16 Aug

running on empty?

When you’ve been found wanting by one of the worst teams in baseball, it’s not a good sign. But Billy Hamilton, still one of the fastest players in MLB, may find another opportunity to use his breathtaking speed. The former Taylorsville High star was designated for assignment today by Kansas City, which means he could be claimed by another team or, more likely, become a free agent. Hamilton signed a one-year free agent deal with the Royals in the off-season after six years with Cincinnati, where, from 2014-17, he averaged 58 steals a year despite a sub-.250 average. Wrote MLB Trade Rumors at the time he signed with Kansas City: “(I)f Hamilton starts filling those massive gaps (in Kauffman Stadium) with liners and shows a newfound devotion to the strike zone, the Royals could have the steal of the decade … .” That didn’t happen, and his plus-defense in center field wasn’t enough to keep him in the Royals’ lineup. Hamilton was batting .211 with 18 bags in 93 games. At 28, he can still run, so perhaps a team with a need for such a specialist will come calling.

16 Aug

it’s a start

Making the New York-Penn League All-Star Game likely was not a major goal for Milton Smith II — who has expressed a much bigger dream — but it’s a nice feather in his cap. Smith, a former Meridian Community College and Starkville High star, was named to the short season Class A league’s showcase event on Thursday. The game is Aug. 21 at Staten Island, N.Y. A 22nd-round pick by Miami out of MCC in 2018, Smith is batting .319 (sixth in the NYPL) with 27 runs and 17 steals in 47 games for Batavia. He hit .362 last year, playing at the rookie level plus five games in high-A. That followed his sophomore season at Meridian when he batted .381 and swiped 24 bags in 40 games. Smith, a 5-foot-10, left-handed hitting outfielder, has what his former high school coach called “elite” speed. That’s a valuable tool, one that could help him stand out in a Marlins system that currently features 11 other outfielders among its Top 30 prospects. Smith also possesses a high level of confidence. Three years ago, at a ceremony when he signed with MCC, Smith told The Dispatch of Columbus/Starkville that his goal in baseball was not just to make the major leagues but to make it to Cooperstown, i.e., the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

15 Aug

making tracks

The Milwaukee Brewers are taking the slow and steady approach with Ethan Small, their first-round pick in June from Mississippi State (and the first Mississippian chosen at 28th overall). The left-hander, who worked 107 innings for the Bulldogs on their road to the College World Series, has made just four pro appearances, the last on Aug. 9 for Class A Wisconsin. He is slated to start again Friday. He has yet to allow a run over nine innings and has punched out 13. Already rated the Brewers’ No. 5 prospect (MLB Pipeline), Small is projected to make the majors by 2021, which sounds like a fast track but isn’t out of the ordinary for advanced college players. Take Dakota Hudson, for instance. The ex-MSU right-hander was the top pick out of the state in 2016 – 34th overall – and debuted with St. Louis last year. Hudson threw six shutout innings to beat Kansas City on Wednesday, improving to 11-6 with a 3.82 ERA as one of the Cardinals’ steadiest starters. The first pick from the state in 2018 was Ryan Rolison, taken 22nd overall out of Ole Miss by Colorado. Lefty Rolison, the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect, has reached high Class A Lancaster, where he is 4-5, 5.02, possibly on track to reach The Show next season. The state’s top pick in 2017 was Brent Rooker, the SEC Triple Crown winner at State who went 35th overall to Minnesota. Rooker’s rise has been stalled by injuries this year. Currently on the IL at Triple-A Rochester, he is batting .281 with 14 homers. Austin Riley was the first Mississippian picked in 2015 – 41st overall out of DeSoto Central High by Atlanta. The third baseman/outfielder made a smashing MLB debut this spring – at age 22 – but is currently out with a knee injury. (He is expected to start a rehab assignment soon.) MSU alum Hunter Renfroe – the first Mississippian picked in 2013 – and ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz – the first in 2010 – are currently in the big leagues. Renfroe, who debuted in 2016, is with San Diego, and the well-traveled Pomeranz, who was up by 2011, is with Milwaukee. The other three top picks from this decade, all high school players, did not fare so well. Blake Anderson (36th overall in 2014 out of West Lauderdale High) hasn’t played since 2017 and isn’t currently listed on a roster in Miami’s system. D.J. Davis (17th overall out of Stone County in 2012) was released by Toronto last summer, having never climbed above A-ball. Connor Barron (third round out of Sumrall in 2011 by Florida/Miami) opted to attend Southern Miss, where he had an up-and-down career and never got drafted again.

