Somewhat lost in the shuffle of All-Star week is the Triple-A All-Star Game, which is set for tonight (8 p.m., MLB Network) in El Paso, Texas. It’s worth noting here because there are two Mississippi-connected players on the International League roster: Mississippi State product Brent Rooker and ex-Mississippi Braves slugger Travis Demeritte. Rooker, a third-year pro in the Minnesota Twins system, is batting .286 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs for Rochester. One of the highest rated prospects in this game (No. 7 by mlb.com), he could get a big league call-up later this summer. Demeritte, now with Gwinnett in Atlanta’s chain, is batting .301 with 18 homers and 64 RBIs. He hit 32 homers during two otherwise lackluster seasons in Pearl. The IL’s pitching coach is Jackson native and former big leaguer Stu Cliburn, who has been in Rochester for several years. P.S. In the lone MLB game on Thursday night’s slate, Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn will shoot for the American League lead in wins when he takes the mound for Texas against visiting Houston. Lynn, in his first year with the Rangers, is 11-4, 3.91 ERA. He is an impressive 93-61 career.
Matt Wallner belted his first pro home run on Thursday. Many more are expected. Wallner, Southern Miss’ career home run leader, hit a solo shot for the rookie-level Elizabethton Twins against the Bristol Pirates in an Appalachian League game. Wallner is batting .320 (8-for-25) in six games. Minnesota drafted the Minnesota native with the 39th overall pick earlier this month; it’s the highest any Golden Eagles player has been picked. Power is Wallner’s game. The 6-foot-5 left-handed slugger tied the USM single-season record for homers this year with 23 and finished his three years in Hattiesburg with 58. The Twins drafted Wallner in the 32nd round out of high school in 2016, but Minnesota’s Mr. Baseball opted to attend North Dakota, which abruptly dropped its program. He landed at USM, where he won several national freshman of the year awards in 2017 and earned All-America nods as a sophomore and junior. A prototypical right fielder, Wallner also has a big arm. USM occasionally used him as a closer his first two years. P.S. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect and another power bat in that system, was named to the International League roster for the Triple-A All-Star Game, scheduled July 10. The former SEC Triple Crown winner is batting .277 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for Rochester. … Ex-State standout Reid Humphreys is back on the injured list at Double-A Hartford in Colorado’s system. The right-handed closer came off the IL on June 7, allowed 11 hits and five runs in four appearances and went back on the shelf on June 21. He had 39 saves in his first three pro seasons. … George County High alum Walker Robbins, who batted .170 with two homers over his first three pro seasons, is now pitching full-time at rookie-level Johnson City in the St. Louis system. The 21-year-old lefty, a fifth-round pick in 2016, has a 2.70 ERA in three relief appearances.
Someday, perhaps very soon, Bobby Bradley and Brent Rooker will be slugging it out as American League Central rivals. On Thursday, they gave us a preview. Gulfport’s Bradley and Mississippi State product Rooker, batting fourth as the DH for Columbus and Rochester, respectively, in the Triple-A International League, combined for three home runs in Thursday’s game. Rooker, a Minnesota Twins prospect, hit his 10th of the year, and Bradley, a Cleveland Indians prospect, hit Nos. 23 and 24, which leads the IL. Both have been on hot streaks. Rooker has homered in three straight games and is batting .289 in 43 contests; he missed some time with a wrist injury. Bradley has gone deep twice in three of his last six games and has lifted his average to .295. Both strike out a lot, but in today’s game that seems to matter less and less. The Twins and Indians may be battling for the AL Central title down the stretch – with Rooker and Bradley in the middle of the fray.
