Freddie Freeman already has achieved iconic status with the Atlanta Braves. The former Mississippi Braves first baseman is to the current generation of Braves fans what Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones were before him: the face of the franchise. Still, the occasion of Freeman’s 200th career home run – struck Sunday against Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff of Milwaukee – gives us a peg to celebrate what he has achieved in his 10 seasons in the big leagues. It has been a treat to watch. Freeman arrived in Pearl on July 4, 2009, as a highly rated prospect though not as celebrated as his buddy who arrived on the same day, Jason Heyward. Heyward put up better numbers as an M-Brave – Freeman, not fully healthy, hit .248 with two homers in 41 games that summer – and reached Atlanta first, famously homering in his first at-bat in 2010. But Freeman has clearly surpassed Heyward on the big league stage. Freeman is a career .294 hitter with 713 RBIs. He has made three All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and finished in the top six in National League MVP voting three times. He is just the ninth player ever to hit 200 homers for the Braves. He has the second-most homers by an M-Braves alum; Brian McCann has 273, 179 with Atlanta. Only Lance Berkman (366), Darryl Strawberry (335), Bobby Abreu (288), McCann and Kevin Mitchell (234) rank above Freeman on the list of career bombs by former Jackson area Double-A players. The current Braves team, sprinkled with so many young stars, revolves around Freeman — and will go as far as he leads them.
There has been a power surge of late among several Mississippians, notably Bobby Bradley, Austin Riley and Hunter Renfroe. Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, has begun to mash at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s system. The 22-year-old first baseman has four homers in his last four games, three in his last two. A .366 spurt over his last 10 games has boosted his average to .315 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his first full season at the Triple-A level. “It’s really a great experience, you learn so much from the veteran guys,” Bradley said in an milb.com story. Riley, the DeSoto Central product, hit two more bombs for Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta) on Wednesday. That’s 10 in his last 13 games, during which he has batted an absurd .469. He is at .315 with 12 homers and 32 RBIs. “Obviously, I’m seeing the ball well,” he told milb.com. “I’ve worked really hard on getting my swing where it is now.” Renfroe, the ex-Copiah Academy and Mississippi State standout, hit a go-ahead home run for the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. He also hit a tie-breaking bomb on Monday and a walk-off grand slam on Sunday. “He’s clutch. And he has been for a long time,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. Renfroe now has nine homers on the year, second to Mitch Moreland’s 10 among Mississippians in the majors. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is 2-for-8 (.125 for year) since coming off the injured list for the Los Angeles Angels, who also designated MSU product Chris Stratton for assignment on Tuesday. Stratton, who’ll likely land in Triple-A, has an 8.59 ERA in seven appearances. … Tony Sipp, the veteran reliever out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, went on the 10-day IL for Washington with a strained oblique.
The great home run race in Mississippi last season involved just one player. Delta State’s Zack Shannon chased and ultimately broke the record for homers in a single season by a state collegian in any division. Shannon’s 31 bombs eclipsed the previous record of 29 shared by ex-Mississippi State stars Rafael Palmeiro and Bruce Castoria. No one is threatening Shannon’s record in 2019, but there is quite a battle for the state long ball lead. State’s Justin Foscue and Mississippi College’s Blaine Crim have hit 11, and Ole Miss’ Tyler Keenan and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner have 10. At nine are UM’s Thomas Dillard and Cole Zabowski, with State’s Dustin Skelton and Delta State’s Jake Barlow sitting on eight. Foscue hit his 11th against Arkansas on Friday; it was his only hit in the series in which the Bulldogs were swept. Crim, having a monster year, homered in both of MC’s wins at West Alabama; he drove in seven runs in the Friday game. Wallner, starting to heat up for USM, hit three homers over the weekend as the Golden Eagles swept Charlotte; with 45 career bombs, Wallner is tied with Fred Cooley for fourth on USM’s all-time list. UM’s Keenan hit his 10th in the Rebels’ lone win in a three-game set at Auburn. Zabowski also went yard in that game. Barlow leads a Delta State team that has 30 homers, one fewer than Shannon hit in 2018. P.S. Ex-State standout Mitch Moreland leads Mississippians in the majors in home runs with seven. Interestingly enough, McComb native Jarrod Dyson, whose outstanding tool is speed, has the same number – three – as Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss product and a more noted slugger.
