20 Jul

twin valleys

The Chicago Cubs, trying to stay relevant in the playoff chase, sent their hottest pitcher to the Wrigley Field mound on Friday. Visiting Arizona sent Justin Steele to the showers in the fifth inning. Not what the Cubs were expecting. The Diamondbacks, also aiming for a second-half push, rolled to a 5-2 win, stopping Lucedale native Steele’s streak of quality starts at seven. The left-hander allowed five runs in his 4 2/3 innings and fell to 2-4, his ERA rising to 3.07. He had allowed just one run in 16 innings in winning his previous two starts. The Diamondbacks got to him for nine hits, two walks and an HBP. “It’s a good lineup over there,” Steele said in an mlb.com piece. “Obviously — they were in the World Series last year.” The Cubs fell to 47-52, last in the National League Central and 3.5 games back of the wild card cut. … Meanwhile, Chicago’s other team, the White Sox, suffered what was not a wholly unexpected result in their first game after the All-Star break. The worst team in baseball lost at Kansas City 7-1. Former Southern Miss standout Chuckie Robinson, called up from Triple-A Charlotte on Friday, watched from the bench as the ChiSox fell to 27-72. Maybe he can help. The 29-year-old catcher was batting .246 with seven homers and 32 RBIs for the Knights. Now in his eighth pro season, Robinson got into 25 games with Cincinnati is 2022, batting .136 with two homers. P.S. Down in the minors, Mississippi State product Preston Johnson threw two innings as part of a four-man no-hitter by Aberdeen, Baltimore’s High-Class A affiliate. A 2022 draftee, Johnson has a 5.64 ERA this season. … David Fletcher, erstwhile MLB infielder and current Mississippi Braves knuckleballer, notched his first win of the season as Atlanta’s Double-A club rallied to beat Pensacola 5-4. Fletcher (1-2, 4.82) allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings. … Ole Miss alum Josh Mallitz, a right-hander, has signed as an undrafted free agent with San Diego, per Baseball America.

07 Jul

star gazing

Garrett Crochet, the Ocean Springs High product who leads the American League in strikeouts, was justly rewarded with a spot on the American League All-Star team. Crochet is 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA and 146K’s for the Chicago White Sox. The rosters were announced Sunday on ESPN; there will be changes before the game is played on July 16 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Also making the AL team was former Biloxi Shuckers pitcher Corbin Burnes, now with Baltimore. He is 9-3, 2.32. Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, made the National League roster as a reserve. Ex-M-Braves catcher William Contreras, now with Milwaukee, previously was voted in as a starter by fans. … The full list of Home Run Derby (July 15) participants has yet to be revealed. It would be a treat to see Nathaniel Lowe of the hometown Texas Rangers, Brent Rooker, Hunter Renfroe or Austin Riley in the derby. Each of those Mississippi products has light-tower power. … Magnolia Heights High product Cooper Pratt is slated to participate in the July 13 All-Star Futures Game for minor league prospects at Globe Life. He is No. 4 on Milwaukee’s chart. … The All-Star festivities get started on July 12 with the HBCU Swingman Classic. The Magnolia State will be well-represented with six Jackson State players and one each from Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State on the rosters. This is the second annual all-star game for players from NCAA Division I historically black schools. JSU’s Joseph Eichelberger, Robert Tate Jr., Lenny Montesano, Rodney Hibler Jr., Christian Womble and Isaiah Williams are joined on the rosters by Valley’s Dreylin Holmes and Alcorn’s Garrett Palladino. Former big leaguers Ken Griffey Sr. and Lloyd McClendon will manage the two teams. … Of note: The only other time the Texas Rangers hosted the All-Star Game was 1995, when former Mississippi State standout Buck Showalter managed the AL team in a 3-2 loss at The Ballpark in Arlington. He was manager of the New York Yankees, who had the best record in the AL when the 1994 season was halted by a players strike.

