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.
The Los Angeles Angels left the Winter Meetings having added an impact hitter, Anthony Rendon, but failing to address what most pundits say is a bigger need: pitchers. But don’t forget what the Angels did earlier this off-season to impact their pitching: They hired Mickey Callaway as pitching coach on new manager Joe Maddon’s staff. Former Ole Miss star Callaway’s two-year stint as manager of the New York Mets was a little rocky, but he did some outstanding work as the pitching coach in Cleveland from 2013-17. The Indians ranked among the American League leaders in ERA and strikeouts while Callaway was there and made it to the World Series in 2016. He can be a difference-maker for an Angels staff that ranked 12th in AL ERA in 2019. The Angels, linked to several free agent pitchers, also may be seeking some new arms via trade and reportedly have checked on the availability of Indians Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, both of whom Callaway worked with in Cleveland. P.S. Congratulations to Jackson native Stan Cliburn, who was rehired as manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the independent Atlantic League. It’ll be the 29th season as a pro manager for the one-time big league catcher, who has more than 2,000 wins.
After two injury-wracked seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart will get a fresh start next spring with San Francisco. It’s unclear exactly how healthy Cozart is after two shoulder surgeries or how the third baseman/shortstop fits into the Giants’ infield plans. The Angels, reportedly looking to clear salary, traded Cozart, slated to make about $13 million in 2020, and a highly regarded prospect (shortstop Will Wilson) to the Giants, who currently have Evan Longoria at third and Brandon Crawford at short. Former Biloxi Shuckers star Mauricio Dubon is also in the infield mix there. Cozart, 34, was an All-Star in Cincinnati in 2017, when he batted .297 with 24 homers. He signed a three-year, $38 million free agent deal with the Angels prior to the 2018 season but has played just 96 games in two years, hitting .190 with five homers. … Cozart is the fifth Mississippian in the majors to land with a new team this off-season: UM alum Mike Mayers was a waiver claim by the Angels, Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman signed with Seattle, ex-Rebels standout Drew Pomeranz signed with San Diego and State alum Hunter Renfroe went to Tampa Bay in a trade.
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.
Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, celebrates his 31st birthday today. Soon, he’ll be celebrating a sweet free-agent contract. Coming off a bounce-back finish to his 2019 season, left-hander Pomeranz is considered one of the top relief pitchers currently on the market. As a starter in San Francisco last season, Pomeranz was mostly awful. The Giants moved him to the bullpen, where something clicked. Milwaukee traded for him, and Pomeranz became one of the key pieces in the Brewers’ drive to the postseason. In 26 1/3 innings down the stretch, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and, suddenly throwing much harder, fanned 45 batters. He made $1.5 million last year on a free agent deal he signed with the Giants after a bad 2018 season in Boston, where he made $8M in the final year of his three with the Red Sox. … Pomeranz leads a long list of Mississippians on the free agent market: Corey Dickerson, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Kendall Graveman, Tony Sipp … . Petal High product Demarcus Evans (see previous post) was placed on Texas’ 40-man roster this week, and the big right-hander reportedly will compete for a big league bullpen job in the spring. … The Atlanta Braves have added outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer – all Mississippi Braves alumni – to their 40-man roster. (Outfielder Drew Waters, the Southern League MVP with the M-Braves last season, does not yet have to be protected on the 40-man.) … The Detroit Tigers re-signed former Southwest Mississippi Community College (and M-Braves) catcher Kade Scivicque to a minor league deal. He played at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2019. … In case you missed it, Hattiesburg-based Rodney Richardson of RARE Design handled the rebranding of the Brewers’ logo and uniforms for 2020, when the club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its move to Milwaukee. Richardson told mlb.com at Monday’s unveiling: “We want them to love it because we’ve fallen in love with their story, with their team, with what’s happening here. It’s not following any design trends or anything like that. It’s about representing this team and this place and their love for this game. We want to see that resonate.”
Following up on a fairly dominant 2019 season in Texas’ system, Demarcus Evans has posted seven scoreless outings in nine appearances in the Dominican Winter League. The big right-hander out of Petal High has a 2.60 ERA with nine strikeouts and seven walks in 10 innings for Escogido. In his fifth pro season, the 23-year-old Evans started 2019 in high Class A and finished it with Double-A Frisco, where he had an 0.96 ERA, six saves and 60 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings. He was, according to Baseball America, the only minor league pitcher to record triple-digit strikeouts in 60 or fewer innings. BA named Evans as the relief pitcher on its all-classification Minor League All-Star team, and he also made MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Year. Oddly enough, Evans, who became a fulltime reliever in 2017, is not currently among the Rangers’ Top 30 in MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings. He has a career 2.53 ERA and has averaged 13.7 punchouts per nine innings. … Ole Miss alum Chris Ellis has been extremely effective out of the bullpen for Monterrey in the Mexican Pacific League. He has a 0.50 ERA in 18 one-inning appearances. Ellis, 27, made one MLB appearance (for Kansas City) last season and spent the rest of the year with Triple-A Memphis in St. Louis’ system.
Lance Lynn might have been an under-the-radar free agent signee by Texas last off-season, but his performance in 2019 did not go unnoticed. Former Ole Miss standout Lynn, a 16-game winner for the Rangers, finished fifth in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award won Wednesday night by Houston’s Justin Verlander. Coming off a rough 2018 campaign split between Minnesota and the New York Yankees, Lynn signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Rangers and quickly emerged as the staff ace. In 33 starts, the 32-year-old right-hander went 16-11 with a 3.67 ERA and worked 208 1/3 innings, striking out 246 batters, fourth-most in the AL. His most memorable moment might have come in the Rangers’ final game ever at Globe Life Park on Sept. 29. Lynn went 7 1/3 for the win, holding the Yankees to two hits and punching out 10. (An aside: In the first game at that Arlington stadium in 1994, Mississippi State product Will Clark hit the first Rangers home run.) … Three former Mississippi Braves hurlers got Cy Young votes: Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, one of the three AL finalists, finished third and Lynn’s Texas teammate Mike Minor eighth in the AL voting, while Atlanta’s Mike Soroka was sixth in the National League tally.
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.
After a rough season in Triple-A, Chris Ellis is trying to iron some things out in the Mexican Pacific League. The former Ole Miss (and Mississippi Braves) right-hander has made two appearances for Monterrey, yielding a run on two hits in two innings. Ellis made his big league debut in March with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick but was promptly returned to the St. Louis organization and spent the season at Triple-A Memphis. He was 5-5 with a 7.18 ERA. … Also playing winter ball are Mississippi State product Jacob Robson and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque, both Detroit farmhands. Robson, who batted .267 with nine homers and 25 steals at Triple-A Toledo, is off to a 3-for-9 start with a homer for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. Scivicque, a onetime M-Braves catcher, is 2-for-7 in two games for Gigantes del Cibao of the DWL. He hit .295 with nine homers this year between Triple-A and Double-A. P.S. Neither of the Mississippi college products on the National League Championship Series teams has had an impact heading into Game 3 tonight in Washington. Former Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier played two innings at second base for the Nationals as part of a double-switch in Game 2. He didn’t bat. Ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson is slated to start Game 4 for St. Louis on Tuesday; he did not work in the first two games.