In a dugout interview during ESPN’s coverage of Thursday night’s game, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon sang the praises of former Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward, calling his first-half performance a key ingredient in the team’s charge into first place. Heyward rose to the occasion with a three-hit, two-RBI game as the Cubs beat St. Louis 9-6 to begin the second half. After a couple of seasons of scuffling in Wrigleyville, Heyward is hitting .290 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 2018. Resurgent seasons by Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez, All-Star campaigns by Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and the unyielding brilliance of Craig Kimbrel give rise to the idea that you could put together a competitive team of former M-Braves now in the big leagues. An infield of Freeman, Albies, Andrelton Simmons and Martin Prado is pretty darn solid. At catcher, there’s the seven-time All-Star Brian McCann, backed by Jesus Sucre. In the outfield, Heyward, Hernandez and either Ronald Acuna or Mallex Smith would be outstanding defensively. Evan Gattis is a scary man at DH. On the bench: Choose from Johan Camargo, Jose Peraza, Dansby Swanson, Tommy La Stella, Jose Martinez. Charlie Morton, also a 2018 All-Star, would head up a rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb and Mike Minor. All-Star Kimbrel would be the closer in a bullpen with some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Jesse Biddle, A.J. Minter, Chasen Shreve, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin. Such a team could probably win the American League Central this year.
On July 8, 1941, Ted Williams hit perhaps the most famous All-Star Game home run. His two-out, three-run, walk-off bomb at Briggs Stadium in Detroit gave the American League a 7-5 win over the Nationals. The victimized pitcher was Waynesboro native Claude Passeau. Passeau wore No. 13 most of his big league career and wore it well. The right-hander won 162 games – third-most ever for a Mississippi native – and threw a one-hitter in the 1945 World Series for the Chicago Cubs. He earned five All-Star Game nods. But luck frowned on the Millsaps College alumnus in the Midsummer Classic. In the ’41 game, his first, a botched double play would have ended the game before Williams batted. In 1942, he worked two scoreless innings in relief in a game the NL lost 3-1. He didn’t get in the ’43 game and the ’45 game wasn’t played. In 1946, Passeau, now 37 years old, got the start and went three innings, yielding just two hits. One of them, however, was a two-run homer in the first inning by Charlie Keller. The NL never scored and Passeau was saddled with another loss.
Move over, Jose Canseco. Pardon, Jake Marisnick. Trent Giambrone, the former Delta State star, has joined Canseco, Marisnick and three others as the only players in the long history of the Southern League to drive in nine runs in a single game. Giambrone hit three home runs as part of a 4-for-5 performance on Thursday night as he led Double-A Tennessee to a 16-3 victory over Jackson. Batting in the 3-hole for the Chicago Cubs affiliate, Giambrone, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound middle infielder, hit a solo homer, a two-run homer, a grand slam and a two-run double. The grand slam came in the ninth inning. He also had a hand in two double plays. He is batting .264 with 14 homers, 37 RBIs and 19 steals for the year. Giambrone was an All-Gulf South Conference player and GSC Tournament MVP in 2016 at Delta State. He batted .386 with nine homers and 11 steals as a senior for the Statesmen that year. The Cubs drafted Giambrone in the 25th round, and he has moved up swiftly. He’s had some good nights, but none like Thursday.
Chris Coghlan started in left field on Monday, and the Ole Miss product must have felt a little out of place. The 33-year-old veteran of 801 big league games was joined in the outfield by two 19-year-olds. The shortstop in front of him was 18. The pitcher Coghlan faced in the bottom of the first inning was 19. Coghlan was in Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., suiting up for one of the Chicago Cubs’ two Arizona League teams, the lowest rung in the minors. How’d he get there? Coghlan was released last August by Toronto and was without a job until signing a minor league deal in late March with the Cubs, with whom he won a World Series ring in 2016. He had been sidelined with a shoulder injury until last week. He is on the Triple-A Iowa roster and is playing in the AZL on a rehab assignment. He went 0-for-3 with a walk on Monday and is at .250 with a double, a triple and an RBI in five games all told. The National League’s rookie of the year with Florida back in 2009, Coghlan hit just .200 in 36 games for Toronto in 2017. He is a .258 career hitter in the majors and can play multiple positions. It’ll be interesting to see if this new road leads back to the big leagues. P.S. Also in the AZL on a rehab assignment is ex-Ole Miss star Stuart Turner, who is batting .350 in six games for Cincinnati’s rookie team. Turner, 26, played 37 games in the big leagues last year as a Rule 5 draftee by the Reds. He lost his 40-man roster spot this spring and was sent to Triple-A Louisville, where the catcher played just 12 games before landing on the disabled list in early May.
