Billy Hamilton was not on the market very long. Non-tendered by Cincinnati on Nov. 30, the former Taylorsville High standout reportedly signed with Kansas City today. The deal is for one year and $5 million. The 28-year-old center fielder slumped in 2018, batting .236 and stealing just 34 bases. But his defense remains top shelf, which makes him a good fit in KC’s outfield. Hamilton has 277 career MLB stolen bases, most ever by a Mississippi native. He stole 155 bases in the minors in 2012, a pro record. The Royals’ current depth chart lists Brett Phillips, a former Biloxi Shuckers star, and Brian Goodwin as the top two center fielders.
Among the gaggle of big league players not offered contracts for 2019 were a couple of Mississippi-connected names of note: Billy Hamilton and Kendall Graveman. Ex-Taylorsville High star Hamilton was cut loose Friday by Cincinnati, for which he has been the starting center fielder most of the past five years, and Mississippi State product Graveman was non-tendered by Oakland, for which he was the opening day starter the last two seasons. They are now free agents. There are reports that both could be re-signed to minor league deals by their former clubs if they don’t land a job elsewhere. Hamilton, 28, is a spectacular outfielder and base stealer who just hasn’t hit (.236 in 2018, .245 career). Graveman, 27, had a brutal 2018, possibly related to injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery in July and is expected to miss most of the 2019 season. He was 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA in his seven big league starts this past season. His career ERA over five seasons is 4.38.
Houston Astros fans surely will cringe when reminded of what went down on this date in 1971. During the winter meetings, the Astros traded – drumroll, please — Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke to Cincinnati for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart. Might have been the worst trade ever. And Mississippian Harry Walker, the Houston manager at the time, had a role in it. Morgan, Billingham and Geronimo became key players on the great Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and ’76. Morgan was the National League’s MVP both of those years and is now in the Hall of Fame. The Astros improved slightly from 1971 to ’72, thanks in part to May’s 29 homers, but Walker was fired before the season ended. The Astros wouldn’t sniff the postseason until 1980. Why did the Astros dump Morgan, only 29 at the time of the infamous deal? According to reports, Walker, the Pascagoula native and onetime big league star, didn’t like Morgan, calling him a troublemaker. And Morgan didn’t like Walker, years later accusing him of racism. A stern disciplinarian with an outspoken manner, Walker is said to have clashed with a lot of his players. Hired by the Astros in mid-1968, he was fired in August of ’72 even though the team had a winning record at the time. Leo Durocher finished out the campaign. It was Walker’s ninth and final season as an MLB skipper.
If it was his last act as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, it was very cool. Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton was removed mid-game in Sunday’s season finale and paused on his way off the field to hand his jersey and cap to young fans sitting near the Reds’ dugout. “It gave me chills when I gave it to them walking off the field. It was great,” Hamilton told mlb.com. Hamilton figures to be the subject of trade speculation – again — as the Reds go into rebuild mode this off-season. He finished his fifth full MLB season with a .236 average (.299 on-base percentage), 74 runs and 34 steals (a career-low) in 153 games. Hamilton is a stellar defensive center fielder, but his hitting remains a concern. He is 28 and a year away from free agency. P.S. The curtain fell on the season for several other Mississippians on Sunday, including Spencer Turnbull and JaCoby Jones with Detroit, Dakota Hudson and Mike Mayers with St. Louis and Chris Stratton with San Francisco. All were on the losing end of games that were very meaningful for their postseason-bound opponents. Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central standout, battled Milwaukee into the sixth inning, yielding four runs while drawing rave comments about his stuff from MLB Network analysts. Mississippi State alum Stratton was one of several Giants pitchers roughed up by the Los Angeles Dodgers in their blowout win. … A number of notable Mississippians weren’t on active rosters for Sunday’s finales. Zack Cozart, Jarrod Dyson and Kendall Graveman finished the year on the disabled list. So did Bobby Wahl, who was up for just a few days with the New York Mets. Jacob Lindgren spent the entire year on Atlanta’s DL. David Goforth spent the season in the minors. Alex Presley, T.J. House and Chad Girodo were released during the season without making an MLB appearance. Veteran Chris Coghlan signed late with the Chicago Cubs and didn’t get a call-up. Free agents Seth Smith and Tyler Moore never got a job at all.
