Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe hit his 26th home run of the season for San Diego on Sunday, the last day of the MLB regular season. That’s an impressive total to be sure. But it’s not the record for homers in a rookie season by a Mississippi native. That belongs to Luke Easter, who hit 28 for Cleveland in 1950 – at the age of 35. Easter, a Jonestown native, was the first black Mississippian to play in the majors, breaking in late in 1949. Greenville native George Scott hit 27 “taters” as a rookie for Boston in 1966. Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks, Mississippi’s all-time home run leader with 352, hit 20 for the Red Sox in 1987, his first year. Worth noting: Renfroe hit four homers in 11 games at the end of the 2016 season but was still classified as a rookie this year. Calhoun native Dave Parker, who launched 339 career bombs, hit just four as a rookie in 54 games for Pittsburgh in 1973. McComb native Corey Dickerson hit 24 homers in 2014, his first full season with Colorado, but he no longer had rookie status. Gulfport’s Bill Melton cracked 23 in 1969 as a first-year regular for the Chicago White Sox, but he had exceeded rookie standards in 1968. … Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High star, finished the season with 59 stolen bases, one shy of MLB leader Dee Gordon. Hamilton’s last attempt at a 60th bag on Sunday was foiled when the lead runner in a double steal was thrown out in Cincinnati’s win over the Chicago Cubs. Hamilton, with 243 career steals, is the all-time leader among Mississippi natives. … Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart went 0-for-3 to finish at .297 in what was probably his final game with the Reds. Cozart is among a sizable group of Mississippi-connected players headed for free agency, including Lance Lynn, Seth Smith, Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Dyson and Tyler Moore.
It was, to use Hunter Renfroe’s own word, “humbling” to be sent back to the minor leagues after almost five months as a big league regular with San Diego. “You either grow from it or you fail from it,” the ex-Mississippi State standout told The Associated Press. The 25-year-old rookie returned to the Padres with some vigor on Monday, hitting a three-run homer in his first at-bat that propelled the team to a 4-2 win over Arizona. Renfroe went down to Triple-A El Paso on Aug. 18 and hit .509 with four home runs in 14 games, then helped the club reach Game 5 of the Pacific Coast League Championship Series. Monday’s homer was Renfroe’s 21st for the Padres. He also struck out for the 126th time; he has just 26 walks. How Renfroe handles the last two weeks of the season will be closely scrutinized. P.S. Brent Suter threw five shutout innings and fellow former Biloxi Shuckers star Brett Phillips threw out a runner from center field to end the game as Milwaukee kept its playoff drive alive with a 3-0 win at Pittsburgh.
Crackle … buzzzz … crackle … We interrupt coverage of the heated major league races to take you to Memphis’ AutoZone Park, where, tonight, the Memphis Redbirds and El Paso Chihuahuas will open the best-of-5 Pacific Coast League Championship Series. Mississippians could play prominent roles. Dakota Hudson, former Mississippi State star, will start Game 1 for the Redbirds, a St. Louis affiliate, and he’ll likely face another ex-Bulldogs standout, Hunter Renfroe, an outfielder for the Chihuahuas, a San Diego farm club. Hudson was the Double-A Texas League pitcher of the year but scuffled a bit in Triple-A, going 1-1 with a 4.42 ERA in seven starts. He delivered a strong start in winning Game 1 of the PCL semifinals, yielding one run in six innings. Ole Miss product Mike Mayers works out of the Memphis bullpen. He had a 3.28 ERA in 31 games and made three scoreless appearances in the semifinal series. Renfroe, sent down by the Padres last month, hit .509 with four homers in 14 games in his return to El Paso, which he led to the PCL pennant in 2016. He had a homer and three RBIs in the Chihuahuas’ semifinal series sweep of Fresno. Renfroe should have some fond memories of AutoZone Park; he made his Triple-A debut there last summer and hit a home run, one of the 105 he has blasted in his five pro seasons.
