San Francisco has placed Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High star, on the injured list for what was described only as “medical purposes.” Hamilton is in the Giants’ camp on a minor league deal but was expected to make the active roster before the season begins. Reports were unclear on when he might be able to come off the IL. The 29-year-old outfielder is a .242 career hitter with 299 steals over seven big league seasons. … Milwaukee has added former Mississippi State star Ethan Small and Ole Miss alum Thomas Dillard, both 2019 draft picks, to its 60-man pool of eligible players for summer camp. Small, a left-hander picked in the first round, is the Brewers’ No. 2 prospect; he made seven appearances in the low minors last summer. Dillard, a catcher and a fifth-rounder, batted .249 with seven homers in his first pro season. … Adam Moncure is among the hottest hitters in the Cotton States League, batting .400 (.581 on-base) with two homers and a league-best 12 RBIs in nine games for the Black Prairie Mudcats. Moncure, from Clinton, hit .341 as a freshman at Meridian Community College in 2020. Blue Mountain native Sam McMillin, a left-hander at Union University, is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 19 innings for the CSL’s DeSoto Xplorers. … Luther Woullard, a former Jones (Junior) College star from d’Iberville, is playing for the Macon Bacon of the Coastal Plain League, a high-level college summer circuit. As a senior at New Orleans in 2020, Woullard batted .381 with 14 RBIs before the season was halted. He’ll have a year of eligibility left at UNO. Woullard was an All-MACJC outfielder who put up big numbers on some outstanding Jones teams in 2017-18. … Aiden Moffett of Taylorsville High has committed to LSU, per the Laurel Leader-Call. Though he was not highly recruited during his abbreviated sophomore year, Moffett has turned heads with his summer team. Playing for the Louisiana Knights, a travel team based in Mandeville, right-hander Moffett reportedly received offers from Southern Miss, Texas A&M and LSU over the course of just one weekend. … Former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker, who’ll be deploying a DH in every game as Atlanta’s skipper this season, told espn.com that he once asked Bobby Cox about managing with the DH. “Get a bag of balls and sit on it, watch the game,” Cox told him.
Hunter Renfroe took some batting practice cuts Sunday in his new home park, Tropicana Field, and put on a show of power, according to an mlb.com account. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe, acquired by Tampa Bay from San Diego in the off-season, hit a pair of balls off the indoor stadium’s catwalks, considered quite a poke. “Renfroe was playing pepper with the back wall,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “That’s not something you see a lot of guys do.” Renfroe averaged 28 homers over the past three seasons with the Padres. … Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central High alumnus now with Detroit, spent time during MLB’s shutdown back in Mississippi throwing to dad Jim, who, per an mlb.com report, wore full catcher’s gear as his son worked on his complete arsenal of pitches. “He’s caught me my whole life,” Spencer said. “Anytime I go home in the off-season, I’ll throw to him. He’s not usually in full gear, but I’m throwing flat grounds to him all the time.” … Ex-State star Mitch Moreland drew praise from Boston manager Ron Roenicke following his BP session at Fenway Park on Sunday. “When we have him out there on the field, hopefully he can start like he did last year,” Roenicke told mlb.com. “We know how important starting well is this year. Today is about as good a day as you can have for him.” Moreland, typically a fast starter, hit 13 homers in his first 46 games in 2019 and 10 homers in his first 44 games in 2018. … MSU product Dakota Hudson threw live BP in St. Louis’ camp on Saturday and said afterward he is pleased with how efforts to smooth out his delivery have gone. “I feel comfortable with what I’m doing,” Hudson said in an mlb.com article. “I was trying to mess with some stuff at the end of last year, and going into spring this year, I was able to show it off a little bit.” Hudson, 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 2019, is seeking to cut down on walks this season; he led the majors with 86 a year ago. … On the local front, there was some actual baseball in Vicksburg over the holiday weekend, with the Hattiesburg Black Sox semi-pro team taking on the US Military Baseball Team in a three-game series at Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi. The US Military team, a touring independent club, is not affiliated with the Department of Defense but plays in honor of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Cody Carroll might prove to be a key figure in Baltimore’s bullpen, which was generally awful in 2019. The ex-Southern Miss star, now 27, missed most of last season with a back injury but was impressive in spring training before the lockdown. As mlb.com reports, “The O’s think the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Carroll has back-end stuff, pointing to his high-90s fastball and strong slider.” With a 60-game season, bullpens may play an even larger role than in normal years. (That might also be good news for other Mississippi college products such as Jonathan Holder, Mike Mayers, Cody Reed and Bobby Wahl.) Tennessee native Carroll was drafted out of USM by the New York Yankees in 2015 and traded to Baltimore in July 2018; he made his big league debut shortly thereafter, posting a 9.00 ERA in 15 appearances. He was hurt by walks and home runs. In six 2020 spring innings, he yielded no walks or homers and fanned eight. Carroll has a 2.71 career minor league ERA and made All-Star Games at three levels on the way up. P.S. The Orioles have signed or agreed to terms with each of their six 2020 draftees except for third-rounder Anthony Servideo, the shortstop out of Ole Miss. Former Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg, a competitive balance pick after Round 1, signed last week. The MLB slot value for Servideo’s draft position (74th) is $844,200. The Orioles reportedly have more than that remaining in their allotted pool.
