22 Jan

positive signs

After missing almost three full years because of two elbow surgeries, Biloxi native and onetime major leaguer Jacob Lindgren put up some good numbers in the low minors in 2019. The 26-year-old left-hander has been rewarded by the Chicago White Sox with a non-roster invitation to big league spring camp. ChiSox pitchers and catchers officially report Feb. 12. Lindgren was a second-round pick out of Mississippi State by the New York Yankees in 2014 after a junior season that saw him post a 0.81 ERA and average almost two strikeouts per inning. He made his MLB debut with the Yankees in 2015, appearing in seven games. But his career was detoured by injury the next year, when he had the first of his two Tommy John surgeries. He left the Yankees after the 2016 season, signed with Atlanta but didn’t pitch in an official game in the Braves’ system in 2017 or ’18, when he had his second surgery. The White Sox signed Lindgren as a minor league free agent last January. Once cleared to pitch, he worked at three levels and finished with a 2.83 ERA, 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 2/3 innings over 21 games. He’ll be a longshot to make the White Sox’s 26-man club this spring, but it must feel good just to have that opportunity. P.S. Other recent non-roster spring invitees include: Cooper Johnson (Ole Miss), Detroit; Henri Lartigue (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Chuckie Robinson (Southern Miss), Houston; and Jacob Robson (State), Detroit.

21 Jan

pick six

Six Mississippi junior colleges, headed by defending region champion Pearl River CC, appear in the NJCAA Division II preseason Top 20 released today. PRCC is No. 5, Jones College No. 6, defending MACJC regular season champ Itawamba No. 7, Northwest 15th, Hinds 17th and Meridian 20th. Pearl River won the Region 23 Tournament in 2019 and went to the juco D-II World Series, finishing with a 41-14 record. Michael Avalon’s Wildcats lost state home run king Dexter Jordan to the MLB draft but will trot out several NCAA Division I commits, including lefty Kole Alford (Mississippi State), outfielder Reece Ewing (Southern Miss) and shortstop Bryson Ware (Auburn). Ware, a freshman out of Germantown High, is also a highly rated draft prospect. Ewing batted .300 with 11 homers for last year’s club. … In Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s poll released last week, Jones was ranked No. 5, PRCC 15th and Hinds 20th.

16 Jan

into the breach?

Buck Showalter has 1,551 managerial wins — 24th all-time in MLB — and claims three manager of the year awards. What the former Mississippi State star doesn’t have is a World Series ring. He might get a chance – a good chance, actually — to pick one up in 2020. Showalter has interviewed for the Houston Astros job and would appear to be one of the top candidates to replace A.J. Hinch, fired this week in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. The Astros, 2017 world champs and 2019 American League champs, still have a loaded lineup and rate as one of the early favorites to win the 2020 Series. Showalter, 63, has managed four different teams and had success at each stop. He took three of the four to the postseason, making five trips all told in 20 years. His 2014 Baltimore club reached the AL Championship Series, falling to Kansas City. Showalter is the second-winningest manager in Orioles history – behind only Earl Weaver – but his nine-year tenure in Baltimore ended with a crash in 2018; he was fired after a gutted club finished 47-115. … John Gibbons, the former Jackson Mets catcher and ex-Toronto Blue Jays manager, is also a candidate for the Astros job. He has a 793-789 career record over 11 seasons, the last in 2018.

14 Jan

what’s next?

Zack Cozart’s future grew a little foggy on Monday when the former Ole Miss star was designated for assignment by San Francisco, which had acquired the veteran infielder in a trade in mid-December. Cozart, a 2017 All-Star in Cincinnati, is coming off two injury-wracked seasons with the Los Angeles Angels that saw him bat .190 with five homers in 96 games. The Giants took on Cozart’s $13 million salary as part of a deal that netted them highly regarded shortstop prospect Will Wilson. It seems likely that Cozart, 34, will be released. Perhaps he’ll get a minor league deal somewhere. Perhaps. He was a second-round pick by the Reds in 2007 out of UM and has played nine years in the majors, mostly as a shortstop, batting .247 with 87 homers. P.S. Something to keep an eye on: Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson, who went 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA as a rookie for St. Louis in 2019, has been rumored to be part of the Nolan Arenado trade talks between the Cardinals and Colorado.

