Braxton Lee’s work with the bat has been impossible to ignore this season. The Picayune native is hitting .316 — best in the Southern League – and has scored 69 runs – second in the SL — for Double-A Jacksonville. His work with the glove also has gotten some attention. Lee was rated the Best Defensive Outfielder in the league in Baseball America’s annual poll of managers. Lee, listed at 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, can really run, a skill he demonstrated at Picayune High, Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss. He was the leadoff batter and left fielder on the Rebels’ 2014 College World Series team, batting .281 with 56 runs and 30 steals in 69 games. He plays center field now and, from all indications, is playing it very well. A 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014, Lee seemed to have hit a wall when he reached Double-A in 2016. He batted .209 for Montgomery. This season has been an about-face. He has been among the league leaders in hitting all season and was named to the SL All-Star Game in June. “I wouldn’t say anything is better other than my mindset every single day,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. He was batting .321 on June 26 when Tampa Bay traded him to Miami in the Adeiny Hechavarria deal. Lee was SL player of the week in his first week with Jacksonville. Not yet on the Marlins’ list of top prospects, that likely will change this off-season. … Former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna, now at Triple-A Gwinnett, was ranked as the SL’s Best Batting Prospect and Most Exciting Player.
It is a three-team scrap, at the moment, in the American League East. Boston clings to a 1-game lead over the New York Yankees with Tampa Bay hanging 2.5 back. The Rays are visiting Yankee Stadium for a four-game series that starts tonight. Boston hosts surging Kansas City, an AL Central and wild card contender, for three starting on Friday. It’s not a good time to be in a slump, but both Corey Dickerson of the Rays and Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox are in one. Former Meridian Community College star Dickerson, a first-time All-Star this year, is batting .209 with one homer and four RBIs over his last 23 games. His average has plunged to .303. Yankee Stadium is a great hitter’s park for lefties, and Dickerson is batting .343 with three bombs against Yankees pitching this season. So … a breakout might be coming. The Rays would love to see it. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, is hitting .124 without a homer in his last 24 games and went 2-for-17 on the club’s recent road trip. His average is down to .239, and he’s been dropped in the BoSox’s order. He suffered a broken toe in mid-June but played through it and says it’s fine now. If there is a positive for Moreland entering the weekend, he is a better hitter at Fenway Park: .253 with six of his 12 homers and a .341 on-base percentage. He doesn’t have a hit in seven at-bats against Royals pitchers this year, so … perhaps he is due. The Red Sox surely hope that’s true.
Much can and will happen between now and the time the All-Star Game rosters are finalized in mid-July. But barring some calamity, Corey Dickerson will be in Miami for the Midsummer Classic on July 11. The McComb native and ex-Meridian Community College star is batting .345 with 12 homers, 25 RBIs and 38 runs in 50 games for Tampa Bay. The lefty-hitting outfielder/DH leads the American League in hits with 70. After a lackluster first season with the Rays, he has erupted in Year 2. “Hitting to all fields has probably been as important as anything,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of Dickerson in a Tampa Bay Times story. If Dickerson makes the All-Star Game, he would be just the second Mississippi native to do so in the last 10 years. Brian Dozier (Tupelo/Fulton) got in as an injury replacement pick – a deserving one — in 2015. For the record, Mississippi hasn’t produced an abundance of All-Stars in recent times, though there have been a few of note. Roy Oswalt (Kosciusko/Weir) made three straight appearances in the game from 2005-07. Ellis Burks (Vicksburg) appeared in two, 1990 and 1996. Dave Parker (Calhoun City/Grenada) made seven, the last in 1990. Greenville native Frank White was a five-time All-Star, making his last appearance in 1986. George Scott, also from Greenville, made three Classics, his final one coming in 1977, and Chet Lemon (Jackson) got the call three times, as well, the last in 1984.
