28 Oct

yes, that was big

The ball traveled 437 feet into the right-field seats at Dodger Stadium. It left the bat at 110 mph, according to Statcast. The blast came with two outs and two on in the seventh inning and put the Boston Red Sox on the scoreboard for the first time in Game 4 of the World Series. Mitch Moreland’s pinch-hit home run on Saturday night was big in so many ways for the Red Sox, who erased a four-run deficit and beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-6 to move within one win of a championship. Amory native and ex-Mississippi State star Moreland, having a quiet Series to that point, said in a postgame interview on MLB Network that he went to the plate looking for a changeup from Ryan Madson. “I thought I’d sit on that and see what happens,” Moreland said in his genuine aw-shucks style. He got a changeup on the first pitch and crushed it. Suddenly, the Red Sox trailed just 4-3. “It kinda took a big hit to get us going,” Boston’s Brock Holt said in a TV interview. “That home run by Mitch was huge,” said teammate Xander Bogaerts. The homer was the fourth of Moreland’s postseason career, more than any other Mississippi native has hit. In his ninth MLB season, Moreland has played in 48 postseason games, batting .244 with 18 RBIs. This is his third World Series. The first two — in 2010 and ’11 with Texas — ended in disappointment. This one might turn out differently, and if it does, Red Sox Nation can look back on Moreland’s big homer as a big reason why.

25 Oct

gold rush

This could be the year. Billy Hamilton, for all the jaw-dropping plays he has made in center field these last five years, has not won a Gold Glove. The Taylorsville native and Cincinnati center fielder is among the finalists this year, as are Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson and former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland. The nine winners from each of the two leagues will be announced on Nov. 4. The dash-fast Hamilton made 348 putouts this season – suffice it to say that’s a lot – registered 12 assists and committed just two errors. Dickerson, who played left field for Pittsburgh, also had an excellent year with the glove, making just one error with seven assists. Moreland, Boston’s first baseman, won a Gold Glove with Texas in 2016; he made two errors this year while handling 809 chances. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier took gold at second base with Minnesota in 2017 but did not make the list of finalists this year. Greenville natives Frank White and George Scott own the most Gold Gloves among Mississippians with eight apiece. White racked up his at second base with Kansas City back in the 1970s and ’80s. Scott earned his as a first baseman with Boston and Milwaukee in the ’60s and ’70s.

25 Oct

boys of fall

Errol Robinson, the former Ole Miss standout, got the best of Petal High product Demarcus Evans on Wednesday in one of those Arizona Fall League matchups that scouts surely love to see. Robinson, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ No. 20 prospect, banged a one-out, walk-off single against Evans, a rising star in the Texas system, giving Glendale a 3-2 win against Surprise. Robinson, coming off an injury at the end of the regular season, is batting just .188 in the AFL but is excited about the opportunity he is getting in the showcase league. “It’s just another level up. It’s great stuff,” he told milb.com. Robinson hit .247 with 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 18 steals at Double-A Tulsa this season. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Evans averaged a ridiculous 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings this year at Class A Hickory. In four games and five innings against the stiffer competition in the AFL, he has nine punchouts while yielding four hits, four walks and three runs. Evans, moved from starter to reliever this year, told an mlb.com writer that he wasn’t happy initially about the shift but decided it was an “opportunity for me to get better.” That, he did, posting a 1.77 ERA, four wins and nine saves in the South Atlantic League. … Justin Steele, the Lucedale native and George County High alum, made a second straight solid start for Mesa on Wednesday, yielding a run on four hits with four K’s in four innings. The left-hander, a Chicago Cubs prospect, is 1-0, 5.19 ERA in three AFL outings. Former Delta State standout Trent Giambrone, another Cubs prospect with Mesa, didn’t play Wednesday but leads the club with a .412 average. … Mississippi State product Daniel Brown (a Milwaukee farmhand) and DSU alum Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay), both pitching for Peoria, are among the handful of AFL hurlers yet to allow a run. Brown has worked 6 2/3 innings, Moats 5 1/3. … Ex-State star Brent Rooker is not going to play in the AFL because of a sprained ankle suffered during a mini-camp. The Minnesota Twins prospect hit .254 with 22 home runs at Double-A Chattanooga this season.

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.