For Mitch Moreland, it was a milestone home run. For his Boston team, it was a lot more than that. Moreland, the former Mississippi State standout from Amory, blasted his 150th career homer on Sunday, a seventh-inning shot that lifted the Red Sox to a 1-0 win at Arizona in the finale of a brutal road trip. The defending world champs went 3-8 against Seattle, Oakland and the Diamondbacks. Their home opener is Tuesday vs. Toronto. “It’s going to be nice to get back home and get in front of our fans and get rolling,” Moreland told mlb.com. Unlike so many of his teammates, Moreland is off to a good start. He is batting .258 with club-leading numbers of three homers, nine RBIs and a .645 slugging percentage. Now in his 10th MLB campaign and third with Boston, Moreland made his first All-Star Game last year in addition to winning his first ring. He has 40 homers for Boston – plus one in last year’s World Series – plays a Gold Glove-caliber first base and has become a key part of an elite team. Moreland hit his first big league homer for Texas on Aug. 13, 2010, against Boston’s Josh Beckett. His 150 total puts him ninth on the career list of Mississippi natives; Bill Melton and Frank White are tied for seventh at 160.
The drought has ended for Corey Dickerson, who homered for the first time since May 4 in Pittsburgh’s 7-5 win against San Diego on Sunday. The RBI was the first since June 1 for the ex-Meridian Community College star. Dickerson, reportedly working on a new approach at the plate, has hit just .196 over his last 15 games, dropping his average to .296. The homer, his sixth of the year, might have been a good sign. “I was just glad he didn’t forget his trot,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said in an mlb.com story. “He pulled off his trot like he’d hit a bunch of them. Guys have always got that trot in the back pocket, waiting to bust it out.” Dickerson does have 96 career homers. … Hunter Renfroe, who has been swinging the bat well of late (.300 in his last 15 games), went deep for San Diego, his fifth of the year, and two other Mississippians also homered on Sunday: Brian Dozier and JaCoby Jones. Southern Miss alum Dozier hit No. 12 for Minnesota, and Richton High product Jones got No. 6 for Detroit. Tim Anderson, the former East Central CC star, still leads the Magnolia State pack with 13. … Four former Mississippi Braves got into the long-ball act on Sunday. Mallex Smith hit his first for Tampa Bay, Jose Peraza his fifth (a grand slam) for Cincinnati, Freddie Freeman his 16th for Atlanta and Evan Gattis his 16th and 17th for Houston. After a slow start in 2018, Gattis has 11 bombs in his past 30 games.
When a scout told Sports Illustrated before the season that Hunter Renfroe reminded him of Jethro Bodine, he meant it as a compliment. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Renfroe, a country boy from Crystal Springs, has Jethro-type strength, and it was on full display Sunday in San Diego. The ex-Mississippi State star smashed a pinch-hit grand slam for the Padres, his first homer since he returned May 28 from a lengthy stay on the disabled list. The slam, which propelled the Padres to a 6-3 win against Cincinnati, hit high up on the Western Metal Supply Co. Building down the left-field line at Petco Park. Renfroe pointed down the line with his bat as the ball flew out and then made an impressive bat flip when it hit the wall. “I’m swinging the bat well now, just got to keep it going,” he told mlb.com. Renfroe was a regular much of last season, when he hit 26 bombs, but his strikeout numbers (140) raised questions and he entered 2018 battling for a job. Hitting just .200 with two homers when he went down with an elbow problem in mid-April, Renfroe is 7-for-14 since he came back from Triple-A El Paso. The Padres reportedly are encouraged. “Anybody that’s ever doubted him has probably learned not to doubt him,” Padres manager Andy Green said in an mlb.com article. P.S. Renfroe, who debuted in 2016, now has three career grand slams and 33 career homers. He has a ways to go to catch fellow Mississippians Brian Dozier and Mitch Moreland, who also went deep on Sunday in big games. Fulton’s Dozier, who hit his ninth of the year as Minnesota beat Cleveland, has 160 career, joining Bill Melton and Frank White in a tie for sixth on the all-time list of Mississippi natives. Amory’s Moreland hit his 10th in Boston’s win at Houston and now has 142 career, two shy of ninth-place Charlie Hayes.
