22 Mar

classic finish

It will go down as one of the great moments in baseball history. Shohei Ohtani vs. Mike Trout, a 3-2 count, a one-run game, two outs in the ninth in the final game of what had been a fantastic World Baseball Classic. No one on the planet had a better view of this matchup of giants than Lance Barksdale, the veteran MLB ump from Brookhaven. He was behind the plate as Ohtani threw a perfect slider that Trout flailed at in what is being called the strikeout heard ’round the world. Japan won the WBC title, beating the United States 3-2 Tuesday night at Miami’s sold-out loanDepot Park. Barksdale, who has called a lot of big games, seemingly had a good night calling balls and strikes. The Mississippi-connected contingent of players on Team USA’s roster also performed well. Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star, went 1-for-2 in the finale and batted .333 with five RBIs and three runs in seven games all told. Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams, he of the “Airbender” changeup, threw a scoreless eighth inning Tuesday with two K’s. He didn’t allow a run in four WBC appearances. Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman warmed up Tuesday when Jason Adam was struggling in the sixth but didn’t get in. He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in two WBC games. And Lance Lynn, the grizzled veteran out of Ole Miss, worked nine innings over two starts, allowing three runs, and Team USA won both games. P.S. In spring training news: Former State standout J.T. Ginn from Brandon threw three scoreless innings for Oakland against the Los Angeles Angels and got the win in his Cactus League debut. Ginn reached Double-A last summer and likely will return there this season. … Madison Central High alum Spencer Turnbull pitched well again, allowing one run (a Josh Donaldson homer) in 4 2/3 innings for Detroit against the New York Yankees. … Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, who missed all of last season with an arm injury, is expected to start 2023 on San Diego’s injured list, per reports. The veteran lefty had a 1.62 ERA out of the pen for the Padres in 2020-21.

16 Mar

spring flings

Coming back from arm surgery that cost him almost two seasons, Spencer Turnbull has looked sharp this spring, according to reports. The former Madison Central High standout makes his third start today for Detroit in a Grapefruit League game against Philadelphia. Turnbull has a 4.15 ERA and five strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings and has shown a lively fastball and crisp slider. The right-hander, nicknamed “Red Bull,” appeared on his way to a breakout year in 2021 when he hurt his arm in May. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA and a no-hitter on his ledger. He should step right back into the Tigers’ rotation this season. … Ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman got the win in relief as the United States beat Colombia 3-2 in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night. Graveman, who’s with the Chicago White Sox, worked a scoreless fourth inning. Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams, of Milwaukee, pitched a clean eighth for a hold in the victory that sends Team USA to a quarterfinal meeting with Venezuela on Saturday. … Ex-State standout Brent Rooker has made a strong case for cracking Oakland’s opening day roster. He is 9-for-23 with five doubles and eight walks this spring. “I’m just here to make whatever decision they have to make a difficult one,” said Rooker, 28, who is with his fourth MLB club in the past year. He got just 32 big league at-bats with San Diego and Kansas City in 2022 but belted 28 homers in the minors. His main competition for a spot appears to be lefty-hitting Carson Capel, 25. … Chris Stratton, former Bulldogs ace, has had a nice spring with St. Louis. He notched a save on Wednesday and trimmed his ERA to 3.60 in five appearances. Stratton has a 4.52 ERA over 238 career MLB games. … Left-hander Dylan Dodd, who made nine starts (2-4, 3.11 ERA) for the Double-A Mississippi Braves last season, is reported to be a dark horse candidate for Atlanta’s fifth starter job. Dodd, a 2021 draftee, has 11 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA in 8 1/3 innings in Florida. He remains in camp after former M-Braves Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder, also candidates for that spot, were optioned to the minors.