04 Jul

trade winds

Garrett Crochet and Matt Wallner picked up some nice awards on Wednesday. Rumor has it that both might soon have to pick up and move to new organizations. Crochet, the former Ocean Springs High (and Tennessee) standout, won the American League pitcher of the month award for June; the left-hander posted a 1.91 ERA and struck out 56 batters in 37 2/3 innings for the Chicago White Sox. Wallner, Southern Miss’ all-time home run leader, was named the Triple-A International League hitter of the month; the lefty slugger batted .324 with 12 homers, 28 RBIs and 27 runs for St. Paul in the Minnesota system. Crochet, 25, making just $800,000 this year and three years from free agency, is considered by some the most attractive pitching target for buyers. The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly already have made an offer for Crochet, and San Diego and Baltimore have been mentioned as possible suitors. In his first season as a starter, Crochet is 6-6 with a 3.02 ERA for a weak White Sox club. He is a likely All-Star. Wallner, sent to the minors in mid-April because he wasn’t hitting, has perked up at St. Paul (.255, 19 homers, 53 RBIs), and the Twins are said to be “getting calls” on the 26-year-old outfielder. Wallner’s power is intriguing; he has 17 MLB homers in 107 games. Plus, he has a big throwing arm. He is making just $746K in 2024 and is six years from free agency. … The Dodgers, among other clubs, are also said to be interested in Oakland outfielder Brent Rooker, the ex-Mississippi State standout who hit his 17th homer on Wednesday. The MLB trade deadline is July 30. P.S. Austin Riley did not win a player of the month award — and definitely isn’t on the trade market — but the former DeSoto Central star had a June worthy of mention. The Atlanta third baseman, sluggish out of the gate this season, hit .289 (.373 OBP) with six homers, 13 RBIs and 17 runs for the month. With 144 career homers, including one in July, he has caught Charlie Hayes for 11th place on the all-time home run list for Mississippians.

18 Jun

around the horn

Former Ole Miss stars Jacob Gonzalez and Tim Elko are expected to take part in tonight’s minor league showcase at Birmingham’s venerable Rickwood Field. Gonzalez and Elko, prospects for the Chicago White Sox, play for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, who will wear the uniform of the Black Barons in tribute to the Negro League club that played at Rickwood decades ago. The visiting Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay affiliate) will play as the Gray Sox. The game will be televised by MLB Network at 6 p.m. MLB’s Negro Leagues tribute game at Rickwood, the country’s oldest professional ballpark, between San Francisco and St. Louis is set for Thursday night. … Former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner was named the International League player of the week (June 11-16) after going 14-for-27 (.519) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs in six games for St. Paul, Minnesota’s Triple-A club. Wallner, who hit a 481-foot homer on Sunday, has 16 bombs for the Saints and is batting .250 with 43 RBIs since the Twins sent him down in mid-April. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley had two more hits in Atlanta’s 2-1 win over Detroit on Monday and is 9-for-26 (.346) with three homers and eight RBIs in his last seven games. … If the name of the Texas A&M pitcher who was mowing down Kentucky hitters Monday in the College World Series sounds familiar, it might be because Ryan Prager is the son of former Jackson Generals standout Howard Prager. The younger Prager threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings before yielding a pair of knocks in the Aggies’ 5-1 win. He is 9-1 with a 2.88 ERA. His father played first base for the Double-A Generals, a Houston affiliate, in 1991-92 and reached Triple-A in St. Louis’ system. BTW, Kentucky’s hitting coach is former Mississippi State catcher Nick Ammirati, previously an assistant at Hinds Community College and USM.