Mitch Moreland doesn’t always start for the Boston Red Sox. But when he does, he prefers to rake. The ex-Mississippi State star is batting .311 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 34 games (103 at-bats) for the 34-16 Red Sox. The lefty-hitting first baseman has started only 25 games there in a platoon with Hanley Ramirez. Moreland, who re-signed as a free agent with Boston in the off-season, batted cleanup and homered in a 6-3 loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday night. It was his fifth homer in his last 15 games, and he is batting .333 over that stretch. With Ramirez mired in a deep slump, there has been much speculation in Boston media about Moreland, who is also the superior fielder, getting more playing time, even against lefty starters. Certainly seems to make sense. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll find at-bats for Mitch,” manager Alex Cora told mlb.com after Thursday’s game. The Red Sox host Atlanta tonight and with right-hander Julio Teheran scheduled for the Braves, Moreland ought to be in the lineup. P.S. Moreland’s homer was the 139th of his career, moving the Amory native out of a tie with Matt Lawton for 10th place on the all-time list for MLB homers by Mississippi-born players. Brian Dozier is the only other active player in the top 10; the ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton ranks eighth with 158. Ellis Burks tops that chart with 352, followed by Dave Parker (339), George Scott (271), Chet Lemon (215), Dmitri Young (171), Bill Melton (160), Frank White (160), Dozier, Charlie Hayes (144) and Moreland. The not-yet-officially-retired Seth Smith has 126. … Dozier also has seven bombs this season and is tied with Moreland and Tim Anderson (East Central Community College) for the lead in the 2018 All-Mississippi Home Run Derby.
Brandon Woodruff tossed 1 1/3 perfect innings Monday to notch his first win of the season for Milwaukee. But the Mississippi State alum from Wheeler didn’t get much love for the effort. That’s because Josh Hader, a fellow former Biloxi Shuckers pitcher, struck out all eight batters he faced – a first in MLB history – to record his fourth save in the Brewers’ 6-5 win over Cincinnati. Hader, a slender left-hander with nasty stuff, has a 1.00 ERA and 39 K’s in 18 innings. He was with the Shuckers in 2015 and ’16, posting an 0.95 ERA in 11 starts the latter season. Woodruff, by the way, has made two clean appearances since he was recalled from Triple-A and now has a 3.86 ERA for the season in five games. P.S. Ex-MSU star Mitch Moreland and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson each hit his third home run on the last day of April, joining Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart in a tie for third in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Former Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier and East Central CC alum Tim Anderson each has four.
Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe hit his 26th home run of the season for San Diego on Sunday, the last day of the MLB regular season. That’s an impressive total to be sure. But it’s not the record for homers in a rookie season by a Mississippi native. That belongs to Luke Easter, who hit 28 for Cleveland in 1950 – at the age of 35. Easter, a Jonestown native, was the first black Mississippian to play in the majors, breaking in late in 1949. Greenville native George Scott hit 27 “taters” as a rookie for Boston in 1966. Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks, Mississippi’s all-time home run leader with 352, hit 20 for the Red Sox in 1987, his first year. Worth noting: Renfroe hit four homers in 11 games at the end of the 2016 season but was still classified as a rookie this year. Calhoun native Dave Parker, who launched 339 career bombs, hit just four as a rookie in 54 games for Pittsburgh in 1973. McComb native Corey Dickerson hit 24 homers in 2014, his first full season with Colorado, but he no longer had rookie status. Gulfport’s Bill Melton cracked 23 in 1969 as a first-year regular for the Chicago White Sox, but he had exceeded rookie standards in 1968. … Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High star, finished the season with 59 stolen bases, one shy of MLB leader Dee Gordon. Hamilton’s last attempt at a 60th bag on Sunday was foiled when the lead runner in a double steal was thrown out in Cincinnati’s win over the Chicago Cubs. Hamilton, with 243 career steals, is the all-time leader among Mississippi natives. … Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart went 0-for-3 to finish at .297 in what was probably his final game with the Reds. Cozart is among a sizable group of Mississippi-connected players headed for free agency, including Lance Lynn, Seth Smith, Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Dyson and Tyler Moore.
The record for home runs by all teams in a major league season likely will be broken today. The current number is 5,677, 16 short of the mark that was set in 2000. Of those 5,677, a total of 175 were hit by Mississippians (natives or college alums). There are 108 players with 20 or more homers – that record should also fall this year – and four of those are Mississippians. Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss standout, leads the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby with 31; he has 73 the last two years. (His ability to drive high fastballs was highlighted by Tom Verducci on MLB Network on Monday night.) Dozier is followed on the Mississippi chart by Corey Dickerson (career-high 26), Zack Cozart (career-high 22) and Hunter Renfroe (21 in his second year). Mitch Moreland is sitting on 19, and Tim Anderson, with 16, could also reach 20. Seth Smith is in double digits with 13, four shy of his career-best. Jarrod Dyson, who had seven career homers in seven previous seasons, hit five in 2017; he is out for the season with an injury. Adam Frazier also has five, one of them an inside-the-park job. (Still counts.) Rookies JaCoby Jones and Stuart Turner hit their first career homers this season. Jones has three all told and Turner two. There also have been a record number of strikeouts in 2017 – for the 10th straight year – and, of course, Mississippians have contributed their fair share of those, as well. Six already have topped the 100 mark, including speed demon Billy Hamilton, who has only four home runs. Indeed, the game has changed.