15 Mar

that’ll leave a mark

The games don’t really count and the stats don’t necessarily mean a lot for individual players. That said, Tuesday was a tough day for several Mississippi-connected pitchers in Arizona. Start with the Los Angeles Angels-Cleveland game in Goodyear, where Mississippi State alums Jonathan Holder and Konnor Pilkington took some serious lumps. Holder, an MLB veteran trying to win a job with the Angels as a non-roster invitee, yielded two hits, three walks, a hit batsman, a wild pitch and three runs in 2/3 of an inning in relief. The Gulfport native’s ERA rose to 11.81 over six Cactus League games. Not promising. Pilkington, who debuted with the Guardians last year and pitched relatively well, has not had a good spring. The left-hander from Pascagoula surrendered three hits, a walk and a wild pitch and was charged with four runs (one earned) and the loss in one inning of relief. He has a 7.36 this spring. In Peoria, ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers, trying to stick with Kansas City as an NRI, gave up four hits, a walk and two runs and took the loss against Seattle. Mayers’ ERA grew to 8.64 in four appearances. Ouch. At Mesa, former George County High standout Justin Steele made his second start of the spring for the Chicago Cubs and allowed five hits, a walk and three runs — all on homers — and took the L vs. Colorado. Steele, who had a good first outing, sports a 5.79 ERA, though his spot in the Cubs’ rotation is secure. And on top of all that stuff, former State star Ethan Small, whose prospect status has declined in Milwaukee’s system, was optioned to Triple-A. The left-hander has a 7.20 ERA in four games; he made two rocky appearances in the majors last year.

10 Mar

box score browsing

Tim Elko, the former Ole Miss masher, got in a major league spring training game for the first time on Thursday and banged out a double in his lone at-bat against Colombia’s WBC team. Elko was drafted in the 10th round by the Chicago White Sox in 2022 after helping Ole Miss win the College World Series. The big first baseman/third baseman hit a school-record 24 homers last year and then hit five in his pro debut, playing at the rookie and Low-Class A levels in the White Sox’s system. He’ll likely play at Low-A Kannapolis this season. … Jordan Westburg, a Mississippi State product, went 2-for-2 for Baltimore, boosting his Grapefruit League average to .300 (6-for-20). Westburg, one of the Orioles’ top prospects, is in camp as a non-roster player after reaching Triple-A in 2022. … Colt Keith, the ex-Biloxi High star and a highly rated Detroit prospect, was 0-for-1 with a walk and a run and is batting .333 (3-for-9) this spring as a non-roster invitee. … Demarcus Evans, the Petal High product and one-time big leaguer, threw an inning and gave up a home run for the New York Yankees against Boston. Evans is trying to win a spot in the bullpen as a non-roster invitee. … Dakota Hudson, the ex-State standout, threw four shutout innings as the starter for St. Louis against Nicaragua’s WBC club, and fellow former Bulldogs hurler and MLB veteran Chris Stratton yielded a run in his one inning. … Konnor Pilkington, another ex-State pitcher, gave up four runs in 2 1/3 innings for Cleveland against San Diego and took the loss in the Cactus League contest. … And Ethan Small, yet another former Bulldogs ace, allowed two runs and took an L in an inning of work for Milwaukee vs. San Francisco. Small, once a top-rated prospect who had a cup of coffee in The Show last year, has a 7.20 ERA in four appearances this spring.

04 Mar

that’ll work

Justin Steele’s spring debut was pushed back a few days because he was feeling some fatigue in his left arm. The former George County High star appeared to have plenty of zip in that wing on Friday night, when he threw two perfect innings as the front man in the Chicago Cubs’ seven-man no-hitter against San Diego. In a Cactus League game televised on MLB Network, Steele breezed — 18 pitches — through a Padres lineup that included Trent Grisham, Jake Cronenworth, Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz. After doing an in-game interview from the dugout, the 27-year-old lefty threw 25 more pitches in the bullpen. “Their lineup is going to be really good,” Steele said of the Padres in an mlb.com story. “It’s good to get out there and compete again.” In his second MLB season in 2022, Steele went 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts for a sub-.500 Cubs team. He reportedly worked long hours in the off-season adding a change-up (which he didn’t have to roll out Friday) to his arsenal. Steele slots in as perhaps the No. 3 starter for a Chicago team that spent some big money in the off-season to make a postseason push. “He’s one of the guys we’re gonna rely heavily on,” Cubs manager David Ross told mlb.com. P.S. Ex-Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Detroit’s No. 4-rated prospect (per MLB Pipeline), hit his first career spring homer on Friday in a Grapefruit League contest against Philadelphia. Keith, a non-roster invitee in Tigers camp, hit .301 with nine homers in High-Class A last season, his second as a pro.

