With its recent trade for ex-Ole Miss star Bobby Wahl, Milwaukee has added an intriguing piece to what was one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2018. Wahl, 26, was one of three players the Brewers obtained from the New York Mets for Keon Broxton. Wahl was a fifth-round pick by Oakland back in 2013 whose advancement has been stalled by injuries. The right-hander, who once threw 100 mph, has worked just 13 innings (6.92 ERA) in the big leagues the last two seasons. He had a good 2018 campaign in the minors – making the Pacific Coast League All-Star Game before the A’s sent him to New York – and he’ll go to spring camp with the Brewers bidding for a job with a club that went to the NLCS last fall. “(W)e certainly anticipate he’s a person who will contribute for us at the major league level this year,” Milwaukee GM David Stearns told mlb.com. A writer from brewcrewball.com recently offered this assessment: “Wahl’s pure ‘stuff’ screams dominant relief ace, but his middling command … may cause the kind of frustrating inconsistency that holds him back from locking down a late-inning relief role.” Wahl aims to join a Milwaukee staff that includes ex-Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff and several Biloxi Shuckers alumni.
Brian Dozier, who seemingly would be a nice catch for some team, hasn’t generated a lot of buzz on the free agent market. The second baseman out of Southern Miss has had talks with the Washington Nationals and may also be on Milwaukee’s radar, per various reports, but otherwise there has been little news or even rumor. Dozier, 31, has both an All-Star Game appearance and a Gold Glove on his resume. Though just a .246 career hitter, he has 172 homers and 102 steals over his six-plus seasons in the big leagues. He made $9 million last year when he played for Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. A knee problem may have been a factor in a late-season slump that carried into the postseason. … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz and Pascagoula native Tony Sipp are also unsigned major league free agents. UM’s Lance Lynn (Texas), Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton (Kansas City) and former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman (Chicago Cubs) have found homes for 2019, though Graveman isn’t likely to have an impact until 2020. The right-hander will make $575,000 this year while he rehabs from Tommy John surgery; an escalator clause will boost it to $2 million if he makes the big leagues in 2019. The team holds a $3M option for 2020. Graveman is 23-29, 4.38 ERA for his MLB career, spent mostly with Oakland. He was 1-5, 7.60 in 2018 before ultimately being shut down for the surgery. Interestingly enough, his one win last season came against the New York Yankees. It was his final big league start of 2018, on May 11 at Yankee Stadium, and he yielded just one earned run on three hits over six innings. … Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State standout and current San Diego outfielder, continues to see his name pop up in trade rumors. Renfroe, who’ll be 27 this month, started slowly in 2018 and also endured an injury but rebounded to hit .248 with 26 home runs and 68 RBIs over 117 games. He belted 18 homers and drove in 41 runs over the last two months. He’s not likely to ever be a high-average hitter – though he did hit .300 in Triple-A in 2016 — but he does have serious pop.
Seven state schools, including the Big 3 NCAA Division I schools, are ranked in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s preseason polls, which came out this week. There might be a tendency to take such news for granted – aren’t there a bunch of Mississippi schools ranked every year? – but we really should not do that. Let’s put this in perspective. Mississippi ranks among the least populous states – 34th in 2018, according to World Atlas – and is smaller, population-wise, than any other Deep South state. It produces good players: 16 Mississippi high school products appeared in big league games in 2018. Per capita, that figure is among the best in the nation. But there isn’t a large volume of talent. And there are 30 senior and junior colleges playing baseball in the state. College coaches here can’t just roll out the balls and bats and win games. Over the years, they’ve mined and refined the state’s talent to build winning programs and grow tremendous fan support. They’ve developed tradition and created brands that are attractive to out-of-state talent. Twenty-two state college alumni, including 11 who played high school ball in other states, appeared in big league games in 2018. Each of the state’s Big 3 had a player in the World Series this year: Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State) and Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss) with Boston and Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s pretty impressive stuff for what Willie Morris used to call “poor old whupped-down Mis’ippi.” So when these polls come out, sprinkled with Mississippi schools, don’t just shrug. Smile and be proud. … Collegiate Baseball pegged Ole Miss, SEC Tournament champ in 2018, at No. 11 in NCAA Division I. Mississippi State, which went to the College World Series last summer, is No. 27 and Southern Miss, 2018 C-USA champion, is No. 30. Delta State, coming off yet another NCAA regional appearance, is No. 10 in Division II, while Mississippi College, the Gulf South Conference Tournament champ in 2018, got votes in the D-II poll. Meridian Community College, runner-up in the Region 23 Tournament last season, is No. 9 in the NJCAA D-II poll, with defending state champion Pearl River checking in at 13th and Jones County 15th. … MSU’s Jake Mangum and USM’s Matt Wallner made CB’s first-team All-America list, while UM’s Parker Caracci and Ryan Olenek were second- and third-team picks.
