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.
Though it wasn’t a storybook moment, Corey Dickerson has symbolically turned a page in his career. The McComb native made his first plate appearance in a Pittsburgh uniform today, striking out against Philadelphia’s Ben Lively in a Grapefruit League game. Cast off – technically “designated for assignment” — by Tampa Bay in a rather surprising move on Feb. 18, Dickerson learned four days later he had been traded to Pittsburgh. He reported to Pirates camp in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday. He spent his time in baseball limbo back in Mississippi, where his wife gave birth to their second child. He also worked out at Meridian Community College, where he played in 2009 and ’10. Dickerson, who played high school ball at Brookhaven Academy, was an eighth-round draft pick by the Rockies out of MCC in 2010 and arrived in the big leagues in 2013. The 28-year-old came into this spring with a .280 average, 90 homers and 256 RBIs in 563 big league games, split between Colorado and Tampa Bay. An All-Star starter in 2017, the last thing he expected was to be DFA’d just after spring camp began in an apparent salary dump. “It’s hard to stomach,” he told mlb.com. “At the time, I was caught off guard.” In a sense, it was a lateral move. Neither the Rays nor the Pirates are expected to contend. Dickerson, a lefty hitter, is expected to be the Pirates’ left fielder, joining Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco in what shapes up as a pretty good outfield. P.S. Staying on the Pirates track: Adam Frazier isn’t expected to hold a regular job with Clint Hurdle’s Bucs but does figure to get a fair number of at-bats as a utility man. The Mississippi State alum, who had quite a day at the plate on Friday (three hits, including a triple, three RBIs and two runs), enjoyed a solid 2017 campaign. He batted .276 with six homers, 53 RBIs and 55 runs in 121 games in his second big league season, and he also won the Pirates’ Heart and Hustle Award.
Pittsburgh announced today that it has acquired Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star, in a trade with Tampa Bay for reliever Daniel Hudson, a minor league infielder and cash. Dickerson, a 2017 All-Star, was designated for assignment by the Rays last week. The 28-year-old outfielder has a .280 career average with 90 homers and a .504 slugging percentage in 563 MLB games.
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.