27 Feb

whatever happened to …

Drew Bianco, the former Oxford High star and son of the Ole Miss coach, is getting a ton of attention after making a sensational catch for Houston in a game on Sunday. Bianco, playing center field for the Cougars, made a long run and went over the outfield wall to snag a drive off the bat of an Incarnate Word hitter. (The video is all over the Internet and was SportsCenter’s No. 1 play among its daily Top 10.) Bianco, an All-State pick and state champion at Oxford, is a grad transfer at Houston after four seasons at LSU, where he had modest numbers (.202, 10 homers) on some outstanding teams. This year, he has made two highlight-reel catches for the Cougars, matching his number of hits in five games. Also on the UH roster is former Ole Miss and Magnolia Heights pitcher Braden Forsythe. P.S. Two familiar names appear on mlb.com’s list of the top dark horse candidates for opening day rosters: Brent Rooker with Oakland and Jason Heyward with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mississippi State product Rooker is with his fourth organization in less than a year. The 2017 SEC Triple Crown winner has 102 homers in the minors — 28 in Triple-A in 2022 — but batted just .200 with 10 homers in 81 big league games, most of those with Minnesota. He hopes to stick as the A’s left fielder. Heyward, a former Mississippi Braves star, has been reunited with old buddy Freddie Freeman. They debuted with the Double-A M-Braves together in 2009. Cut loose by the Chicago Cubs after last season, Heyward has struggled at the plate for several years but reportedly revamped his swing and stands a good chance of making LA’s club. His outfield defense is still top drawer.

27 Feb

spring fling

He is the top pitching prospect in the New York Yankees’ system, and on Sunday, in his big league spring debut, Will Warren gave Yankees brass and fans a sneak preview of what he might soon bring to The Show. The former Jackson Prep standout from Brandon threw two scoreless innings against Atlanta in a 7-0 victory at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. The Braves didn’t trot out their A-team on Sunday, but that really shouldn’t diminish Warren’s performance. The 23-year-old right-hander — the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect overall — yielded the only hit the Braves got but faced the minimum six batters, throwing 20 of 34 pitches for strikes. Drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2021, Warren made his pro debut last summer and reached Double-A, winning seven games for Eastern League champ Somerset. Overall, he was 9-9 with a 3.91 ERA in 26 starts. Unveiling what has been called a “unicorn slider,” he posted 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 129 innings. “My goals for next year are to keep having success,” Warren told nj.com last month. He isn’t on the 40-man roster, will work mainly in minor league games this spring and likely will begin 2023 back at Somerset. Sunday’s outing was a great kick-start to his year. … A bundle of Mississippians played in the opening weekend of spring training games. Notable performances from Sunday: Hunter Renfroe homered for the Los Angeles Angels; Dakota Hudson threw two scoreless innings for St. Louis; Corey Dickerson went 2-for-2 for Washington; Jordan Westburg had a hit and RBI for Baltimore; and Brent Rooker was 1-for-3 for Oakland.

25 Feb

a few atta boys

Jesse Caver: Jackson State’s senior right-hander threw eight shutout innings, yielding four hits, to lead the Tigers to a 3-0 win over New Orleans in the MLB Andre Dawson Classic on Friday. Caver, a 2022 transfer from Lipscomb, is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in three games for the 3-2 Tigers. Of note: Junior Jonah Posey, an East Mississippi Community College product, pitched the ninth for the save and has a 0.00 ERA in three appearances, and Ty Hill homered for JSU.
Justin Foscue: The Mississippi State alum homered in his first at-bat for Texas on opening day in spring training. Foscue, who has 32 minor league bombs in two seasons, is in Rangers camp in Arizona as a non-roster invitee.
Taylor Broadway: The ex-Ole Miss closer threw a scoreless inning for Boston in a spring exhibition game against Northeastern in Florida. Broadway, in camp as an NRI, has a 4.20 ERA in two minor league campaigns.
Sean Smith: The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College sophomore is second in NJCAA Division II with 24 RBIs and tied for second in homers with seven for the 4-6 Bulldogs. Smith, a Pascagoula native, is batting .500.
P.S. All 30 MLB teams are scheduled to play today in Florida and Arizona. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn will start for the Chicago White Sox, and ex-Rebels standout Mike Mayers is slated to start for Kansas City, his new club. Some other faces in new places who could make appearances today: Hunter Renfroe with the Los Angeles Angels, Corey Dickerson with Washington, Adam Frazier with Baltimore and Brent Rooker with Oakland.

