There are five outfielders scattered through mlb.com’s chart of the top 30 prospects in the Texas system. LeDarious Clark is not one of them, but the former East Mississippi Community College star from Meridian is building his resume in the Australian Baseball League. Clark, drafted by the Rangers in the 12th round in 2015, went 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs today in Adelaide’s 8-3 win against Brisbane. Clark is batting .357 over his last 10 games and is at .277 with two homers, 17 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 20 games for the season. In his two minor league campaigns, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Clark has hit .256 with 21 homers and 55 steals. The onetime football standout presents an intriguing power-speed combination. P.S. Back in the States, it’s been a slow go for free agent Mississippians. There has been no hard news since Dec. 19, when Ole Miss alum Alex Presley signed as a minor league free agent with Detroit, one of the two MLB clubs he played for in 2016. The lefty-hitting outfielder, 31, is a .253 career hitter with 26 homers and 25 steals over parts of seven big league campaigns. Mitch Moreland (Boston), Jacob Lindgren (Atlanta), Tyler Moore (Miami), T.J. House (Toronto) and Scott Copeland (Miami) also have signed, the latter three on minor league contracts. Still out there are Chris Coghlan, Louis Coleman, Desmond Jennings, Joey Butler, Aaron Barrett, Jonathan Papelbon and Julio Borbon.
It’s not one of the hot topics of this Hot Stove season, but Desmond Jennings’ future hasn’t gone cold. There have been reports linking the 30-year-old free agent to Detroit and Arizona, both of which are said to be looking for depth in the outfield. Jennings, the former Itawamba Community College two-sport star, had some moments but never really lived up to expectations during his tenure with Tampa Bay, which released him last summer. Injuries derailed Jennings the last two seasons, limiting him to 93 games. His career numbers are modest: .245 (.322 on-base), 55 homers, 95 steals in parts of seven MLB seasons. But he isn’t so old that he can’t still break out. He was once the Rays’ No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America. That ranking followed his 2009 season in the Double-A Southern League, when he batted .316 with eight triples, eight homers, 45 RBIs and 37 steals for Montgomery. He goes 6 feet 2, 210 pounds and can play any of the outfield spots (.995 career fielding percentage). He’ll get a shot somewhere. He could help somebody. If he’s healthy. And that might be a big if.
While wondering if Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier will soon be a Los Angeles Dodger, here’s more stuff to chew on: D.J. Davis, seemingly in need of some positive reinforcement, hit his first home run of the Australian Baseball League season today. The former Stone County High standout launched a three-run bomb – boosting his RBI total to seven – for Canberra in a 5-2 win against Perth. Davis, a first-round pick in 2012 by Toronto, is coming off a rough year in A-ball and is batting just .125 (6-for-48) in the ABL. … East Mississippi Community College product LeDarious Clark (a Texas farmhand) has eight hits – including his first ABL homer – over his last five games to boost his average to .250 for Adelaide. He is second in the league (to Atlanta prospect Ronald Acuna) with nine steals. … Ex-Picayune High star T.J. House has signed a minor league contract with Toronto. House, a left-hander, posted a 4.44 ERA over parts of three seasons with Cleveland, which drafted him in 2008. He spent most of 2016 at Triple-A Columbus, where he had a 3.98 ERA. A starter for most of his career, House worked out of the bullpen the latter half of last season. … Mitch Moreland played on some good teams during his seven seasons in Texas but none could compare with what Boston will trot out in 2017. “I’m super excited,” Amory native Moreland said in a recent mlb.com story. “I’ve always been a fan of Boston, the fans, the background, history of the team.” The lefty-hitting first baseman hit .233 with 22 homers and won a Gold Glove for the Rangers in 2016. He should be a good fit on a Red Sox club that shapes up as a real threat to steal the Chicago Cubs’ crown.
After an unproductive year in Atlanta’s system, Tyler Moore has moved on to Miami. The former Northwest Rankin High, Meridian Community College and Mississippi State slugger signed a minor league contract with the Marlins on Tuesday. The initial reports did not indicate whether the right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder will get an invite to big league spring training. Moore, who hit 24 homers in 277 games over four seasons with Washington, was on the disabled list much of 2016 after the Braves acquired him in a trade. He batted .229 with three homers in 25 games for Triple-A Gwinnett. The Marlins appear set at first base with Justin Bour and have Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna at the corner outfield spots. But Moore could provide power off the bench.
Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, made a trip to Milwaukee’s Miller Park in September to be honored as the Brewers’ minor league pitcher of the year. “This wouldn’t be a bad job to come to every day,” Woodruff said in an mlb.com story. It’ll be his office soon enough. Woodruff, also named the Brewers’ minor league pitcher of the year by MLBPipeline, likely will go to spring training with a chance at winning a job in Milwaukee’s rotation. The right-hander, who’ll turn 24 in February, is currently rated the Brewers’ No. 25 prospect by mlb.com – and he should be rising on that chart. Woodruff started 2016 at high Class A Brevard County and finished it with Double-A Biloxi, going 14-9 with a 2.68 ERA and leading all of the minors with 173 strikeouts. He also overcame the emotional toll of his brother Blake’s death in a four-wheeler accident in late July. In his first start after the funeral, Woodruff threw six near-perfect innings and hit a home run for the Shuckers. Woodruff had an uneven career at State, dogged by injuries and command issues. Milwaukee took him in the 11th round in 2014, and his pro career took off this season at Brevard County. He was 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA before earning a promotion to Biloxi, where he was almost as good. Woodruff beat the Mississippi Braves twice in big games down the stretch as both clubs battled for a Southern League postseason berth. P.S. Itawamba Community College alum Tim Dillard has re-signed with Milwaukee on a minor league contract. The 2017 season will be Dillard’s 15th in pro ball, including parts of four years in the majors. He spent some time with the Brewers last September as part of the club’s social media team (see previous post). Dillard had a 5.13 ERA at Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Brewers’ system in 2016 but reportedly is throwing harder than ever.
