Zack Cozart’s future grew a little foggy on Monday when the former Ole Miss star was designated for assignment by San Francisco, which had acquired the veteran infielder in a trade in mid-December. Cozart, a 2017 All-Star in Cincinnati, is coming off two injury-wracked seasons with the Los Angeles Angels that saw him bat .190 with five homers in 96 games. The Giants took on Cozart’s $13 million salary as part of a deal that netted them highly regarded shortstop prospect Will Wilson. It seems likely that Cozart, 34, will be released. Perhaps he’ll get a minor league deal somewhere. Perhaps. He was a second-round pick by the Reds in 2007 out of UM and has played nine years in the majors, mostly as a shortstop, batting .247 with 87 homers. P.S. Something to keep an eye on: Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson, who went 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA as a rookie for St. Louis in 2019, has been rumored to be part of the Nolan Arenado trade talks between the Cardinals and Colorado.
Five Mississippians made their big league debut in 2019: Chris Ellis, Nate Lowe, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley. Who’ll be next to break through? Smart money would be on Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High standout who recently was added to Texas’ 40-man roster. A right-handed reliever – and strikeout machine — he hasn’t pitched above Double-A but will go to spring training with a chance to make the opening day roster. Minnesota has an opening at first base after non-tendering C.J. Cron, and ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker could well be among the candidates vying for the job come spring. Rooker has All-World credentials, having earned that designation with his performance in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament, during which he hit three homers in 20 at-bats, including a big game-winner (see previous post). The three-year pro batted .281 with 14 homers in 65 games in Triple-A in 2019. He isn’t currently on the Twins’ 40-man and didn’t play any first base last year but does have experience there. George County High product Justin Steele is still on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster and is rated their No. 11 prospect (MLB Pipeline). But the left-hander is coming off an injury-dampened season that saw him go 0-6 with a 5.59 ERA in Double-A. About to enter his seventh pro campaign, he needs to break through soon. Delta State alum Trent Giambrone is not on the Cubs’ 40-man but had a solid Triple-A season (.241, 23 homers, 17 steals) and could be in the mix for a role as a utility player in 2020. He is No. 28 on the Cubs’ prospect chart. Former MSU star Jacob Robson, a lefty-hitting outfielder, batted .267 with nine homers and 25 steals in Triple-A for Detroit and figures to get a long look in the spring, as does Ole Miss product David Parkinson, a lefty starter who was 10-9, 4.08 for Philadelphia’s Double-A club. Robson is the Tigers’ No. 27 prospect, Parkinson the Phillies’ No. 18. Neither is on the major league roster. … Another debut to watch for is that of Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-Forrest County AHS and MLB star Charlie. The younger Hayes, who was born in Texas, is Pittsburgh’s No. 2 prospect and recently was added to the 40-man roster. A plus-defender at third base, Hayes batted .265 with 10 homers at Triple-A in 2019. He’ll probably be in the opening day lineup.
Kendall Graveman rolled into the free agent market on Monday when the Chicago Cubs declined a $3 million option on the former Mississippi State standout. He pitched – very briefly — in the Cubs’ minor league system last season on a one-year, $575,000 deal while recovering from 2018 Tommy John surgery. Graveman is 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA over five big league seasons, four with Oakland. … Taylorsville High alumnus Billy Hamilton also became a free agent after Atlanta declined a 2020 option on the 29-year-old center fielder. Hamilton finished the past season with the Braves after being waived by Kansas City, with whom he had signed as a free agent last off-season. He is sitting on 299 career steals. … Former Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers was claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Angels, where the new pitching coach is UM product Mickey Callaway, fired as the New York Mets manager after two seasons. Mayers, 27, a right-handed reliever, posted a 6.63 ERA for St. Louis in 2019 and was not on the Cardinals’ postseason roster. … Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz will sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and McComb native Corey Dickerson with San Diego, according to predictions by MLB Trade Rumors staff. Left-hander Pomeranz is ranked No. 23 among available free agents and outfielder Dickerson is No. 25. … MSU product Brent Rooker and Mississippi Braves alum Drew Waters helped Team USA advance out of group play in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament in Mexico. Rooker, a Minnesota prospect, and Waters both homered in a Game 1 win vs. the Netherlands on Saturday. In an elimination game win on Monday against the Dominican Republic, Waters played as a defensive replacement in center field, while Rooker did not get in the game. Team USA now goes to Tokyo next week for the Super Round of the Premier 12 event, a 2020 Olympics qualifier. … Grenada native Dave Parker is one of 10 candidates announced by the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday for inclusion on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era (1970-87) ballot. A 16-member panel will vote and announce potential electees on Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings. Candidates must receive votes from at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain election to the Hall. Parker– a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time batting champion, two-time World Series champ and one-time National League MVP — lasted the maximum 15 years on the baseball writers’ ballot before falling off in 2011. “(W)hen Parker was at his best, he was elite at just about everything a player can do on the field,” an ESPN writer recently noted.
