For any fan of the game, this is a pretty cool confluence of events: Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker comes to Trustmark Park in Pearl, where, assuming he is in tonight’s lineup for Chattanooga, he’ll likely face Ian Anderson, the No. 3 prospect in Atlanta’s system who is expected to make his Double-A debut for the Mississippi Braves. Rooker, in his second pro season after a decorated career at State, is batting .271 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He is rated the No. 7 prospect in Minnesota’s system, primarily based on his power potential. He hit 18 homers at two levels in the lower minors in 2017. Anderson, 20, a slender right-hander, was the third overall pick in the 2016 draft out of a New York high school. He was 2-6 with a 2.52 ERA at Class A Florida with 118 strikeouts in 100 innings and a .198 batting average against. In his last six games, he posted a 0.77 ERA. Hence, the promotion. Rooker is hitting just .200 with one homer over his last 10 games. He went 4-for-17 with five strikeouts in a series against the M-Braves in Chattanooga Aug. 2-6. The M-Braves’ rotation has been a revolving door much of the season, caused mainly by top prospects moving up. (See: Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright.) And yet the current group can be quite formidable. Left-hander Ricardo Sanchez, Wednesday’s probable starter, has been on the prospect radar for several years and is currently the Braves’ No. 27. Enderson Franco (5-7, 3.89), slated for Thursday, was the Southern League pitcher of the week for July 30-Aug. 5. And recent addition Kyle Muller, expected to start Friday, is the Braves’ No. 11 prospect. He has won both of his Double-A starts. P.S. Toussaint, who got the win for Atlanta in his MLB debut on Monday, is the 10th M-Braves alum to make the big leagues this year. The others: Jesse Biddle, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, Dustin Peterson, Evan Phillips (now with Baltimore), Wes Parsons, Willians Astudillo (Minnesota), Michael Reed (previously up with Milwaukee) and Kolby Allard.
Mississippi college products Mike Mayers and Dakota Hudson, middle relievers for St. Louis, have played their roles well for the Cardinals, who – don’t look now – have won five straight, eight of 10 and jumped into the National League playoff race. Mayers, an Ole Miss product in his third big league campaign, notched his sixth hold on Sunday with a spotless seventh inning in an 8-2 win against Kansas City. He has allowed just one run in his last seven appearances and trimmed his ERA to 3.43 over 37 games. Hudson, a rookie out of Mississippi State, was called up on July 27 and has yielded just one run in seven appearances. He has an 0.96 ERA, two wins and three holds and has allowed only three hits in 9 1/3 innings. This comes on the heels of an excellent season at Triple-A Memphis (13-3, 2.50 as a starter). The Cardinals, playing better (16-9) under interim manager Mike Shildt, are 63-55 and just 5.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. P.S. Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty tossed six shutout innings Sunday – but got a no-decision — in his high Class A debut in Cleveland’s system. Lefty McCarty was 4-9, 4.29 with a league-best 132 strikeouts in the low-A Midwest League. … Touki Toussaint, who started this season with the Mississippi Braves, is slated to make his MLB debut today for Atlanta against Miami. Toussaint was 4-6, 2.93 for the Double-A M-Braves and 2-0, 2.01 at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Another day, another amazing catch by Cincinnati center fielder Billy Hamilton. The former Taylorsville High star made a long run and a leaping catch just in front of the wall to rob an Arizona batter of an extra-base hit on