J.T. Ginn rolled the dice in 2018, turning down a reported $2.4 million signing bonus to pitch at Mississippi State and gamble that that kind of money would be available again after his college career. The gamble paid off for the former Brandon High star on Monday, when he signed for a reported $2.9M with the New York Mets. It’s the Mets who are rolling the dice now. Ginn, 21, had Tommy John surgery in February, so he won’t see the mound again until next spring. Many pitchers come back stronger from that surgery. Some don’t. That’s the gamble the Mets have taken by paying Ginn roughly twice the slot value of the 52nd pick. He was a first-rounder in 2018, going 30th overall to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ginn, who posted a 3.22 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings at State, is a pure power pitcher. The 6-foot-2 right-hander throws an upper 90s fastball, a nasty sinker and a hard slider. The Mets are understandably excited about his potential. Old cranks might recall the excitement the Mets had about another right-hander from Mississippi whom they picked eighth overall back in 1993. That would be Kirk Presley, the prep phenom from Tupelo who chose pro ball – and a $900,000 bonus – over Mississippi State, where he planned to play baseball and football. The Mets heralded Presley as one of their young guns, along with fellow prospects Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson. Alas, Presley developed shoulder problems, had a couple of surgeries and ultimately retired in his fifth pro season, never pitching above A-ball. When it comes to pitchers and their arms, you just never know how it’s gonna play out.
Perusing the 60-man rosters released by most MLB teams on Sunday, there are a couple of surprises. One, Brian Dozier is NOT on San Diego’s list. Two, Tyler Keenan, drafted just this month, IS on Seattle’s. Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star, signed a minor league deal with the Padres and was vying for the second base job in spring training, batting .227 in eight games. But the eight-year veteran is not currently in the pool of eligible players, though he reportedly could be added later. Ole Miss product Keenan, a fourth-round pick who signed late last week for $500,000, is among three 2020 draftees Seattle put on its list, which is replete with prospect types. Keenan is a lefty-hitting third baseman with big power. … USM alum Nick Sandlin, Mississippi State product Jack Kruger and ex-Ole Miss star Ryan Rolison are among the non 40-man roster players appearing in the 60-man pools. Sandlin, a reliever, is with Cleveland; Kruger, a catcher, with the Los Angeles Angels; and Rolison, a lefty starter, with Colorado. Rolison, a 2018 draftee, is the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect, per mlb.com. Minnesota did not release its list on Sunday, but speculation is former State standout Brent Rooker and possibly USM alum Matt Wallner could be on it. Teams start summer camp on July 1, though not all of the 60-man roster members will report to the big league stadium. The others will go to an alternate facility. P.S. It hasn’t been officially announced as a signing, but Blaze Jordan reportedly has agreed to a $1.7 million bonus with Boston, well above the slot value for the third-round pick. The DeSoto Central High product, a longtime MSU commit, was the 89th overall selection. … MSU alum Jordan Westburg has formally signed with Baltimore ($2.4M as a competitive balance pick after the first round), leaving only State’s J.T. Ginn and UM’s Anthony Servideo unsigned among the seven in-state players drafted June 10-11.
Major league baseball will happen this year. Or at least a version of it, one with no fans, a quirky 60-game schedule, the three-batter minimum, a universal DH and a silly extra innings rule. But it’s gonna happen. Well, maybe. With a month to go before the first games, nothing can be certain. While we wait, here’s a 6-pack of Mississippi-connected storylines to ponder:
1) How does Tim Anderson follow up on last season, when he won the American League batting title? The East Central Community College product isn’t just trying to lead the Chicago White Sox to better days; he has taken on a much larger duty. Bob Nightengale of USA Today describes Anderson as “the new leading voice in the African-American community of Major League Baseball, vowing to do everything in his power to change the game and lead a renaissance to recreate the game for kids and a hip audience.” “I don’t look at it as a responsibility,” Anderson told Nightengale, “but it’s something I’m so proud to do. I want to represent the black community, and everything that comes with it.”
