“The best free agent that no one is talking about” is, according to an mlb.com story published Thursday, former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson. That headline is a bit of hyperbole, of course, because there is little doubt people are talking about Dickerson, a lefty-hitting outfielder with a career .286 average on his baseball card and a Gold Glove in his trophy case. He has hit .300 or better in five of his seven big league campaigns. Injuries limited him to 78 games in 2019, which he split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A scout recently told yahoo!sports about Dickerson: “He really produced in a short time in Philly, but with McCutchen and Harper there, where’s he going to play? He’s more than a bench bat. He’ll be somewhere.” The mlb.com story speculates that Cincinnati, Miami and St. Louis are the favorites to sign Dickerson, one of several notable Mississippians (see Brian Dozier, Mitch Moreland, Billy Hamilton) still on the market. The 30-year-old McComb native made $8.5 million last year. P.S. Tim Dillard, the ex-Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College standout, has signed on for an 18th season of pro ball. Dillard, 36, signed a minor league contract with Texas; he put up a 4.75 ERA in 33 games (21 starts) for Triple-A Nashville in the Rangers’ system in 2019. Dillard, son of Ole Miss product and ex-big leaguer Steve Dillard, has made 619 appearances, 73 in the majors (all with Milwaukee). The Brewers drafted him twice, out of Saltillo in 2001 and ICC in 2002.
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.
Coming through with big hits in the postseason is a good way to impress the brass in the minor leagues. Tyreque Reed came through on Thursday night. The ex-Itawamba Community College star from Houlka went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs to help Hickory stave off elimination in the South Atlantic League Championship Series. “What I was thinking and doing tonight, it worked,” Reed said in an milb.com story. The Crawdads’ cleanup batter was 1-for-7 in the first two games as Lexington took both. Reed, drafted in 2017 by Texas, hit .282 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs for the Crawdads in his second stint with the low Class A club after scuffling at the high-A level to start 2019. … Bobby Bradley, the Harrison Central High product, celebrated an International League pennant on Thursday night when Columbus finished off a sweep of Durham for the Governors’ Cup. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in Game 3 but was 6-for-20 with two homers and eight RBIs during the Clippers’ postseason run. Columbus will play the Pacific Coast League champ in the Triple-A title game on Sept. 17 at Memphis. Bradley is surely anticipating a recall to Cleveland. P.S. Mississippi State alum Hunter Renfroe and East Central CC’s Tim Anderson are among the 30 nominees, one per MLB team, for the Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “the annual recognition of a major league player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” As part of the selection process, fans can vote through Sept. 29 for the overall winner via this link: mlb.com/clemente21.
Another dominant season by Demarcus Evans has landed the former Petal High standout on MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Year. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound right-hander pitched 60 innings over two levels in the Texas system, posting a 0.90 ERA, a 6-0 record, 12 saves, 100 strikeouts and a .119 batting average against. In his last 24 appearances at Double-A Frisco, Evans yielded just one earned run. Evans was a Class A South Atlantic League All-Star in 2018 and later was picked for the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars game. A 25th-round draft pick, Evans is in his fifth pro season but is only 22 years old. He is not currently ranked among the Rangers’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, but that will change next time the rankings are reconfigured. P.S. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State and Wheeler High star, threw two simulated innings for Milwaukee on Sunday, according to reports. Out since July with an oblique injury, the 2019 All-Star may be close to returning to duty. He is 11-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts. The Brewers are just 2 games back in the National League wild card race and 6.5 behind NL Central leader St. Louis.