Saturday. Not close to his best — but amazing just the same. It’s equally amazing that Hamilton has never won a Gold Glove. Perhaps this, his fifth full season in the majors, will be the year. Gold Glove selections can be a little confusing. (Rafael Palmeiro won one in a year when he rarely played in the field.) Jackson native Chet Lemon was one of the best center fielders of his era. In four different seasons he made more than 400 putouts, including an American League record 512 in 1977. And yet, he couldn’t snag a Gold Glove. Fulton’s Brian Dozier does have a Gold Glove, just one, which he won last year with Minnesota. Dozier, a second baseman known for his power, is an underrated defensive player, a point that was underscored by a play he made on Saturday for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He dove to his right to spear a hard-hit grounder and, while flat on the dirt, flipped the ball with his glove hand to second base to start a double play. Amazing. Dozier was primarily a second baseman at Southern Miss, but Minnesota drafted him as a shortstop and played him there all through the minors. He got a brief trial at that position in his rookie MLB season of 2012 but was converted back to second base that off-season. Smart move. Dozier may have more Gold Gloves in his future, though he has a ways to go to match Frank White, the Greenville native who won eight during his star-studded career as the Kansas City Royals’ second baseman. Monstrous home runs and 100-mph pitches get so much attention these days, but defense still matters. A first baseman who makes all the plays, like Amory’s Mitch Moreland (Gold Glove, 2016), is vital to winning games. Moreland’s defense is one of the main reasons he wrested the first-base job from Hanley Ramirez in Boston this season. Great plays, like the ones Hamilton and Dozier made on Saturday, can energize a team. Can you imagine an outfield of ex-Magnolia State prep stars Hamilton, JaCoby Jones and Jarrod Dyson? Would any fly ball ever hit the ground? Hunter Renfroe can’t cover ground like those three, but the Crystal Springs native has one of the best outfield arms in the game. He has made throws from right field that bring to mind Dave Parker, the Grenada native with the legendary cannon who won three Gold Gloves in his prime. His throw in the 1979 All-Star Game — look it up — is still talked about. So cheer if you must for bombs and punchouts but don’t forget to give some love to glove.
As home run celebrations go, Hunter Renfroe’s on Thursday was a little bit unusual and a whole lot exhilarating. You can’t watch it without feeling his emotion. The ex-Mississippi State standout yanked a ninth-inning grand slam that put San Diego ahead of Milwaukee at Miller Park. After he hit it, Renfroe bent forward in a bow with the bat clutched in front of him, as if to say, “Oooh, I got all of that one.” “It was just like, ‘[Heck] yeah!'” Renfroe told mlb.com. “Let’s be honest here, that’s just the way it was.” He then flipped the bat away and broke into his trot. His teammates went bonkers. The Padres would win 8-4. The resurgent Renfroe has homered in four straight games and now has 12 on the season. He is creeping up on the leaders in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby, currently topped by Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss alum who hit his 19th – third with the Los Angeles Dodgers — on Thursday. (With 170 career bombs, Dozier trails fifth-place Dmitri Young by one on the all-time list of homers by Magnolia State natives.) Former East Central Community College star Tim Anderson has 15 homers this season and State alum Mitch Moreland sits on 14. (Moreland is ninth on the career list with 146.) Ex-Meridian CC standout Corey Dickerson now trails Renfroe with 11.
