22 Aug

minor matters

It’s safe to assume Hunter Renfroe is on a mission to get back to the big leagues, and he is certainly off to a good start. Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, went 3-for-5 with a double and a triple Monday in his first game with Triple-A El Paso. The rookie outfielder was sent down by San Diego after hitting .230 with 20 home runs and 125 strikeouts through 111 games. … Ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford is on a similar mission. Alford, who got a brief call-up with Toronto in May, doubled, homered and stole a base Monday for Double-A New Hampshire. Alford is hitting .371 over his last 10 games and .322 for the season, with five homers, 23 RBIs and 15 bags. … Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central star and a top Cleveland prospect, also had a day: a double, a homer and four RBIs for Double-A Akron. Bradley, a lefty-hitting first baseman, has hit at a .389 clip over his last 10 games, raising his average to .246 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs. Not yet on the Indians’ 40-man roster, the 21-year-old Bradley may be a year away from the big leagues. … Ole Miss alum J.B. Woodman, a Toronto prospect in just his second pro season, went 2-for-5 with two doubles on Monday for Class A Lansing and is hitting .342 over his last 10 games. He’s at .255 with six homers and 42 RBIs this season.

22 Aug

that’s the ticket

Five years after he was drafted 20th overall out of Mississippi State, Chris Stratton is starting to look the part of a first-round pick. Stratton threw six shutout innings for the San Francisco Giants in a 2-0 win over Milwaukee on Monday and notched his second straight win over a contending club. The right-hander from Tupelo, who turns 27 today, beat Washington in his previous start, working 6 2/3 scoreless innings in that game. Overall, he has a 3.98 ERA in seven appearances (four starts) and is 2-2 with a save, which he worked four innings to achieve. Reports indicate the Giants haven’t settled on a role for Stratton, who pitched solely out of the bullpen in seven appearances in 2016. “Any opportunities that come my way, I’ll be ready for anything. If they send me back to the pen, I’ll still do the same thing: try to get out there and put up zeroes,” he told The (San Jose) Mercury News. Oddly enough, Monday’s star turn came five years to the day after Stratton was hit in the head by a batted ball during batting practice while in A-ball. He suffered a concussion that curtailed his rookie season. He progressed incrementally through the Giants’ system thereafter, reaching Triple-A in 2015 and getting his first big league look last year. His minor league numbers are 38-34, 4.07, working almost exclusively as a starter.

21 Aug

not so fast there

They were playing “Taps” for the Minnesota Twins’ season as recently as Aug. 3. They had just traded away closer Brandon Kintzler and starter Jaime Garcia and stood 51-54, well off the playoff pace. They were coming off a rough 2-6 road trip that a Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer called “the beginning of the end.” But Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, had other ideas. As if to proclaim, “This season isn’t over until I say it’s over,” the veteran second baseman and leadoff batter went on a tear – and the team followed. Dozier hit his 25th home run and scored three times as Minnesota beat Arizona 12-5 on Sunday to improve its record to 63-59. Dozier, a .260 hitter on the year, is batting .329 in August. Over his last 16 games, he has belted eight home runs, driven in 16 runs and scored 19. Heading into a doubleheader today against the Chicago White Sox, the Twins are tied for the second wild card and 5 games back of first-place Cleveland in the American League Central. Having just put Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list, the Twins may look to Dozier to carry even more of a load. He appears more than capable. P.S. Milwaukee sent rookie Brandon Woodruff back to Triple-A Colorado Springs – but not because of any disappointment in the Mississippi State alum’s performance. The Brewers, still in playoff contention in the National League, won’t need a fifth starter until September. Woodruff is 1-1, 1.62 ERA in his three starts.

20 Aug

one step back

The San Diego Padres finally decided to hit the reset button on Hunter Renfroe, sending the struggling Mississippi State product back to the minors on Saturday. Renfroe, a highly touted prospect and the Padres’ opening day right fielder, has experienced many peaks and valleys this season. To wit: 20 home runs and 24 doubles with a .230 average, 125 strikeouts and 26 walks. “Sometimes it’s the absolute best thing you can do for a guy,” Padres manager Andy Green told the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Padres also want Renfroe to work on his defense while at Triple-A El Paso. It’s unclear whether Renfroe will return to the big league club in September, when rosters expand. P.S. There already has been a lot to absorb in the MLB Transactions page this weekend. On Friday, St. Louis recalled ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers from Triple-A Memphis. He pitched that night against Pittsburgh, yielding four earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, and then was optioned back to Memphis on Saturday. Thanks for playing. … Detroit recalled Richton’s JaCoby Jones from Triple-A Toledo on Friday. Jones, who was the Tigers’ opening day center fielder, started on Saturday and went 1-for-2, “boosting” his average to .151 in 23 MLB games spread over three stints with the Tigers this season. Jones was scuffling before he was hit in the face by a pitch in late April and sent back to the minors. He was hitting .243 with nine homers and 12 steals for Toledo. … Former Picayune High star T.J. House was called up by Toronto on Saturday. The left-hander, 5-7 with a 4.44 ERA in 27 games for Cleveland from 2014-16, was 9-11, 4.72 at Triple-A Buffalo. … Also on Saturday, Seattle placed Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Jarrod Dyson on the 10-day disabled list. Dyson was hitting .340 this month and is at .255 with 28 stolen bases, 56 runs and 30 RBIs in 109 games on the season, his first with the Mariners.

