31 Jan

totally random, vol. 2.4

Today’s subject: Fred Valentine. The Clarksdale native, nicknamed “Squeaky” for reasons unknown, played a handful of seasons in the majors from 1959-68 but has only one stat line on his baseball card that jumps out. In 1966, with the Washington Senators, the switch-hitting outfielder batted .276 with 16 homers, 29 doubles, seven triples, 59 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. He even got some MVP votes in a season dominated by Triple Crown winner Frank Robinson. Valentine played at Tennessee State and signed with Baltimore in 1956. He debuted in the big leagues in 1959, with the Orioles, but was done 10 years later. He finished with a .247 career average and 36 homers. If only he could’ve bottled that ’66 season … .
P.S. Former Mississippi Braves first baseman Mauro Gomez homered to help Escogido win the Dominican Winter League championship series on Monday night. Also on the pennant-winning team are ex-Jackson Generals star Julio Lugo and Starkville native Julio Borbon. M-Braves alums Barbaro Canizares and Iker Franco and Alcorn State product Corey Wimberly played for Mexican Pacific League champ Obregon, and ex-M-Braves infielder Luis Hernandez was a regular with Venezuela champ Aragua. Those three teams, plus Puerto Rico champion Mayaguez, will meet in the Caribbean Series that starts Thursday. … Former Jackson Generals slugger Daryle Ward, who played in the minors for Arizona last year, received a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball for a positive drug test (amphetamines). It was unlikely Ward, a free agent, would have returned to the big leagues this year anyway.

28 Jan

coming fast

Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz flashed his vast potential in a major league trial last summer, when he posted a 2-1 record and a 5.40 ERA in four starts for Colorado. The big left-hander, acquired from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade last year, will go to spring training next month competing for a spot in the Rockies’ rotation. The Indians invited Pomeranz, a 2010 first-round pick, to their camp last spring but let him know early on that he wasn’t going to make the big club. Pomeranz said in a recent interview with mlb.com that he drew motivation from that and had a strong spring. “This time it’s a different kind of excitement, just to know that I can actually be there this time,” he told mlb.com. “I’ll find a way to get fired up. You don’t have to worry about that.” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said Pomeranz can be “pretty special.” New Mississippi Braves manager Aaron Holbert knows that. He had Pomeranz last season at Class A Kinston, where he went 3-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 15 starts. “If he can stay healthy and be smart off the field, he’ll be fine,” Holbert said. “He’s a great talent. A lot of people in the baseball world are starting to realize what he can do.”

27 Jan

and so it begins

If Belhaven coach Hill Denson really is worried about whether his team can score enough to be successful this season, his fears seemed unfounded in today’s season opener at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Blazers, ranked 15th in the preseason NAIA poll, whipped Blue Mountain 4-0 before an announced crowd of 300 on a sun-splashed, made-for-baseball day. BU got eight hits, including a home run by Jason Hicks, RBI doubles by Anthony Doss and Jamie Bruno and an RBI single from Bud Britt. Ryan Saunders added a pair of singles. Hicks, a transfer from NCAA Division I Louisiana-Monroe, was making his Blazers debut, as were Bruno (an LSU transfer) and Britt (an All-State selection at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in 2011). Doss, a former Southern Miss player, and Saunders, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound Canadian, are two of the top returning position players from a team that notched a school-record 45 games last year, won the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament and played in the NAIA national tourney. Of course, pitching is expected to be the real strength of this edition of Blazers. In that department, Denson has no worries. Geoffrey Thomas, one of three USM transfers added to an already deep pitching staff, made his BU debut today and threw six innings of one-hit ball. Matt Shaw, another ex-Golden Eagles hurler, worked two scoreless innings. The Blazers did make an error in the field, so they weren’t quite perfect. But they showed they could hit. And pitch. Rest assured, there will be many more days like this for Denson’s club.

27 Jan

where oh where?

The Roy Oswalt watch is still on. Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said in an interview with a Dallas radio station that the right-hander’s reported interest in the Rangers is “intriguing” but added that his club’s rotation is basically set. Oswalt, out of Weir and Holmes Community College, supposedly is interested in Texas and St. Louis (Boston, not so much) because they are closer to home. Oswalt had an injury-curtailed season with Philadelphia in 2011 and might not pitch much longer. Still, he is one of the top prizes on the market.
P.S. Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton recently was ranked the No. 4 shortstop prospect in all of the minors by mlb.com. That could be heady stuff for a young player who hasn’t yet reached high-A ball heading into his fourth pro season. (Andrelton Simmons, the Mississippi Braves’ probable shortstop this summer, was rated the No. 9 SS prospect by mlb.com; he is seemingly a much more advanced player than Hamilton.) True, Hamilton’s speed is off the charts — 103 stolen bases in the Midwest League last year — and he was named Cincinnati’s minor league player of the year for 2011. But he has struck out a lot thus far in his career, doesn’t have much power (at least not yet) and is batting just .277 overall. Fully recovered from a broken hand in winter ball, Hamilton will go to the high-A California League this season. It’ll be an interesting test.

