There seems to be something in the air, or perhaps the water, in South Mississippi involving left-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball.
A trio of southpaw hurlers that played prep baseball within 45 or so miles from one another have all reached the highest level a professional baseball player can hope for.
Lucedale’s Justin Steele, Konnor Pilkington of Hurley, and Garrett Crochet of Ocean Springs all earned spots on the opening day roster of their respective squads as Opening Day looms this week.
“It seems unusual, though I don’t know if you can attribute it to anything other than left-handers being a valuable commodity in baseball and thus more likely to stick around at the higher levels,” Jackson County native Creg Stephenson, a veteran sportswriter and amateur baseball historian, said. “It’s impressive though and something that area can certainly be proud of.”
The 27-year-old Steele, a former standout at George County High, is slotted in the number two spot on the Chicago Cubs starting rotation this season. He was a solid multi-inning reliever last season, holding a 2.03 earned run average in 11 appearances before injuring his hamstring in May.
When he returned three months later, the Cubs brought the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder back as a starter and he finished the year with a 4-4 record and a 4.26 ERA.
Steele has taken advantage of the injury to fellow Cubs starter Adbert Alzolay to move up in the ranks of the starting staff.
Pilkington, who was a stalwart at East Central High, found out he had secured a spot on the Cleveland Guardians pitching staff over the weekend. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder was obtained by Cleveland in a trade from the Chicago White Sox during the off-season. The 24-year-old is a starter normally but is expected to work out of the bullpen early in the season for the Guardians in a support role for the Cleveland starters.
He made his first spring start for an MLB team last week when he started a Cactus League game against the Dodgers in Arizona going three fairly strong innings.
Pilkington was 7-6 with a nifty 3.04 ERA last season at the Class AA level for two different teams.
In college, he was one of the standouts for Mississippi State as they made a run into the College World Series in 2018.
The 22-year-old Crochet rocketed into the majors recently with the Chicago White Sox. After a standout career at Ocean Springs High School, he also pitched in the Southeastern Conference as a starter for the University of Tennessee. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder was selected with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2020 draft by the White Sox.
He made his Major League debut a couple of months later, joining the Sox late in the 2020 season. In five appearances, Crochet owned a perfect 0.00 ERA and trailed only Brusdar Graterol of the Dodgers for the most pitches at 100 mph or above.
He spent the entire 2021 campaign in the Chicago bullpen. So far, through just over 60 innings of work for the White Sox, the hard-throwing Crochet is 3-5 with a 2.54 ERA.
Expected to be a major contributor for Chicago this year, as a reliever/spot starter, Crochet was injured late last week and is set to undergo Tommy John surgery soon that will sideline him for the entire 2022 campaign.
This current trio of South Mississippi southpaws are following in the footsteps of former Moss point High star Tony Sipp. Sipp enjoyed an 11-year major-league career and won two World Series rings with Houston and Washington.
Another pair of South Mississippi southpaws, T.J. House from Picayune and Jacob Lindgren of St. Stanislaus, also pitched in the Majors over the past decade as House was with Cleveland and Lindgren with the New York Yankees.