If he could bottle it, he surely would. Anthony Alford flashed his remarkable potential on Friday night, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, a triple, two runs and an RBI for Triple-A Buffalo in an 8-3 loss to Lehigh Valley. The performance earned the former Petal High star a mention on the Prospect Report segment of MLB Network’s Quick Pitch. But that kind of performance has been rare for Alford this season. He is batting just .217 with a homer, 10 RBIs and eight steals in 42 games for the Toronto affiliate. During a brief stint in the big leagues, the powerfully built outfielder hit .143. Alford has been one of Toronto’s top-rated prospects for several years but, due in part to myriad injuries, has been fighting to find consistency. That search is the key to advancement for every minor leaguer, the key to moving off the prospect chart and into a big league job. Former Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley, a highly regarded Cleveland prospect, is scuffling in his second tour of Double-A ball. The lefty-hitting first baseman had a three-hit game for Akron on Thursday night that included his 12th homer. His power is not an issue; he now has 99 bombs in his five-year minor league career. Consistent contact is what he seeks; he is batting just .196. Former Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker, playing Double-A ball in just his second pro season, has been hot and cold for Minnesota’s Chattanooga club. He struggled much of the first two months, found a groove at the start of June, then fell into another funk. He has hit just .211 in his last 10 games — and is at .263 for the season — but did begin the second half on Thursday with a home run, No. 10 on the year. Sometimes, it’s just tough luck that stalls a prospect’s upward mobility. Ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley was playing well at Triple-A Gwinnett after his promotion from Mississippi, hitting .284 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 26 games for the Stripers. But Atlanta’s third baseman of the future suffered a knee injury that has kept him out since June 3. It’s unclear when he might get back on track.
It’s much too early in the season to be alarmed, but Bobby Bradley – the highly regarded Cleveland prospect from Gulfport – is off to a noticeably rough start in his second Double-A campaign. The 21-year-old first baseman is batting .103 with two home runs and 20 strikeouts in 58 at-bats for Akron. Bradley reported for spring training – he went to big league camp, where he batted .312 – having dropped about 25 pounds from last year. He lists at 6 feet 1, 225. “I am focused on what I started to focus on at the end of last year, which is staying with a consistent approach, becoming a better defender and becoming a better base runner,” he told the Akron Beacon Journal earlier this month. It’s the power in his bat that has made Bradley the No. 3 prospect in the Indians’ system, according to the ratings of MLB Pipeline, Baseball America and Perfect Game. He hit 23 homers (with a .251 average) for Akron last year and has 89 bombs (with a .255 average) in five pro seasons since Cleveland picked him in the third round out of Harrison Central High in 2014. Surely he’ll start to hit as the weather improves in the Eastern League.
On the day we celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic feat of breaking the MLB color line in 1947, let’s also give a nod to Greenwood native Dave Hoskins. Hoskins was the first black player in two minor leagues, the Central League in 1948 and the Texas League in 1952. While there are reports about difficulties Hoskins bravely faced in both situations, he said this in a Society of American Baseball Research article: “All in all, I had no complaints.” “He was such a nice man, you couldn’t not love the guy,” a teammate, Joe Macko, said in that same piece. Hoskins got his start in the Negro Leagues and was a standout as both a pitcher and hitter. Recruited to the Dallas Eagles of the Texas League in 1952 by team owner Dick Burnett, Hoskins went 22-10 and batted .328. That got him a shot with the Cleveland Indians in 1953, and he went 9-3 with a 3.99 ERA as a 27-year-old rookie. (The SABR report says he was actually in his mid-30s by then.) Hoskins pitched for the pennant-winning Indians in 1954 but was not on their World Series roster. His big league career was over after 40 games, though he did play a few more years in the minors. He died in 1970.
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.
Keep an eye on Mitch Moreland in today’s American League Division Series opener between Boston and Houston. The former Mississippi State star has very good numbers against Justin Verlander, the future Hall of Famer who’ll start for the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Moreland, the Red Sox’s lefty-hitting first baseman, is 10-for-29 (.345) against Verlander with six doubles and six RBIs. Moreland hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs in his first year with Boston; he has a .216 career postseason average in 33 games, all with Texas. Verlander, who has 188 career wins, went 15-8 with a 3.36 ERA this season, 5-0, 1.06 with Houston. … Tony Sipp, the Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum, was not expected to make the Astros’ ALDS roster. Left-hander Sipp had a 5.79 ERA this year, almost two runs higher than his career mark. … There will be two Mississippians in uniform for today’s New York-Cleveland ALDS opener. Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway is in his fifth year as the Indians’ pitching coach, and Louisville native and ex-East Central CC star Marcus Thames is in his second as the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach. … Former Mississippi State pitcher Jonathan Holder, who had a 3.89 ERA in 37 MLB games in 2017, was not on the Yankees’ active roster for the wild card game and isn’t likely to be on the ALDS roster. … Belated props to Hawtin Buchanan, the former UM standout from Biloxi who won a championship with the York Revolution in the independent Atlantic League last Friday. Buchanan posted a 3.40 ERA in 38 games for York.