Three hits, four runs and an RBI. Nice Triple-A debut for Nathaniel Lowe, the Mississippi State alum who is racing up the ladder in Tampa Bay’s organization. The 23-year-old first baseman, a 13th-round pick in 2016, started this season in A-ball, moved to Double-A Montgomery in early June, played in the All-Star Futures Game in July and was promoted to Durham on Wednesday. “It was really fun, getting to go out there against a higher level of competition,” Lowe said in an milb.com story. On the year, he is batting .352 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. … If you were picking an all-star team of Mississippians in the minors, Lowe would have to be the first baseman (though there is much competition at that spot) and the 3-hole hitter. The rest of the team? Here goes: Pitcher: Ole Miss product David Parkinson, now in high-A in Philadelphia’s system. He was 8-1, 1.51 ERA in low-A and threw seven shutout innings in his high-A debut on Saturday. (MSU alum Dakota Hudson would have been the choice here, but he is now in the big leagues with St. Louis.) Catcher: Jack Kruger (Double-A, Los Angeles Angels). The ex-State star is hitting .323 with four homers and 24 RBIs at Mobile and .306 with seven homers on the season. Second base: Trent Giambroni (Double-A, Chicago Cubs). The Delta State alum is hitting .257 with 16 homers at Tennessee. Third base: Austin Riley (Triple-A, Atlanta). The former DeSoto Central High standout is at .274 with four homers and 29 RBIs for Gwinnett. He started 2018 in Mississippi and is batting .293 with 11 bombs overall. Shortstop: Errol Robinson (Double-A, Los Angeles Dodgers). The ex-Ole Miss standout is batting .247 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Tulsa. Left field: Will Golsan (rookie ball, Colorado). The 2018 draftee out of UM is hitting .333 with 37 runs in 40 games at Grand Junction. Center field: Davis Bradshaw (rookie, Miami). The Meridian Community College product, a 2018 draftee, is at .329 with 13 runs and eight steals in 22 games in the Gulf Coast League. Right field: Jacob Robson (Triple-A, Detroit). The former MSU star is batting .310 at Toledo and is at .294 with 10 homers, 43 RBIs and 14 steals at two levels this year. DH: Brent Rooker (Double-A, Minnesota). The 2017 SEC Triple Crown winner out of State is hitting .276 with 21 homers and 71 RBIs for Chattanooga. Closer: Reid Humphreys (Double-A, Colorado). The State product, now with Hartford, has 24 saves and a 2.13 ERA at two levels in 2018.
Mitch Moreland is caught up in the middle of something special. Moreland, the Mississippi State alum from Amory, hit a key home run on Tuesday night to help Boston repel Toronto 10-7 in a wild 10-inning affair. It was the Red Sox’s 80th win of the year; that’s seven more than the next best total. They swept the rival New York Yankees four straight over the weekend. They’re on a 24-5 roll. There’s even buzz about them threatening Seattle’s 2001 record of 116 wins. “Yeah, we’re pretty good,” Moreland said in his typically understated manner in an mlb.com story. His decision to re-sign with the Red Sox as a free agent in the off-season is shaping up as a brilliant career move. He has delivered 14 homers and 55 RBIs as part of a lineup stacked with All-Stars, himself included. And consider that the Red Sox have achieved these heights with little contribution from ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, a 17-game winner in 2017 who has one victory this season. He started Tuesday’s game and lasted just 4 2/3 innings, yielding two runs. His ERA is 6.31. “We need this guy,” manager Alex Cora told mlb.com. “This guy is very important to us for what we want to try to accomplish, so we’ll keep working at it.” P.S. Former State standout Hunter Renfroe went deep for San Diego, his 10th of the year and 40th of his career. He is hitting .297 with three homers in his last seven games.
The San Diego Padres are an awful 44-70 and careening toward their eighth straight losing season. But hope springs eternal in baseball, and apparently there is a feeling that a turnaround is coming soon. Hunter Renfroe, the former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, is bidding to be a part of that brighter future. Getting a start in all four of the Padres’ games in Chicago over the weekend, Renfroe went 5-for-15, including a two-run homer in Sunday’s 10-6 win over the first-place Cubs. For the year, the 26-year-old outfielder is batting .238 with nine homers and 31 RBIs. He has 20 walks and 62 strikeouts in 214 at-bats over 69 games. After an uneven 2017 campaign, during which he hit 26 homers but fanned 140 times, Renfroe had to win a roster spot in spring training. He did, but an elbow injury put him on the disabled list in mid-April and he didn’t return to the Padres’ roster until May 28. His playing time was sporadic in June and July. The Padres have a boatload of outfielders and presumably will use the remaining weeks of the season to sort out who they want to keep around. “We have all these other guys. I just have to keep healthy, keep growing as a player and go into spring next year and be better than them,” Renfroe told the San Diego Union-Tribune. P.S. Home run-robbing catches by Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton and Richton’s JaCoby Jones ranked second and third on MLB Network’s countdown of the top plays in the majors in July. A Keon Broxton homer-robbing catch was the No. 1 play.