23 Oct

expectations

We should not expect much from the two Mississippi products in the 2018 World Series, according to one espn.com writer, who has offered a guide to each of the players on the Boston and Los Angeles rosters. The 50-player list was “loosely organized by how prominently each player should figure into his team’s hopes and plans.” Former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland hit .245 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs for the Red Sox this season and is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. He was hindered by a hamstring injury early in the postseason. Brian Dozier, a Southern Miss alumnus, has played sparingly for the Dodgers in recent weeks, perhaps also bothered by the lingering effects of a knee injury. On the espn.com chart, Moreland was ranked No. 21, just ahead of Yasiel Puig and Nathan Eovaldi. And yet, the 33-year-old Moreland, an All-Star this summer, was described as “an old, slow first baseman with a low batting average and only moderate power, who costs enough money for it to count and offers little upside beyond what’s there.” Uh, OK. The writer’s assessment of Dozier was far less complimentary. He was ranked No. 50, making him, by extrapolation, the least impactful player in the World Series. An LA newspaper’s description of Dozier in July as a streaky hitter, the espn.com scribe writes, “looks darkly prescient, as Dozier had the worst month of his career in September (he hit .087/.189/.229) and has been demoted to the bench for all but one postseason game so far.” All that is true — but it’s also true that Dozier, 31, is a career .324 on-base guy with 172 homers and owns a Gold Glove at second base. Maybe Moreland and Dozier don’t exactly blow your hair back, but it seems foolish to underestimate either of these battle-tested veterans on baseball’s grandest stage. P.S. Moreland isn’t likely to start Game 1 tonight against Clayton Kershaw, one of many lefties the Dodgers can run out. Dozier very well could start against Chris Sale; he’s 12-for-47 career with three homers vs. the Red Sox left-hander.

22 Oct

tiger tracks

The rebuilding efforts in Detroit, following a 64-98 season, reportedly will include more of an emphasis on speed and defense and less on power. Manager Ron Gardenhire, the ex-Jackson Mets shortstop who’ll be entering his second year with the Tigers in 2019, is said to prefer that style, and it would also seem to play better at spacious Comerica Park. That’s likely one reason why Gardenhire stuck with former Richton High star JaCoby Jones as an outfield regular despite Jones’ offensive struggles; he hit .207 but shined on defense and stole 13 bases. It’s also a reason that former Mississippi State standout Jacob Robson is seen as a potential breakthrough player for Detroit in 2019. A lefty-hitting outfielder drafted in 2016, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Robson batted .295 with 11 homers and 18 steals between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. He is getting more seasoning in the Dominican Winter League, where he is batting .273 in six games for Estrellas. Jones and Robson are among eight Mississippians who were in the Tigers’ system in 2018. Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull, also a rated prospect, made four big league appearances and should get an opportunity for a rotation job in spring training. Veteran reliever Louis Coleman, a Greenwood native and Pillow Academy product, posted a 3.51 ERA in 51 games for the Tigers in 2018; he figures to return next year. Banging on the door is Zac Houston, a 6-5 right-hander out of MSU who registered 10 saves and a 1.18 ERA at Triple-A Toledo this season. Also on the Toledo club was catcher Kade Scivicque, a Southwest Mississippi Community College alum who batted .230 in 34 games. And toiling down in A-ball were Southern Miss product Dylan Burdeaux (.245, six homers at first base for Lakeland) and Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles (.246, five homers at third base for West Michigan). Spring training might feel a little like old home week for that bunch.

