Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star, won’t be the only Mississippi-connected player vying for a Home Run Derby crown tonight in Cleveland. DeSoto Central High’s Blaze Jordan is in the final of the High School Home Run Derby, which is slated to be held between rounds 1 and 2 of the big league event at Progressive Field. Jordan hit 20 homers in Sunday’s competition to advance to the final against A.J. Vukovich from Wisconsin. Jordan, a Mississippi State commit, has reclassified to be eligible for the 2020 MLB draft and is expected to go high. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound corner infielder hit 10 homers in 37 games for DeSoto as a sophomore this season. He gained a measure of fame as a 14-year-old 8th-grader when he belted a 504-foot homer to win a national contest at Marlins Park in Miami. … For the record, Ole Miss’ Tyler Keenan finished second in the College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., on June 29. Keenan led the Rebels with 15 homers in 2019. … Acuna, who has 21 homers this year and 47 all told in his two MLB campaigns, famously homered in his first at-bat for the M-Braves in 2017. He faces Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell in tonight’s first round. … An mlb.com article rated Bobby Abreu’s victory in the 2005 Home Run Derby as the No. 9 “best moment” in Derby history, which dates to 1985 (when Mississippi native Dave Parker won the inaugural event). Former Jackson Generals star Abreu, who was with Philadelphia at the time, blasted 41 bombs to win the ’05 Derby at Detroit’s Comerica Park. He hit 288 career home runs over 18 MLB seasons. P.S. Current M-Braves star Drew Waters, who somehow didn’t make the roster for the All-Star Futures Game that was played in Cleveland on Sunday night, put on a show at Trustmark Park in Pearl with his fourth four-hit game of the season in a 10-1 win against Biloxi. Waters, 20, a switch-hitting outfielder, is batting .335 with five homers, 31 RBIs, 53 runs, 29 doubles and nine triples.
You’d be unlikely to hear the clanging of cowbells or screams of “Hotty Toddy” at Oracle Park in San Francisco tonight, but there will be a hint of the Mississippi State-Ole Miss rivalry in the air. Former State star Dakota Hudson is scheduled to start for St. Louis against ex-UM star Drew Pomeranz in a matchup of former first-round draft picks. That fact aside, the two pitchers are a study in contrast. Hudson, 24, is a right-hander in his first full MLB season and has been one of the Cardinals’ most consistent arms. He is 6-4 with a 3.40 ERA in 17 games, though he is coming off one of his worst outings of the year, last Saturday against San Diego. Pomeranz, 30, is a left-handed veteran of nine big league campaigns. Though he is 2-8, 6.25 ERA, he threw five shutout innings vs. Arizona his last time out, one of his better outings in what has been a rough season. He signed as a free agent with the Giants, his sixth big league team, after winning a ring with Boston in 2018. Hudson’s Cardinals are in the thick of a mad National League Central race, while Pomeranz’s Giants are buried in last place in the NL West. P.S. Detroit has put former Richton High standout JaCoby Jones (back) on the injured list, where he joins a host of other Mississippians: Spencer Turnbull, Tim Anderson, Mike Mayers, Mitch Moreland, Zack Cozart and Bobby Wahl. Pomeranz, Corey Dickerson, Tony Sipp, Chris Stratton and Jacob Waguespack all have spent time on the IL but are active now. … Tampa Bay has recalled MSU product Nate Lowe (see previous post) from Triple-A.
Having made two trips to the big leagues this season, Nate Lowe looks like he’s ready for a third. The Mississippi State alum smacked three home runs for Triple-A Durham on Tuesday and is batting .350 over his last 10 games. Lowe went 10-for-38 in two short stints with Tampa Bay but was squeezed out of a roster spot. He slumped for a while after returning to Durham but has picked it up of late. He is batting .290 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs for the season with the Bulls and now has 50 career minor league bombs over four years. The left-handed hitting first baseman, 23, rocketed through three levels of the minors in 2018 and made his big league debut on April 29 of this season. He’s due another look from a playoff-contending Rays club. P.S. After getting five hits on Monday, ex-State star Adam Frazier banged out four more on Tuesday for Pittsburgh and will take a streak of seven straight hits into today’s game. Frazier, back in the leadoff spot where he began the season, hit his fourth homer of the year in the 5-1 win over the Chicago Cubs and boosted his average to .276. “I feel like I’m onto something,” he told mlb.com. … Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley, who doubled in his first big league at-bat for Cleveland last week (see previous post), is just 3-for-27 (.111) in eight games. He has struck out 12 times.
