Baseball loves its history and its numbers, the good, the bad and the ugly. Much to Mike Mayers’ chagrin, he made history with some ugly numbers on this date – July 24 – two years ago. In his big league debut for St. Louis, the former Ole Miss standout allowed nine runs on eight hits – two of them homers — plus two walks in 1 1/3 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s an ERA of 60.90. It was statistically the worst debut ever for a pitcher, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Mayers became the first player to allow nine or more earned runs in fewer than two innings in his first appearance since earned runs became a stat in 1912. From that humbling start, Mayers has evolved into a fairly reliable reliever for the Cardinals. In 29 appearances this season, the right-hander – who hits the upper 90s on the gun – has a 3.86 ERA, a 2-1 record and a save. He was up and down from Triple-A numerous times in the season’s first two months, but he has stuck since his June 8 recall and carved out a role in the bullpen. New Cards manager Mike Shildt, who took over July 15, has gone to Mayers in key situations. It’d be only fitting for Mayers to get into today’s game at Cincinnati, an anniversary gift of sorts. Baseball also loves that kind of thing.
Gotta wonder if the St. Louis Cardinals are beginning to ponder a change – from hitter to pitcher — for Walker Robbins, their fifth-round draft pick in 2016. Currently playing in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League, the former George County High star is batting .123 with three extra-base hits in 19 games. He hit .174 last year in the rookie Appalachian League and .185 in the Gulf Coast League in 2016. He has a grand total of two home runs in 305 pro at-bats. Robbins, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-hander, was a two-way star in high school. He hit .477 as a senior and posted a 0.67 ERA with two no-hitters. A Mississippi State signee, he planned to hit and pitch for the Bulldogs. Robbins was generally considered the top prep prospect in Mississippi heading into the 2016 draft, with some speculation he’d go in the first round. St. Louis signed him as a hitter and moved him from first base to the outfield. That transition seems to have gone fairly smoothly, but his bat just has not taken off. Robbins, still only 20 years old, said in an off-season interview with the Biloxi Sun-Herald that he wants to hit but would be fine with a move to the mound. Stay tuned.
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.
Voting ends Friday for the Triple-A All-Star Game, and if fans have been paying attention, ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson should be leading the pack for Pacific Coast League starting pitcher. Hudson, with the Memphis Redbirds in St. Louis’ system, leads the PCL in wins and ERA. The 23-year-old right hander, the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect, has won six of his last seven starts to move to 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA. Hudson doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts but, according to scouting reports, generates a lot of weak contact and ground balls with a heavy sinker. Drafted in the first round in 2016, he was the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2017 and got a non-roster invite to 2018 big league camp, where he posted a 1.86 ERA in four games. The Triple-A All-Star Game (see the ballot on milb.com) is slated for Columbus, Ohio, on July 11. Considering all the injuries the Cardinals have had in their rotation, Hudson might be in St. Louis well before then. P.S. There was a Mississippi Big 3 summit of sorts at Minnesota on Wednesday, when Mississippi State’s Mitch Moreland, Ole Miss’ Lance Lynn and Southern Miss’ Brian Dozier all took the field. Dozier, who’s been slumping (.135 his last 15 games), went 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI in the Twins’ 4-1 victory over Boston. Despite fighting command issues, Lynn went five innings for the win, improving to 5-5, 4.64 ERA as he pitched around three hits and five walks. Moreland got one of those hits and drew one of the walks and scored an unearned run on a throwing error. … Pittsburgh put Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College standout, on the family emergency medical leave list and recalled MSU product Adam Frazier from Triple-A. … Houston produced back-to-back-to-back home runs on Wednesday, the first time the Astros have pulled that off in over 10 years. As you might have guessed, former Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman was involved in that previous trifecta.
After a sluggish start at the Triple-A level, Mason Robbins has kicked into gear the last couple of weeks. The former George County High and Southern Miss star is batting .385 over his last 10 games for Charlotte, the Chicago White Sox’s top minor league affiliate. Robbins was hitting just .227 through 18 games for the Knights when he hit his first homer on May 29. Something may have clicked. In his next game, the lefty-hitting corner outfielder went 3-for-4, and he’s been rolling ever since, lifting his average to .284. He has two homers, 17 RBIs, 14 runs, four doubles and three triples. Robbins, 25 and in his fifth pro season, has hit at every level, sporting a .285 career average. He has acknowledged that he needs to hit for more power. For some, that’s the last tool to develop, and it might be the key for Robbins to reach the big leagues. P.S. Robbins’ brother Walker, a fifth-round pick out of George County by St. Louis in 2016, is on the roster of the rookie-level Johnson City club, which opens next week. Walker Robbins, also a lefty-hitting outfielder, has hit .179 over his first two seasons. Expect him to pick it up in 2018. … A third Robbins brother, Logan, went 7-1 with a 4.66 ERA this season as a redshirt junior at Louisiana Tech. The left-hander was not drafted. Logan Robbins was undefeated (18-0) as a starter at Jones County Junior College and his only loss at LaTech came in a C-USA contest against USM.
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.
Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, there’s Mike Mayers, picking up a win for the Cardinals, the beneficiary of a five-run ninth inning capped by Yairo Munoz’s walk-off homer that beat Pittsburgh 10-8 on Thursday night. Former Ole Miss star Mayers is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in 11 relief appearances for the Cards. Funny thing is, those 11 appearances are spread over six different stints with St. Louis. Mayers, who first made the big leagues in 2016, still has options. What that means is, the Cardinals can option him to the minors this season as many times as they see fit. They have seen fit to do so five times. And it’s only June. Mayers was sent to Triple-A Memphis on Wednesday, joining the Redbirds in New Orleans, then was recalled on Thursday as an injury replacement and flew back to St. Louis. He entered Thursday’s game in the eighth, got the final out in that inning and worked a 1-2-3 ninth. The rally that followed may have seemed a bit like déjà vu for Mayers. His other win, on May 6, also came via a walk-off homer. After a strong winter league showing and a good spring, Mayers began the 2018 season on the Cardinals’ 25-man roster. On April 9, he was optioned to Memphis for the first time, and the shuttle run began. “If anything,” Mayers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after Thursday’s game, “this season has taught us that baseball is crazy.”
It’s a small sample size but still worth noting: Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley is batting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and 11 RBIs through his first 10 games in Triple-A. He has hit safely in eight of those games, including a four-hit, three-homer performance on Sunday, and has yet to make an error at third base. He also has two hat tricks (three-strikeout games) for Gwinnett. “It’s all about adjustments,” Riley told the Marietta Daily Journal. “Each level you move up, the pitchers get better. You never stop learning in this game.” Riley, one of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, batted .333 with six homers in 27 games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before his promotion. At 21, Riley is the same age as Ozzie Albies and a year older than Ronald Acuna, who are leading the “Baby Braves” contingent that has helped revitalize the big league club. Most projections have Riley making the majors in 2019, but he could force the Braves’ hand this summer. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson is also in Triple-A and knocking on the MLB door. St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2016, right-hander Hudson is 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA in seven starts for Memphis. He is rated the Cardinals’ No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline. … Hunter Renfroe, the State alum who is hoping to get back to the big leagues, went 1-for-5 with an RBI double and three K’s Thursday in his first game after being sent to Triple-A El Paso. Renfroe was batting .200 with two homers for San Diego when he went on the disabled list in mid-April. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, sent down by Toronto earlier this week, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts at Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday. … Also itching for another shot in The Show is Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, who has a 1.50 ERA, two saves and 26 punchouts in 18 innings for Triple-A Nashville in Oakland’s system. Wahl made seven appearances for the A’s last year before suffering a shoulder injury. He was dropped from the 40-man roster in the fall. … Braxton Lee, the ex-UM standout from Picayune who started this season in the majors with Miami, is currently on the DL at Triple-A New Orleans. He hit .176 in eight MLB games and is at .186 in 12 games for the Baby Cakes. … Ole Miss alum and onetime big leaguer Alex Presley, who had been at Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore’s system, has been granted his release and is now a free agent.
It’s the type of headline that compels you to click: “The best hitter you know nothing about.” The mlb.com story is a statistical analysis of the very fine 2017 season put together by St. Louis rookie Jose Martinez, a hitter whom Mississippi Braves fans actually do know something about. Martinez played right field for the 2013 M-Braves, and he stood out – and not just because he is 6 feet 6. Martinez was one of the best hitters on that team, batting .285 with six homers and 39 RBIs. He became a minor league free agent after that year, his eighth in pro ball. The Venezuela native briefly returned to the Atlanta organization – playing in A-ball — in 2014. He finally made his MLB debut in 2016 with the Cardinals – at age 28 – then broke out last summer after a swing change, batting .309 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs in 106 games. P.S. Atlanta had eight players – including No. 1 Ronald Acuna (see previous post) — in Baseball America’s new Top 100 prospects rankings, most of any organization. … Four Mississippi products made BA’s list: Austin Riley (Braves) at 54, Anthony Alford (Toronto) at 60, Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee) at 61 and Brent Rooker (Minnesota) at 92. … Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, is the No. 6 third base prospect in mlb.com’s position rankings. … Ex-Picayune High star T.J. House has signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox; the veteran left-hander got some big league time with Toronto in 2017 but spent most of the season in Triple-A.
Six Mississippians cracked Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists for the 30 MLB organizations. (BA published the last of the lists today on its website.) Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star who made his big league debut in 2017 but still has rookie status, was rated No. 2 in Milwaukee’s system. The right-hander was 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts last year and figures to compete for a rotation spot this spring. Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, was No. 3 in Toronto’s system, and Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High standout, was Cleveland’s No. 3. Alford, an outfielder, had a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays last spring and is coming off a strong winter league showing. Bradley, a first baseman, has intriguing left-handed power but didn’t have a great season in Double-A and scuffled in the Arizona Fall League. Still, the 21-year-old is rated the No. 6 overall first base prospect by mlb.com, and he did get another invite to big league camp. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley climbed to No. 6 on Atlanta’s chart. The power-hitting third baseman reached Double-A Mississippi last summer and likely will start 2018 in Triple-A. Brent Rooker, who had a monster season for MSU last spring, continued to rake (.281, 18 homers, 52 RBIs) in Minnesota’s system and earned a No. 7 rating. Dakota Hudson, another ex-Bulldogs star, is St. Louis’ No. 9 prospect after going 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. Not yet on the 40-man roster, Hudson probably will get some time in the big camp this spring. Worth noting: Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is the fourth-rated prospect in Pittsburgh’s organization.