The lockdown in Major League Baseball was foreseeable. The Hunter Renfroe trade … not so much. In what reviewingthebrew.com called a “stunning” deal, Milwaukee acquired Renfroe, the former Copiah Academy and Mississippi State star, from Boston for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a couple of prospects. The trade was consummated Wednesday night just before the labor agreement expired. The Brewers reportedly were seeking to add power to their lineup, and they’ll get that from Renfroe, who has 128 career home runs. He had a big year in his one season with Boston, batting .259 with 31 homers, 96 RBIs and 16 outfield assists. He was both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove finalist. And yet, Milwaukee will be his fourth team in four years. He signed with Boston as a free agent last off-season (one year, $3.1 million) and is arbitration-eligible entering 2022. The Brewers’ current roster features Renfroe’s former MSU teammate Brandon Woodruff, a staff ace, and their minor league prospect chart includes former Bulldogs ace Ethan Small, catcher/first baseman Thomas Dillard out of Ole Miss and outfielder Joe Gray, Jr., a Hattiesburg native. P.S. Left in limbo by the lockdown are Mississippi-connected free agents Corey Dickerson, Mitch Moreland, Billy Hamilton and Jarrod Dyson. … Ex-Richton High star JaCoby Jones has signed a minor league deal with Kansas City. He hit .170 for Detroit last year and ended the season in the minors. A former third-round pick out of LSU by Pittsburgh, Jones hit .212 with 32 homers over parts of six seasons with the Tigers, showing flashes of talent between a variety of injuries.
Ryan Rolison and Ethan Small currently are polishing their pitching skills — and renewing their college rivalry — in the Dominican Winter League after finishing last season in Triple-A. When next we see these highly rated prospects in the States, they might just be rivals in the major leagues. Rolison, a left-hander out of Ole Miss, recently was added to Colorado’s 40-man roster; he’ll go to spring training vying for a rotation spot. Small, a lefty out of Mississippi State, likely will go to Milwaukee’s spring camp as a non-roster invitee with a real shot at making the club. Both have pitched exceedingly well in the DWR. Rolison, who had an injury-riddled 2021 minor league campaign, is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in five starts for Licey with 24 strikeouts in 20 innings. Small had a 1.98 ERA between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Nashville and has carried that stuff into the winter season, going 2-1, 1.80 over five starts for Escogido.
Perhaps the move to Seattle will work out better for Adam Frazier than the move to San Diego last summer. Former Mississippi State standout Frazier was acquired by the Mariners from the Padres on Saturday for two minor leaguers. A 2021 All-Star second baseman with Pittsburgh, Frazier hit .305 with five homers, 43 RBIs and 10 steals on the season, the final two months of which were spent with San Diego. The Padres, vying for a playoff spot at the time they dealt for Frazier, faded dramatically down the stretch. Frazier did not play as well with them as he did with the Pirates, batting .267 and falling out of the lineup for a time. Seattle also made a playoff push last season and is aiming to do so again. The Mariners reportedly tried to acquire Frazier last summer. He’ll likely be their regular second baseman. “I’m excited to be joining and they’re excited to have me. I’m ready to go to work,” he told mlb.com. A lefty hitter who can play multiple positions, Frazier has a .281 career average over six MLB seasons. He’ll be a free agent after the 2022 season.
A strong 2021 season has paid off for Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star who reportedly has agreed to a 3-year, $24 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Graveman put up a 1.77 ERA over 53 games last year split between Seattle and Houston. He allowed just two runs in 11 postseason innings for the Astros, who reached the World Series. Graveman, 31, converted from starter to reliever with the Mariners in 2020 after missing the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery. Drafted in the eighth round out of Starkville in 2013 by Toronto, he is a seven-year MLB vet. He’ll join a White Sox team that won the American League Central in 2021 and features Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn and Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet on its pitching staff along with All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson, a former East Central Community College standout. USA Today Sports Weekly rates Graveman 29th among the available free agents this off-season. Also in the top 106 are Mississippians Corey Dickerson (64) and Mitch Moreland (104).
