16 Jul

ode to power

Power excites. It’s why people will turn out and tune in for tonight’s MLB Home Run Derby. Let’s see some dingers. Power brings to mind Ruth and Aaron and Bonds. Mantle, Mays and McGwire. Well, how about Burks, Parker and Pierce? When it comes to Mississippi natives and power, there are several who deserve to be remembered. Consider the credentials of Ellis Burks, Dave Parker, Jack Pierce, John Lindsey and Luke Easter, a Mount Rushmore plus one of Magnolia State mashers. Burks, from Vicksburg, is the all-time leader among Mississippi natives for MLB home runs. He hit 352 in a career that began in the mid-1980s, with four seasons of 31 or more and a high of 40. He participated in one Home Run Derby, in 1996. Parker, from Grenada, is No. 2 on the career list with 339 – and he won the very first All-Star Game Home Run Derby in 1985. A massive man, he used to swing a sledge hammer in the on-deck circle. Laurel native Pierce hit only eight big league bombs back in the 1970s but is credited by some sources with 395 minor league home runs, most of those in the Triple-A level Mexican League, where he is a legend. He hit 101 in affiliated minor league ball. Hattiesburg’s Lindsey, who only recently retired, crushed 377 homers all told in pro ball, including 232 in the affiliated minor leagues. Sadly, he did not homer in his handful of MLB games. Easter, from Jonestown, hit 93 big league homers in the 1950s, another 247 in a long minor league career and five (officially) in two short stints in the old Negro Leagues. He hit some legendary bombs, including a 500-footer in Buffalo’s long-gone Offermann Stadium and a 477-footer in Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium. That’s a power five that could put on a spectacular Home Run Derby – if only in the imagination. P.S. Aside from Parker and Burks, Brian Dozier, from Fulton, is the only other Mississippi native to hit in the Home Run Derby. That was in 2014, at his home field in Minnesota, two years before he belted 42 bombs, a record for a second baseman. Not considered a slugger, per se, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Dozier has 167 homers over seven seasons.

16 Jul

grand finale

Though he is not heading to the MLB All-Star Game, Brian Dozier put on a star-worthy performance in his final game before the break. The Southern Miss product smacked a walk-off grand slam Sunday to give Minnesota a wild 11-7 win over Tampa Bay. He had five RBIs all told and scored a run by drawing a balk. The victory wrapped up a 9-2 homestand for the Twins, who are scrapping to stay in playoff contention. “I love it,” Dozier said in a postgame TV interview. The subject of trade speculation, Dozier hit .321 with three homers and 10 RBIs over the last seven games of the first half. He leads all Mississippians in the majors with 16 homers and 48 RBIs. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox has 13 homers, and ex-Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland – who is headed to the All-Star Game – has 11 for Boston. Moreland is second to Dozier among Mississippians with 46 RBIs and second to Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson of Pittsburgh in batting average, .278 to .306. Dickerson, a 2017 All-Star with Tampa Bay, went 2-for-5 with his seventh homer on Sunday. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, with Cincinnati, has 22 steals, one more than Anderson. … The break may have come at a bad time for State product Hunter Renfroe, who homered on Saturday and Sunday for San Diego to boost his season total to seven. He hit 26 in 2017, when he played more regularly. P.S. Dakota Hudson threw a clean inning and fellow MSU alum Nate Lowe went 1-for-2 with an RBI in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game in Washington, D.C. … Down on the farm, Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley rated a headline on milb.com after hitting his 18th homer and diving into the stands to catch a pop fly for Double-A Akron. Bradley, a top Cleveland prospect at first base, is on an 11-game hit streak that has raised his average to .213. His homer total ranks second in the Eastern League.

15 Jul

bright futures

There is a maroon tint to the U.S. roster for today’s All-Star Futures Game. Former Mississippi State teammates Dakota Hudson and Nathaniel Lowe were chosen for this showcase event, slated for 3 p.m. (on MLB Network) at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C. Also on the rosters are Mississippi Braves alums Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint (who’ll suit up for the World team), the Biloxi Shuckers’ Keston Hiura and Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of ex-big leaguer and Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes. It’s certainly not a big surprise to see Hudson in this game. He was a first-round pick by St. Louis in 2016, immediately jumped onto their prospect lists and has soared through the system. He is 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA at Triple-A Memphis this year, perhaps on the brink of a call-up from the Cardinals. It’s fair to say Lowe has exceeded expectations. The big left-handed hitting first baseman was a 13th-round pick in 2016 by Tampa Bay. After a modest start to his pro career, he has taken off in 2018. He was killing it at Class A Port Charlotte and, after earning a June promotion to Double-A, has continued to do so for Montgomery. His numbers at the two levels: .349, 18 homers, 73 RBIs. Hard to ignore.