2) Will Brandon Woodruff take another step forward as one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League? Ex-Mississippi State star Woodruff, a 2019 All-Star who has a star-quality fastball, went 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 22 starts for Milwaukee. (He missed six weeks with an oblique injury.) Athlon Sports in its 2020 season preview noted: “Woodruff’s breakout last year was real, and it was spectacular. He allowed one of the lowest barrel rates in baseball while striking out nearly five for every walk … .”
3) How will Hunter Renfroe fare in his new setting, Tampa Bay and the American League East? The former State standout blasted 33 homers last year and 89 in three-plus seasons with San Diego, which traded him for Tommy Pham in a curious move in the off-season. Renfroe, a former first-round draft pick, is just a .235 career hitter (.289 OBP) who strikes out a lot. Pham, also an outfielder, is a better all-around player. The Rays’ motivation for the deal, which also brought them touted prospect Xavier Edwards, was partly financial. But they expect to contend for the postseason, and they’ll expect Renfroe to contribute.
4) What does Brian Dozier have left? The Southern Miss alum signed a minor league deal with San Diego after an uneven 2019 season with Washington. Dozier, only 32, has 192 homers, an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove on his eight-year MLB resume, but he has faded the last couple of seasons as he moved from Minnesota to the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Nats. He hit .238 with 20 homers a year ago but scarcely played in the postseason. Still, he’s probably the best second baseman in the Padres’ camp.
5) How does Kendall Graveman’s comeback go in Seattle? Graveman, a former State standout, missed most of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Once the No. 1 starter in Oakland, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since May of 2018. The 29-year-old right-hander, 23-29, 4.38 for his career, is penciled as part of the Mariners’ largely unheralded rotation. “I feel like my stuff has gotten a lot better from right before I got injured …,” Graveman told mlb.com months ago on the eve of spring training. “I’m excited with where it’s at.”
6) What does Year 2 hold for Austin Riley? It was a tale of two seasons in 2019 for the DeSoto Central High alum, who batted .273 with 14 homers in May and June but then crashed, finishing at .226 with 18 long balls. The rookie third baseman/outfielder, who also spent time on the DL late last year, hit just .132 in September and was basically a non-factor down the stretch. Riley entered spring training battling Johan Camargo for the starting job at third. The switch-hitting Camargo might be a better fielder but doesn’t have Riley’s power.
The expansion of MLB rosters for the 2020 season to 60 eligible players – 40-man roster members plus a taxi squad of 20 – might open the door for some Triple-A level players to get their first MLB opportunity. Mississippians who fall into that category include non-roster spring invitees such as Trent Giambroni (Cubs), Jack Kruger (Angels), Jacob Robson (Tigers) and Brent Rooker (Twins) along with Zac Houston (Tigers), Dalton Moats (Rays), Errol Robinson (Dodgers) and Bradley Roney (Braves). The 60-man rosters are to be announced by Sunday. … With 30 players to be active for the first two weeks of the season, the chances of Petal High product Demarcus Evans making Texas’ opening day roster would seem to be enhanced. Evans, 24, a hard-throwing reliever, made the 40-man for the first time this off-season but was optioned to the minors just before the shutdown. He has a 2.53 career ERA and has averaged 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings. … In addition to the MLB taxi squads, there is a tentative plan for a group of veteran free agents to play a short season of games in Nashville starting in late July. The Tennessean newspaper reported that Triple-A Nashville Sounds GM Adam Nuse has a list of about 70 free agents who might participate. Those players would provide another pool of talent for MLB teams to draw from down the stretch. Ole Miss products Zack Cozart and Chris Ellis and ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Tony Sipp are current free agents with big league experience. … Add former Southern Miss star Taylor Braley and Meridian CC alum Milton Smith II to the lengthy list of minor league players released in recent weeks. Braley, a right-hander from Hattiesburg, had a career ERA of 3.86 over three years in Miami’s system, having reached high Class A in 2019. Starkville native Smith batted .326 with 27 steals in two years in the low minors with the Marlins.
Ocean Springs High alum Garrett Crochet, the 11th overall draft pick out of Tennessee by the Chicago White Sox, has signed for a $4.5 million bonus. The 6-foot-6 left-hander was 10-9 with a 4.64 ERA and 13 saves over three seasons with the Vols, though he made just one appearance this spring. He joins fellow Mississippians Justin Foscue and Colt Keith in an odd sort of limbo: All signed up with no place to go. Foscue, the former Mississippi State standout, signed a reported $3.25 million deal last Friday with Texas, which drafted the infielder 14th overall on June 10. With no pro camps open – and no minor league season underway – Crochet, Foscue and Keith are limited to working out on their own. “My mindset is to wait for somebody to tell me what to do and then I will do it. I am not worrying about it too much,” Foscue told mlb.com. Foscue, one of the first of the 29 first-round picks to sign, was batting .321 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 16 games for the Bulldogs when the 2020 season was halted in mid-March. Former Biloxi High star Keith, a fifth-round pick by Detroit, signed last week for a $500,000 bonus.
