Cincinnati needs a shortstop. Paul Janish currently is penciled in there for 2010, but according to Baseball America reports, former Ole Miss standout Zack Cozart could make a push for the job by midseason. And if Cozart doesn’t work out, there’s ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton farther down the line. Cozart and Hamilton were the subject of a recent BA story about the Reds’ shortstop job, which hasn’t been adequately filled since the days of Barry Larkin. Cozart, 24, who played at Double-A Carolina in the Southern League in 2009, is rated Cincy’s No. 10 prospect. His defense is considered good enough for the big leagues, and he hit .262 with 10 homers last season — and indication that his bat is coming on. Hamilton, the first Mississippian picked in the June draft, batted just .205 with 14 stolen bases in a short rookie league tour. “He’s very crude as far as baseball,” Reds farm director Terry Reynolds told BA. Hamilton was a great multi-sport athlete at Taylorsville, but he needs to bulk up from his listed 160 pounds.
It wasn’t exactly big news when the Baltimore Orioles got minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes from Tampa Bay last summer in a trade for big league catcher Gregg Zaun. There wasn’t much fanfare when they put Hughes on their 40-man roster last week, which means he’ll go to big league camp next spring. Unless you are a big fan of Picayune High or Pearl River Community College, or perhaps the Montgomery Biscuits, you may not have even heard of Rhyne Hughes. Well, he’s a 6-foot-2, 175-pound, left-handed hitting first baseman with some ability that the Orioles seem to like. In 583 minor league games, Hughes has a .281 average, 71 homers and 299 RBIs. On several occasions, Hughes demonstrated his offensive skills at Trustmark Park as a member of the visiting Biscuits. Some may recall that in 2008, Hughes hit the 10th-inning homer that gave Montgomery an 11-10 victory in a game in which it had trailed 10-0. Last May, he had a huge series against the Mississippi Braves, blasting another game-turning homer among his big hits. Hughes led the Southern League in homers when he was promoted to Triple-A. He has never been a highly rated prospect, but plenty of players have come from off those charts to blossom into quality big leaguers. Keep an eye out next spring.
Craig Tatum, the former Mississippi State star from Hattiesburg, was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles today after the Cincinnati Reds took the 26-year-old catcher off their 40-man roster. Good news for Tatum: The only other catcher on the Orioles’ roster is the highly touted Matt Wieters. Tatum, known more for his defensive abilities than his bat, made his big league debut in 2009 with the Reds and hit .162 in 26 games. He batted .239 in Triple-A. To clear space for Tatum, the Orioles designated former Mississippi Braves pitcher Chris Waters for assignment. … On the topic of M-Braves, five pitchers who toiled for the 2009 club were added to Atlanta’s 40-man roster: Kyle Cofield (who led the team with 10 wins and had a 3.90 ERA); Lee Hyde (2-1, 4.35 in seven appearances), Jeff Lyman (5 wins, 3.12 ERA in 33 games); Jose Ortegano (5-2, 2.83 in eight starts); and Jonny Venters (4-4, 2.76 in 12 starts, including opening day). Cofield, Hyde and Ortegano are likely to return to Pearl in 2010.
After a generally disappointing season with the Mississippi Braves, Brandon Hicks stepped it up in the Arizona Fall League. The highly regarded shortstop, who played at lot of third base (out of necessity) in the AFL, hit .310 with a homer and 11 RBIs in 84 at-bats in the prospect-packed league that concluded its regular season today. Hicks, who is good with the glove, batted .237 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs for the M-Braves, though he did finish strong. Still, his 131 strikeouts in 464 ABs were a concern. Still think he’ll be back for another tour, if only a short one, in Pearl in 2010. … Former Itawamba Community College star Desmond Jennings, the Southern League MVP for 2009, was added to the Tampa Bay Rays’ 40-man roster today. The swift outfielder is moving swiftly toward his big league debut.
