He won the Southern League batting title, made the league’s postseason All-Star team and was named the best defensive outfielder by SL managers. He received a coveted spot in the Arizona Fall League and through five games there is batting .500, including a 3-for-4 effort on Thursday. Oh, and he took a few days off last week to return to Mississippi and get married. Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss standout from Picayune, is riding the wave, as the saying goes. Lee was a 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014 and was traded to Miami this past summer in the midst of a breakout year. After scuffling in Double-A in 2016, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound lefty hitter batted .309 this season with 81 runs and 20 stolen bases in 127 games split between Montgomery and Jacksonville. He has shown no sign of letdown in the AFL. What’s next? “I’m hoping I’ll be a big league invite (to Marlins spring camp) where I’ll be there and they can see me play and see what they think of me,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald.
September is not the time to fall into a hitting funk. With their teams fighting for postseason berths, three Mississippians, all toiling in the American League East, are fighting slumps. With less than three weeks left in the season, Mitch Moreland, Seth Smith and Corey Dickerson need to rise and shine. Boston leads the division but only by 3 games over the New York Yankees. Moreland, the former Mississippi State star from Amory, has had a productive first year with the Red Sox (.248, 18 home runs, 68 RBIs) but currently finds himself in a 6-for-38 skid. He is homer-less in September. Jackson native and Ole Miss product Smith is just 2-for-23 in September for Baltimore, which sits 4.5 games out in the wild card chase and is desperate for some offensive spark. Smith, batting .259 overall, has contributed 13 homers and 31 RBIs in his first (and probably last) year with the Orioles. Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes are also rather dim; the Rays are 5 games out. Dickerson, the McComb native and ex-Meridian Community College standout, is just 3-for-35 this month and has been slumping for a while. He was hitting .312 at the All-Star break – when he started for the AL – but has hit .218 since with just 18 RBIs. For the year, he’s at .277 with 26 homers and 60 RBIs. The Rays would certainly love to see the All-Star version of Dickerson reemerge. P.S. For the record, ex-State star Dakota Hudson got the win for Memphis in Game 1 of the Pacific Coast League title series on Wednesday night; former Bulldogs slugger Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-4 for El Paso.
Ready or not, MLB’s Players Weekend arrives today, complete with alternate uniforms, funky accessories and, for some players, nicknames on their backs. Many traditionalists will be cringing. Here’s a sampling of what Mississippians will be wearing: Billy Hamilton is “Bone,” Zack Cozart is “Coach,” Drew Pomeranz is “Big Smooth,” Tim Anderson is “B. Moss” (in honor of a childhood friend killed earlier this year), Mitch Moreland is “2-Bags,” Kendall Graveman is “Digger,” Brian Dozier is “Doz,” and Tyler Moore is “T-Mo.” Jarrod Dyson was slated to wear “Zoombiya” (from his twitter handle) but is on the disabled list, as is Bobby “Peanut” Wahl. Seth Smith, whose unofficial nickname is “Dad” (after the character on American Dad), is sticking with “Smith.” Good call. P.S. Amidst all the shouting and brawling and ejecting at Comerica Park on Thursday, JaCoby Jones, the former Mr. Baseball from Richton High, had a good day for Detroit: 2-for-4, two RBIs and a stolen base. … Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland homered twice for Boston in its loss to Cleveland and now has 17 on the season, three in the last two days. … Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went deep for Tampa Bay in a win against Toronto. Dickerson has 24 homers. … J.T. Ginn, a pitcher/infielder at Brandon High, made the 20-man roster for USA Baseball’s Under-18 World Cup team. The team will compete in the tournament in Thunder Bay, Canada, from Sept. 1-10. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray was among the 40 finalists invited to the national trials. Ginn, 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, a Mississippi State commit, was 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings for Brandon in 2017. He also hit .483 with 16 homers.
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.