In announcing the trade of Cameron Maybin on Thursday, Detroit officials said there would be “a wide-open competition” for the center field job in spring training. Former Richton High star JaCoby Jones will be in the mix. Jones, who can also play the infield, is playing center field in the Arizona Fall League and batting .318 with a homer, eight RBIs and five steals in 13 games for Salt River. He went 6-for-28 in a big league trial this summer. In four minor league seasons, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Jones is hitting .269 with 47 homers and 58 bags. The Tigers acquired him in 2015 from Pittsburgh, which drafted Jones in the third round in 2013 out of LSU. … Seattle picked up the 2017 option on Seth Smith’s contract. The Jackson native and Ole Miss alum, a lefty-hitting outfielder, batted .249 with 16 homers for the Mariners in 2016, his second year with the club and 10th in the majors. … Chris Maloney, a Jackson native and ex-Mississippi State standout, will be back for a sixth year on the St. Louis coaching staff in 2017. Maloney coached third base for manager Mike Matheny this past season.
The numbers are in. MLB’s Statcast numbers, that is, on Hunter Renfroe’s ginormous home run, the one that went where no ball has gone before – the roof of the Western Metal Supply Co. building beyond the left-field wall at San Diego’s Petco Park. Statcast put the distance of Wednesday night’s blast at 434 feet and the exit velocity of the ball off the bat at 109 mph. “I think we all know he’s got a ton of raw power. I wasn’t expecting that,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe, 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, now has four homers in 21 MLB at-bats, with 12 RBIs and six runs. No doubt there are some old Copiah Academy fans who are saying today, “Oh yeah, we saw this coming.” Renfroe hit a Mississippi private school-record 20 bombs for Copiah as a senior just six short years ago. He hit 15 homers his junior year at the Gallman school. He started slowly at State but flexed his muscles as a junior in 2013, belting 16 homers (while batting .345) and earning All-America honors. He also won the Ferriss Trophy that year and was drafted in the first round by the Padres. He hit 77 minor league homers before crashing The Show on Sept. 21. Elsewhere in MLB: Ole Miss product Seth Smith drove in two runs to help Seattle crush Houston 12-4 and hang 2 games out of an American League wild card berth. … Jarrod Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, got two hits, two runs and his 29th steal of the year as Kansas City beat Minnesota 5-2. But Ned Yost’s Royals were eliminated from AL wild card contention just the same. … The fingerprints of former Mississippi Braves were all over Atlanta’s 12-2 win against Philadelphia. The incredible Freddie Freeman extended his hit streak to 30 games; rookie Dansby Swanson – who can play a little, too – went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs; Daniel Castro had three hits and three RBIs; Mallex Smith scored a run; John Gant threw a scoreless inning; and Rio Ruiz got his first big league knock, a triple. … And a blast from another past: John Jaso’s cycle was the first by a Pittsburgh player since former Jackson Generals star Daryle Ward turned the trick in 2004. Ward had five career triples.
The game to watch tonight is Seattle-Houston, which could feature a matchup of Mississippians Seth Smith and Tony Sipp in the late innings at Minute Maid Park. The Mariners are 83-73, tied with Detroit and 2 games behind Baltimore, which holds the second American League wild card spot. The Astros are 82-75 after losing Game 1 of the three-game series (4-3 in 11 innings) on Monday night. Jackson native and ex-Ole Miss standout Smith has had a productive year for the M’s, batting .255 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs. The lefty-hitting outfielder is 1-for-5 against Houston starter Mike Fiers and is hitting only .212 against the Astros this year. But Smith, who typically struggles against left-handers, is 2-for-3 with two RBIs against Sipp, the lefty reliever from Pascagoula and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Sipp has had a bad year: 5.36 ERA and 12 homers allowed in 40 1/3 innings. But Houston manager A.J. Hinch may be compelled to go to the veteran. Worth noting: Former Mississippi Braves catcher Jesus Sucre is 11-for-22 with a homer and five RBIs since Seattle called him up when rosters expanded.