19 Oct

eye on …

Daniel Brown, a left-hander out of Mississippi State, is making a strong impression in the Arizona Fall League. The third-year pro, not a highly rated prospect in Milwaukee’s system, has pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in three appearances in the prospect-packed AFL. He worked 2 1/3 innings for Peoria on Thursday, yielding two hits with three strikeouts. The 5-foot-10 Brown put up a 4.20 ERA, seven wins and two saves in 39 relief stints for Carolina in the Class A Carolina League in 2018. The Brewers picked Brown in the seventh round in 2016, when he was on an MSU staff that included Dakota Hudson, Konnor Pilkington, Zac Houston, Reid Humphreys and Jacob Billingsley. Brown was the NJCAA Division III pitcher of the year at Tyler (Texas) JC in 2014. … George County High product Justin Steele threw three hitless innings for Mesa in the AFL on Thursday, bouncing back from a rough first start last week. Steele, rated the Chicago Cubs’ No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had an abbreviated 2018 campaign – his fifth in pro ball — as he returned from arm surgery. P.S. Jackson native and ex-big leaguer Stan Cliburn has been named manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. Cliburn managed that team to a division title in 2015. The longtime minor league and indy league skipper worked as a coach in another independent league in 2018.

19 Oct

he’s back

Mitch Moreland was back in the starting lineup for Boston on Thursday and now he’s back in the World Series – for a third time – after the Red Sox dispatched Houston 4-1 in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Mississippi State alumnus, who had been limited by a hamstring injury since Game 2 of the ALDS, went 2-for-4 and was on base when Rafael Devers smacked his huge three-run homer off Justin Verlander in the sixth inning. Moreland is 4-for-9 this postseason and carries a .252 career postseason average – with three homers, 15 RBIs and 14 runs – over 44 games. He has appeared in the postseason in seven of his nine pro seasons, going back to his rookie year of 2010 with Texas, which lost in the World Series to San Francisco. Moreland went 6-for-13 in that Series, then 1-for-10 the next year as the Rangers fell to St. Louis. Boston has had Mississippi natives on several of its World Series teams – Boo Ferriss in 1946, George Scott and Dalton Jones in 1967, Oil Can Boyd in 1986 – but never on one of its championship teams. Amory native Moreland will be out to change that.

18 Oct

job evaluation

Eat up some innings. That was Job 1 for Brandon Woodruff on Wednesday, and in that he succeeded. History will show that Woodruff, the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout, took the loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. But he pitched well and, most important for Milwaukee, he pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving some needed rest to other members of the bullpen that carries the Brewers’ hopes. The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the series 3-2 after Wednesday’s 5-2 victory at Dodger Stadium. Woodruff, who had thrown two hitless innings in Game 1, came on – as part of a master plan – one batter into Game 5 and pitched into the sixth, battling Clayton Kershaw blow for blow. “I was just trying to get deep in the game,” Woodruff said in a TV interview. He allowed five hits – all singles — and a walk, hit two batters and was charged with three runs, one of them unearned. He struck out eight of the 22 batters he faced. He was lifted after allowing an opposite-field hit to Max Muncy that delivered a runner from second base and put LA ahead 2-1. Though Woodruff’s longest stint in an MLB game this year was five innings back in May, he threw five or more in 10 of his 17 Triple-A starts. Length was what the Brewers needed Wednesday, and that’s what Woodruff gave them, along with a chance to win. Manager Craig Counsell praised his effort. And now the vaunted Brewers pen is locked and loaded for Game 6 on Friday in Milwaukee.

