Numbers generally don’t lie in baseball. And Zac Houston’s numbers are telling us this: He’s got strikeout stuff. Houston, the former Mississippi State star from Poplarville, fanned the side in an Arizona Fall League game on Monday, giving him four punchouts in two innings of scoreless relief for Mesa. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound right-hander, an 11th-round pick by Detroit in 2016, reached high-A ball this season. He had an 0.77 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings for Lakeland. Over 87 2/3 innings as a pro, Houston has 140 strikeouts, or 14.4 per nine innings. That’s strikeout stuff. He throws an upper 90s fastball and a quality slider. His walk totals are a bit high (4.6 per nine) but probably not a major concern at this point. Houston turns 23 next month. Baseball America ranked him as the Tigers’ No. 23 prospect entering 2017; MLB Pipeline doesn’t currently have him in the top 30. That should change.
In the wake of the news that Brad Ausmus is out after this season as manager of the Detroit Tigers, one has to wonder: Will Dave Clark be considered for the job in 2018? The former Shannon High and Jackson State slugger has been the Tigers’ third-base coach for four years. He knows the players. He has managed in the minors, where he won a couple of championships, and in winter league ball. And he has big league managerial experience, having served as Houston’s interim skipper for 13 games at the end of the 2009 season. Clark was a good player, as well, for parts of 13 seasons with several clubs. You’d like to think he has a shot at this job.
The sight of Tim Anderson coming to the plate likely doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of many major league pitchers. But Detroit’s Matt Boyd, one out away from a no-hitter, might rather have faced someone other than the former East Central Community College star. Anderson, a .262 hitter on the season, entered today’s game batting .429 in September and coming off his first career four-hit game for Chicago. What’s more, the right-handed hitting Anderson was 8-for-23 (.348) against left-hander Boyd over the last two seasons. He’s now 9-for-27. In the ninth, Boyd fell behind in the count 2-0, then threw a changeup, which Anderson was looking for. He sliced it into right-center field for a double, spoiling the no-no in what was otherwise an awful day for the White Sox, who lost 12-0 at Comerica Park.
It’s showtime for JaCoby Jones, the ex-Richton High star now playing center field for the Detroit Tigers. Jones took a star turn on Tuesday in a 13-2 win over Kansas City, smacking a pair of home runs and driving in three runs all told. The Tigers want to see more of that from the 25-year-old rookie over the next few weeks. It has been a rocky year for Jones, who has been up and down from Detroit to the minors several times after winning the center field job in spring training. Now getting regular playing time again for an also-ran club, he has eight hits in his last 31 at-bats, a modest .258 average but a jump from his season clip of .183. The homers on Tuesday were his first since his only other big league bomb in April. He has 10 RBIs. He also has 38 strikeouts in 82 ABs. A converted infielder, Jones is an athletic center fielder at 6 feet 2, 205 pounds with speed and power. This is only his fifth year of pro ball, but he is 25. If he’s going to be an impact player, the time is at hand. P.S. Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe of Crystal Springs is San Diego’s nominee for the 2017 Roberto Clemente Award. The award goes to the major leaguer who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Renfroe, who was the Padres’ opening day right fielder, is currently back in the minors. … Ex-Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle has been given a four-year extension (through 2021) as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hurdle, who won the National League Manager of the Year award in 2013, has been with the Pirates since 2011.
Ready or not, MLB’s Players Weekend arrives today, complete with alternate uniforms, funky accessories and, for some players, nicknames on their backs. Many traditionalists will be cringing. Here’s a sampling of what Mississippians will be wearing: Billy Hamilton is “Bone,” Zack Cozart is “Coach,” Drew Pomeranz is “Big Smooth,” Tim Anderson is “B. Moss” (in honor of a childhood friend killed earlier this year), Mitch Moreland is “2-Bags,” Kendall Graveman is “Digger,” Brian Dozier is “Doz,” and Tyler Moore is “T-Mo.” Jarrod Dyson was slated to wear “Zoombiya” (from his twitter handle) but is on the disabled list, as is Bobby “Peanut” Wahl. Seth Smith, whose unofficial nickname is “Dad” (after the character on American Dad), is sticking with “Smith.” Good call. P.S. Amidst all the shouting and brawling and ejecting at Comerica Park on Thursday, JaCoby Jones, the former Mr. Baseball from Richton High, had a good day for Detroit: 2-for-4, two RBIs and a stolen base. … Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland homered twice for Boston in its loss to Cleveland and now has 17 on the season, three in the last two days. … Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went deep for Tampa Bay in a win against Toronto. Dickerson has 24 homers. … J.T. Ginn, a pitcher/infielder at Brandon High, made the 20-man roster for USA Baseball’s Under-18 World Cup team. The team will compete in the tournament in Thunder Bay, Canada, from Sept. 1-10. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray was among the 40 finalists invited to the national trials. Ginn, 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, a Mississippi State commit, was 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings for Brandon in 2017. He also hit .483 with 16 homers.