Among the impressive pitching feats of 2019, this one deserves a special mention: Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Mike Minor and a pair of Texas relievers beat the New York Yankees 7-0 on Monday, handing the Bronx Bombers their first shutout in 221 games. The Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — have averaged 5.8 runs per game this season. Minor worked 7 1/3 innings, scattering five hits, walking one and fanning five. One of the Yankees hitters called Minor’s four-pitch repertoire “nasty.” “We mixed every pitch,” Minor told mlb.com. “We didn’t get into any patterns. I felt like we attacked.” Minor, an All-Star this year, is 12-8 with a 3.12 ERA. He was a first-round pick by Atlanta out of Vanderbilt in 2009 and pitched for the M-Braves in 2010. He was 2-6, 4.03 but showed his stuff by striking out 109 in 87 innings. He debuted in the big leagues later that season. His career was derailed by injuries in 2015, but he has made a strong comeback the last two years with Texas.
Tim Dillard, at age 36 and in his 18th pro season, has enjoyed a resurgence the last few weeks at Triple-A Nashville. Dillard, the former Itawamba Community College star from Saltillo, went seven innings Wednesday night to beat Oklahoma City 7-2 and improve to 3-0 over his last six starts. The sidewinding right-hander is 8-8 with a 4.61 ERA this season, his first in the Texas system after 17 in Milwaukee’s. The Brewers drafted Dillard, son of former big leaguer and Ole Miss alum Steve, out of ICC in 2002. He has made 582 appearances – working more than 1,500 innings — in affiliated ball, including 73 major league games, a commendable accomplishment for a 34th-round draft pick. His last MLB appearance was in 2012. Whether another call to The Show is in the cards is not something Dillard, a bit of a free spirit, is worried about. “I would say the secret to success in baseball is finding joy in every moment,” he told the Tupelo Daily Journal earlier this month. “But that’s really for life. I try to find the joy in every moment, even the bad moments.” Words to live by, for sure. P.S. Mississippi State right-hander J.T. Ginn is rated the No. 10 college prospect in the 2020 draft by mlb.com’s Jim Callis. Ginn went 8-4 with a 3.13 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings as a freshman in 2019. He’ll turn 21 next May, making him eligible for the June draft. He was the 30th overall pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Brandon High in 2018.
Way back in 2014, he was a full-blown star at Columbia High and then a second-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers. On Tuesday, Ti’Quan Forbes was back on a ballfield in Mississippi, playing third base and banging out a couple of hits for the Double-A Birmingham Barons against the M-Braves at Trustmark Park in Pearl. He’s come a long way – but still has a ways to go on the big league highway. Forbes was the state’s Mr. Baseball as a rangy — and toolsy — shortstop at Columbia. He has filled out to 6 feet 3, 220 pounds and moved to third base but has yet to develop the power expected at that position. Batting .245 this year, his first in Double-A, Forbes has three home runs and a .332 slugging percentage in 103 games. He has a .251 career average and just 24 homers over six seasons, 11 of those bombs coming in A-ball in 2017. That was the year he was traded, in August, from Texas to the Chicago White Sox. His defense has been solid – 15 errors in 94 games at third this year – but the bat needs to perk up. Even though he is only 22 – he turns 23 on Aug. 26 – time may not be on his side much longer.
A couple of Mississippi products took star turns on Tuesday night in Boise, Idaho, when the Pioneer League and Northwest League All-Stars faced off in the annual clash of rookie-level circuits. Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and earned Top Star honors for the NWL squad. He was upstaged a bit by Sam McWilliams, a Meridian Community College alum from Magee who hit a two-run homer, one of the four homers mashed by Pioneer stars in their 11-7 victory. “It was great to be here with the best guys around the league and just have fun for a night,” Crim told milb.com. “Definitely worth the trip.” Crim, the Gulf South Conference player of the year in 2019, was a 19th-round pick by Texas in June and is having an excellent season at Spokane. The first baseman/DH is hitting .341 with four homers and 24 RBIs. McWilliams, a 19th-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 off a loaded MCC club, is batting .291 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs at Ogden. A second baseman, he hit .276 in the Arizona League last season. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, both promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday, made smashing debuts on Tuesday, Waters going 3-for-5 with an RBI and Pache 2-for-5 with an RBI. Pache is the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, Waters No. 2.