Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star, won’t be the only Mississippi-connected player vying for a Home Run Derby crown tonight in Cleveland. DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan is in the final of the High School Home Run Derby, which is slated to be held between rounds 1 and 2 of the big league event at Progressive Field. Jordan hit 20 homers in Sunday’s competition to advance to the final against A.J. Vukovich from Wisconsin. Jordan, a Mississippi State commit, has reclassified to be eligible for the 2020 MLB draft and is expected to go high. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound corner infielder hit 10 homers in 37 games for DeSoto as a sophomore this season. He gained a measure of fame as a 14-year-old 8th-grader when he belted a 504-foot homer to win a national contest at Marlins Park in Miami. … For the record, Ole Miss’ Tyler Keenan finished second in the College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., on June 29. Keenan led the Rebels with 15 homers in 2019. … Acuna, who has 21 homers this year and 47 all told in his two MLB campaigns, famously homered in his first at-bat for the M-Braves in 2017. He faces Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell in tonight’s first round. … An mlb.com article rated Bobby Abreu’s victory in the 2005 Home Run Derby as the No. 9 “best moment” in Derby history, which dates to 1985 (when Mississippi native Dave Parker won the inaugural event). Former Jackson Generals star Abreu, who was with Philadelphia at the time, blasted 41 bombs to win the ’05 Derby at Detroit’s Comerica Park. He hit 288 career home runs over 18 MLB seasons. P.S. Current M-Braves star Drew Waters, who somehow didn’t make the roster for the All-Star Futures Game that was played in Cleveland on Sunday night, put on a show at Trustmark Park in Pearl with his fourth four-hit game of the season in a 10-1 win against Biloxi. Waters, 20, a switch-hitting outfielder, is batting .335 with five homers, 31 RBIs, 53 runs, 29 doubles and nine triples.
Too bad fans don’t get to pick whom they’d like to see in the MLB Home Run Derby. San Diego fans – and no doubt a bunch of folks in Mississippi, too – would surely cast votes for Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs. Not only can the 6-foot-1, 220-pound outfielder really mash, but he is deserving of the recognition, ranking among the MLB leaders in homers with 18. He hit his latest on Thursday, a 422-footer at Petco Park that helped the Padres beat Washington 5-4. In this year of the long ball, Renfroe is on pace to shatter his season-best of 26, a mark he reached each of the last two seasons. He has 74 career homers, averaging one every 14.3 at-bats. (Giancarlo Stanton’s average is 13.8.) Injuries have thinned the Padres’ once-crowded outfield, and Renfroe has reaped the benefits of regular duty. He is batting .250 with 35 RBIs and 26 runs in 57 games. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier, who was the last Mississippian to participate in the home run derby in 2014, hit his ninth homer of the year Thursday for the Nationals. Grenada native Dave Parker won the first derby competition in 1985. The only other Mississippians to compete are Ellis Burks in 1996 and Rafael Palmeiro in 2002. The 2019 derby is set for July 8 at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
Power excites. It’s why people will turn out and tune in for tonight’s MLB Home Run Derby. Let’s see some dingers. Power brings to mind Ruth and Aaron and Bonds. Mantle, Mays and McGwire. Well, how about Burks, Parker and Pierce? When it comes to Mississippi natives and power, there are several who deserve to be remembered. Consider the credentials of Ellis Burks, Dave Parker, Jack Pierce, John Lindsey and Luke Easter, a Mount Rushmore plus one of Magnolia State mashers. Burks, from Vicksburg, is the all-time leader among Mississippi natives for MLB home runs. He hit 352 in a career that began in the mid-1980s, with four seasons of 31 or more and a high of 40. He participated in one Home Run Derby, in 1996. Parker, from Grenada, is No. 2 on the career list with 339 – and he won the very first All-Star Game Home Run Derby in 1985. A massive man, he used to swing a sledge hammer in the on-deck circle. Laurel native Pierce hit only eight big league bombs back in the 1970s but is credited by some sources with 395 minor league home runs, most of those in the Triple-A level Mexican League, where he is a legend. He hit 101 in affiliated minor league ball. Hattiesburg’s Lindsey, who only recently retired, crushed 377 homers all told in pro ball, including 232 in the affiliated minor leagues. Sadly, he did not homer in his handful of MLB games. Easter, from Jonestown, hit 93 big league homers in the 1950s, another 247 in a long minor league career and five (officially) in two short stints in the old Negro Leagues. He hit some legendary bombs, including a 500-footer in Buffalo’s long-gone Offermann Stadium and a 477-footer in Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium. That’s a power five that could put on a spectacular Home Run Derby – if only in the imagination. P.S. Aside from Parker and Burks, Brian Dozier, from Fulton, is the only other Mississippi native to hit in the Home Run Derby. That was in 2014, at his home field in Minnesota, two years before he belted 42 bombs, a record for a second baseman. Not considered a slugger, per se, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Dozier has 167 homers over seven seasons.
