26 Mar

roster ramblings

As opening day rosters and lineups take shape across MLB, injuries have opened the door for a couple of Mississippi products to step into prominent roles. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier apparently will start at second base for Kansas City and Madison Central High alum Spencer Turnbull will get a spot in Philadelphia’s rotation. Veteran Frazier signed with the Royals as a free agent after a season in Baltimore; he’ll play second base while Michael Massey is out. The oft-injured Turnbull, signed by the Phillies as a free agent after several years with Detroit, reportedly will fill the rotation spot vacated by the injured Taijuan Walker. … Former MSU standout Justin Foscue, despite a solid spring (.261), has been optioned to Triple-A by Texas. He had been battling for the first base job left open by the injury to Bulldogs alum Nathaniel Lowe. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren reportedly will start the season at Triple-A in the New York Yankees’ system. Though not on the 40-man roster, the right-hander had been vying for a rotation spot (see previous post). … With Baltimore having sent top prospect Jackson Holliday to the minors, former MSU star Jordan Westburg may start the season as the Orioles’ second baseman, though mlb.com projects him as the opening day DH. He played well as a rookie utility man in 2023. … Jacob Waguespack, former Ole Miss pitcher, apparently will work out of bullpen for Tampa Bay after making the club as a non-roster invitee this spring; he started and worked two innings in a Grapefruit League game on Monday. … Former Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger, who has been down with a hamstring injury, resumed workouts on Monday in Houston’s camp. Kessinger filled a utility role for the Astros as a rookie in 2023 and is in line to do so again. … Ex-MSU star Jake Mangum, in his latest bid to make the big leagues, did not crack the Rays’ roster and will start the year in the minors. He hit .375 this spring. … Tampa Bay traded with Philadelphia last week for former Bulldogs pitcher Zac Houston, a minor league vet who’s expected to work in Triple-A. … Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, 35, was released by the Los Angeles Angels, who had the left-hander in camp as a non-roster invitee. … Ex-Wheeler High and MSU standout Brandon Woodruff announced that he will not pitch in 2024 as he recovers from shoulder surgery. The two-time All-Star re-signed with Milwaukee, a two-year deal, as a free agent this spring. … George County High product Justin Steele has pronounced himself fit and ready to go as the Chicago Cubs’ Game 1 starter at Texas on Thursday. The All-Star lefty was hit in the knee by a comebacker last week. “I’m just kind of eager to get it (the season) here, get it underway and play some ball with the boys,” Steele told mlb.com on Saturday.

23 Mar

watch for it

As spring training winds down, Will Warren is ramping up his bid to make the New York Yankees’ starting rotation. The Jackson Prep product pitched five strong innings on Friday, allowing three hits, two walks and a lone run in a Grapefruit League game against the New York Mets. Right-hander Warren, the Yanks’ No. 8-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, is competing with several others for the fifth starter job. He is 3-1 with a 3.52 ERA in five games this spring. “He’s got the starter repertoire, a lot of confidence and a great demeanor on the mound,” New York manager Aaron Boone said in an mlb.com article. “He’s done a nice job and earned (a chance) to be in this position.” The 26-man roster should be announced soon. The team opens March 28 at Houston. Featuring a wipeout slider, Warren went 10-4 with a 3.35 between Double-A and Triple-A last season. After going 7-0, 1.39, as a senior at Jackson Prep in 2017, Warren signed with NCAA Division I Southeastern Louisiana, where he posted a 3.90 ERA in 53 games over four seasons. The Yankees drafted him in the eighth round in 2021, and he has made steady progress in their system. P.S. Pitching against Warren and the Yankees on Friday was ex-Southern Miss star Tyler Stuart, drafted by the Mets in the sixth round in 2022. The 6-foot-9 Stuart allowed two runs in three innings against the likes of Juan Soto, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Rated the Mets’ No. 18 prospect, Stuart was 7-2, 2.44, between High-Class A and Double-A in 2023.

