JaCoby Jones, an exceptional athlete, runs down a lot of balls in center field for Detroit. Check out the catch the former Richton High star made Saturday, taking a home run away from a Washington batter. Though he hasn’t been as good with the glove this year (.974 fielding percentage, four errors in 65 games), Jones actually topped all major league outfielders in 2018 with 21 Defensive Runs Saved. In 120 games and just over 1,000 innings, he made 284 putouts, some of those as a left fielder. He also had eight assists and just one error. As good as he might be, Jones isn’t likely to make longtime Tigers fans forget Chet Lemon. The Jackson native is the gold standard for Tigers center fielders. “The Jet” (aka “Juice”) recorded 509 putouts in center field for Detroit in 1977 to set a major league record, and he had five seasons of 400-plus putouts. Longtime manager Sparky Anderson called him the best center fielder he had ever seen. “(H)e plays each game as if it were the seventh game of the World Series. Chester doesn’t know any other way to play and that’s his greatest asset,” Anderson once said. Lemon, now a youth baseball instructor and coach in Florida, grew up in California, was a first-round draft pick by Oakland in 1972 and played 16 years in the majors, making three All-Star teams and winning a ring with the 1984 Tigers, who coincidentally, were honored at Comerica Park this weekend. He hit .273 career with 215 home runs and 884 RBIs. Jones (.252 this year, .213 career) hasn’t hit like that either.
While his Boston teammates are making the much-ballyhooed trip to London this weekend, Mitch Moreland is staying stateside. The Mississippi State alum remains on the injured list, recuperating from a quadriceps injury. He has been sidelined for all but one day since May 26. Moreland took live batting practice at Fenway Park this week and reportedly will head out on a rehab assignment soon. The Red Sox, the defending world champs, could certainly use Moreland’s bat (not to mention his glove at first base) as they try to chase down the New York Yankees in the American League East. When he initially went on the injured list with a back injury in late May, Moreland was leading the Red Sox in home runs with 13. He was activated on June 7, went 0-for-2 against Tampa Bay, then went back on the IL the next day with the quad injury. He is batting .225 (slugging .543) with 34 RBIs in 47 games. An All-Star in 2018, the injury woes have assured that Moreland won’t be going to Cleveland on July 9. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers, on the IL (shoulder) since mid-April for St. Louis, has begun a rehab assignment at Triple-A Memphis. Mayers, in his fourth big league tour, had a 5.40 ERA in eight appearances for the Cardinals this season.
The college season in Mississippi ended with such cruel irony. Mississippi State, which won so many big games in comeback fashion, was eliminated from the College World Series by a bottom-of-the-ninth rally by Louisville. Having allowed time for the hangover to pass, we can now look back on the 2019 season as one with more than its share of thrills. State, under first-year coach Chris Lemonis, won 52 games, went 37-5 at the “New Dude” (renovated Dudy Noble Field), made its 38th NCAA Tournament appearance, hosted a regional and a Super Regional and made its 11th CWS trip. The Bulldogs earn top-of-the-class honors in the state, but quite a few others belong on the honor roll. Ole Miss made its 23rd NCAA appearance and fell one win shy of the CWS, losing at Arkansas in the Super Regional to end the year at 41-27. Southern Miss went on a late-season roll, winning the Conference USA Tournament and earning its 16th NCAA bid. The Golden Eagles fell in the Baton Rouge Regional to LSU and finished 40-21. Jackson State went 31-24, notching a 13th straight winning season under Omar Johnson. Delta State won another Gulf South Conference title and reached the Super Regional round of the Division II Tournament, falling out at Tampa. The Statesmen went 42-14 in what turned out to be the legendary Mike Kinnison’s last year as coach. Mississippi College also put up a second straight winning season (28-17) under fourth-year coach Jeremy Haworth and just missed a second straight D-II regional invite. Blue Mountain went 26-25-1 in the NAIA ranks, and Mississippi University for Women went 18-13 as a non-scholarship independent and made the USCAA postseason tournament. That’s eight four-year schools with winning seasons. William Carey (24-26), Millsaps (10-33) and Belhaven (11-29) endured rare down years, while Alcorn State (14-31), Mississippi Valley State (8-27) and Tougaloo (5-29) continue to seek the right formula for their programs. Fall ball will be here in a blink.