Mississippi native Dave Parker won the very first MLB Home Run Derby, held in 1985 at the Metrodome in Minnesota in conjunction with the All-Star Game. Parker was with Cincinnati at the time and in the 13th of his 19 big league seasons, during which he belted 339 home runs, second all-time to Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks (352) among Mississippi natives. In the ’85 derby, Parker hit six bombs in his two, five-out “innings,” beating a field that included Eddie Murray, Jim Rice and Dale Murphy. The revamped (yet again) derby is slated for tonight at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. … Brian Dozier is the first Mississippi native to make the All-Star Game since Roy Oswalt was picked for the National League squad in 2007. Dozier, who was born in Tupelo and went to Itawamba AHS in Fulton before starring at Southern Miss, is in Cincinnati as an injury replacement pick, but the Minnesota second baseman certainly is having an All-Star-worthy season. He has 19 homers, 50 RBIs and 67 runs for the second-best team in the American League. Oswalt, from Weir, made three straight Midsummer Classics for Houston starting in 2005. … Ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon, who has made six All-Star Games, was the winning pitcher in the 2009 game at St. Louis. Then with Boston, Papelbon pitched a clean seventh inning with the score tied 3-3. Adam Jones’ sac fly in the eighth put the AL stars ahead, and they won 4-3. Papelbon is now with Philadelphia and on the NL roster. … The most memorable of the four previous All-Star Games to be held in Cincinnati would have to be the 1970 contest, which ended when Reds star Pete Rose crushed Ray Fosse at home plate with two outs in the 12th inning and scored the winning run for the National League. Yazoo City native Jerry Moses was on the AL team but didn’t play in his only trip to the Midsummer Classic. However, had Rose been out at the plate – the throw actually beat him, but Fosse couldn’t hold the ball after the collision — and the game extended, Moses likely would have replaced the injured Fosse at catcher. The AL’s only other catcher was Bill Freehan, who had started and departed the game. Moses hit .263 with six homers for Boston in 1970, the only season of his nine in MLB in which he got more than 200 at-bats. The Red Sox were one of seven teams Moses played for.
While we wait to see if Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier is picked for his first All-Star Game and if ex-Mississippi Braves star Brian McCann gets to make an eighth appearance, here’s what we do know about the upcoming All-Star buffet: Biloxi’s Orlando Arcia, one of Milwaukee’s top prospects, is headed to the All-Star Futures Game, set for July 12 in Cincinnati. Arcia, a shortstop from Venezuela, is batting .313 with four homers, 42 RBIs and 10 steals for the Double-A Shuckers. And Louis Coleman, the former Pillow Academy star and Greenwood native, is on the Pacific Coast League roster for the Triple-A All-Star Game, which is July 15 in Omaha. Coleman, 29, is 4-1 with a 1.58 ERA and six saves for Omaha in the Kansas City system. He has a 3.25 ERA over 148 major league games with the Royals, though he is no longer on the 40-man roster. … The MLB Home Run Derby contestants have not been finalized, but former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland would be a good choice. He has 14 homers for Texas this season and has hit some mammoth blasts in his career. The revamped derby is slated July 13 at Cincy’s Great American Ballpark, a great hitter’s park. P.S. Seth Smith, the ex-Ole Miss standout, delivered in the clutch for Seattle on Sunday, stroking a two-out, two-run single on a 3-2 pitch and propelling the Mariners to a 2-1 win at Oakland. “I loved playing (at O.Co Coliseum) when I was with the A’s and especially day games have a good buzz,” Smith told mlb.com. Smith is 9-for-27 with a homer and five RBIs this year against the A’s, one of the four teams he has played for the last five years. He is batting .257 on the season with seven homers.
The TV ratings in and around Fulton ought to be pretty good for Monday night’s MLB Home Run Derby. Itawamba Agricultural High School alum Brian Dozier, now with the Minnesota Twins, will be participating at Target Field, and he’ll be taking his hacks at pitches thrown by his brother Clay, another Itawamba AHS grad who also played at Itawamba Community College. Both the high school and the juco are located in Fulton, population about 4,000. Brian Dozier, who has 16 home runs for the Twins, is one of 10 players in the derby – and possibly the least heralded of the lot (see previous posts). He was a star shortstop at Southern Miss, while Clay, a left-handed pitcher and outfielder, spent two years at ICC and then went on to Delta State. … In the big leagues tonight, Paul Maholm, the former Mississippi State standout from Greenwood, will make his first start since May 14 when his Los Angeles Dodgers host San Diego. Maholm, in his first season in LA, was 1-4 with a 5.50 ERA in seven starts before being bumped to the bullpen. An injury to Josh Beckett has opened a spot. Maholm’s overall ERA this year is 5.18; his career number is 4.31, with the great majority of his work coming as a starter. He told mlb.com he still feels like starting is more in “my comfort zone.” Maholm, a left-hander, might not get to face ex-Ole Miss star and Jackson native Seth Smith, who is batting .281 with 10 homers for the Padres. Smith, a lefty hitter, doesn’t often face lefties and doesn’t hit them much when he does (4-for-24, no homers in 2014).
Even with a home-field advantage, the odds of Brian Dozier winning the MLB Home Run Derby would have to be pretty long. Of the eight players we know will be participating in the annual slugfest, former Southern Miss star Dozier has to be the biggest surprise. Yes, he’s got 16 home runs — but that ranks only 12th in the American League. Dozier is a 5-foot-11 second baseman who often bats leadoff for the Minnesota Twins. He has only hit 40 home runs in three big league seasons. Not exactly a basher. The bashers, for whatever reason, don’t seem to want to play anymore. Yes, Dozier’s selection does give Twins fans something to root for. And, yes, nine of his 16 homers this season have come at Target Field, so he knows what it takes to yank one out there. Heck, it could be great exposure for the unheralded Dozier, who has had an outstanding season (see previous posts). But one has to wonder if the derby, even in its reconfigured form, is losing its clout as an All-Star Game attraction.