Draft : : Story
Friday, May 03, 2013

Mississippi jucos climb draft charts

Jeff Dahn        

The through-the-roof, eye-popping performances and careers of a couple of sophomores from two separate Mississippi junior colleges were the reason venues across the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) became preferred destinations for Major League Baseball scouts and front office personnel this spring.

Tim Anderson, a speedy shortstop at East Central Community College (ECCC) in Decatur, Miss., and Cody Reed, a hard-throwing left-hander at Northwest Mississippi Community College (NWMCC) in Senatobia, Miss., have emerged as two of the most highly regarded junior college prospects in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Anderson is ranked as the No. 3 top draft prospect with Mississippi ties, and Reed is right behind at No. 4. They trail only Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe and Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl in Perfect Game’s state-by-state pre-draft rankings.

The biggest impression this spring has been made by Anderson, a 6-foot-1, 171-pound speed merchant out of Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (class of 2011). He is ranked the 39th top prospect in the draft – No. 1 among juco players – which is up from the No. 179 ranking he had in January.

“He’s going to play at a very high level of baseball,” East Central head coach Neal Holliman told the Meridian (Miss.) Star in early March. “He’s got a great opportunity; he’s not your average player.”

Anderson was a standout basketball player at Hillcrest High and helped the Patriots win an Alabama Class 6A state championship as a junior. That was also the first year he started playing baseball and he quickly developed into a talented enough prospect that he decided to leave basketball behind.

Tim Anderson could sneak into the first round of this year's draft.

As a freshman at ECCC, Anderson played in all 45 of the Warriors’ games and hit .360 with 12 extra-base hits (four home runs), 37 RBI and 42 runs scored, all team-highs. Perhaps most impressively, he was 30-for-30 in stolen base attempts.

He’s been even better during his sophomore season. Through 45 regular-season games, Anderson was hitting .506/.561/.918 with 15 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs, 35 RBI and 57 runs, with 39 stolen bases in 42 attempts. All of those numbers are team-highs; his batting average ranks second in the country and his stolen bases and runs scored are both in the top-five nationally.

Anderson has signed a national letter of intent with the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and UAB head coach Brian Shoop couldn’t be more excited about the possibility of getting him on campus.

“Tim is an incredible sign for our program,” Shoop said in a statement on UAB’s website. “First off, he’s a great person along with being what we believe is one of the better players from the state of Alabama. His plus running speed will fit perfectly into how we like to play, but Tim is more than a speed guy. He has the ability to hit in the middle of our lineup, as well.”

Perfect Game’s assessment of Anderson’s abilities is glowing. In ranking him the No. 3 top draft prospect with Mississippi ties, PG director of crosschecker Allan Simpson wrote: “Anderson’s raw speed and superior athletic ability stand out above all else, but he also has serious juice in his bat, along with all the raw tools to one day be a major-league shortstop.”

“He is a great athlete who led his high school basketball team to a state championship as their point guard and leader,” UAB’s Shoop said. “Now that he’s focusing totally on baseball, he has blossomed into a true professional prospect that has a chance to play in the big leagues one day.”

Reed, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound lefty out of Horn Lake (Miss.) High School (class of 2011), has flown a little bit more under the radar than Anderson. He was listed as a “high follow” prospect by PG after playing with the Dulins Dodgers in six PG WWBA and PG BCS Finals tournaments in 2009 and 2010, but with a fastball that topped-out at 84 mph he didn’t receive much attention from colleges. Northwest Mississippi was the exception.

NWMCC head coach and alumnus Mark Carson told PG he first became aware of Reed when the player was a sophomore at Horn Lake. Longtime assistant coach and former NWMCC player Bill Selby – perhaps best known as the former Cleveland Indian who hit a memorable walk-off grand slam off of the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera in a regular-season game in 2002 to cap a furious Cleveland rally from a 7-0 deficit to a 9-7 win – also liked what he saw in Reed.

“He’s always had such a long, loose arm with really good arm action,” Carson said. “Bill (Selby) has some pro experience and the whole time we have had him on our radar as far as recruiting and watching him, Bill has always been the one that said, ‘I tell you, this guy’s got a chance.’”

When Reed came in as a freshman his fastball was still sitting in the mid-80s, but then just took off. He filled out his 6-foot, 5-inch frame and his velocity has continued to climb. His fastball has touched 94 mph this spring, and the scouts have shown up at Rangers’ games in droves.

In his first season of junior college ball, Reed finished 8-2 with a 2.94 ERA and allowed 56 hits in 64 1/3 innings. He struck out 65 (a little more than one an inning) but struggled a little bit with 32 walks and five hit-batsmen. After nine starts this season, Reed stood 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 53 1/3 innings, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio had improved 80-to-29.

In his draft assessment of Reed, PG’s Simpson wrote: “As the velocity on Reed’s fastball spiked so did the speed of his slider, which improved from 76-77 mph early in the season to 79-81. Being 6-foot-5 and left-handed has only added to Reed’s allure, and scout have not only been impressed with his raw stuff but his easy arm action and surprisingly good command.”

Reed, who has signed with Ole Miss, wasn’t mentioned when back in January PG released its list of the top 500 prospects in this year’s MLB draft. He is now being projected as a probable pick in one of the first three rounds.

“I think that’s very legitimate,” Carson said of Reed’s draft standing. “Now, if you would have asked me that at Christmas, I would have said no. But after what I’ve seen the last two months I would say that’s very safe. We’ve had 45 to 50 pro guys in here every time he’s thrown, and that’s what they’ve been so pleased with is that it’s not just a one-outing thing.

“So, yeah, I think it’s very legitimate and that’s kind of what we’re expecting, and I think that’s kind of what he’s expecting.”

Both East Central and Northwest Mississippi are scheduled to open postseason play this weekend in MACJC best-of-three first-round playoff series – ECCC plays in the South Division and MWMCC in the North. Winners advance to the MACJC state tournament and then move on to a NJCAA regional with the grand prize being a berth in the NJCAA Division II Baseball World Series May 25-June 1 in Enid, Okla.

It’s worth noting that Mississippi junior colleges are somewhat handcuffed in their recruiting efforts by an association rule that stipulates no school can have more than four out-of-state players on its roster during any given season. Holliman was fortunate he was able to make room on his roster for Anderson, coming out of Alabama, and Carson was equally as fortunate that Reed was an in-state kid.

But the rule is particularly frustrating for Carson because Senatobia is only about 40 miles from Memphis, Tenn., and is considered part of the greater Memphis metropolitan area.

“My campus is only 45 minutes from Memphis, and Memphis is a hotbed of high school baseball; it’s some of the best high school baseball in the country,” Carson said. “If we would recruit the city of Memphis and get all we wanted, we could be incredibly good.”

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