Other contract offers for more money and years reportedly were on the table when Brian Dozier chose a 1-year, $9 million deal with Washington last week. The Southern Miss product from Fulton is betting on himself to rebound from a tough 2018 season that may have caused his stock to drop. “Going into this year, personally, you kind of have a chip on your shoulder,” Dozier said in an mlb.com story. Dozier, 31, hit .215 last year with 21 homers playing for Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He admitted that a knee injury hampered him but says he is fully recovered now. The former All-Star also said he feels he is a good fit with the Nationals – who needed a second baseman — and likes the club’s prospects of contending for the postseason in 2019. He’ll be back on the market in 2020. … In an under-the-radar move over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox signed Biloxi native Jacob Lindgren to a minor league deal. The former St. Stanislaus High and Mississippi State star has missed the last two seasons with injuries. He had Tommy John surgery last spring. The 25-year-old left-hander was in Atlanta’s system in 2018 but was cut loose in October. A former second-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2014, he had a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2015. … The Philadelphia Phillies signed Laurel’s Bobby Dickerson, formerly of Buck Showalter’s Baltimore staff, as their new first-base coach last week. Dickerson, coincidentally, has been a longtime mentor to free agent Manny Machado, whom the Phillies have been hotly pursuing. … What has 199 big league wins, 22 saves, 140 professional home runs, 1,417 minor league managerial victories and a World Series ring? The four featured guests – Roy Oswalt, Jay Powell, Hunter Renfroe and Chris Maloney, all Mississippi natives with impressive baseball pedigrees – at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Hot Stove Hall of Fame Evening, set for Jan. 24 at the museum in Jackson. Tickets are on sale at the museum or online at www.msfame.com.
Opening day is always a special occasion. Belhaven University’s 2019 opener on Feb. 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium has taken on added significance. It’ll be the first game of the last season of Hill Denson’s illustrious coaching career. Denson announced via the school website that he has decided to retire after more than 50 years of coaching at the prep and college level. He has won more than 1,200 games all told, collected a bundle of trophies and awards and been elected to numerous Halls of Fame, including the American Baseball Coaches Association just last year. A former Southern Miss player, he helped lay the foundation for what that program has become during his 14 seasons as the coach there; the field at Taylor Park is named in his honor. He also took Belhaven baseball to new heights, including a trip to the NAIA World Series, over his 19-year tenure. During one memorable year (2005), he coached the Blazers and managed Jackson’s independent pro team, the Jackson Senators. Denson is a down-home, good guy who has had a wide-ranging impact on baseball in this state. This final season is one to celebrate all that, yes, but it’ll be tinged with sadness. Games at Smith-Wills won’t be the same without him.
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.
Brian Dozier, who seemingly would be a nice catch for some team, hasn’t generated a lot of buzz on the free agent market. The second baseman out of Southern Miss has had talks with the Washington Nationals and may also be on Milwaukee’s radar, per various reports, but otherwise there has been little news or even rumor. Dozier, 31, has both an All-Star Game appearance and a Gold Glove on his resume. Though just a .246 career hitter, he has 172 homers and 102 steals over his six-plus seasons in the big leagues. He made $9 million last year when he played for Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. A knee problem may have been a factor in a late-season slump that carried into the postseason. … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz and Pascagoula native Tony Sipp are also unsigned major league free agents. UM’s Lance Lynn (Texas), Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton (Kansas City) and former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman (Chicago Cubs) have found homes for 2019, though Graveman isn’t likely to have an impact until 2020. The right-hander will make $575,000 this year while he rehabs from Tommy John surgery; an escalator clause will boost it to $2 million if he makes the big leagues in 2019. The team holds a $3M option for 2020. Graveman is 23-29, 4.38 ERA for his MLB career, spent mostly with Oakland. He was 1-5, 7.60 in 2018 before ultimately being shut down for the surgery. Interestingly enough, his one win last season came against the New York Yankees. It was his final big league start of 2018, on May 11 at Yankee Stadium, and he yielded just one earned run on three hits over six innings. … Hunter Renfroe, the ex-State standout and current San Diego outfielder, continues to see his name pop up in trade rumors. Renfroe, who’ll be 27 this month, started slowly in 2018 and also endured an injury but rebounded to hit .248 with 26 home runs and 68 RBIs over 117 games. He belted 18 homers and drove in 41 runs over the last two months. He’s not likely to ever be a high-average hitter – though he did hit .300 in Triple-A in 2016 — but he does have serious pop.