10 Jan

rumor mill

At last, a trickle of news on the free agent front: MassLive.com speculates that Mitch Moreland would be a “good fit” on Boston’s 2020 roster and might be available at a price the Red Sox would like. Moreland, the former Mississippi State standout from Amory, spent the previous three seasons with the Red Sox, making the All-Star Game and winning a World Series in 2018. A 10-year veteran, the left-handed hitting Moreland batted .252 with 19 homers in 2019, playing only 91 games because of back problems. He said late last season that he’d love to return to Boston. He made $6.5 million last year and, at age 34, may have to settle for much less for 2020. The Red Sox’s only first base options at the moment are Michael Chavis, a 2019 rookie, and Bobby Dalbec, a highly rated prospect who has yet to debut. Both are right-handed batters. … Other Mississippians remaining on the free agent market are Brian Dozier, Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson and Tony Sipp, who reportedly might be on Oakland’s radar. Three have signed: Corey Dickerson with Miami, Kendall Graveman with Seattle and Drew Pomeranz with San Diego.

07 Jan

totally random

It’s not an insult to say someone was an average major league player. Wendell Magee, the former Hattiesburg High and Pearl River Community College star, was, by one measure, as average as a player can be, which again is not an insult. It’s just very interesting. Magee had more than a cup of coffee in the big leagues. An outfielder who was never really a regular, he played parts of seven seasons in The Show, getting into 386 games with Philadelphia and Detroit from 1996-2002. He batted .247 for his career with 24 home runs and 122 RBIs. His best MLB season might have been his last, when he hit .271 with six homers, 19 doubles and 35 RBIs in 97 games for the Tigers. Possibly the most interesting number from Magee’s career is his WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. WAR is a statistical measure of a player’s contributions to his team relative to wins and losses. (Raise your hand if you truly understand WAR.) According to fangraphs.com: “WAR offers an estimate to answer the question, ‘If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a freely available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?’” It’s even possible to have a negative WAR. Babe Ruth’s career (cumulative) WAR, over 22 years as a hitter, is 182.4. Mike Trout’s is 72.5 over his nine years. McComb native Corey Dickerson, who recently signed with Miami, stands at 13.1 over seven seasons. Wendell Magee’s career WAR is 0.0. Zero, point, zero. That doesn’t mean Magee contributed nothing over his seven seasons. Obviously, he had some big hits here and there. He had four seasons with a positive WAR, three with a negative. It all added up to 0.0. So, what does it mean? Perhaps Magee was simply an average player, which, in the grand scheme, isn’t bad at all. He played in 386 big league games spread over seven seasons. Think of how many players who would kill for one day in the big leagues.

29 Dec

going south

Corey Dickerson, a .286 career hitter and a good defensive outfielder, would seem to be a good fit for a contending team. However, the free agent from McComb reportedly is planning to sign with a team that, well, probably isn’t. Dickerson has agreed to a two-year, $17.5 million deal with Miami, according to several sources. The Marlins went 57-105 in 2019, finishing 40 games out of first. The club hasn’t had a winning season in 10 years or made the playoffs in 16. One has to wonder if Dickerson, a former Meridian Community College star entering his eighth MLB campaign, might become a trade chip next summer for the rebuilding Marlins. Dickerson, 30, hit .304 in a 2019 season curtailed by injuries. He started the year with Pittsburgh and finished it with Philadelphia, which acquired him at the trade deadline in an effort to bolster its playoff hopes. Dickerson has never played in the postseason. He came up with Colorado and also spent time with Tampa Bay, where he was an All-Star in 2017. In Miami, Dickerson is the likely starting left fielder in an outfield mix also includes Brian Anderson, Jon Berti, Lewis Brinson, Garrett Cooper, Austin Dean and Harold Ramirez — not exactly an array of stars.