A few random thoughts on a gray November day: Ole Miss product — and inaugural Cool Papa Bell Award winner (see previous post) — Chris Coghlan of the Florida Marlins is the first Mississippian (native or college alumnus) to claim a major league rookie of the year award, which he did on Monday. The only other Mississippi-connected player to win in either league before Coghlan was Darryl Strawberry, the ex-Jackson Met, who took the NL honor in 1983. … On the subject of the OJMs, Wally Backman will rejoin the lengthy list of former Mets and Generals managing or coaching in pro ball. The New York Mets hired him to manage their Class A Brooklyn team next season. … The minor league free agent list is out, and four 2009 Mississippi Braves are on it: RH Jerome Gamble, C Jose Camarena, IF Kody Kirkland and 1B Ernesto Mejia. It seems fairly certain the Braves will re-sign Mejia, who missed most of the ’09 season with a knee injury. The 6-foot-6 slugger, who turns 24 next month, has a career .278 average with 45 homers and 205 RBIs in five minor league years, including a 21-homer season at Class A Myrtle Beach in ’08. He barely got a taste of Double-A last summer, moving up when Freddie Freeman was shut down. Freeman, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, has played only 12 games in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .267 with one homer. There’s a good chance he’ll start the 2010 season with the M-Braves, but he and Mejia would form a good lefty-righty tandem sharing first base and DH duties. … Two former M-Braves to watch in Atlanta’s camp next spring: right-handed starter Todd Redmond and right-handed closer Luis Valdez. Redmond, the Southern League pitcher of the year in 2008, won nine games at Triple-A Gwinnett this year and capped his season by going 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA in the World Cup in October. He could help the Braves in middle relief. Valdez, the hard-throwing closer for the M-Braves’ pennant winner in ’08, got some rave reviews in the International League this year and earned a cup of coffee in The Show. He’s a darkhorse in Atlanta’s closer race.
When you think of Davey Johnson — the manager, not the player — does Hall of Fame naturally follow? Probably not. But the man who cut his managerial teeth in Jackson has stronger credentials than you might imagine. Johnson is on the 10-man ballot for managers and umpires that the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee is now considering. Also on the list are Whitey Herzog, Tom Kelly, Billy Martin and Gene Mauch. Electees will be announced next month. Johnson won a 1981 Texas League title with the JaxMets and five years later won a World Series with the New York Mets. That was his only Series appearance in 14 years as a manager. But it should be noted that Johnson’s clubs won four division titles and finished second seven times. His career .564 winning percentage is better than that of Hall of Famers Leo Durocher, Sparky Anderson and Walt Alston. Maybe he’s got a chance. In 1999, when The Clarion-Ledger polled readers on the all-time Jackson Double-A team, Johnson was picked as manager, 18 years after his only season with the club. Some guys just have that certain something.
Garey Ingram, a former major league player, will serve as the Mississippi Braves’ hitting coach next season, the Atlanta Braves announced today. The Braves organization has yet to name a manager or pitching coach for the Double-A club, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Phillip Wellman and Marty Reed return to those duties. Ingram previously worked in the Giants and Dodgers minor league systems. Atlanta also announced that former big league pitching coach Dave Wallace will take the reins as its minor league pitching coordinator, replacing Mississippi native Kent Willis, who was not retained. That does come as a surprise. Willis had helped groom many of the talented young arms now popping up in Atlanta.
Pulled today from one Jumbo Pack (36 cards) of Topps 2009 Updates and Highlights: a Chris Coghlan rookie, a Tommy Hanson rookie, a Kris Medlen rookie, a Seth Smith, a Cliff Lee (in a Phillies uniform) and a Julio Lugo (in a Cardinals unie). Two ex-Ole Miss stars, two former M-Braves, an ex-Jackson General and a Meridian CC alumnus. In one package. For the Mississippi baseball fan, that’s a gold mine. As for finding pleasure in small things, well, that’s the secret of life.
Rough start for Atlanta Braves prospect Mike Minor in the Arizona Fall League’s Rising Stars Showcase on Saturday. The Braves’ top pick in June lasted just 2/3 of an inning and gave up seven runs, six earned. Probably shouldn’t read too much into that. We’ll see more of the touted left-hander with the Mississippi Braves in the near future. Remarkably, Minor’s team rallied to win 8-7, and 2009 M-Braves closer Craig Kimbrel worked the ninth for the save. M-Braves shortstop Brandon Hicks, who replaced Ole Miss product Zack Cozart on the West roster, went 0-for-2.
As many as six of Atlanta’s 2010 Top 10 prospects — as ranked by Baseball America — could appear in Pearl next season. No. 1 Jason Heyward, the stud outfielder, isn’t expected to return to the Mississippi Braves, but No. 2 Freddie Freeman (1B), No. 4 Mike Minor (LH), No. 5 Craig Kimbrel (RH), No. 7 Randall Delgado (RH), No. 9 Cody Johnson (OF) and No. 10 Adam Milligan (OF) are likely candidates to play for the Double-A club at some point in 2010. Freeman, Kimbrel and Johnson spent time with the M-Braves this past season. Minor, the top pick in June from Vanderbilt, would be thrown on a fast track if he starts next season in Double-A, as would Milligan, a 2008 junior college draftee. But BA’s experts seem to think they might get that shot. … The most intriguing player on the list is No. 6 Christian Bethancourt, who is a couple years away from Pearl. Bethancourt is a 6-foot-2, 175-pound catcher, something the Atlanta system sorely needs to develop.