For baseball fans who love this sort of thing – and most do – Baltimore’s selection of Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo in the MLB draft on Thursday completed a cool historical connection. Servideo’s grandfather was Curt Blefary, who broke into the majors with the Orioles in 1965 and won American League rookie of the year honors. Blefary, who played eight years in the majors, died in 2001, when Servideo was 2. Servideo, a shortstop, was the O’s third-round pick, 74th overall. … All told, seven in-state players were picked in the five rounds of the draft, three from Mississippi State, two from Ole Miss and two high schoolers. Also, former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet was the 11th overall pick out of Tennessee. … Justin Foscue, drafted 14th overall by Texas on Wednesday, is the 13th Mississippi State player to be picked in the first round since the MLB draft started in 1965. State is now tied for 11th place with two others on the list of schools with the most first-round picks. Stanford tops the chart with 24; the SEC leader is Vanderbilt with 18. … The top prep pick from the state was not a surprise: slugger Blaze Jordan from DeSoto Central. It was a surprise to the team that drafted him, Boston, that Jordan lasted late into the third round. Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni told mlb.com: “Quite frankly, we didn’t think he’d make it that far in the draft. He’s a unique talent. A ton of power upside with a good feel to hit.” The slot value of the 89th pick, per mlb.com, is $667,000. The Red Sox could offer more to entice the 17-year-old State signee to turn pro. … The slot value of the 52nd overall pick, where State’s J.T. Ginn was taken by the New York Mets on Thursday, is $1.4 million. Ginn, currently rehabbing from elbow surgery, turned down $2M-plus two years ago as the 30th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander has three years of eligibility left at State. The Mets reportedly are confident – and hopeful — he’ll sign. A Mets scouting executive said of Ginn, “He’s got all the qualities of being a top-of-the-rotation guy.” … Detroit’s selection of Biloxi High’s Colt Keith in the fifth round marked the continuation of a trend: All six of the rebuilding Tigers’ picks were hitters, including the No. 1 overall pick, Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State, and three are third basemen. Keith, an ASU signee, oddly enough, was drafted as a third sacker, though he also played shortstop and pitched. He was Mississippi’s Gatorade player of the year in 2019. “We got a high-ceiling third baseman that we’re excited to get, a left-handed hitter,” Detroit scouting director Scott Pleis told mlb.com.
A handful of in-state players could be picked during the four rounds of Day 2 of the MLB draft, but none carries more intrigue than J.T. Ginn or Blaze Jordan. Right-hander Ginn, a sophomore-eligible at Mississippi State, is listed by ESPN as the fifth-best player available today. Jordan, a senior infielder out of DeSoto Central High, is, at No. 42, among mlb.com’s top 10 rated prospects still available. (Ginn is No. 44 on mlb.com’s chart.) Ginn’s situation is clouded by the fact he had Tommy John surgery in March. He was drafted 30th overall in 2018 as a two-way star at Brandon High but passed on a $2 million bonus to play at State. He had a strong freshman year – 8-4, 3.17 ERA – but began to develop an arm problem, which ultimately led to the surgery. That could impact the signing bonus he’ll be offered if he’s drafted today. Plus, he has three years of eligibility left at State, so he might just decide to stay in school. Jordan has been on pro scouts’ radar for several years; he famously slugged a 500-foot home run in a contest when he was 13. Now 17, he is listed at 6 feet 2, 220 pounds. His power potential is unquestioned. His ability to make consistent contact reportedly might be an issue. He played a lot of third base at DeSoto and in summer ball but may be better suited to first. Jordan is an MSU signee and could well wind up in Starkville if he slides to, say, the fourth or fifth round. P.S. A third in-state college summer league is set to get underway on Saturday when the Deep South Collegiate League debuts in Laurel. The DSCL, organized by Gulfport High assistant coach Colton Caver, will play the rest of its schedule at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville and Columbia High. … The New Albany-based Cotton States League opened its 12th season on June 5. The wood-bat college summer league has 10 teams this year, up from six in 2019. … The new Southeast Collegiate League, based in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Baton Rouge, La., was scheduled to start play this week. The SECL is also slated to play some games at PRCC’s field.