14 Aug

blast from past

Way back in 2014, he was a full-blown star at Columbia High and then a second-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers. On Tuesday, Ti’Quan Forbes was back on a ballfield in Mississippi, playing third base and banging out a couple of hits for the Double-A Birmingham Barons against the M-Braves at Trustmark Park in Pearl. He’s come a long way – but still has a ways to go on the big league highway. Forbes was the state’s Mr. Baseball as a rangy — and toolsy — shortstop at Columbia. He has filled out to 6 feet 3, 220 pounds and moved to third base but has yet to develop the power expected at that position. Batting .245 this year, his first in Double-A, Forbes has three home runs and a .332 slugging percentage in 103 games. He has a .251 career average and just 24 homers over six seasons, 11 of those bombs coming in A-ball in 2017. That was the year he was traded, in August, from Texas to the Chicago White Sox. His defense has been solid – 15 errors in 94 games at third this year – but the bat needs to perk up. Even though he is only 22 – he turns 23 on Aug. 26 – time may not be on his side much longer.

14 Aug

long ball madness

Home runs are cool and all, but the “juiced ball” has gotten a little out of hand in the big leagues this year. Yet another case in point: Entering this season, Jarrod Dyson had seven home runs in 1,917 career at-bats. The McComb native and former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star hit his seventh of 2019 on Tuesday night in his 305th AB. Dyson is 5 feet 10 (maybe), 165 pounds and 34 years old. Tuesday’s homer was Dyson’s third career leadoff bomb, all coming this season. This is to take nothing away from the season Dyson is having, which is outstanding. Playing regularly in center field for Arizona, which remains in the playoff hunt, Dyson is batting .259 with 51 runs (five shy of his career-best) and 24 steals (11 short of his best). (He has set a career-high for ejections, getting the first of his career last week arguing a called strike.) He has batted .308 over his last 15 games. Tuesday’s homer, which he pulled down the right-field line at Coors Field, was his only hit in the 9-3 win against Colorado, but it sparked a five-run first inning. “Dyson started the party,” Diamondbacks teammate Nick Ahmed told The Associated Press.

13 Aug

m-braves new world

In a span of six days starting July 31, the Mississippi Braves’ prospect-packed roster was gouged. Pitcher Joey Wentz, Atlanta’s No. 9 prospect (MLB Pipeline), was traded on deadline day. On Aug. 4, No. 7 Kyle Muller, also a pitcher, went on the injured list. On Aug. 5 — the final day of the last homestand — No. 1 Cristian Pache, No. 2 Drew Waters, No. 3 Ian Anderson and No. 13 Tucker Davidson (two outfielders and two more starting pitchers) were promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett. Boom. As the M-Braves begin a 10-game homestand tonight, you might be wondering, what’s left? Well, Atlanta does have one of the strongest farm systems, and there are several intriguing top 20 prospects on the current club. Start with Trey Harris, a former SEC (Missouri) outfielder promoted from A-ball last month. The No. 18 prospect, he is batting .310 in 20 games after blowing through low-A Rome (.366, eight homers) and high-A Florida (.303, four homers). William Contreras, No. 8, the younger brother of big leaguer Willson, is regarded as a strong defensive catcher and is batting .237 in 44 Double-A games. No. 11 Greyson Jenista is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound outfielder out of Wichita State who has four homers and 20 RBIs in 55 games. Another potential power bat belongs to C.J. Alexander, No. 19, a 6-5, 215 third baseman who has two homers in 20 games as he comes back from an injury earlier in the year. And Jassell De La Cruz, No. 14, is a hard-throwing right-hander with a 3-7, 4.41 ledger over 13 games. Bradley Roney isn’t on the top prospect charts, but the former Southern Miss star has been pitching like one: one earned run allowed in his last nine appearances, 3.26 ERA in 15 games all told. The team is in a period of adjustment – they went 1-4 on their recent road trip – but has enough pieces to put together a nice run over the next 10 days at Trustmark Park.
P.S. Biloxi High’s Colten Keith was invited to the USA Baseball 18-and-Under National Team Trials and Training starting today in California. The final 20-man 18U National Team will be named on Saturday and will compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 Baseball World Cup in Gijang City, South Korea, from Aug. 30-Sept. 8. Keith hit .527 with eight homers for Biloxi as a junior in 2019 after transferring from Arizona; he was Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year. … Oxford’s Tyrus Williams competed in the 15U National Team Trials held in July at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Two Mississippians took part in this summer’s 14U National Team Development Program in Cary: Keondre Fields of Nesbit and Keilon Parnell of Pascagoula.