19 Feb

going camping

Leather is popping. Wood is cracking. It’s that time again. Here’s the list of Mississippians (natives, prep and college alums) on 40-man rosters as spring training camps open in Florida and Arizona:
Tim Anderson (East Central CC), Chicago White Sox; Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC), Washington; Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami; Adam Frazier (Mississippi State), Baltimore; Nathaniel Lowe (MSU), Texas; Hunter Renfroe (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Austin Riley (DeSoto Central HS), Atlanta; Brent Rooker (MSU), Oakland; Matt Wallner (Southern Miss), Minnesota.
Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs), Chicago White Sox; J.P. France (MSU), Houston; Kendall Graveman (MSU), Chicago White Sox; Dakota Hudson (MSU), St. Louis; Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), Chicago White Sox; James McArthur (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Konnor Pilkington (MSU), Cleveland; Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), San Diego; Ryan Rolison (Ole Miss), Colorado; Michael Rucker (Columbus), Chicago Cubs; Nick Sandlin (Southern Miss), Cleveland; Ethan Small (MSU), Milwaukee; Justin Steele (Lucedale), Chicago Cubs; Chris Stratton (MSU), St. Louis; Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central HS), Detroit; Colby White (MSU), Tampa Bay; Brandon Woodruff (MSU), Milwaukee.
Non-roster invitees:
Gavin Collins (MSU), Tampa Bay; Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), Texas; Justin Foscue (MSU), Texas; Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville), Chicago White Sox; Colt Keith (Biloxi High), Detroit; Grae Kessinger (UM), Houston; Jake Mangum (MSU), Miami; Chuckie Robinson (USM), Cincinnati; Jordan Westburg (MSU), Baltimore.
Taylor Broadway (UM), Boston; DeMarcus Evans (Petal), New York Yankees; J.T. Ginn (MSU), Oakland; Jonathan Holder (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Zac Houston (MSU), New York Yankees; Mike Mayers (UM), Kansas City.

01 Feb


Former Mississippi State standout Jordan Westburg is ranked the No. 74 prospect in the minors by MLB Pipeline and is the only Mississippian on the list. The infielder, who reached Triple-A last summer and belted 27 homers at two levels, is one of eight Baltimore prospects in the Top 100. Atlanta is the only organization without a single player in the Top 100. … The Braves’ list of non-roster invitees to big league spring training includes a host of 2022 Mississippi Braves, among them outfielders Justin Dean and Cody Milligan, infielder Luke Waddell and pitchers Jared Shuster, Dylan Dodd and Victor Vodnik. … Ex-Biloxi High star Colt Keith, regarded as one of the top third base prospects in the minors, received a non-roster invite to Detroit’s major league camp, as did outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy, who played for the M-Braves last season before being traded. … MSU alum Justin Foscue and Mississippi College product Blaine Crim have received non-roster invitations to Texas’ big league camp. … Taylor Broadway, a former Ole Miss closer, is on Boston’s NRI list. Traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Red Sox last summer, the 2021 draftee reached Double-A. … Tampa Bay signed minor league free agent Gavin Collins, a former State standout, and invited him to big league camp. Catcher/third baseman Collins, 27, a 2016 draftee by Cleveland, played in the Guardians’ system in 2022. … Former Jackson Senators pitcher/coach Jeff Ware has been promoted to Toronto’s big league staff as assistant pitching coach. … Lindy’s 2023 preseason magazine rates Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez as the No. 3 draft prospect for this summer. Ex-Southern Miss pitcher Hurston Waldrep, now at Florida, is No. 17 on that 50-player chart, and Magnolia Heights shortstop Cooper Pratt is No. 46. P.S. NAIA member William Carey University, originally slated to open Mississippi’s college season on Feb. 2, will instead debut on Saturday with a doubleheader against Campbellsville in Hattiesburg. … On Friday, weather permitting, NCAA Division II Mississippi College hosts Arkansas-Monticello, NAIA Blue Mountain hosts Bethel and NAIA Rust visits Tuskegee.