Four Mississippians made their big league debut in 2017: ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford, Ole Miss products Bobby Wahl and Stuart Turner and Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff. Turner, who stuck with Cincinnati as a Rule 5 draftee, was the first of that group to break through, getting a start at catcher on April 6. Woodruff had the most significant impact, going 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts down the stretch for a Milwaukee team that contended for a playoff berth. Who’ll be the first Magnolia State product to debut in 2018? Odds are it’ll be ex-State standout Dakota Hudson, a top 10 St. Louis prospect who reached Triple-A last year in his first full pro season. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander was 10-5, 3.01 overall between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. MLB Pipeline forecasts Hudson, 23, to make the majors sometime this year. Heading into spring training, the Cardinals have at least one spot to fill in their rotation, with Ole Miss product Lance Lynn having moved on as a free agent. If the season started today, Braxton Lee apparently would be Miami’s center fielder. The Ole Miss alum from Picayune is currently listed as the starter on the depth chart on mlb.com, though he isn’t listed among the Marlins’ top 30 prospects. Lee, a 2014 draftee by Tampa Bay, won the Double-A Southern League batting title in 2017, hitting .309 between Montgomery and Jacksonville. He was traded in midseason. Lee also played well in the star-studded Arizona Fall League, making the All-Prospect Team. Another intriguing possibility for Next Mississippian Up is Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who finished his 2017 campaign with the Mississippi Braves, then went on to shine in the AFL. “His power was as prolific as any prospect in the AFL, both in terms of raw strength and his ability to get to it,” Baseball America wrote. “Defensively Riley is in better shape and moves better than he did when he was drafted, and now he’s actually an asset at third base.” Riley is only 20 – he turns 21 in April – but Atlanta has been fast-tracking its prospects of late, so he figures to get a long look in spring camp. It’s notable here that the Braves released Adonis Garcia earlier this week. Riley batted .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs between high-A and Double-A in 2017. A much longer shot to debut in 2018 is Brent Rooker, the ex-State All-American who had a very solid debut in pro ball last summer. The outfielder/first baseman, 23, belted 18 homers in the low minors and is already rated Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect by Baseball America.
He won the Southern League batting title, made the league’s postseason All-Star team and was named the best defensive outfielder by SL managers. He received a coveted spot in the Arizona Fall League and through five games there is batting .500, including a 3-for-4 effort on Thursday. Oh, and he took a few days off last week to return to Mississippi and get married. Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss standout from Picayune, is riding the wave, as the saying goes. Lee was a 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014 and was traded to Miami this past summer in the midst of a breakout year. After scuffling in Double-A in 2016, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound lefty hitter batted .309 this season with 81 runs and 20 stolen bases in 127 games split between Montgomery and Jacksonville. He has shown no sign of letdown in the AFL. What’s next? “I’m hoping I’ll be a big league invite (to Marlins spring camp) where I’ll be there and they can see me play and see what they think of me,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald.
Amazon reportedly has sent out a press release promoting how Alexa, its heavily advertised digital assistant product, is being used by baseball fans. The release included a list of the top 10 most asked about players this season, according to Alexa. At the top of the list, ahead of Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper and others you would expect to see, is … drumroll, please … Tyler Moore. Really? Moore, the former Mississippi State star from Brandon, is a fine player, a seven-year veteran known for his power. But he is batting .206 with six home runs this year as a bench player for a bad team, the Miami Marlins. Something’s clearly amiss. Craig Calcaterra of nbcsports.com sums it very well: “I suspect though, quite strongly, that Alexa — or the P.R. staff touting its abilities — is having trouble distinguishing between Tyler Moore and Mary Tyler Moore, who passed away back in January and was likely the subject of many more people’s curiosity than the Nationals’ 2008 16th round draft pick.” Of course, many a ballpark has played the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show whenever Tyler Moore has come to the plate. So, Alexa might have an excuse for being confused.
Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace and onetime big leaguer, is still taking the mound every fifth day for the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Miami’s Triple-A affiliate. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, 29, worked 7 2/3 innings on Thursday night, yielding just two runs with eight strikeouts but getting no decision. He is 8-10 with a 5.31 ERA, a number inflated by a couple of bad outings. Copeland was a horse at USM in 2010, winning his first 11 decisions and earning Conference USA Tournament MVP honors. Drafted by Baltimore in the 21st round in 2010, he was released in 2012 and signed with Toronto. He spent parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ system and got his cup of coffee in the big leagues – with several refills, actually – for the Jays in 2015. He was up and down from Triple-A Buffalo to Toronto multiple times that season and managed to get into five MLB games, going 1-1, 6.46. He went to Korea for a stint in 2016, returned and re-signed with Toronto. He became a free agent again last off-season and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins. Copeland has a career minor league ledger of 60-62, 4.18 over 174 games, 57 of those in Triple-A, where you can smell the big league coffee but not quite taste it.
