Ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart, one of several Mississippians on the free agent market, has a serious suitor in San Diego, according to reports. The Padres are looking for a shortstop, and Cozart is the best one out there looking for a team. Cozart batted .297 with 24 homers and 63 RBIs and made his first All-Star Game with Cincinnati in 2017. … There hasn’t been much news of late on other free agent Mississippians, a list that includes Lance Lynn, Mitch Moreland, Seth Smith, Jarrod Dyson, Tyler Moore and Alex Presley. … David Goforth, the former UM standout from Meridian, has signed a minor league deal with Washington. The onetime big leaguer spent most of last season with Milwaukee’s Triple-A club. He has pitched well in winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, posting a 2.45 ERA and three saves in 29 games for Culiacan. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton reportedly is drawing interest from several clubs wanting to trade with Cincinnati for the center fielder. Interested teams include San Francisco, Texas and Baltimore. Hamilton, a defensive whiz, hit .247 (.299 on-base average) with 59 steals this past season.
Lance Lynn appears to be making strides on his comeback trail. The Ole Miss product, who missed 2016 after Tommy John surgery, threw five shutout innings for St. Louis against Atlanta on Sunday, reducing his ERA this spring to 1.29 in 14 innings over four starts. He wasn’t razor sharp vs. the Braves, but the big right-hander did what he does: He battled. Lynn, who won 60 games for the Cardinals from 2012-15, made at least 29 starts and threw at least 175 innings in each of those seasons. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he expects nothing less in 2017. “If you set yourself below that,” he said, “why take the ball?” The Cardinals in general should be angry birds. They missed the postseason last year, snapping a streak going back to 2010, and then watched the rival Chicago Cubs win it all. Lynn, who’ll turn 30 in May, may also be motivated by the fact he is eligible for free agency after this season. P.S. Joey Butler – remember him? – got a hit in his lone at-bat on Sunday for Washington, which had summoned the Pascagoula native from minor league camp. Butler, 31 and now with his fifth organization, batted .276 with eight homers for Tampa Bay in 2015 but spent all of 2016 in Triple-A with Cleveland. He might get stuck there again with the Nationals.
There likely will be a lot of eyes on Tony Sipp as he goes to work in West Palm Beach, Fla., over the next few weeks. The Pascagoula native and former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is coming off a rough year and is the only seasoned left-hander in Houston’s bullpen. Sipp’s ERA jumped to 4.95 over 60 appearances in 2016. He had a 1.99 in 2015, and his career ERA over eight MLB seasons is 3.65. Batters hit .297 against Sipp in 2016, and he yielded 12 homers in 43 2/3 innings. The beefed-up Astros, picked by some as the favorite in the American League West, surely want a reliable lefty in their pen. If Sipp, 33, doesn’t look sharp, they may have to go shopping. Astros pitchers and catchers formally reported to camp today and will work out at their new spring facility on Wednesday. P.S. Joey Butler, another Pascagoula native and MGCCC alumnus, signed a minor league contract last week with Washington. Butler, a right-handed hitting outfielder, spent all of 2016 in the minors with Cleveland’s Triple-A Columbus club. He batted .276 with eight homers in 88 games for Tampa Bay in 2015 and is a career .282 hitter with 104 homers over nine pro seasons, including a stint in Japan. … Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett may be close to re-signing with Washington as a minor league free agent. He missed the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. While rehabbing last season, Barrett suffered a fractured right elbow and had another surgery. He ultimately was waived by the Nationals and elected free agency in the off-season. As a rookie in 2014, Barrett had a 2.66 ERA in 50 games for the Nats. In 2015, his ERA jumped to 4.60 in 40 games before he was injured late in the season.
For the second straight year, ex-Ole Miss standout Zack Cozart saw a strong season curtailed by physical woes. Cozart, Cincinnati’s shortstop, missed the last 3 1/2 months of 2015 after a knee injury that required surgery, then went down again this year in early September because of recurring pain in that knee. Cozart, who last played on Sept. 10, hit .252 with 16 home runs and 50 RBIs in 120 games. He played only 53 games last year, batting .258 with nine homers. He looked better than ever this April, hitting .361 at month’s end, and was at .303 on June 8 before starting to fade. He had 15 homers on July 18, one thereafter. Cozart, eligible for arbitration again this year, was the subject of trade rumors before and during the season. He might have played his final game for the Reds. … Aaron Barrett, another Ole Miss product, also had a rough year. Barrett, a Washington Nationals reliever, had Tommy John surgery last September and was making progress toward a possible return in late July when he suffered a fractured elbow. “It was traumatizing. It was like someone hit me in the gut, like, a million times,” Barrett told mlb.com in August. “But … I have a bionic arm now, and I’m literally going to come back stronger than ever.” … Former Itawamba Community College star Desmond Jennings battled injuries – again – in 2016 with Tampa Bay and wound up being released on Aug. 26. The toolsy Jennings was batting .200 with seven homers. A Tampa Tribune writer called Jennings’ potential “fool’s gold.” He remains unsigned, as does Jonathan Papelbon, who was released, per mutual agreement, by Washington on Aug. 13. Mississippi State product Papelbon had a 4.37 ERA at the time and had lost his closer’s job after a series of shaky outings. P.S. Jackson’s Seth Smith went 0-for-2 with a run in a wild and crazy game in Seattle on Saturday that the Mariners lost to Oakland 9-8 in 10 innings. The defeat eliminated Seattle from postseason contention, extending their drought to 15 years.
