By Mike Christensen
The names began to pop up on the draft tracker fairly early on Day 1 and continued popping through the final round on Day 3. All told, 23 players from Mississippi schools were selected over the 20 rounds of this week’s Major League Baseball draft.
“It’s a testament to baseball in the state how many kids were drafted,” said a big league scout who has covered Mississippi for many years. “It just shows you the depth of talent here. And there were a few more who could’ve been picked but weren’t because of the limited number of rounds.”
By comparison, Louisiana and Alabama, more populous states, had 15 and 14 players drafted, respectively. Georgia, one of the country’s baseball hotbeds, had 28 players picked.
There were no first-round picks from Mississippi this year — there were two in 2021 — but the final total was almost twice the number picked a year ago, when the draft was also just 20 rounds. It had been 40 rounds for several years before dropping to five rounds in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The 2022 picks ranged from Mississippi State pitcher Landon Sims at No. 34 overall to Arizona to Meridian Community College outfielder Ke’Shun Collier at No. 593 in Round 20 to the Chicago Cubs.
There were some surprises, per usual. The third player selected from the state wasn’t ranked among the top 200 draft prospects by either Baseball America or MLB Pipeline. That was Southern Miss left-hander Dalton Rogers, who went 99th overall in the third round to Boston. The first player picked from national champion Ole Miss was right-hander Derek Diamond, who had a tough junior year (4-4, 6.89 ERA). He was selected in the sixth round, 170th overall by Pittsburgh, 11 picks higher than College World Series hero and staff ace Dylan DeLucia.
Ole Miss saw seven of its players drafted. Seven MSU players also were picked, including the first position player from the state to go, catcher Logan Tanner at overall pick No. 55 in Round 2 to Cincinnati. Five USM players were drafted, all pitchers. William Carey’s Chris Williams Jr. was picked from the NAIA school in the 18th round by Detroit. South Panola outfielder Emaarion Boyd went in the 11th round to Philadelphia and Tishomingo County shortstop Spence Coffman in the 19th round to San Diego as the only high school players selected.
“It’s a huge badge of honor to be drafted,” the scout said. “It’s much harder to be drafted now than it used to be.”
Twelve players from the state were drafted on Day 3, which included Rounds 11-20. Late round picks do make it to the big leagues. Brian Dozier was an eighth-rounder out of USM, Corey Dickerson an eighth-rounder out of Meridian CC and Mitch Moreland a 17th-rounder out of State. All three became All-Stars. Jarrod Dyson was a 50th-round pick out of Southwest Mississippi CC, played 12 seasons in the majors and won a World Series ring. Nine players in the 2022 MLB All-Star game were drafted after the 10th round.
MSU’s Sims, who has electric stuff, likely would have been a first-rounder had it not been for an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in March, ending his junior season and postponing the start of his pro career at least until 2023.
“Track record counts,” the scout said. “Talent-wise, (Sims) was top 40, easy. Whether he was top 10, 15, that’s debatable. Is he going to start or relieve? But he was rewarded for his talent. Players that good can overcome an injury; we’ve seen that with other guys recently.”
Sims posted a 1.44 ERA as a freshman and sophomore reliever at State and was a key figure in the national title run in 2021. He was moved to starter this past season. “It’s a big fastball that can miss bats and a plus slider,” Diamondbacks scouting director Ian Rebhan told mlb.com. “We think he has a chance to be a starter.”
Tanner was the fourth catcher drafted in what was regarded as a good year for college backstops. Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst went in the sixth round to Kansas City as the 12th catcher drafted. Dunhurst was rated the best defensive catcher in the country by Baseball America, and Tanner was No. 3. The question about both is the bat.
“Both of those guys have a lot of talent,” the scout said. “Both had better numbers as sophomores, and there can be a lot of factors in that, so you look at their full body of work.”
Tanner hit .285 with seven homers this season; he hit 15 bombs in 2021. Dunhurst batted just .231 with six homers but had some big knocks in the postseason.
USM, which won its NCAA regional before falling to Ole Miss in a Super Regional, was among the national leaders in staff ERA under pitching guru Christian Ostrander. The Golden Eagles’ ace, All-America first-teamer and Ferriss Trophy winner Tanner Hall, isn’t eligible for the draft until next year. Rogers, who had a 1.95 ERA and six saves in 23 games, was followed by Tyler Stuart (sixth round/New York Mets), Landon Harper (14th round/Atlanta), Ben Ethridge (15th round/Minnesota) and Garrett Ramsey (16th round/Boston).
“Pitching was the strength of their team and that certainly showed in the draft,” the scout said. “The pitching coach (Ostrander) there does a phenomenal job of developing pitchers.”
Stuart (4-0, 3.38 ERA, in 22 games for USM) was part of a Mets draft haul that was rated No. 1 by mlb.com.
Ole Miss right-hander DeLucia (8-2, 3.68) certainly captured the attention of scouts with his postseason work, and he was drafted in the sixth round by Cleveland. Rebels closer Brandon Johnson (4.32 ERA, 12 saves) was picked in the ninth round by Kansas City.
Four Ole Miss position players were selected: Dunhurst, first baseman Tim Elko (10th round/Chicago White Sox), outfielder Kevin Graham (14th round/Arizona) and infielder Justin Bench (17th round/San Francisco). Elko, who belted a school-record 24 homers, and State’s Brad Cumbest (15 homers), who went to Colorado in the ninth round, were among the top power hitters in the state.
Also drafted out of MSU were pitcher Preston Johnson (seventh round/Baltimore), pitcher K.C. Hunt (12th round/Pittsburgh), pitcher Jackson Fristoe (12th round/New York Yankees) and infielder Kamren James (16th round/Tampa Bay).
Carey’s Williams was drafted as an outfielder but was all-conference as both a hitter and pitcher. The left-hander is the first Crusaders player drafted since 2018.
Speed is the key tool for both of the high school draftees, who have a tough call to make deciding between pro ball or college. The 6-foot-1, 177-pound Boyd, a Northwest Mississippi Community College commit, was rated No. 245 by mlb.com on its draft prospect chart. Coffman, 6-1, 174, a three-sport standout at Tishomingo, signed with Southeastern Louisiana.
Several prep prospects who appeared in pre-draft rankings presumably chose to honor their college commitments. Some but not all of the college players have eligibility remaining and can opt to return to school if the signing bonus offer doesn’t meet their expectations.