Braxton Lee’s work with the bat has been impossible to ignore this season. The Picayune native is hitting .316 — best in the Southern League – and has scored 69 runs – second in the SL — for Double-A Jacksonville. His work with the glove also has gotten some attention. Lee was rated the Best Defensive Outfielder in the league in Baseball America’s annual poll of managers. Lee, listed at 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, can really run, a skill he demonstrated at Picayune High, Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss. He was the leadoff batter and left fielder on the Rebels’ 2014 College World Series team, batting .281 with 56 runs and 30 steals in 69 games. He plays center field now and, from all indications, is playing it very well. A 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014, Lee seemed to have hit a wall when he reached Double-A in 2016. He batted .209 for Montgomery. This season has been an about-face. He has been among the league leaders in hitting all season and was named to the SL All-Star Game in June. “I wouldn’t say anything is better other than my mindset every single day,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. He was batting .321 on June 26 when Tampa Bay traded him to Miami in the Adeiny Hechavarria deal. Lee was SL player of the week in his first week with Jacksonville. Not yet on the Marlins’ list of top prospects, that likely will change this off-season. … Former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna, now at Triple-A Gwinnett, was ranked as the SL’s Best Batting Prospect and Most Exciting Player.
Hunter Renfroe announced his presence with authority for San Diego on Thursday night. In his first at-bat since coming off the disabled list, the former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs hit a home run at San Francisco. Renfroe’s 17th homer, which came off Madison Bumgarner no less, moves the rookie slugger into a tie with Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson for the lead in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Renfroe, who was on the 10-day DL with a neck problem, had not homered since June 29. All-Star Dickerson, who has been fighting a slump, last went deep on June 24 for Tampa Bay. The home run race has tightened up during that time. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier now has 15, MSU product Mitch Moreland 12 and former Ole Miss standouts Zack Cozart and Seth Smith 11 each. Renfroe, described by cbssports.com as a “low-end fantasy asset,” is hitting just .231 but has 41 RBIs and 35 runs in 86 games. Dozier is the top RBI man among state players with 47. Dickerson has 42, as does Moreland. P.S. USM product Taylor Braley made his pro debut Thursday, pitching a scoreless inning for the Gulf Coast League Marlins. Braley, a two-way star for the Golden Eagles, was drafted as a pitcher in the sixth round by Miami last month. Also appearing in that rookie league game for the Marlins was Blake Anderson, the converted catcher out of West Lauderdale High who has now worked two innings as a pitcher (see previous post).
One has to wonder if the Minnesota Twins are considering a promotion for Brent Rooker, who is wearing out the rookie-level Appalachian League. The ex-Mississippi State star – the 35th overall pick last month — has 12 hits in his last seven games for Elizabethton and is at .323 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in 16 pro games. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Rooker has been playing left field; he played mostly first base at State this year. … Rehabbing big leaguer Sean Rodriguez went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts for the Mississippi Braves in an 8-7 loss to Jackson (Tenn.) on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves fanned 11 times all told and dropped to 4-14 in the second half of the Southern League season. They play the Generals again tonight at the TeePee. … Blake Anderson, the former West Lauderdale High star catcher, is now listed as a pitcher on the roster of the Gulf Coast League Marlins. Anderson, widely hailed for his defensive abilities, was a supplemental first-round pick by Miami in 2014. Injuries have limited him to 58 pro games (one in 2016), and he carries a .173 average. He has not appeared in a game this season. … None of the four high school players drafted out of the state this year signed to play pro ball. Myles Christian of Olive Branch, the highest prep pick (18th round, Seattle), is bound for Middle Tennessee State. C.J. Dunn of Center Hill, a Toronto pick, is going to Texas Tech; Ocean Springs’ Garrett Crochet, a Milwaukee pick, is off to Tennessee; and McLaurin’s Davis Bradshaw, another Brewers draftee, will play at Meridian Community College in 2018. The state’s Gatorade player of the year, Trey Shaffer, a left-hander from Biloxi, wasn’t drafted. The Southeastern Louisiana signee went 8-1 with a 1.20 ERA for the Indians. He also hit .380. … The only other 2017 draftees who didn’t sign were Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum, Ole Miss’ Brady Feigl and East Mississippi Community College’s Marcus Ragan, who is bound for Arkansas-Little Rock. State’s Cody Brown (New York Yankees) and Southern Miss’ Tracy Hadley (Chicago White Sox) signed as non-drafted free agents. … The Mississippi Semi-Pro State Tournament is scheduled for Thursday through Sunday at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. Among the participants will be the Hattiesburg Black Sox, who won the Magnolia Adult Baseball League title. … USA Baseball has unveiled the 40-man group that will go to Minneapolis in August to take part in the 18U National Team Trials. Pitcher J.T. Ginn of Brandon and outfielder Joe Gray of Hattiesburg made the cut. The team trials begin on Aug. 19 and the final 20-man roster will be announced on Aug. 24. The 18U National Team will compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation U-18 World Cup in Thunder Bay, Canada, from Sept. 1-10.
