Ran across an interesting old scoresheet while missing baseball and rummaging through some folders of baseball stuff. It’s from April 30, 2009, a game at Trustmark Park between the Mississippi Braves and the Montgomery Biscuits. It’s memorable not for any particular milestone but because it turned into a sort of showcase for Mississippi junior college baseball. The Biscuits, a Tampa Bay affiliate, won the game 9-2, fueled by the offensive exploits of state juco products Desmond Jennings, Rhyne Hughes and J.T. Hall. They combined to reach base 11 times, score five runs and drive in five runs. Collectively, they hit for the cycle. Leadoff batter Jennings, drafted by the Rays out of Itawamba Community College in 2006, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a double. He was on his way to Southern League MVP honors and a seven-year major league career with the Rays. No. 3 hitter Hughes, a 2004 Rays draftee out of Pearl River CC, went 3-for-5 with a homer off M-Braves starter Ryne Reynoso. Hughes made The Show in 2010, playing 14 games for Baltimore. Hall, drafted by Tampa Bay in 2004 (41st round) out of Southwest Mississippi CC, was the 6-hole hitter that day and went 3-for-3 with two walks, a triple, a homer (off Reynoso), a stolen base and three RBIs. The 2009 season was the last in affiliated ball for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder, who batted .253 with 43 homers in six minor league seasons. April 30, 2009, might’ve been Hall’s best day in pro ball. Bottom line: You never know what treasure you’ll find in an old scoresheet.
There are no big league games today, which might make the memory a tad bittersweet for Nate Lowe. On April 29 of last year, ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe made his MLB debut, going 1-for-4 with a double for Tampa Bay in a win at Kansas City. Lowe became the 60th Bulldogs alumnus to make the majors and the second of five Mississippi-connected players (the others: Chris Ellis, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley) to debut in 2019. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a first baseman/DH last season, reported for spring training this year about 20 pounds lighter. He was getting more work at third base, versatility that likely would help him contribute more on a Rays team expected to contend – again — in the American League East. “It took a lot of spiritual maturation and physical maturation to kind of start over (this) off-season to get to be the player and the person that I need to be,” he told draysbay.com in February, shortly before baseball shut down. A 13th-round pick out of State in 2016, the lefty-hitting Lowe made some adjustments in his swing after his second pro season and rolled through three levels of the Rays’ system in 2018. He batted .330 with 27 homers, went to the All-Star Futures Game and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year. … Coincidentally, on this date in 2012, another former State first baseman, Tyler Moore, made his big league debut, going 1-for-3 for Washington. Brandon native Moore, who slugged 30 homers over parts of five MLB seasons, is no longer in the game.
The San Diego Padres were never a contender during Hunter Renfroe’s three-plus seasons there. He’s in a different place now. Tampa Bay was a postseason team in 2019 and is expected to battle for a playoff berth again this year. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, is expected to contribute to the charge. Acquired by the Rays in an off-season trade, Renfroe hit 33 home runs last season and has 89 in 390 MLB games in his career. “Obviously, (there’s) the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’s just getting better and better,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino told mlb.com. “That power is going to be big in our lineup.” Renfroe has yet to homer for the Rays this spring but has made an impression with the bat just the same. “Hunter has unbelievable power,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “His batting practice is ridiculous.” Renfroe is just a .235 career hitter (.294 on-base percentage) with high strikeout numbers, but his defensive ability is another plus. A Gold Glove finalist in 2019, he is projected to start in left field, though there is a crowd in the Rays’ outfield. Nevertheless, Renfroe is happy with the change of scene. “It’s a win-win situation for me,” he told Tampa’s Fox 13 News. “I have a chance to do something special here with these guys — going to the World Series and stuff like that, so I look forward to it, and I look forward to the season.”
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.”