Mississippi is giving pro scouts plenty of reasons to take notice.
The Under Armour All-American game on Saturday in Chicago was filled with players who had ties to the Magnolia State. Grae Kessinger, A.J. Brown and Thomas Dillard, all Mississippi residents, were in the showcase. Several Ole Miss and Mississippi State commits, including Mitchell Miller and Cooper Johnson, were featured as well.
A day later at the Perfect Game All-American Classic on Sunday in San Diego, Walker Robbins, who plays at George County in Mississippi and is a Mississippi State commit, had two hits and drove in the West’s only run.
What is it about Mississippi that is making it a hotbed for baseball and on the uptick in terms of producing players?
“There have always been good players, but they haven’t gotten the attention of a Texas or Georgia,” said Kessinger, an Oxford High rising senior who is committed to Ole Miss. “But we have kids working hard. We all want to prove we’re as good as all the other states.”
According to Baseball-Reference.com, 11 current major leaguers were born in Mississippi, led by the Twins’ Brian Dozier (Hattiesburg), the Reds’ Billy Hamilton (Collins) and the Rangers’ Mitch Moreland (Amory).
In the minors, Cleveland Indians prospect Bobby Bradley (Gulfport) is leading the Midwest League in home runs. Chicago Cubs lefthander Justin Steele (Lucedale) has a 2.25 ERA for the Eugene Emeralds in the Northwest League and third baseman Austin Riley (Southaven) received a $1.6 million bonus from the Atlanta Braves as a supplemental first-round pick in the June draft.
“Mississippi has always had intriguing athletes,” said Jim Callis, a longtime baseball draft analyst and senior writer for MLBPipeline.com. “It has happened sometimes that the track record of Mississippi players (drafted out of high school) hasn’t been great. A lot of them want to go into college. They are generally pretty raw and scouts want to see what they do in junior college and college.
“But it does seem like the talent the last few years is better than usual. There definitely have been some guys coming out of that area.”
It’s not just about Mississippi high school baseball, either. Ole Miss has made all but one NCAA tournament since 2002 and Mississippi State had made four consecutive appearance before missing the field in 2015. Both school are attracting talent from far beyond the south, but also doing well to keep talent in state.
“I’ve always watched Ole Miss baseball. I’ve always had a little bit of a soft spot for the school,” said Johnson, an Ole Miss commit from Carmel High in suburban Chicago.
“When I started to get recruited by them, I was really excited. I visited different schools throughout the country, and I fell in love with it when I went down there. Beautiful campus, great facilities, great coaches. It’s the full package.”
The competition in-state will only serve to help Mississippi baseball continue to grow at the high school level. Showcases such as the Under Armour game give the players a chance to show their state pride while also providing a glimpse of the future.
“The last two showcases I’ve been to, I’ve been with Mississippi State people and Ole Miss people, and we have our own friendly competition,” said Miller, a rising senior pitcher from Georgia who has committed to Mississippi State.
For Brown, his baseball career might end after his senior season in high school. A four-star wide receiver from Starkville, he has offers from Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and others. Brown is the second player selected for the Under Armour All-American games in football and basketball, joining Kyler Murray from Allen, Texas. While he says baseball is his “first love,” football will likely be his future.
“It’s hard because it’s football season, but then they told me I was going to be the second player to do both,” Brown told the Clarion Ledger. “I was like, that’s a huge honor. I have to go do this.”
Mississippi players might be headed to different schools, but they all shared a common theme when talking about their home state. Its size or perceived stature aren’t important.
“Just because you’re from Mississippi, it doesn’t mean anything. It may be a small state, but you can still go play in Chicago like this,” said Dillard, an Ole Miss-bound catcher from Oxford High, gesturing around Wrigley Field. “No matter where you’re from you can always make it.”