For Mitch Moreland, it was a milestone home run. For his Boston team, it was a lot more than that. Moreland, the former Mississippi State standout from Amory, blasted his 150th career homer on Sunday, a seventh-inning shot that lifted the Red Sox to a 1-0 win at Arizona in the finale of a brutal road trip. The defending world champs went 3-8 against Seattle, Oakland and the Diamondbacks. Their home opener is Tuesday vs. Toronto. “It’s going to be nice to get back home and get in front of our fans and get rolling,” Moreland told mlb.com. Unlike so many of his teammates, Moreland is off to a good start. He is batting .258 with club-leading numbers of three homers, nine RBIs and a .645 slugging percentage. Now in his 10th MLB campaign and third with Boston, Moreland made his first All-Star Game last year in addition to winning his first ring. He has 40 homers for Boston – plus one in last year’s World Series – plays a Gold Glove-caliber first base and has become a key part of an elite team. Moreland hit his first big league homer for Texas on Aug. 13, 2010, against Boston’s Josh Beckett. His 150 total puts him ninth on the career list of Mississippi natives; Bill Melton and Frank White are tied for seventh at 160.
It’s gotta be a big thrill for a minor league player just to get called over to big league camp for the first time for an exhibition game. Then imagine getting a start at first base, then a hit in your first at-bat and then a home run in your third. Tyreque Reed lived that on Sunday in Arizona. The former Itawamba Community College slugger from Houlka, an eighth-round pick by Texas in 2017, surely left an impression on the Rangers’ brass. All three of the 21-year-old’s ABs came against Kansas City big leaguer Jakob Junis. The seventh-inning homer put the Rangers ahead in a game that would end in a 3-3 tie. Reed’s bat is legit. He gained a measure of fame when he led the nation’s Division II jucos in batting with an eye-popping .504 average in 2017. He also launched 15 bombs in 47 games for ICC that year. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound right-handed hitter hit .350 with five homers in 35 games in rookie ball in 2017 and followed that by batting .267 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs at Class A Hickory in 2018. His development should be fun to watch.
Greg Hibbard, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout, is still out there plying his craft as a pitching coach — 25 years after he last pitched in the big leagues. Hibbard is set to begin his second year with Texas’ Double-A Frisco team (which is managed by former Jackson Generals star Joe Mikulik). Hibbard coached in Cleveland’s system for 13 seasons and is now in his fourth year with the Rangers. The left-hander was a pretty good big league pitcher for a fairly short period, posting a 57-50 record with a 4.05 ERA across parts of six seasons. He played at Harrison Central High before Gulf Coast CC and then went to Alabama. Drafted by Kansas City, he broke in with the Chicago White Sox and won 14 games in 1991. The next year, he was taken by Florida in the expansion draft and then traded to the Cubs. He won 15 games for them in 1993 and parlayed that success into a three-year deal with Seattle. But shoulder problems limited Hibbard to 15 games for the ’94 Mariners and ultimately ended his career. He pitched for the final time in June of that year at age 29.
Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, has agreed to a 1-year, $9 million deal with the Washington Nationals, published reports say. Dozier, 31, batted .215 with 21 homers and 72 RBIs last season, which the second baseman split between Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The former All-Star looks like a good fit in a Nationals lineup that includes – at the moment – Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman and on a team that likely will contend in the strong National League East. P.S. Petal High product DeMarcus Evans was named Texas’ minor league reliever of the year and will be honored at the Dr Pepper Texas Rangers Winter Warmup on Jan. 25 in Arlington, Texas. Evans, a 25th-round pick in 2015, was 4-1 with nine saves, a 1.77 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 56 innings at Low Class A Hickory. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound right-hander also pitched in the Arizona Fall League. … Former William Carey star Tyler James was rated the fastest prospect in Kansas City’s system in a recent mlb.com article. A 25th-round selection in 2017, James led the rookie Arizona League with 31 steals in 2017 and the rookie Pioneer League with 38 last summer, when he also batted .312.
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.
Errol Robinson, the former Ole Miss standout, got the best of Petal High product Demarcus Evans on Wednesday in one of those Arizona Fall League matchups that scouts surely love to see. Robinson, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ No. 20 prospect, banged a one-out, walk-off single against Evans, a rising star in the Texas system, giving Glendale a 3-2 win against Surprise. Robinson, coming off an injury at the end of the regular season, is batting just .188 in the AFL but is excited about the opportunity he is getting in the showcase league. “It’s just another level up. It’s great stuff,” he told milb.com. Robinson hit .247 with 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 18 steals at Double-A Tulsa this season. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Evans averaged a ridiculous 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings this year at Class A Hickory. In four games and five innings against the stiffer competition in the AFL, he has nine punchouts while yielding four hits, four walks and three runs. Evans, moved from starter to reliever this year, told an mlb.com writer that he wasn’t happy initially about the shift but decided it was an “opportunity for me to get better.” That, he did, posting a 1.77 ERA, four wins and nine saves in the South Atlantic League. … Justin Steele, the Lucedale native and George County High alum, made a second straight solid start for Mesa on Wednesday, yielding a run on four hits with four K’s in four innings. The left-hander, a Chicago Cubs prospect, is 1-0, 5.19 ERA in three AFL outings. Former Delta State standout Trent Giambrone, another Cubs prospect with Mesa, didn’t play Wednesday but leads the club with a .412 average. … Mississippi State product Daniel Brown (a Milwaukee farmhand) and DSU alum Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay), both pitching for Peoria, are among the handful of AFL hurlers yet to allow a run. Brown has worked 6 2/3 innings, Moats 5 1/3. … Ex-State star Brent Rooker is not going to play in the AFL because of a sprained ankle suffered during a mini-camp. The Minnesota Twins prospect hit .254 with 22 home runs at Double-A Chattanooga this season.