Mitch Moreland has done quite a bit of celebrating in his big league career. The Amory native and ex-Mississippi State star was on the field at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night when Boston clinched the American League East with a rollicking 11-6 victory over New York. In his nine MLB seasons, Moreland has had a hand in six division championships, four with Texas and the last two with the Red Sox. He was also on the Rangers’ wild card team in 2012. Moreland is batting .243 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs this season. After making his first All-Star Game in July, he has struggled much of the second half and lost playing time at first base to Steve Pearce. But Moreland’s superior defense will get him into games, and his postseason experience (37 games) is also valuable. He hit .385 in Boston’s division series loss to Houston in 2017. Moreland has played in two World Series – with Texas in 2010 and ’11 – but is yet to win a ring. That could change this fall. P.S. Former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout Cody Reed threw six shutout innings for Cincinnati to get his first win as a big league starter (see previous post). He allowed five hits, no walks and punched out six Miami batters. Lefty Reed, who threw five scoreless innings in his previous start, is 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 games (six starts) this season.
As the Cincinnati Reds look ahead to 2019, they’re surely giving strong consideration to making Cody Reed a part of their starting rotation. The ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College standout from Horn Lake showed his potential on Saturday against the Chicago Cubs. Going head-to-head with Cubs ace Jon Lester, Reed threw five scoreless innings, yielding just two hits and striking out 10. Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart told mlb.com that it was the best he’d ever seen Reed throw and could be a “springboard outing” for the 25-year-old left-hander. Reed got a no-decision — the Reds ultimately lost 1-0 to the first-place Cubs — but trimmed his ERA to 4.32 in his 15th appearance and fifth start this season. He was recalled from Triple-A Louisville in mid-August and given a spot in the rotation shortly thereafter. In 16 career starts spread over three seasons, Reed is still looking for his first win. His lone MLB victory came as a reliever. Based on Saturday’s performance, that breakthrough W could be coming soon. P.S. Four Mississippians earned spots on Baseball America’s Classification All-Star teams, one at each of the top four levels of the minors. Mississippi State alum Dakota Hudson, now pitching in the big leagues with St. Louis, made the Triple-A team; former Bulldogs star Nathaniel (Nate) Lowe (in Tampa Bay’s system) is the first baseman on the Double-A team; MSU product Reid Humphreys (Colorado) is the closer on the high Class A team; and ex-Ole Miss standout David Parkinson (Philadelphia) made the low-A team as a starter. Lowe, named to the all-classification All-Stars second team after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs across three levels, is on the Triple-A Durham team that just won the International League pennant. Mississippi Braves 2018 alums Touki Toussaint and Ian Anderson, both hurlers, were chosen as first-team all-classification All-Stars by BA.
Count Hunter Renfroe among those who’ll hate to see August end. The ex-Mississippi State star has had that kind of a month for the San Diego Padres. He hit his ninth homer of August — 17th of the season — in the Padres’ 8-3 win against Seattle on Wednesday. The big outfielder is batting .299 this month with 26 RBIs. He is at .253 with 53 RBIs for the season, which included a sluggish start, an injury and a stay in the minors. One writer called Renfroe’s resurgence “astounding.” The Padres, in the throes of a rebuild, surely must like what they’ve seen of late. … Fours were wild for Billy Hamilton on Wednesday in Cincinnati’s crazy 13-12 loss to Milwaukee at Great American Ballpark. The ex-Taylorsville High standout — the recent subject of trade speculation — hit his fourth career leadoff homer, which was his fourth bomb of the season, and matched a career-high with four hits. He also scored three times, though he departed the game after a headfirst slide into home. Hamilton is batting .243 with 28 RBIs, 66 runs and 29 steals, way down from his average (58) the previous four seasons. He was caught stealing for the eighth time on Wednesday. … Drew Pomeranz, whose turn in Boston’s rotation in 2018 had been largely terrible, has fared better in the bullpen. The big lefty from Ole Miss threw a scoreless ninth in the Red Sox’s wild 14-6 win over Miami. In seven relief appearances, he has a win and a 3.97 ERA. He won just once in his 11 starts. His season ERA is still an ugly 5.89. P.S. And one more thing: Cody Reed gets his second start of 2018 today as the Reds play Milwaukee again. The Northwest Mississippi Community College product has pitched well in relief since returning from the minors (see previous post) and has a 3.68 ERA in 11 MLB games all told this season.