At 33, Seth Smith is not quite an ancient Mariner. But he is a veteran on the Seattle team, with over 1,000 games in the big leagues and four postseason voyages. The former Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss star is helping steer the Mariners toward their first postseason trip in 15 years. Smith hit two home runs on Sunday as the M’s beat visiting Houston 7-3 in one of several big showdowns between playoff contenders. Seattle is 79-70, just 2 games behind Toronto, which occupies the second wild card seat in the American League, with a huge series looming against the Blue Jays, also at Safeco Field. Smith, a big leaguer since 2007, has 16 homers, one shy of his career-best, and 60 RBIs, which is a career-high. He has hit 12 of his homers at Safeco. A recent hot streak (.342 over his last 15 games) has lifted his average to .264. The lefty-hitting Smith figures to start at least two of the three games against the Blue Jays, including tonight’s contest against Marco Estrada. P.S. Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier extended his hitting streak to 22 games for Minnesota on Sunday. “I couldn’t care less, to be honest with you,” he told mlb.com about the streak, which he kept alive with one hit in a 3-2 loss to the New York Mets, the Twins’ 95th L of the year.
Slumping Seattle tried something different on Wednesday. Slumping Seth Smith, the former Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss standout, batted leadoff for just the second time this season. He responded with three hits, including his 13th homer, and three runs to help the Mariners beat Texas 8-3. The Mariners moved to 71-68 and are 5 games out of an American League wild card spot. Mariners manager Scott Servais told mlb.com that he was just trying to get Smith going by putting him in the top spot in the order: “He hasn’t really been the true Seth Smith in the second half.” The left-handed hitting Smith, who bats almost exclusively against right-handers, was at .280 with 10 homers on July 3. After going 3-for-3 on Wednesday, he is now batting .263. The homer was his second in as many nights, and he has 51 RBIs. Seattle, facing a steep climb in the postseason chase, needs his bat. … In another MLB game of note, former Pillow Academy star Louis Coleman was one of seven – count ’em, seven — relievers used by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 3-1 win against Arizona. Coleman struck out the only batter he faced, was credited with his 10th hold and trimmed his ERA to 3.59. P.S. Minor highlights: Stone County High product D.J. Davis scored the go-ahead run in the 15th inning as Dunedin beat Tampa 8-4 in the Florida State League playoffs. Davis reached on a passed ball strikeout, went to second on a walk, took third on an error and scored on a wild pitch. Former Petal High star Anthony Alford had two hits and scored three times for Dunedin, a Toronto affiliate. … Southern Miss alum Bradley Roney struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced in a scoreless relief appearance, helping the Gwinnett Braves beat Columbus 5-4 in an International League playoff opener.
4 – Wins in four consecutive starts for Kendall Graveman, the former Mississippi State star now pitching for Oakland. Graveman went nine innings on Saturday to beat Tampa Bay – thanks to a pair of ninth-inning homers – and is now 7-6 with a 4.15 ERA. At one point, he was 1-6, 5.48.
12 – Hits in his last 10 games for Anthony Alford, the former Petal High star now in A-ball with Toronto. Alford, in an injury-plagued campaign, is now batting .210 with four homers and 23 RBIs for Dunedin.
7 – Wins in their last nine games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, who beat Tennessee 3-0 on Saturday behind the pitching of Lucas Sims and Jason Hursh. The M-Braves are 16-13 and in first place in the Southern League South.
31 – Steals for Billy Hamilton, the ex-Taylorsville High star playing for Cincinnati. Hamilton, batting leadoff on Saturday, went 1-for-4 with a bag and a run in the Reds’ 6-1 win against Arizona. Hamilton has a six-game hit streak that has boosted his average to .251 with 46 runs in 82 games.
3 – Runs scored by Ole Miss product Seth Smith in Seattle’s 14-5 win against Toronto on Saturday. Smith, batting .273, has 43 runs in 83 games for the Mariners. He also has 11 home runs.
7 – Consecutive scoreless appearances for Jonathan Papelbon, the former Mississippi State standout who pitches for Washington. Papelbon yielded a hit and a walk in the ninth against San Diego on Saturday but got the win thanks to a walk-off triple by Stephen Drew. Papelbon is 2-2 with 19 saves and a 2.56 ERA for the first-place Nationals.
3 – Number of former Mississippi Braves who started for the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday (Yunel Escobar, Andrelton Simmons and Todd Cunningham). Two ex-M-Braves started for Atlanta (Freddie Freeman and Jeff Francoeur).
