Lance Lynn did not have strong numbers in 2018, but his reputation as a workhorse may have been more important to Texas, which reportedly has signed the ex-Ole Miss star to a 3-year, $30 million contract. Lynn, 31, a former first-round pick by St. Louis, signed as a free agent with Minnesota last year and was acquired by the New York Yankees in a July trade. He did not have a big impact with either club. For the season, he was 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA, far off his career results (82-57, 3.57). The Rangers are looking to fortify a thin rotation. Lynn, who missed the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery, has worked at least 156 innings in each of his six full MLB seasons and twice topped 200. Lynn joins Billy Hamilton (Kansas City) and Louis Coleman (minor league deal with Detroit) as Mississippi-connected free agents who have signed for 2019. Brian Dozier, Drew Pomeranz, Tony Sipp and Kendall Graveman are still looking. Mississippi State product Graveman’s situation is complicated by the fact that he’ll miss much of 2019 after Tommy John surgery. P.S. The Rangers took another former UM pitcher, Chris Ellis (see previous post), in the major league phase of today’s Rule 5 draft. Ellis, who was in the St. Louis system, will try to earn a spot on Texas’ 25-man roster in spring training.
Billy Hamilton was not on the market very long. Non-tendered by Cincinnati on Nov. 30, the former Taylorsville High standout reportedly signed with Kansas City today. The deal is for one year and $5 million. The 28-year-old center fielder slumped in 2018, batting .236 and stealing just 34 bases. But his defense remains top shelf, which makes him a good fit in KC’s outfield. Hamilton has 277 career MLB stolen bases, most ever by a Mississippi native. He stole 155 bases in the minors in 2012, a pro record. The Royals’ current depth chart lists Brett Phillips, a former Biloxi Shuckers star, and Brian Goodwin as the top two center fielders.
Ole Miss product Chris Ellis, coming off a good 2018 minor league campaign, is getting some off-season work in the Dominican Winter League. The right-hander threw seven shutout innings to get a win on Wednesday and has yet to allow an earned run in three starts (17 2/3 innings) for Escogido. Ellis went 10-4, 3.93 at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the St. Louis system in 2018. This was the fifth year in pro ball for Ellis, 26, a former third-round draftee (by the Los Angeles Angels) who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2016. … Louis Coleman, the former Pillow Academy star from Greenwood, and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque have re-signed with Detroit on minor league deals. Veteran big leaguer Coleman, a right-handed reliever, had a 3.51 ERA in 51 games with the Tigers last season. Scivicque, a catcher, played in Triple-A in 2018. … Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner, both outfielders, made mlb.com’s latest list of the top 50 2019 draft prospects. Ealy, a two-sport star and Ole Miss commit, is ranked No. 18, while Wallner, who has 35 homers in his two seasons in Hattiesburg, is No. 26. Ealy’s skill set is compared to that of Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma quarterback who has signed to play pro baseball with Oakland. … Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Stovall didn’t impress just with his bat during his pro debut this summer. He also played five different positions at rookie-level Grand Junction in the Colorado system, and he may add a sixth to his resume in 2019. Stovall, a catcher in high school before shifting to the infield at State, brushed up on his catching skills in Instructional League this fall. “He’s got a chance to be a true super-utility (player),” Rockies farm director Zach Wilson told Baseball America. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound Stovall, a 21st-round pick last June, homered in his first two at-bats for Grand Junction and wound up at .296 with 10 bombs and 41 RBIs in 49 games. He played primarily second base. … Charlie Hayes, the Hattiesburg native and ex-Forrest County AHS star, was a good big league third baseman for a long time. He batted .262 with 144 homers over 14 seasons and won a World Series ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. That’s a tough act for son Ke’Bryan to follow – but there are those who think he’s up to the task. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2015, was the organization’s minor league player of the year in 2018. He batted .293 with seven homers, seven triples, 31 doubles and 12 stolen bases in the Double-A Eastern League. He also won a Gold Glove and played in the All-Star Futures Game. “I think we’re looking at him long term to be the anchor in our infield and our lineup in Pittsburgh at some point,” farm director Larry Broadway told milb.com. That point could come in 2019.
Today’s subject: Bobby Etheridge. Etheridge’s first start in the big leagues came on July 17, 1967, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco — and it was one to write home about. Batting second for the Giants – behind Southern Miss alum Jim Davenport – Greenville native Etheridge went 2-for-5, including a two-run ninth-inning triple in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Etheridge didn’t play a lot that year (40 games) on a team that included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, but he made enough of an impression that his 1968 Topps card included one of those sweet All-Star Rookie gold trophies. Etheridge played a year at Mississippi State and another at Mississippi Delta Junior College (where he helped win a state title) before entering pro ball in 1964. He played his last MLB game in 1969, finishing with a .244 career average. Etheridge played four more years in the minors, finishing up with Double-A Memphis in 1973. He spent the rest of his days back in Greenville, where he worked for Mississippi Marine. He died in 2015; the obit described him as “humble,” “a man of integrity” and “an avid hunter.” He could also play a little ball.
Among the gaggle of big league players not offered contracts for 2019 were a couple of Mississippi-connected names of note: Billy Hamilton and Kendall Graveman. Ex-Taylorsville High star Hamilton was cut loose Friday by Cincinnati, for which he has been the starting center fielder most of the past five years, and Mississippi State product Graveman was non-tendered by Oakland, for which he was the opening day starter the last two seasons. They are now free agents. There are reports that both could be re-signed to minor league deals by their former clubs if they don’t land a job elsewhere. Hamilton, 28, is a spectacular outfielder and base stealer who just hasn’t hit (.236 in 2018, .245 career). Graveman, 27, had a brutal 2018, possibly related to injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July and is expected to miss most of the 2019 season. He was 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA in his seven big league starts this past season. His career ERA over five seasons is 4.38.