13 Aug

cub futures

Wyatt Short, the former Ole Miss standout from Southaven, has been promoted to Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs’ system and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his debut on Sunday. Short, a 5-foot-8 left-hander, posted a 1.63 ERA and nine saves at Double-A Tennessee, where he was a Southern League All-Star this summer. He has a career 2.37 ERA with 16 wins and 38 saves in 136 relief appearances. Short was a 13th-round pick by the Cubs in 2016 and is one of six Mississippi products now in that organization. Ex-Mississippi State star and veteran big league pitcher Kendall Graveman signed as a free agent in the off-season but is on the injured list recovering from Tommy John surgery in July 2018. George County High alum Justin Steele is also on the Cubs’ 40-man roster, but the injury-hampered top 20 prospect, a 2014 draft pick, is on the IL at Double-A Tennessee. With Short at Iowa is Delta State product Trent Giambrone, the Cubs’ No. 28 prospect (per MLB Pipeline); the versatile Giambrone, a 2016 draftee, is batting .242 with 23 home runs. Playing the infield at Class A Myrtle Beach are former Southern Miss star Luke Reynolds and Itawamba Community College product Delvin Zinn. Zinn, a 2016 draftee, is hitting .233 with 12 RBIs and eight steals in 35 games since he moved up from low-A ball in early July. Reynolds, C-USA player of the year in 2018 and a 10th-round pick that year, was demoted from Myrtle Beach to low-A South Bend when Zinn moved up. He returned to the Carolina League on Aug. 2 and is 10-for-33 with a homer and five RBIs since.

12 Aug

a thrill for will

A list that includes Willie Mays, Christy Mathewson, Mel Ott, Juan Marichal and Barry Bonds is pretty darn special. Will Clark, the former Mississippi State standout, is joining it. During an on-field ceremony Sunday honoring their 1989 World Series team, the San Francisco Giants announced that Clark’s No. 22 will be retired at another ceremony next year. Clark, nicknamed “The Thrill,” was taken aback by the exuberant reaction of his old teammates, who were hearing the news for the first time: “(T)hat right there just killed me.” After his star-spangled career in Starkville, Clark was the No. 2 overall pick – the highest any Mississippi product has been taken – in the 1985 draft by the Giants and reached the big leagues the next year. He played the first eight of his 15 MLB seasons for the Giants and was a driving force for the ’89 club that also included his former State teammate Jeff Brantley and Jackson Mets alum Kevin Mitchell. In the National League Championship Series against Chicago, Clark put on an unforgettable performance: 13-for-20, two homers and eight RBIs in five games. That World Series trip (a loss to Oakland) ended a 27-year drought for the storied franchise. Clark finished his career with a .303 average and 284 home runs. He and Bonds are the only two Giants to have their number retired who aren’t in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

