If the rumored San Diego-Tampa Bay trade goes down, it’ll be a big change for Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State standout who is a key piece in the deal. The power-hitting outfielder would go to the Rays along with a top prospect for outfielder Tommy Pham and a prospect. For Renfroe, that’d be a change not only of time zones and leagues but also of expectations. Tampa Bay, in the dog-eat-dog American League East, won 96 games and a wild card playoff berth in 2019 and won 90 games in 2018. The Padres finished 70-92, last in the National League West, in 2019. The Padres have finished fourth, fifth and fifth in Renfroe’s three full seasons with the club. They’ve already made a couple of big trades this off-season. Renfroe, a corner outfielder with a big arm, hit 33 homers last season but batted just .216; he was a Gold Glove finalist in left field. Pham, the Rays’ left fielder, hit .273 (.369 on-base percentage) with 21 homers and batted .360 in the postseason. Tampa Bay’s right fielder last year was rookie Austin Meadows.
Billy Hamilton could get his first taste of the postseason in the National League Division Series with Atlanta, which hosts St. Louis today at SunTrust Park. The former Taylorsville High star apparently has made the Braves’ roster and figures to serve as a pinch runner and defensive replacement in center field. DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, an outfielder/corner infielder, did not make the NLDS roster. Hamilton, who has 299 career stolen bases over seven big league seasons and is a plus-defender, hit .268 with four steals, nine runs and three RBIs in 26 games for the Braves, who picked him off waivers from Kansas City in August. Ex-Mississippi State standout Dakota Hudson, 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 33 games (32 starts) for the Cardinals, reportedly will be available out of the bullpen for Games 1 and 2 and is a potential starter for a possible Game 4 in St. Louis. The right-hander had a 2.63 ERA as a rookie reliever in 2018. P.S. Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, who pitched for the Mississippi Braves in 2007, became the first pitcher in MLB history to notch a win in three winner-take-all playoff games when he beat Oakland in their wild card showdown on Wednesday night. Morton also won Game 7 of both the 2017 American League Championship Series and the 2017 World Series for Houston.
With its season down to one game, Milwaukee will hand the ball to Brandon Woodruff to start Tuesday’s National League Wild Card Game at Washington. The former Wheeler High and Mississippi State star went 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA in 2019 and threw four scoreless innings in his last two starts after a long stint on the injured list. He put up a 1.46 ERA in 12 1/3 postseason innings a year ago. “Obviously, I probably won’t be able to go six, seven innings,” Woodruff told mlb.com, “but I’ll be ready to go as long as I can until they take me out.” … Tampa Bay will throw ex-Mississippi Braves right-hander Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05) in Wednesday’s American League Wild Card Game at Oakland. … East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox won the AL batting title with a .335 average, which also led all of MLB. The last Mississippian (native or college alum) to win a batting title was Grenada native Dave Parker, who took the National League crown in 1978 with Pittsburgh. … A pair of former M-Braves swept the stolen base crowns in the majors: Ronald Acuna of Atlanta led the NL with 37 bags and Seattle’s Mallex Smith topped the AL with 46. For the record, Jackson Generals product Brian Hunter twice won the AL title – in 1999 with Detroit and Seattle and in 1997 with Detroit – and Chuck Carr, a Jackson Mets alum, won the NL title in 1993 with Florida. The only Mississippi native to lead a league in steals is Ellisville’s Buddy Myer, who bagged 30 for Boston in the AL in 1928. … Former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull, who yielded three runs in 5 1/3 innings for Detroit against the White Sox on Sunday, absorbed his 17th loss of the season, most by a Tigers pitcher in 11 years. But he has good company: Justin Verlander dropped 17 in 2008. … Former JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle was fired as Pittsburgh manager prior to Sunday’s finale, which he did not work. Hurdle went 735-720 with three playoff teams in nine seasons with the Pirates, who finished 69-93 this season.
Getting to the big leagues is hard. Staying in the big leagues might be even harder. Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High standout, was sent back to Triple-A by Cleveland on Tuesday. The Indians needed to call up a starting pitcher, so Bradley, just 8-for-45 with one homer since making The Show, was bumped from the 25-man roster. “It’s not going to hurt him to get at-bats at Triple-A,” Indians manager Terry Francona told cleveland.com. Of the five Mississippians to debut in the majors this year, only ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley hasn’t gone back down. Mississippi State product Nate Lowe has been sent down twice by Tampa Bay; he is currently with the big league club again (and hitting a ton). Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack also has been yo-yo’ed by Toronto; he was recalled Tuesday to make a spot start. Then there’s Chris Ellis. Ellis, a former UM and Mississippi Braves ace, made Kansas City’s opening day roster as a Rule 5 draftee out of St. Louis’ system. He pitched a scoreless inning in his debut on March 31. He was dropped from the active roster a couple days later and, per Rule 5 rules, was returned to the Cardinals. The 26-year-old right-hander has struggled mightily at Triple-A Memphis, with a 7.74 ERA and four blown saves in five chances over 30 appearances. One has to wonder if he’ll ever get another big league look. Bradley, only 23, surely will, though it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the demotion. He was killing it at Columbus (.292, 24 homers) before his call-up.
Having made two trips to the big leagues this season, Nate Lowe looks like he’s ready for a third. The Mississippi State alum smacked three home runs for Triple-A Durham on Tuesday and is batting .350 over his last 10 games. Lowe went 10-for-38 in two short stints with Tampa Bay but was squeezed out of a roster spot. He slumped for a while after returning to Durham but has picked it up of late. He is batting .290 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs for the season with the Bulls and now has 50 career minor league bombs over four years. The left-handed hitting first baseman, 23, rocketed through three levels of the minors in 2018 and made his big league debut on April 29 of this season. He’s due another look from a playoff-contending Rays club. P.S. After getting five hits on Monday, ex-State star Adam Frazier banged out four more on Tuesday for Pittsburgh and will take a streak of seven straight hits into today’s game. Frazier, back in the leadoff spot where he began the season, hit his fourth homer of the year in the 5-1 win over the Chicago Cubs and boosted his average to .276. “I feel like I’m onto something,” he told mlb.com. … Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley, who doubled in his first big league at-bat for Cleveland last week (see previous post), is just 3-for-27 (.111) in eight games. He has struck out 12 times.
The rapid ascent that began last spring for Nate Lowe culminated with a big league call-up on Monday. Former Mississippi State standout Lowe made his debut with Tampa Bay, going 1-for-4 with a double in the Rays’ win at Kansas City. “It’s awesome,” Lowe said in an mlb.com story. “It’s something you definitely dream of for so long.” Lowe, who spent one year in Starkville as a juco transfer, was a 13th-round pick by the Rays in 2016. He was in his second stint at high Class A Port Charlotte last spring when something clicked. He hit .356 with 10 homers in 51 games, then continued to rake in Double-A and Triple-A. He was invited to the All-Star Futures Game. He was named the Rays’ minor league player of the year after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs over the three levels. He got a long look in spring training as a first baseman/DH and was summoned Monday from Triple-A Durham after a couple of injuries struck the big club. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound lefty hitter made a nice first impression. P.S. Lowe’s brother Josh is a Rays minor leaguer (and former first-round pick). They aren’t related to Brandon Lowe, another prospect currently on the team’s big league roster. … Nate Lowe is the second Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in The Show in 2019 and the 22nd to appear in a game this season.
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.