22 Mar

in a better place

A year ago at this time, Brent Rooker was with his fourth team in four years and was battling for a big league roster spot with the Oakland A’s. Fairly secure in 2024 as the team’s designated hitter, the Mississippi State product has focused this spring on honing his swing and is starting to get results. Rooker has crushed two home runs and a double in his last three Cactus League games and has bumped his average to .227 with three homers and eight RBIs in 44 at-bats. “It’s always good to be feeling your best the week before (the season starts),” he told mlb.com. A first-round draft pick back in 2017, Rooker landed with Oakland as a waiver claim last year after brief stints with Minnesota, San Diego and Kansas City. After making the A’s roster at the 11th hour in 2023, Rooker made the American League All-Star team, belting 30 homers and hitting .246 for the year for an awful (50-112) team. He told mlb.com that he has enjoyed a “different mindset and approach” this spring, though it figures to be another tough year for his club in what apparently will be the A’s last year at Oakland Coliseum. P.S. Down in the Grapefruit League on Thursday, former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith hit his first homer for Detroit. Keith, 22, the $66 million rookie second baseman expected to make his MLB debut on opening day for the Tigers, is batting .273 with eight RBIs in 44 at-bats this spring. The lefty hitter hit .306 with 27 homers and 101 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

17 Mar

time to shine

Though he has slipped off the Cleveland Guardians’ list of Top 30 prospects, ex-Ole Miss star Doug Nikhazy made the team’s Spring Breakout roster and got the starting nod in Saturday’s game. The 24-year-old left-hander pitched well, earning the win after throwing three innings against Cincinnati’s prospects. He gave up three hits, one earned run and struck out six as the minor league Guardians took a 6-2 victory. Nikhazy was a second-round pick by Cleveland in 2021 after a sterling junior year at Ole Miss, when he posted a 12-2 record with a 2.45 ERA. He made his pro debut in 2022 at High-Class A and spent 2023 at Double-A Akron. He was 4-8, 4.94, for the Rubber Ducks, struck out 128 batters in 102 innings but walked 73. He was the organization’s No. 30 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) entering the 2023 season. P.S. Mississippi State product Jake Mangum went 1-for-2 with a walk on Saturday and is now batting .417 (.517 OBP) as a non-roster outfielder in Tampa Bay’s big league camp. Minor league veteran Mangum, 28, has a homer and three doubles in 24 at-bats. … Former MSU standout J.P. France made his spring debut for Houston and threw 2 1/3 innings, yielding a home run but punching out four New York Mets. He had been dealing with a shoulder issue. “Everything felt good,” he said in a postgame TV interview. France was 11-6, 3.83, as a rookie for the Astros in 2023.

15 Mar

hit the reset

Hunter Renfroe, Tim Anderson and Dakota Hudson have several things in common. They attended Mississippi colleges, were picked in the first round of the MLB draft, enjoyed success in The Show — and now find themselves in spring training camps trying to re-establish their place in the game. Mississippi State product and Crystal Springs native Renfroe has 177 home runs in the big leagues but has bounced from team to team the last several years. In 2023, he was waived by the Los Angeles Angels, claimed and later released by Cincinnati in mid-September. He is in Kansas City’s camp on a one-year, $6.5 million contract, likely to be the lowly Royals’ right fielder. Anderson, a first-round pick by the Chicago White Sox out of East Central Community College in 2013 (same year Renfroe was drafted), was found wanting by the ChiSox after seven years as their regular shortstop and was cut loose after the season. Anderson had a poor year in 2023, with the bat and the glove, and has a flair for generating controversy. Miami recently signed Anderson, and he is expected to be the Marlins’ shortstop. He said in a recent MLB Network interview that he is “super-motivated, super-inspired and super-coachable” as well as “super-thankful and super-blessed” to have the opportunity. Hudson, another ex-MSU star, had a 38-20 career record and 3.84 ERA since 2018 with St. Louis. But he has had some recent injury issues, went 6-3, 4.98, in a bumpy 2023 and was non-tendered after the season. He signed with Colorado, where he’ll likely make the starting rotation for a club that sorely needs pitching. Spring training stats aren’t necessarily telling, but for what it’s worth, none of these three transplanted veterans has had a good camp. Renfroe is batting .118 with no homers in 17 at-bats. Anderson is hitting .182 in 22 ABs. Hudson is 1-1, 6.75, over 5 1/3 innings in three outings. P.S. Former Ole Miss pitcher Jacob Waguespack has made Tampa Bay’s team as a non-roster invitee and apparently will pitch in the rotation. He spent the last two years in Japan after posting a 5-5, 5.08, ledger in 2019-20 with Toronto.

