Grapefruit and Cactus League games start Friday, and Mississippians Corey Dickerson, Lance Lynn, Seth Smith and Tyler Moore, among others, don’t yet have a team to play for. Zack Cozart, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Presley and T.J. House are suiting up for new teams. Hunter Renfroe may soon be doing that, too. Brian Dozier is finally in camp after a detour to have a kidney stone removed. Austin Riley, Cody Carroll and Dakota Hudson are in big league camp as non-roster invitees for the first time. Mickey Callaway is now a manager, and Ron Gardenhire, the old Jackson Met and ex-Minnesota skipper, is back in the saddle. So, yeah, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to keep tabs on. Start with Renfroe, the former Mississippi State standout who hit 26 homers as a rookie for San Diego last year but may now be squeezed out of a roster spot. The Padres’ signing of Eric Hosmer and shifting of Wil Myers to right field has fueled rumors that Renfroe will be traded. “We’re all chess pieces in a huge game here – that’s the way you look at it,” Renfroe told mlb.com. … Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star, signed a two-year, $7.5M deal with Arizona earlier this week. A good defensive outfielder, Dyson, 33, had a strong offensive season with Seattle in 2017, batting. 251 with 56 runs and 28 steals in 111 games. He has 204 career steals over eight seasons. … Ole Miss product Presley signed a minor league deal with Baltimore, which had been seeking a lefty-hitting outfielder. Presley, 32, hit .314 in 71 games last year with Detroit, the fifth different MLB club he has played for over eight seasons. … Dozier, the former Southern Miss standout, reportedly won’t play in Minnesota’s games on Friday and Saturday as he eases into the spring routine. A pending free agent after this season, he batted .271 with 34 homers last year and says he wants to remain a Twin. Stay tuned. … UM alum Bobby Wahl is in Oakland’s camp as a non-roster pitcher this year, trying to bounce back from a shoulder injury that required surgery and cost him his spot on the A’s 40-man roster. Wahl, who pitched just 7 2/3 innings as a rookie in 2017, used to throw 100 mph. Can he get there again? “The way the ball’s coming out, it feels easy,” he said last week in an mlb.com article. “So far, this is the best I’ve felt throwing a baseball in a long time.” … Tim Anderson, the former East Central CC star who had a tough year with the Chicago White Sox in 2017, said he feels refreshed this spring. “Getting away from it definitely helped me and kind of gave me some breathing room,” he told mlb.com. “I’m hungry and excited about this season coming up.” Anderson lost a close friend to a shooting and scuffled at times on the field, batting .257 with 28 errors at shortstop. … This should be a fun spring for Marcus Thames, another former East Central CC standout. Thames, recently named hitting coach of the New York Yankees, gets to work with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, et al., an array of sluggers that some expect to threaten the MLB home run record. Once the games begin to count, there might be a little pressure there for Thames.
On Aug. 28, 1981, Kelvin Moore made his MLB debut for Oakland and went 1-for-4 in a loss to Bobby Ojeda and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Moore’s first game in the big leagues was also the first in The Show for any Jackson State alumnus, a milestone worthy of note during Black History Month. Moore – one of those rare players who threw lefty but batted from the right side — played in 76 games over three seasons for the A’s and hit eight home runs. His debut seemed to open a door for JSU, an historically black school with a modest enrollment. Between 1981 and 1996, eight JSU products reached the major leagues, according to baseball-reference.com, and several had significant careers. The colorful and controversial Oil Can Boyd followed Moore in 1982; he went on to pitch 10 years in the majors. Then came Curtis Ford, Dave Clark (a first-round draft pick), Marvin Freeman, Howard Farmer, Wes Chamberlain and Mike Farmer. Dewon Day, who pitched in 13 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2007, is the only other Tigers alum to make it, an unfortunate sign of the times in MLB, which has seen a decline in the numbers of African-American players in recent years. All nine of the JSU big leaguers were coached by Bob Braddy, a recent inductee into both the College Baseball and Mississippi Sports Halls of Fame. Among SWAC schools, only Southern University, with 16, has produced more big leaguers than JSU. … The Tigers, now coached by Omar Johnson and coming off a 38-17 season, open their 2018 campaign tonight at the University of New Orleans and will then host Mississippi State at Braddy Field on Wednesday. Among the current Tigers, third baseman Jesus Santana and outfielder Lamar Briggs may have pro potential.
Six Mississippians cracked Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists for the 30 MLB organizations. (BA published the last of the lists today on its website.) Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star who made his big league debut in 2017 but still has rookie status, was rated No. 2 in Milwaukee’s system. The right-hander was 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts last year and figures to compete for a rotation spot this spring. Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, was No. 3 in Toronto’s system, and Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High standout, was Cleveland’s No. 3. Alford, an outfielder, had a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays last spring and is coming off a strong winter league showing. Bradley, a first baseman, has intriguing left-handed power but didn’t have a great season in Double-A and scuffled in the Arizona Fall League. Still, the 21-year-old is rated the No. 6 overall first base prospect by mlb.com, and he did get another invite to big league camp. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley climbed to No. 6 on Atlanta’s chart. The power-hitting third baseman reached Double-A Mississippi last summer and likely will start 2018 in Triple-A. Brent Rooker, who had a monster season for MSU last spring, continued to rake (.281, 18 homers, 52 RBIs) in Minnesota’s system and earned a No. 7 rating. Dakota Hudson, another ex-Bulldogs star, is St. Louis’ No. 9 prospect after going 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. Not yet on the 40-man roster, Hudson probably will get some time in the big camp this spring. Worth noting: Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is the fourth-rated prospect in Pittsburgh’s organization.
