When you’ve been found wanting by one of the worst teams in baseball, it’s not a good sign. But Billy Hamilton, still one of the fastest players in MLB, may find another opportunity to use his breathtaking speed. The former Taylorsville High star was designated for assignment today by Kansas City, which means he could be claimed by another team or, more likely, become a free agent. Hamilton signed a one-year free agent deal with the Royals in the off-season after six years with Cincinnati, where, from 2014-17, he averaged 58 steals a year despite a sub-.250 average. Wrote MLB Trade Rumors at the time he signed with Kansas City: “(I)f Hamilton starts filling those massive gaps (in Kauffman Stadium) with liners and shows a newfound devotion to the strike zone, the Royals could have the steal of the decade … .” That didn’t happen, and his plus-defense in center field wasn’t enough to keep him in the Royals’ lineup. Hamilton was batting .211 with 18 bags in 93 games. At 28, he can still run, so perhaps a team with a need for such a specialist will come calling.
It’s a good bet that Adam Frazier did not want to break for the All-Star Game — and not because he wasn’t invited to the event. Frazier, a Mississippi State alum, was on fire at the plate in the days leading up to the break. The Pittsburgh second baseman had 18 hits in seven games from July 1-7, raking at a .600 clip that raised his average to .287. He scored 11 runs and drove in seven and was named the National League’s player of the week for his efforts. Frazier will hit the restart button today when the Pirates play National League Central rival Chicago at Wrigley Field. The lefty-hitting Frazier figures to be in the lineup, probably leading off, against Cubs righty Yu Darvish. … On the other hand, Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High standout, was playing like someone who needed the All-Star break. The Kansas City center fielder, batting .217 for the year, hit .198 with just four RBIs and five runs in his previous 30 games. Renowned for his speed, he has just 16 steals in 78 games. It might not be a good sign for Hamilton that the Royals have called up prospect Bubba Starling, a center fielder in the minors. The Royals host Detroit today. P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn earned his MLB-leading 12th win on Thursday, throwing seven innings (with 11 punchouts) in Texas’ 5-0 victory vs. Houston. Lynn is 5-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his last five starts. … Ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland went 0-for-4 in his rehab debut with Triple-A Pawtucket. The Boston first baseman has been on the injured list for all but one game since May 25. He is batting .225 with 13 homers.
“Bat flips have become part of the game.” So says Tim Anderson in an mlb.com story. Former East Central Community College star Anderson, the Chicago White Sox’s marvelously talented shortstop, plays the game with much zeal, which is fine. But a demonstrative bat flip after a home run in the fourth inning of a scoreless game? That crosses the line. Anderson should not have been surprised when he was plunked — in the butt — by Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller in his next at-bat. Keller was ejected, as he should have been. Anderson was, too, rather inexplicably. All he did was yell at people as the two teams confronted each other on the field. The managers, Rick Renteria and Ned Yost, also did a lot of yelling and also were booted. A show of genuine emotion in baseball is great. Let the kids play, as they say. But there’s a time and place for it. Players have always done a pretty good job of policing their game. That’s what happened in Chicago on Wednesday. What baseball doesn’t need is the over-the-top histrionics of the NFL and the NBA, where every sack and every dunk are celebrated as if world peace had been achieved.
The road has been a winding one for Chris Ellis over the last six years, but it has led him to the big leagues. The former Ole Miss and Mississippi Braves star officially made Kansas City’s 25-man roster on Thursday. He did not pitch in the Royals’ opener. Ellis was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels out of UM in the third round in 2014. He was traded to Atlanta, making the Southern League All-Star Game with the M-Braves in 2016, then traded to St. Louis, then chosen in the Rule 5 draft of minor leaguers last December by Texas, which promptly traded him to Kansas City. The Royals will have to keep the 6-foot-5 right-hander on their active roster all season or offer him back to St. Louis. Ellis is 40-35 with a 4.47 ERA in his minor league career and went 6-4, 3.76 at Triple-A Memphis in 2018. Primarily a starter in the minors, he apparently will work out of the bullpen for KC.
They say you shouldn’t put much stock in spring training stats, but it’s hard not to notice that Hunter Renfroe’s numbers lag behind the other players competing for playing time in San Diego’s crowded outfield. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe returned to the Padres’ lineup on Tuesday after getting some time off for rest and went 1-for-4 with an RBI. That puts him at .182 with a homer and seven RBIs. Among the other outfielders on the 40-man, Jose Pirela is hitting .333 with three homers, Manuel Margot .268, Franmil Reyes .268 (two bombs), Franchy Cordero .237 and Wil Myers .206. Cordero is the only left-handed batter. Renfroe finished strong in 2018, his second full MLB tour, and wound up at .248 with 26 homers. His power – and his arm in either right field or left – should keep him in the mix for playing time this year. Still, a strong finish to the Cactus League season wouldn’t hurt. … Meanwhile, Taylorsville High alumnus Billy Hamilton is having a good spring with his new club, Kansas City. Signed in large part for the defense he’ll provide in center field, the speedy Hamilton is batting .333 (.391 on-base percentage) with six doubles, seven runs and four steals in 16 games. Hamilton’s weak bat ultimately made him expendable in Cincinnati.