Seven state schools, including the Big 3 NCAA Division I schools, are ranked in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s preseason polls, which came out this week. There might be a tendency to take such news for granted – aren’t there a bunch of Mississippi schools ranked every year? – but we really should not do that. Let’s put this in perspective. Mississippi ranks among the least populous states – 34th in 2018, according to World Atlas – and is smaller, population-wise, than any other Deep South state. It produces good players: 16 Mississippi high school products appeared in big league games in 2018. Per capita, that figure is among the best in the nation. But there isn’t a large volume of talent. And there are 30 senior and junior colleges playing baseball in the state. College coaches here can’t just roll out the balls and bats and win games. Over the years, they’ve mined and refined the state’s talent to build winning programs and grow tremendous fan support. They’ve developed tradition and created brands that are attractive to out-of-state talent. Twenty-two state college alumni, including 11 who played high school ball in other states, appeared in big league games in 2018. Each of the state’s Big 3 had a player in the World Series this year: Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State) and Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss) with Boston and Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s pretty impressive stuff for what Willie Morris used to call “poor old whupped-down Mis’ippi.” So when these polls come out, sprinkled with Mississippi schools, don’t just shrug. Smile and be proud. … Collegiate Baseball pegged Ole Miss, SEC Tournament champ in 2018, at No. 11 in NCAA Division I. Mississippi State, which went to the College World Series last summer, is No. 27 and Southern Miss, 2018 C-USA champion, is No. 30. Delta State, coming off yet another NCAA regional appearance, is No. 10 in Division II, while Mississippi College, the Gulf South Conference Tournament champ in 2018, got votes in the D-II poll. Meridian Community College, runner-up in the Region 23 Tournament last season, is No. 9 in the NJCAA D-II poll, with defending state champion Pearl River checking in at 13th and Jones County 15th. … MSU’s Jake Mangum and USM’s Matt Wallner made CB’s first-team All-America list, while UM’s Parker Caracci and Ryan Olenek were second- and third-team picks.
Ole Miss product Chris Ellis, coming off a good 2018 minor league campaign, is getting some off-season work in the Dominican Winter League. The right-hander threw seven shutout innings to get a win on Wednesday and has yet to allow an earned run in three starts (17 2/3 innings) for Escogido. Ellis went 10-4, 3.93 at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the St. Louis system in 2018. This was the fifth year in pro ball for Ellis, 26, a former third-round draftee (by the Los Angeles Angels) who starred for the Mississippi Braves in 2016. … Louis Coleman, the former Pillow Academy star from Greenwood, and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque have re-signed with Detroit on minor league deals. Veteran big leaguer Coleman, a right-handed reliever, had a 3.51 ERA in 51 games with the Tigers last season. Scivicque, a catcher, played in Triple-A in 2018. … Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner, both outfielders, made mlb.com’s latest list of the top 50 2019 draft prospects. Ealy, a two-sport star and Ole Miss commit, is ranked No. 18, while Wallner, who has 35 homers in his two seasons in Hattiesburg, is No. 26. Ealy’s skill set is compared to that of Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma quarterback who has signed to play pro baseball with Oakland. … Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Stovall didn’t impress just with his bat during his pro debut this summer. He also played five different positions at rookie-level Grand Junction in the Colorado system, and he may add a sixth to his resume in 2019. Stovall, a catcher in high school before shifting to the infield at State, brushed up on his catching skills in Instructional League this fall. “He’s got a chance to be a true super-utility (player),” Rockies farm director Zach Wilson told Baseball America. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound Stovall, a 21st-round pick last June, homered in his first two at-bats for Grand Junction and wound up at .296 with 10 bombs and 41 RBIs in 49 games. He played primarily second base. … Charlie Hayes, the Hattiesburg native and ex-Forrest County AHS star, was a good big league third baseman for a long time. He batted .262 with 144 homers over 14 seasons and won a World Series ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. That’s a tough act for son Ke’Bryan to follow – but there are those who think he’s up to the task. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2015, was the organization’s minor league player of the year in 2018. He batted .293 with seven homers, seven triples, 31 doubles and 12 stolen bases in the Double-A Eastern League. He also won a Gold Glove and played in the All-Star Futures Game. “I think we’re looking at him long term to be the anchor in our infield and our lineup in Pittsburgh at some point,” farm director Larry Broadway told milb.com. That point could come in 2019.
