Richard Hidalgo, Jackson Generals star of the mid-1990s, got some recognition today – his 43rd birthday – in a column on mlb.com by Joe Posnanski. Posnanski was highlighting “most surprising” major league seasons, of which Hidalgo had one in 2000. In his fourth MLB campaign, he batted .314 with 44 homers and 122 RBIs as Houston’s centerfielder, far and away the best year of a modest career. Hidalgo was a highly rated and impressive-looking Astros prospect when he played in Jackson in 1995 and ’96, hitting .280 with 28 homers over those two seasons. He could play the outfield, too, and throw and run. He spent nine years in the big leagues and finished with 171 bombs. As good as Hidalgo’s 2000 season was, it didn’t make Posnanski’s “most surprising” top 10. But former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell’s 1989 season with San Francisco did. Mitchell, who played at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1983, hit .291 with 47 homers and 125 RBIs that year, winning National League MVP honors on a pennant-winning team that included Will Clark. (And, yes, that was also the year Mitchell made his famous over-the-shoulder, bare-handed catch.)
It’s not something that will be on his mind today in Hoover, Ala., but Ryan Rolison heads a list of six Mississippi-connected players in mlb.com’s latest Top 200 draft prospects chart. The Ole Miss left-hander, expected to start the SEC Tournament title game against LSU, checks in at No. 17. Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn, ranked as a pitcher, is No. 34, Mississippi State lefty Konnor Pilkington No. 61, Hattiesburg High outfielder Joe Gray No. 62, Southern Miss right-hander Nick Sandlin No. 164 and MSU outfielder Jake Mangum No. 180. Rolison’s stock actually has slipped a bit since the season began. Rated the top overall draft prospect by Perfect Game in preseason, he is 8-4 with a 3.87 ERA and has wobbled down the stretch. South Carolina put up 11 runs in 3 1/3 innings against Rolison on May 4 and, after shutting out Auburn for six innings in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday, he was chased in the seventh of a 9-3 loss. You can bet scouts will be paying close attention today in what will be a highly charged atmosphere at the Hoover Met. LSU is gunning for its 13th SEC title, Ole Miss its third. … Ginn, also a shortstop with pop and a State signee, went 5-1 with an 0.36 ERA for Brandon. Ole Miss signee Gray is a five-tool type who led Hattiesburg to the Class 5A state title. Mangum was drafted as a sophomore last year – 30th round by the New York Yankees – and opted to return to State, where has had another good year. … It’ll be interesting to see if former Ole Miss closer Dallas Woolfolk gets a call next month. After a stellar 2017 that put him on the draft charts, the big right-hander went off the rails this spring and was rarely used down the stretch before leaving the team in early May, citing his “personal health.” He had a 2.51 ERA and six saves in 16 appearances.
Say it ain’t so: According to Statcast metrics, Billy Hamilton, the Taylorsville Tornado, is not the fastest man in baseball. In fact, per the story on mlb.com, there are two players in the big leagues who are faster: Byron Buxton and Delino DeShields Jr. Having seen Hamilton chase down fly balls and go first to third, it’s really hard to imagine someone faster. And yet, Hamilton’s best Statcast Sprint Speed clocking is 30.1 feet per second, compared to Buxton’s 30.7 and DeShields’ 30.4. Yes, it’s a slender reed, but third is third. That’s what the numbers say. The story listed the fastest player on each team. Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, tops Arizona at 29.2. (Note: He’ll be 34 in August.) Former Mississippi Braves Ronald Acuna (29.8) and Mallex Smith (29.5) lead the pack in Atlanta and Tampa Bay, respectively. Perhaps they need to get some of these guys together at the All-Star Game for a little race.
Both Kendall Graveman and Lance Lynn were saddled with another loss on Wednesday, but there was a difference in their outings. Former Mississippi State star Graveman may have found something; ex-Ole Miss standout Lynn is still searching. Graveman fell to 0-5 for 13-12 Oakland, allowing three runs in six innings of a 4-2 loss to Texas. But utilizing his changeup more frequently and effectively, he struck out seven batters and actually trimmed his ERA to 8.89. “I thought the changeup was really good,” Graveman told mlb.com. “Got a lot of swing-and-misses. For me, that’s a big plus, something I’m working on … .” Lynn, in his fourth start for Minnesota, was KO’d by the New York Yankees in the fourth inning of a 7-4 defeat, the 8-11 Twins’ sixth straight L. Lynn (0-2) yielded six runs – including two homers – and saw his ERA jump to 7.71. “When I made pitches, I would get outs, but I didn’t make them when it counted,” Lynn said in an mlb.com article. P.S. Cool to see five former Mississippi Braves combine for eight hits, three runs and three RBIs in Atlanta’s 5-4 victory at Cincinnati. Included was Ronald Acuna’s first big league hit and Ozzie Albies’ seventh homer. In addition, M-Braves alums Jesse Biddle tossed two scoreless innings and A.J. Minter notched his first save.