17 Oct

atta boy

Quite a few atta boys to pass out to the Mississippi connections after Tuesday’s league championship games. Who better to start with than:
Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product from Fulton, making his first postseason start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, went 1-for-4 with a walk and an HBP and drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a two-out single in the first inning in the National League Championship Series. “For him to spark us, and get a point early, I thought that was huge,” LA manager Dave Roberts told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. After the 2-1, 13-inning, series-squaring win over Milwaukee, it’ll be interesting to see if Dozier gets another start in Game 5 today at Dodger Stadium.
Alex Wood. The ex-Mississippi Braves star threw a clean 11th inning with one strikeout for the Dodgers.
Orlando Arcia. The Biloxi Shuckers alum went 1-for-5 and scored Milwaukee’s lone run. After an uneven regular season, Arcia is batting .280 with three homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the postseason.
Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader. The former Shuckers chuckers worked a combined six scoreless innings in relief duty and punched out 11 for the Brewers.
Mitch Moreland. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory picked up his second RBI for Boston in the American League Championship Series when he was hit by a Roberto Osuna pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. That run extended the visiting Red Sox’s lead to 4-2, and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed with his game-breaking grand slam as Boston rolled to an 8-2 win and a 2-1 series lead over Houston.
Tony Sipp. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Moss Point closed out the sixth inning for the Astros after Joe Smith yielded Steve Pearce’s go-ahead homer. Sipp, making just his second postseason appearance, walked the first batter he faced but got a strikeout and a ground out to end the inning.
Charlie Morton. The M-Braves product will get the ball for his first postseason start of 2018 for Houston in tonight’s Game 4, a virtual must-win for the Astros. Morton, 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA this season, was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of both the World Series and the ALCS in 2017.

15 Oct

remember him?

There are always some interesting names that pop up on the Caribbean winter league rosters. To wit: Anthony Lerew, who was the starting pitcher for the Mississippi Braves in their inaugural game in 2005, was back on the bump last week for La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League. The 35-year-old right-hander allowed three runs in five innings. Lerew, who was among the first wave of M-Braves to reach Atlanta, last pitched in the big leagues in 2010 with Kansas City and last worked in affiliated ball in 2014. Perhaps he is plotting a comeback. At least four other members of the M-Braves’ original 2005 roster played this year: Brian McCann, Blaine Boyer and Gregor Blanco in the big leagues and Iker Franco in the Mexican League. … Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, who made one appearance with the New York Mets this season, is wintering in the Mexican Pacific League with Hermosillo. Now a free agent, the 30-year-old Copeland took a loss on Sunday, yielding four runs in three innings. He pitched well between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. … Ex-Ole Miss star David Goforth has made two scoreless appearances for Culiacan, also in the MPL. The Meridian native and erstwhile big leaguer, 30, posted a 3.46 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse in Washington’s system this season. … Former Mississippi State standout Jacob (Jake) Robson, a rising prospect in Detroit’s system, is playing for Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League. Robson, a lefty-hitting outfielder from Canada, batted .295 with 11 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018.

14 Oct

bright spot

Boston didn’t generate much offense, to say the least, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night. In fact, Mississippi State alum Mitch Moreland’s bases-loaded walk produced the only RBI the Red Sox got in a 7-2 loss to Houston at Fenway Park. Moreland, whose roster status was up in the air until Saturday morning because of a hamstring injury, got a pinch-hitting opportunity with one out in the fifth inning against Justin Verlander, against whom he was 11-for-38 career. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Moreland worked a walk that cut the Astros’ lead to 2-1. A wild pitch then scored the Red Sox’s second run. Boston’s powerful lineup produced only three hits vs. Verlander and three relievers. Whether Moreland, a .245 hitter (.325 on-base average) with 15 homers this season, is healthy enough for a start at first base remains to be seen. He was lifted for a pinch runner after his walk. P.S. Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss alum, got a second pinch-hitting shot for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series and popped out. He also popped out in Game 1. The Dodgers won Game 2 to even the series against Milwaukee. Dozier, who had two at-bats (and one hit) in the NLDS, scuffled at the plate down the stretch this season and may also be less than 100 percent.

13 Oct

a star is born?