17 Jun

powering up

The projected home run tally for Jordan Westburg this season was 11, according to Lindy’s Baseball 2024 Preview. Forget that. A month before the All-Star break, the former Mississippi State star already has hit 11. He reached that mark on Sunday with a blast against Zack Wheeler, one of four homers Baltimore hit against the Philadelphia ace in an 8-3 victory. Second-year big leaguer Westburg is hitting .278 with 42 RBIs, 37 runs and six steals in 66 games; he is going to get some consideration for the American League All-Star team. In the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby for 2024, Westburg stands second to Brent Rooker, the ex-MSU standout who has hit 13 bombs for Oakland. To this point in 2024, the once-promising derby competition is a two-horse race. Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, led all MLB Mississippians (native or school alum) with 37 homers in 2023. Rooker followed with 30, and three others hit double figures. Lindy’s projected Riley to hit 35 in 2024, and he may be starting to perk up after a tough start. He has six, one each in Atlanta’s last three games. Riley’s homer on Sunday came hours after he learned that his personal hitting coach Mike Brumley had died in a car accident; Riley pointed and looked to the sky as he rounded first base. “He was in the back of my mind really all day,” Riley said in an mlb.com piece. No other Mississippi product has more than six homers this season. MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, tied with Riley at six, was just starting to slug for Kansas City when he went on the injured list with a foot injury. He hit 20 homers last season and was projected at 17 for 2024. Nathaniel Lowe, another State alum, has hit just two for Texas. He hit 17 last year and 27 in 2022. His power outage is a concern for the defending but fading World Series champs. Colt Keith, the Detroit rookie from Biloxi High, hit 27 in the minors last year and was projected to go deep 10 times for the Tigers this season; he has three. Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner hit 14 for Minnesota in 2023 and was projected for 16 this year. He has 17 — but 16 of those have come in the minors, where he is today. P.S. The Chicago White Sox added USM product Chuckie Robinson to their 40-man roster on Sunday but did not call him up to the big leagues. Robinson, a catcher who got some big league time with Cincinnati two years ago, is hitting .228 with six homers and 25 RBIs at Triple-A Charlotte.

14 Jun

just stuff

There were some notable home runs on Thursday: Nacho Alvarez, promoted from the Mississippi Braves to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, hit his first home run of 2024, helping the Stripers beat Nashville 8-7. … Geraldo Quintero of the M-Braves hit his second homer of the season and his second at Rocket City, in Madison, Ala., where the M-Braves won a “home” game 7-5 on the playable field conditions of Toyota Field. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner blasted two homers for Triple-A St. Paul (Minnesota affiliate) and now has six this month and 13 overall for the Saints. … DeSoto Central High alum Blaze Jordan hit his third homer and first since coming off the injured list Wednesday (see previous post) for Double-A Portland (Boston). … In the big leagues, former M-Braves standout Justyn-Henry Malloy, in his ninth MLB game, hit his second homer for Detroit and first at Comerica Park in a Tigers win. … There were also some notable pitching performances, most notably Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet’s outing for the Chicago White Sox in a 3-2, 10-inning win at Seattle. The big left-hander struck out a career-best 13 while allowing two hits and one run in seven innings. He is now tied for the MLB lead with 116 punchouts. … Lucedale native Justin Steele also got a no-decision, throwing six shutout innings for the Cubs in their loss to Tampa Bay. Steele has a 3.22 ERA in nine starts but has yet to register a win. … Brandon native Will Warren, pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees), took a shutout into the sixth inning against Rochester before yielding a three-run homer and departing the game. He got a no-decision in the RailRiders’ loss. After a brutal May, Jackson Prep product Warren (4-4, 7.01, on the year) has a 2.81 ERA in three June starts. P.S. Former Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. has been released by Kansas City. A second-round pick in 2018 by Milwaukee, Gray was batting .136 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He hit .213 for his career with 51 homers and 70 steals, never having any success above A-ball. Only 24, he might draw some interest from independent teams.

