Minnesota just became a much more serious player in the American League Central with the reported signing of ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn. The free agent right-hander reportedly has agreed to a 1-year deal in the $12 million range. Lynn is a warrior and a winner. In his time with St. Louis, he went 72-47 with a 3.38 ERA. He joins a Twins rotation that also includes Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, who was jettisoned by Tampa Bay. Led primarily by the hitting of Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, the surprising Twins won 85 games and earned a wild card berth in 2017, a year after winning just 59 games. Many projections had them contending for the postseason again this season, and that was before adding Lynn. He didn’t get the big money he was hoping for after making $7.5M last year, so it figures he’ll be motivated.
Six Mississippians cracked Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists for the 30 MLB organizations. (BA published the last of the lists today on its website.) Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star who made his big league debut in 2017 but still has rookie status, was rated No. 2 in Milwaukee’s system. The right-hander was 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts last year and figures to compete for a rotation spot this spring. Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, was No. 3 in Toronto’s system, and Bobby Bradley, the ex-Harrison Central High standout, was Cleveland’s No. 3. Alford, an outfielder, had a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays last spring and is coming off a strong winter league showing. Bradley, a first baseman, has intriguing left-handed power but didn’t have a great season in Double-A and scuffled in the Arizona Fall League. Still, the 21-year-old is rated the No. 6 overall first base prospect by mlb.com, and he did get another invite to big league camp. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley climbed to No. 6 on Atlanta’s chart. The power-hitting third baseman reached Double-A Mississippi last summer and likely will start 2018 in Triple-A. Brent Rooker, who had a monster season for MSU last spring, continued to rake (.281, 18 homers, 52 RBIs) in Minnesota’s system and earned a No. 7 rating. Dakota Hudson, another ex-Bulldogs star, is St. Louis’ No. 9 prospect after going 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. Not yet on the 40-man roster, Hudson probably will get some time in the big camp this spring. Worth noting: Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is the fourth-rated prospect in Pittsburgh’s organization.
Four Mississippians made their big league debut in 2017: ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford, Ole Miss products Bobby Wahl and Stuart Turner and Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff. Turner, who stuck with Cincinnati as a Rule 5 draftee, was the first of that group to break through, getting a start at catcher on April 6. Woodruff had the most significant impact, going 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA in eight starts down the stretch for a Milwaukee team that contended for a playoff berth. Who’ll be the first Magnolia State product to debut in 2018? Odds are it’ll be ex-State standout Dakota Hudson, a top 10 St. Louis prospect who reached Triple-A last year in his first full pro season. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander was 10-5, 3.01 overall between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. MLB Pipeline forecasts Hudson, 23, to make the majors sometime this year. Heading into spring training, the Cardinals have at least one spot to fill in their rotation, with Ole Miss product Lance Lynn having moved on as a free agent. If the season started today, Braxton Lee apparently would be Miami’s center fielder. The Ole Miss alum from Picayune is currently listed as the starter on the depth chart on mlb.com, though he isn’t listed among the Marlins’ top 30 prospects. Lee, a 2014 draftee by Tampa Bay, won the Double-A Southern League batting title in 2017, hitting .309 between Montgomery and Jacksonville. He was traded in midseason. Lee also played well in the star-studded Arizona Fall League, making the All-Prospect Team. Another intriguing possibility for Next Mississippian Up is Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who finished his 2017 campaign with the Mississippi Braves, then went on to shine in the AFL. “His power was as prolific as any prospect in the AFL, both in terms of raw strength and his ability to get to it,” Baseball America wrote. “Defensively Riley is in better shape and moves better than he did when he was drafted, and now he’s actually an asset at third base.” Riley is only 20 – he turns 21 in April – but Atlanta has been fast-tracking its prospects of late, so he figures to get a long look in spring camp. It’s notable here that the Braves released Adonis Garcia earlier this week. Riley batted .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs between high-A and Double-A in 2017. A much longer shot to debut in 2018 is Brent Rooker, the ex-State All-American who had a very solid debut in pro ball last summer. The outfielder/first baseman, 23, belted 18 homers in the low minors and is already rated Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect by Baseball America.