A streak has been snapped in Bobby Bradley’s career. For the first time in four seasons in pro ball, the Gulfport native did not make Baseball America’s list of the Top 20 prospects in his league. Bradley, at age 21, batted .251 with 23 homers and 89 RBIs for Akron in the Double-A Eastern League. Not a bad year at all, but apparently there are questions, at least in the minds of some EL managers, about his plate discipline. As BA’s Josh Norris wrote in an online chat on Thursday: “There was a little bit of love for him, but nothing overwhelming. The power is there, but managers saw him as more of a mistake-type hitter than someone who belonged in the Top 20 in the league. There are holes in his swing, and he has work to do defensively as well.” Bradley, a lefty-hitting first baseman who was starring at Harrison Central a little more than three years ago, might use this “snub” as motivation as he heads into the Arizona Fall League, which starts next month. He’ll play for Glendale. Bradley is a career .261 hitter (.352 on-base percentage) with 87 homers. It’s worth noting, of course, that he is still rated No. 5 by BA on Cleveland’s prospect list and is No. 3 on MLB Pipeline’s list. He made the top 10 in the Arizona League, Midwest League and Carolina League on his way up the ladder, and he was the high-A Carolina League MVP in 2016. … Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, did make the EL Top 20, checking in at No. 9. Alford, who had a cup of coffee with Toronto in May, hit .302 with five homers, 24 RBIs and 18 steals in 245 at-bats for New Hampshire. The outfielder spent time on the disabled list with a wrist injury suffered shortly after he made his big league debut. … Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, a St. Louis prospect, was No. 10 on the Texas League chart.
The “Moneyball” A’s are back in the news, thanks to Cleveland’s remarkable winning streak. The Indians will seek their 20th straight win tonight, which would tie the 2002 Oakland club’s American League record. The A’s record – and the 20th win, in particular – were made famous by the “Moneyball” book and movie. Former Jackson Mets star Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt in the movie, was the Oakland GM and, of course, star of the film. Chad Bradford, a Byram High, Hinds Community College and Southern Miss alum, also gained a measure of fame from “Moneyball” as one of the frequently featured players. His role in the winning streak is worthy of mention. A situational, submarine-style right-hander, Bradford made eight appearances during the A’s record roll from Aug. 13-Sept. 4, 2002. He did not allow a run in six of those games. One of his two rough outings came in the Sept. 4 game, which was immortalized in the movie. Bradford allowed four runs in a third of an inning as the A’s blew an 11-0 lead against Kansas City. As all the world knows, the A’s won on the dramatic walk-off homer by Scott Hatteberg, who was played by Chris Pratt in the movie. The part of Bradford was played by an ex-minor league pitcher named Casey Bond. The real-life Bradford posted a 3.11 ERA in 75 games for Oakland in 2002, his second year with the team and fifth of 12 he spent in the big leagues.
Cleveland put on a pitching clinic against Kansas City over the weekend, shutting out the Royals three straight games. Starters Ryan Merritt, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco each worked at least six innings, and an array of relievers cleaned up. The Indians opened up 9-game lead on third-place KC in the American League Central and are 6.5 up on Minnesota. The Tribe leads all of MLB with 15 shutouts and leads the AL with a 3.60 ERA. Behind the scenes, directing this show of arms, is Mickey Callaway, the ex-Ole Miss pitcher now in his fifth year as manager Terry Francona’s pitching coach. The Indians have ranked among the league ERA leaders in each of those seasons. Last year, with a staff thinned by injuries, Cleveland made it past Boston and Toronto in the playoffs and all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before falling to the Chicago Cubs. Callaway, widely considered managerial material, rates a chunk of credit in all of this. Next on the agenda for him and his staff is the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium, a power-hitting team in a hitter’s park.
It’s safe to assume Hunter Renfroe is on a mission to get back to the big leagues, and he is certainly off to a good start. Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, went 3-for-5 with a double and a triple Monday in his first game with Triple-A El Paso. The rookie outfielder was sent down by San Diego after hitting .230 with 20 home runs and 125 strikeouts through 111 games. … Ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford is on a similar mission. Alford, who got a brief call-up with Toronto in May, doubled, homered and stole a base Monday for Double-A New Hampshire. Alford is hitting .371 over his last 10 games and .322 for the season, with five homers, 23 RBIs and 15 bags. … Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central star and a top Cleveland prospect, also had a day: a double, a homer and four RBIs for Double-A Akron. Bradley, a lefty-hitting first baseman, has hit at a .389 clip over his last 10 games, raising his average to .246 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs. Not yet on the Indians’ 40-man roster, the 21-year-old Bradley may be a year away from the big leagues. … Ole Miss alum J.B. Woodman, a Toronto prospect in just his second pro season, went 2-for-5 with two doubles on Monday for Class A Lansing and is hitting .342 over his last 10 games. He’s at .255 with six homers and 42 RBIs this season.
On this date in 1949, Luke Easter became the first black Mississippian to play in a major league game. A native of Jonestown, in Coahoma County, Easter made his debut as a pinch hitter for the Cleveland Indians at old Cleveland Stadium. This was two years and several months after Jackie Robinson broke the modern-era color line. Easter was 34 when he got his chance, having already played numerous years in various Negro Leagues. Easter did not homer in 45 at-bats for the Indians in 1949 but mashed 93 homers over the next four seasons, many of them tape-measure shots. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman produced two 100-RBI campaigns and had another of 97. Easter’s big league career was over after six games in 1954, but he played 10 more years in the minors. Despite his short time with the team, Easter was selected as one of the 100 Greatest Cleveland Indians in 2001, when the club celebrated its 100th anniversary. He died tragically in 1979 (see previous posts). P.S. In the majors on Thursday: Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star, snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a game-changing three-run homer for Tampa Bay in a win over Cleveland. It was homer No. 22 for Dickerson, who joins Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier atop the leaderboard in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe has 20. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn was hit in the head by a batted ball in the third inning but stayed in the game for St. Louis. He worked six innings all told, allowing two runs, and took a no-decision in the surging Cardinals’ 8-6 win vs. Kansas City.