It’s the type of headline that compels you to click: “The best hitter you know nothing about.” The mlb.com story is a statistical analysis of the very fine 2017 season put together by St. Louis rookie Jose Martinez, a hitter whom Mississippi Braves fans actually do know something about. Martinez played right field for the 2013 M-Braves, and he stood out – and not just because he is 6 feet 6. Martinez was one of the best hitters on that team, batting .285 with six homers and 39 RBIs. He became a minor league free agent after that year, his eighth in pro ball. The Venezuela native briefly returned to the Atlanta organization – playing in A-ball — in 2014. He finally made his MLB debut in 2016 with the Cardinals – at age 28 – then broke out last summer after a swing change, batting .309 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs in 106 games. P.S. Atlanta had eight players – including No. 1 Ronald Acuna (see previous post) — in Baseball America’s new Top 100 prospects rankings, most of any organization. … Four Mississippi products made BA’s list: Austin Riley (Braves) at 54, Anthony Alford (Toronto) at 60, Brandon Woodruff (Milwaukee) at 61 and Brent Rooker (Minnesota) at 92. … Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, is the No. 6 third base prospect in mlb.com’s position rankings. … Ex-Picayune High star T.J. House has signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox; the veteran left-hander got some big league time with Toronto in 2017 but spent most of the season in Triple-A.
There are no reports of Braves fans dancing in the streets of Atlanta today, but there is cause for some excitement. Ronald Acuna has been ranked the No. 1 minor league prospect for 2018 by Baseball America. The 20-year-old outfielder, who starred for the Mississippi Braves last summer, should make his MLB debut early this season, maybe even on opening day. Acuna blew through three levels of the minors last season, from A-ball to Triple-A, and batted .325 with 28 homers, 98 RBIs, 46 steals and seven assists. It’s hard to find any report on him that is less than glowing. There’s also this for Atlanta fans to chew on: Three Braves pitchers, all M-Braves alums, were ranked among the top 10 left-handed prospects by mlb.com entering 2018. Luiz Gohara is No. 4, Kolby Allard No. 7 and Max Fried No. 10. (Sean Newcomb was on this list in 2017.) Gohara, who reached Atlanta last year, has been pegged by Peter Gammons as a potential breakout player for the coming season. Fried also debuted with Atlanta last season. The 20-year-old Allard is expected to start at Triple-A Gwinnett this year. You have to believe that at some point, some of these young guns the Braves have stockpiled are going to lead a resurgence in the ATL.
The acclaimed writer Joe Posnanski, in an article posted on mlb.com on Tuesday, ranked the top 25 nicknames in baseball history and did an admirable job with this truly daunting task. Two Mississippians made his list: Oil Can Boyd at No. 21 and Cool Papa Bell at No. 2 (behind only Babe Ruth). Magnolia State natives have inspired so many colorful nicknames, having just two make such a list doesn’t really do the state justice. After all, we’ve had a Boo (Ferriss), a Bubba (Phillips), a Buddy (Myer), a Boomer (Scott) and a Boob (McNair, who also answered to Rabbit). We’ve had four Walkers make The Show, each with a catchy nickname: The Hat (Harry), Gee (Gerald), Hub (Harvey) and Chico (Cleotha). We’ve had a Nook (Logan), a Sport (McAllister) and a Reb (Russell). Then there’s Cobra (Dave Parker), Popeye (Harry Craft, also known as Wildfire), Vinegar Bend (Wilmer Mizell), The Jet (Chet Lemon, a.k.a. Juice), The Rope (Bob Boyd) and the Mississippi Mudcat (Guy Bush). That’s not all, but it seems enough to make the point. P.S. Former Picayune High standout T.J. House became the 28th Mississippi-connected player to appear in an MLB game this season when he worked a scoreless inning for Toronto on Tuesday night. It was the Blue Jays debut for House, who previously pitched in the big leagues for Cleveland. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum from McComb, hit his 23rd home run of the season for Tampa Bay in its win against Toronto. Dickerson trails Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) by three in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his previous eight starts for St. Louis, gave up four runs in six innings against San Diego, the worst hitting team in the majors. Lynn got a no-decision in the Cardinals’ 12-4 loss.