15 Nov

chatter

’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.

09 Nov

rising power

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.

02 Nov

finishing touches

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.

29 Oct

ring bearers

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.

25 Oct

gold rush

This could be the year. Billy Hamilton, for all the jaw-dropping plays he has made in center field these last five years, has not won a Gold Glove. The Taylorsville native and Cincinnati center fielder is among the finalists this year, as are Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson and former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland. The nine winners from each of the two leagues will be announced on Nov. 4. The dash-fast Hamilton made 348 putouts this season – suffice it to say that’s a lot – registered 12 assists and committed just two errors. Dickerson, who played left field for Pittsburgh, also had an excellent year with the glove, making just one error with seven assists. Moreland, Boston’s first baseman, won a Gold Glove with Texas in 2016; he made two errors this year while handling 809 chances. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier took gold at second base with Minnesota in 2017 but did not make the list of finalists this year. Greenville natives Frank White and George Scott own the most Gold Gloves among Mississippians with eight apiece. White racked up his at second base with Kansas City back in the 1970s and ’80s. Scott earned his as a first baseman with Boston and Milwaukee in the ’60s and ’70s.

23 Oct

expectations

We should not expect much from the two Mississippi products in the 2018 World Series, according to one espn.com writer, who has offered a guide to each of the players on the Boston and Los Angeles rosters. The 50-player list was “loosely organized by how prominently each player should figure into his team’s hopes and plans.” Former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland hit .245 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs for the Red Sox this season and is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. He was hindered by a hamstring injury early in the postseason. Brian Dozier, a Southern Miss alumnus, has played sparingly for the Dodgers in recent weeks, perhaps also bothered by the lingering effects of a knee injury. On the espn.com chart, Moreland was ranked No. 21, just ahead of Yasiel Puig and Nathan Eovaldi. And yet, the 33-year-old Moreland, an All-Star this summer, was described as “an old, slow first baseman with a low batting average and only moderate power, who costs enough money for it to count and offers little upside beyond what’s there.” Uh, OK. The writer’s assessment of Dozier was far less complimentary. He was ranked No. 50, making him, by extrapolation, the least impactful player in the World Series. An LA newspaper’s description of Dozier in July as a streaky hitter, the espn.com scribe writes, “looks darkly prescient, as Dozier had the worst month of his career in September (he hit .087/.189/.229) and has been demoted to the bench for all but one postseason game so far.” All that is true — but it’s also true that Dozier, 31, is a career .324 on-base guy with 172 homers and owns a Gold Glove at second base. Maybe Moreland and Dozier don’t exactly blow your hair back, but it seems foolish to underestimate either of these battle-tested veterans on baseball’s grandest stage. P.S. Moreland isn’t likely to start Game 1 tonight against Clayton Kershaw, one of many lefties the Dodgers can run out. Dozier very well could start against Chris Sale; he’s 12-for-47 career with three homers vs. the Red Sox left-hander.

22 Oct

tiger tracks

The rebuilding efforts in Detroit, following a 64-98 season, reportedly will include more of an emphasis on speed and defense and less on power. Manager Ron Gardenhire, the ex-Jackson Mets shortstop who’ll be entering his second year with the Tigers in 2019, is said to prefer that style, and it would also seem to play better at spacious Comerica Park. That’s likely one reason why Gardenhire stuck with former Richton High star JaCoby Jones as an outfield regular despite Jones’ offensive struggles; he hit .207 but shined on defense and stole 13 bases. It’s also a reason that former Mississippi State standout Jacob Robson is seen as a potential breakthrough player for Detroit in 2019. A lefty-hitting outfielder drafted in 2016, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Robson batted .295 with 11 homers and 18 steals between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. He is getting more seasoning in the Dominican Winter League, where he is batting .273 in six games for Estrellas. Jones and Robson are among eight Mississippians who were in the Tigers’ system in 2018. Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull, also a rated prospect, made four big league appearances and should get an opportunity for a rotation job in spring training. Veteran reliever Louis Coleman, a Greenwood native and Pillow Academy product, posted a 3.51 ERA in 51 games for the Tigers in 2018; he figures to return next year. Banging on the door is Zac Houston, a 6-5 right-hander out of MSU who registered 10 saves and a 1.18 ERA at Triple-A Toledo this season. Also on the Toledo club was catcher Kade Scivicque, a Southwest Mississippi Community College alum who batted .230 in 34 games. And toiling down in A-ball were Southern Miss product Dylan Burdeaux (.245, six homers at first base for Lakeland) and Ole Miss alum Colby Bortles (.246, five homers at third base for West Michigan). Spring training might feel a little like old home week for that bunch.

