In their one season together at Mississippi State, Brent Rooker and Nate Lowe showed flashes of the tool – power — that has propelled them to the doorstep of the major leagues. In 2016, Rooker hit 11 home runs for the Bulldogs, and Lowe belted five. Lowe was drafted by Tampa Bay that summer and exploded as a prospect in 2018, rising from A-ball to Triple-A while hitting 27 homers all told. Rooker was drafted by Minnesota in 2017 – after hitting 23 homers for State and winning the SEC Triple Crown – and made it to Double-A last year. He hit 22 bombs for Chattanooga. By some cosmic coincidence, Rooker and Lowe hit their first homers in Grapefruit League play on Wednesday. Rooker went yard against Philadelphia in Clearwater, Fla., a two-run, seventh-inning shot that carried the Twins to a 4-2 win. Lowe, a lefty hitter, blasted a tape-measure homer against Boston in Port Charlotte. Neither is on their club’s 40-man roster, but both appear on the brink of breaking through, especially Lowe. “He might be ready now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said in an mlb.com article after Wednesday’s game. “He’s definitely making a good impression.”
Tony Sipp, the veteran left-hander out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College who is unsigned for 2019, might be a nice fit with the New York Mets. “(A)s the final addition to a bullpen that has seen three major acquisitions this season, Sipp makes perfect sense,” a blogger writes on amazinavenue.com. “He’d give the Mets a 7th inning option that projects as above-average and has a recent track record of elite performance. … At a cost of $5 million or less, Sipp would make for a great last move.” Sipp is 35 with a career ERA of 3.67 and is coming off a strong 2018 season, when he put up a 1.86 ERA for Houston. Mickey Callaway’s Mets already have added free agent lefties Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan (a former Mississippi Braves star) to their bullpen mix. … Add Mississippi State product Nate Lowe and Delta State alums Dalton Moats and Trent Giambrone to the list of Mississippians receiving non-roster invitations to big league camp. Lowe and Moats are in the Tampa Bay system, Giambrone in the Chicago Cubs’. … Perfect Game lists three Mississippi natives on its High School All-America First Team, though only two of them play ball in the state. Jerrion Ealy, the much-ballyhooed senior at Jackson Prep, and Blaze Jordan, the power-hitting sophomore at DeSoto Central, made the grade, as did Kendall Williams, an Olive Branch native who plays for IMG Academy in Florida. Hayden Dunhurst of Pearl River Central made PG’s second team. PG ranks DeSoto Central (No. 20) and Gulfport (No. 32) in its preseason Top 50. … The final showing of “Kansas City: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues” is slated for Sunday at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson. The show, hosted by the City of Jackson Department of Parks and Recreation Champion Dance Center and Montage Theatre of Dance from Hinds Community College, is a musical presentation that, per the billing, “will retell the story of Black baseball greats such as Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball, is chosen by Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who is determined to integrate the league.” Mississippi, it is worth noting, produced a fair number of Negro Leagues stars, including Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell, who worked with Robinson as he prepared to join the Dodgers, Hall of Famer William Foster, Howard Easterling, Sam Hairston, Rufus Lewis, Dave Hoskins and Luke Easter, the first black Mississippian in the majors.
Three Mississippi products reached the 20-home run plateau in the big leagues in 2018, and there’s more Magnolia State power on the way. Four Mississippi prep or college alumni are rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 1 power prospect in their big league organization. DeSoto Central High grad Austin Riley, Harrison Central product Bobby Bradley and ex-Mississippi State stars Brent Rooker and Nathaniel Lowe, each on the cusp of making the majors, made the list. MLB Pipeline’s writers note that the choices were made based on “usable” power, not just “raw” power. Atlanta prospect Riley hit 19 home runs in 2018, six for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before moving to Triple-A, and slugged .522. He could be the Braves’ third baseman by next spring. Bradley belted 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in Cleveland’s system and has 114 round-trippers in five pro seasons. Rooker hit 22 home runs in Double-A for Minnesota after blasting 18 in his pro debut in 2017. Lowe, a Tampa Bay prospect, hit 27 homers and slugged .568 over three levels of the minors, finishing in Triple-A in an amazing breakout season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all four of them in The Show at some point in 2019. P.S. In the 2018 All-Mississippi Home Run Derby in MLB, Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, led the way with 26 homers. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier hit 21 and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson whacked 20.