28 Dec

comin’ down

Hard to believe, but four weeks from today, the Mississippi college baseball season will begin. And it will begin for the first time in many years without two legendary coaches: Hill Denson, who retired from Belhaven University, and Mike Kinnison, who became fulltime athletic director at Delta State. They’ll be missed. The 2020 season launches on Saturday, Jan. 25, when Tougaloo College, an NAIA member, plays Loyola University in New Orleans. The first games within the state borders are scheduled for Jan. 31, when NAIA William Carey University hosts Missouri Baptist in Hattiesburg and NAIA Blue Mountain College hosts William Woods for a twinbill. NCAA Division II schools Delta State and Mississippi College open at home with doubleheaders on Feb. 1, the Statesmen starting the Rodney Batts era against East Central (Okla.) University and the Choctaws meeting Harding University. D-III programs Millsaps College and Belhaven open on Feb. 7, with the Majors hosting LeTourneau and the Blazers starting the Kyle Palmer era against Randolph-Macon in a tournament at Montgomery, Ala. The D-I schools start on Feb. 14, four of the six playing at home. The marquee opener features Louisville, ranked No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball, taking on Ole Miss in Oxford. Mississippi State, ranked sixth by CB, hosts Wright State, Southern Miss welcomes Murray State and Jackson State brings in Southern Illinois. Alcorn State will open against Prairie View on Feb. 14 in New Orleans in the Andre Dawson Tournament (formerly the Urban Invitational). Mississippi Valley State’s schedule has not been released. Mississippi University for Women, a United States Collegiate Athletic Association member, starts its third season on Feb. 14 at Morehouse in Atlanta. NAIA Rust College has not released a schedule. … The Trustmark Park college schedule includes a six-team event matching SWAC and MEAC schools on Feb. 21-23. Alcorn and Jackson State are in the field. USM and State play in Pearl on March 4, USM and Ole Miss meet there on March 31 and the Ole Miss-State Governor’s Cup clash is set for April 21.

20 Dec

buzzworthy

“The best free agent that no one is talking about” is, according to an mlb.com story published Thursday, former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson. That headline is a bit of hyperbole, of course, because there is little doubt people are talking about Dickerson, a lefty-hitting outfielder with a career .286 average on his baseball card and a Gold Glove in his trophy case. He has hit .300 or better in five of his seven big league campaigns. Injuries limited him to 78 games in 2019, which he split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A scout recently told yahoo!sports about Dickerson: “He really produced in a short time in Philly, but with McCutchen and Harper there, where’s he going to play? He’s more than a bench bat. He’ll be somewhere.” The mlb.com story speculates that Cincinnati, Miami and St. Louis are the favorites to sign Dickerson, one of several notable Mississippians (see Brian Dozier, Mitch Moreland, Billy Hamilton) still on the market. The 30-year-old McComb native made $8.5 million last year. P.S. Tim Dillard, the ex-Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College standout, has signed on for an 18th season of pro ball. Dillard, 36, signed a minor league contract with Texas; he put up a 4.75 ERA in 33 games (21 starts) for Triple-A Nashville in the Rangers’ system in 2019. Dillard, son of Ole Miss product and ex-big leaguer Steve Dillard, has made 619 appearances, 73 in the majors (all with Milwaukee). The Brewers drafted him twice, out of Saltillo in 2001 and ICC in 2002.

13 Dec

impactful move

The Los Angeles Angels left the Winter Meetings having added an impact hitter, Anthony Rendon, but failing to address what most pundits say is a bigger need: pitchers. But don’t forget what the Angels did earlier this off-season to impact their pitching: They hired Mickey Callaway as pitching coach on new manager Joe Maddon’s staff. Former Ole Miss star Callaway’s two-year stint as manager of the New York Mets was a little rocky, but he did some outstanding work as the pitching coach in Cleveland from 2013-17. The Indians ranked among the American League leaders in ERA and strikeouts while Callaway was there and made it to the World Series in 2016. He can be a difference-maker for an Angels staff that ranked 12th in AL ERA in 2019. The Angels, linked to several free agent pitchers, also may be seeking some new arms via trade and reportedly have checked on the availability of Indians Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, both of whom Callaway worked with in Cleveland. P.S. Congratulations to Jackson native Stan Cliburn, who was rehired as manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the independent Atlantic League. It’ll be the 29th season as a pro manager for the one-time big league catcher, who has more than 2,000 wins.