30 Aug

down on the farm

Four Mississippians appear on the early rosters of Arizona Fall League teams. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley (Atlanta) is on the Peoria roster, along with current Mississippi Braves teammate Touki Touissant and former M-Braves Ronald Acuna and Max Fried. Gulfport native Bobby Bradley, a highly ranked Cleveland prospect, will play for Glendale; Ole Miss product and Picayune native Braxton Lee (Miami) is on Salt River’s roster; and Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull (Detroit) will pitch for Mesa. Turnbull pitched in the AFL last year. … Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2016, was named pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League after going 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA for Springfield; he is now at Triple-A Memphis. Former M-Braves skipper Phillip Wellman, now at San Antonio, was the TL’s manager of the year. M-Braves pitcher Kolby Allard and outfielder Johnny Davis of Biloxi made the Southern League’s postseason All-Star team, Davis as the “best hustler.” Second-year pros Chuckie Robinson from Southern Miss and Wyatt Short out of Ole Miss earned All-Star honors in the Class A Midwest League. Robinson, a catcher, is batting .280 with 15 home runs and 75 RBIs for Quad Cities in the Houston system. Short, a left-handed closer, is 4-3 with 15 saves and 3.25 ERA for South Bend, a Chicago Cubs affiliate. … Itawamba Community College product Tyreque Reed, a 2017 draftee by Texas, is 2-for-6 in two games after being out for three weeks in the rookie Arizona League. The Rangers’ minor league player of the month for July, Reed is batting .349 with five homers. … Ex-State standout Hunter Renfroe had three hits and two RBIs for Triple-A El Paso on Tuesday and is now 17-for-31 (.548) in eight games since San Diego sent him down. … State alum Brent Rooker, a 2017 draftee by Minnesota, saw his three-game homer streak end on Tuesday at Class A Fort Myers. Rooker has 11 homers and is batting .281 in 38 games in the Florida State League. … The move from catcher to pitcher has not paid immediate dividends for Blake Anderson, the former West Lauderdale High standout who was a supplemental first-round pick by Miami in 2014. The oft-injured Anderson has yielded six runs on eight hits and six walks in nine innings of work in the rookie Gulf Coast League.

23 Aug

honorable mentions

The acclaimed writer Joe Posnanski, in an article posted on mlb.com on Tuesday, ranked the top 25 nicknames in baseball history and did an admirable job with this truly daunting task. Two Mississippians made his list: Oil Can Boyd at No. 21 and Cool Papa Bell at No. 2 (behind only Babe Ruth). Magnolia State natives have inspired so many colorful nicknames, having just two make such a list doesn’t really do the state justice. After all, we’ve had a Boo (Ferriss), a Bubba (Phillips), a Buddy (Myer), a Boomer (Scott) and a Boob (McNair, who also answered to Rabbit). We’ve had four Walkers make The Show, each with a catchy nickname: The Hat (Harry), Gee (Gerald), Hub (Harvey) and Chico (Cleotha). We’ve had a Nook (Logan), a Sport (McAllister) and a Reb (Russell). Then there’s Cobra (Dave Parker), Popeye (Harry Craft, also known as Wildfire), Vinegar Bend (Wilmer Mizell), The Jet (Chet Lemon, a.k.a. Juice), The Rope (Bob Boyd) and the Mississippi Mudcat (Guy Bush). That’s not all, but it seems enough to make the point. P.S. Former Picayune High standout T.J. House became the 28th Mississippi-connected player to appear in an MLB game this season when he worked a scoreless inning for Toronto on Tuesday night. It was the Blue Jays debut for House, who previously pitched in the big leagues for Cleveland. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum from McComb, hit his 23rd home run of the season for Tampa Bay in its win against Toronto. Dickerson trails Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) by three in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his previous eight starts for St. Louis, gave up four runs in six innings against San Diego, the worst hitting team in the majors. Lynn got a no-decision in the Cardinals’ 12-4 loss.

21 Aug

not so fast there

They were playing “Taps” for the Minnesota Twins’ season as recently as Aug. 3. They had just traded away closer Brandon Kintzler and starter Jaime Garcia and stood 51-54, well off the playoff pace. They were coming off a rough 2-6 road trip that a Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer called “the beginning of the end.” But Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, had other ideas. As if to proclaim, “This season isn’t over until I say it’s over,” the veteran second baseman and leadoff batter went on a tear – and the team followed. Dozier hit his 25th home run and scored three times as Minnesota beat Arizona 12-5 on Sunday to improve its record to 63-59. Dozier, a .260 hitter on the year, is batting .329 in August. Over his last 16 games, he has belted eight home runs, driven in 16 runs and scored 19. Heading into a doubleheader today against the Chicago White Sox, the Twins are tied for the second wild card and 5 games back of first-place Cleveland in the American League Central. Having just put Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list, the Twins may look to Dozier to carry even more of a load. He appears more than capable. P.S. Milwaukee sent rookie Brandon Woodruff back to Triple-A Colorado Springs – but not because of any disappointment in the Mississippi State alum’s performance. The Brewers, still in playoff contention in the National League, won’t need a fifth starter until September. Woodruff is 1-1, 1.62 ERA in his three starts.