Matt Wallner belted his first pro home run on Thursday. Many more are expected. Wallner, Southern Miss’ career home run leader, hit a solo shot for the rookie-level Elizabethton Twins against the Bristol Pirates in an Appalachian League game. Wallner is batting .320 (8-for-25) in six games. Minnesota drafted the Minnesota native with the 39th overall pick earlier this month; it’s the highest any Golden Eagles player has been picked. Power is Wallner’s game. The 6-foot-5 left-handed slugger tied the USM single-season record for homers this year with 23 and finished his three years in Hattiesburg with 58. The Twins drafted Wallner in the 32nd round out of high school in 2016, but Minnesota’s Mr. Baseball opted to attend North Dakota, which abruptly dropped its program. He landed at USM, where he won several national freshman of the year awards in 2017 and earned All-America nods as a sophomore and junior. A prototypical right fielder, Wallner also has a big arm. USM occasionally used him as a closer his first two years. P.S. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect and another power bat in that system, was named to the International League roster for the Triple-A All-Star Game, scheduled July 10. The former SEC Triple Crown winner is batting .277 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for Rochester. … Ex-State standout Reid Humphreys is back on the injured list at Double-A Hartford in Colorado’s system. The right-handed closer came off the IL on June 7, allowed 11 hits and five runs in four appearances and went back on the shelf on June 21. He had 39 saves in his first three pro seasons. … George County High alum Walker Robbins, who batted .170 with two homers over his first three pro seasons, is now pitching full-time at rookie-level Johnson City in the St. Louis system. The 21-year-old lefty, a fifth-round pick in 2016, has a 2.70 ERA in three relief appearances.
Once upon a time, there was a Double-A team at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. Twenty years ago, the Jackson Generals, a Houston Astros affiliate in the Texas League, played their ninth and final season before bolting for Round Rock, Texas. Twenty years is a long time. No former Generals are still playing in the big leagues. There isn’t – or wasn’t — much left to remember them by here in central Mississippi. Until now. The Mississippi Braves will rekindle good memories for some old Smith-Wills fans on Friday night when they don throwback apparel and give away Generals replica jerseys at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Former Generals have been invited to attend. Con Maloney, former owner of the Texas League franchise, will throw out the first pitch. (Yes, the M-Braves are playing a team called the Jackson Generals, a Southern League club from Tennessee. Don’t let that confuse you.) The Mississippi-based Generals, who followed the Mets at Smith-Wills in 1991, won two league titles during their time at the ballpark on Lakeland Drive. Future big league stars such as Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman, Billy Wagner, Freddy Garcia and Richard Hidalgo played there. (There’s a long list.) Former big leaguers Rick Sweet, Gary Allenson and Sal Butera managed there. Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell rehabbed there for the Astros. If all goes well, maybe a Jackson Mets throwback game will be next — though the idea of putting Braves prospects in Mets unies seems a little weird.
There was no official proclamation, but it happened. Out of the blue, we got McComb Day in the major leagues. Jarrod Dyson and Corey Dickerson, both natives of the sleepy Pike County city that also gave us Bo Diddley, Britney Spears and Brandy, produced “Quick Pitch”-worthy highlights on Wednesday while sparking their respective teams to big wins. Dyson, a McComb High graduate, filled up the box score batting leadoff for Arizona, which beat the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers 8-2. Three hits, including a double, plus a run, an RBI and two stolen bases. With 19 bags, he leads the National League. Dyson also robbed LA’s Joc Pederson of a home run, reaching over the center-field wall to pull one back. MLB Network was all over that highlight. Dickerson, who played high school ball up the road from McComb at Brookhaven Academy, went 4-for-4 with three doubles, three RBIs and three runs as Pittsburgh pounded first-place Houston 14-2. Dickerson recently returned from a two-month stint on the injured list and is batting .333 over his 19 games. One of Dickerson’s doubles came on a pitch that bounced in front of the plate; MLB Network featured that one on “Quick Pitch,” as well. … For the record, the list of McComb natives to make the big leagues also includes Adrian Brown, Dalton Jones, Blake Stein and Matt Tolbert.