’Tis the season for speculation on MLB player movement, and there is plenty of it out there. Lance Lynn, the ex-Ole Miss standout, did not make Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 50 free agents last month but is rated as one of the next best six in a piece posted today. The right-hander, 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA for Minnesota and the New York Yankees in 2018, is projected as a good fit for Philadelphia. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier was rated No. 28 by SI and projected as a nice fit in Cleveland, while Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum Tony Sipp ranked No. 46 and was targeted for the Chicago Cubs. … Ex-UM star Drew Pomeranz, also a free agent after winning a ring with Boston, might be on San Diego’s radar. The big lefty was an All-Star for the Padres in 2016 before being traded to the Red Sox. … Trade rumors again are mentioning Hunter Renfroe and Billy Hamilton. Former Mississippi State standout Renfroe mashed 26 homers last season for the Padres, who have a surplus of outfielders. “Renfroe would help fetch a nice return,” mlb.com’s AJ Cassavell wrote. “But he’s not an overwhelming favorite to be traded.” Taylorsville native Hamilton, a standout center fielder who hit just .236 with a career-low 34 steals for Cincinnati, will be a free agent after the 2019 season. … It’ll be interesting to see what Toronto’s plans are for Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal. He scuffled in Triple-A (.240) and barely played after a late September call-up. And the Blue Jays appear set in the outfield. … Seemingly entrenched in Pittsburgh is ex-State star Adam Frazier, who is projected as the Pirates’ regular second baseman or an everyday-playing utility man. Considered a natural leadoff hitter, Frazier batted .277 with 10 homers last season. “It seems like the more he plays, the better he gets,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said in September.
Three Mississippi products reached the 20-home run plateau in the big leagues in 2018, and there’s more Magnolia State power on the way. Four Mississippi prep or college alumni are rated by MLB Pipeline as the No. 1 power prospect in their big league organization. DeSoto Central High grad Austin Riley, Harrison Central product Bobby Bradley and ex-Mississippi State stars Brent Rooker and Nathaniel Lowe, each on the cusp of making the majors, made the list. MLB Pipeline’s writers note that the choices were made based on “usable” power, not just “raw” power. Atlanta prospect Riley hit 19 home runs in 2018, six for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before moving to Triple-A, and slugged .522. He could be the Braves’ third baseman by next spring. Bradley belted 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in Cleveland’s system and has 114 round-trippers in five pro seasons. Rooker hit 22 home runs in Double-A for Minnesota after blasting 18 in his pro debut in 2017. Lowe, a Tampa Bay prospect, hit 27 homers and slugged .568 over three levels of the minors, finishing in Triple-A in an amazing breakout season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see all four of them in The Show at some point in 2019. P.S. In the 2018 All-Mississippi Home Run Derby in MLB, Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, led the way with 26 homers. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier hit 21 and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson whacked 20.
Fall ball wraps up for Ole Miss and Southern Miss this weekend. The Rebels play the annual Pizza Bowl intrasquad contest tonight at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field, while the Golden Eagles finish with a game at Tulane on Sunday. Mississippi State concluded its session on Oct. 13 with the finale of the Fall World Series in Starkville. … Ole Miss and USM played exhibition games last Sunday, UM hosting Arkansas-Little Rock and USM bringing in Nicholls State. … Cole Zabowski (homer, four RBIs), Will Ethridge and Gunnar Hoglund were among the Rebels who shined against UALR. Hoglund, a freshman who passed on pro ball to play for the Rebels, has made an impression both pitching and hitting this fall. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Hoglund was the 36th overall pick by Pittsburgh as a pitcher after posting a 0.27 ERA this past year in high school in Florida. … Matt Wallner and Brant Blaylock – a highly regarded transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College – hit clutch homers for the Golden Eagles against Nicholls at Taylor Park. Blaylock, who transferred to NWCC from State, hit .385 with 18 homers for the Rangers in 2018. He can also pitch. … Familiar names rose to the occasion for State in the decisive Game 3 of its Fall World Series last month. Ethan Small pitched four hitless innings and Dustin Skelton drove in Jake Mangum – yes, he’s still around — with the go-ahead run in the extra-inning contest. A newcomer, juco transfer infielder Gunner Halter, also had an impressive camp for the Bulldogs and could be a player to watch in 2019. He hit .440 with 19 homers at Seminole State in Oklahoma last season.
Mitch Moreland and Drew Pomeranz earned World Series rings on Sunday night when Boston dispatched Los Angeles in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State star from Amory, hit a key home run in Saturday’s comeback win; Ole Miss product Pomeranz did not make a Series appearance out of the Red Sox’s bullpen. This makes four straight years that a Mississippi-connected player has won a ring. Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Tony Sipp got one with Houston last year (though he didn’t play in the Series); UM alum Chris Coghlan won his with the Chicago Cubs in 2016; and Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson was on Kansas City’s title team in 2015. … Pomeranz, Sipp, former Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier (who was with the vanquished Dodgers in the 2018 Series) and ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn (who won a ring with St. Louis in 2011) are free agents this off-season. … Former Pillow Academy standout Louis Coleman reportedly elected free agency last week after he was removed from Detroit’s 40-man roster and outrighted to the minors.