Delta State fans will not have forgotten Dalton Moats. In 2016, his one season in Cleveland, the left-hander went 12-3, including three postseason wins, for a Gulf South Conference champion and NCAA Division II regional team. In 2018, after two solid seasons as a 15th-round pick in Tampa Bay’s organization, things went a little sideways for the Missouri native. He is currently in the Arizona Fall League – and appears to be getting some things straightened out. Moats has yet to allow a run in 7 2/3 innings of relief work for Peoria. He got the win in Saturday’s Fall Stars Game, notching the last two outs in the top of the ninth before his West team rallied in the bottom half for a 7-6 victory. Though Moats is not rated among the Rays’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, the organization must see some promise to give him an AFL assignment. He had a 1.86 ERA and 13 saves at two levels in 2017. He spent the 2018 season with Double-A Montgomery in the Southern League, making 41 appearances, including 10 short starts, and posting a 5.34. Moats punched out a lot of hitters at DSU and has continued to do that in pro ball, though walks and home runs were a sore spot last season.
Anthony Alford is back in the big leagues, looking for his first at-bat since May 13. The former Petal High star was recalled from the minors by Toronto on Monday; he is not in tonight’s lineup against Baltimore. Alford, 24, had a tough year at Triple-A Buffalo, batting .240 with five homers and 17 steals. He was injured in big league camp in the spring and got into just seven games with Blue Jays in May before heading to the minors. In 22 MLB at-bats over the last two years, the erstwhile college quarterback has three hits. Alford’s prospect star has dimmed a bit from what it once was, though he is still rated No. 5 in the Toronto system by MLB Pipeline. The remains of this season could be important to his future. Alford said he is particularly pumped about playing in the big leagues with his brother-in-law, Jonathan Davis, who came up through the minors with him. “We’re both here and now it’s just a matter of going out there and playing and having fun,” Alford told the Toronto Sun. P.S. Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe, a rising prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, will lead Durham against Memphis in tonight’s Triple-A championship game in Columbus, Ohio. Lowe, named to Baseball America’s Minor League All-Stars second team, batted .260 with four homers for Durham and .330 with 27 bombs over three levels on the year. Suiting up for Memphis, St. Louis’ top affiliate, is ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis, who went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 16 games for the Redbirds. The 6 p.m. game will be broadcast by the NBC Sports Network.
Three hits, four runs and an RBI. Nice Triple-A debut for Nathaniel Lowe, the Mississippi State alum who is racing up the ladder in Tampa Bay’s organization. The 23-year-old first baseman, a 13th-round pick in 2016, started this season in A-ball, moved to Double-A Montgomery in early June, played in the All-Star Futures Game in July and was promoted to Durham on Wednesday. “It was really fun, getting to go out there against a higher level of competition,” Lowe said in an milb.com story. On the year, he is batting .352 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. … If you were picking an all-star team of Mississippians in the minors, Lowe would have to be the first baseman (though there is much competition at that spot) and the 3-hole hitter. The rest of the team? Here goes: Pitcher: Ole Miss product David Parkinson, now in high-A in Philadelphia’s system. He was 8-1, 1.51 ERA in low-A and threw seven shutout innings in his high-A debut on Saturday. (MSU alum Dakota Hudson would have been the choice here, but he is now in the big leagues with St. Louis.) Catcher: Jack Kruger (Double-A, Los Angeles Angels). The ex-State star is hitting .323 with four homers and 24 RBIs at Mobile and .306 with seven homers on the season. Second base: Trent Giambroni (Double-A, Chicago Cubs). The Delta State alum is hitting .257 with 16 homers at Tennessee. Third base: Austin Riley (Triple-A, Atlanta). The former DeSoto Central High standout is at .274 with four homers and 29 RBIs for Gwinnett. He started 2018 in Mississippi and is batting .293 with 11 bombs overall. Shortstop: Errol Robinson (Double-A, Los Angeles Dodgers). The ex-Ole Miss standout is batting .247 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Tulsa. Left field: Will Golsan (rookie ball, Colorado). The 2018 draftee out of UM is hitting .333 with 37 runs in 40 games at Grand Junction. Center field: Davis Bradshaw (rookie, Miami). The Meridian Community College product, a 2018 draftee, is at .329 with 13 runs and eight steals in 22 games in the Gulf Coast League. Right field: Jacob Robson (Triple-A, Detroit). The former MSU star is batting .310 at Toledo and is at .294 with 10 homers, 43 RBIs and 14 steals at two levels this year. DH: Brent Rooker (Double-A, Minnesota). The 2017 SEC Triple Crown winner out of State is hitting .276 with 21 homers and 71 RBIs for Chattanooga. Closer: Reid Humphreys (Double-A, Colorado). The State product, now with Hartford, has 24 saves and a 2.13 ERA at two levels in 2018.
