As we await the announcement on Monday of the 2019 Ferriss Trophy winner, it feels like a good time to check in on the last two winners of the state’s top college player award, both now in the minor leagues. Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin, last year’s honoree, is dealing at Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. The sidearming right-hander, a second-round pick last June, has an 0.79 ERA in 10 games (11 1/3 innings) with 17 strikeouts. He earned his first save with a two-inning effort on Thursday night, fanning four of the eight batters he faced. Sandlin zipped through four levels of the minors in 2018, topping out at Akron, and posted a 3.00 ERA, two wins and five saves in 25 games. The Indians moved Sandlin back to the bullpen after he served as the No. 1 starter for USM last year. The 2017 Ferriss winner, Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, moved quickly up Minnesota’s ladder after being a supplemental first-rounder in June ’17, starting this season at Triple-A Rochester. But the righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman has scuffled at the new level, batting just .222 with six homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 43 times in 90 at-bats. Rooker hit 40 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. P.S. Cody Reed, the veteran lefty out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, was recalled today by Cincinnati from Triple-A Louisville. He got into one game with the Reds earlier this season and has 40 appearances over the past four years.
Take a deep breath, Mississippi. On a Sunday that included Ole Miss’ all-time crazy win at LSU, Southern Miss’ huge walk-off win against Florida Atlantic, Delta State’s homer-fueled, elimination-game win in the Gulf South Tournament and the Mississippi Braves’ squeeze-bunt walk-off vs. Jacksonville, the scene-stealing moment from a state-connected player may well have been delivered by big leaguer Hunter Renfroe in San Diego. The former Mississippi State star hit a two-out, pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace closer Kenley Jansen 8-5. “This is my second walk-off home run, and there’s nothing like it in this world,” Renfroe, the pride of Crystal Springs, said in an mlb.com game story. It was the first pinch-hit walk-off slam in Padres history and salvaged the third game of the series for San Diego, which suffered tough losses in the first two. “These moments shape your season,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. The slam was Renfroe’s seventh homer of the season. Fighting a slump of late, he is batting .227 with 16 RBIs. He joins Tim Anderson – American League player of the month for April – and Jarrod Dyson as Mississippians with walk-off homers in MLB already in 2019. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday in his 2019 debut for Cincinnati but was returned to the minors on Sunday. Reed has been up and down with the Reds since 2016. He has a 3.21 ERA at Triple-A Louisville.
A shoulder injury apparently will land JaCoby Jones on the injured list to start the season, a blow for both Jones and his team, the Detroit Tigers. The ex-Richton High star was penciled in as the starting center fielder, despite a less than stellar spring with the bat (.196). A published report said he could be out a month. Jones, no longer a kid at 27, finally got extended paying time last year and hit .207 with 11 homers, 34 RBIs and 13 steals. The Tigers like his speed and athleticism, especially in the outfield. He injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder diving for a ball on Saturday. … A season-ending injury to Tigers ace Michael Fulmer may have opened the door for Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull to make Detroit’s rotation to start the season. Turnbull, who debuted last summer, has been impressive this spring with a 1.80 ERA in five outings, including a strong start against Bryce Harper and Philadelphia on Wednesday. “I’m happy with how I’ve done,” he told the Detroit Free Press. … Former Horn Lake and Northwest Mississippi Community College standout Cody Reed got bad news on Friday when he was optioned to Triple-A by Cincinnati. After a good showing at the end of 2018, Reed went into spring training expected to contend for a job in the Reds’ rotation. He was shifted to bullpen duty and posted a 7.00 ERA in eight games, much of the damage being done in one appearance. A hard-throwing lefty, he’ll get back to The Show at some point.
If you love baseball and you love history, you look up box scores. It’s what you do. There is a profound delight in ferreting out an old box, whether it’s in a newspaper clipping or, more likely these days, a data base on a website. You’re bound to find something that will suck you in and take you back to a bygone time. To wit: Joe Gibbon, the former Ole Miss star from Hickory who died on Wednesday, made his big league debut on April 17, 1960. How’d it go? Thanks to baseball-reference.com, you can pull up the box score and find out in rich detail. It was Game 2 of a Sunday doubleheader at Forbes Field, Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh. There were 16,000-plus in the park at the start of the day. Gibbon came on for the Pirates in the eighth inning of a game the Bucs trailed 5-0. The big lefty worked two scoreless innings, yielding three hits and a walk, against a Reds lineup that included Frank Robinson, Billy Martin and Vada Pinson. Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Dick Groat played for Pittsburgh that day. In the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates scored six times. Hal Smith, pinch-hitting for Gibbon, hit a three-run homer. Bob Skinner hit a two-run, game-winning blast off Ted Wieand. Gibbon got the win. You can’t tell from the box score how he felt, but it had to be pretty darn good. And it was just the start of a magical rookie season that culminated with a World Series championship.
The Cincinnati Reds, coming off a terrible season, beefed up their rotation by trading for three veteran pitchers in the off-season. What that means for Cody Reed is that cracking the starting corps this spring will be a lot tougher. The former Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake will be in the mix based on his relatively strong finish in 2018. Reed, a 25-year-old lefty, posted a 3.99 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings over his last seven appearances, six of them as a starter, which is the role he has said he wants. After back-to-back scoreless starts, his final game of the season didn’t go so well (a loss to Kansas City), but he ended the year with a 3.98 ERA in 17 games. “It’s a tough one to end on if this is it,” Reed told mlb.com after that final outing. “I definitely feel like I (left a good impression). I’m going to come into spring fighting … .” Reed was a second-round pick out of NWCC by Kansas City in 2013 and was a highly rated prospect when traded to the Reds while in Double-A in 2015. He made the big leagues in 2016 but endured a rough baptism, going 0-7 with a 7.36 ERA. Reed has bounced between Triple-A and the big club the last two seasons, working as both a starter and reliever. Maybe he sticks in 2019. Reds pitchers and catchers report for work, officially, on Feb. 13.
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.