Billy Hamilton certainly has had an impact in the big leagues. In 279 games over parts of three seasons in Cincinnati, the ex-Taylorsville High star has 126 stolen bases and 137 runs. He also makes a lot of catches in center field. But he could do so much more. As a rival scout notes in the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue (March 28), Hamilton needs to draw more walks and learn how to bunt. Hamilton, a .242 career hitter, has walked just 64 times in over 1,000 plate appearances. On the occasion when he puts down just a decent bunt, he is impossible to throw out. (Two years ago in spring training, batting lefty, he was timed at 3.3 seconds to first base. That is “ludicrous speed,” to borrow from Space Balls.) Coming back from shoulder surgery, Hamilton has eased into this spring. For what it’s worth, his numbers aren’t great. After a 2-for-5 effort on Wednesday, he is batting .195. He has one walk in 42 plate appearances. He has only tried one steal – yes, he made it – but he has flashed his speed with two triples and four doubles among his eight hits. There’s something about Hamilton – all 160 pounds of him – that makes you want to pull for him. If Hamilton can just get on base a little more, he could be an All-Star. As that scout writes in SI: “I’ll take the bet on him.” P.S. Jose Peraza, the former Mississippi Braves standout, is having a great camp with the Reds as he tries to make the roster as a super utility player. Peraza, batting .305, has played shortstop, second base, center field and left field. He’s not as fast as Hamilton, obviously, but he can also fly.
Purely speculating on the Mississippi Braves’ 2016 Opening Day lineup:
Ozzie Albies, ss
Connor Lien, cf
Dustin Peterson, rf
Jacob Schrader, 1b
Dian Toscano, lf
Rio Ruiz, 3b
Joseph Odom, c
Levi Hyams, 2b
Zack Bird, p
That would be a nice mix of old and new, with hot prospect Albies and Cuban curiosity Toscano rating particular attention. Bird, a former Jackson Murrah High star, would be a cool choice to start Game 1. New M-Braves manager Luis Salazar will pencil in the actual lineup on April 7, when the M-Braves host Pensacola to begin their 12th season at Trustmark Park in Pearl. … Former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff looks like a candidate for the Biloxi Shuckers’ rotation this year. The right-hander from Wheeler pitched at Class A Brevard County in the Milwaukee system last season and went 4-7, 3.45 ERA in 21 games, 19 starts. Biloxi opens at MGM Park on April 7 against Chattanooga. P.S. Good to see that Atlanta added Jeff Francoeur of the original M-Braves (2005) to the big league roster. “For me, it’s going to be really cool on Monday running out there back at Turner Field,” he told mlb.com. Now if the Braves could find a way to bring back Brian McCann, Gregor Blanco, Martin Prado, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Yunel Escobar, Kris Medlen, Tommy LaStella, Phil Gosselin, Jose Peraza … . Longtime M-Braves outfielder Mycal Jones has signed with Somerset of the independent Atlantic League, and Luis Hernandez, another original M-Brave, signed with Bridgeport of that same league.
Oak Grove High slipped out of this week’s MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national poll, leaving the Magnolia State without a team in that poll. Oxford, the preseason No. 1, tumbled out two weeks ago. The web site’s state poll has Kossuth ranked No. 1, followed by Oxford, Brandon, Oak Grove and Hattiesburg. … Showdown alert: Oak Grove (11-2) and Brandon (13-3) are scheduled to meet today at Brandon’s field. … Baseball America’s most recent prep poll (published March 23) has Oxford at No. 13 with a 9-4 record. The Chargers are now 12-5. … Kossuth is 14-2, led by Jacob Wilcher (.529, three homers, 20 RBIs) and Hunter Swindle (4-0, 0.30 ERA). … C. J. Hughes of Terry earned USA Baseball/MaxPreps Southeast Player of the Week honors on Monday. Hughes, a senior shortstop, went 12-for-14 with 12 RBIs, nine runs and four walks last week. … Oxford’s Thomas Dillard is the only Mississippi high school player in Baseball America’s most recent ranking of the top 100 draft prospects. The catcher is No. 82. A transfer to OHS this year, Dillard is batting .389 with seven homers and 19 RBIs. … George County’s Walker Robbins is another pro prospect of note. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-hander is batting .387 with two homers and owns a 2-1, 0.89 pitching ledger that includes a perfect game. His brother Mason is playing in the St. Louis system.