14 Jul

storm warning

With apologies to Clark and Palmeiro, there is a Thunder and Lightning duo with Mississippi ties doing some damage for the Hickory Crawdads of the Class A South Atlantic League. The thunder in this case comes from the bat of Houlka’s Tyreque Reed, the lightning from the arm of Petal’s Demarcus Evans. On Friday night, Evans, a 21-year-old right-hander, jolted visiting West Virginia with three hitless innings of relief work, striking out five as the Crawdads, the low-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, rallied to win 5-4 in 10 innings. Reed, the Hickory cleanup batter, also 21, put up a relatively quiet 1-for-4, but the hit was his 17th in his last 10 games. He has hit .459 in that stretch. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound first baseman/DH is batting .271 with seven homers and 17 RBIs. A juco All-America at Itawamba Community College, where he hit .504 as a sophomore, Reed was an eighth-round selection in the 2017 draft. After he batted .350 with five homers in 35 games in rookie ball last summer, the Rangers started him out in the full-season SAL this year. He hit a walk-off homer in his first at-bat, as a pinch hitter. The Rangers picked Evans, 6-4, 240, out of Petal High in the 25th round in 2015. He has shown strikeout stuff at every level, averaging over 12 K’s per nine innings. Working exclusively in relief this year, Evans is 2-0 with two saves and a 2.23 ERA in 22 games. The spin rate on his fastball reportedly is among the best in the minors. He has a 3.35 career ERA, though his walk totals are high. Neither Reed nor Evans has cracked the Rangers’ top prospect charts, but they appear well on their way to refining their raw skills in 2018.

14 Jul

did you see that?

Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds pulled off another Spider-Man act on Friday night, scaling the center-field wall at Busch Stadium to steal a home run from a St. Louis batter. But as jaw-dropping as the Taylorsville High product’s snag was, it might not have been the most stunning highlight from a Mississippian in the majors on this particular night. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, a pitcher for Milwaukee, crushed — yes, crushed — a home run into the right-field seats at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. It was the first career homer for Woodruff, a righty who bats lefty. Just called back up — for the fifth time in 2018 — from Triple-A Colorado Springs, Woodruff also threw three scoreless innings in middle relief as the first-place Brewers fell to the Pirates 7-3.

13 Jul

back in the day

Nostalgia is thick in the air at Trustmark Park when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos come to call. The field staff for the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A club, which began a five-game series with the Mississippi Braves on Thursday, is replete with big league stars of another era. Fans of a certain age know the names well. Hitting coach Mike Devereaux, who won a ring with the 1995 Atlanta Braves, and bench coach Lenny Harris debuted in the majors in the late 1980s, and pitching coach James Baldwin broke in in 1995. And then there’s Blue Wahoos manager Jody Davis. Not only is he a former big leaguer, he is also a former Jackson Met. Davis made his MLB debut in 1981. Surely there are a few fans around who recall that two years before that, Davis had a breakout season for the Double-A JaxMets, who made their home at Smith-Wills Stadium. Davis batted .296 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs in 1979, playing on a team that included Hubie Brooks and Wally Backman. Davis also refined his catching skills that year and was named a Texas League All-Star. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals (for big leaguer Ray Searage) following that season, then taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs in December 1980. The next April he launched a 10-year MLB career during which he made two All-Star teams. Davis coached and managed in the Cubs’ system for several years and took the reins in Pensacola this season.

13 Jul

wichita-bound

Mississippi will be well-represented on the all-star team the NJCAA is sending to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. The 26-man National Team roster, announced this week, includes five MACJC alums: pitchers Shemar Page of Pearl River Community College and Tyler Spring of Jones County, catcher Tucker Childers of Northeast and outfielders Brandon Parker of Mississippi Gulf Coast and Brant Blaylock of Northwest. Hinds coach Sam Temple is on the coaching staff, which is headed by Doug Wren of Tyler (Texas). It would have been a crime had Parker not been included. He was named the NJCAA Division II player of the year after batting .424 with 24 homers and a national-best 81 RBIs in 2018. The others are also well-credentialed. Page went 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA for state champion Pearl River, and Tyler Spring was 8-2, 2.90 for a Jones team that was ranked near the top of the D-II poll all season. Childers, an All-Star in the Cal Ripken League this summer, is a defensive stalwart who batted .352 with 13 homers at Northeast. Northwest’s Blaylock belted 18 homers and hit .385. The players report for a training camp in Texas on July 25. The NBC World Series starts July 27 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. … The tournament, which launched in 1935, brings together amateur/semi-pro teams from all over the country. Mississippi typically sends a team. The Hattiesburg Black Sox, who won the Magnolia Adult Baseball League championship earlier this summer, participated in 2017. Two different teams from the state have finished runner-up in the World Series: the Jackson Braves in 1968 and the West Point Packers in ’66.