Though it was widely assumed that Andrew McCutchen would take over in center field this season for San Francisco, it is being reported by ESPN that the Giants are interested in signing free agent Mississippian Jarrod Dyson and bumping the newly acquired McCutchen to a corner spot. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout Dyson is an outstanding defender who batted .251 with 28 steals for Seattle in 2017. … Having gone four years without a postseason at-bat in Cincinnati, Zack Cozart surely improved his chances of a 2018 playoff appearance by signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent last month. As the Ole Miss product tells it (to mlb.com), “It’s tough to beat playing with Joey Votto, but now I’m going to the Angels and probably the best player in the world (Mike Trout) is on the team, and I played against Albert (Pujols) early on when he was on the Cardinals, so I know how good he can be.” Cozart will join fellow newcomers Shohei Ohtani and Ian Kinsler on a loaded Angels club that could challenge Houston in the American League West. … Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout who won 17 games for Boston in 2017, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a 1-year, $8.5 million contract last week. Also signing pre-arbitration deals were former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton ($4.6M with Cincinnati) and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson ($5.9M with Tampa Bay). … Ex-Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman has yet to reach an agreement with Oakland; he asked for $2.6M, the team offered $2.36M. … Columbia High product Ti’Quan Forbes is among a group of Chicago White Sox hitters gathered in Arizona this week for a mini-camp. Forbes, a second-round pick by Texas in 2014, was acquired by the ChiSox in a trade last summer. A 21-year-old third baseman/shortstop, Forbes is batting .242 for his pro career but hit 11 home runs in A-ball last season. … Worth noting (and reading): mlbtraderumors.com is now publishing installments of Tim Dillard’s “The Inner Monologue of @DimTillard.” The former Itawamba Community College star and onetime big leaguer, who is still an active pitcher in Milwaukee’s minor league system, is quite the entertaining fellow, as you’ll find from reading his posts. The hidden twinkies story is classic.
On Dec. 15, the Los Angeles Angels formally announced the signing of free agent Zack Cozart, the Ole Miss alumnus, to be their third baseman. Three days later, Boston announced that it was re-signing Mitch Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, to play first base. Since then, there’s been nothing concrete on any of the bundle of other Mississippians looking for a 2018 team. Rumors have connected Lance Lynn to several teams, but as of today the former UM right-hander remains on the free agent market. Same for fellow former Rebels star Seth Smith and McComb native Jarrod Dyson, both outfielders and both coming off fairly productive seasons. Lynn, in particular, would seem to be an attractive piece. He is 72-47 with a 3.18 ERA for his career and has averaged 32 starts a year since 2013, excluding 2016, when he was out with Tommy John surgery. He was 11-8, 3.43 at age 30 last season for St. Louis. Quite a few big-name free agents are also still out there, and once a couple of them sign, the rush could be on. For now, we wait. … David Goforth, another Ole Miss product, signed a minor league contract with Washington in early December, and there are several other state-connected players seeking similar deals. Included are Tyler Moore, Alex Presley, Chris Coghlan, T.J. House, Scott Copeland, Louis Coleman and Joey Butler.
Atlanta would appear to have hit a home run with its new hire for manager of the Mississippi Braves. As baseball resumes go, it’s hard to beat what Chris Maloney brings to the table. The newly named skipper of the Double-A M-Braves is not only a local boy, but he has a wealth of managerial experience highlighted by championships and awards. Maloney, nicknamed “Hammer,” is a Jackson native and former Mississippi State star who played pro ball in the New York Mets and St. Louis systems. His father, local businessman Con Maloney, was a longtime owner of Jackson’s Texas League franchise. Chris Maloney was in his sixth year on the Cardinals’ major league staff when he was suddenly removed as third-base coach and reassigned back in June in a rather odd move. Maloney managed in the St. Louis system for 17 years, winning a Triple-A Pacific Coast League title with Memphis in 2009. He was manager of the year in the Texas League in 1998 while at Arkansas and was Baseball Weekly’s minor league manager of the year in 1993 when he was at Class A Savannah. He also managed in Houston’s system. He’s a great choice to run the M-Braves. Maloney succeeds Luis Salazar as the Southern League club’s seventh manager since it moved to Pearl in 2005. P.S. For the record, there are now seven Mississippi-connected managers in the big leagues: Ex-Mississippi State standout Buck Showalter (Baltimore), Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway (New York Mets), former Jackson Mets players Ned Yost (Kansas City), John Gibbons (Toronto) and Ron Gardenhire (Detroit), former JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh) and former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker (Atlanta).
When last we saw Mike Mayers in a big league game — for St. Louis on Aug. 18 — he was giving up four earned runs in 2/3 of an inning against Pittsburgh. That moved the Ole Miss product’s career ERA in seven appearances to 19.80, not what you wanna see on the back of your baseball card. That ugly number is due mostly to a couple of bad outings. But it is what it is. The Cardinals still have Mayers on their 40-man roster, and he has pitched well in winter ball. Through six starts for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, Mayers is 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA. After a 12-day layoff, he threw five innings of one-hit, one-run ball on Tuesday. A third-round pick out of UM in 2013, Mayers, 25, has a career minor league ERA of 3.54. Only once in his five minor league seasons has he finished with an ERA above 3.39. He went 5-6 with a 3.28 in 2017 at Triple-A Memphis, splitting time between starting and relieving. He was up for three big league appearances, including that ERA wrecker on Aug. 18. He has to be champing at the bit for his next shot. P.S. Picayune native and Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee, the Southern League batting champ last season, recently was added to Miami’s 40-man roster, and ex-Madison Central High standout Spencer Turnbull made Detroit’s protected roster. Former UM star Bobby Wahl, who made his MLB debut with Oakland in 2017, has been removed from the A’s 40-man. Right-hander Wahl was injured (shoulder) in midseason and didn’t pitch after July 31.