Pittsburgh reportedly is considering Billy Hamilton, among others, to fill its vacancy in center field after the trade of Starling Marte. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, a free agent, is coming off the worst of his six full big league seasons, but at age 29 can still fly. He batted .218 overall with 22 steals last season, .268 with four bags in 26 games for Atlanta, which used him primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement after grabbing him on waivers from Kansas City. Hamilton finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting in 2014 with Cincinnati but hasn’t progressed as a hitter. A switch-hitter, he has a woeful .297 career on-base percentage but also 299 steals and a .995 fielding percentage with 55 assists. Oddly enough, Hamilton has not won a Gold Glove or a stolen base crown.
Tougaloo College lifted the lid on the state’s college season last weekend, losing a pair of games at Loyola of New Orleans. Next up we’ve got NAIA members William Carey University and Blue Mountain College, who are hosting games on Friday. Coach Bobby Halford is in his 35th season at Carey, which finished 24-26 (15-11 SSAC) in 2019 after a sluggish start. The Crusaders, who’ll rely a lot on newcomers in 2020, welcome back senior Sloan Dieter, who batted .315 with eight homers and posted a 6-2, 5.94 ledger on the mound. Also back is shortstop Patrick Lee, a former Pascagoula High star who hit .238 with 10 steals as a freshman. At Blue Mountain, Curt Fowler’s Toppers went 26-25-1 (15-11 SSAC) and return top hitter Deontaeu Rieves (.315) from Columbus and lefty Eli Jackson from New Albany. Ole Miss transfer Cooper Cox should be a strong addition to the pitching staff. P.S. NCAA Division II schools Delta State and Mississippi College open at home with doubleheaders on Saturday, the Statesmen starting the Rodney Batts era against East Central (Okla.) University and the Choctaws meeting Harding University. … Northeast Mississippi Community College will hold a dedication ceremony for its new “Field of Dreams” baseball/softball complex on Saturday in Booneville. The project took about 16 months and cost more than $8 million, per a school release. Both fields have an artificial playing surface and a video board. The Tigers’ first home game is Feb. 14. … The SWAC-MEAC Challenge, a three-day, six-team event that has Jackson State and Alcorn State in the field, is slated for Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium from Feb. 21-23, the Vicksburg Post reported this week. Some schools’ schedules have listed this event for Trustmark Park in Pearl. Southern University, North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M and Western Illinois are listed as participants. … Louisiana Tech will play three C-USA series at Smith-Wills this season while repairs are being made to its Ruston home field, damaged by a tornado last year. The Bulldogs will meet Middle Tennessee State (March 13-15), Rice (April 9-11) and Old Dominion (April 24-26) at 45-year-old Smith-Wills, which is still used by Division III Belhaven University for its home games. BU’s first home game is Feb. 14.
Mitch Moreland and the Boston Red Sox have a thing. For the third time in four years, ex-Mississippi State star Moreland has signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. The latest deal is one year with an option worth $3 million. Over his three seasons with Boston, the lefty-hitting first baseman, 34, has batted .247 with 56 home runs and 205 RBIs. In two postseasons for the club, he is 10-for-30 with three doubles, a homer, five RBIs and seven runs. He has won a ring and made an All-Star Game appearance while with the BoSox. He won a Gold Glove with Texas in 2016. Before signing Moreland, Boston was heading into spring training with two young players, second-year man Michael Chavis and untested Bobby Dalbec, penciled in at first base. As Boston-based nesn.com described it, the Moreland addition “wasn’t a big move, but it was a prudent one.” Moreland, who broke in with the Rangers in 2010, has 166 career homers, seventh all-time among Mississippi natives. Nicknamed “2-Bags” while in Boston, he has 199 career doubles. … Notable Mississippians still on the MLB free agent market are Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton and Tony Sipp.
Rumors that Arizona was interested in signing Brian Dozier to play second base apparently were quelled on Monday when the Diamondbacks traded for Starling Marte, who’ll play center field and make Ketel Marte the D’backs’ everyday second baseman. Former Southern Miss standout Dozier, who turns 33 in May, batted .238 (.340 on base) with 20 homers for world champion Washington in 2019, though he played sparingly toward season’s end and in the postseason. Dozier, an eight-year MLB veteran, is a career .245 hitter with 192 homers. He’s a good defensive player and a good clubhouse guy, even if his offensive production has fallen off, so it seems likely that he’ll land a job somewhere as a role player. P.S. Reports continue to pop up linking Mitch Moreland to Boston, where the Mississippi State product – and current free agent — played the previous three years, smashing 56 homers and collecting a World Series ring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.