Obscured by bigger names making the MLB Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, Jonathan Papelbon certainly rates some attention. The former Mississippi State standout — who turns 41 today — pitched 12 years in the big leagues and stands 10th on the all-time saves list with 368. The glowering right-hander posted a 2.44 career ERA, made six All-Star teams and won a World Series ring with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, saving each of the last three games in the sweep against Colorado. That’s pretty impressive stuff. Four of the top seven on the career saves list are in the Hall, though one who ranks above Papelbon — Jackson Generals alum Billy Wagner — has yet to make the cut while being on the ballot since 2016. … Another ex-Gens star, outfielder/DH Bobby Abreu, is also back on the ballot for 2022 election. Abreu batted .291 career with 288 homers, 400 steals and eight 100-RBI seasons. Still, he is considered a long-shot candidate. … While several Mississippi-connected major leaguers are free agents looking for 2022 jobs, there are a bunch of minor leaguers doing the same. Baseball America’s list includes one-time big leaguers Jacob Waguespack (Ole Miss), Aaron Barrett (UM), Cody Carroll (Southern Miss) and Braxton Lee (UM). Former Mr. Baseball Ti’Quan Forbes (Columbia High), Ben Bracewell (MSU), Conor Fisk (USM) and Bradley Roney (USM) are also in the market. … Former Itawamba Community College standout Tim Dillard appeared on MLB Tonight on Monday and on MLB Network’s Hot Stove today. Dillard pitched in 624 pro games — almost 1,600 innings — from 2003-20 and spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues with Milwaukee. The engaging Dillard, who relishes weirdness (@dimtillard), is now a broadcaster with the Brewers. Among the things he discussed on air were following his dad, Ole Miss alum and ex-big leaguer Steve, around minor league clubhouses; converting from an over-the-top pitcher to sidearmer; converting from player to broadcaster; sleeping on friends’ sofas; and growing a scraggly beard.
A pair of Magnolia State connections are on the roster of one of the teams in tonight’s Arizona Fall League championship game, one a familiar name, the other less so. Former Mississippi State star Justin Foscue, a first-round pick by Texas in 2020 and a top-rated prospect, is the second baseman for Surprise, which meets Mesa (6 p.m., MLB Network) for the fall league title. One of the Saguaros’ key bullpen arms is left-hander Jacques Pucheu, a Gulfport native and East Mississippi Community College alum who plays in the Cincinnati system. Foscue capped his first pro season with a good showing in the AFL, batting .257 with five homers and 15 RBIs. He is the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) and could be in the big leagues very soon. Pucheu’s story is quite different. Undrafted out of Austin Peay in 2019, he played briefly in independent ball before the Reds signed him that summer. After the idle 2020 season, he worked at three levels in 2021, spending most of the season at High-A Dayton. Obviously, Reds brass liked what they saw and sent him to the AFL, where he fared quite well against more highly rated prospects, posting a 1.93 ERA in seven appearances, 14 innings. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner, a Minnesota prospect (No. 14), had an outstanding AFL campaign, hitting .303 with six homers and 18 RBIs for Scottsdale. The lefty-hitting outfielder played in High-A this season. P.S. Three state college products, all pitchers, were placed on 40-man protected rosters by MLB clubs on Friday: Ryan Rolison (Ole Miss) by Colorado, Konnor Pilkington (MSU) by Cleveland and James McArthur (Ole Miss) by Philadelphia. Rolison, a first-rounder in 2018, had an injury-dampened 2021 season (5.27 in 16 starts) but is the Rockies’ No. 3 prospect. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Ozzie Albies won MLB’s Heart and Hustle Award, which honors a player who best embodies the values, spirit and tradition of the game. A committee of former players makes the selection. “I don’t know anybody who has any more fun playing baseball than that kid,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker recently told mlb.com. East Central CC alum Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox) and former MSU star Adam Frazier (San Diego) were among the 30 nominees. … The Braves’ new 40-man additions include Drew Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP as an M-Braves outfielder, and two members of the 2021 M-Braves Double-A South championship team, pitchers Freddy Tarnok and Brooks Wilson.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, enjoyed a dream season with Atlanta in 2021. Not even assured of a starting job at third base in spring training, he became the team’s cleanup batter down the stretch, helped them to a World Series crown and earned a Silver Slugger Award. Riley’s season was clearly the best by any Mississippian in the majors, making him an easy choice for All Mississippi Baseball’s annual Cool Papa Bell Award. Previous winners of the award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Tim Anderson (twice), Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. Riley, in his third MLB campaign, batted .303 with 33 homers and 107 RBIs and played occasionally spectacular defense. He ranked in the top 10 in the National League in five key offensive categories. He also produced in big moments. In the Braves’ NL East-clinching sweep of Philadelphia in late September, Riley went 4-for-13 with a double, a homer, five RBIs and two runs. (For the record: Phillies star Bryce Harper, a finalist for NL MVP, went 0-for-11 with five punchouts in that three-game set.) Riley hit .277 in the postseason, with two homers, eight RBIs and seven runs in 16 games. He hit .320 in the World Series. All told, it was one of the best years ever by a Magnolia State product. P.S. Ex-East Central Community College star Marcus Thames has been hired as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach; he was recently fired by the New York Yankees after four years in the same role. … Kudos to Biloxi Shuckers alum Corbin Burnes for winning the NL Cy Young Award. Burnes, who pitched in Biloxi in 2017, went 11-5 with a 2.43 ERA and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings for Milwaukee, which won the NL Central title. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn was a finalist for the AL Cy Young, which went to Robbie Ray.