No big surprise here: Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High All-Stater, was named Atlanta’s minor league hitter of the year by MLB Pipeline. The 21-year-old third baseman hit .294 with 19 homers at two levels (Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett). “The sky is the limit for this guy,” Braves assistant farm director (and former M-Braves second baseman) Jonathan Schuerholz told Baseball America, which also named Riley the Best Player in Atlanta’s system. Touki Toussaint, who started 2018 in Pearl and rose all the way to the big leagues, was named the system’s pitcher of the year by MLB Pipeline and BA. … Ole Miss product David Parkinson was named Philadelphia’s pitcher of the year. A 12th-round pick in 2017, he went 11-1 with a 1.45 ERA in A-ball this past season. His ERA was the lowest in the minors among qualifying pitchers. … Ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe was Tampa Bay’s hitter of the year after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs between A-ball and Triple-A. … In the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, Ole Miss alum Errol Robinson (Los Angeles Dodgers) debuted with a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort for Glendale, and in the same game Petal’s Demarcus Evans (Texas) threw two scoreless innings for Surprise. Delta State product Trent Giambrone (Chicago Cubs) banged out four hits in his debut for Mesa, while ex-George County High standout Justin Steele did not have his best stuff in that same game. He gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings as Mesa’s starter. The Cubs’ No. 8 prospect yielded five hits, a walk, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. Former DSU star Dalton Moats (Tampa Bay) worked two hitless innings for Peoria on Wednesday, and Daniel Brown (Milwaukee), a left-hander out of MSU, tossed 2 1/3 hitless innings for the same club on Tuesday. … Starkville native and ex-big leaguer Julio Borbon won a Mexican League championship with Monterrey, which wrapped up the pennant on Tuesday. Borbon went 8-for-26 with three runs and an RBI in the title series. He hit .301 with 14 steals during the season. A former first-round pick out of Tennessee by Texas, the 32-year-old Borbon last played in the majors in 2016. … Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of ex-big leaguer and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, won a minor league Gold Glove award at third base for the second straight year. The younger Hayes, a first-round pick out of a Texas high school by Pittsburgh in 2015, played at Double-A Altoona in 2018. … On this date in 2010, the Texas Rangers scored a landmark victory, thanks in large part to former Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee. Lee threw a six-hitter with 11 strikeouts to beat Tampa Bay (and David Price) in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, giving the Rangers their first playoff series victory. Texas would go on to the World Series, losing to San Francisco. Lee, incidentally, was 7-3, 2.52 ERA with three complete games in 11 postseason starts but never won a ring.
Mitch Moreland has done quite a bit of celebrating in his big league career. The Amory native and ex-Mississippi State star was on the field at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night when Boston clinched the American League East with a rollicking 11-6 victory over New York. In his nine MLB seasons, Moreland has had a hand in six division championships, four with Texas and the last two with the Red Sox. He was also on the Rangers’ wild card team in 2012. Moreland is batting .243 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs this season. After making his first All-Star Game in July, he has struggled much of the second half and lost playing time at first base to Steve Pearce. But Moreland’s superior defense will get him into games, and his postseason experience (37 games) is also valuable. He hit .385 in Boston’s division series loss to Houston in 2017. Moreland has played in two World Series – with Texas in 2010 and ’11 – but is yet to win a ring. That could change this fall. P.S. Former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout Cody Reed threw six shutout innings for Cincinnati to get his first win as a big league starter (see previous post). He allowed five hits, no walks and punched out six Miami batters. Lefty Reed, who threw five scoreless innings in his previous start, is 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 games (six starts) this season.
In a Carolina League contest in North Carolina on Sunday, a couple of former Mississippi college stars played their own little game of “top that.” Southern Miss product Chuckie Robinson ultimately came out ahead. He hit a grand slam in the third inning and then added a tie-breaking three-run blast in the eighth as Buies Creek (a Class A Houston affiliate) beat visiting Down East (Texas Rangers) 10-7. LeDarious Clark, the former East Mississippi Community College standout, went deep twice for Down East, which rallied from a 7-0 deficit and eventually tied the score on Clark’s three-run homer in the seventh inning. Clark, a 12th-round pick in 2015 by the Rangers out of West Florida, had three hits and raised his average to .278 with five homers and 11 RBIs in 27 games for the Wood Ducks. Robinson, a 21st-rounder in 2016 by the Astros out of USM, hit homers No. 5 and 6 on the year for Buies Creek and now has 23 RBIs. A recent surge (.324 in his last 10 games) has boosted his average to .218. “It’s always good and rewarding when you have a good game at the plate, but I’ve been working hard and I’ll continue to work hard,” Robinson told milb.com. He was a Midwest League All-Star at catcher in 2017 and is the Astros’ No. 26 prospect (per MLB Pipeline).