14 Mar

clearing the bases

Anthony Alford hit his first home run of the spring Wednesday for Cincinnati in the Cactus League. The two-run shot by the former Petal High star, in Reds camp as a non-roster invitee, came at the expense of former Mississippi State standout Ethan Small, who yielded five runs (two homers) in two innings in San Francisco’s 19-11 loss. Small, trying to earn a spot in the Giants’ bullpen, has a 9.53 ERA this spring. … Southern Miss alum Matt Wallner hit his first homer of the spring for Minnesota in the Grapefruit League. Wallner, USM’s all-time homer leader, belted 14 in 76 games for the Twins last year. … Aaron Downs, a junior out of Heritage Academy, delivered an 11th-inning walk-off single for MSU in a 2-1 win over New Orleans at MGM Park in Biloxi. It was the first RBI of the season for Downs. The Bulldogs (13-5) play defending national champion LSU in Starkville this weekend to open SEC play. … Ole Miss (13-5 with seven straight wins) launches SEC play Friday against nationally ranked South Carolina in Oxford. … Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson will host a pair of SWAC series over three days this weekend with Mississippi Valley State playing Bethune-Cookman and winless Alcorn State meeting Grambling State in three-game sets. … In the first regular season NAIA coaches poll released on Wednesday, William Carey — preseason No. 4 — fell out of the Top 25. The Crusaders, who made the NAIA World Series in 2023, are 13-9 and 4-5 in the SSAC. Blue Mountain Christian (18-5, 5-4 SSAC) did not get any votes in the new poll. … East Central Community College, ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II, beat No. 15 Meridian 7-5 and 4-3 to improve to 27-0 and 4-0 MACCC. … Jackson Prep, 18-2 and ranked No. 2 in the state by Prep Baseball Report, beat ninth-ranked Sumrall 7-2 to finish a 3-1 run through the Battle at the Beach. Patriots star — and LSU commit — Konnor Griffin threw six one-hit innings with 12 strikeouts and got two knocks in the Sumrall win. Lewisburg, ranked No. 1 by Prep Baseball Report, plays in the four-team Southeastern High School Baseball Classic at Trustmark Park this weekend. … MaxPreps’ latest state rankings have Hartfield Academy No. 1, followed by Lewisburg. Prep is fifth in that poll.

11 Mar

next dog up

First, there was Rafael Palmeiro. Then Will Clark, followed by Palmeiro again, then Mitch Moreland and most recently Nathaniel Lowe. Now, it looks like Justin Foscue might join the list of Mississippi State products to start at first base on opening day for the Texas Rangers. An oblique injury may keep Lowe, the starter the past three seasons, on the shelf at the start of this season. Foscue, still learning the position this spring, reportedly stands a good chance of getting the nod on March 28, when the world champion Rangers open at home against the Chicago Cubs. Foscue — Texas’ No. 5 prospect — was held out of the Cactus League games over the weekend after reporting some pain in his side but was in the lineup today. He has hit .308 this spring in 26 at-bats. He batted .266 with 18 homers and 14 steals at Triple-A Round Rock in 2023, where he did play nine games at first. Defense might be the key for Foscue as he battles MLB veteran Jared Walsh, a non-roster invitee, for the first-base job the remainder of the spring. “It’s just (about) continuing to get reps in,” Foscue, a first-round pick out of MSU in 2020, told mlb.com. Palmeiro was the Rangers’ starter from 1989-93 and then again from 2001-03. In between, his former “Thunder and Lightning” partner Clark manned the spot (1994-96 and ’98). Moreland came along in 2013 and also opened at first in 2016. Lowe was acquired from Tampa Bay in a trade and took over in 2021, winning a Silver Slugger the next season. P.S. MSU alum Jordan Westburg, Southern Miss product Matthew Etzel and ex-Ole Miss standouts Errol Robinson and Anthony Servideo all played in a Baltimore split-squad game on Sunday. Only Westburg is on the big league roster.