18 Aug

whatever happened to …

Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace and onetime big leaguer, is still taking the mound every fifth day for the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Miami’s Triple-A affiliate. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, 29, worked 7 2/3 innings on Thursday night, yielding just two runs with eight strikeouts but getting no decision. He is 8-10 with a 5.31 ERA, a number inflated by a couple of bad outings. Copeland was a horse at USM in 2010, winning his first 11 decisions and earning Conference USA Tournament MVP honors. Drafted by Baltimore in the 21st round in 2010, he was released in 2012 and signed with Toronto. He spent parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ system and got his cup of coffee in the big leagues – with several refills, actually – for the Jays in 2015. He was up and down from Triple-A Buffalo to Toronto multiple times that season and managed to get into five MLB games, going 1-1, 6.46. He went to Korea for a stint in 2016, returned and re-signed with Toronto. He became a free agent again last off-season and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins. Copeland has a career minor league ledger of 60-62, 4.18 over 174 games, 57 of those in Triple-A, where you can smell the big league coffee but not quite taste it.

17 Aug

hot stuff

Red-hot Alex Jackson banged out a couple more hits, including a home run, in the Mississippi Braves’ loss to Pensacola at Trustmark Park on Wednesday night. He is 10-for-23 with two bombs and seven RBIs in his last five games. If you follow the MLB draft – and who doesn’t, right? – you may remember the name Alex Jackson. In 2014, he was a high school phenom in San Diego, a big masher considered to be one of the best hitters available, a possible No. 1 overall pick. Seattle took him with the sixth selection, and for two years he sat atop their prospect chart. For whatever reason, the Mariners soured on Jackson. After the 2016 season, when he hit .243 with 11 homers and 103 strikeouts in low-A ball, the M’s traded Jackson to Atlanta in a minor league deal. Seattle had converted the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Jackson from catcher to the outfield; the Braves moved him back behind the plate, a switch Jackson reportedly was eager to make. He started 2017 at high-A Florida, hit .270 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 66 games and began to revive some of the old hype. He was promoted to Double-A on July 30. After a slow start, Jackson’s recent surge has raised his average to .239 in 12 games. … Also on fire for the M-Braves is Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star who was a first-round supplemental pick in 2015. The 20-year-old third baseman, who also started 2017 at Florida, is hitting .364 with two homers and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games and is at .276 with four homers in 29 Double-A games. … And up at Triple-A Gwinnett, Ronald Acuna, the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, is batting .341 with seven homers and is banging on the big-league door. The 19-year-old outfielder, who also started this season in A-ball, blew through Mississippi, hitting .326 with nine bombs in 57 games. P.S. Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull, pitching in the Detroit system, got roughed up in his Double-A debut on Wednesday night. He allowed six hits, five walks and six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings for Erie in the Eastern League. The 2014 second-round pick out of Alabama was 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA in high-A ball this season.

16 Aug

mad skills

In Baseball America’s recent rankings of the Best Tools in the major leagues, Aaron Hicks, Kevin Kiermaier and Alex Gordon were 1-2-3 in the American League’s Best Outfield Arm category. In the NL, it was Yoenis Cespedes, Mississippi’s own Hunter Renfroe and Yasiel Puig. The MLB leader in outfield assists is … none of the above. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, tops that list with 11. The Seattle center fielder got one on Tuesday night, cutting down Baltimore’s Manny Machado at the plate in the Mariners’ 3-1 victory in a meeting of AL playoff contenders. Dyson has 47 assists in his eight-year career, and he hasn’t played regularly for much of that time. Dyson did show up in three of the Baseball America Best Tools rankings, which are based on a poll of managers, coaches and scouts. He was the AL’s Best Bunter – he put down a nice sacrifice on Tuesday – and ranked second in Best Baserunner and Fastest Baserunner. … It’s impressive that the names of four Mississippi natives show up in the rankings. In addition to Dyson and Crystal Springs’ Renfroe, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton was No. 1 in the NL’s Fastest Baserunner – duh – and Best Baserunner categories and No. 3 in Best Defensive Outfielder, and Amory’s Mitch Moreland was second in the AL’s Best Defensive First Baseman chart. P.S. East Central CC product Tim Anderson led off with a first-pitch home run against Alex Wood in Tuesday night’s Chicago White Sox-Los Angeles Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium. It was Anderson’s 14th homer and fifth in nine games. It was the only run former Mississippi Braves ace Wood would allow in seven innings, but he took a no-decision in the Dodgers’ 6-1 win. He is 14-1 for a team that is now a jaw-dropping 84-34. … Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles homered in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in York, N.Y. Bortles has only one homer in 35 regular season games for Connecticut in the Detroit system. A 2017 draftee, he is batting .273 with 15 RBIs.