Even though he had filled his role admirably, Tyler Moore was designated for assignment by Miami on Monday. The Marlins had to clear a roster spot for former Mississippi Braves star Martin Prado to return from the disabled list. Moore, the Northwest Rankin, Meridian Community College and Mississippi State product, was the odd man out in the numbers game. He was 4-for-11 with an RBI, used primarily as a right-handed pinch hitter. Moore is a .230 career hitter with 24 home runs in 285 big league games; 10 of those homers came with Washington in 2012, his rookie season. He may wind up at Triple-A New Orleans. … Also popping up on Monday’s MLB Transactions page were ex-State standout Kendall Graveman and Ole Miss alum David Goforth. Oakland put Graveman on the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder strain. He is 2-0 with 3.00 ERA in three starts; reports indicate he’ll only miss one turn. Goforth, who was DFA’d by Milwaukee on April 14, was reassigned to Triple-A Colorado Springs. He got into one game, throwing a clean inning, for Milwaukee during his brief call-up. He has a 5.94 ERA in 36 1/3 innings in the majors.
Good day for Tyler Moore, who is trying to earn a roster spot with the Miami Marlins. Not so good for Scott Copeland, who is trying to do the same thing. Mississippi State product Moore hit two home runs in his two at-bats on Wednesday, giving him five for the spring. Southern Miss product Copeland got the start against the New York Mets at Port St. Lucie, Fla., and faced 15 batters. Nine of them reached base and six scored. Moore, 30, is an MLB-seasoned right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder who spent last year in the minors with Atlanta. He signed a minor league deal with Miami in the off-season and is batting .282 this spring. Copeland, 29, who has limited big league experience and also spent 2016 in the minors (and Korea), would appear to face longer odds of sticking than Moore. The right-hander has made six appearances in the Grapefruit League and, despite a 2-0 record, has a 9.00 ERA.
Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley got to rub elbows with the Atlanta big leaguers over the weekend and apparently did not look out of place. Riley, 19, a supplemental first-round pick by the Braves in 2015, went 2-for-2 in a Grapefruit League game on Saturday and 0-for-2 with a walk on Sunday. Braves manager Brian Snitker was impressed. “I’ve heard a lot about him, seen him in Instructional League. He’s a man. I mean, that’s real-deal right there,” Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves manager, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Riley, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, is rated the No. 8 third base prospect in the minors by MLB Pipeline and is a consensus top 15 in the Braves’ stacked system, which is rated No. 1 overall by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. Riley played at the low Class A level in 2016, batting .271 with 20 homers in his first full year in Atlanta’s system, and he has 32 homers in 189 pro games. He figures to start 2017 with the high-A Florida Fire Frogs in the Florida State League and arrive at Double-A Mississippi next season, though that timetable can certainly change. As highly regarded as he is, Riley isn’t one of the seven Braves players ranked among the top 100 prospects by MLB Pipeline. That list does include 2016 M-Braves Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Sean Newcomb. “It’s pretty neat what the future’s going to look like here,” Snitker told the AJC. P.S. Tyler Moore is making a strong bid to stick with Miami. The Mississippi State product from Brandon smacked his third homer of the spring on Sunday and is batting .462. Limited by injuries in 2016, the right-handed hitting first baseman hit three homers in 25 games for Triple-A Gwinnett in the Braves’ organization. He signed a minor league deal with the Marlins in the off-season. Moore has 24 MLB homers spread over four seasons, all with Washington.