Ryan Rolison, the 22nd overall pick in the draft and the first Mississippian chosen, has signed with Colorado; no financial details were announced. The left-hander was the first Ole Miss player to be drafted in the first round since Drew Pomeranz in 2010. The list of signees from this year’s draft also includes Zack Shannon (Arizona), James McArthur (Philadelphia), Brady Feigl (Oakland) and Dallas Woolfolk (Oakland). … T.J. House, the former Picayune High standout, has been released from Triple-A by the Chicago White Sox. The erstwhile big leaguer, 28, had a 1-6 record and a 6.81 ERA in nine starts for Charlotte. He has 29 MLB appearances on his ledger, the last with Toronto in 2017. … Mississippi State alum Kendall Graveman remains on the shelf in Oakland’s system with a forearm problem. Graveman last pitched on May 24 for Triple-A Nashville. The A’s opening day starter, he is 1-5, 7.60 in big league duty this year. … Ex-Ole Miss star Chris Coghlan, who signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs in late March, has not played this season because of a shoulder injury. The 32-year-old MLB veteran is a career .258 hitter and won a World Series ring with the Cubs in 2016.
Rafael Palmeiro went yard on Monday. At age 53. The former Mississippi State star, now playing for an independent league team in Texas, hit his first home run in an actual game since 2005, his last big league season. The blast came in his third game with the Cleburne Railroaders of the American Association and came against right-hander Trey McNutt, who was born three years after Palmeiro debuted with the Chicago Cubs in 1986.
Here’s some random Palmeiro home run numbers:
569 – Career MLB homers, 13th on the all-time list.
47 – Season-high in big league homers.
0 – Home run crowns in MLB.
21 – Age when he hit his first MLB bomb, on Sept. 9, 1986, at Wrigley Field against Kevin Gross.
38 – Age when he hit his 500th MLB homer, on May 11, 2003, at The Ballpark in Arlington against David Elder.
40 – Age when he hit his last MLB homer, on July 30, 2005, at Camden Yards against Jose Contreras.
4 – Postseason homers, all with Baltimore.
28 – Career minor league homers.
67 – Career college home runs, in three seasons in Starkville.
29 – Season-high in college homers, in 1984.
Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss pitcher; Ron Gardenhire, the Jackson Mets shortstop from way back when; and ex-Jackson State slugger Dave Clark are among the candidates for the four managerial openings in the big leagues, according to various reports. Callaway, Cleveland’s pitching coach, is rumored to be the favorite in Philadelphia but is also said to be a good fit for the New York Mets. Gardenhire, currently bench coach for Arizona, is reportedly under consideration for the job in Boston and also Detroit, where Clark has been the third-base coach for four years. Gardenhire managed in Minnesota for 13 seasons, winning over 1,000 games and making six postseason trips. Clark was an interim skipper in Houston in 2009. … Charlie Morton, one of three former Mississippi Braves on Houston’s current roster, will start Game 3 of the American League Championship Series tonight at New York. CC Sabathia starts for the Yankees. Morton, a 14-game winner this season, yielded two runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALDS at Boston, a game the Astros won 5-4 to claim the series. M-Braves alums Brian McCann and Evan Gattis also play for the Astros, whose hitting coach is onetime Jackson Generals coach Dave Hudgens. … Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward went 0-for-3 in the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sunday night’s NLCS Game 2. Heyward is just one of numerous Cubs slumping this postseason; he is 2-for-15 this year and is batting .155 in 35 career postseason games. … Ole Miss alum David Goforth, who pitched briefly for Milwaukee in 2017, is now working in the Mexican Pacific League, and Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, a Miami minor leaguer, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League. Those leagues started last week.