26 Jun

with guarded optimism

Major league baseball will happen this year. Or at least a version of it, one with no fans, a quirky 60-game schedule, the three-batter minimum, a universal DH and a silly extra innings rule. But it’s gonna happen. Well, maybe. With a month to go before the first games, nothing can be certain. While we wait, here’s a 6-pack of Mississippi-connected storylines to ponder:
1) How does Tim Anderson follow up on last season, when he won the American League batting title? The East Central Community College product isn’t just trying to lead the Chicago White Sox to better days; he has taken on a much larger duty. Bob Nightengale of USA Today describes Anderson as “the new leading voice in the African-American community of Major League Baseball, vowing to do everything in his power to change the game and lead a renaissance to recreate the game for kids and a hip audience.” “I don’t look at it as a responsibility,” Anderson told Nightengale, “but it’s something I’m so proud to do. I want to represent the black community, and everything that comes with it.”
2) Will Brandon Woodruff take another step forward as one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League? Ex-Mississippi State star Woodruff, a 2019 All-Star who has a star-quality fastball, went 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 22 starts for Milwaukee. (He missed six weeks with an oblique injury.) Athlon Sports in its 2020 season preview noted: “Woodruff’s breakout last year was real, and it was spectacular. He allowed one of the lowest barrel rates in baseball while striking out nearly five for every walk … .”
3) How will Hunter Renfroe fare in his new setting, Tampa Bay and the American League East? The former State standout blasted 33 homers last year and 89 in three-plus seasons with San Diego, which traded him for Tommy Pham in a curious move in the off-season. Renfroe, a former first-round draft pick, is just a .235 career hitter (.289 OBP) who strikes out a lot. Pham, also an outfielder, is a better all-around player. The Rays’ motivation for the deal, which also brought them touted prospect Xavier Edwards, was partly financial. But they expect to contend for the postseason, and they’ll expect Renfroe to contribute.
4) What does Brian Dozier have left? The Southern Miss alum signed a minor league deal with San Diego after an uneven 2019 season with Washington. Dozier, only 32, has 192 homers, an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove on his eight-year MLB resume, but he has faded the last couple of seasons as he moved from Minnesota to the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Nats. He hit .238 with 20 homers a year ago but scarcely played in the postseason. Still, he’s probably the best second baseman in the Padres’ camp.
5) How does Kendall Graveman’s comeback go in Seattle? Graveman, a former State standout, missed most of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Once the No. 1 starter in Oakland, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since May of 2018. The 29-year-old right-hander, 23-29, 4.38 for his career, is penciled as part of the Mariners’ largely unheralded rotation. “I feel like my stuff has gotten a lot better from right before I got injured …,” Graveman told mlb.com months ago on the eve of spring training. “I’m excited with where it’s at.”
6) What does Year 2 hold for Austin Riley? It was a tale of two seasons in 2019 for the DeSoto Central High alum, who batted .273 with 14 homers in May and June but then crashed, finishing at .226 with 18 long balls. The rookie third baseman/outfielder, who also spent time on the DL late last year, hit just .132 in September and was basically a non-factor down the stretch. Riley entered spring training battling Johan Camargo for the starting job at third. The switch-hitting Camargo might be a better fielder but doesn’t have Riley’s power.

Mike Christensen

Mike Christensen

A long-time sports fan and 30-year newspaper veteran muses on all things baseball in Mississippi. Contact: mwchristens@gmail.com
Mike Christensen

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