In two appearances in his first major league postseason, Brandon Woodruff has shown an impressive ability to rise to the occasion for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Mississippi State alum from Wheeler threw three hitless innings to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series last week, propelling the Brewers to a three-game sweep of Colorado. The big right-hander topped that performance on Friday night in the opener of the National League Championship Series. Called from the bullpen in the third inning, he tossed two perfect frames with four strikeouts and in between blasted a 400-foot, game-tying home run off Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. The Brewers bench and the Miller Park crowd went bonkers over the homer. It was one of those postseason moments that will live forever. Woodruff called it “crazy” in a postgame interview. “I knew he could swing the bat a little bit,” Kershaw said in a TV interview. “I didn’t know he could do that.” Throwing what TV broadcaster John Smoltz called “easy gas,” Woodruff went out for the fourth with a 2-1 lead and fanned Max Muncy, Manny Machado and Matt Kemp in succession. Again, the place went nuts. Milwaukee surged to a big lead and its bullpen brigade managed to hold on for a 6-5 victory. What a night. There have been a couple of other defining moments in Woodruff’s relatively brief pro career. In June of 2017, he was slated to make his big league debut but injured himself warming up before the game. He went on the disabled list and then back to the minors, finally getting his second chance about two months later. He was ready, pitching shutout ball into the seventh inning to beat Tampa Bay. Perhaps more telling about Woodruff’s heart and tenacity was his performance on July 24, 2016, for the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. Six days after burying his brother Blake, who died in a four-wheeler accident back home in Wheeler, Woodruff tossed six shutout innings and hit his first pro home run to win a game at Pensacola. P.S. Mitch Moreland, the ex-State star from Amory, had a good workout Friday and expects to be on Boston’s roster for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, which starts tonight at Fenway Park. Moreland injured a hamstring in the ALDS.

12 Oct

around the horn

No big surprise here: Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High All-Stater, was named Atlanta’s minor league hitter of the year by MLB Pipeline. The 21-year-old third baseman hit .294 with 19 homers at two levels (Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett). “The sky is the limit for this guy,” Braves assistant farm director (and former M-Braves second baseman) Jonathan Schuerholz told Baseball America, which also named Riley the Best Player in Atlanta’s system. Touki Toussaint, who started 2018 in Pearl and rose all the way to the big leagues, was named the system’s pitcher of the year by MLB Pipeline and BA. … Ole Miss product David Parkinson was named Philadelphia’s pitcher of the year. A 12th-round pick in 2017, he went 11-1 with a 1.45 ERA in A-ball this past season. His ERA was the lowest in the minors among qualifying pitchers. … Ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe was Tampa Bay’s hitter of the year after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs between A-ball and Triple-A. … In the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, Ole Miss alum Errol Robinson (Los Angeles Dodgers) debuted with a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort for Glendale, and in the same game Petal’s Demarcus Evans (Texas) threw two scoreless innings for Surprise. Delta State product Trent Giambrone (Chicago Cubs) banged out four hits in his debut for Mesa, while ex-George County High standout Justin Steele did not have his best stuff in that same game. He gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings as Mesa’s starter. The Cubs’ No. 8 prospect yielded five hits, a walk, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. Former DSU star Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay) worked two hitless innings for Peoria on Wednesday, and Daniel Brown (Milwaukee), a left-hander out of MSU, tossed 2 1/3 hitless innings for the same club on Tuesday. … Starkville native and ex-big leaguer Julio Borbon won a Mexican League championship with Monterrey, which wrapped up the pennant on Tuesday. Borbon went 8-for-26 with three runs and an RBI in the title series. He hit .301 with 14 steals during the season. A former first-round pick out of Tennessee by Texas, the 32-year-old Borbon last played in the majors in 2016. … Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of ex-big leaguer and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, won a minor league Gold Glove award at third base for the second straight year. The younger Hayes, a first-round pick out of a Texas high school by Pittsburgh in 2015, played at Double-A Altoona in 2018. … On this date in 2010, the Texas Rangers scored a landmark victory, thanks in large part to former Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee. Lee threw a six-hitter with 11 strikeouts to beat Tampa Bay (and David Price) in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, giving the Rangers their first playoff series victory. Texas would go on to the World Series, losing to San Francisco. Lee, incidentally, was 7-3, 2.52 ERA with three complete games in 11 postseason starts but never won a ring.