13 Jun

cruise control

Before he went on the injured list on May 12 with a broken finger, Blaze Jordan was cruising along on a 17-game hitting streak. He returned to the Double-A Portland lineup on Wednesday and got right back in gear. The DeSoto Central High product — Boston’s No. 19 prospect — banged out a two-run double in his first at-bat and finished 2-for-5 in the Sea Dogs’ 5-4 win at Reading. After a sputtering start to his first full year in Double-A, the 21-year-old Jordan is hitting .288 with two homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs in 27 games. A renowned power hitter in his amateur days, Jordan was a third-round draft pick as a 17-year-old by the Red Sox in 2020. His power potential began to show last season, when he hit 18 homers between High-Class A Greenville and Portland. He batted .324 in 73 games at Greenville and was named a South Atlantic League postseason All-Star; he was also a Red Sox Organization All-Star for the second straight year. Jordan, who goes 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, is a corner infielder whose future may be at first base. His right-handed stroke seemingly is well-suited for Fenway Park. P.S. A couple of former Ole Miss stars are playing major roles for Birmingham, which has the best record (38-21) in the Double-A Southern League. Shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, promoted from A-ball last month, is hitting .321 after a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort in a 4-3 win Wednesday against Pensacola. He has a homer, 15 RBIs and 14 runs in 21 games for the Barons, a Chicago White Sox affiliate. Tim Elko, the Barons’ first baseman/DH, is hitting .298 — fourth in the SL — and ranks in the top 10 with six homers and 28 RBIs. Gonzalez — a first-round pick in 2023 — and Elko — 10th round, 2022 — were teammates on Ole Miss’ ’22 national championship club. … Hunter Renfroe has a bone bruise in his left foot, not a broken toe, the Kansas City Royals have announced. The former Mississippi State standout went on the IL on Tuesday. His recovery time likely will be shorter than originally expected.

08 Jun

white knight

Mired in a franchise-record 14-game losing streak and coming off a woeful performance on Thursday, the lowly Chicago White Sox sent Garrett Crochet out to ride to their rescue on Friday night. The 6-foot-6 left-hander from Ocean Springs delivered the W — with a little help from his posse. In a 7-2 win over Boston at Guaranteed Rate Field, Crochet pitched six innings, allowing three hits and two runs with two walks and 10 strikeouts. “That guy is a (expletive) stud,” Boston’s Jarren Duran told mlb.com. Crochet, converted to starter this spring, now owns six of the White Sox’s 16 wins. He is 6-5 with a 3.33 ERA and ranks second in MLB with 103 K’s. Crochet was also the winning pitcher in the team’s previous victory — back on May 21. One of the runs he allowed Friday was the result of his own bad throw and the other came on a bizarre steal of home by Duran. Rookie Jonathan Cannon pitched the final three innings for his first save. Luis Robert Jr., Gavin Sheets and Andrew Vaughn homered for the ChiSox — a welcome sight for hitting coach Marcus Thames, the ex-East Central Community College star whose charges entered Friday’s game last in MLB in hitting and runs and tied for last in homers. (Crochet notwithstanding, the pitching ain’t so good either: The staff ranks next-to-last in ERA and runs allowed.) P.S. Nacho Alvarez, Atlanta’s top-rated position player prospect, returned to the Double-A Mississippi Braves’ lineup at shortstop and went 1-for-5 with an RBI in a 2-1 loss at Pensacola. Alvarez had been out since May 30 with a minor injury. … Zach Allen has been elevated to head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Pascagoula native Allen, who played at Jones JC and William Carey, was an assistant to Bob Keller the last three years. The Bulldogs went 26-22 in 2024 and missed the MACCC postseason. … The New Albany-based Cotton States League is scheduled to begin its 16th season today. The wood-bat college summer league has four teams this year, comprised mainly of players from small colleges and jucos around the state. … The Cape Cod League’s season begins next Saturday, and there is a smattering of Mississippi alums in what is regarded as the premier summer loop for collegians. Southern Miss’ Davis Gillespie, Nick Monistere and Kros Sivley are among those on the preliminary rosters, along with Ole Miss’ Andrew Fischer, Luke Hill, Campbell Smithwick and Patrick Galle and Mississippi State’s Luke Dotson, Cam Schuelke and Dylan Cupp. The rosters will change frequently as the season progresses.