18 Aug

whatever happened to …

Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace and onetime big leaguer, is still taking the mound every fifth day for the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Miami’s Triple-A affiliate. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, 29, worked 7 2/3 innings on Thursday night, yielding just two runs with eight strikeouts but getting no decision. He is 8-10 with a 5.31 ERA, a number inflated by a couple of bad outings. Copeland was a horse at USM in 2010, winning his first 11 decisions and earning Conference USA Tournament MVP honors. Drafted by Baltimore in the 21st round in 2010, he was released in 2012 and signed with Toronto. He spent parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ system and got his cup of coffee in the big leagues – with several refills, actually – for the Jays in 2015. He was up and down from Triple-A Buffalo to Toronto multiple times that season and managed to get into five MLB games, going 1-1, 6.46. He went to Korea for a stint in 2016, returned and re-signed with Toronto. He became a free agent again last off-season and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins. Copeland has a career minor league ledger of 60-62, 4.18 over 174 games, 57 of those in Triple-A, where you can smell the big league coffee but not quite taste it.

15 Aug

progress report

Brent Rooker, the first Mississippian picked in the 2017 draft (35th overall), has proven to be a quick study in pro ball. The ex-Mississippi State standout has already advanced a level in Minnesota’s system and is batting .314 with four home runs over his last 10 games, raising his average at high Class A Fort Myers to .237 with seven homers. But Rooker has a lot of company in the fast lane. Each of the top 10 Mississippi-connected players drafted and signed in June is off to a good start, some a great start. Tyreque Reed (Itawamba Community College) is batting .350 with five homers and 26 RBIs in the rookie Arizona League, though he hasn’t played in over a week for the AZL (Texas) Rangers. Dylan Burdeaux (Southern Miss) hit .319 in short-season A for Detroit and was quickly bumped up to low-A, where he is batting .265 in 23 games. Taylor Braley (USM), the second Mississippian picked (sixth round, Miami), is 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA in four appearances in the short-season A New York-Penn League. It may feel like old home week at times in the NYPL. Other Mississippians in the league: Braley’s former teammate Kirk McCarty is with Cleveland’s affiliate and is 2-1, 2.05 in nine games; Ryan Gridley (MSU), an Oakland draftee, is batting .268 with 17 RBIs and five steals; and David Parkinson (Ole Miss) is 1-1, 2.84 for Philadelphia’s affiliate. Tate Blackman (UM), in rookie ball with the Chicago White Sox, is hitting .227 with two homers and 13 RBIs and is over .300 in his last 10 games. Bryce Brown (Jackson State) is batting .254 with 20 RBIs and 12 steals at the rookie level for Tampa Bay. Erstwhile East Mississippi CC quarterback Vijay Miller, a San Diego draftee who apparently has given up football, has a 4.00 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 18 innings in the rookie Arizona League.

14 Aug

numbers to crunch

10 – Strikeouts by Chris Stratton on Sunday. The ex-Mississippi State star threw 6 2/3 shutout innings for San Francisco against Washington, notching his first win as an MLB starter. The Tupelo native has made 13 appearances, three starts, over the last two seasons.
8 – Strikeouts by Kendall Graveman, matching a career-high. The former State standout got his third win – and first since May – for Oakland, going seven innings against Baltimore. Graveman was on the disabled list for all of June and July.
122 – Strikeouts, as a hitter, this season by Hunter Renfroe, who took a hat trick for San Diego against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The State alum ranks 16th on the MLB strikeout chart and first among Mississippians. Tim Anderson has 118, Corey Dickerson 115.
6 – Leadoff home runs this season by Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product’s 23rd bomb of the year helped Minnesota beat Detroit.
3 – Hits by Alex Presley in his second game off the disabled list for Detroit. The ex-Ole Miss standout is batting .327 in 36 games.
3 – Hits for Corey Dickerson in his last 33 at-bats. The former Meridian Community College standout went 1-for-4 in Tampa Bay’s loss to Cleveland and saw his average dip to .289.
9 – Hitting streak for Jarrod Dyson, who went 2-for-4 for Seattle in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels. The ex-Southwest Miss CC star is 14-for-34 (.418) during his streak, boosting his average to .258.
15 – Hits for Tim Anderson in his last 48 at-bats, a .312 average. The East Central CC alum hit his 13th homer for the Chicago White Sox in a loss to Kansas City.
49 – Stolen bases by Billy Hamilton, who got one Sunday in Cincinnati’s loss to Milwaukee. The Taylorsville High product has topped 50 steals in each of the previous three seasons and has 233 career, the most by a Mississippi native.

11 Aug

he’s no. 1

On this date in 1949, Luke Easter became the first black Mississippian to play in a major league game. A native of Jonestown, in Coahoma County, Easter made his debut as a pinch hitter for the Cleveland Indians at old Cleveland Stadium. This was two years and several months after Jackie Robinson broke the modern-era color line. Easter was 34 when he got his chance, having already played numerous years in various Negro Leagues. Easter did not homer in 45 at-bats for the Indians in 1949 but mashed 93 homers over the next four seasons, many of them tape-measure shots. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman produced two 100-RBI campaigns and had another of 97. Easter’s big league career was over after six games in 1954, but he played 10 more years in the minors. Despite his short time with the team, Easter was selected as one of the 100 Greatest Cleveland Indians in 2001, when the club celebrated its 100th anniversary. He died tragically in 1979 (see previous posts). P.S. In the majors on Thursday: Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star, snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a game-changing three-run homer for Tampa Bay in a win over Cleveland. It was homer No. 22 for Dickerson, who joins Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier atop the leaderboard in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe has 20. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn was hit in the head by a batted ball in the third inning but stayed in the game for St. Louis. He worked six innings all told, allowing two runs, and took a no-decision in the surging Cardinals’ 8-6 win vs. Kansas City.