Today is one of those days when a Mississippi Braves fan scanning the previous day’s box scores might have to pause and think, Why did Atlanta let him go? Former M-Braves are scattered all over the big leagues now, and quite a few are having impactful seasons in places other than the ATL. The enigmatic Jason Heyward is suddenly crushing it for the Chicago Cubs; he went 3-for-6 with three RBIs in a big win against Milwaukee and is batting .387 with 10 RBIs in his last 15 games. For the year: .281, three homers, 28 RBIs. Jose Martinez, breaking out in St. Louis, went 3-for-4 with his 10th homer in a victory against San Diego. He is batting .327. Gorkys Hernandez, playing regularly in San Francisco, had a 2-for-3 game with two runs in the Giants’ loss to Miami. Hernandez, always a plus defender in center field, is hitting .293 with seven homers. Mallex Smith, another pretty good center fielder, was 2-for-4 with an RBI for Tampa Bay, which beat Toronto. Smith is batting .288 with 12 steals. Luis Avilan has fared well in his middle-relief role for the Chicago White Sox, who have been terrible. He worked a scoreless inning in a loss to Cleveland and trimmed his ERA to 3.26. And Craig Kimbrel just keeps throwing gas for Boston; he struck out the side in the 12th inning against Baltimore to preserve a 2-0 win and notch his 21st save in 23 chances. P.S. Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, who has one win this year for Boston after notching 17 in 2017, remains on the disabled list with no announced timetable for his return. The left-hander last pitched on May 31, when he yielded four runs in five innings and fell to 1-3, 6.81 as Boston lost to Houston 4-2. “I’ll take some positive moving forward and take it into the next one,” he said after that game. He went on the 10-day DL with biceps tendinitis two days later. Pomeranz, who started the season on the DL, has lasted more than five innings in only two of eight starts.
If you could gather together in some astral realm all the Mississippi natives who’ve ever played in the big leagues, oh, the stories they could tell. Willie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth in his first at-bat. Gee Walker cycled on opening day. Claude Passeau threw a one-hitter in the World Series. Dave Parker was an All-Star Game MVP. Jay Powell won a Game 7 in the Series. Billy Hamilton stole four bases in his first start. But for sheer shake-your-head wonderment, it’d be hard to top Marcus Thames’ tale of his first major league at-bat. Sixteen years ago Sunday – June 10, 2002 – Louisville native Thames, playing for the New York Yankees, walked to the plate at Yankee Stadium to face Arizona’s Randy Johnson, reigning Cy Young award winner, and smashed the first pitch he saw for a home run. Thames, a 30th-round pick by the Yankees in 1996 out of East Central Community College, took a while to reach The Show but was not a one-trick pony. He hit 114 more MLB bombs – including seasons of 26 and 25 – over his 10-year career and averaged one homer per 15.9 at-bats, which, a Cut4 article on mlb.com points out, is one of the best ratios in history. Thames is now the Yankees’ hitting coach. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff returned to the majors with Milwaukee on Sunday and, sans red beard, threw four strong innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in a game the Brewers would lose to Philadelphia. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, back up for a seventh stint this season with St. Louis, worked 2 1/3 innings in two games over the weekend. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton contributed a triple, two runs and two outfield assists in Cincinnati’s win against the Cardinals on Sunday. A two-week slump has seen Hamilton’s average dip to .193. … Former State standout Adam Frazier was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis by Pittsburgh, presumably to get regular at-bats. In his third big league season, Frazier is batting .237 in 135 ABs.
If Reid Humphreys misses swinging the bat, it’s not showing. The former Mississippi State two-way standout, who hit .310 with 44 RBIs as a junior in 2016, is pitching exclusively in pro ball and putting up sparkling numbers. The 23-year-old right-hander, with Class A Lancaster in Colorado’s system, returned from a short stint on the disabled list on Friday and recorded his 14th straight scoreless appearance, also picking up a win after his one inning of work. Humphreys has 12 saves — second in the California League — and a 2.21 ERA for the high-A Jethawks. Humphreys is 12-for-13 in save opportunities this year and 25-for-27 in save opps with a 2.59 ERA in his three years in the minors. He throws strikes: 87 strikeouts and 18 walks in 76 innings. “I want to be the same, dependable guy every single time I take the mound. Consistency is something I want to work on, for sure,” he told lifestylesports101.com prior to this season. Consider that mission accomplished. The younger brother of big league free agent Tyler Moore, Humphreys was a dual player at Northwest Rankin High before an arm injury kept him off the mound his senior season. He didn’t pitch again until his junior year at State, where he notched seven saves in 17 games. He was a Ferriss Trophy finalist that year and was drafted, as a pitcher, by the Rockies in the seventh round. Humphreys’ results this year may soon warrant a promotion to Double-A. And because he’s with a National League team, he could get a chance to swing the bat again, which he just might enjoy.