Mississippi State jumped to No. 5 (from 10th) in the new Baseball America poll, and on Tuesday the Bulldogs will jump back into the fray against Southern Miss, unranked but rolling, in the first of the three College Series games at Trustmark Park in Pearl. This should be good. State, at 17-7-1, has more losses than any team ranked 13th or higher in the BA poll. But the Bulldogs have beaten Vanderbilt and Georgia two of three in their first two SEC series, apparently impressing the pollsters. USM is 19-6, coming off a sweep of a C-USA series against Texas-San Antonio. The Golden Eagles won last year’s College Series game, ending a six-game skid against State with a 3-0 victory before a rowdy crowd of 5,438 at the TeePee. You can debate the significance of these midweek games, but last year’s sure seemed to be a harbinger. USM was 13-8-1 at the time, finished 35-16-1. State was 18-8 and finished 24-30. If nothing else, a win for USM on Tuesday would be a big boost toward cracking the national polls. Looming just ahead for State is a home series with Ole Miss, 20-5 but coming off a lost weekend against South Carolina that dropped the Rebels from seventh to 13th in the BA poll. … A few miles from Trustmark Park on Tuesday, Millsaps will host Belhaven at Twenty Field in the second Maloney Trophy Series game of the year. The Majors topped their NCAA Division III rivals 10-7 last week. … And a short hop from Twenty Field on Tuesday, Hinds Community College and East Central CC will play an MACJC doubleheader at Smith-Wills Stadium. Hinds, ranked in preseason, is 11-13 and 3-5. ECCC is 19-7, 7-3.
If there were any doubts about his place in the Oakland rotation, Kendall Graveman likely quashed them on Sunday. The Mississippi State alum drew raves after a seven-inning outing against Kansas City in which he yielded just four hits and one run and fanned six. “I knew it was big,” Graveman told mlb.com. Graveman and the A’s beat the Royals 10-1, getting a home run from Ole Miss product Chris Coghlan in the process. Graveman was 6-9 with a 4.05 ERA in 21 starts as a rookie for the A’s in 2015, his first year with the club after coming in a trade with Toronto. He has 4.98 ERA this spring. Drafted in the eighth round out of MSU in 2013, the right-hander climbed through four levels of the minors in 2014 to reach the big leagues with the Blue Jays. P.S. Tyler Moore should serve as a nice insurance policy if Freddie Freeman’s wrist troubles him again. Atlanta traded for Moore, the ex-State star, on Sunday and will stash the power-hitting first baseman at Triple-A Gwinnett. … Milwaukee shipped Ole Miss product David Goforth, a bullpen candidate, to the minors on Sunday, but ex-Rebels standout Alex Presley is still hanging around in the Brewers’ outfield picture. Presley is in camp as a non-roster player. … Just when the job of first-base coach is getting some pub – see Tom Verducci’s article in the March 28 issue of Sports Illustrated – Chris Maloney moves to third base with St. Louis. Jackson native and former State star Maloney has been the Cardinals’ first-base coach since 2012. He’ll move across the diamond while Jose Oquendo recovers from knee surgery.