27 Jan

opening bells

The first “Play ball!” of the 2012 season will ring out today at 3 p.m. at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. Belhaven, nationally ranked in NAIA, welcomes Blue Mountain, in its second year of fielding a team, for the first game of the college campaign. The major schools begin practice today, looking eagerly (we suppose) ahead to the NCAA Division I standard opening day of Feb. 17. Ole Miss, ranked in two major preseason polls, opens at TCU. Mississippi State hosts Washington State; Southern Miss welcomes Nicholls State; and Jackson State will host Florida A&M.; Division III Mississippi College is on the road for its opener on Feb. 3 at Huntingdon (in Alabama), and D-III Millsaps starts against Belhaven at home on Feb. 7. Division II Delta State launches on Feb. 10 at Montevallo (in Alabama).

24 Jan

a wanted man

Craig Tatum has found another home — for now. Arizona claimed the Mississippi State product off waivers from Houston on Monday. Tatum is one of four catchers currently on the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster, a group that includes starter Miguel Montero and veteran backup Henry Blanco. Tatum hit .245 in limited playing time (31 games) with Baltimore in 2011. He was a waiver claim by the Astros last fall but was removed from their big league roster last week. Tatum, a .223 career hitter, was originally drafted by Cincinnati.

22 Jan

stove toppings

On the hot stove front: Rumors are flying that the Boston Red Sox are the frontrunners to sign Roy Oswalt. The free agent right-hander from Weir and Holmes Community College is perhaps the top arm still on the market, and the Red Sox’s trade of veteran shortstop Marco Scutaro may have been their way of positioning themselves financially to go after Oswalt. Oswalt had a tough 2011 in Philadelphia, battling injuries while posting a 9-10 mark with a 3.69 ERA. … When Houston signed free agent catcher Chris Snyder on Friday, it made former Mississippi State standout Craig Tatum’s situation more complicated. Tatum, claimed by the Astros off waivers from Baltimore last fall, was designated for assignment last week when the club signed free agent outfielder Jack Cust. Tatum was the veteran presence among the Astros’ catching corps, which includes youngsters Jason Castro and Huberto Quintero. Now Snyder fills that role. If he clears waivers, Tatum could be retained by the Astros as an insurance catcher in Triple-A. Then again, he might be cut loose. … Still no word on the future of Mississippians Bill Hall or Marcus Thames. … Former Jackson Generals infielder Julio Lugo, who played briefly in Atlanta in 2011, reportedly has signed a minor league deal with Cleveland.

21 Jan

totally random, vol. 2.3

Today’s subject: Hughie Critz. A long time ago, Critz was a very good player, worthy of mention any time an All-Mississippi major league team is discussed. The undersized (5 feet 8, 147 pounds) Starkville native, who starred at Mississippi A&M (now State), batted .268 over a 12-year major league career and four times led National League second basemen in fielding. In his first big league game, in 1924, Critz got two hits against Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander and went on to bat .322 as a rookie. He spent most of career with the Cincinnati Reds but won a World Series ring as a member of the 1933 New York Giants. Other members of that great club included Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell and Moss Point native Sam Leslie. Critz died in 1980 at the age of 79.
P.S. According to a post on rantsports.com/chicago-cubs, former Ole Miss standout Matt Tolbert has signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. The team has not made an announcement regarding Tolbert, a utility infielder who hit .198 in 87 games with Minnesota last season.

20 Jan

high marks

Already rated among the Atlanta Braves’ Top 10 prospects by Baseball America, Christian Bethancourt has been ranked the No. 7 catching prospect in the minors by mlb.com. Bethancourt figures to play for the Mississippi Braves this season; it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Panama native behind the plate on opening day (April 5). A right-handed hitter, Bethancourt hit .303 with four home runs and 33 RBIs at low Class A Rome and .271-1-20 at high-A Lynchburg in 2011. He also impressed in the Arizona Fall League, especially with his arm. Brian McCann set the standard for M-Braves catchers in 2005; it’ll be interesting to see how Bethancourt, only 20 years old, measures up.

20 Jan

finding work

Fred Lewis has signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and will get a chance to make the big league club in spring training. The Hattiesburg native, who played at Stone County High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, had a disappointing year with Cincinnati in 2011, batting .230 in 81 games. The 31-year-old outfielder, now with his fourth organization, is a .267 career hitter with 27 homers, 21 triples and 53 stolen bases in 517 games. There is probably room for Lewis in the Indians’ outfield picture, which includes Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley.