17 May

championship mettle

Among the most impressive aspects of James “Cool Papa” Bell’s career is the number of championship teams he played for during his Hall of Fame career. Bell, born on this date in Starkville in 1903, was a member of 11 teams that won — or claimed — league championships during his 25-year pro career. Known as one of the fastest players ever to suit up, Bell batted .325 for his career and is credited by baseball-reference.com with 285 steals in official Negro League games. Including exhibition games, winter league games and foreign leagues, his career steals total is likely double that and more. An eight-time All-Star, he was a leadoff batter and center fielder for three of the greatest franchises in the old Negro Leagues, winning nine pennants with the St. Louis Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays between 1922 and ’46. The Grays won two World Series titles with Bell. Bell also was on a championship team in the Dominican Republic in 1937 and the pennant-winning team in Mexican League in 1940. Bell, at age 37, won the league’s Triple Crown that year, batting .437 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs; he also stole 28 bases. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1974 and passed away in 1991. … On the subject of championship teams, Jackson Prep — led by the dynamic pro prospect Konnor Griffin — won its seventh straight title in MAIS, beating Presbyterian Christian for the 6A crown on Thursday night. P.S. On this date in 2010, at Yankee Stadium, former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames hit a walk-off two-run homer against ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon, giving New York an 11-9 win over Boston. It was the only walk-off bomb Thames hit among his 115 career homers, according to Baseball Almanac.

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.

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.

18 Sep

coming attraction

Former Jackson Prep standout Will Warren, now in the New York Yankees’ system, got some well-deserved recognition today from Baseball America in its daily Prospect Report. Warren threw five shutout innings Sunday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, yielding just two hits and striking out a career-high 10 batters. An eighth-round draft pick out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2021, Warren, 24, has allowed just one earned run over 23 2/3 innings in September. He has struck out 29, walked nine and limited opposing hitters to a .127 average. He is rated the Yankees’ No. 10 prospect by MLB Pipeline, which gives his estimated time of arrival in The Show as 2023. That may not happen, but he is close. The 6-foot-2 right-hander started this season in Double-A and went 3-0 with a 2.45 before moving up to S/W-B. He is 6-4 with a 3.71 in 20 games for the RailRiders. Warren features a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, which MLB Pipeline calls his “best weapon.”

06 Jul

show of arms

Mississippi State alum J.P. France was at it again on Wednesday, producing a sixth straight quality start for Houston and picking up the win in the surging Astros’ 6-4 victory over Colorado. The rookie right-hander (4-3, 3.26 ERA in 11 starts) yielded three runs in six innings as Houston moved within 2 games of first-place Texas in the American League West. France led a parade of Magnolia State products who delivered outstanding pitching performances on Wednesday. All-Star Justin Steele, the former George County High star, gave up three runs in six innings but got a no-decision in a game the Chicago Cubs would win 4-3 at Milwaukee; Columbus native Michael Rucker got the win in relief. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, ex-Jackson Prep standout Will Warren tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings for the New Yankees’ top farm club and improved to 4-3, 4.37, in eight starts there. The Southeastern Louisiana alum — the Yankees’ No. 7 prospect — was 3-0 in Double-A this season. In Double-A, former Southern Miss standout Walker Powell surrendered three runs (three solo homers) in six innings and got a no-decision in a game Tennessee (Cubs) would win 4-3 in 10 over Birmingham. The 6-foot-8 Powell is 4-4, 4.16, in 14 games for the Smokies. Topping that performance in High-A was Tyler Stuart, another USM product, who allowed two runs over six innings for Brooklyn (New York Mets) in a 4-3 win against Wilmington. Stuart, a 2022 draftee, is 4-0 with a 1.55 in 14 starts for the Cyclones. P.S. Houston’s rookie catcher Yainer Diaz hit two homers on Wednesday. The last two rookie catchers with a multi-homer game for the Astros were former Jackson Generals Mitch Meluskey (2000) and Tony Eusebio (1994). … St. Louis recalled ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson from the minors, but his second MLB appearance this season did not go as well as his first (two runs, two hits, three walks in 2 2/3 early relief). .. Oakland has designated Ole Miss alum Chad Smith for assignment; he had a 6.75 ERA in nine games.

10 Jun

sudden impact

On this date in 2002, Marcus Thames, a New York Yankees rookie, stepped to the plate in Yankee Stadium for his first big league at-bat and, on the first pitch he saw, blasted a home run off Randy Johnson, then pitching for Arizona. It was the first of 115 homers for Thames, a Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star who had a nice MLB career. It’s a cool memory, for sure, but Thames no doubt has other things on his mind today, namely the five-game win streak by the Los Angeles Angels that has pushed their record to 35-30, within 6.5 games of first place in the American League West. Thames is in his first year as the Angels’ hitting coach, and he has had a positive impact. The Angels’ offense was a mess in 2022, despite the presence of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. They went 73-89 and finished 26th in the majors in on-base percentage, 25th in runs and first (as in worst) in strikeouts. Under Thames’ direction, their OBP (.333) as well as batting average (.256) are up, and they are averaging more runs per game (4.8) and fewer strikeouts (8.7). Thames, widely regarded as a good coach, was the victim of staff purges by the Yankees and Miami the last two years. He quickly found work with Phil Nevin’s Angels and promised an “aggressive in the zone” approach. It appears to be working, much like it did for him on that memorable first AB 21 years ago. … Things are not going so well for Buck Showalter’s New York Mets, who have lost seven in a row and tumbled to 30-34, 9.5 games out in the National League East. They’ve also lost slugger Pete Alonso to the injured list. Showalter, the ex-Mississippi State star in his second season as manager of the Mets, is already rumored to be on the hot seat despite winning manager of the year honors with a playoff team in 2022. He said he remained proud of his current club after they blew late leads and lost three times to the archenemy Atlanta Braves. They then lost to the low-budget Pittsburgh Pirates 14-7 on Friday. (Ke’Bryan Hayes — son of Hattiesburg native Charlie — went 5-for-5 with four RBIs for the Bucs, who are 33-29.) The Mets have the largest payroll in baseball; owner Steve Cohen can’t be happy with what has happened this season.

02 Jun

the babe chronicles

On this date in 1935, Babe Ruth announced his retirement at age 40. He was the game’s preeminent slugger at the time — “the Sultan of Swat, The Colossus of Clout, the King of Crash” — with 714 home runs, a record that would stand for 39 years. By weird coincidence, a collection of Mississippi natives have significant links to Ruth’s big league career. To wit: When Ruth debuted as a 19-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, the opposing starter was Pleasant Grove native Willie Mitchell of the Cleveland Naps. Mitchell struck out Ruth in his first at-bat, but Ruth won the game and Mitchell took the loss. After the 1919 season, his first as a full-time hitter, Ruth was famously traded by Boston to the New York Yankees, where he became the right fielder in 2020, displacing Batesville native Sammy Vick at that position. The two reportedly became fast friends, but Vick’s playing time decreased dramatically and he was traded after the season. In the 1932 World Series, when Ruth gestured and then smacked his legendary “Called Shot” home run at Wrigley Field, he was responding to abuse from the Chicago Cubs dugout, where Aberdeen native Guy Bush was among the most vocal bench jockeys. Three years later, on May 25, 1935, an aging Ruth, playing for the Boston Braves, hit the last three home runs of his career. Nos. 713 and 714, both massive clouts at Forbes Field, came against Bush, then pitching for Pittsburgh. Five days later, Ruth played his final game. At the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, in his lone at-bat in the top of the first inning, he was retired on a ground ball by Jackson native Jim Bivin, pitching in his one and only big league season. Ruth was then replaced in left field by Ludlow native Hal Lee, who would go on to bang out three hits that day. Ruth was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

26 May

the hot list

If Dalton Rogers was overshadowed a bit on Southern Miss’ outstanding pitching staff in 2022, that is not the case now that he is in the Boston Red Sox’s system. A third-round pick by Boston last year, Rogers was named one of the 30 “Hottest Pitching Prospects” this month by MLB Pipeline. The left-hander, a Northwest Rankin High alum, had a 2.49 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 13 walks in 21 1/3 innings over six starts at Low-Class A Salem when he was promoted on Wednesday. He went 4 1/3 for High-A Greenville in his debut that night, allowing three hits and one run (a homer) while fanning seven and walking four against Rome, Atlanta’s affiliate. (Greenville won the game 7-1 as ex-DeSoto Central High star Blaze Jordan homered and drove in four runs. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product Brandon Parker struck out twice for the R-Braves against Rogers.) Rated the Red Sox’s No. 24 prospect on mlb.com, the 5-foot-11 Rogers has a “drop-and-drive delivery” that gives him “exceptional carry on his (low-90s) heater,” according to the scouting report. Rogers transferred to USM in 2022 from Jones College, where he was an All-MACCC pick in 2021. He had a 1.95 ERA and six saves in 23 games for a Golden Eagles team that featured Tanner Hall and Hurston Waldrep and was oh-so-close to a College World Series trip. … Also on the “Hottest Prospects” list is former Jackson Prep standout Will Warren, now in Triple-A with the New York Yankees. A third-year pro, Warren was 3-0 with a 2.45 in Double-A but has had a couple of bumpy outings since moving to the new level.

12 May

have a year

Has any team in the state had a better year than William Carey University? Short answer: No. While some of the traditionally strong programs in the Magnolia State have had some struggles, Carey thrived in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Bobby Halford’s Crusaders are 44-9, won the SSAC regular season title with a 22-2 mark, climbed to No. 8 in the final NAIA coaches poll and earned a regional host role in the NAIA Tournament. The Crusaders swept the SSAC individual honors, with Halford — in his 38th season — winning coach of the year, R.J. Stinson player of the year and Andrew Shirah pitcher of the year. Three other Crusaders were named first-team all-conference. Carey fell short of winning the SSAC Tournament but has a chance to make amends in the five-team NAIA Opening Round tournament it will host at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg starting Monday. The Crusaders will open Monday night against the winner of the Union (Ky.)–Houston-Victoria game earlier in the day. Hats off to Halford, a former Carey player and assistant who has had just one losing season in his long tenure as head coach. He is approaching 1,300 career wins — and has something else to shoot for. He took his 2017 team to the NAIA World Series in Idaho, where they finished third, the school’s best finish since winning the 1969 national championship. P.S. Will Warren, the former Jackson Prep (and Southeastern Louisiana) standout, got some recognition in Baseball America’s daily prospect report. A top pitching prospect in the New York Yankees’ organization, Warren threw six scoreless innings for Double-A Somerset on Thursday to run his record to 3-0 and trim his ERA to 2.45. “Warren may be one of the more underrated pitching prospects in the game,” BA reports.

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.