And now for something completely different: After 17 years in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system, Tim Dillard has been signed by Texas. The minor league deal with the Rangers includes a spring training invite for the former Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College star, now 35. Right-hander Dillard had a 9.70 ERA in 25 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2018 but has a 4.07 career minor league ERA. He also has 73 MLB appearances on his resume, the last in 2012. Dillard has become something of a social media star (see previous posts) in recent years. … In the span of a few minutes last week, ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis went from being the property of the St. Louis Cardinals to the Texas Rangers to the Kansas City Royals. He was picked in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft by the Rangers out of the Cardinals’ system, then traded to the Royals. If he doesn’t make the Royals’ big league roster in the spring, he’ll likely return to the Cardinals, for whom he pitched very well at Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Ellis, originally drafted out of Oxford by the Los Angeles Angels, also has pitched in Atlanta’s system. … Former Ole Miss and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee was picked up by the New York Mets from Miami’s system in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Lee, an outfielder, got into a handful of big league games with the Marlins last April but spent the rest of the season in the minors before being removed from the 40-man roster in November. … PRCC product Zach Clark, a 2016 draftee by Milwaukee, is playing in the Australian Baseball League, hitting .216 in 15 games for Auckland. Clark hit .246 with eight homers and 19 steals for Wisconsin in the Class A Midwest League this past season. … Ole Miss product Dallas Woolfolk, a 13th-round pick by Oakland in June, was suspended for 50 games next season after testing positive for Amphetamine, MLB announced on Friday. Woolfolk had a 7.31 ERA in 11 appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League this summer.
Lance Lynn did not have strong numbers in 2018, but his reputation as a workhorse may have been more important to Texas, which reportedly has signed the ex-Ole Miss star to a 3-year, $30 million contract. Lynn, 31, a former first-round pick by St. Louis, signed as a free agent with Minnesota last year and was acquired by the New York Yankees in a July trade. He did not have a big impact with either club. For the season, he was 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA, far off his career results (82-57, 3.57). The Rangers are looking to fortify a thin rotation. Lynn, who missed the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery, has worked at least 156 innings in each of his six full MLB seasons and twice topped 200. Lynn joins Billy Hamilton (Kansas City) and Louis Coleman (minor league deal with Detroit) as Mississippi-connected free agents who have signed for 2019. Brian Dozier, Drew Pomeranz, Tony Sipp and Kendall Graveman are still looking. Mississippi State product Graveman’s situation is complicated by the fact that he’ll miss much of 2019 after Tommy John surgery. P.S. The Rangers took another former UM pitcher, Chris Ellis (see previous post), in the major league phase of today’s Rule 5 draft. Ellis, who was in the St. Louis system, will try to earn a spot on Texas’ 25-man roster in spring training.
Ole Miss product Chris Ellis, coming off a good 2018 minor league campaign, is getting some off-season work in the Dominican Winter League. The right-hander threw seven shutout innings to get a win on Wednesday and has yet to allow an earned run in three starts (17 2/3 innings) for Escogido. Ellis went 10-4, 3.93 at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the St. Louis system in 2018. This was the fifth year in pro ball for Ellis, 26, a former third-round draftee (by the Los Angeles Angels) who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2016. … Louis Coleman, the former Pillow Academy star from Greenwood, and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque have re-signed with Detroit on minor league deals. Veteran big leaguer Coleman, a right-handed reliever, had a 3.51 ERA in 51 games with the Tigers last season. Scivicque, a catcher, played in Triple-A in 2018. … Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner, both outfielders, made mlb.com’s latest list of the top 50 2019 draft prospects. Ealy, a two-sport star and Ole Miss commit, is ranked No. 18, while Wallner, who has 35 homers in his two seasons in Hattiesburg, is No. 26. Ealy’s skill set is compared to that of Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma quarterback who has signed to play pro baseball with Oakland. … Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Stovall didn’t impress just with his bat during his pro debut this summer. He also played five different positions at rookie-level Grand Junction in the Colorado system, and he may add a sixth to his resume in 2019. Stovall, a catcher in high school before shifting to the infield at State, brushed up on his catching skills in Instructional League this fall. “He’s got a chance to be a true super-utility (player),” Rockies farm director Zach Wilson told Baseball America. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound Stovall, a 21st-round pick last June, homered in his first two at-bats for Grand Junction and wound up at .296 with 10 bombs and 41 RBIs in 49 games. He played primarily second base. … Charlie Hayes, the Hattiesburg native and ex-Forrest County AHS star, was a good big league third baseman for a long time. He batted .262 with 144 homers over 14 seasons and won a World Series ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. That’s a tough act for son Ke’Bryan to follow – but there are those who think he’s up to the task. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2015, was the organization’s minor league player of the year in 2018. He batted .293 with seven homers, seven triples, 31 doubles and 12 stolen bases in the Double-A Eastern League. He also won a Gold Glove and played in the All-Star Futures Game. “I think we’re looking at him long term to be the anchor in our infield and our lineup in Pittsburgh at some point,” farm director Larry Broadway told milb.com. That point could come in 2019.