There is a maroon tint to the U.S. roster for today’s All-Star Futures Game. Former Mississippi State teammates Dakota Hudson and Nathaniel Lowe were chosen for this showcase event, slated for 3 p.m. (on MLB Network) at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C. Also on the rosters are Mississippi Braves alums Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint (who’ll suit up for the World team), the Biloxi Shuckers’ Keston Hiura and Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of ex-big leaguer and Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes. It’s certainly not a big surprise to see Hudson in this game. He was a first-round pick by St. Louis in 2016, immediately jumped onto their prospect lists and has soared through the system. He is 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA at Triple-A Memphis this year, perhaps on the brink of a call-up from the Cardinals. It’s fair to say Lowe has exceeded expectations. The big left-handed hitting first baseman was a 13th-round pick in 2016 by Tampa Bay. After a modest start to his pro career, he has taken off in 2018. He was killing it at Class A Port Charlotte and, after earning a June promotion to Double-A, has continued to do so for Montgomery. His numbers at the two levels: .349, 18 homers, 73 RBIs. Hard to ignore.
Desmond Jennings, the former Itawamba Community College star, is back in the game, playing for Monclova in the Mexican League. Jennings, who has 567 games of big league experience, was released twice by MLB teams in 2017 – Cincinnati in spring training and the New York Mets off their Triple-A roster in June. The 31-year-old outfielder still has some game, batting .339 with seven homers and 30 RBIs through 26 contests in Mexico, which is regarded as Triple-A level. Jennings, drafted by Tampa Bay in the 10th round in 2006, was a hot shot in the minors, winning Southern League MVP honors in 2009 and playing in two All-Star Futures Games. He hit .245 with 55 homers and 95 steals in his big league career; he last played in The Show with the Rays in 2016. … Alex Yarbrough, the ex-Ole Miss standout, is no longer in the game. The infielder retired quietly in February. Yarbrough, only 26, was a fourth-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, earned Texas League player of the year honors in 2014 and reached Triple-A the next year. But that was his peak. He spent last year in the Double-A Southern League, batting .231 for Jacksonville in the Miami system.
Nathaniel Lowe, a former Mississippi State standout, had a day in the Florida State League on Friday. Lowe went 4-for-5 with two home runs and six RBIs for Port Charlotte, Tampa Bay’s high Class A club. The left-handed hitting first baseman, a 13th-round pick out of State in 2016, is actually having quite a season, leading the FSL in hitting at .390 and hits with 32. He has four homers and 21 RBIs. “As long as I play like I know how to play, then everything is going to be all right,” Lowe told milb.com. He hit .348 with five homers and 49 RBIs in his one season in Starkville. Among Lowe’s teammates this season is his younger brother Josh, who was a first-round pick by the Rays out of high school in 2016 and is considered the better prospect. Maybe there’s some sibling rivalry at work there. … The minor league hot list includes former Northwest Rankin High star Daniel Sweet, who is batting .356 in the FSL for Daytona, a Cincinnati affiliate. Sweet, a switch-hitting outfielder, was a 29th-round pick out of Dallas Baptist in 2016. … Ole Miss product Tate Blackman is among the top hitters in the low-A South Atlantic League, batting .359 with three homers for Kannapolis in the Chicago White Sox system. Second baseman Blackman was a 13th-round pick last June.
Miami has optioned Braxton Lee to the minors, which shouldn’t have come as a big surprise to the 24-year-old outfielder who hasn’t played above Double-A. At one stage in the off-season, when the Marlins were in the process of purging their 2017 roster, Ole Miss product Lee was the only center fielder on the depth chart. The club has since added Cameron Maybin and Lewis Brinson. Lee, a lefty hitter with outstanding speed, likely will start 2018 at Triple-A New Orleans. The Picayune native is coming off a breakthrough year in which he hit .309 to win the Southern League batting crown and raked at a .347 clip in the Arizona Fall League. Drafted in the 12th round in 2014 by Tampa Bay, Lee was traded last summer, moving from Montgomery to Jacksonville in the SL without missing a beat. He hit .219 with four steals in 20 MLB spring training games. Rated Miami’s No. 17 prospect by MLB Pipeline, he’ll be heard from again.