San Francisco has placed Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High star, on the injured list for what was described only as “medical purposes.” Hamilton is in the Giants’ camp on a minor league deal but was expected to make the active roster before the season begins. Reports were unclear on when he might be able to come off the IL. The 29-year-old outfielder is a .242 career hitter with 299 steals over seven big league seasons. … Milwaukee has added former Mississippi State star Ethan Small and Ole Miss alum Thomas Dillard, both 2019 draft picks, to its 60-man pool of eligible players for summer camp. Small, a left-hander picked in the first round, is the Brewers’ No. 2 prospect; he made seven appearances in the low minors last summer. Dillard, a catcher and a fifth-rounder, batted .249 with seven homers in his first pro season. … Adam Moncure is among the hottest hitters in the Cotton States League, batting .400 (.581 on-base) with two homers and a league-best 12 RBIs in nine games for the Black Prairie Mudcats. Moncure, from Clinton, hit .341 as a freshman at Meridian Community College in 2020. Blue Mountain native Sam McMillin, a left-hander at Union University, is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 19 innings for the CSL’s DeSoto Xplorers. … Luther Woullard, a former Jones (Junior) College star from d’Iberville, is playing for the Macon Bacon of the Coastal Plain League, a high-level college summer circuit. As a senior at New Orleans in 2020, Woullard batted .381 with 14 RBIs before the season was halted. He’ll have a year of eligibility left at UNO. Woullard was an All-MACJC outfielder who put up big numbers on some outstanding Jones teams in 2017-18. … Aiden Moffett of Taylorsville High has committed to LSU, per the Laurel Leader-Call. Though he was not highly recruited during his abbreviated sophomore year, Moffett has turned heads with his summer team. Playing for the Louisiana Knights, a travel team based in Mandeville, right-hander Moffett reportedly received offers from Southern Miss, Texas A&M and LSU over the course of just one weekend. … Former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker, who’ll be deploying a DH in every game as Atlanta’s skipper this season, told espn.com that he once asked Bobby Cox about managing with the DH. “Get a bag of balls and sit on it, watch the game,” Cox told him.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will open their season on July 23 at home against longtime rival San Francisco. There will be a national TV (ESPN) audience but – unfortunately — no people in the seats. Right fielder Mookie Betts isn’t the only thing new at Dodger Stadium for 2020. The old ballpark, which opened in 1958, has undergone a $100 million renovation under the direction of Jackson native Janet Marie Smith, the club’s Senior Vice President of Planning and Development. “It’s less of a renovation in an architectural sense,” she recently told lamag.com, “than it is a reimagining of how these buildings come together.” A new plaza beyond center field makes it a more fan-friendly, fan-accessible facility. All it needs now is some fans. The MLB All-Star Game was originally scheduled for Dodger Stadium this summer but will now be played at Chavez Ravine in 2022. Smith, a Mississippi State alumna elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this year, also has worked directly on stadium projects at Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Turner Field and consulted on many others. Her work at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, which opened in 1992, spearheaded a new era in stadium design. The Boston Globe has described Smith as “the architect credited with saving Fenway Park.” P.S. MLB’s only new stadium, Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, will be formally unveiled on July 24 when the Rangers face Colorado. Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn is slated to start the game for Texas. … Atlanta’s newly named Truist Park (formerly Sun Trust Park) will host its first official game on July 29.
For the first time in 19 years – and just the second time over a 44-year span — there will be no minor league baseball played in Mississippi. The minor league season was officially cancelled on Tuesday, meaning no games at Trustmark Park in Pearl or MGM Stadium in Biloxi, where the Double-A Braves and Shuckers reside. We have to go back to 2001 to find a year here without pro ball. (And, no, semi-pro ball doesn’t count.) When Jackson’s Texas League franchise left Smith-Wills Stadium in 1999 after a 25-year run, the independent Jackson DiamondKats moved in for the 2000 season. The club folded after its first year. Smith-Wills hosted a college summer league in 2001 but no pro ball. The independent Senators arrived in 2002 and played through 2005, when Trustmark Park opened and the Southern League M-Braves began play. … Though no players will suit up as M-Braves this year, there are 13 players from the 2019 Mississippi club on Atlanta’s 60-man roster for summer camp, which starts today at Truist Park (nee Sun Trust Park). Among that group is Braden Shewmake, Atlanta’s No. 7 prospect and the M-Braves’ shortstop at the end of last season. Shortstop at the TeePee is practically a portal to the big leagues. From Luis Hernandez, the M-Braves’ opening day shortstop in 2005, to Dylan Moore, who held the job most of 2017, there have been 13 M-Braves shortstops who have made it to the majors. The list includes Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Andrelton Simmons, Yunel Escobar, Brent Lillibridge and Brandon Hicks. Though he isn’t expected to make Atlanta’s active roster this season, Shewmake figures to join that group someday soon. A 2019 first-round pick out of Texas A&M, the 6-foot-4, lefty-hitting Shewmake got 14 games worth of experience with the M-Braves last summer. He didn’t hit much in his Double-A debut, but his resume suggests he’ll adapt. He hit .318 at low Class A Rome before skipping a level to join the M-Braves. In his three years at Texas A&M, in the fiercely competitive SEC, Shewmake batted .322 with 22 homers and 39 doubles in 187 games. He was the SEC’s freshman of the year in 2017 after batting .328 with 11 homers for a College World Series club. Shewmake was an athlete for all seasons in high school in Wylie, Texas, competing in football, soccer, basketball and track when not on the diamond. Apparently, his best sport was never in doubt. “I always loved baseball, and every kid’s dream is to be a professional baseball player,” he told milb.com last summer. Presuming there is a 2021 season in Pearl, we might be fortunate enough to see Shewmake out there again at shortstop before he follows the well-worn path to The Show.
