29 Mar

tough start

Quite the hard-luck day for the two Mississippi natives who got the nod as starting pitchers on Opening Day in the big leagues. Ocean Springs’ Garrett Crochet pitched brilliantly for the Chicago White Sox in his first career MLB start Thursday but was saddled with the loss when the ChiSox came up empty in a 1-0 defeat against Detroit. Much worse was what happened to Lucedale’s Justin Steele, who was sailing along in the fifth inning for the Cubs when he injured his left hamstring fielding a bunt. He is expected to land on the injured list with what was labeled a strain. “Spirits are high,” Steele told mlb.com postgame. “I’ll have a speedy recovery from this … . ” Steele, a 16-game winner in 2023, yielded three hits, a walk and a run with six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings in a game the Cubs would lose 4-3 at Texas. Crochet, a converted reliever, allowed one run (a sac fly) and five singles with eight strikeouts, including the first batter he faced, over six innings. “He’s got weapons to get people out. So he stood out there like a man today and did his job,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said in an nbcsportschicago.com article. One of the hits yielded by Crochet was an infield knock by Biloxi High product Colt Keith, who was making his MLB debut for the Tigers. The hit glanced off Crochet’s glove and rolled under the second baseman’s hand. “I was imagining a bomb to right-center, but that’ll work, too,” Keith said with a chuckle in a TV interview. For the record, the first hit (and RBI) of the season by a Mississippian (native or school alum) was a first-inning single by ex-Mississippi State star Jordan Westburg, whose Baltimore team whipped the Los Angeles Angels 11-3. P.S. Kudos to Southern Miss leadoff batter Dalton McIntyre, who banged out five hits and scored four times in the Golden Eagles’ 14-4 win over visiting Troy. USM (17-9, 5-2 Sun Belt) had 20 hits (six doubles) all told in the seven-inning game.

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.

12 Feb

opportunity knocks

A long wait is over for Spencer Turnbull. The ex-Madison Central High standout, cut loose (non-tendered) by Detroit in November, reportedly has signed with Philadelphia, a one-year, $2 million contract with incentives. Right-hander Turnbull became, on May 18, 2021, the first Mississippian (native or school alum) to throw a no-hitter in the big leagues. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA when he went down with an arm injury in June of that season. Since then, he has rarely been healthy. He missed the rest of the ’21 season and all of ’22 after Tommy John surgery and posted a 7.26 ERA for the Tigers in seven games in an injury-plagued 2023 season. Now 31, Turnbull is 12-29, 4.55, in 61 career appearances. He is expected to get a crack at the Phillies’ rotation in camp — which opens in Florida on Wednesday — but more likely will start the year in Triple-A. P.S. Five players with Mississippi ties are on USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award preseason Watch List: Konnor Griffin of Jackson Prep; Dakota Jordan of Mississippi State; Shane Lewis, a Warren Central alum now at Troy; Braden Montgomery, a Madison Central product now at Texas A&M; and Brett Sanchez of Belhaven University. The award goes to the top amateur player in the country. Former MSU star Will Clark won it in 1985.

28 Jan

big money, big expectations

Forty-five years ago this month, Mississippi native Dave Parker signed a five-year, $5 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, creating lots of buzz in the sports world by becoming the first MLB player to earn a million a year. Parker, a slugging outfielder, had been in the majors for six years at the time and was coming off an MVP campaign. Boy, have times changed. Today, the Detroit Tigers announced they have signed ex-Biloxi High star Colt Keith to a six-year, $28.6M contract with options that could push its value to $82M. Keith is 22 and has yet to play a game in the majors. The lefty-hitting infielder, rated the No. 22 prospect in the minors by MLB Pipeline, reportedly will get every opportunity to win the second base job this spring. Keith moved to Biloxi from Arizona in 2019 and was the state’s Gatorade player of the year that season. He was an Arizona State commit before the Tigers picked him in the fifth round of the curtailed 2020 draft and offered a $500,000 bonus. Keith, 6 feet 2, 211 pounds, batted .306 with 27 homers and 101 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. He also played in the All-Star Futures Game last summer. The Tigers are showing tremendous faith in Keith, who’ll certainly face a lot of pressure to perform when he cracks the Detroit lineup. It’s worth remembering that Parker, who helped Pittsburgh win the ’79 World Series, soon fell out of favor — to put it mildly — with Pirates fans when his production fell off and he left Pittsburgh as a free agent after the 1983 season.