The list of Mississippians in the majors who will or could be free agents after this season reads like a who’s who of the state’s best: Brian Dozier of the World Series-bound Washington Nationals, Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Drew Pomeranz and Jarrod Dyson. Billy Hamilton and Kendall Graveman have options in their deals that could also make them free agents. If the market is as sluggish as it was last year, one has to wonder how much attention any of them will get. Dozier, 32, hit .238 with 20 homers in his eighth MLB season; the Southern Miss product has been displaced as the Nationals’ second baseman by Howie Kendrick. Ex-Mississippi State star Moreland, 34, hit .252 with 19 homers for Boston in an injury-interrupted season, his 10th in the big leagues. Dickerson, 30, also had injury issues; the Meridian Community College alum batted .304 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in his seventh MLB campaign. Ex-Ole Miss star Pomeranz, 30, a nine-year vet, posted a 2.39 ERA as a reliever for Milwaukee after being traded from San Francisco, where he struggled as a starter. Southwest CC alum Dyson, 35, hit .230 with a career-high seven homers and 30 steals for Arizona in his 10th season. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, 29, hit .218 (with 22 steals) overall though he perked up after moving from Kansas City to Atlanta, which likely will buy out the final year of his contract. Ex-MSU standout Graveman, signed by the Chicago Cubs after last season, made just two minor league appearances rehabbing from 2018 Tommy John surgery. The team figures to pick up the option for 2020 — but nothing is certain. Graveman, 28, is 23-29, 4.38 ERA for his five-year career, spent mostly with Oakland.
It’s that time of year. The postseason begins for 10 MLB clubs, and heads begin to roll for many of the other 20. Chris Young, a former Mississippi State pitcher, was relieved of his duties today as Philadelphia’s pitching coach after one rather rocky season. This follows news of ex-Ole Miss pitcher Mickey Callaway’s firing Thursday as New York Mets manager after two seasons. (On the long list floated out there as possible replacements is former MSU star Buck Showalter, who was not retained by Baltimore after the 2018 season.) Back in 2018, there were seven Mississippi-connected skippers in MLB. Now, with Ned Yost having retired in Kansas City and Clint Hurdle getting canned in Pittsburgh, we’re down to two. Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves manager, is safe for a while in Atlanta. Former Jackson Mets standout Ron Gardenhire is in charge of the major rebuilding project in Detroit; who knows how many more years he’ll get? P.S. MSU product Nate Lowe, a rookie first baseman, did not make Tampa Bay’s roster for the American League Division Series against Houston.
The Washington Nationals may have had a little karma working for them in Tuesday night’s game. Aaron Barrett, the former Ole Miss standout who completed a courageous comeback this season, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park before the National League Wild Card Game. Several hours later, the Nationals pulled off a dramatic comeback of their own to beat Milwaukee 4-3. According to reports – and the highlights on TBS – Barrett’s animated appearance on the mound stirred the crowd into a frenzy, a precursor to what happened during the Nats’ stunning eighth-inning rally. Barrett, who was not on the active roster for Tuesday’s game, made it back to the big leagues this season after missing most of the previous three years following Tommy John surgery and a career-threatening broken arm. Nationals owner Mark Lerner suggested having Barrett throw out the first pitch. “I’m pretty humbled by it. … There are so many people that are deserving to do this,” Barrett said in a story on nbcsports.com. P.S. In defeat, the Brewers certainly got what they hoped for from Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff (four innings, one run) and UM product Drew Pomeranz (two shutout innings). … Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier made a pinch-hit appearance for the Nationals and reached on an error.
With its season down to one game, Milwaukee will hand the ball to Brandon Woodruff to start Tuesday’s National League Wild Card Game at Washington. The former Wheeler High and Mississippi State star went 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA in 2019 and threw four scoreless innings in his last two starts after a long stint on the injured list. He put up a 1.46 ERA in 12 1/3 postseason innings a year ago. “Obviously, I probably won’t be able to go six, seven innings,” Woodruff told mlb.com, “but I’ll be ready to go as long as I can until they take me out.” … Tampa Bay will throw ex-Mississippi Braves right-hander Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05) in Wednesday’s American League Wild Card Game at Oakland. … East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox won the AL batting title with a .335 average, which also led all of MLB. The last Mississippian (native or college alum) to win a batting title was Grenada native Dave Parker, who took the National League crown in 1978 with Pittsburgh. … A pair of former M-Braves swept the stolen base crowns in the majors: Ronald Acuna of Atlanta led the NL with 37 bags and Seattle’s Mallex Smith topped the AL with 46. For the record, Jackson Generals product Brian Hunter twice won the AL title – in 1999 with Detroit and Seattle and in 1997 with Detroit – and Chuck Carr, a Jackson Mets alum, won the NL title in 1993 with Florida. The only Mississippi native to lead a league in steals is Ellisville’s Buddy Myer, who bagged 30 for Boston in the AL in 1928. … Former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull, who yielded three runs in 5 1/3 innings for Detroit against the White Sox on Sunday, absorbed his 17th loss of the season, most by a Tigers pitcher in 11 years. But he has good company: Justin Verlander dropped 17 in 2008. … Former JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle was fired as Pittsburgh manager prior to Sunday’s finale, which he did not work. Hurdle went 735-720 with three playoff teams in nine seasons with the Pirates, who finished 69-93 this season.
