20 Dec

buzzworthy

“The best free agent that no one is talking about” is, according to an mlb.com story published Thursday, former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson. That headline is a bit of hyperbole, of course, because there is little doubt people are talking about Dickerson, a lefty-hitting outfielder with a career .286 average on his baseball card and a Gold Glove in his trophy case. He has hit .300 or better in five of his seven big league campaigns. Injuries limited him to 78 games in 2019, which he split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A scout recently told yahoo!sports about Dickerson: “He really produced in a short time in Philly, but with McCutchen and Harper there, where’s he going to play? He’s more than a bench bat. He’ll be somewhere.” The mlb.com story speculates that Cincinnati, Miami and St. Louis are the favorites to sign Dickerson, one of several notable Mississippians (see Brian Dozier, Mitch Moreland, Billy Hamilton) still on the market. The 30-year-old McComb native made $8.5 million last year. P.S. Tim Dillard, the ex-Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College standout, has signed on for an 18th season of pro ball. Dillard, 36, signed a minor league contract with Texas; he put up a 4.75 ERA in 33 games (21 starts) for Triple-A Nashville in the Rangers’ system in 2019. Dillard, son of Ole Miss product and ex-big leaguer Steve Dillard, has made 619 appearances, 73 in the majors (all with Milwaukee). The Brewers drafted him twice, out of Saltillo in 2001 and ICC in 2002.

19 Nov

putting it to a vote

The list of first-timers on the baseball writers’ 2020 Hall of Fame ballot includes two notable names with Mississippi ties: Cliff Lee and Bobby Abreu, both of whom figure to get decent support. Neither, however, is likely to be named on 75 percent of the ballots to earn election. The real question is, will they get enough support to stay on the ballot for a second term? A player needs to appear on at least 5 percent of the ballots to do so — a bigger hurdle than you might think. Consider: Weir native and Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia were first-timers on the 2019 ballot, and none of them came close to making it for 2020. Both Lee, who pitched at Meridian Community College before going on to Arkansas, and ex-Generals star Abreu have some eye-catching numbers. Lee, a four-time All-Star and a Cy Young Award winner, went 143-91 with a 3.52 ERA over 13 seasons. Abreu, a two-time All-Star, batted .291 with 288 homers, 400 steals and eight 100-RBI seasons. But it’s a very crowded field. Still on the ballot is Billy Wagner, another ex-Gens star who has lasted five years. The little left-hander, who has 422 career saves (sixth all-time), got just 16.7 percent of the votes in 2019. The only Mississippi-connected players enshrined in Cooperstown are former Negro Leagues stars Cool Papa Bell and William Foster.

22 Oct

reelin’ in the years

With Game 1 of the World Series on tap tonight, the time is right to highlight some significant anniversaries with a quick trip through Fall Classics past. Ten years ago, in the 2009 Series, Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee made two starts for Philadelphia and notched the only wins the Phillies managed against the New York Yankees. Left-hander Lee threw a complete game in Game 1, a 6-1 victory, and pitched seven-plus in Game 5, an 8-6 win. He had a 2.81 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings. Lee won 143 games in his career and went 7-3 in the postseason, though he never won a ring. Twenty years ago, a Mississippi native appeared in the box score of Game 1 of the Yankees’ sweep of Atlanta. Ocean Springs’ Howard Battle was announced as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning but was replaced (by Keith Lockhart) when New York changed pitchers (bringing in Mariano Rivera). That would be the final MLB “appearance” for Battle, who played a couple more years in the minors. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Earthquake Series, a sweep by Oakland vs. San Francisco that involved three Mississippi-connected players. Grenada native Dave Parker, at age 38, went 2-for-9 with a homer (in Game 1) for Oakland. Will Clark was 4-for-16 for the Giants, and his former Mississippi State teammate Jeff Brantley posted a 4.15 ERA in three relief appearances. Ten years prior, Parker had a big impact in the ’79 Series, helping Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in seven games. He had four hits in Game 1 – a Pirates loss – and finished with a .345 average, four RBIs and two runs. Sixty years ago, West Point native and former Southern Miss two-sport star Bubba Phillips went 3-for-10 for the Chicago White Sox as they fell in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eighty years ago, in the ’39 Fall Classic, Harry Craft, an Ellisville native and Mississippi College alum, went 1-for-11 for Cincinnati in a four-game sweep at the hands of the mighty Yankees. Craft would win a ring with the Reds the next year but got only one at-bat in that Series. In the 1929 Series, Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, started and won Game 3 for the Chicago Cubs, who lost in five games to the powerful Philadelphia A’s. Bush also made a relief appearance in that series and finished with an 0.82 ERA. Two Mississippi natives – Fulton’s Brian Dozier, a second baseman for Washington, and Brookhaven’s Lance Barksdale, an umpire – will be suited up tonight in Houston. Something significant involving one or both seems almost bound to happen.