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.
Brian Dozier makes his first trip to the postseason tonight, and it could be a short stay for the Southern Miss product. Dozier’s Minnesota Twins meet the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the American League’s wild card game. One game, loser goes home. The Yankees are heavily favored. Of course, no one gave the Twins much of a chance of making the postseason at all back in July, after they traded away a couple of key pitchers. Nevertheless, they persisted, to borrow a phrase. From Aug. 5 to season’s end, they went 33-21. They clinched the second wild card with four days left in the season. Dozier, the leadoff batter and emotional leader of the team, batted .303 with 17 home runs and 41 RBIs in August and September. He hit a clutch homer on Sept. 26 that beat Cleveland and reduced Minnesota’s clinching magic number to 1. Tonight’s game will start with Dozier at the plate facing right-hander Luis Severino. The numbers don’t tell us much. Dozier is 0-for-1 with a walk this season against Severino, who went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 2017. Dozier is 2-for-9 this season at Yankee Stadium, 15-for-62 (.242) with two homers there in his career. But there is more to consider than numbers. Dozier, floated as a trade piece in the off-season, wanted to stay with Minnesota, the team that drafted him eight years ago, even though the Twins were not expected to contend. “He had a lot of unfinished business that he wanted to get done,” USM coach Scott Berry told WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg on Monday. Dozier persisted, and he might just be getting started.
Minnesota lost Wednesday night, but Brian Dozier and his Twins mates still enjoyed a postgame celebration. Boston won, but Mitch Moreland and Co. can’t pop the bubbly just yet. There was gloom in Milwaukee for Brandon Woodruff and the Brew Crew, which is running out of chances for a party. The Twins, despite a 4-2 loss to Cleveland, clinched the second wild card in the American League because Los Angeles lost to Chicago. (East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had a game-tying hit in the sixth for the White Sox, who won on Nicky Delmonico’s 10th-inning homer.) “This is a totally different team,” ex-Southern Miss star Dozier told ESPN, referencing the 2016 Twins, who lost 103 games. “It is a totally different mindset.” In the wild card game, Minnesota will visit either New York or Boston. The Red Sox beat Toronto 10-7 – former Mississippi State standout Moreland had a hit and scored in a game-breaking five-run third inning and later added his 21st home run – to remain 3 games up on the Yankees in the battle for the AL East throne. Boston faces a four-game home series against AL West champ Houston to close the season. In the National League, the Chicago Cubs won at St. Louis to clinch the Central Division, eliminating the Brewers, who lost 6-0 at home to Cincinnati. MSU product Woodruff took the loss, yielding the six runs in three-plus innings. “Yeah, it stings a little bit more, especially at the end of the year in this type of race,” Woodruff told The Associated Press. The Brewers are hanging by their fingernails in the NL wild card race, trailing Colorado by 2.5 games with four remaining. St. Louis is 3.5 back, with a game left against the hated Cubs tonight and then three against the Brewers to finish.
While the frontrunners for American League MVP appear to be Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, Brian Dozier deserves at least some honorable mention. The ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton is the engine driving the Minnesota Twins toward an improbable playoff berth. He hit the big home run on Tuesday that helped beat Cleveland and reduced the Twins’ magic number for the second wild card spot to 1. A team that lost 103 games in 2016 is now 83-74 with 38 come-from-behind victories. The Twins, who deployed 10 pitchers in Tuesday’s game, had squandered two leads and were down 6-4 in the eighth when Dozier connected for an opposite-field, three-run bomb. They won 8-6. “That’s what it’s all about … people picking each other up,” Dozier said in a postgame TV interview. Dozier leads the team in games played, hits, runs, RBIs, home runs and walks. He’s also an excellent second baseman. He started rather slowly this season but has hit .291 with 20 homers since the All-Star break. He has 16 homers and 38 RBIs in August and September. For the year, he’s at .264 with 33 homers, 90 RBIs and 102 runs. And to think, there were rumors in the off-season that the club was seeking to trade him. As the analysts like to say, sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make.