The Washington Nationals have rid themselves of the mercurial Jonathan Papelbon, giving the ex-Mississippi State star his unconditional release on Saturday. Saturday also happened to be National Baseball Card Day. So, of course, when you rip open a pack of 2016 Topps Series 1 to celebrate this special day, you get a … Jonathan Papelbon. Then you open a 2016 Bowman pack and you get a … Mark Melancon, the ex-Pittsburgh closer who displaced Papelbon in Washington. Is that ironic or coincidental or a little bit of both? Also pulled from the same 36-card pack that included the Papelbon: Mitch Moreland, Seth Smith, Chris Coghlan, Kendall Graveman, Jeff Francoeur and Blaine Boyer, local connections all. In a pack of Topps Series 2, there’s a Martin Prado and Luis Avilan and a 100 Years of Wrigley Field commemorative card featuring Rafael Palmeiro’s big league debut (Sept. 8, 1986). In the afore-mentioned Bowman pack, there’s a JaCoby Jones, the former Richton High star now in Triple-A in Detroit’s system. Scattered throughout these packs are other cards of note. A Corey Seager rookie here, a Kyle Seager there. A Jose Bautista bat flip card here, a Rougned Odor there. Current stars such as Madison Bumgarner, Anthony Rizzo, Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Duvall, and future stars (maybe) like Gary Sanchez, A.J. Reed, Brendan Rodgers and Phil Bickford. (Alas, no Dansby Swanson or Ozzie Albies.) Among the so-called inserts, there was a Manny Machado, Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki and a reprint of a 1991 Frank Thomas (very cool card). All in all, quite a haul. P.S. So what does Papelbon do next? He wants to keep playing, for sure, and among the teams that are rumored to be interested is the Boston Red Sox, his original club. Do they dare go there?
Three hits, a walk, three runs, four steals and a great catch in center field. That’s the kind of production the Cincinnati Reds would like to see from Billy Hamilton on a more regular basis. “It’s a completely different dynamic,” Reds manager Bryan Price told mlb.com after Sunday’s 7-3 win against Pittsburgh. “He just has a special talent … .” The Taylorsville High alum is batting .255 (.305 on-base percentage) with 52 runs and an MLB-leading 43 stolen bases in 95 games. He is a .245 career hitter (.292 OBP) since his 2013 debut with the Reds. … Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier rapped out two hits Sunday to extend his streak to 16 games. He is batting .366 during that stretch and is up to .264 for the season for Minnesota. … Cameras caught Mississippi State alum Jonathan Papelbon kicked back and catching some rays (possibly napping) in the Washington Nationals’ bullpen on Sunday – during the eighth inning of a 1-0 game against San Francisco. The displaced closer watched in the ninth as Mark Melancon nailed down his first save for the Nats. Papelbon has made just two appearances since July 28, allowing a run (on a home run) in 2 1/3 innings. … Ole Miss product David Goforth allowed five runs in three innings in three appearances during his week back up with Milwaukee. His ERA ballooned to 10.97, and he was optioned out to Triple-A Colorado Springs today. … Madison Younginer, who had 14 saves with the Mississippi Braves this season, made his MLB debut with Atlanta on Sunday, allowing two runs in 2/3 of an inning against St. Louis.
The Texas Rangers look to Mitch Moreland for power. With Prince Fielder done for the year, perhaps now more than ever. Ex-Mississippi State standout Moreland delivered two solo home runs on Thursday night, powering the Rangers to a 3-2 win against Kansas City. “I know that’s what I’m looked upon as … hit the ball in the gap or drive it out of the ballpark,” Moreland told mlb.com, while humbly deflecting praise toward winning pitcher Cole Hamels. Texas, which once had a big lead in the American League West, is up 3 games on second-place Houston. Moreland enjoyed his best season in 2015 (.278, 23 homers, 85 RBIs) but has had his struggles this year. He is hitting just .237 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs. But there are indications he has found a groove. In his last 38 at-bats, the lefty-hitting Amory native is batting .289 with five homers. Both of his homers on Thursday were to the opposite field at Globe Life Park, an approach that Rangers manager Jeff Banister made note of. “When he’s locked in like that it’s a huge plus for our offense,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. … Washington manager Dusty Baker went back to Jonathan Papelbon (see previous post) in a save situation on Thursday. The former State star lasted three batters. The struggling Papelbon, handed a three-run lead against San Francisco, got an out but then yielded a hit and a walk. Two other relievers closed out the Nationals’ 4-2 win. Papelbon was charged with a run that moved his ERA to 4.41.