Demarcus Evans and Garrett Crochet made their major league debuts on Friday night, but the two former Mississippi prep standouts took very different paths to The Show. Their results were a little different, too. Evans, a 25th-round draft pick out of Petal High by Texas in 2015, spent five years honing his craft in the minors; he posted a 0.90 ERA in 2019. First batter he faced on Friday: Albert Pujols. The Los Angeles Angels’ future Hall of Famer sent Evans’ second pitch — a 93-mph fastball — over the wall in Anaheim for his 662nd career home run. Evans plunked the next batter, Justin Upton, but the the 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander got out of his only inning with no further damage. Crochet, an Ocean Springs High alum who pitched at Tennessee the last three years, was drafted 11th overall in June by the Chicago White Sox. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound lefty became the first player since Brandon Finnegan with Kansas City in 2014 to make his MLB debut in the same year he was drafted. For Crochet, who has been working out in the White Sox’s alternate camp, this was his first professional game. First batter he faced: Brian Goodwin of Cincinnati. Crochet struck him out, then struck out the next batter and retired the third on a grounder to first base. He threw six of his 13 pitches at 100 mph or more, including two clocked at 101-plus, in his lone inning. “I felt like I was on top of the world and just truly living the dream,” he told mlb.com. It was surely a dream come true for Evans, as well, and he’ll have better days. Crochet has set his bar pretty high. It’s gonna be fun to see what they do next.
Two teams – and several Mississippians — celebrated playoff-clinching victories on Thursday. The Chicago White Sox, with Magnolia State juco products Tim Anderson and Jarrod Dyson in the lineup, rallied past Minnesota, and Tampa Bay, getting big hits from Mississippi State alums Hunter Renfroe and Nate Lowe, completed a twinbill sweep of Baltimore. Anderson, out of East Central CC, was 0-for-4 Thursday but is batting .365. Ex-Southwest Mississippi CC star Dyson (.190) made a rare start and went 2-for-4, with a key steal and a game-tying run in the seventh inning of a 4-3 win. The Rays clinched with a 10-6 Game 2 win vs. the Orioles as Renfroe hit his eighth homer and Lowe went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run. Renfroe is batting just .163 but has 21 RBIs. Lowe, a recent call-up, is hitting .278 with three homers, nine RBIs and seven runs in 13 games. Northwest CC product Cody Reed, a lefty reliever, is on the Rays’ injured list (finger) and has been moved from the 10-day to the 60-day. … St. Louis’ playoff hopes took a double blow on Thursday as they lost to lowly Pittsburgh and saw former MSU standout Dakota Hudson depart his start early with an elbow problem that has landed him on the 10-day IL. Hudson, 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA, had won three straight starts. P.S. The White Sox summoned former Ocean Springs High standout Garret Crochet from their alternate camp today. The left-hander was the 11th overall pick in the June draft out of Tennessee.
Billy Hamilton’s potential as an offensive force was on full display for the first time on this date in 2013. The Taylorsville High product made his first major league start for Cincinnati and filled the box score with three hits, two walks, two runs, an RBI and, most notably, four stolen bases in a 6-5 victory. Seven years later, Hamilton has 302 career steals, most ever by a Mississippi native. But an inability to hit or reach base consistently (.241 career hitter, .289 OBP) has relegated the 30-year-old to role player status in 2020. Hamilton is with the Chicago Cubs, the third club he’s been with this year, and has just 23 at-bats in 23 games total. Used primarily as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, he has two hits and three steals. A second-round draft pick in 2009, Hamilton won’t go down as a total flop – he was second in National League rookie of the year voting in 2014, when he batted .250 and stole 56 bases – but the exciting potential he flashed on Sept. 18, 2013, was never fully realized.
Suddenly, it seems, the New York Yankees are hitting like the Bronx Bombers of old. Better, actually. The Yankees, who’ve won seven straight games after a major swoon, hit seven home runs Wednesday in a 13-2 win against Toronto at Yankee Stadium. They hit six homers on Tuesday. It’s the first time in franchise history – a history that includes Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, et al. – that the Yanks have hit six-plus bombs in back-to-back games. New York is 28-21 heading into tonight’s game vs. the Blue Jays and has climbed to within 3 games of first-place Tampa Bay in the American League East. The Yankees, despite a spate of injuries, lead the league in homers and are second in runs and slugging. Some credit here has to go to hitting coach Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and former East Central Community College star who was a pretty good slugger in his MLB time. A big league hitting coach puts in a tremendous amount of work each day, from preparing scouting reports on the opposing pitchers to helping scuffling hitters make adjustments. In a Yankees Magazine article from 2018, Thames said he also plays the role of a mental coach. “Baseball is a game of failure, and guys need somebody to lean on,” he said. “Sometimes you come to the cages, and it’s not all about baseball; you talk about other things, too.” Evidence suggests Thames, in his third year in the job, is doing some good work here lately. “I would say the confidence has grown with every run that we put on the board,” outfielder Clint Frazier, who homered in Wednesday’s rout, told mlb.com. “We have 33 runs in the last two games. I think that speaks for itself.”
