This was a close call. Drew Pomeranz went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA last season and was a key player in Boston’s drive to a division title. But Brian Dozier, who also had sparkling numbers, was arguably THE key player in unheralded Minnesota’s drive to a wild card berth. On that basis, the former Southern Miss star is a repeat winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the best performance by a Mississippian in the majors. Dozier, who also won the 2016 award, batted a career-high .271 (.359 on-base) with 34 homers, 93 RBIs, 106 runs and 16 steals in his fifth full season with the Twins. He was a regular on the highlight shows for his defense at second base. What’s more, he led off the American League wild card game against New York with a home run, though the Twins couldn’t hold the lead. No disrespect to Pomeranz — or for that matter Zack Cozart, Corey Dickerson, Jarrod Dyson, Lance Lynn and Adam Frazier, each of whom had a very good season – but Dozier was simply a cut above. … The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Previous honorees include Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan.
Today’s subject: Frank W. Baker. Not to be confused with Frank “Home Run” Baker, an early 1900s star, or Frank Baker Jr., who played for Cleveland in 1969 and ’71, this Baker was a second-round draft pick out of Southern Miss by the New York Yankees in 1967. Baker, a lanky, left-handed hitting middle infielder, is one of a large contingent of players from the Meridian area to make the majors. He played three years at USM, where he is in the Hall of Fame, and parts of four years in the big leagues. After batting .259 at Triple-A Syracuse in 1970, Baker debuted with the Yankees on Aug. 9, going 0-for-3 against Baltimore’s Jim Palmer. In 146 MLB games with New York and then Baltimore, Baker batted just .191. He hit his one big league homer in 1973. He was out of the game by 1975.
Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss star from Picayune, went 3-for-5 in Thursday’s regular season finale to finish at .347, good for seventh in the Arizona Fall League batting race. Playing for Salt River, the Miami prospect had eight steals, which ranked fourth in the league. … Peoria takes on Mesa in Saturday’s AFL championship game (2 p.m., MLB Network). Peoria, managed by 2017 Mississippi Braves skipper Luis Salazar, features a bunch of M-Braves alumni, most notably ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and uber-prospect Ronald Acuna. Riley hit .300 with six homers. Acuna batted .325 and led the loop with seven bombs. Spencer Turnbull and Zac Houston, both Detroit farmhands, are on Mesa’s roster. Turnbull, a Madison Central product, went 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA as a starter. Houston, a Mississippi State alum, had a stellar AFL campaign: no runs allowed on four hits with 18 strikeouts and one walk in 11 1/3 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll (New York Yankees) was also outstanding: 0.00 ERA, league-best four saves and 18 K’s in 11 2/3 innings for Scottsdale. … Former Harrison Central standout Bobby Bradley, at 21 one of the younger players in the league, mostly scuffled, batting .230 with two homers and 32 strikeouts for Glendale. Bradley is one of Cleveland’s top prospects. … Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass (Los Angeles Angels), a late add to Scottsdale’s roster, went 1-for-24.
Seth Smith, the ex-Ole Miss star from Jackson, is a free agent and could sign with a new team as early as today. Smith, 35, batted .258 with 13 homers for Baltimore in 2017. If you’re keeping track, the Orioles are the fifth different organization Smith, a .261 career hitter, has played for since breaking into the big leagues in 2007.
As we plunge into the off-season, here are some other numbers of interest for other Mississippians in the majors:
Brian Dozier: 106. The ex-Southern Miss standout topped the century mark in runs for the fourth straight season with Minnesota, while also hitting 34 homers and driving in 93 runs.
Drew Pomeranz: 173.2. The former Ole Miss star worked a career-high in innings in his first full year in Boston and posted a 17-6 record with a 3.32 ERA.
Corey Dickerson: .241. That was the Meridian Community College alum’s batting average after the All-Star Game, which he played in. He hit .312 before the break for Tampa Bay.
Zack Cozart: 55. The Ole Miss product, a free agent, set a career-high for extra base hits, including 24 homers and seven triples during an All-Star campaign in Cincinnati.
Lance Lynn: .605. That’s the career winning percentage for the big right-hander out of Ole Miss. A free agent, Lynn is 72-47 in six years with St. Louis.
Mitch Moreland: 34. The Mississippi State product, a free agent, notched a career-high for doubles and also belted 22 homers, one off his career-best, in his first season with Boston.
Adam Frazier: 7. That’s the number of positions (including DH) the ex-State standout played in 2017 for Pittsburgh. He batted .276 with six homers, 53 RBIs and nine steals in 121 games all told.
Jarrod Dyson: 204. The Southwest Mississippi CC alum, a free agent, topped 200 career steals last season and has 26 or more in each of the last six seasons, despite being a part-time player. He set career-highs for at-bats, runs, home runs and RBIs with Seattle in 2017.
Billy Hamilton: 0. Remarkably, the former Taylorsville High star has yet to win a National League stolen base title, despite stealing 56, 57, 58 and 59 bases over the past four seasons for Cincinnati.
Hunter Renfroe: 14. The former State star played 14 games in the minors in 2017 after being abruptly sent down by San Diego in August. He hit .509 with four homers at El Paso; he batted .231 with 26 homers for the Padres with 140 strikeouts and 27 walks.
