GAME DAY PROGRAM FEATURE STORY: Mississippi Made Brewers
Whether by pure chance or formulated plan, the Milwaukee Brewers 2019 draft has taken a pair of high school travel ball teammates, turned college rivals, and reunited them within the same organization. Mississippi State star left-handed pitcher Ethan Small and Ole Miss catcher Thomas Dillard had their usual preseason meetings with members of the Brewers scouting department, but when draft day arrived there was little sense of who may come calling.
“I honestly had no idea who would draft me until about two minutes before the pick was made,” Small admitted. After Small was selected in the first round and Dillard a day later in the fifth, the duo quickly connected through texts before shipping out to the Brewers Spring Training facility in Arizona.
“We hung out a lot over those first few days while figuring everything out, Dillard said. “It was really cool to face him this year and see the success that he had but now getting to team up with him is awesome because he’s a really great competitor on the mound.” Small was named SEC Pitcher of the Year and finished the season going 10-2 with a 1.93 ERA and help pitch the Bulldogs to a trip to the College World Series in Omaha.
The two SEC standouts highlight the next wave of Mississippi talents that fans can soon expect to see on the field at MGM Park. The newest draft class also continues a trend for the Brewers of seeking talents within the state that show as impactful big leaguers in the future. Mississippi State alum and 2016 Biloxi Shucker Brandon Woodruff is exactly that, parlaying his success in the Southern League to becoming a National League All-Star, a development Milwaukee hopes to duplicate with their newest prospects.
“He texted me either the day of or the day after to congratulate me and when I went up to Milwaukee to sign I sat and talked to him for about ten minutes in the locker room,” Small said of Woodruff. He’s walked the path before me and now I get to look up to him.” Woodruff was selected in the 11th round of the 2014 draft and in 2016 pitched his way to Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year, going 10-8 with a 3.01 ERA over 20 games with Biloxi.
Situated in the middle of the Brewers Mississippi State lineage is current Biloxi Shucker Daniel Brown. The Shuckers lefty bullpen arm played two seasons for the Bulldogs and was a part of the 2016 club that featured Small his freshman season and made a visit to MGM Park. “After playing in Biloxi and in Pearl as well it always made me think about playing as a professional at those ballparks one day and luckily it has panned out and I’ve gotten to do that,” Brown smiled.
Brown added high praise for his former teammate as well and expressed confidence the Brewers have found a unique talent in their top-pick. “He’s a great guy, great pitcher, great competitor. So it will be fun to see him around the complex and see how he turns out in his pro career because he is going to be a great pick.”
Growing up in Lexington, Tennessee, Small frequented Southern League games as a kid and after playing at MGM Park in college, a chance to put on the Shuckers uniform would be a full-circle moment in his young career. “I always wanted to play in the Southern League I just thought it might not be realistic because it depends on who you get drafted by. Knowing there’s now a possibility to play in Biloxi, that would be pretty special.”
Dillard’s 2017 Diamond Rebels ball club also made the stop through Biloxi in March of 2017 for a meeting with Nicholls State, a trip that also impacted him as a freshman. “It was a really interesting field and I really liked it,” Dillard recalled. “The setting was great with all of the resorts out there and having it be right on the beach makes it a really cool place.”
Over his first month in the organization, Dillard has already started playing with the Brewers Low-A affiliate, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League, while Small projects to see Wisconsin this season as the two join on the field for the first time since their teenage years.
Outside of the Mississippi college scene, 19-year-old Hattiesburg native Joe Gray is also waiting in the wings of the Brewers system and could be due for a Shuckers debut as soon as the 2020 season. Committed to play at Ole Miss, the Brewers selected Gray in the second round of the 2018 draft after he hit .491 as a senior and led Hattiesburg High School to a 5A state championship. Returned to full health this season, Gray is competing with the Brewers rookie ball club, the Rocky Mountain Vibes of the Pioneer League, whose season runs through early September.
After two consecutive seasons with Mississippi talents atop the draft board for Milwaukee, it’s only a matter of time before the Biloxi Shuckers showcase a plethora of the best talent grown through the Magnolia State. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
GAME RECAP SAMPLE: Series Saved as Shuckers Force Game 5 in Jackson
Jackson, TN – With their season on the line, the Biloxi Shuckers (87-61, 2-2) willed their way to a 4-2 win over the Jackson Generals (83-60, 2-2) on Saturday night at The Ballpark at Jackson to force Game 5 in the Southern League BC® Powder Championship Series. After being shutout in Game 3, Biloxi’s offense found a groove early, scoring all four of their runs over the first five innings. The bullpen carried the load down the stretch, combining for 4.2 scoreless and hitless innings to end the night.
Luis Aviles helped spark a rally before the Generals grabbed the bats, doubling off Bo Takahashi (L, 0-1) to open the game and scoring on a wild pitch with two outs. Takahashi retired the side in order in Biloxi’s half of the second, but surrendered a RBI single to Mario Feliciano in the third to jump the Shuckers ahead 2-0.
Cameron Roegner worked around a pair of singles through his first two innings before allowing a run in the third. Galli Cribbs Jr. started the inning with a double and Daulton Varsho brought him home with a two-bagger of his own.
Leading off the fourth, Jake Gatewood connected for a no-doubt solo home run over the left-field wall against Takahashi, restoring the Shuckers two-run advantage at 3-1. The home run was Gatewood’s first of the series and fourth of the postseason. Bruce Caldwell tallied the fourth and final run of the night, drilling a two-out single against Cole Stapler in the fifth inning for a 4-1 cushion.
Roegner pitched into the fifth and saw Ben DeLuzio score on a passed ball after reaching on a hit by pitch. Biloxi’s lefty was replaced by Tyler Spurlin (W, 1-0), who recorded the final two outs of the inning and stranded a man on third. Daniel Brown retired four in a row behind Spurlin while Jon Olczak faced the minimum in the eighth thanks to a 4-6-3 double play.
Nate Griep (S, 2) entered in the bottom of the ninth with a 4-2 lead and proceeded to retired the side in order for his second save of the series.
Tied 2-2 in the best-of-five series, the Shuckers will play for their first Southern League Title in franchise history on Sunday with Game 5 of their matchup against the Generals at 6:05 pm. Biloxi will throw RHP Drew Rasmussen (0-0, 10.80) while the Generals will counter with RHP Emilio Vargas (1-0, 4.50). The game can be heard locally in Biloxi on Cruisin’ WGCM AM 1240/100.9 FM, TuneIn Radio or the MiLB First Pitch App and can be seen on MiLB.TV.
With the 2020 Southern League schedule announced, Shuck Nation Memberships for the 2020 season are available by calling 228-233-3465 or by visiting the Biloxi Shuckers front office.
GAME NOTES SAMPLE: 08-26-19 Game Notes vs. MIS