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle put Adam Frazier in the leadoff spot on Monday for the first time since early June. It was a salient move by the former Jackson Mets skipper. Ex-Mississippi State standout Frazier went 5-for-6, scored three runs, drove in a pair and etched his name in the baseball record book with four doubles. And the Pirates, who also got three homers from Josh Bell, beat the first-place Chicago Cubs 18-5 at PNC Park. Frazier was in a 2-for-18 funk before Monday’s breakout, which might lead to more opportunities at the top of the order. He joins an impressive list of players with four two-baggers in a nine-inning game. Among the others to achieve the feat are Lou Boudreau, Joe Medwick, Orlando Cepeda, Billy Williams, Kirby Puckett, Albert Belle and Jeff Bagwell. Frazier has become the Pirates’ regular second baseman this season with the departure of Josh Harrison, and the lefty-hitting four-year veteran is batting .266 with three homers, 21 RBIs and 41 runs. The Pirates are hanging around in a crowded race in the National League Central.
While his Boston teammates are making the much-ballyhooed trip to London this weekend, Mitch Moreland is staying stateside. The Mississippi State alum remains on the injured list, recuperating from a quadriceps injury. He has been sidelined for all but one day since May 26. Moreland took live batting practice at Fenway Park this week and reportedly will head out on a rehab assignment soon. The Red Sox, the defending world champs, could certainly use Moreland’s bat (not to mention his glove at first base) as they try to chase down the New York Yankees in the American League East. When he initially went on the injured list with a back injury in late May, Moreland was leading the Red Sox in home runs with 13. He was activated on June 7, went 0-for-2 against Tampa Bay, then went back on the IL the next day with the quad injury. He is batting .225 (slugging .543) with 34 RBIs in 47 games. An All-Star in 2018, the injury woes have assured that Moreland won’t be going to Cleveland on July 9. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers, on the IL (shoulder) since mid-April for St. Louis, has begun a rehab assignment at Triple-A Memphis. Mayers, in his fourth big league tour, had a 5.40 ERA in eight appearances for the Cardinals this season.
The college season in Mississippi ended with such cruel irony. Mississippi State, which won so many big games in comeback fashion, was eliminated from the College World Series by a bottom-of-the-ninth rally by Louisville. Having allowed time for the hangover to pass, we can now look back on the 2019 season as one with more than its share of thrills. State, under first-year coach Chris Lemonis, won 52 games, went 37-5 at the “New Dude” (renovated Dudy Noble Field), made its 38th NCAA Tournament appearance, hosted a regional and a Super Regional and made its 11th CWS trip. The Bulldogs earn top-of-the-class honors in the state, but quite a few others belong on the honor roll. Ole Miss made its 23rd NCAA appearance and fell one win shy of the CWS, losing at Arkansas in the Super Regional to end the year at 41-27. Southern Miss went on a late-season roll, winning the Conference USA Tournament and earning its 16th NCAA bid. The Golden Eagles fell in the Baton Rouge Regional to LSU and finished 40-21. Jackson State went 31-24, notching a 13th straight winning season under Omar Johnson. Delta State won another Gulf South Conference title and reached the Super Regional round of the Division II Tournament, falling out at Tampa. The Statesmen went 42-14 in what turned out to be the legendary Mike Kinnison’s last year as coach. Mississippi College also put up a second straight winning season (28-17) under fourth-year coach Jeremy Haworth and just missed a second straight D-II regional invite. Blue Mountain went 26-25-1 in the NAIA ranks, and Mississippi University for Women went 18-13 as a non-scholarship independent and made the USCAA postseason tournament. That’s eight four-year schools with winning seasons. William Carey (24-26), Millsaps (10-33) and Belhaven (11-29) endured rare down years, while Alcorn State (14-31), Mississippi Valley State (8-27) and Tougaloo (5-29) continue to seek the right formula for their programs. Fall ball will be here in a blink.
Matt Wallner belted his first pro home run on Thursday. Many more are expected. Wallner, Southern Miss’ career home run leader, hit a solo shot for the rookie-level Elizabethton Twins against the Bristol Pirates in an Appalachian League game. Wallner is batting .320 (8-for-25) in six games. Minnesota drafted the Minnesota native with the 39th overall pick earlier this month; it’s the highest any Golden Eagles player has been picked. Power is Wallner’s game. The 6-foot-5 left-handed slugger tied the USM single-season record for homers this year with 23 and finished his three years in Hattiesburg with 58. The Twins drafted Wallner in the 32nd round out of high school in 2016, but Minnesota’s Mr. Baseball opted to attend North Dakota, which abruptly dropped its program. He landed at USM, where he won several national freshman of the year awards in 2017 and earned All-America nods as a sophomore and junior. A prototypical right fielder, Wallner also has a big arm. USM occasionally used him as a closer his first two years. P.S. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect and another power bat in that system, was named to the International League roster for the Triple-A All-Star Game, scheduled July 10. The former SEC Triple Crown winner is batting .277 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for Rochester. … Ex-State standout Reid Humphreys is back on the injured list at Double-A Hartford in Colorado’s system. The right-handed closer came off the IL on June 7, allowed 11 hits and five runs in four appearances and went back on the shelf on June 21. He had 39 saves in his first three pro seasons. … George County High alum Walker Robbins, who batted .170 with two homers over his first three pro seasons, is now pitching full-time at rookie-level Johnson City in the St. Louis system. The 21-year-old lefty, a fifth-round pick in 2016, has a 2.70 ERA in three relief appearances.