Julio Lugo, the shortstop on the last Jackson Generals team in 1999, has died at 45 of an apparent heart attack, according to various reports. Lugo, a 12-year big leaguer, was one of the best shortstops to pass through Jackson in its 25-year Texas League era. He batted .319 with 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 22 steals and 77 runs in 116 games for the ’99 Generals, Houston’s Double-A team at the time. The Dominican Republic native debuted in the majors in 2000 with the Astros, won a World Series with Boston in 2007 and finished his MLB career with Atlanta in 2011. He hit .269 for his career.
Kudos to Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who became the first Atlanta third baseman since Chipper Jones 21 years ago to claim a Silver Slugger Award. Riley batted .303 with 33 homers, 107 RBIs and 91 runs for the world champion Braves. He posted a 6.1 WAR. Three other former Mississippi Braves also won Silver Sluggers: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Max Fried. Riley did not make the final three in the National League MVP voting but certainly garnered consideration from the baseball writers. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn did make the final three in the American League Cy Young voting. … Four state college products have been outrighted to the minors after clearing waivers as major league clubs set their winter rosters. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Holder, who didn’t pitch in 2021, was moved by the Chicago Cubs, former Delta State star Trent Giambrone by the Cubs, UM alum Chris Ellis by Baltimore and Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed by Tampa Bay. … None of the Magnolia State products playing in the Arizona Fall League made the rosters for Saturday’s Fall Stars Game, though a couple have pretty solid credentials. Southern Miss alum Matt Wallner, a Minnesota prospect, is batting .273 with five homers (tied for the league lead) and 13 RBIs. Ex-UM standout Grae Kessinger, a Houston prospect, is hitting .276 with two homers and 10 RBIs. MSU product Justin Foscue (Texas) has scuffled (.204, three homers) after a hot start, and Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray, Jr., (Milwaukee) hasn’t gotten anything going (.077). … While Atlanta seeks to re-sign Freeman, a potential first baseman of the future is putting up nice numbers in the AFL. Drew Lugbauer, who belted 18 homers for the Double-A South champion M-Braves, is batting .405 with five homers and 13 RBIs in Arizona. … Four Mississippi players rank among the top 68 in prospectslive.com’s recently updated list of the top 200 MLB draft prospects for 2022. Mississippi State’s Landon Sims, closer for the national champs, is No. 25; his batterymate Logan Tanner is No. 34; Ole Miss catcher Hayden Dunhurst is No. 39; and Madison Central High catcher Ross Highfill is No. 68.
Tried-and-true fans who’ve spent their summer nights at Trustmark Park feel something special today. Young players they watched hone their skills with the Double-A Mississippi Braves have grown into world champions with the Atlanta Braves. That’s a special connection. Longtime Smith-Wills Stadium cranks felt it in 1986 when the New York Mets, with a roster filled with Jackson Mets alumni, won the World Series. Davey Johnson, the Mets’ manager in ’86, won a Texas League title with the JaxMets five years earlier. Braves manager Brian Snitker, a great guy and a most deserving champion, was the first manager of the M-Braves in 2005, when the pipeline from Pearl to Atlanta began to flow. For all the talk about the July trades that boosted the Braves’ season, it is a largely homegrown team. No fewer than 21 M-Braves products played for Atlanta this season — and many played major roles. Watching Max Fried’s brilliant effort — six shutout innings vs. Houston, the best hitting team in the game — in Game 6 on Tuesday night, one is reminded of the first time watching the skinny left-hander snap off a curveball in Pearl in 2017. (He was a work-in-progress with a 2-11 record and 5.92 ERA that season, but he quickly figured things out, actually making his big league debut that August.) M-Braves fans may also recall the first time they saw Freddie Freeman take a swing, the first time they saw Ozzie Albies run the bases, Dansby Swanson field a ground ball or Austin Riley hit one out. There’s a special connection there. It was a shame that Ronald Acuna, injured in July, missed the Series. Who could forget that he hit a home run on the first pitch he saw as an M-Brave? He hasn’t stopped raking since. Acuna can take heart: This Atlanta team stands a good chance of returning to the big stage. The core of the 2021 Braves is young, and there is more talent on the way. The 2021 M-Braves won the Double-A South pennant with a prospect-filled club. When do pitchers and catchers report?