Tim Anderson: 13. The East Central CC product walked only 13 times in 606 plate appearances and struck out 162 times. On the positive side, he hit .257 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs in his second season with the Chicago White Sox.
Alex Presley: 5,693. The former Ole Miss standout hit the home run, on Sept. 19, that tied the MLB single-season record for total bombs. That was one of the three homers he hit last season for Detroit.
Anthony Alford: 1. The onetime Mr. Baseball from Petal got his first – and, to date, only – career hit with Toronto on May 23. Alford’s MLB stint was interrupted by injury after four games, and he spent the rest of the season in the minors. He’ll likely vie for a starting job in the spring.
Alas, ex-Harrison Central High standout Bobby Bradley did not win in the fan voting for the final two rosters spots in Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game. Bradley, a top-rated Cleveland prospect with 87 home runs in four pro seasons, is batting .273 with two homers in 11 games for Glendale. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley and fellow Mississippi Braves alum Ronald Acuna, who are in the Fall Stars Game, homered for Peoria on Tuesday, the fourth for each. That’s one off the league lead, which belongs to M-Braves alum Alex Jackson. Riley is batting .342, Acuna .377 with an amazing 18 runs in 15 games. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll, who is not in the Fall Stars Game, leads the AFL with four saves for Scottsdale. The New York Yankees prospect has not allowed a run in nine innings of work and has 14 strikeouts. … Mississippi State product Zac Houston, a Detroit farmhand, struck out three batters in 1 1/3 innings for Mesa on Tuesday, running his AFL total to 11 in 6 1/3. He has yielded three hits and no runs. … Former Meridian Community College standout Wade Wass was a late addition to the Los Angeles Angels’ AFL team and is 1-for-9 in two games for Scottsdale. Wass, a catcher, hit .257 with 11 homers for Double-A Mobile this past season but was injured in late July and didn’t play again.
Far from the bright lights of Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, Ferriss Field in Cleveland also will come to life tonight. Delta State fans will get a preview of the 2018 Statesmen team when the annual Green and White Series begins. Zack Shannon, everybody’s All-American from last year’s NCAA Division II College World Series team, is the big name on the Gray team. He hit .434 with 19 homers and 88 RBIs in 2017. Leading the White squad is Clay Casey, who batted .333 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs. Game 2 of the best-of-3 is slated for Friday and the potential Game 3 is Saturday. … Ole Miss has one more weekend of intrasquads ahead before next Wednesday’s Pizza Bowl, the culmination of fall ball in Oxford. Sophomore Thomas Dillard has had a particularly strong fall, batting about .480, and redshirt junior Brady Feigl threw four perfect innings on Sunday. Freshmen Anthony Servideo and Carl Gindl also have stood out. Servideo, a middle infielder, was hitting .348 before going 1-for-9 in last weekend’s games. … Southern Miss has been transitioning to new pitching coach Christian Ostrander during its fall session. Ostrander is a Delta State alum who previously coached at Louisiana Tech and Jones County Junior College, where he had some outstanding teams. The Golden Eagles lost two key arms, Kirk McCarty and Taylor Braley, from last year’s 50-win squad. “The unknown is going to be who steps up for us,” USM coach Scott Berry told d1baseball.com. … Mississippi State’s 2017 recruiting class has been ranked in the top 25 by three different publications. The Bulldogs, who started fall ball on Oct. 9, are blending in three freshmen who were drafted last June plus Alabama’s Mr. Baseball, Owen Lovell. Lovell, 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, could help fill the void left by slugger Brent Rooker, the SEC player of the year and Ferriss Trophy winner. State wraps up its fall season Nov. 17-19 at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium.
Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss pitcher; Ron Gardenhire, the Jackson Mets shortstop from way back when; and ex-Jackson State slugger Dave Clark are among the candidates for the four managerial openings in the big leagues, according to various reports. Callaway, Cleveland’s pitching coach, is rumored to be the favorite in Philadelphia but is also said to be a good fit for the New York Mets. Gardenhire, currently bench coach for Arizona, is reportedly under consideration for the job in Boston and also Detroit, where Clark has been the third-base coach for four years. Gardenhire managed in Minnesota for 13 seasons, winning over 1,000 games and making six postseason trips. Clark was an interim skipper in Houston in 2009. … Charlie Morton, one of three former Mississippi Braves on Houston’s current roster, will start Game 3 of the American League Championship Series tonight at New York. CC Sabathia starts for the Yankees. Morton, a 14-game winner this season, yielded two runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALDS at Boston, a game the Astros won 5-4 to claim the series. M-Braves alums Brian McCann and Evan Gattis also play for the Astros, whose hitting coach is onetime Jackson Generals coach Dave Hudgens. … Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward went 0-for-3 in the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sunday night’s NLCS Game 2. Heyward is just one of numerous Cubs slumping this postseason; he is 2-for-15 this year and is batting .155 in 35 career postseason games. … Ole Miss alum David Goforth, who pitched briefly for Milwaukee in 2017, is now working in the Mexican Pacific League, and Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, a Miami minor leaguer, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League. Those leagues started last week.