Some locally familiar names popped up in an mlb.com article entitled “Rookie greats who never reached that level again.” Every Mississippi Braves fan knows the tale of Jeff Francoeur. Old Jackson Generals fans surely recall Mitch Meluskey, and Ole Miss faithful no doubt remember Chris Coghlan. Coghlan was an All-SEC outfielder in Oxford and a .339 career hitter who was drafted 36th overall by the Florida Marlins in 2006. Three years later, he won National League rookie of the year honors. Hampered by injuries, he played eight more years in the big leagues – winning a ring with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 – but never really captured his ROY magic again. Meluskey was a switch-hitting catcher who showed great promise during his time at Smith-Wills Stadium. He was on the 1996 Texas League pennant-winning team and batted .340 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs for the Double-A Gens the next year. He stuck with Houston as a semi-regular in 2000 and hit .300 with 14 homers. But, the mlb.com story notes, Meluskey didn’t fit in well with the Astros and was traded after that season, got hurt and rather quickly faded away. Francoeur arrived in Mississippi in 2005 as a highly rated prospect, heated up after a sluggish start at Trustmark Park and was promoted to Atlanta in July of that year. His sensational start in the ATL landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Natural” and generated all manner of over-the-top hype. Though Francoeur never quite achieved the “greatness” many predicted, he did have a solid career: .261, 160 homers and 698 RBIs over 12 seasons.
It might seem a bit trivial considering all else going on, but this is disturbing news in the baseball world: Hundreds of minor league players have been or soon will be released by major league clubs as it becomes more evident that there will not be a minor league season. Organizations known to already have made cuts are the Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Mariners, Reds, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Rockies, D’backs and Rays. For many of these players, no doubt including quite a few Mississippians, this may spell the end of their dream of making the big leagues. As cbssports.com reports, “The entire situation is horrid for the released players, who lose their source of meager income during a pandemic, and have minimal chance of latching on elsewhere.” The player cuts come on top of the news of proposed contraction of dozens of mostly lower-level minor league teams. Many minor league clubs, even those in sizable markets, are struggling to weather the current economic crisis. It is possible some of the released players could find jobs in the independent leagues, though they, like MLB, are currently in limbo. The Atlantic League announced on its website in late April that it is “making every effort to play a competitive 2020 schedule” but no start date has been announced. Same for the Frontier League. The American Association reportedly was aiming for a start date in early July but that seems iffy.
ESPN will televise LIVE baseball from the Korean Baseball Organization beginning Tuesday morning (midnight CDT). As Jack Buck might’ve said, “Go crazy, folks.” If you’re wondering about a Mississippi connection in the KBO, there are at least a couple. Former Mississippi Braves Jake Brigham (2015) and Mel Rojas Jr. (2016) are established three-year veterans there, Brigham with the Kiwoom Heroes and Rojas with the KT Wiz. Brigham, a right-handed starter, went 6-3 with a 3.05 ERA for the M-Braves in 2015 and made the Southern League All-Star Game. He reached Atlanta later that summer and got into 12 games, his only MLB appearances. Brigham is 34-18, 3.72 in the KBO. Rojas, son of the ex-big league pitcher, batted .244 with two homers in 35 games for the ’16 M-Braves. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound switch-hitting outfielder has been a force in South Korea, belting 85 homers and hitting .310 over his three seasons. Quite a few former major leaguers are on KBO rosters.