Ethan Small made the headlines Tuesday, signing with Milwaukee for $1.8 million during a special appearance at Miller Park for the first-round draft pick. Meanwhile, far from the limelight, another ex-Mississippi State left-hander has been generating a little positive news of his own. Jacob Lindgren – remember him? – worked a scoreless inning Monday for the Arizona League White Sox. It was the third appearance in eight days in the rookie league for Lindgren, 26, who had last pitched in an official game in April 2016. Lindgren is trying to come back from two Tommy John surgeries, the most recent in March 2018. The Biloxi native was a second-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2014 after a brilliant season at State (0.81 ERA, 100 strikeouts in 55 innings) and reached the big leagues in 2015. He’s had arm problems virtually ever since. Atlanta signed him after the 2016 season, but he was never able to pitch in a game for the Braves. He became a free agent last November and signed with Chicago in January. Lindgren is technically on the Triple-A Charlotte roster, though it could be a while before he actually joins that club. P.S. On the AZL team with Lindgren is Brookhaven native James Beard, a fourth-round pick this year by the White Sox who is batting .235 in four pro games. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, the White Sox’s big league shortstop, is to be reevaluated today after suffering a sprained ankle in Tuesday’s game at Boston. Could be a tough blow for Anderson, who is having a career year (.317, 11 homers, 15 steals) and was the American League’s player of the month in April.
Blaine Crim left Mississippi College this year as the program’s career hits leader. Five games into his pro career, he is still piling them up. After a 3-for-4 effort on Monday, Crim has 12 hits in 22 at-bats with three doubles and four RBIs. The Alabama native, who was the Gulf South Conference player of the year in 2019, had six hits in two games in the rookie Arizona League before making a quick jump to short season Class A Spokane in the Texas system. A right-handed hitting first baseman, Crim batted .373 with 11 home runs, 21 doubles and 56 RBIs as a senior at MC, where he was a four-year starter and led the team to the GSC championship in 2018. When the Rangers took him in the 19th round of the draft, Crim became just the second Choctaws player to be drafted, according to MC’s website. The first was pitcher Bo Edmiston in 2003. P.S. After a performance that he called “embarrassing,” Jonathan Holder has been demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre by the New York Yankees. Holder, a former Mississippi State standout from Gulfport, allowed five runs without retiring a batter in a relief appearance Monday night. His ERA has ballooned to 6.81 in 31 games. He has given up six homers and 13 runs in his last 5 1/3 innings. Ugh.
It didn’t take long for Bobby Bradley to endear himself to Cleveland fans. In the top of the first inning of his big league debut on Sunday, the first baseman from Gulfport made a nice catch going back on a foul pop. In the second inning, on the second pitch he saw, Bradley stroked a deep fly ball to left field that hit near the corner and bounced into the Progressive Field stands for a run-scoring ground-rule double. On SiriusXM radio, Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton screeched with excitement. Bradley later scored on a throwing error as the Indians bolted ahead en route to an 8-3 win over Detroit. Fans gave Bradley an ovation when he was lifted for a pinch runner after drawing a walk in the eighth inning to cap his 1-for-3 debut. “Just unreal,” Bradley told mlb.com. “I think it’s gonna kick in for me at some point today that today actually happened. I mean, it’s a day I’ll never forget.” Bradley, 23, has been a highly rated prospect in the Indians’ system since he was drafted in the third round out of Harrison Central High in 2014. He won three minor league home run titles as he rose through the system and was leading the International League at the time of his call-up. Family and friends were in the stadium for his debut. He is the 16th Mississippi high school product to play in The Show in 2019. P.S. Bradley wasn’t the only Mississippian to produce a highlight or two on Sunday. Richton High alum JaCoby Jones led off the Tigers-Indians game with his ninth homer of the year and then added another hit. Wheeler High product Brandon Woodruff notched his ninth win of the year and struck out a career-high 12 as Milwaukee beat Cincinnati. Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton went 2-for-3 with a run and two steals in Kansas City’s victory. Brookhaven Academy alum Corey Dickerson and Mississippi State product Adam Frazier had pinch hits for Pittsburgh and Tupelo High alum Chris Stratton tossed a scoreless inning in the Pirates’ amazing 11-10, 11-inning win against San Diego. Former Copiah Academy standout Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Padres. Itawamba AHS alum Brian Dozier had a pinch hit in a losing cause for Washington, and East Central Community College product Tim Anderson went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a loss for the Chicago White Sox.
Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star from Gulfport, is set to make his big league debut today for Cleveland against visiting Detroit at Progressive Field. Bradley, a left-handed hitting first baseman, is in the lineup, batting seventh against Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, for the noon CDT game. Bradley, 23, was leading the Triple-A International League with 24 home runs and was batting .292 with 55 RBIs for Columbus. A third-round pick by the Indians in 2014, Bradley has hit 138 homers in the minors.