Spoiler. It’s not a role Zack Cozart, the ex-Ole Mis star, or any of his Cincinnati teammates want to be playing, but it’s where they are in mid-August. Buried in the cellar of the National League Central, the Reds (49-68) have a boatload of games left against the other four division teams, which are bunched within 3 games of each other in the division standings. Cozart in particular could be a major thorn in the side of those clubs. The starting shortstop for the NL All-Star team last month, he is having a career year and showing no signs of easing off on the gas. Since coming off a second stint on the disabled list last Sunday, Cozart is 9-for-26 with four home runs and seven RBIs. “I want to be playing and playing well the rest of the year,” he told mlb.com. “That’s the goal.” Overall, he is batting .316 with 16 homers (matching his career-best) and 46 RBIs. A pending free agent, Cozart has been the subject of trade rumors dating back to the off-season, but it doesn’t appear now that he’s going anywhere this season. That could be bad news for Milwaukee, which has seven games left with the Reds including today’s at Miller Park, the Chicago Cubs (10), St. Louis (six) and Pittsburgh (nine). … The Reds’ roster includes two other Mississippi-connected players, Taylorsville High alum Billy Hamilton and Ole Miss product Stuart Turner. Former Northwest Mississippi Community College star Cody Reed is pitching in Triple-A and could be added in September. P.S. Props to UM alum Drew Pomeranz, who notched his career-best 12th win – and fifth in a row – as Boston beat the New York Yankees 10-5 on Saturday. … Ex-Rebels star Chris Coghlan, who has been on Toronto’s DL for weeks, was designated for assignment, clouding the remainder of his year. … The Cardinals honored their 1987 pennant-winning team on Saturday (before beating hapless Atlanta) at Busch Stadium. Jackson native and Jackson State product Curtis Ford was a semi-regular outfielder on that club, which lost to Minnesota in the World Series.
Billy Hamilton went from the batter’s box to third base in 10.62 seconds on a triple in Cincinnati’s game against San Diego on Monday night. According to mlb.com, that’s tied for the third fastest time this season; the ex-Taylorsville High star already claims the two fastest times. Hamilton presents a bundle of compelling — and sometimes head-scratching — numbers. To wit:
44 – Stolen bases, best in the majors. His career-best is 58, which he’ll probably surpass.
9 – Triples this season, second in the big leagues and a career-high. Oddly enough, he has only 12 doubles.
70 – Runs this season, which is tied for 18th among MLB qualifiers. This despite the fact he is hitting just .251 with a .299 on-base percentage; 136 players have a higher OBP.
.340 – Batting average in the first inning. His triple on Monday came in the first – as the leadoff batter — and he would score the first run in the Reds’ 11-3 victory at Great American Ballpark.
.367 – Batting average on the first pitch. He has a homer, three triples, three doubles and seven RBIs when he puts the ball in play on the 0-0, which he has done 49 times in his 438 at-bats. As a leadoff batter, he is normally expected to work the count.
.219 – Batting average as a right-handed hitter. That’s his natural side. He is batting .265 as a lefty, where he gets most of his ABs. The Reds made Hamilton a switch-hitter after drafting him.
P.S. Former first-round pick D.J. Davis has perked up a bit at Class A Dunedin in the Toronto system. The former Stone County High standout is batting .343 over his last 10 games, raising his season average to .247. He has 28 stolen bases. This may be a critical year for the 23-year-old Davis, drafted in 2012, after he batted just .197 at the high-A level in 2016.
Billy Hamilton and Zack Cozart were a combined 7-for-12 in Cincinnati’s 4-3, 11-inning win over Arizona on Wednesday. Taylorsville’s Hamilton scored the game-winning run and stole his MLB-leading 40th bag, while Ole Miss product and 2017 All-Star Cozart hit his 11th home run. … Ex-UM star Drew Pomeranz won his fourth straight decision and 10th game overall as Boston beat Toronto 5-1. He has trimmed his ERA by almost two runs to 3.51 over his last 12 outings for the first-place Red Sox. … In the minors, former Mississippi State standouts Kendall Graveman and Brandon Woodruff made rehab starts in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Oakland’s Graveman, on the DL since May 29, allowed four earned runs in 2 1/3 innings for Nashville. Milwaukee’s Woodruff, out since his aborted big league debut on June 13, yielded three runs in 3 2/3 innings for Colorado Springs. … The Mississippi Braves won at home for the first time in the second half, beating Biloxi 3-2 on Kade Scivicque’s walk-off hit in the ninth. The M-Braves are 1-10 at Trustmark Park and 7-18 overall in the Southern League South. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College star Scivicque is batting .270 with three homers and 23 RBIs. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley went 2-for-4 in his home debut for the M-Braves, and Mike Soroka struck out 12 in seven innings. … Ole Miss alum and Picayune native Braxton Lee leads the Southern League in hitting at .326 for Jacksonville. Traded from Tampa Bay to Miami a few weeks back, Lee is hitting .348 in 18 games for the Marlins’ affiliate. … Errol Robinson, another UM product, has climbed from low-A ball to Double-A this season in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system. The shortstop, in his second pro season, is batting .307 in 18 games for Tulsa in the Texas League. … Ex-Itawamba CC star Tyreque Reed, a .500 hitter for the Indians this year, continues to rake in the rookie Arizona League. The eighth-round pick by Texas homered on Wednesday and is at .317 with three bombs and 18 RBIs in 17 games.