02 Jun

connect four (plus one)

Spencer Turnbull had been a little erratic since moving to the Philadelphia bullpen in early May, but he was a smooth operator on Saturday in a clutch relief situation. The big right-hander out of Madison Central High threw three hitless innings for the mighty Phillies in a 6-1 win over St. Louis, notching his first win since April 19, when he was in the rotation. After starter Ranger Suarez departed Saturday’s game (line drive off his pitching hand in the second inning), the Phillies turned the game over to the bullpen. Turnbull worked innings 4-6. His ERA was 1.67 in his six starts to begin the season. He moved to the pen to accommodate the return of Taijuan Walker, and his ERA was 7.00 over his first six relief appearances, a new role for the six-year veteran. Saturday’s effort was nearly perfect. “Turnbull really picked us up tonight,” manager Rob Thomson told mlb.com. “If he does have to make Ranger’s (next) start, I am comfortable with him at 80 pitches, five (innings) — something like that.” … Three other Mississippi high school products pitched in MLB games on Saturday: George County alum Justin Steele, in his sixth start since coming off the injured list, wasn’t sharp on a rainy day in Chicago. He yielded seven hits and four walks in five innings against Cincinnati, but four of the five runs he was charged with were unearned. The Cubs rallied late to win 7-5. Steele, a 2023 All-Star, remains winless with a 4.10 ERA. … Ocean Springs product Garrett Crochet turned in another sizzling effort for the White Sox: one run over six innings with eight strikeouts. But the lowly ChiSox blew a lead and lost to Milwaukee 4-3. Crochet, in his first season as a starter, is 5-5 with a 3.49 for a 15-44 team. … Former Tupelo High star Chris Stratton threw a scoreless inning for Kansas City in a 7-3 loss to San Diego. Stratton has a 5.76 ERA, two wins, three saves and three holds in 23 relief appearances for the Royals. P.S. In the NCAA Tournament, a fifth state prep product, Niko Mazza out of MRA, delivered one of the best pitching performances of the postseason: a two-hit shutout in a 6-0 elimination game win for Southern Miss against Northern Kentucky in the Knoxville Regional. Mazza registered his ninth win of the year.

23 May

early returns

Two games in, it appears that Jacob Gonzalez was ready for the challenge of Double-A baseball. The former Ole Miss standout is off to a 6-for-10 start for Birmingham. On Wednesday at Biloxi, the lefty-hitting shortstop doubled, homered, drove in two runs and scored twice in the Barons’ 8-4 win at MGM Park. Gonzalez’s homer came as part of a five-run 10th inning in which his former Rebels teammate Tim Elko also went yard, his fourth of the season. Gonzalez was the 15th overall pick by the Chicago White Sox in 2023 following a decorated career in Oxford, where he won a national title. He hit just .211 with four extra-base hits in rookie ball and Low-Class A last season, but that surely was an anomaly for the ChiSox’s No. 7 prospect. The California native, who goes 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, was batting .273 with three homers and 15 RBIs at High-A Winston-Salem this year before his promotion. P.S. Spencer Schwellenbach delivered another sparkling performance for the Mississippi Braves on Wednesday, throwing seven shutout innings to beat host Chattanooga. In two Double-A outings, the 23-year-old right-hander has yet to allow a run over 13 innings, yielding five hits, two walks and striking out 17. He is Atlanta’s No. 3 prospect. … Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison — the 22nd overall pick by Colorado in 2018 — made a rehab appearance in rookie ball on Tuesday, throwing a scoreless inning. The oft-injured left-hander, once a highly rated prospect on the cusp of making the majors, made just four appearances in 2023 and none in 2022. He is currently on the Triple-Albuquerque roster. … Demarcus Evans, the onetime big leaguer from Petal, was released by Charleston of the independent Atlantic League after four appearances (12.46 ERA). He had signed with a Mexican League club in February but never pitched there. The big right-hander, 27, didn’t pitch at all in 2023 while in the New York Yankees’ organization. He has a 2.76 career ERA in the minors, a 4.75 in the majors.