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.

01 Dec

familiar territory

After a three-year hiatus, Dave Clark will be back on a major league staff in 2024. The ex-Jackson State star from Tupelo will be the first base coach for Houston and its new manager, Joe Espada. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Clark, who played a year for the Astros, coached five years with the club and even managed the team for 13 games in 2009. Clark last coached in MLB with Detroit from 2014-20; he spent last year as a manager in the Pioneer League, an independent developmental league. A renowned slugger at Shannon High and JSU — where he was a SWAC MVP — Clark was the 11th overall pick in the 1983 draft by Cleveland. Playing parts of 13 seasons with six teams in the majors, the lefty-hitting outfielder batted .264 with 62 home runs and 284 RBIs, finishing up with Houston in 1998. Expectations in Space City have changed considerably since Clark’s previous time there, 2009-13, when the team never had a winning season. The Astros lost to Texas in the American League Championship Series this past season under former skipper Dusty Baker and have made the postseason seven years in a row, winning two World Series in that span. … There are three players with Mississippi ties on the Astros’ current 40-man roster: former Mississippi State pitchers Kendall Graveman and J.P. France and ex-Ole Miss shortstop Grae Kessinger.

28 Nov

totally random

Exavier Pente Logan, better known as Nook, was born on this date in 1979 in Natchez. A switch-hitting center fielder, he had a nice, though brief, big league career, batting .268 with 56 steals in 321 games over four seasons. He likely was one of the fastest players ever from the state. All told, Logan stole 322 bases in pro ball. He was a third-round draft pick out of Copiah-Lincoln Community College by Detroit in 2000 and reached the majors in 2004. Twice he swiped 23 bases in a season, including his final season, 2007, with Washington, when he hit .265 with 21 RBIs and 39 runs in 118 games. In December of 2007, Logan — who played at 6 feet 2, 180 pounds and hit two career home runs — was among the players named in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs. He later admitted to using HGH to help him recover from an injury he suffered while in the minors. He never played another game in affiliated ball after 2007, though he did spend a couple of seasons in independent leagues.

21 Nov

market report

The Brandon Woodruff situation is intriguing. It was reported Monday that the former Mississippi State star, a free agent, is attracting attention from “a majority” of MLB clubs. He is a 30-year-old two-time All-Star with a career record of 46-26 and a 3.10 ERA. Of course, he may not be able to pitch in 2024 because of recent shoulder surgery. For that reason, cost-conscious Milwaukee non-tendered the big right-hander from Wheeler, who was due a raise for next season from the $10.8 million he made in 2023. When he was healthy last season, Woodruff was good: 5-1, 2.28. He figures to be quite a catch for a club that can afford to wait for his return. Injuries also have impacted the future of two other Mississippi products. Dakota Hudson and Spencer Turnbull also became free agents when their 2023 clubs did not offer a contract for next season. Ex-State star Hudson, who is 38-20, 3.84, for his MLB career, missed most of the 2021 season after suffering an arm injury late in 2020. A 16-game winner in 2019, he has struggled to recapture that form. He had some good moments in 2023 but apparently not enough for St. Louis — which needs starting pitching — to keep him around. Hudson is only 28; he also could be a nice catch. Turnbull, the former Madison Central High standout, threw a no-hitter in May of 2021 and was 4-2, 2.88, for Detroit that season when he went down with an arm injury. He hasn’t been the same since. He missed all of 2022 and was ailing most of last season, when he posted a 7.26 ERA in limited MLB time. At 31, he may still have some value as a back-end starter. So many teams need starting pitchers. To wit: Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, 36 and coming off very uneven season with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, has signed as a free agent with the Cardinals, his original club, for one year and $11M.