21 Oct

it’s quite a list

The list of Mississippians in the majors who will or could be free agents after this season reads like a who’s who of the state’s best: Brian Dozier of the World Series-bound Washington Nationals, Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Drew Pomeranz and Jarrod Dyson. Billy Hamilton and Kendall Graveman have options in their deals that could also make them free agents. If the market is as sluggish as it was last year, one has to wonder how much attention any of them will get. Dozier, 32, hit .238 with 20 homers in his eighth MLB season; the Southern Miss product has been displaced as the Nationals’ second baseman by Howie Kendrick. Ex-Mississippi State star Moreland, 34, hit .252 with 19 homers for Boston in an injury-interrupted season, his 10th in the big leagues. Dickerson, 30, also had injury issues; the Meridian Community College alum batted .304 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in his seventh MLB campaign. Ex-Ole Miss star Pomeranz, 30, a nine-year vet, posted a 2.39 ERA as a reliever for Milwaukee after being traded from San Francisco, where he struggled as a starter. Southwest CC alum Dyson, 35, hit .230 with a career-high seven homers and 30 steals for Arizona in his 10th season. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, 29, hit .218 (with 22 steals) overall though he perked up after moving from Kansas City to Atlanta, which likely will buy out the final year of his contract. Ex-MSU standout Graveman, signed by the Chicago Cubs after last season, made just two minor league appearances rehabbing from 2018 Tommy John surgery. The team figures to pick up the option for 2020 — but nothing is certain. Graveman, 28, is 23-29, 4.38 ERA for his five-year career, spent mostly with Oakland.

18 Sep

touching the bases

On this date in 2013, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his first big league start for Cincinnati and flashed the skills that had so many in baseball excited about his future. Hamilton, who had already stolen five bases as a pinch runner before he got his first start, went 3-for-4 with a double, two walks, two runs, an RBI and four stolen bases as the Reds beat Houston 6-5 in 13 innings at Minute Maid Park. Hamilton led off the 13th with a walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jay Bruce’s two-run double. Though he now has 298 steals – most ever by a Mississippi native – Hamilton’s inability to hit consistently (.242) has dogged his career. He is currently filling a role – and filling it well — as a pinch runner/defensive replacement for Atlanta. … With a 4-for-6 effort on Tuesday, East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson moved into the major league lead with a .336 batting average. The Chicago White Sox shortstop hit his 17th home run in a loss to Minnesota. The last Mississippian (native or college alum) to win a batting title was Grenada native Dave Parker, who won the National League crown in 1978 with Pittsburgh. … Corey Dickerson may have played his last game for Philadelphia. The Meridian Community College alum from McComb, a free agent after this season, went on the injured list for the Phillies on Tuesday with a broken foot. He hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 34 games for Philly. Dickerson, a .286 career hitter, also missed a lot of time early in the season with Pittsburgh because of a shoulder injury.

12 Sep

helping hand

The South Bend Cubs got to use a “ringer” as their starting pitcher in Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship Series, and former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman gave them the type of performance they might have expected. Veteran big leaguer Graveman, on an injury rehab assignment for the Class A Cubs, worked 3 2/3 innings, allowing a run on three hits, and South Bend beat Clinton 3-1 on Wednesday night. Graveman, 28, made his fourth rehab start – each one at a different minor league level — as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery last summer. In 13 1/3 innings, the right-hander has a 2.03 ERA and 16 strikeouts. Graveman signed with Chicago as a free agent after being a fixture in Oakland’s rotation for most of the previous four seasons. P.S. Hot-hitting Corey Dickerson left Philadelphia’s game – a 3-1 loss — against Atlanta on Wednesday with a sore left foot that the Meridian Community College alum described as “pretty painful.” … Ex-State star Brandon Woodruff threw live batting practice for Milwaukee on Wednesday and the All-Star righty appears close to returning to the club’s rotation. The Brewers, smarting from the loss of MVP candidate Christian Yelich, won their sixth straight Wednesday to move into a tie with the fading Cubs for the second wild card spot in the National League.

11 Sep

ups and downs

Corey Dickerson, who hasn’t yet played a postseason game in his seven-year big league career, is playing like a man on a mission for a Philadelphia team battling for a wild card berth in the National League. The former Meridian Community College star from McComb hit two home runs on Tuesday night, propelling the Phillies to a huge 6-5 win against visiting Atlanta. Philly is 2 games out of the second wild card spot. Since joining the Phillies at the trade deadline, Dickerson has batted .300 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 33 games. “I’ve loved it here,” he told mlb.com. For the year, including 44 games with Pittsburgh, Dickerson is batting .307 with 12 bombs and 59 RBIs. … Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, has been out of the San Diego lineup for several days and apparently will be out for quite a few more as he rests a sore ankle. The ankle issue, coupled with an elbow problem, helps to explain Renfroe’s woeful second half. (He never publicly complained about either injury.) He is batting .169 with four homers and 13 RBIs since the All-Star break. He has two homers since the start of August. On the year, Renfroe has 31 homers with a .222 average and 143 strikeouts in 414 at-bats. P.S. Down on the farms: Harrison Central High alum Bobby Bradley hit a three-run homer to help Columbus beat Durham 8-3 in the opener of the Governors’ Cup, aka the International League Championship Series. It was the second postseason clout for Bradley, who hit 33 homers for the Clippers in the regular season, plus one in MLB with Cleveland. … Ex-State star Jake Mangum singled and scored the tying run in the seventh inning as Brooklyn rallied past Lowell 4-3 to win the New York-Penn League championship. Mangum, a 2019 draftee of the New York Mets, batted .247 with 18 RBIs and 29 runs in 53 games for the short season Class A Cyclones.