08 Mar

spring flings

Making a major league club as a non-roster invitee to spring training is a tall order. Jake Mangum, the former Jackson Prep and Mississippi State star, is making a strong case in Tampa Bay’s camp. Now with his third organization in three years, Mangum is 6-for-12 with a homer, two RBIs and three steals in Grapefruit League play. The switch-hitting outfielder had a couple of hits in Thursday’s game against Philadelphia. Mangum, now 28 years old, hit .357 over four years at State and has hit .289 over four minor league campaigns. He is also an outstanding defensive player. But he hasn’t gotten the big league call. Yet. … Things have not gone as well this spring for several veteran Mississippi-connected pitchers in camp as NRIs with new clubs. Zac Houston, an MSU alum, has a 12.27 ERA in four games for Tampa Bay. The 29-year-old right-hander has been in pro ball since 2016 without an MLB look. Jonathan Holder, 30, another ex-Bulldogs star, is trying get back to The Show with Texas. He has an 11.57 in five Cactus League games. And 35-year-old Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout who last pitched in the majors in 2021, has put up a 9.82 in four appearances with the Los Angeles Angels. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Chuckie Robinson, in the Chicago White Sox’s camp, is 1-for-9 in six games as a catcher. Petal High product Anthony Alford is 0-for-3 for Cincinnati as he attempts to get back in the big leagues after two years in Korea.

07 Mar

breakout breakdown

Highly rated prospects Justin Foscue, Jacob Gonzalez, Will Warren and Kemp Alderman are among the 19 Mississippians on the preliminary rosters for next week’s Spring Breakout series, a new event that will feature a ton of the top talent in the minor leagues. Each of MLB’s 30 teams will play a game — two teams will play two — beginning on March 14 in Arizona and Florida. Atlanta’s team will feature a bunch of former and future Mississippi Braves, as well as ex-Smithville High star Jared Johnson, a right-hander who pitched in A-ball in 2023. The Braves will play on March 16 against Boston, which lists DeSoto Central High product Blaze Jordan and ex-Southern Miss standout Dalton Rogers. Milwaukee’s team includes 2023 Biloxi Shuckers star Jackson Chourio — the No. 2 overall prospect in the minors — and Cooper Pratt, Mississippi’s prep player of the year in 2023 at Magnolia Heights. The Brewers play on March 17 against Kansas City; ex-MSU standout Eric Cerantola is on the Royals’ roster. Former MSU star Foscue is Texas’ No. 5 prospect, and he may make the Rangers’ opening day roster. Gonzalez, a first-round pick out of Ole Miss last summer and the Chicago White Sox’s No. 5 prospect, is joined on the ChiSox roster by former Rebels teammate Tim Elko. Jackson Prep product Will Warren, the New York Yankees’ eighth-ranked prospect, pitched in Triple-A in 2023 and is close to his MLB breakthrough. Alderman won the Ferriss Trophy last year at Ole Miss and is rated No. 8 on Miami’s chart. Among the other notable Mississippi products on the rosters are South Panola High alum Emaarion Boyd, Philadelphia’s No. 17 who swiped 56 bases in A-ball last season, and Colton Ledbetter (Tampa Bay’s No. 16), a second-round pick out of State in 2023 who batted .274 over two levels last season.

07 Mar

who’s on first

Nathaniel Lowe, the Texas Rangers’ regular first baseman, got a day off Wednesday. Filling in for the ex-Mississippi State standout were a pair of Magnolia State products, both of whom are putting up good numbers this spring. Former State star Justin Foscue, the Rangers’ No. 5-ranked prospect, went 1-for-3 in Wednesday’s game against Colorado in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is batting .348 in 23 at-bats this spring. Blaine Crim, a Mississippi College alum, replaced Foscue at first base mid-game and went 1-for-2 with a two-run homer. He is hitting .333 with seven RBIs in 21 Cactus League ABs. Foscue, primarily a middle infielder in his three years of minor league ball, is getting time at first base this spring and could make the defending World Series champs’ roster as the backup to Lowe. A first-round pick in 2020, Foscue reached Triple-A in 2023 and batted .266 with 18 homers and 84 RBIs. Crim was a 19th-round pick out of MC in 2019 and has done nothing but rake in pro ball. He hit .289 with 22 homers and 85 RBIs at Triple-A Round Rock last season. Crim isn’t on the 40-man roster but appears poised to make the jump this season if a need arises. For the record, Lowe is entrenched at first base. He won a Gold Glove in 2023 and a Silver Slugger in 2022. Last season, the lefty hitter batted .262 with 17 bombs and 82 RBIs. He has 62 homers in three years with the Rangers.