This was a close call. Drew Pomeranz went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA last season and was a key player in Boston’s drive to a division title. But Brian Dozier, who also had sparkling numbers, was arguably THE key player in unheralded Minnesota’s drive to a wild card berth. On that basis, the former Southern Miss star is a repeat winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the best performance by a Mississippian in the majors. Dozier, who also won the 2016 award, batted a career-high .271 (.359 on-base) with 34 homers, 93 RBIs, 106 runs and 16 steals in his fifth full season with the Twins. He was a regular on the highlight shows for his defense at second base. What’s more, he led off the American League wild card game against New York with a home run, though the Twins couldn’t hold the lead. No disrespect to Pomeranz — or for that matter Zack Cozart, Corey Dickerson, Jarrod Dyson, Lance Lynn and Adam Frazier, each of whom had a very good season – but Dozier was simply a cut above. … The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Previous honorees include Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan.
In memory of Boo Ferriss, who died on Nov. 24 of last year, here’s a quick review of his major league debut, which started off a little shaky but wound up being brilliant. It was April 29, 1945, a Sunday in Philadelphia, the first game of a twinbill at Shibe Park, one of baseball’s great cathedrals. Ferriss, then 23, got the ball for Boston; he was opposed by Bobo Newsom. After the Red Sox went quietly in the first inning, Ferriss faced Charlie Metro to begin the bottom half. Metro walked. Then Ferriss threw a wild pitch. Then he walked the second batter. He got an out but walked yet another batter to the load the bases. A double play ended the inning. Ferriss walked another batter to start the second but ended that inning with two strikeouts. From there, the tall Shaw native and Mississippi State alum settled in. He yielded two more walks and five hits all told but never allowed an A’s runner to touch home plate. The Red Sox won 2-0; it was the first of Ferriss’ 65 MLB victories in a career that would be cut short by injury just five years later. He is still revered in Red Sox Nation. And he would go on to carve out a whole new legacy as the coach at Delta State, helping to shape the game in his home state.
Today’s subject: Frank W. Baker. Not to be confused with Frank “Home Run” Baker, an early 1900s star, or Frank Baker Jr., who played for Cleveland in 1969 and ’71, this Baker was a second-round draft pick out of Southern Miss by the New York Yankees in 1967. Baker, a lanky, left-handed hitting middle infielder, is one of a large contingent of players from the Meridian area to make the majors. He played three years at USM, where he is in the Hall of Fame, and parts of four years in the big leagues. After batting .259 at Triple-A Syracuse in 1970, Baker debuted with the Yankees on Aug. 9, going 0-for-3 against Baltimore’s Jim Palmer. In 146 MLB games with New York and then Baltimore, Baker batted just .191. He hit his one big league homer in 1973. He was out of the game by 1975.
Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss star from Picayune, went 3-for-5 in Thursday’s regular season finale to finish at .347, good for seventh in the Arizona Fall League batting race. Playing for Salt River, the Miami prospect had eight steals, which ranked fourth in the league. … Peoria takes on Mesa in Saturday’s AFL championship game (2 p.m., MLB Network). Peoria, managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar, features a bunch of M-Braves alumni, most notably ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and uber-prospect Ronald Acuna. Riley hit .300 with six homers. Acuna batted .325 and led the loop with seven bombs. Spencer Turnbull and Zac Houston, both Detroit farmhands, are on Mesa’s roster. Turnbull, a Madison Central product, went 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA as a starter. Houston, a Mississippi State alum, had a stellar AFL campaign: no runs allowed on four hits with 18 strikeouts and one walk in 11 1/3 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) was also outstanding: 0.00 ERA, league-best four saves and 18 K’s in 11 2/3 innings for Scottsdale. … Former Harrison Central standout Bobby Bradley, at 21 one of the younger players in the league, mostly scuffled, batting .230 with two homers and 32 strikeouts for Glendale. Bradley is one of Cleveland’s top prospects. … Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass (Los Angeles Angels), a late add to Scottsdale’s roster, went 1-for-24.
Free agency should be good to Zack Cozart. The former Ole Miss star, a good-hit/good-field shortstop, is rated No. 11 on the list of 184 available free agents by sports.yahoo.com. He is coming off a career year, having made his first All-Star Game. He earned $5.3M in 2017. The one issue, the Yahoo writer suggests, might be Cozart’s age: 32. Not exactly ancient, but for a shortstop … . Oddly enough, on a recent MLB Now segment on MLB Network, Cozart was mentioned as both the “most underrated” and “most overrated” player on the market. UM product Lance Lynn, who bounced back strong in 2017 after Tommy John surgery, was No. 13 on Yahoo’s list, Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland No. 47, ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star Jarrod Dyson No. 52 and former Rebels standout Seth Smith No. 73. Other Mississippians on the market (as minor leaguers) are Tyler Moore, Alex Presley, David Goforth, Scott Copeland, Joey Butler and Cody Satterwhite as well as Chris Coghlan, Desmond Jennings and Louis Coleman, erstwhile big leaguers released during the 2017 season.
Former Madison Central High standout Spencer Turnbull, trying to make a case for a spot on Detroit’s 40-man roster, is having mixed results in the Arizona Fall League. The right-hander, who would be eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft if not protected, is 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in six starts for Mesa. He worked 3 2/3 innings on Tuesday, yielding three runs on six hits and two walks while taking the loss. A 2014 second-round pick out of Alabama, Turnbull has endured two straight injury-plagued seasons (shoulder, elbow). He was 7-3, 3.05 at Class A Lakeland in 2017, then went 0-3, 6.20 in six Double-A starts at Erie. MLB Pipeline rates Turnbull as the No. 28 prospect in the Tigers’ system. Reports say he has big league stuff — he just needs to stay healthy. P.S. Meanwhile, down in Mexico, David Goforth is hoping to catch someone’s attention with his showing in the Mexican Pacific League. A minor league free agent, the Neshoba Central High and Ole Miss alum has a 1.96 ERA in 16 appearances for Culiacan, with a win and two saves. Despite solid numbers in Triple-A in 2017, Goforth, 29, only got one big league appearance with Milwaukee. He has pitched in 31 MLB games overall – all for the Brewers — since 2015. In 2014, with Huntsville in the Southern League, he put up 27 saves.
Thanks again to MLB Network, there is live baseball on the tube today, and Mississippian Austin Riley is in the lineup for one of the teams. Peoria is at Surprise in the Arizona Fall League’s annual Military Appreciation Game set for 7 p.m. Riley, the 20-year-old third baseman and fast-climbing Atlanta prospect, is penciled into the third spot in the order for the visiting Javelinas, who are managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar. Riley hit his league-leading sixth home run on Friday. The ex-DeSoto Central standout is batting .333 with 16 RBIs and 11 runs in 14 games. This after his second straight 20-homer campaign in the minors; he hit eight of his 2017 bombs for the M-Braves. There already is speculation that Riley could make it to Atlanta this coming season. Two other 2017 M-Braves — outfielder Ronald Acuna, who leads the AFL in runs, and catcher Alex Jackson – are in the Peoria lineup, and ex-M-Brave Max Fried, tied for the league lead in wins with three, will be on the mound.