The Josh Donaldson signing adds a potentially potent bat to the middle of Atlanta’s lineup and is a clear sign the Braves are eyeing more than just a division title in 2019. The move also could be seen as a signal that the Braves don’t think Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, is quite ready for everyday duty at third base. Riley spent the latter half of 2018 at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he batted .282 (.346 on-base percentage) with 12 home runs in 75 games. He has 71 bombs in four pro seasons. His defense reportedly is big league-caliber. But there’s no need to rush him. Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) is only 21 — he’ll be 22 in April – and isn’t yet on the 40-man roster. Riley struck out 95 times and walked 26 over 291 at-bats at Gwinnett, so there’s still room for improvement. It’s possible that if Donaldson struggles, as he did in an injury-plagued 2018, Riley could get a midseason call-up. Though he’s never played anywhere but third base, the Braves also could try Riley in left field at Gwinnett as a way of finding him a spot. Regardless, his time will come. Mississippi baseball aficionados will just have to wait a bit. P.S. Ole Miss alum Braxton Lee cleared waivers and was outrighted to Double-A Jacksonville by Miami. Lee, a speedy outfielder, hit .176 in eight big league games last season and .233 in the minors.
Undrafted out of Ole Miss, where he was a solid if unspectacular pitcher for three years, Jacob Waguespack now finds himself on a major league 40-man roster. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander was added to Toronto’s protected roster on Tuesday and will go to the team’s big league camp for spring training. He might even contend for a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Waguespack, who signed with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2015, was traded to Toronto last summer for Aaron Loup. His numbers at Triple-A Buffalo weren’t great — 2-4, 5.03 ERA — but the Jays apparently are impressed with his stuff. Over his four years in pro ball, during which he has worked as both a reliever and starter, Waguespack is 19-20 with a 3.84 ERA. He put up a 3.44 ERA in 40 games over three years in Oxford. … In other recent roster moves, former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley was added to Cleveland’s 40-man and ex-George County standout Justin Steele made the Chicago Cubs’ protected roster. Braxton Lee, a Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss alum from Picayune, was removed from Miami’s 40-man and designated for assignment. He had a roller-coaster 2018 campaign that started in the big leagues.
Having left his original MLB organization in 2017, David Goforth got a second chance with Washington last season. The former Ole Miss star from Meridian is now looking for a third shot. Goforth, who spent all of the past season in Triple-A, became a minor league free agent earlier this month while playing winter ball. The 30-year-old right-hander went 2-2 with a 2.40 ERA and a save in 14 games for Culiacan in the Mexican Pacific League; he is currently on the team’s reserve list. Goforth spent seven years in the Milwaukee system – he was a seventh-round pick out of UM in 2011 – and appeared in 31 big league games (with a 3.91 ERA) over three different seasons. He was designated for assignment by the Brewers in April of 2017 and was sent to the minors for the rest of that season. He signed with Washington as a free agent last fall. P.S. Also on the minor league market is former Rebels star and erstwhile big leaguer Chris Coghlan, who spent most of 2018 in Triple-A with the Chicago Cubs. Coghlan, 33, last played in the majors in 2017 with Toronto. … Another ex-UM standout, J.B. Woodman, is also a free agent, having been released out of A-ball by St. Louis in August. Woodman was a second-round pick by Toronto in 2016 and was traded last year for major league infielder Aledmys Diaz.
’Tis the season for speculation on MLB player movement, and there is plenty of it out there. Lance Lynn, the ex-Ole Miss standout, did not make Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 50 free agents last month but is rated as one of the next best six in a piece posted today. The right-hander, 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA for Minnesota and the New York Yankees in 2018, is projected as a good fit for Philadelphia. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier was rated No. 28 by SI and projected as a nice fit in Cleveland, while Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum Tony Sipp ranked No. 46 and was targeted for the Chicago Cubs. … Ex-UM star Drew Pomeranz, also a free agent after winning a ring with Boston, might be on San Diego’s radar. The big lefty was an All-Star for the Padres in 2016 before being traded to the Red Sox. … Trade rumors again are mentioning Hunter Renfroe and Billy Hamilton. Former Mississippi State standout Renfroe mashed 26 homers last season for the Padres, who have a surplus of outfielders. “Renfroe would help fetch a nice return,” mlb.com’s AJ Cassavell wrote. “But he’s not an overwhelming favorite to be traded.” Taylorsville native Hamilton, a standout center fielder who hit just .236 with a career-low 34 steals for Cincinnati, will be a free agent after the 2019 season. … It’ll be interesting to see what Toronto’s plans are for Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal. He scuffled in Triple-A (.240) and barely played after a late September call-up. And the Blue Jays appear set in the outfield. … Seemingly entrenched in Pittsburgh is ex-State star Adam Frazier, who is projected as the Pirates’ regular second baseman or an everyday-playing utility man. Considered a natural leadoff hitter, Frazier batted .277 with 10 homers last season. “It seems like the more he plays, the better he gets,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said in September.