Greg Hibbard, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout, is still out there plying his craft as a pitching coach — 25 years after he last pitched in the big leagues. Hibbard is set to begin his second year with Texas’ Double-A Frisco team (which is managed by former Jackson Generals star Joe Mikulik). Hibbard coached in Cleveland’s system for 13 seasons and is now in his fourth year with the Rangers. The left-hander was a pretty good big league pitcher for a fairly short period, posting a 57-50 record with a 4.05 ERA across parts of six seasons. He played at Harrison Central High before Gulf Coast CC and then went to Alabama. Drafted by Kansas City, he broke in with the Chicago White Sox and won 14 games in 1991. The next year, he was taken by Florida in the expansion draft and then traded to the Cubs. He won 15 games for them in 1993 and parlayed that success into a three-year deal with Seattle. But shoulder problems limited Hibbard to 15 games for the ’94 Mariners and ultimately ended his career. He pitched for the final time in June of that year at age 29.
Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, has agreed to a 1-year, $9 million deal with the Washington Nationals, published reports say. Dozier, 31, batted .215 with 21 homers and 72 RBIs last season, which the second baseman split between Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The former All-Star looks like a good fit in a Nationals lineup that includes – at the moment – Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman and on a team that likely will contend in the strong National League East. P.S. Petal High product DeMarcus Evans was named Texas’ minor league reliever of the year and will be honored at the Dr Pepper Texas Rangers Winter Warmup on Jan. 25 in Arlington, Texas. Evans, a 25th-round pick in 2015, was 4-1 with nine saves, a 1.77 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 56 innings at Low Class A Hickory. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound right-hander also pitched in the Arizona Fall League. … Former William Carey star Tyler James was rated the fastest prospect in Kansas City’s system in a recent mlb.com article. A 25th-round selection in 2017, James led the rookie Arizona League with 31 steals in 2017 and the rookie Pioneer League with 38 last summer, when he also batted .312.
And now for something completely different: After 17 years in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system, Tim Dillard has been signed by Texas. The minor league deal with the Rangers includes a spring training invite for the former Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College star, now 35. Right-hander Dillard had a 9.70 ERA in 25 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2018 but has a 4.07 career minor league ERA. He also has 73 MLB appearances on his resume, the last in 2012. Dillard has become something of a social media star (see previous posts) in recent years. … In the span of a few minutes last week, ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis went from being the property of the St. Louis Cardinals to the Texas Rangers to the Kansas City Royals. He was picked in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft by the Rangers out of the Cardinals’ system, then traded to the Royals. If he doesn’t make the Royals’ big league roster in the spring, he’ll likely return to the Cardinals, for whom he pitched very well at Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Ellis, originally drafted out of Oxford by the Los Angeles Angels, also has pitched in Atlanta’s system. … Former Ole Miss and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee was picked up by the New York Mets from Miami’s system in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Lee, an outfielder, got into a handful of big league games with the Marlins last April but spent the rest of the season in the minors before being removed from the 40-man roster in November. … PRCC product Zach Clark, a 2016 draftee by Milwaukee, is playing in the Australian Baseball League, hitting .216 in 15 games for Auckland. Clark hit .246 with eight homers and 19 steals for Wisconsin in the Class A Midwest League this past season. … Ole Miss product Dallas Woolfolk, a 13th-round pick by Oakland in June, was suspended for 50 games next season after testing positive for Amphetamine, MLB announced on Friday. Woolfolk had a 7.31 ERA in 11 appearances in the rookie-level Arizona League this summer.
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.
Tyler James, whose speed helped William Carey University reach the NAIA World Series in 2017 and helped him get drafted into pro ball, has not slowed down. James led the rookie Pioneer League in stolen bases this season with 38 and now has 69 bags in two years in the Kansas City Royals’ system. The 5-foot-10 outfielder/second baseman also batted .312 with 55 runs in 47 games for Idaho Falls. One of his two homers came against former Mississippi State ace Konnor Pilkington, leading off a game on Aug. 11. James, a Louisiana native, batted .282 with 111 stolen bases in three years at Carey. The Royals drafted him in the 25th round in 2017. James is now in Instructional League in Surprise, Ariz., with a bevy of other Royals minor leaguers who are getting some extra work before calling it a season. … Other Mississippi-connected players on IL rosters in either Arizona or Florida include: Austin Riley with Atlanta; Taylor Braley, Davis Bradshaw and Milton Smith, Jr., with Miami; Joe Gray with Milwaukee; Zack Shannon with Arizona; Ryan Rolison, Will Golsan and Hunter Stovall with Colorado; Simon Landry with the Los Angeles Dodgers; Steffon Moore with Tampa Bay; Brent Rooker and Willie Joe Garry are with Minnesota; Jacob Billingsley with Houston; Jack Kruger with the LA Angels; Dallas Woolfolk with Oakland; and Demarcus Evans with Texas.