As we await the announcement on Monday of the 2019 Ferriss Trophy winner, it feels like a good time to check in on the last two winners of the state’s top college player award, both now in the minor leagues. Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin, last year’s honoree, is dealing at Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. The sidearming right-hander, a second-round pick last June, has an 0.79 ERA in 10 games (11 1/3 innings) with 17 strikeouts. He earned his first save with a two-inning effort on Thursday night, fanning four of the eight batters he faced. Sandlin zipped through four levels of the minors in 2018, topping out at Akron, and posted a 3.00 ERA, two wins and five saves in 25 games. The Indians moved Sandlin back to the bullpen after he served as the No. 1 starter for USM last year. The 2017 Ferriss winner, Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, moved quickly up Minnesota’s ladder after being a supplemental first-rounder in June ’17, starting this season at Triple-A Rochester. But the righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman has scuffled at the new level, batting just .222 with six homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 43 times in 90 at-bats. Rooker hit 40 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. P.S. Cody Reed, the veteran lefty out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, was recalled today by Cincinnati from Triple-A Louisville. He got into one game with the Reds earlier this season and has 40 appearances over the past four years.
And the National League leader in wins is – drumroll, please — former Wheeler High and Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, who notched his sixth on Tuesday. Not what anyone would have predicted for mid-May. The big right-hander threw six innings of one-hit ball as Milwaukee beat Philadelphia 6-1 in a matchup of two of the NL’s best clubs. Woodruff walked five but fanned five in winning his fourth straight start. “The fastball is really overpowering at times, it feels like,” Craig Counsell told mlb.com. “He’s using it well, he’s throwing his off-speed for strikes; it’s a good recipe for success.” Woodruff is 6-1 with a 3.72 ERA in nine starts this season, his third in the big leagues. He also got a hit in three at-bats Tuesday and is at .350 for the year. … Though he doesn’t have the win total to show for it, ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull actually has pitched better than Woodruff to date. The Detroit Tigers rookie right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.42 ERA, fourth-best in the American League, in eight outings. Over his last five starts, Turnbull is 2-0 with a 1.21. He last pitched on Sunday vs. Minnesota, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings and departing with a lead. He got a no-decision after the sub-.500 Tigers’ bullpen blew the save. P.S. Miguel Sano, who was at Trustmark Park in Pearl last week on a rehab assignment with Double-A Pensacola, has been activated by the Twins. Accompanying Sano on the rehab assignment was Sam Perlozzo, a Twins senior advisor who managed the Jackson Mets to back-to-back Texas League championships in 1984-85.
In their one season together at Mississippi State, Brent Rooker and Nate Lowe showed flashes of the tool – power — that has propelled them to the doorstep of the major leagues. In 2016, Rooker hit 11 home runs for the Bulldogs, and Lowe belted five. Lowe was drafted by Tampa Bay that summer and exploded as a prospect in 2018, rising from A-ball to Triple-A while hitting 27 homers all told. Rooker was drafted by Minnesota in 2017 – after hitting 23 homers for State and winning the SEC Triple Crown – and made it to Double-A last year. He hit 22 bombs for Chattanooga. By some cosmic coincidence, Rooker and Lowe hit their first homers in Grapefruit League play on Wednesday. Rooker went yard against Philadelphia in Clearwater, Fla., a two-run, seventh-inning shot that carried the Twins to a 4-2 win. Lowe, a lefty hitter, blasted a tape-measure homer against Boston in Port Charlotte. Neither is on their club’s 40-man roster, but both appear on the brink of breaking through, especially Lowe. “He might be ready now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said in an mlb.com article after Wednesday’s game. “He’s definitely making a good impression.”
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.