Red-hot Alex Jackson banged out a couple more hits, including a home run, in the Mississippi Braves’ loss to Pensacola at Trustmark Park on Wednesday night. He is 10-for-23 with two bombs and seven RBIs in his last five games. If you follow the MLB draft – and who doesn’t, right? – you may remember the name Alex Jackson. In 2014, he was a high school phenom in San Diego, a big masher considered to be one of the best hitters available, a possible No. 1 overall pick. Seattle took him with the sixth selection, and for two years he sat atop their prospect chart. For whatever reason, the Mariners soured on Jackson. After the 2016 season, when he hit .243 with 11 homers and 103 strikeouts in low-A ball, the M’s traded Jackson to Atlanta in a minor league deal. Seattle had converted the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Jackson from catcher to the outfield; the Braves moved him back behind the plate, a switch Jackson reportedly was eager to make. He started 2017 at high-A Florida, hit .270 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 66 games and began to revive some of the old hype. He was promoted to Double-A on July 30. After a slow start, Jackson’s recent surge has raised his average to .239 in 12 games. … Also on fire for the M-Braves is Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star who was a first-round supplemental pick in 2015. The 20-year-old third baseman, who also started 2017 at Florida, is hitting .364 with two homers and 10 RBIs over his last 10 games and is at .276 with four homers in 29 Double-A games. … And up at Triple-A Gwinnett, Ronald Acuna, the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, is batting .341 with seven homers and is banging on the big-league door. The 19-year-old outfielder, who also started this season in A-ball, blew through Mississippi, hitting .326 with nine bombs in 57 games. P.S. Madison Central product Spencer Turnbull, pitching in the Detroit system, got roughed up in his Double-A debut on Wednesday night. He allowed six hits, five walks and six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings for Erie in the Eastern League. The 2014 second-round pick out of Alabama was 7-3 with a 3.05 ERA in high-A ball this season.
The home run was big, but the single proved bigger for Bobby Bradley on Tuesday night. Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High star, delivered a walk-off hit in the ninth inning for Akron in a 4-3 win against New Hampshire in the Double-A Eastern League. Bradley hit his 19th homer in the sixth, helping the Rubber Ducks rally from a 3-0 deficit. The lefty-hitting first baseman, 21, one of Cleveland’s highest-rated prospects, is batting .242 with 73 RBIs in his Double-A debut. Bradley has a .335 on-base percentage thanks in part to 49 walks, and he has cut down on strikeouts (95 in 364 at-bats) this year. He is slugging .456. A third-round pick by the Indians in 2014, he has blasted 83 homers in his four pro seasons. He’s getting close. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, one of Toronto’s top prospects, was in New Hampshire’s lineup and went 1-for-4. Alford, 23, batting .308 in his first Class AA campaign, got a cup of coffee in the majors earlier this season before an injury knocked him back to the minors. He’ll likely return to the Blue Jays next month. P.S. Former Ole Miss and Mississippi Braves standout Chris Ellis notched his second straight win for Springfield, St. Louis’ Double-A club in the Texas League, on Tuesday. Ellis, who scuffled at Triple-A Memphis to start 2017, is 4-6, 3.60 ERA at Springfield. … Mississippi State product Zac Houston recently was elevated from low-A to high-A ball in the Detroit system. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, a 2016 draftee, has thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings in his two appearances for Lakeland, where he has joined fellow Mississippians Will Allen, Jake Robson and Spencer Turnbull.