11 Aug

there and here

Hunter Renfroe had some fun with numbers on Saturday. The ex-Mississippi State standout went 3-for-3 with a walk, two doubles, a home run, four runs and two RBIs, helping San Diego beat Colorado 8-5 at Petco Park. The home run, his 31st of the season, was his 300th career hit and produced his 200th career RBI. He has 87 career homers in three-plus seasons in the majors. … At Petco Park tonight, a pair of Mississippi high school sluggers with big league dreams will take part in the Perfect Game All-American Classic (MLB Network, 7 p.m.). DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan and Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks are on opposing teams. Jordan, a right-handed hitting third baseman who goes 6 feet 2, 218 pounds, won the High School Home Run Derby competition at this year’s MLB All-Star Game. He was featured in Baseball America when he was in ninth grade, and the Perfect Game profile calls him a “travel ball legend.” He is a Mississippi State commit. Wilks, listed at 6-2, 215, is a lefty-swinging outfielder also cited for his prodigious power; the PG profile says he has started at Columbia Academy since eighth grade and has 44 homers entering his senior year. He is a Southern Miss commit. … Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson’s seventh home of the season was the only run Philadelphia scored in a loss to San Francisco on Saturday, and ex-MSU star Adam Frazier’s sixth homer was the lone run Pittsburgh tallied in a defeat against St. Louis. P.S. Ripped open an old (very old) pack of baseball cards on Saturday — in homage to National Baseball Card Day — and as fate would have it, there was a Mississippian in the bunch. Matt Lawton, the Gulfport native and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product who enjoyed a good 12-year big league career. This was a 2002 Topps Series 2 basic edition card. Lawton is pictured in what appears to be a Cleveland Indians spring training unie. After spending the first six-and-a-half years of his career in Minnesota, Lawton was traded to the New York Mets in 2001, then dealt to Cleveland that off-season. Lawton played for seven teams before he was done, made two All-Star Games and finished as a .267 career hitter. … Also in this particular pack of cards was a Shane Halter, who also has a Mississippi connection: His son Gunner played at MSU last season. There was a Marcus Giles and a Vernon Wells and a Joe Nathan and a special card honoring Barry Bonds for his 2001 MVP award. A nice haul. But is there ever really a bad one?

10 Aug

amazing stuff

Exactly 50 years after they turned amazing, the New York Mets are doing it again. They’ve climbed out of the dumpster to win 14 of their last 15 games and get within a half-game of a wild card berth in the National League. Their win on Friday night at a raucous CitiField was nothing short of amazing. Four runs in the bottom of the ninth — three-run bomb by Todd Frazier, walk-off rip by Michael Conforto — beat Washington 7-6. From 46-55 on July 24 to 60-56 today, the Mets are tied for third in the NL East, just 1 1/2 games back of the second-place Nationals and 8 behind Atlanta, which is surely looking over its shoulder. Shades of 1969, when the Amazin’ Mets ran down the Chicago Cubs in the old NL East, then went on to shock Baltimore and win the World Series. What’s equally amazing about this season is that Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss pitcher, is still around as the Mets’ manager. Several times during the club’s early struggles his firing seemed inevitable. But management stayed the course — and Callaway, generally a laid-back type, continued to espouse the positives about his club. “I think they believe in something, and they’re going after it,” he told mlb.com after Friday’s win. A New York Post writer on Friday drew parallels between Callaway and Tug McGraw, the relief pitcher who started the “Ya Gotta Believe” mantra in 1973, when a scuffling Mets team surged late and made the World Series. Callaway credited the vibe in the ballpark with aiding Friday’s rally: “(W)e don’t win this game without our fans.” After his game-winning knock that sent those fans into a frenzy, Conforto had his jersey ripped off by teammates before he could do his postgame TV interview. Said Callaway, in one of the best quotes of the year: “When guys’ shirts come off, it’s probably a pretty good day.” P.S. The Mets no doubt made some fans for life in the Jackson area when their Double-A club played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1975-90. Those old cranks, who celebrated a World Series title in 1986, have gotta be loving this.