A change of scenery might be what Tyler Moore needs, but a return to Triple-A Syracuse probably isn’t going to help. Moore, the former Mississippi State standout, was outrighted to Syracuse by the Washington Nationals on Friday after clearing waivers. Declaring free agency was not an option for the 29-year-old Moore, who doesn’t have enough service time. As a regular in the minors, Moore hit .271 with 107 homers, including back-to-back 31-bomb seasons, over 612 games. Playing irregularly in the big leagues, he has a .228 average and 24 homers in 277 games over four years. He is hitting .121 as a pinch hitter, and he struggled this spring. Moore, well-liked in Washington, needs an opportunity somewhere else. Maybe the Nationals will try to deal him. … Cleveland optioned Pascagoula’s Joey Butler to Triple-A Buffalo, but manager Terry Francona said he was “thrilled” that the Indians were able to keep the slugging outfielder in the organization. Butler, who flashed his potential with Tampa Bay in 2015, didn’t have a good spring with the Indians, but he’ll get another shot with them. … Delta State is suddenly cooking, with eight straight wins and back-to-back Gulf South Conference series sweeps. The Statesmen, after rolling over North Alabama on the road this weekend, are 20-9, 13-5. They’ll be climbing in the NCAA Division II polls. … This just in: Southern Miss can hit a little bit. The Golden Eagles mashed four home runs on Saturday to finish off a C-USA sweep of Texas-San Antonio and now have 33 homers in 25 games. Taylor Braley leads with eight and Dylan Burdeaux has seven for 19-6 USM. …. Big series. Big crowds. Big letdown in Oxford? After getting swept by South Carolina in a matchup of top 10 teams, Ole Miss finds itself with a 2-4 SEC record. It’ll be interesting to see how the Rebels respond. … Was anybody left at Dudy Noble Field on Saturday when Mississippi State’s game against Georgia ended? Was anybody awake? The home Dogs lost to the road Dogs 11-8 in a nine-inning game that lasted almost five hours and “featured” 22 walks and 10 pitching changes. State did win the first two games and is now 4-2 in the league. … Props to Itawamba Community College’s Rick Collier on becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach with 452 W’s in 14 years. The Indians, with two homers from Timothy Rowe, beat Meridian 10-3 in the second game of a twinbill on Friday to push Collier past Roy Cresap. … Nominee for Game of the Year: In Ellisville on Friday, Jones County Junior College got a game-tying three-run homer from pinch-hitter Marcus Hardy in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off two-run shot from Erick Hoard in the 10th to beat Northwest 8-6. After completing the doubleheader sweep, Jones is 24-2 and 7-1, leading the MACJC standings.
It might be a good time to invest in some Tim Anderson rookie cards. A web site devoted to such things reveals that the average price of a rookie card of the former East Central Community College standout is $4.96. But one card, a “2013 Leaf Draft Superfractor RC Rookie Auto Autograph 1/1,” sold for $58 in January of 2015. Anderson hasn’t played a big league game yet. He was sent down to Triple-A Charlotte by the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, but it won’t be long before the highly rated prospect assumes the shortstop job at Comiskey Park. Could be this summer. A first-round pick (17th overall) out of ECCC in 2013, Anderson put up some great numbers at Double-A Birmingham in 2015: .312, 12 triples, 49 steals, 79 runs and 46 RBIs in 125 games. Some might remember that he homered at Trustmark Park in Pearl in his first Southern League game back in 2014. He has been in the White Sox’s big league spring camp the last two years and made an impression. “The biggest thing for me seeing him in the last couple years is, defensively, he just looks so much better and confident,” ChiSox manager Robin Ventura told mlb.com. Buy low, they say. Might be a good time to load up on some Tim Anderson rookies.
Mississippi College is in a good place. Not meaning Carrollton, Ga., necessarily but in a broader sense. This is MC’s second season playing an NCAA Division II schedule after many years in D-III, and there are several signs of progress. The Choctaws head into this weekend’s Gulf South Conference series at West Georgia with an 11-13 record, 4-10 in the league. In coach Jeremy Haworth’s first season, the Choctaws have already equaled their GSC win total from last year (when they were 4-28) and are one victory shy of equaling their overall win mark (12-34). They beat Christian Brothers two of three in a GSC series last weekend and followed that up with a nice win over a good William Carey team on Tuesday. MC has gotten good offensive production from Hunter Bolin (.385), Logan Ferrell (.352, 25 runs), Caleb Upton (.293, 17 RBIs) and Will Elliott (.263, three homers). A big key for the Choctaws, who had major pitching problems in 2015, has been the emergence of lefty Jake Fraze (5-1, 3.33 ERA) as a No. 1 starter and Tyler Scholl (0.47 ERA in 16 games, two wins, two saves) as a bullpen weapon. P.S. Another program seemingly on the rise is Coahoma Community College. The Tigers, in their second season under ex-Ole Miss star Lee Hodge, are 4-4 in the MACJC (10-15 overall) heading into a twinbill at Gulf Coast today. CCC went 5-23, 7-37 in 2015, continuing a long trend of rough years. … Props to Southern Miss senior Tim Lynch, whose first career walk-off hit delivered a C-USA victory over Texas-San Antonio in Hattiesburg on Thursday. … William Carey (20-9) is ranked No. 24 in the latest NAIA coaches poll.