Give it up for “Bull” and “TA7” for their contributions in winning efforts on the official opening night of Players Weekend in MLB. “Fraz” had three hits Friday in a losing cause. “CC” got rocked and took a loss. “Bone” had a quiet night, and “C-Dizzle” struck out in a pinch-hit appearance. “2-Bags” sat, resting a sore knee, and “Juicy J” and “Zoombiya” are, unfortunately, on the DL. Easy to overlook was the performance by “Goggles,” who escaped a major jam to keep his club in a game it would go on to lose. “Goggles” is the nickname worn by Cody Reed, the former Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake. Working in relief for Cincinnati, the bespectacled Reed — can’t miss those thick, black rims — came on in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and one out in a 1-1 game vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field. The left-hander got Anthony Rizzo to bounce into a 1-2-3 double play on a 3-2 pitch. Reed then pitched a scoreless seventh, but the Cubs would ultimately win the game 3-2 on a David Bote walk-off homer. Reed, recently recalled from the minors, has now made three straight scoreless appearances for the Reds, cutting his season ERA to 3.95. He was a starter in Triple-A; maybe the Reds will finally give him another shot in their rotation. Nickname key: Bull is Brian Dozier, TA7 Tim Anderson, Fraz Adam Frazier, CC Cody Carroll, Bone Billy Hamilton, C-Dizzle Corey Dickerson, 2-Bags Mitch Moreland, Juicy J JaCoby Jones and Zoombiya Jarrod Dyson. (Tony Sipp, who notched a hold for Houston, is “Sipp,” in case anyone was confused.)
Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds pulled off another Spider-Man act on Friday night, scaling the center-field wall at Busch Stadium to steal a home run from a St. Louis batter. But as jaw-dropping as the Taylorsville High product’s snag was, it might not have been the most stunning highlight from a Mississippian in the majors on this particular night. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, a pitcher for Milwaukee, crushed — yes, crushed — a home run into the right-field seats at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. It was the first career homer for Woodruff, a righty who bats lefty. Just called back up — for the fifth time in 2018 — from Triple-A Colorado Springs, Woodruff also threw three scoreless innings in middle relief as the first-place Brewers fell to the Pirates 7-3.
Nostalgia is thick in the air at Trustmark Park when the Pensacola Blue Wahoos come to call. The field staff for the Cincinnati Reds’ Double-A club, which began a five-game series with the Mississippi Braves on Thursday, is replete with big league stars of another era. Fans of a certain age know the names well. Hitting coach Mike Devereaux, who won a ring with the 1995 Atlanta Braves, and bench coach Lenny Harris debuted in the majors in the late 1980s, and pitching coach James Baldwin broke in in 1995. And then there’s Blue Wahoos manager Jody Davis. Not only is he a former big leaguer, he is also a former Jackson Met. Davis made his MLB debut in 1981. Surely there are a few fans around who recall that two years before that, Davis had a breakout season for the Double-A JaxMets, who made their home at Smith-Wills Stadium. Davis batted .296 with 21 home runs and 91 RBIs in 1979, playing on a team that included Hubie Brooks and Wally Backman. Davis also refined his catching skills that year and was named a Texas League All-Star. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals (for big leaguer Ray Searage) following that season, then taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Chicago Cubs in December 1980. The next April he launched a 10-year MLB career during which he made two All-Star teams. Davis coached and managed in the Cubs’ system for several years and took the reins in Pensacola this season.