Reid Humphreys, a dual standout at Mississippi State and Northwest Rankin High, is focused on pitching in pro ball, and he looked sharp in his second season. Humphreys, who’s on Colorado’s Instructional League roster for this fall, notched 13 saves in 14 chances with a 2.56 ERA at Class A Asheville. The Rockies drafted Humphreys – brother of Miami Marlins first baseman Tyler Moore, another ex-Bulldog — in the seventh round in 2016. Humphreys batted .310 with five homers and 44 RBIs and posted seven saves (despite a 5.56 ERA) in 17 mound appearances for State that year. The Rockies preferred him as a pitcher, and he has not disappointed. … Also slated for extended work in Instructional League in either Arizona or Florida are State product Ryan Gridley (Oakland), East Mississippi Community College alum Vijay Miller (San Diego), ex-State star Zac Houston (Detroit), Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles (Detroit), former UM standout Henri Lartigue (Philadelphia) and Ti’Quan Forbes, the 2014 Mr. Baseball from Columbia who was traded late in the season from Texas to the Chicago White Sox. Forbes, a former second-round pick now in his fourth pro season, hit .222 at Class A Down East before the trade and played just four games for Winston-Salem in the same league before the season ended.
Time to play three stars again, a minor league version.
Austin Riley: The former DeSoto Central High standout is crushing it for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He had two hits on Thursday at Chattanooga, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and raising his average to .305 in 37 games. He is batting .457 during his streak. The 20-year-old third base prospect has six homers and 20 RBIs for the M-Braves and 18 homers on the season. He has 50 career home runs in three pro seasons. Riley still needs to polish up his defense, but his star is definitely rising.
Brent Rooker: The Mississippi State product, drafted 35th overall by Minnesota in June, went 2-for-4 with his ninth home run in 35 games for Class A Fort Myers. Rooker is now batting .274 at the high-A level after hitting .282 with seven bombs in 22 games in rookie ball. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder should make Double-A next year.
Hunter Renfroe: The MSU and Copiah Academy alum went 3-for-4 and is now 7-for-12 in three games at Triple-A El Paso since his demotion by San Diego. Renfroe, who had 20 homers for the Padres, hasn’t gone yard for the Chihuahuas yet but has three doubles, a triple and five runs. Surely the woeful Padres will bring him back in September.
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.
Brent Rooker, the first Mississippian picked in the 2017 draft (35th overall), has proven to be a quick study in pro ball. The ex-Mississippi State standout has already advanced a level in Minnesota’s system and is batting .314 with four home runs over his last 10 games, raising his average at high Class A Fort Myers to .237 with seven homers. But Rooker has a lot of company in the fast lane. Each of the top 10 Mississippi-connected players drafted and signed in June is off to a good start, some a great start. Tyreque Reed (Itawamba Community College) is batting .350 with five homers and 26 RBIs in the rookie Arizona League, though he hasn’t played in over a week for the AZL (Texas) Rangers. Dylan Burdeaux (Southern Miss) hit .319 in short-season A for Detroit and was quickly bumped up to low-A, where he is batting .265 in 23 games. Taylor Braley (USM), the second Mississippian picked (sixth round, Miami), is 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA in four appearances in the short-season A New York-Penn League. It may feel like old home week at times in the NYPL. Other Mississippians in the league: Braley’s former teammate Kirk McCarty is with Cleveland’s affiliate and is 2-1, 2.05 in nine games; Ryan Gridley (MSU), an Oakland draftee, is batting .268 with 17 RBIs and five steals; and David Parkinson (Ole Miss) is 1-1, 2.84 for Philadelphia’s affiliate. Tate Blackman (UM), in rookie ball with the Chicago White Sox, is hitting .227 with two homers and 13 RBIs and is over .300 in his last 10 games. Bryce Brown (Jackson State) is batting .254 with 20 RBIs and 12 steals at the rookie level for Tampa Bay. Erstwhile East Mississippi CC quarterback Vijay Miller, a San Diego draftee who apparently has given up football, has a 4.00 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings in the rookie Arizona League.