It looks like there is just one bench job left on Washington’s 25-man roster, and ex-Mississippi State star Tyler Moore is in a group that includes Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, Reed Johnson, Chris Heisey and Matt den Dekker vying for that spot as camp winds down. Moore, an outfielder/first baseman, provides right-handed power (24 homers in 601 MLB at-bats) but is just a .228 career hitter (.203 in 2015). A change of uniforms might be in store for Moore. … The frightening injury suffered by Milwaukee’s Rymer Liriano, who was hit in the face by a pitch, will open a roster spot that Ole Miss alum Alex Presley might squeeze into. The lefty-hitting outfielder, in Brewers camp as a non-roster invitee, is batting .321 with three homers (he hit one Tuesday) and nine RBIs. … Former Pillow Academy standout Louis Coleman hasn’t allowed a run in six innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers and may stick in their bullpen. Coleman, formerly with Kansas City, is out of minor league options, which could help his cause. … Cody Reed, not yet on Cincinnati’s 40-man roster, was sent to minor league camp on Tuesday despite a 3.97 ERA in four Cactus League games. The Northwest Mississippi Community College product, who hasn’t pitched above Double-A, will be back with the Reds soon enough. … A strong outing on Sunday wasn’t enough to earn T.J. House a roster spot with Cleveland, which optioned the left-hander from Picayune to Triple-A Columbus on Monday. Despite those four shutout innings against Seattle, House had a 5.59 ERA this spring in four games. After posting a 3.35 ERA in 19 games as a rookie in 2014, House’s 2015 season was wrecked by a rotator cuff issue. He was 0-4, 13.15 to open last season before being sent to the minors and ultimately shut down. “He needs to find some consistency,” manager Terry Francona told mlb.com. “(R)epetition will be really good for him.” … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz is slated to start today for San Diego against the Chicago White Sox in the Cactus League as he bids for a spot in the Padres’ rotation. A newly developed cutter could be the key for left-hander Pomeranz, who has been primarily a two-pitch pitcher working as a starter and reliever in the past. … Chris Coghlan has been getting time at second base in Oakland’s camp. The former Ole Miss star, traded to the A’s by the Chicago Cubs this spring, has played primarily outfield in his MLB career but has seen some duty at second and third. He is hitting just .233 this spring but did take San Francisco’s Jeff Samardzija deep on Monday.
The early leader for comeback player of the year from among Magnolia State colleges is, without a doubt, Tate Blackman of Ole Miss. The Florida native, a Louisville Slugger All-American as a prep senior, hit just .197 with nine RBIs in 39 games (36 starts) as a freshman for the Rebels in 2015. He had some moments – a game-winning run against Mississippi State, a walk-off hit vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a good series against LSU – but overall, it was a rough first year. The second baseman has come back with a vengeance this spring: He went 2-for-4 with a home run on Tuesday as the Rebels (20-2) rolled to an 8-2 win over UT-Martin. Blackman leads Ole Miss with a .347 average and is tied for the team lead with 21 RBIs. He also has scored 20 runs. He’ll surely be in the Ferriss Trophy conversation down the road. P.S. Down went the heavyweights in the MACJC on Tuesday. Both Jones County Junior College and Meridian Community College lost for the first time in league play. Jones (now 5-1 and 22-2 overall) split a twinbill with Southwest (3-3), and MCC (5-1 and 20-2) split with Delta (3-1). Of note: In Southwest’s 4-1 win in Game 2 at Ellisville, Brady Anderson hit a game-turning grand slam off JCJC ace Calder Mikell, and Bears pitchers Braden Smith and Kaleb Clarke checked the slugging Bobcats on seven hits.