This weekend’s Subway Series is the first for Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway as New York Mets manager. The scuffling Mets, losers of six straight, host the rampaging Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — for three games at CitiField, all coming to a TV network near you. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder (2.75 ERA) has done good work out of the Yankees’ bullpen. … An injury to Andrelton Simmons has meant a return to shortstop for Zack Cozart. The Ole Miss alum, signed by the Los Angeles Angels in the off-season to man third base, actually has moved about quite a bit on the dirt for L.A. He has 32 starts at third, 15 at second and five at short, the position he played for seven seasons with Cincinnati. Simmons, who could be out 2-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, might be the best defensive shortstop in the game, but Cozart is no slouch. In fact, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called him an “incredible shortstop.” What the Angels would like to see is a little more offense from their $38 million free agent, who is batting .229 with five homers and 18 RBIs. … Tonight, Cozart and the Angels will face Minnesota’s Lance Lynn, another former Rebels star. Lynn, also an off-season free agent signee, is 4-4 with a 5.46 for the Twins and has won three starts in a row. Worth noting: Cozart is .128 career vs. Lynn. … Arizona’s acquisition of outfielder Jon Jay might cut into Jarrod Dyson’s playing time. McComb native Dyson is hitting just .206 (with 10 steals) overall but is at .318 in his last seven games. And his defense is top-drawer. … Tonight marks a homecoming of sorts for Daniel Sweet, the Flowood native and former Northwest Rankin High star who plays for Pensacola, which is in Pearl for a five-game Southern League series against the Mississippi Braves. Sweet, a switch-hitting outfielder, is in his third season in the Cincinnati organization after being drafted out of Dallas Baptist. He is hitting .148 in 25 games for the Blue Wahoos in his first taste of Double-A. He was batting .284 in A-ball when he was promoted. … Tyler Marlette has been on a tear for the M-Braves, batting .382 in his last 10 games and .296 with six homers for the year. First baseman Marlette, 25, named to the SL All-Star Game on Wednesday, signed with Atlanta in the off-season after seven years in the Seattle organization. He is a career .272 hitter with 68 homers.
You kinda figured it was just a matter of time, and the time has come. Brent Rooker, the former Mississippi State standout now in his first season in Double-A, is hitting. A ton. Rooker went 4-for-5 for Chattanooga on Thursday night and is 14-for-29 since the calendar flipped to June. The right-handed hitting first baseman has raised his average 31 points to .271 since the end of May. “That adjustment period might have been a little longer than I liked, ideally,” he told milb.com. “But I knew it was going to happen if I trusted myself, and the results would show up.” The SEC Triple Crown (and Ferriss Trophy) winner last year has eight homers and 36 RBIs in 56 games and is slugging .475 for the Lookouts. He was picked in the competitive balance segment of the first round – 35th overall – by Minnesota last June and batted .281 with 18 homers at two levels in his debut campaign. MLB Pipeline rates Rooker eighth among Twins prospects. … The Lookouts played a Southern League series in Biloxi in mid-May but won’t be in Pearl to face the Mississippi Braves until mid-August. Rooker could be gone by then.
Mississippi State’s Bulldogs are in Nashville this weekend, and the burning question is: How did this Bulldogs team get here? Not here, as in Nashville, but here, as in this Super Regional, as the last Mississippi team still playing in 2018? You look at their numbers, they aren’t too good. Middle of the pack in the SEC in batting average and runs, dead last in on-base percentage. Tied for 12th in homers and tied for 13th in steals. Only two SEC clubs made more errors. Bulldogs pitchers had just the 11th-best ERA in the league; they were third in strikeouts but also third in walks allowed. Yet here they are, playing league rival Vanderbilt in a best-of-3 for a berth in the College World Series. It was a long strange trip. They started 0-3 and saw their coach fired. They also started 0-3 in the SEC – swept by Vandy – and were 10-10 overall on March 18. They were 19-19, 5-10 SEC on April 20 when they pulled off a three-game sweep of No. 3 Arkansas. Where’d that come from? Alas, after losing two of three to Kentucky in mid-May, the record was 27-24 and 11-15 and an NCAA bid looked doubtful. Then, out of nowhere, the Dogs swept No. 1 Florida. And yet, even that momentum was quelled when they lost their SEC Tournament opener to LSU. Then they were routed by Oklahoma by a football score in the Tallahassee Regional. That’s gotta be it, right? Well, no. Out of the loser’s bracket, seemingly against all odds, they won four straight to take the region title. And now the NCAA has sent the Dogs to Nashville, a somewhat controversial decision, to play a Vandy team that has also had a tumultuous year. Can this long strange trip possibly reach Omaha? For State, it’s like the Grateful Dead once sang, “Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.”
Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star, has been described as a “bat freak.” As a former MLB teammate once said, “He loves bats and he loves hitting.” Dickerson’s bat, which has produced 95 home runs in six big league seasons, wasn’t the main attraction in his performance for Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. In an 11-9 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dickerson contributed with his baserunning and his defense. Never known for his wheels, Dickerson scored four runs – one on a throwing error, another after beating out an infield hit. Not regarded as a great defensive player, he made a strong throw from left field to double a runner off first base, registering his fifth assist of 2018. It was a big win for the Pirates, who had been shut out in their previous two games. “It looked like everybody kind of had better approaches and had a little more fun tonight,” Dickerson told mlb.com. Acquired from Tampa Bay in a surprising trade this spring, Dickerson – and his bat – have played a big part in Pittsburgh’s surprising start. Clint Hurdle’s Bucs are 31-30. Dickerson, who had three singles on Wednesday, is batting .324 – sixth in the league — with five homers, 32 RBIs and 30 runs. P.S. Coincidentally, three players from Meridian CC, all outfielders, were drafted on Wednesday: Davis Bradshaw in the 11th round by Miami, Sam McWilliams in the 19th round by the Dodgers and Milton Smith Jr. in the 22nd round by the Marlins. Dickerson was an eighth-rounder (by Colorado) eight years ago.