22 Jan

positive signs

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.

21 Jan

pick six

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.

16 Jan

into the breach?

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.

14 Jan

what’s next?

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.

10 Jan

rumor mill

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.

13 Dec

impactful move

The Los Angeles Angels left the Winter Meetings having added an impact hitter, Anthony Rendon, but failing to address what most pundits say is a bigger need: pitchers. But don’t forget what the Angels did earlier this off-season to impact their pitching: They hired Mickey Callaway as pitching coach on new manager Joe Maddon’s staff. Former Ole Miss star Callaway’s two-year stint as manager of the New York Mets was a little rocky, but he did some outstanding work as the pitching coach in Cleveland from 2013-17. The Indians ranked among the American League leaders in ERA and strikeouts while Callaway was there and made it to the World Series in 2016. He can be a difference-maker for an Angels staff that ranked 12th in AL ERA in 2019. The Angels, linked to several free agent pitchers, also may be seeking some new arms via trade and reportedly have checked on the availability of Indians Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, both of whom Callaway worked with in Cleveland. P.S. Congratulations to Jackson native Stan Cliburn, who was rehired as manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the independent Atlantic League. It’ll be the 29th season as a pro manager for the one-time big league catcher, who has more than 2,000 wins.

11 Dec

change of scene

After two injury-wracked seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart will get a fresh start next spring with San Francisco. It’s unclear exactly how healthy Cozart is after two shoulder surgeries or how the third baseman/shortstop fits into the Giants’ infield plans. The Angels, reportedly looking to clear salary, traded Cozart, slated to make about $13 million in 2020, and a highly regarded prospect (shortstop Will Wilson) to the Giants, who currently have Evan Longoria at third and Brandon Crawford at short. Former Biloxi Shuckers star Mauricio Dubon is also in the infield mix there. Cozart, 34, was an All-Star in Cincinnati in 2017, when he batted .297 with 24 homers. He signed a three-year, $38 million free agent deal with the Angels prior to the 2018 season but has played just 96 games in two years, hitting .190 with five homers. … Cozart is the fifth Mississippian in the majors to land with a new team this off-season: UM alum Mike Mayers was a waiver claim by the Angels, Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman signed with Seattle, ex-Rebels standout Drew Pomeranz signed with San Diego and State alum Hunter Renfroe went to Tampa Bay in a trade.

06 Dec

something completely different

If the rumored San Diego-Tampa Bay trade goes down, it’ll be a big change for Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State standout who is a key piece in the deal. The power-hitting outfielder would go to the Rays along with a top prospect for outfielder Tommy Pham and a prospect. For Renfroe, that’d be a change not only of time zones and leagues but also of expectations. Tampa Bay, in the dog-eat-dog American League East, won 96 games and a wild card playoff berth in 2019 and won 90 games in 2018. The Padres finished 70-92, last in the National League West, in 2019. The Padres have finished fourth, fifth and fifth in Renfroe’s three full seasons with the club. They’ve already made a couple of big trades this off-season. Renfroe, a corner outfielder with a big arm, hit 33 homers last season but batted just .216; he was a Gold Glove finalist in left field. Pham, the Rays’ left fielder, hit .273 (.369 on-base percentage) with 21 homers and batted .360 in the postseason. Tampa Bay’s right fielder last year was rookie Austin Meadows.

04 Dec

next man up

Five Mississippians made their big league debut in 2019: Chris Ellis, Nate Lowe, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley. Who’ll be next to break through? Smart money would be on Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High standout who recently was added to Texas’ 40-man roster. A right-handed reliever – and strikeout machine — he hasn’t pitched above Double-A but will go to spring training with a chance to make the opening day roster. Minnesota has an opening at first base after non-tendering C.J. Cron, and ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker could well be among the candidates vying for the job come spring. Rooker has All-World credentials, having earned that designation with his performance in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament, during which he hit three homers in 20 at-bats, including a big game-winner (see previous post). The three-year pro batted .281 with 14 homers in 65 games in Triple-A in 2019. He isn’t currently on the Twins’ 40-man and didn’t play any first base last year but does have experience there. George County High product Justin Steele is still on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster and is rated their No. 11 prospect (MLB Pipeline). But the left-hander is coming off an injury-dampened season that saw him go 0-6 with a 5.59 ERA in Double-A. About to enter his seventh pro campaign, he needs to break through soon. Delta State alum Trent Giambrone is not on the Cubs’ 40-man but had a solid Triple-A season (.241, 23 homers, 17 steals) and could be in the mix for a role as a utility player in 2020. He is No. 28 on the Cubs’ prospect chart. Former MSU star Jacob Robson, a lefty-hitting outfielder, batted .267 with nine homers and 25 steals in Triple-A for Detroit and figures to get a long look in the spring, as does Ole Miss product David Parkinson, a lefty starter who was 10-9, 4.08 for Philadelphia’s Double-A club. Robson is the Tigers’ No. 27 prospect, Parkinson the Phillies’ No. 18. Neither is on the major league roster. … Another debut to watch for is that of Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-Forrest County AHS and MLB star Charlie. The younger Hayes, who was born in Texas, is Pittsburgh’s No. 2 prospect and recently was added to the 40-man roster. A plus-defender at third base, Hayes batted .265 with 10 homers at Triple-A in 2019. He’ll probably be in the opening day lineup.

26 Nov

opportunity knocks

Kendall Graveman, who last pitched in the majors in May of 2018, will get a comeback opportunity with the Seattle Mariners next spring. Ex-Mississippi State star Graveman has signed a $1.5 million contract (plus a 2021 option) with the M’s, who would appear to have openings in their rotation. Coming off 2018 Tommy John surgery, Graveman signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs last year but made just two minor league appearances. He became a free agent again when the Cubs didn’t pick up his 2020 option. Graveman, 29 next month, has a 23-29 career record with a 4.38 ERA. Drafted in the eighth round in 2013 by Toronto, he made his big league debut for the Blue Jays in 2014, then moved to Oakland in a trade the next year. He was the A’s opening day starter in 2017 and ’18. “His makeup is off the charts,” Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto told mlb.com.