09 Sep

weekend wrap

In a weekend replete with rivalry matchups and key series in the major leagues, Mississippians played roles large and small.
On Friday: Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland, on his 34th birthday, banged out three hits including a three-run homer to spark wild card chaser Boston to a win over American League East frontrunner New York at Fenway Park. … Former MSU standout Adam Frazier went 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs as Pittsburgh, playing spoiler, took down National League Central leader St. Louis at PNC Park.
On Saturday: Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson went 2-for-5 with a two-run double as Philadelphia beat New York in a battle of NL wild card contenders at CitiField. … Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson walked, stole a base and scored a run as red-hot Arizona, making a wild card run, beat Cincinnati 2-0 at Great American Ballpark. … Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett, making his first MLB appearance in four years (see previous posts), worked a scoreless inning for NL wild card leader Washington in its loss to NL East leader Atlanta at SunTrust Park. Barrett broke down in tears in the dugout in one of the season’s most moving moments.
On Sunday: Dickerson drove in two runs and Philadelphia pitching coach Chris Young, a State alum, trotted out eight pitchers as the Phillies won 10-7 in the rubber game of their series vs. the Mets. New York, managed by ex-UM star Mickey Callaway, also deployed eight pitchers in the 4 hour, 29 minute game. … Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz retired the only two batters he faced in the seventh inning to help Milwaukee fend off NL Central rival Chicago and take three of four in the series at Miller Park. … UM product Jacob Waguespack was roughed up for six runs in 4 1/3 innings as AL wild card leader Tampa Bay whipped Toronto for a third straight time at Tropicana Field.
As Monday dawned, none of the six division races were particularly close, but four teams (including Boston on the fringe) remain in the AL wild card chase and six are still hunting the two spots in the NL. Today brings the finale of the Yankees-Red Sox series, a Braves visit to Philadelphia and a big interdivisional matchup of the Diamondbacks and Mets in New York.

04 Sep

big league chew

The long road back for Aaron Barrett is almost complete. The former Ole Miss standout, who missed two full seasons with injuries, including a broken elbow, was added to Washington’s major league roster on Tuesday. His 2019 debut will be his first MLB appearance since Aug. 5, 2015. Barrett, 31, pitched at Double-A Harrisburg this season, earning Eastern League All-Star honors. His manager, Matt LeCroy, broke down in tears when he announced to the team that Barrett was returning to the big leagues. Barrett had a 3.47 ERA in 90 games for the Nationals in 2014-15. … Barrett was not in Washington for the Nationals’ insane 11-10 win against the New York Mets, who scored five runs in the top of the ninth and then allowed seven in the bottom half. Ex-UM pitcher Mickey Callaway, the Mets’ manager, tried to keep yet another gut-wrenching loss in perspective for his wild card-contending club. “We’ve had to digest several, and you’ve got to come out tomorrow and win the series,” he told northjersey.com. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, back with Toronto as a September call-up, struck out as a pinch hitter in the Blue Jays’ loss to Atlanta. Alford, once a highly touted prospect, has three hits in 31 MLB at-bats spread of three seasons. He batted .259 with seven homers at Triple-A Buffalo this season. … In 12 games since he joined the Braves as a waiver claim, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton is 6-for-18 with three walks (.429 on-base percentage), four runs, two RBIs and three steals. He has also played flawlessly in center field. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College product from McComb, drove in another run in a Philadelphia victory on Tuesday, giving him 26 RBIs in 26 games since he was acquired in a deadline trade. … Former Mississippi State star Adam Frazier went 3-for-4 with his ninth homer for Pittsburgh and is hitting .362 over his last 15 games.

16 Aug

it’s a start

Making the New York-Penn League All-Star Game likely was not a major goal for Milton Smith II — who has expressed a much bigger dream — but it’s a nice feather in his cap. Smith, a former Meridian Community College and Starkville High star, was named to the short season Class A league’s showcase event on Thursday. The game is Aug. 21 at Staten Island, N.Y. A 22nd-round pick by Miami out of MCC in 2018, Smith is batting .319 (sixth in the NYPL) with 27 runs and 17 steals in 47 games for Batavia. He hit .362 last year, playing at the rookie level plus five games in high-A. That followed his sophomore season at Meridian when he batted .381 and swiped 24 bags in 40 games. Smith, a 5-foot-10, left-handed hitting outfielder, has what his former high school coach called “elite” speed. That’s a valuable tool, one that could help him stand out in a Marlins system that currently features 11 other outfielders among its Top 30 prospects. Smith also possesses a high level of confidence. Three years ago, at a ceremony when he signed with MCC, Smith told The Dispatch of Columbus/Starkville that his goal in baseball was not just to make the major leagues but to make it to Cooperstown, i.e., the National Baseball Hall of Fame.