Boom. Bam. Pow. Home runs – in North Port, Fla., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Poplarville – are the theme here. At Atlanta’s new spring home in Florida – CoolToday Park – former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley hit a tape measure bomb in a Grapefruit League game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Riley’s second homer of the spring traveled an estimated 444 feet, crashing into the massive scoreboard in left-center field. “I’m pumped,” Riley said in an mlb.com story. “If we can just keep riding this out and stick with it, I think it’s going to be a good year.” The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Riley, hitting .316 this spring, is battling for the Braves’ third base job (see previous post). … At Scottsdale Stadium, San Francisco’s Cactus League home, Houlka native and Itawamba Community College alum Tyreque Reed crushed an opposite-field homer in his first at-bat of the spring for Texas. It came off big leaguer Shaun Anderson in the seventh inning and proved to be the game-winning hit. Reed, called over from minor league camp on Tuesday, homered in his lone big league spring game in 2019. An eighth-round pick by the Rangers in 2017, the 6-1, 250-pound Reed has 41 homers in his three minor league seasons. … At Dub Herring Park in Poplarville, Reece Ewing and Bryson Ware slugged two home runs apiece to power No. 2-ranked Pearl River Community College to a doubleheader sweep of Coastal Alabama-East. Ware, a Germantown High product and Auburn signee, has five homers on the year for 10-2 PRCC, while Ewing, a Southern Miss signee, now has three bombs.
Austin Riley got the start at third base for Atlanta on Monday and produced a mixed bag of results. The former DeSoto Central High standout went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI, his first of the Grapefruit League season. He is batting .313. The 22-year-old Riley also struck out once – for just the second time in 16 spring ABs – and committed a fielding error. Meanwhile, in the same game, Johan Camargo, the ex-Mississippi Braves star, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs as the DH. Camargo, 26, is batting .400 with a homer and five RBIs. And so, the most intriguing position battle in Atlanta’s spring camp carries on. Riley burst onto the big league scene in May of 2019, belting homers at a dizzying pace, but then slumped mightily down the stretch, suffering an injury along the way. Riley worked on his swing in the off-season and entered camp seemingly brimming with confidence. “I did have some success, and I know what I can do up here,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before camp opened, “so that’s a big positive for me, mentally, because this game is so hard on you, mentally.” Playing mostly outfield in 2019 with the since-departed Josh Donaldson entrenched at third, Riley batted .226 with 18 homers, 49 RBIs and 108 strikeouts in 274 at-bats. Camargo was the regular third baseman in 2018, before Donaldson arrived, and played well (.272, 19 homers). A .269 career hitter over three campaigns, Camargo is a switch-hitter and a good defensive player at multiple positions. Braves manager Brian Snitker has indicated that keeping both Riley and Camargo on the 26-man roster to open the season is unlikely. “If you’re not playing them every day, then you’re not going to do them justice,” he told mlb.com. The consensus seems to be that the younger Riley will start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. But spring training is far from over. Stuff happens. Stay tuned.
Pittsburgh reportedly is considering Billy Hamilton, among others, to fill its vacancy in center field after the trade of Starling Marte. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, a free agent, is coming off the worst of his six full big league seasons, but at age 29 can still fly. He batted .218 overall with 22 steals last season, .268 with four bags in 26 games for Atlanta, which used him primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement after grabbing him on waivers from Kansas City. Hamilton finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting in 2014 with Cincinnati but hasn’t progressed as a hitter. A switch-hitter, he has a woeful .297 career on-base percentage but also 299 steals and a .995 fielding percentage with 55 assists. Oddly enough, Hamilton has not won a Gold Glove or a stolen base crown.
Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, celebrates his 31st birthday today. Soon, he’ll be celebrating a sweet free-agent contract. Coming off a bounce-back finish to his 2019 season, left-hander Pomeranz is considered one of the top relief pitchers currently on the market. As a starter in San Francisco last season, Pomeranz was mostly awful. The Giants moved him to the bullpen, where something clicked. Milwaukee traded for him, and Pomeranz became one of the key pieces in the Brewers’ drive to the postseason. In 26 1/3 innings down the stretch, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and, suddenly throwing much harder, fanned 45 batters. He made $1.5 million last year on a free agent deal he signed with the Giants after a bad 2018 season in Boston, where he made $8M in the final year of his three with the Red Sox. … Pomeranz leads a long list of Mississippians on the free agent market: Corey Dickerson, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Kendall Graveman, Tony Sipp … . Petal High product Demarcus Evans (see previous post) was placed on Texas’ 40-man roster this week, and the big right-hander reportedly will compete for a big league bullpen job in the spring. … The Atlanta Braves have added outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer – all Mississippi Braves alumni – to their 40-man roster. (Outfielder Drew Waters, the Southern League MVP with the M-Braves last season, does not yet have to be protected on the 40-man.) … The Detroit Tigers re-signed former Southwest Mississippi Community College (and M-Braves) catcher Kade Scivicque to a minor league deal. He played at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2019. … In case you missed it, Hattiesburg-based Rodney Richardson of RARE Design handled the rebranding of the Brewers’ logo and uniforms for 2020, when the club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its move to Milwaukee. Richardson told mlb.com at Monday’s unveiling: “We want them to love it because we’ve fallen in love with their story, with their team, with what’s happening here. It’s not following any design trends or anything like that. It’s about representing this team and this place and their love for this game. We want to see that resonate.”