17 Oct

atta boy

Quite a few atta boys to pass out to the Mississippi connections after Tuesday’s league championship games. Who better to start with than:
Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product from Fulton, making his first postseason start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, went 1-for-4 with a walk and an HBP and drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a two-out single in the first inning in the National League Championship Series. “For him to spark us, and get a point early, I thought that was huge,” LA manager Dave Roberts told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. After the 2-1, 13-inning, series-squaring win over Milwaukee, it’ll be interesting to see if Dozier gets another start in Game 5 today at Dodger Stadium.
Alex Wood. The ex-Mississippi Braves star threw a clean 11th inning with one strikeout for the Dodgers.
Orlando Arcia. The Biloxi Shuckers alum went 1-for-5 and scored Milwaukee’s lone run. After an uneven regular season, Arcia is batting .280 with three homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the postseason.
Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader. The former Shuckers chuckers worked a combined six scoreless innings in relief duty and punched out 11 for the Brewers.
Mitch Moreland. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory picked up his second RBI for Boston in the American League Championship Series when he was hit by a Roberto Osuna pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. That run extended the visiting Red Sox’s lead to 4-2, and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed with his game-breaking grand slam as Boston rolled to an 8-2 win and a 2-1 series lead over Houston.
Tony Sipp. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Moss Point closed out the sixth inning for the Astros after Joe Smith yielded Steve Pearce’s go-ahead homer. Sipp, making just his second postseason appearance, walked the first batter he faced but got a strikeout and a ground out to end the inning.
Charlie Morton. The M-Braves product will get the ball for his first postseason start of 2018 for Houston in tonight’s Game 4, a virtual must-win for the Astros. Morton, 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA this season, was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of both the World Series and the ALCS in 2017.

16 Oct

not this time

The table was set. Bases loaded. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Down four runs. On the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Los Angeles Dodgers history – Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run — there was no magic in the moonlight for Brian Dozier. The former Southern Miss standout, up as a pinch hitter, took a called third strike on a 1-2 fastball from Milwaukee’s Jeremy Jeffress, closing out the Brewers’ 4-0 victory at Dodger Stadium on Monday night. Milwaukee leads the National League Championship Series 2 games to 1. It was a frustrating game for the Dodgers, who went a collective 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and for Dozier in particular. Judging from his reaction to the final pitch, he thought it was off the plate (and he may have been right). He is now 0-for-3 in the series, all the at-bats as a pinch hitter. For the record, Dozier did hit a grand slam this season, a dramatic game-winner for Minnesota back on July 15, and was 3-for-7 with the bases loaded in 2018. But he finished the season in a dreadful slump — .133 over his last 30 games — and has gotten just five at-bats this postseason. Perhaps Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will shake up the lineup for tonight’s Game 4 against Brewers lefty Gio Gonzalez. Kiki Hernandez, who has been starting at second base, is 2-for-18 in the postseason. Dozier hits lefties fairly well. And you know he’d love another shot at a shining moment.

15 Oct

remember him?

There are always some interesting names that pop up on the Caribbean winter league rosters. To wit: Anthony Lerew, who was the starting pitcher for the Mississippi Braves in their inaugural game in 2005, was back on the bump last week for La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League. The 35-year-old right-hander allowed three runs in five innings. Lerew, who was among the first wave of M-Braves to reach Atlanta, last pitched in the big leagues in 2010 with Kansas City and last worked in affiliated ball in 2014. Perhaps he is plotting a comeback. At least four other members of the M-Braves’ original 2005 roster played this year: Brian McCann, Blaine Boyer and Gregor Blanco in the big leagues and Iker Franco in the Mexican League. … Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, who made one appearance with the New York Mets this season, is wintering in the Mexican Pacific League with Hermosillo. Now a free agent, the 30-year-old Copeland took a loss on Sunday, yielding four runs in three innings. He pitched well between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. … Ex-Ole Miss star David Goforth has made two scoreless appearances for Culiacan, also in the MPL. The Meridian native and erstwhile big leaguer, 30, posted a 3.46 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse in Washington’s system this season. … Former Mississippi State standout Jacob (Jake) Robson, a rising prospect in Detroit’s system, is playing for Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League. Robson, a lefty-hitting outfielder from Canada, batted .295 with 11 homers between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018.