When thinking back about a minor league team from a particular season, there is usually one player who jumps to the forefront in the memory bank. The Jackson Generals of 1997? Oh yeah, that was the Daryle Ward year. There were other players of note on the club – Carlos Guillen, Scott Elarton, Mitch Meluskey, Donovan Mitchell – but Ward was the man. He is famously remembered by old Smith-Wills Stadium cranks for hitting a foul ball through the wooden fence down the right-field line. Of course, he did a lot of damage with fair balls, as well, batting .329 with 19 homers, 25 doubles and 90 RBIs for Houston’s Double-A club. He also got a lot of attention for a bomb he launched in an exhibition game against the Astros. Listed at 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, the lefty-hitting outfielder/first baseman was all about power. Ward, son of a former big leaguer, made the majors with Houston in 1998 and mashed 90 homers over 11 MLB seasons, 20 with the Astros in 2000. Now a coach in the Cincinnati organization, he was still playing in independent ball as recently as 2015. All told, he hit 290 homers in pro ball. Twenty years after his star turn with the Generals, Daryle Ward is not forgotten.
It’s really not a fair fight. Zack Cozart plays in the 65th biggest city in the country, Cincinnati. Corey Seager plays in Los Angeles, No. 2 on that list, Addison Russell in Chicago, No. 3. And yet, former Ole Miss standout Cozart still leads the fan voting for National League All-Star shortstop by a decent margin. Yes, Reds fans are very passionate, and yes, Cozart is having a big year — .320, nine homers, 32 RBIs – but one would think the big-market boys would have a substantial built-in edge. Nevertheless, Cozart, who’s never made the All-Star Game, leads Seager by more than 300,000 votes and Russell – last year’s fan vote winner — by almost 500,000. All the news wasn’t good for Cozart on Monday: He went on the 10-day disabled list with a quad strain.
It’s not often you run across the name of Hughie Critz in a story these days. The Starkville native last played a big league game in 1935. But ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, in a piece about Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, notes a link between Critz and the current Cincinnati star. Hamilton, with 40 runs in 54 games, is on pace to score 109. His on-base percentage is .305. Since 1920, Crasnick writes, only two players — Tony Armas in 1984 and Critz in 1930 — have scored 105 runs or more in a season in which they had an OBP of .305 or lower. Critz, who started that 1930 season with the Reds and finished it with the New York Giants, scored 108 runs with an OBP of .292. The diminutive infielder had 172 hits and 30 walks, and he stole only eight bases. (Hamilton, probably the fastest player in the game today, has an MLB-best 28.) Not to diminish Critz’s accomplishment, but it should be noted that the 1930 season came at the height of a “lively ball” era that saw huge offensive numbers posted across the board. Critz spent most of that year with the Giants, who had three players you might have heard of – Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Fred Lindstrom – who drove in over 100 runs each and also scored 100-plus. Critz, a Mississippi A&M (State) alum, batted .268 with a .303 OBP over an outstanding 12-year career in which he scored 90 or more runs five times.
Don’t look now, but ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart has climbed into the top two at shortstop in the National League All-Star voting. Cozart, batting .348 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs for Cincinnati, trails the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager and is just ahead of the Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell. Cozart, in his seventh big league season, has never made the All-Star Game. He said it was “a little shocking” to pass Russell, who is buoyed by Cubs fever. Cozart leads NL shortstops in most offensive categories and is also tops in Defensive Runs Saved. He went 2-for-4 on Monday night against St. Louis – extending his on-base streak to 27 games – and was in the middle of a game-winning four-run rally in the seventh inning. The Reds (26-30) are battling to stay afloat in the NL Central. P.S. Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Brett Phillips was 1-for-3 with an outfield assist (and an error) in his MLB debut for Milwaukee. Phillips is the 12th Shuckers alum to make the majors, a list that includes Orlando Arcia, Jacob Barnes and Yadiel Rivera.