The long wait for the call to the big leagues came on Tuesday. Now Demarcus Evans waits, anxiously no doubt, for the call to the Texas bullpen that will signal his MLB debut. There’s a fair chance it’ll come tonight when the Rangers play the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Former Petal High star Evans, a 25th-round pick by the Rangers in 2015, is a 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander with tantalizing stuff: an exploding fastball and sharp-breaking curve. “He’s going to come at you with a pretty good fastball—probably one of the best fastballs I’ve seen,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said in a Sports Illustrated story. Evans reportedly has been throwing well in the alternate camp. He had an exceptional 2019 season, split between high-A and Double-A. In 60 innings, he struck out 100 batters (with 39 walks) and posted a 0.90 ERA. Baseball America named Evans the closer on its all-classification minor league All-Star team. Having switched from starter to reliever during the 2017 season, he has averaged almost 14 strikeouts per nine innings over his pro career. … Considering the offensive struggles Cleveland has been experiencing, it’s a wonder the Indians haven’t given Bobby Bradley a call. The former Harrison Central High standout, who is in their alternate camp in Eastlake, Ohio, could add some thunder to a club that ranks near the bottom of the majors in runs and home runs. The lefty-hitting first baseman/DH has 147 homers over six minor league campaigns and has hit 27 or more in a season four times. He hit 33 at Triple-A Columbus last year, plus another during his brief big league stint. Scouting reports say the 24-year-old Bradley has power to all fields. Sports Illustrated noted earlier this year that the Indians “need to know if they have an MLB-ready first baseman waiting in the wings” to replace Carlos Santana next year. What better time to get a clue. The Indians have lost seven in a row and entered play today in third place, 6 games out, in the American League Central, clinging to the second wild card.
Petco Park should be the center of MLB attention tonight. The hard-charging San Diego Padres, with some Mississippi connections kicking in, host the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of a hot National League West series. The Padres closed to within 1.5 games of the Dodgers with a 7-2 win on Monday night, their eighth straight victory. They’ve made up 4 games in the standings over the last 10. “Of course we’re amped,” Trent Grisham, the former Biloxi Shuckers star who homered off Clayton Kershaw on Monday, told mlb.com. Grisham’s post-homer posturing riled up the Dodgers’ bench, perhaps adding more juice to a growing rivalry. Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz threw a scoreless inning in relief for San Diego and maintained his 0.00 ERA. Over 17 appearances, the big lefty, a high-priced free agent addition in the off-season, has eight holds and four saves. He has worked two straight days, so he might be down tonight, but ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland won’t be. Moreland, who doesn’t hit left-handers well, sat out against Kershaw on Monday, but the veteran first baseman is in the lineup tonight against right-hander Tony Gonsolin. Moreland was batting .328 with eight homers when the Padres traded with Boston to get him. He has hit just .167 with a homer and four RBIs in 11 games with San Diego. He’s bound to get going, and the last two games of this series are bound to be good. P.S. Washington has recalled Ole Miss alum Aaron Barrett from its alternate camp. The 32-year-old right-hander made an admirable comeback from injuries (see previous posts) to reach the majors last year for the first time since 2015.