Power is the tool that will carry Bobby Bradley upward, and the ex-Harrison Central High star has tapped into it again at Double-A Akron with home runs in his last two games. One of Cleveland’s highest rated prospects, the 20-year-old Bradley now has three homers and 11 RBIs, five of those collected on Wednesday. The lefty-hitting first baseman is batting just .184 with 16 strikeouts in 38 at-bats – but he has walked 11 times and has a .360 on-base percentage. … Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central standout and a top Atlanta prospect, had a four-hit game on Wednesday, perhaps a sign that he is finding a rhythm. Riley, playing third base at high Class A Florida, is hitting .250 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 14 games. … Petal High product Anthony Alford, one of Toronto’s top prospects, is rocking along at .475 with nine hits in his last five games for Double-A New Hampshire. … Mississippi State product Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2016, is 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Colorado Springs. … Jacob Robson isn’t highly rated on Detroit’s prospect charts – yet – but the former State standout is surely getting some attention with his hot start at low-A West Michigan. The lefty-hitting outfielder, drafted last June, went 3-for-4 Wednesday to boost his average to .348. … Dakota Hudson, the first Mississippian picked in the ’16 draft (34th overall out of MSU by St. Louis), is 1-0, 2.31 at Double-A Springfield. He has 11 strikeouts and five walks in 11 2/3 innings. He worked only 13 1/3 innings in the minors last summer. … Ex-Ole Miss star J.B. Woodman, the second Mississippian drafted last summer (second round, Toronto), is off to a .267 start at low-A Lansing. … Angel Rosa and Wade Wass are familiar names on the roster of the Mobile BayBears, the Los Angeles Angels affiliate currently appearing at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Rosa, an infielder, is an Alcorn State alum, Wass, a catcher, a Meridian Community College product. Both played in Wednesday’s matinee, a 5-1 loss to the Mississippi Braves.
You can imagine the conversation when a father takes his son – or a mother takes her daughter — to Trustmark Park in Pearl for the first time. “This is where Freddie Freeman used to play.” Or, “This is where Craig Kimbrel pitched before he made the major leagues.” Trustmark Park, in 12 seemingly short years, has established a tremendous legacy as the place where well over a hundred future big leaguers once starred in Double-A as Mississippi Braves. MGM Park in Biloxi, which opened in 2015, has only just begun to create a history as the Shuckers funnel players to Milwaukee. It has been 11 years since they played professional baseball at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium, and none who called that park home are still playing in the major leagues. But the stadium still stands proudly out on Lakeland Drive, now used by Belhaven University as its home field. There are plenty of folks around who fondly recall the days of the Jackson Mets and Generals and the future MLB stars who played for them. “This is where Lance Berkman used to play.” But Mississippi’s minor league tradition goes back well beyond the opening of Smith-Wills in 1975. Nineteen different cities in the state have hosted minor league clubs since 1900, which makes you wonder: Whatever happened to the ballparks where those teams played? Jackson’s Legion Field, where a number of future major leaguers toiled, sat on what is now the Fairgrounds; it was destroyed by a tornado in 1953. In Gulfport, they had the Base Ball Grounds, where, according to baseball-reference.com, a team called the Tarpons played from 1926-28. Cleveland had Boyle Field. Meridian had Buckwalter Stadium. There was City Park in Vicksburg, Ginners Park in Clarksdale, Legion Field in Greenwood and Sportsman Park in Greenville. And there were others, in places like Tupelo and Hattiesburg and Brookhaven. Those ballparks certainly weren’t anything like the multi-million dollar stadiums in Pearl and Biloxi, but they were the fields of dreams in their time. Big league players passed through those old ballparks. … Makes you wish you had a time machine. And a scorecard. And some popcorn.
So, former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis is off to a third organization in three years, traded on Thursday by Atlanta to St. Louis in the Jaime Garcia deal. Ellis, who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, his only year in the Braves system, started his pro career with the Los Angeles Angels. A bunch of other Mississippians could be changing teams this off-season. The current list of free agents (at both the major and minor league levels) includes position players Joey Butler, Chris Coghlan, Desmond Jennings, Tyler Moore, Mitch Moreland and Alex Presley and pitchers Aaron Barrett, Scott Copeland, David Goforth (designated for assignment by Milwaukee on Nov. 23), T.J. House and Jonathan Papelbon. D.J. Davis and Zack Bird have been mentioned as possible Rule 5 draft picks, and there are trade rumors swirling around Zack Cozart. P.S. Among the players feeling a little more secure is Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, recently added to Oakland’s 40-man roster. Wahl is on a list – longer than you might think – of pitchers who hit 100 mph or better in the minors this past season, when he notched 14 saves between Double-A and Triple-A. Over his four pro years, the right-hander has a 3.90 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 161 2/3 innings. He is viewed as a potential big league closer.