If you’re going to watch Seth Smith play, you should catch him at home, at Seattle’s Safeco Field, and against a right-hander, which he faces almost exclusively. And catch him when he’s hot, of course, like now. The former Ole Miss standout from Jackson homered for the second straight game on Friday as the Mariners beat American League East leader Baltimore for the second straight time at Safeco. The lefty-swinging Smith is batting .362 over his last 15 games and has six hits in his last three games. For the year, he is at .272 with eight homers and 30 RBIs. At home, he is hitting .298 with six homers, and against right-handers, he’s batting .284 with all eight of his homers and 27 of the RBIs. The Mariners face Buck Showalter’s Orioles again tonight at Safeco, and Baltimore’s scheduled starter is right-hander Tyler Wilson. Seattle is 41-39, battling to keep AL West leader Texas in its sights. The M’s trail the Rangers by 10½ games. P.S. East Central Community College product Tim Anderson got some love on MLB Network’s Quick Pitch show today for drawing the first walk of his big league career on Thursday. It came in his 86th plate appearance for the Chicago White Sox. Anderson did not walk in Friday’s game – or get a hit – but the rookie leadoff man is batting .300 with three homers, 14 runs, five RBIs and a couple of steals while also playing some sharp shortstop over 20 games. The White Sox apparently are pleased. “He’s quiet, but there’s a confidence and a drive,” ChiSox manager Robin Ventura told CBSChicago.com.
The 100th home run of Seth Smith’s big league career will certainly be memorable. The former Ole Miss standout from Jackson hit the milestone bomb on Friday night, giving Seattle a 1-0 win over visiting Kansas City. It was the only hit the Mariners got. The victory went to Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and was the 145th of his career, which matches Jamie Moyer for the most in franchise history. The left-handed hitting Smith went deep against righty Kris Medlen, the former Mississippi Braves star, in the sixth inning. The ball just got over the wall in right field at Safeco Field and was just out of the reach of the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson, the Southwest Mississippi Community College product from McComb. Smith’s first career homer came in 2008 with Colorado. He has also homered for Oakland and San Diego. And if you were wondering, 91 of his homers have come against right-handers.
This hasn’t been the season that was predicted for the Seattle Mariners. This was a team expected by many to win the American League West, or at least make the playoffs. Not happening. It’s late September and Seattle, an 87-game winner in 2014, sits in fourth place with a 73-77 record, out of the playoff picture largely because of a terrible first half. General manager Jack Zduriencik already has been fired, and more changes could be coming. But the M’s woes should not reflect badly on the efforts of Seth Smith. The Jackson native and former Ole Miss standout, in his first season with the Mariners, is hitting .247 with 11 home runs, 41 RBIs and 48 runs in 125 games. These numbers are on par with the veteran’s 162-game average (according to baseball-reference.com): .263, 16 homers, 59 RBIs, 67 runs. He has hit .257 with six homers at home in Safeco Field, not a hitter’s park. He has a 2.0 WAR rating, which translates to “solid starter.” Smith, a lefty hitter, doesn’t hit left-handers (.209, one homer in 43 at-bats), but the M’s knew that when they traded with San Diego to get him. This team already had stars (Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz). Smith, a so-called “professional hitter,” was acquired as a complementary piece, and he has held up his end. P.S. Cleveland is another team forecast (by some) as a playoff club that has scuffled. The Indians, who won 85 games in 2014, are 74-74, barely on the fringe of the AL wild card race thanks to a 26-20 surge since Aug. 1. Pitching has kept the Tribe afloat, and some credit there goes to Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway, in his third year as the pitching coach. Cleveland’s staff ERA of 3.75 is third in the AL, and they lead the loop again in strikeouts. They set an MLB record in 2014 with 1,450 K’s.
Seth Smith likes to hit at Target Field in Minnesota. On Thursday, the Ole Miss alum from Jackson belted his fourth home run in 11 career games there, a first-inning blow that gave Seattle a lead on the Twins. Of course, Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star, likes to hit at Target Field, too. He smacked his 33rd career homer there, a leadoff shot that propelled the Twins to a five-run first inning and a 9-5 victory. Dozier, the All-Star, now has 22 homers for the season (10 at home) for Minnesota, which appears headed for an American League playoff berth that no one predicted in preseason. Seattle, on the other hand, was pegged by many to win the AL West but has had a rough go of it. At 46-57, the Mariners are a distant fourth in the division. Smith, in his first season with the M’s, has played well enough: His .263 average is right at his career mark, and he’s got nine homers and 28 RBIs in 270 at-bats. Wonder if he is on the trading block? … On a small ball note: Billy Hamilton, the Taylorsville Tornado, swiped two more bases on Thursday, running his season total to 49, 16 more than the next best in baseball. He also scored three times in Cincinnati’s 15-5 win against Pittsburgh, but his runs total of 47 ranks just 68th in MLB.