2 – Number of Mississippians who celebrated Milwaukee’s playoff-clinching win against Cincinnati on Wednesday night. Neither Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff nor Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz pitched in the game, but both could play key roles in the postseason for a club that still has a shot at winning the National League Central title.
4 – Hits by Tim Anderson, the East Central Community College product whose efforts helped the Chicago White Sox beat Cleveland and clinch the American League Central title for Minnesota. Anderson, riding a 12-game hitting streak, leads MLB with a .339 average and tops the AL batting race by 11 points.
20 – Home runs this season by Brian Dozier, who went deep in postseason-bound Washington’s win over Philadelphia. The ex-Southern Miss standout reached the 20-homer plateau for the sixth straight year with his first round-tripper since Aug. 18.
19 – Homers this season for Mitch Moreland, the former MSU star who went deep as part of a four-hit performance for Boston. Moreland has four homers in his last five games and 56 in his three seasons with the Red Sox, who have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
5 – Wins this year for Jacob Waguespack, the Ole Miss product who threw six shutout innings for Toronto against Baltimore. Waguespack is 5-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 16 appearances as a rookie for an up-and-coming Blue Jays club.
83 – Wins by Mickey Callaway’s New York Mets, a six-game improvement over 2018 but not quite good enough to make the playoffs. The former Ole Miss pitcher, in his second season as Mets manager, saw his club eliminated from NL wild card contention Wednesday when Milwaukee won.
If you can watch/listen to only one game tonight, make it Washington-St. Louis at Busch Stadium. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson (15-7, 3.38 ERA) leads the Cardinals against Stephen Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) and the Nationals in a game that means a lot to a lot of teams. St. Louis (83-66) leads the National League Central by 2 games over Chicago, which is second in the wild card standings to Washington (82-66). Milwaukee is still in the thick of the Central and wild card races, as well, and New York, Philadelphia and even Arizona aren’t yet toast. Hudson, a ground-ball machine, has had a great season. Still classified as a rookie, the 24-year-old right-hander is 5-1, 1.70 over his last seven starts; the lone loss came last week at Colorado. No Nationals batter has more than four at-bats against Hudson, and none has more than one hit. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier, a Nationals second baseman, is 0-for-4 vs. Hudson.
In a weekend replete with rivalry matchups and key series in the major leagues, Mississippians played roles large and small.
On Friday: Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland, on his 34th birthday, banged out three hits including a three-run homer to spark wild card chaser Boston to a win over American League East frontrunner New York at Fenway Park. … Former MSU standout Adam Frazier went 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs as Pittsburgh, playing spoiler, took down National League Central leader St. Louis at PNC Park.
On Saturday: Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson went 2-for-5 with a two-run double as Philadelphia beat New York in a battle of NL wild card contenders at CitiField. … Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson walked, stole a base and scored a run as red-hot Arizona, making a wild card run, beat Cincinnati 2-0 at Great American Ballpark. … Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett, making his first MLB appearance in four years (see previous posts), worked a scoreless inning for NL wild card leader Washington in its loss to NL East leader Atlanta at SunTrust Park. Barrett broke down in tears in the dugout in one of the season’s most moving moments.
On Sunday: Dickerson drove in two runs and Philadelphia pitching coach Chris Young, a State alum, trotted out eight pitchers as the Phillies won 10-7 in the rubber game of their series vs. the Mets. New York, managed by ex-UM star Mickey Callaway, also deployed eight pitchers in the 4 hour, 29 minute game. … Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz retired the only two batters he faced in the seventh inning to help Milwaukee fend off NL Central rival Chicago and take three of four in the series at Miller Park. … UM product Jacob Waguespack was roughed up for six runs in 4 1/3 innings as AL wild card leader Tampa Bay whipped Toronto for a third straight time at Tropicana Field.
As Monday dawned, none of the six division races were particularly close, but four teams (including Boston on the fringe) remain in the AL wild card chase and six are still hunting the two spots in the NL. Today brings the finale of the Yankees-Red Sox series, a Braves visit to Philadelphia and a big interdivisional matchup of the Diamondbacks and Mets in New York.