He’d surely much rather be in the big leagues, but Hunter Renfroe is doing something now that he wouldn’t be doing in San Diego: Chasing a championship. The ex-Mississippi State star, demoted by the Padres last month, has helped Triple-A El Paso reach the Pacific Coast League finals. He drove in the go-ahead run on Friday night as the Chihuahuas beat Reno 7-6 to complete a three-game sweep in the semifinals. In 14 regular season games for El Paso, Renfroe batted an eye-popping .509 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 18 runs. He went 3-for-12 with a homer and three RBIs in the Reno series. “Hunter came down here with a smile on his face, ready to play some baseball,” El Paso manager Rod Barajas told milb.com. Renfroe was hitting .230 with 20 homers for the Padres when he was sent down, ostensibly to work on making more contact. El Paso awaits the winner of the other PCL semifinal between Memphis and Colorado Springs. Former Ole Miss standout David Goforth pitches for Colorado Springs, a Milwaukee affiliate, and worked in Friday’s game, a 16-15 win that put the Sky Sox up 2-1 in the series. MSU product Dakota Hudson, one of St. Louis’ top prospects, got the win for the Redbirds on Wednesday night, allowing one earned run in six innings. P.S. In his first MLB appearance since July 31, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum Tony Sipp pitched a clean inning for Houston in its 9-8 loss to Oakland. Veteran left-hander Sipp, having a difficult year, has a 6.27 ERA. … Ex-Northwest Mississippi CC star Cody Reed made his first big league appearance since May 3, pitching an inning (one unearned run) for Cincinnati in a loss to the New York Mets.
It’s showtime for JaCoby Jones, the ex-Richton High star now playing center field for the Detroit Tigers. Jones took a star turn on Tuesday in a 13-2 win over Kansas City, smacking a pair of home runs and driving in three runs all told. The Tigers want to see more of that from the 25-year-old rookie over the next few weeks. It has been a rocky year for Jones, who has been up and down from Detroit to the minors several times after winning the center field job in spring training. Now getting regular playing time again for an also-ran club, he has eight hits in his last 31 at-bats, a modest .258 average but a jump from his season clip of .183. The homers on Tuesday were his first since his only other big league bomb in April. He has 10 RBIs. He also has 38 strikeouts in 82 ABs. A converted infielder, Jones is an athletic center fielder at 6 feet 2, 205 pounds with speed and power. This is only his fifth year of pro ball, but he is 25. If he’s going to be an impact player, the time is at hand. P.S. Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe of Crystal Springs is San Diego’s nominee for the 2017 Roberto Clemente Award. The award goes to the major leaguer who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Renfroe, who was the Padres’ opening day right fielder, is currently back in the minors. … Ex-Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle has been given a four-year extension (through 2021) as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hurdle, who won the National League Manager of the Year award in 2013, has been with the Pirates since 2011.
Virtually every game played in the American League these days is meaningful, with implications in the division races, the wild card race and/or the best record races. Key situations are magnified, clutch performers identified. Mississippians stepping up on Wednesday included two of the usual suspects: Mitch Moreland and Brian Dozier. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Amory, hit a go-ahead pinch home run in the seventh inning for Boston, propelling the AL East leader to a 7-1 win at Toronto. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning, and now has 18 homers and 63 RBIs on the year. He is hitting .346 over his last 27 games and .257 on the year. “He’s in a good place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told The Associated Press. Dozier, the former Southern Miss star from Fulton, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and a run in Minnesota’s 11-1 romp past the Chicago White Sox. The Twins moved within a game of AL wild card leader New York (and 7 back of Cleveland in the Central). Dozier, batting .263, has 74 RBIs and 75 runs; that’s 149 runs accounted for in 124 games. He also has 26 homers and 14 steals. He’s in a pretty good place, too. Meanwhile, State alum Kendall Graveman, starting for an Oakland team reduced to a spoiler role, got rocked by the Los Angeles Angels, who are third in the wild card scramble. Graveman yielded three homers and five runs all told over five innings in a 10-8 loss. He got a no-decision but saw his ERA rise to 4.54. P.S. In a Pacific Coast League game that mattered (certainly to him), Hunter Renfroe blasted his third homer in nine games for El Paso. The ex-State star has 12 RBIs and a .526 average since San Diego sent him down to Triple-A.
Time to play three stars again, a minor league version.
Austin Riley: The former DeSoto Central High standout is crushing it for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He had two hits on Thursday at Chattanooga, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and raising his average to .305 in 37 games. He is batting .457 during his streak. The 20-year-old third base prospect has six homers and 20 RBIs for the M-Braves and 18 homers on the season. He has 50 career home runs in three pro seasons. Riley still needs to polish up his defense, but his star is definitely rising.
Brent Rooker: The Mississippi State product, drafted 35th overall by Minnesota in June, went 2-for-4 with his ninth home run in 35 games for Class A Fort Myers. Rooker is now batting .274 at the high-A level after hitting .282 with seven bombs in 22 games in rookie ball. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder should make Double-A next year.
Hunter Renfroe: The MSU and Copiah Academy alum went 3-for-4 and is now 7-for-12 in three games at Triple-A El Paso since his demotion by San Diego. Renfroe, who had 20 homers for the Padres, hasn’t gone yard for the Chihuahuas yet but has three doubles, a triple and five runs. Surely the woeful Padres will bring him back in September.