03 Oct

just rewards

Former Biloxi High star Colt Keith had a game on May 16 he’ll surely never forget. And now he has an award to commemorate it. Keith, playing for Double-A Erie in the Detroit system, went 6-for-6, hitting for the cycle, with two home runs and seven RBIs. Keith received MLB Network’s award for Best Single-Game Performance, announced during Monday night’s MiLB Awards Show. In his third pro season, Keith — Detroit’s No. 2 prospect — reached Triple-A and finished 2023 with a .306 average, 27 homers and 101 RBIs. An all-Mississippi minor league All-Star team would have to include Keith, who could slot in at second base, his secondary position. Here’s a position-by-position roster:
Starting pitcher: Will Warren (Jackson Prep), 10-4, 3.35 ERA, at Double-A and Triple-A (New York Yankees system)
Relief pitcher: Landon Harper (Southern Miss), 6-3, five saves, two holds, 3.34, in Low-Class A (Atlanta)
Catcher: Chuckie Robinson (USM), .290, 13 homers, 74 RBIs, at Triple-A (Cincinnati)
First base: Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), .289, 22 homers, 85 RBIs, at Triple-A (Texas)
Second base: Keith
Third base: Blaze Jordan (DeSoto Central High), .296, 18 homers, 86 RBIs, at High-A and Double-A (Boston)
Shortstop: Grae Kessinger (Ole Miss), .283, six homers, 32 RBIs, at Triple-A (now with Houston)
Outfield: Jake Mangum (Mississippi State), .298, five homers, 52 RBIs, 16 steals, at Triple-A (Miami); Emaarion Boyd (South Panola High), .262, 36 RBIs, 68 runs, 56 steals, in Low-A (Philadelphia); Davis Bradshaw (Meridian Community College), .314, .383 OBP, four triples, 47 runs, at High-A and Double-A (Miami)
DH: Tim Elko (UM), .295, 28 homers, 106 RBIs, in A-ball and Double-A (Chicago White Sox)
Utility: Justin Foscue (MSU), .266, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, in Triple-A (Texas)
P.S. The best season by a player drafted from the state this year was posted by USM product Matthew Etzel, a 10th-round selection by Baltimore who batted .323 with two homers, 25 RBIs and 21 steals in 30 games over three levels, topping out in High-A. Former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt, a sixth-rounder by Milwaukee, hit .356 in 12 games in rookie ball and won a championship. Kellum Clark, the last player picked (20th round) from the state out of MSU, hit .262 with a homer and eight RBIs in 22 games at the rookie and Low-A levels in the Mets’ system.

25 Sep

rounding third …

The 1-2 punch of Blaine Crim and Justin Foscue, a pair of Magnolia State college products, delivered again for Round Rock on Sunday and powered the Express into the Triple-A Pacific Coast League playoffs. Ex-Mississippi College star Crim went 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs and Mississippi State alum Justin Foscue added a double and two RBIs as Round Rock, a Texas affiliate, beat Tacoma 11-6. The Express, winners of seven of their last nine, will tangle with Oklahoma City (Los Angeles Dodgers) for the PCL title. Crim hit .289 with 22 homers and 85 RBIs in his fourth pro season. Foscue, the Rangers’ sixth-rated prospect in his third season, batted .266 with 18 homers and 84 RBIs. … Biloxi High product Colt Keith went 1-for-5 for Triple-A Toledo to finish his 2023 season with a .306 average, 27 home runs and 101 RBIs. Detroit’s No. 2 prospect, Keith, 22, played at Double-A and Triple-A this season, his third in the minors. … Kudos to Rick Sweet, who was the Jackson Generals’ first manager in 1991-92, for becoming Triple-A Nashville’s all-time winningest skipper with 321 victories over four seasons. Nashville is a Milwaukee farm club; ex-MSU standout Ethan Small went 2-4 with a 3.18 ERA and three saves in 38 games for Sweet’s Sounds this year. … In the big leagues, James McArthur, former Ole Miss star, struck out Yordan Alvarez with the tying run on base to save Kansas City’s 6-5 win at Houston, the last-place Royals’ third straight win vs. the Astros. Combined with Texas’ sweep at Seattle, the Astros are now 2.5 games back of the first-place Rangers in the American League West. McArthur, a rookie, has a win and two saves vs. Houston in his last five appearances. He has not allowed a run in 10 September games. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn posted a third straight strong start (two runs in six innings) for the playoff-bound Dodgers, who beat San Francisco 3-2 in 10 innings. On the heels of a pair of bad outings, the 36-year-old Lynn has allowed just seven runs in 18 innings (3.50 ERA) in his last three; he is 6-2, 4.50, since the Dodgers acquired him at the trade deadline. Lynn has extensive postseason experience, having made 27 appearances since 2011.