Tampa Bay can’t be too happy with its record – 19-21, fourth in the American League East – but has to be thrilled with the production it’s getting from Corey Dickerson. The Meridian Community College product, in his second season with the Rays, is batting .340 with a .576 slugging percentage. He extended his current hitting streak to eight games on Sunday with a 4-for-6 effort in an 11-2 win against Boston at wet, windy Fenway Park. He has six homers, 13 RBIs and 21 runs. The lefty-hitting outfielder/DH belted 24 homers for the Rays in 2016 but hit only .245 after coming over in a trade with Colorado. … Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz took the loss for the Red Sox, departing with triceps stiffness after yielding two runs in three innings. He is now 3-3 with a 5.29 ERA. … Ex-Mississippi State star Tyler Moore’s 25th career MLB homer and fourth as a pinch hitter carried Miami to a 3-1 win over Atlanta. Moore smacked an R.A. Dickey knuckleball out of Marlins Park in the seventh inning, accounting for all of Miami’s runs. Moore is hitting .357 over his two stints with the Marlins this season, serving mainly as a pinch hitter. “I love being in the big leagues,” he told The Associated Press. “Whatever is going to keep me here, I like.” … Former Southwest Mississippi CC standout Jarrod Dyson hit his first homer of the year for Seattle at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. It was his eighth career home run and the first in a park other than Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career. … Hunter Renfroe went deep for San Diego, the sixth homer of the year for the State product but first since April 26. The rookie right fielder is batting .209 with 13 RBIs. … Among the major leaguers wearing No. 2 on Sunday, the day the New York Yankees retired Derek Jeter’s old number, were former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier and ex-UM standout Zack Cozart, both of whom came up as shortstops during Jeter’s heyday.
It’s here. Opening Day. New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays. Tropicana Field. OK, there’s no mystique and aura – or even sunshine — at The Trop, but it’s still Opening Day. And the first game of the 2017 season (noon, ESPN) could give us a matchup of Mississippi natives. McComb’s Corey Dickerson is expected to be in the Rays’ lineup as the DH batting leadoff. Gulfport’s Jonathan Holder is working out of the Yankees’ bullpen. Dickerson, a lefty hitter, is a veteran of 413 big league games and has a .279 career average. In his first season in Tampa in 2016, the Meridian Community College alum batted .245 with 24 homers. Holder, a right-hander, pitched in eight games (5.40 ERA) for the Yankees last summer and is still classified as a rookie. Drafted out of Mississippi State in 2014, he posted a 2.50 ERA (and a bunch of strikeouts) as he rose through the Yankees’ system. He pitched in Atlanta in the soft opening of SunTrust Park on Friday night; he wasn’t sharp. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss standout Chris Coghlan signed a minor league deal with Toronto and, according to reports, will start the season with Triple-A Buffalo. He had been released by Philadelphia. … Itawamba Community College product Desmond Jennings was given his release by Cincinnati.
A week ago, Corey Dickerson was penciled in as Tampa Bay’s starting left fielder. Today, the former Meridian Community College star from McComb may not be so sure where he stands. With spring training camps opening in about a month, the Rays appear overrun with outfielders. Mallex Smith, the ex-Mississippi Braves star who arrived in a Wednesday trade, and reported free agent signee Colby Rasmus join a crowd that includes Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., Mikie Mahtook and Nick Franklin. Kiermaier is the likely starter in center. Otherwise, who knows? The Rays may be planning to move someone, though it would be a surprise if they dealt Dickerson, who is only 27 and entering just his fifth MLB season. He delivered power (24 home runs, 36 doubles) in his first year in Tampa after coming over in a trade from Colorado. Though he hit just .245, that could at least partly be attributed to changing home parks and leagues. Dickerson, a .279 career hitter, has always drawn raves for his abilities with the bat, and he has said that he wants to win a batting title. Because defense is not his strong suit, Dickerson figures to get a lot of at-bats at DH, as he did in 2016. Then again, he does have trade value. It’s a situation that bears watching in the coming weeks.
It’s not one of the hot topics of this Hot Stove season, but Desmond Jennings’ future hasn’t gone cold. There have been reports linking the 30-year-old free agent to Detroit and Arizona, both of which are said to be looking for depth in the outfield. Jennings, the former Itawamba Community College two-sport star, had some moments but never really lived up to expectations during his tenure with Tampa Bay, which released him last summer. Injuries derailed Jennings the last two seasons, limiting him to 93 games. His career numbers are modest: .245 (.322 on-base), 55 homers, 95 steals in parts of seven MLB seasons. But he isn’t so old that he can’t still break out. He was once the Rays’ No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America. That ranking followed his 2009 season in the Double-A Southern League, when he batted .316 with eight triples, eight homers, 45 RBIs and 37 steals for Montgomery. He goes 6 feet 2, 210 pounds and can play any of the outfield spots (.995 career fielding percentage). He’ll get a shot somewhere. He could help somebody. If he’s healthy. And that might be a big if.