The high of his first career double, which drove home three runs, did not last for Chris Stratton. The Mississippi State alum, whose primary job is pitcher, gave all the runs back and more in the bottom of the same inning and took a loss as San Francisco fell to San Diego 8-4 on Wednesday night. It’s been a season of highs and lows – including two trips to the minors — for Stratton, now 10-10 with a 4.88 ERA. In his previous start, he threw a two-hit shutout against Colorado. The start before that he yielded four runs in five innings vs. Milwaukee. “That’s baseball. You have to battle with what you have that day,” the Tupelo native told mlb.com. … Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier got a lift from his first RBI since Sept. 4, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Colorado and tighten their grip on first place in the National League West. The scuffling Dozier is batting .218, .189 for the Dodgers. … Former State standout Adam Frazier hit his ninth homer and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson went 2-for-3 with a run as Pittsburgh beat Kansas City 2-1. Dickerson is on an 8-for-20 roll, lifting his average to .294, 12th in the NL. … Wednesday was a blend of high and low for Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High star who made his first big league start for Detroit. After a clean first inning, he gave up four runs in the second inning and six all told in four innings of work against Minnesota, which won 8-2. “I’m sure I’ll get better from it,” Turnbull said in an mlb.com story. He was 24-21, 3.59 ERA in 90 starts in the minors. P.S. The 2016 Mississippi Braves’ roster included the likes of Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, A.J. Minter and Mallex Smith. It’s easy to forget that Willians Astudillo was also on that club – and batted .267 with four homers and 30 RBIs as one of the primary catchers. Astudillo is now getting a lot of attention in the big leagues with Minnesota. Nicknamed “El Tortuga” (The Turtle), the 5-foot-9, 225-pound Astudillo is hitting .317 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Twins. He has hustled his way into several popular highlights.
Brian Dozier made a splashy debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 1, homering in his first game after being acquired in a trade with Minnesota. Then the former Southern Miss star went deep again in his second game. Through eight games with his new club Dozier was batting .307 with three homers. Alas, the hot start has given way to a bitter cold snap. After taking an 0-for-3 in a loss to Colorado on Saturday – before being lifted for a pinch hitter — Dozier is in an 0-for-21 slump. Over his last 15 games, he is 6-for-51. In 33 games with the Dodgers, Dozier is batting just .191 with four homers and 16 RBIs. The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Dozier has been dealing since April with a knee injury that has affected his swing. He said he has declined to take any time on the disabled list, which would be a first in his career. “That’s not me,” he told the Times. “I’m still trying to find ways to be productive.” Dozier is a gamer. The Dodgers are in the thick of a battle royale in the National League West. They trail first-place Colorado by a 1.5 games heading into today’s rubber game of a three-game set. The Rockies are starting left-hander Tyler Anderson, meaning the right-handed Dozier will probably start. Don’t bet against him finding ways to be productive, if not today then surely down the stretch. The Dodgers may yet get a Dozier bump.
For any fan of the game, this is a pretty cool confluence of events: Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker comes to Trustmark Park in Pearl, where, assuming he is in tonight’s lineup for Chattanooga, he’ll likely face Ian Anderson, the No. 3 prospect in Atlanta’s system who is expected to make his Double-A debut for the Mississippi Braves. Rooker, in his second pro season after a decorated career at State, is batting .271 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He is rated the No. 7 prospect in Minnesota’s system, primarily based on his power potential. He hit 18 homers at two levels in the lower minors in 2017. Anderson, 20, a slender right-hander, was the third overall pick in the 2016 draft out of a New York high school. He was 2-6 with a 2.52 ERA at Class A Florida with 118 strikeouts in 100 innings and a .198 batting average against. In his last six games, he posted a 0.77 ERA. Hence, the promotion. Rooker is hitting just .200 with one homer over his last 10 games. He went 4-for-17 with five strikeouts in a series against the M-Braves in Chattanooga Aug. 2-6. The M-Braves’ rotation has been a revolving door much of the season, caused mainly by top prospects moving up. (See: Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright.) And yet the current group can be quite formidable. Left-hander Ricardo Sanchez, Wednesday’s probable starter, has been on the prospect radar for several years and is currently the Braves’ No. 27. Enderson Franco (5-7, 3.89), slated for Thursday, was the Southern League pitcher of the week for July 30-Aug. 5. And recent addition Kyle Muller, expected to start Friday, is the Braves’ No. 11 prospect. He has won both of his Double-A starts. P.S. Toussaint, who got the win for Atlanta in his MLB debut on Monday, is the 12th M-Braves alum to make the big leagues this year. The others: Jesse Biddle, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka, Dustin Peterson, Evan Phillips (now with Baltimore), Wes Parsons, Willians Astudillo (Minnesota), Michael Reed (previously up with Milwaukee), Kolby Allard, Adam McCreery and Chad Sobotka.