians’ alternate camp during the 2020 season. He has a 2.68 ERA and seven saves in 49 pro games. Collins, a 13th-round pick in 2016, is a .257 hitter with 24 homers in 295 minor league games. P.S. As part of a series on minor league record-holders, milb.com featured Esix Snead as the modern day leader in career stolen bases with 507. Second on the list, somewhat surprisingly, is Trenidad (Trent) Hubbard, who was the second baseman on the first Jackson Generals team in 1991. Hubbard swiped 488 bags in a career that spanned 20 seasons (1986-2005) and included some big league time. (Note: Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, who set a minor league single-season record with 155 steals in 2012, has 396 minor league bags in 505 games.)
Change was in the wind for several Mississippi-connected players on Thursday. On the big league front, ex-Mississippi State star Nate Lowe was traded from Tampa Bay to Texas, which has an apparent affinity for first basemen from MSU. In the Rule 5 draft’s minor league phase, three Mississippi college products changed organizations, with Ole Miss’ Errol Robinson and Southern Miss’ Chuckie Robinson going to Cincinnati and Itawamba Community College’s Tyreque Reed to Boston. Lowe, a lefty slugger who hit 11 homers in 71 games for the Rays over the last two seasons, projects as Texas’ first baseman in 2021. “I told him to expect competition, but we made this deal anticipating he would win the job and be our first baseman,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels told mlb.com. Former State star Rafael Palmeiro spent 10 of his 20 MLB seasons with the Rangers, and Will Clark manned first base for Texas for five years (between Palmeiro’s two stints there). Mitch Moreland, currently a free agent, spent the first seven of his 11 MLB seasons with the Rangers. … Errol Robinson, a shortstop, went from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Reds in the first round of the Rule 5 Triple-A phase, and Chuckie Robinson (no relation), a catcher, moved from Houston to the Reds in the third round. Errol is a .262 career hitter in four pro seasons and has reached the Triple-A level. “He’s a really good athlete. He’s extremely versatile,” Rob Coughlin, Cincinnati’s director of pro scouting, told mlb.com. Chuckie is a .249 hitter over four pro seasons and played at the Class AA level in 2019. He has a 15-homer season on his ledger. Reed, a storied slugger at Houlka High and ICC, was plucked out of the Texas system by the Red Sox in the first round of the Triple-A phase. “(W)e really believe in the power potential, so we’re excited to bring him into the organization,” Boston’s VP of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum told mlb.com. Reed, a first baseman, is a .281 hitter with 41 homers in three pro seasons. He played high-A ball in 2019.