The Chicago White Sox are on top of the heap in the American League. Having won eight of 10, they lead the AL Central with a 30-16 record, also best in the league. It’s no coincidence, really, that their leadoff batter, former East Central Community College star Tim Anderson, is leading MLB in batting with a .362 average, chasing a second straight batting crown. The White Sox have a stable of good hitters, from veterans Jose Abreu and James McCann to up-and-comers Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. But Anderson, the 27-year-old shortstop in his seventh big league season, is the one who stirs the drink, both with his on-field skills and his forceful personality. “They’ve got great hitters. It starts with their leadoff guy, one of the better players in this league at a young age,” Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire told mlb.com after Anderson’s four-hit game on Saturday. Anderson is tied for the AL lead (with Mike Trout) in runs with 39. He has seven homers, 17 RBIs and five steals in 36 games. He is also improving on defense. “He can beat you with his bat, he knew that. He can beat you with his legs, he knew that. But now he’s beating you with his glove and with his smarts, and that has stardom written all over it,” ChiSox broadcaster Steve Stone said during a game recently. Abreu is having a monster year with 15 homers and 48 RBIs and is generating MVP buzz. Anderson should be getting some, too. P.S. What are the odds that three Mississippians in the majors would suffer broken bones and hit the injured list within a 12-day span? Only in 2020. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker, off to a nice (.316) start in his MLB debut with Minnesota, went on the IL on Sunday with a broken forearm. He joins Richton High alum JaCoby Jones (wrist) of Detroit and ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford (elbow) of Pittsburgh on the sideline. All are expected to miss the rest of the season.
Mississippi State alumnus Nate Lowe took part in an historic event on Friday night, and he took advantage of the opportunity to have one of the best games of his young MLB career. Lowe was part of Tampa Bay’s all-left-handed hitting lineup — the first in big league history — and delivered two homers and four RBIs in an 11-1 rout of Boston. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers as a rookie in 2019, was 1-for-14 since being recalled by the Rays on Sept. 1. “I’m pretty thankful for the opportunity and I hope (the bat) gets hot from here. Like, super hot from here,” he told mlb.com. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, who’ll seemingly try anything, went with all lefties to try to snap the first-place Rays out of an offensive funk. … Ex-Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff stepped up in a time of need for Milwaukee (see previous post), throwing seven shutout innings at the Chicago Cubs. He yielded one hit, no walks and fanned 12. The Brewers won 1-0 on a walk-off sac fly. … Austin Riley’s bat has cooled off after a recent surge. The former DeSoto Central star is 5-for-29 (.174) in his last seven games for Atlanta and went 1-for-7, leaving nine runners on base, in Friday’s loss to Washington. The Braves left 22 on base as a team in the 8-7, 12-inning defeat. … Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack was recalled from Toronto’s alternate site on Friday, but his return didn’t go well. The right-hander allowed six runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings in an 18-1 loss to the New York Mets.
As the Milwaukee Brewers chased down a playoff berth in 2019, Brandon Woodruff became the ace of the pitching staff. The Brewers desperately need the former Mississippi State standout to reprise that role, starting tonight. Woodruff, 11-3 last year, has struggled in 2020, as have the Brewers, who are 19-22 and currently out of the National League playoff picture with less than three weeks to go. Woodruff (2-3, 3.91 ERA) takes the mound in a very meaningful game against the first-place Chicago Cubs at Miller Park. “These last few weeks are going to be a telltale sign of, are we going to do this thing or not?” Woodruff said in an mlb.com piece. “It’s going to be fun.” Well, maybe. Woodruff’s ERA has been climbing steadily over his last six starts. In only one of those starts has he gone more than five innings. He called his most recent outing, a 4 1/3-inning, 3-run stint in a no-decision against Cleveland, “a disgrace.” He could be positioned for a feel-good result against the Cubs. Collectively, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo are just 9-for-48 (.188) with no homers against Woodruff. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, went on the 10-day injured list for Tampa Bay with “left pinky finger irritation.” The left-hander has made two scoreless relief appearances since the Rays got him in a trade with Cincinnati.
Brent Rooker, the latest in a string of sluggers Mississippi State has propelled to the big leagues, hit his first home run on Tuesday in Minnesota’s loss to St. Louis in Game 2 of a twinbill. He’ll likely hit a few more. Rooker has been rated one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Twins’ system since he was drafted out of Starkville in 2017. He has 54 minor league bombs in 259 games, and he blasted a tape-measure shot in Tokyo in a Team USA game last fall. Rooker hit 23 homers at State in his All-America junior season and 36 over his three-year career. So, yes, he’s got pop. The all-time leader in homers by a State alum is, of course, Rafael Palmeiro, who ranks 13th on MLB’s career chart with 569. Coincidentally, Palmeiro hit his first career homer on this date in 1986. He played 20 years. Second on the all-Bulldogs list is Will Clark with 284, followed by the active leader, Mitch Moreland, who has 174, including eight in 2020. Hunter Renfroe, who has six homers this year, stands at 95 career. Tyler Moore topped out at 30 after a promising start to his career. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his Chicago Cubs debut on Tuesday as a defensive replacement in center field, a role that figures to be his primary. The speedy Hamilton was a waiver claim from the New York Mets this week and reportedly would be eligible for the postseason.