Ethan Small made the headlines Tuesday, signing with Milwaukee for $1.8 million during a special appearance at Miller Park for the first-round draft pick. Meanwhile, far from the limelight, another ex-Mississippi State left-hander has been generating a little positive news of his own. Jacob Lindgren – remember him? – worked a scoreless inning Monday for the Arizona League White Sox. It was the third appearance in eight days in the rookie league for Lindgren, 26, who had last pitched in an official game in April 2016. Lindgren is trying to come back from two Tommy John surgeries, the most recent in March 2018. The Biloxi native was a second-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2014 after a brilliant season at State (0.81 ERA, 100 strikeouts in 55 innings) and reached the big leagues in 2015. He’s had arm problems virtually ever since. Atlanta signed him after the 2016 season, but he was never able to pitch in a game for the Braves. He became a free agent last November and signed with Chicago in January. Lindgren is technically on the Triple-A Charlotte roster, though it could be a while before he actually joins that club. P.S. On the AZL team with Lindgren is Brookhaven native James Beard, a fourth-round pick this year by the White Sox who is batting .235 in four pro games. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, the White Sox’s big league shortstop, is to be reevaluated today after suffering a sprained ankle in Tuesday’s game at Boston. Could be a tough blow for Anderson, who is having a career year (.317, 11 homers, 15 steals) and was the American League’s player of the month in April.
It didn’t take long for Bobby Bradley to endear himself to Cleveland fans. In the top of the first inning of his big league debut on Sunday, the first baseman from Gulfport made a nice catch going back on a foul pop. In the second inning, on the second pitch he saw, Bradley stroked a deep fly ball to left field that hit near the corner and bounced into the Progressive Field stands for a run-scoring ground-rule double. On SiriusXM radio, Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton screeched with excitement. Bradley later scored on a throwing error as the Indians bolted ahead en route to an 8-3 win over Detroit. Fans gave Bradley an ovation when he was lifted for a pinch runner after drawing a walk in the eighth inning to cap his 1-for-3 debut. “Just unreal,” Bradley told mlb.com. “I think it’s gonna kick in for me at some point today that today actually happened. I mean, it’s a day I’ll never forget.” Bradley, 23, has been a highly rated prospect in the Indians’ system since he was drafted in the third round out of Harrison Central High in 2014. He won three minor league home run titles as he rose through the system and was leading the International League at the time of his call-up. Family and friends were in the stadium for his debut. He is the 16th Mississippi high school product to play in The Show in 2019. P.S. Bradley wasn’t the only Mississippian to produce a highlight or two on Sunday. Richton High alum JaCoby Jones led off the Tigers-Indians game with his ninth homer of the year and then added another hit. Wheeler High product Brandon Woodruff notched his ninth win of the year and struck out a career-high 12 as Milwaukee beat Cincinnati. Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton went 2-for-3 with a run and two steals in Kansas City’s victory. Brookhaven Academy alum Corey Dickerson and Mississippi State product Adam Frazier had pinch hits for Pittsburgh and Tupelo High alum Chris Stratton tossed a scoreless inning in the Pirates’ amazing 11-10, 11-inning win against San Diego. Former Copiah Academy standout Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Padres. Itawamba AHS alum Brian Dozier had a pinch hit in a losing cause for Washington, and East Central Community College product Tim Anderson went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a loss for the Chicago White Sox.
Someday, perhaps very soon, Bobby Bradley and Brent Rooker will be slugging it out as American League Central rivals. On Thursday, they gave us a preview. Gulfport’s Bradley and Mississippi State product Rooker, batting fourth as the DH for Columbus and Rochester, respectively, in the Triple-A International League, combined for three home runs in Thursday’s game. Rooker, a Minnesota Twins prospect, hit his 10th of the year, and Bradley, a Cleveland Indians prospect, hit Nos. 23 and 24, which leads the IL. Both have been on hot streaks. Rooker has homered in three straight games and is batting .289 in 43 contests; he missed some time with a wrist injury. Bradley has gone deep twice in three of his last six games and has lifted his average to .295. Both strike out a lot, but in today’s game that seems to matter less and less. The Twins and Indians may be battling for the AL Central title down the stretch – with Rooker and Bradley in the middle of the fray.