Just 62 days to get through until the first pitch is thrown in the 2019 college season. William Carey University, an NAIA member, will get it started on Jan. 31 with a home game against Missouri Baptist at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Delta State lifts the lid on its season on Feb. 1 at home against East Central University, and fellow NCAA Division II member Mississippi College starts on Feb. 2 at Harding in Arkansas. Division III Belhaven University opens Feb. 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson against LeTourneau, and D-III Millsaps welcomes LeTourneau to nearby Twenty Field on Feb. 9. The D-I start date is Feb. 15: Mississippi State launches the Chris Lemonis era at renovated Dudy Noble Field against Youngstown State, Ole Miss hosts Wright State and Southern Miss opens at home with Purdue. SWAC school schedules have not been posted.
Houston Astros fans surely will cringe when reminded of what went down on this date in 1971. During the winter meetings, the Astros traded – drumroll, please — Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke to Cincinnati for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart. Might have been the worst trade ever. And Mississippian Harry Walker, the Houston manager at the time, had a role in it. Morgan, Billingham and Geronimo became key players on the great Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and ’76. Morgan was the National League’s MVP both of those years and is now in the Hall of Fame. The Astros improved slightly from 1971 to ’72, thanks in part to May’s 29 homers, but Walker was fired before the season ended. The Astros wouldn’t sniff the postseason until 1980. Why did the Astros dump Morgan, only 29 at the time of the infamous deal? According to reports, Walker, the Pascagoula native and onetime big league star, didn’t like Morgan, calling him a troublemaker. And Morgan didn’t like Walker, years later accusing him of racism. A stern disciplinarian with an outspoken manner, Walker is said to have clashed with a lot of his players. Hired by the Astros in mid-1968, he was fired in August of ’72 even though the team had a winning record at the time. Leo Durocher finished out the campaign. It was Walker’s ninth and final season as an MLB skipper.
The Josh Donaldson signing adds a potentially potent bat to the middle of Atlanta’s lineup and is a clear sign the Braves are eyeing more than just a division title in 2019. The move also could be seen as a signal that the Braves don’t think Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, is quite ready for everyday duty at third base. Riley spent the latter half of 2018 at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he batted .282 (.346 on-base percentage) with 12 home runs in 75 games. He has 71 bombs in four pro seasons. His defense reportedly is big league-caliber. But there’s no need to rush him. Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) is only 21 — he’ll be 22 in April – and isn’t yet on the 40-man roster. Riley struck out 95 times and walked 26 over 291 at-bats at Gwinnett, so there’s still room for improvement. It’s possible that if Donaldson struggles, as he did in an injury-plagued 2018, Riley could get a midseason call-up. Though he’s never played anywhere but third base, the Braves also could try Riley in left field at Gwinnett as a way of finding him a spot. Regardless, his time will come. Mississippi baseball aficionados will just have to wait a bit. P.S. Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Jacksonville by Miami. Lee, a speedy outfielder, hit .176 in eight big league games last season and .233 in the minors.
Brian McCann, the first player to advance from the Mississippi Braves to Atlanta, back in the summer of 2005, is coming back to the Braves for 2019 after several years in other uniforms. McCann, now 34, was a highly rated prospect when he arrived in Pearl for the M-Braves’ inaugural season and lived up to the hype in the big leagues, quickly rising to stardom and putting up numbers that may someday put him in the Hall of Fame. McCann hit .265 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 48 games for the ’05 M-Braves, typically hitting fifth behind Jeff Francoeur and Scott Thorman in the middle of a very good lineup under manager Brian Snitker. McCann had a lot of big hits in his short time with the M-Braves, but none was bigger than the one he produced on April 30, 2005, at Trustmark Park. West Tenn’s Rich Hill — yes, that Rich Hill — and three relievers had no-hit the M-Braves for 8 2/3 innings. The Diamond Jaxx held a 1-0 lead when McCann came up with a runner on to face lefty Yorkin Ferraras. As West Tenn manager — and Laurel native — Bobby Dickerson said after the game: “McCann is the one guy we didn’t want to face right there.” On a 2-2 pitch, Ferraras left a fastball out over the plate and McCann deposited it over the right-field wall for a 2-1 victory. “I’ve never had a feeling like that as long as I’ve been playing sports,” McCann said afterward. It still has to rate as one of the great moments in TeePee history. If you were there, you remember it.
Undrafted out of Ole Miss, where he was a solid if unspectacular pitcher for three years, Jacob Waguespack now finds himself on a major league 40-man roster. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander was added to Toronto’s protected roster on Tuesday and will go to the team’s big league camp for spring training. He might even contend for a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Waguespack, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2015, was traded to Toronto last summer for Aaron Loup. His numbers at Triple-A Buffalo weren’t great — 2-4, 5.03 ERA — but the Jays apparently are impressed with his stuff. Over his four years in pro ball, during which he has worked as both a reliever and starter, Waguespack is 19-20 with a 3.84 ERA. He put up a 3.44 ERA in 40 games over three years in Oxford. … In other recent roster moves, former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley was added to Cleveland’s 40-man and ex-George County standout Justin Steele made the Chicago Cubs’ protected roster. Braxton Lee, a Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss alum from Picayune, was removed from Miami’s 40-man and designated for assignment. He had a roller-coaster 2018 campaign that started in the big leagues.