Friday was a good day for baseball in Perth, where the temperature at game time between the Adelaide Bite and the host Heat was 73 degrees, according to the Australian Baseball League box score. It was a good day for LeDarious Clark, too, according to the same box score. The former Southeast Lauderdale High and East Mississippi Community College standout, batting leadoff and playing left field for Adelaide, went 2-for-6 with a couple of RBIs and a run in the Bite’s 8-2 win. Clark, a Texas Rangers prospect, is batting .214 with eight RBIs, seven runs and seven steals in 13 games in the ABL. A 12th-round pick in 2015 out of West Florida, Clark hit .276 with eight homers, 24 RBIs, seven triples and 29 runs at the short season level that summer. He smacked 11 homers and stole 24 bases in low Class A this past season but batted only .242 and fanned 99 times in 314 at-bats. … The other Mississippi native playing Down Under, former Stone County star D.J. Davis, is struggling. Davis, a former first-round pick by Toronto, is batting .095 in 11 games for Canberra.
Stuart Turner’s path to the big leagues may have been altered. The ex-Ole Miss star was picked by Cincinnati out of the Minnesota system in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Turner, a catcher, will go to spring training with the Reds with a chance to earn a roster spot. If he doesn’t make the big league club, the Reds have to offer him back to the Twins for half the Rule 5 purchase price of $100,000. Turner was a second-round pick by Minnesota in 2013 and batted .239 with six homers at Double-A Chattanooga in 2016. He is regarded as a strong defender. Two other Mississippians were selected in the Rule 5 draft, both in the minor league phase. Former Murrah High standout Zack Bird was picked by Texas out of Atlanta’s system, and Ole Miss alum Alex Yarbrough was taken by Miami from the Los Angeles Angels. Bird, originally drafted by the Dodgers, has had some injury issues of late and posted an 8.87 ERA in A-ball this summer. But, the right-hander has stuff, having averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career. Yarbrough, after strong seasons in 2013 and ’14, scuffled in 2015 and fell off the prospect charts. The switch-hitting second baseman spent most of 2016 in Double-A and hit .267 with four homers, 52 RBIs and 11 steals. A change of scenery could be a boost for him. P.S. From the rumor mill: Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star, has been mentioned as a trade candidate now that Kansas City has added Jorge Soler to its outfield mix.
The Winter Meetings are generating almost as much excitement as the World Series, with the names of quite a few Mississippians churning through the rumor mill these days. Mitch Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State star from Amory, reportedly has signed a 1-year, $5.5 million deal with Boston, where he’ll likely platoon with Hanley Ramirez at first base. The Red Sox, having acquired Chris Sale, may look to trade away a starter, possibly Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz. Former UM star Seth Smith apparently is being shopped by Seattle, which is said to be looking for starting pitching. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier has been linked to the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers but says he wants to remain with Minnesota. There were rumblings that Texas was interested in Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton to play center field before the club re-signed Carlos Gomez. P.S. Catching up: Ex-Ole Miss standout David Goforth accepted an assignment to Triple-A Colorado Springs in Milwaukee’s system. … Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace, signed a minor league deal with Miami. … Greenwood native and Pillow Academy product Louis Coleman, non-tendered by the Dodgers, is on the free agent market, as is Alcorn State alum Earl Burl III, who was recently released by Toronto after two sub-par minor league seasons.
So, former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis is off to a third organization in three years, traded on Thursday by Atlanta to St. Louis in the Jaime Garcia deal. Ellis, who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, his only year in the Braves system, started his pro career with the Los Angeles Angels. A bunch of other Mississippians could be changing teams this off-season. The current list of free agents (at both the major and minor league levels) includes position players Joey Butler, Chris Coghlan, Desmond Jennings, Tyler Moore, Mitch Moreland and Alex Presley and pitchers Aaron Barrett, Scott Copeland, David Goforth (designated for assignment by Milwaukee on Nov. 23), T.J. House and Jonathan Papelbon. D.J. Davis and Zack Bird have been mentioned as possible Rule 5 draft picks, and there are trade rumors swirling around Zack Cozart. P.S. Among the players feeling a little more secure is Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, recently added to Oakland’s 40-man roster. Wahl is on a list – longer than you might think – of pitchers who hit 100 mph or better in the minors this past season, when he notched 14 saves between Double-A and Triple-A. Over his four pro years, the right-hander has a 3.90 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 161 2/3 innings. He is viewed as a potential big league closer.