Getting to the big leagues is hard. Staying, they say, is harder. And getting back to the big leagues after losing your roster spot might be a different level of hard. That’s the plight faced by a handful of Mississippians currently playing in Triple-A with no clear path to another MLB chance. Anthony Alford, Cody Carroll, Chris Ellis, JaCoby Jones and Jacob Waguespack are veteran pros no longer holding a 40-man MLB roster spot in their respective organizations. Alford, 26, from Petal, was designated for assignment by Pittsburgh on April 21, hitting .083 at the time. He has perked up at Indianapolis, batting .292 with six homers in 35 games. But his MLB track record (.150 in 62 games over five years) isn’t good. Former Southern Miss star Carroll, 28, pitched in 15 games for Baltimore in 2018 and got into three games last summer but was waived in September. Assigned to Norfolk this year, he has a 5.56 ERA in 13 appearances. Ellis, 28, a former Ole Miss (and Mississippi Braves) standout, has one MLB game (one inning, actually) on his resume. That was with Kansas City (as a Rule 5 draft pick) in 2019. He was DFA’d after that game and returned to St. Louis, which released him in May 2020. Tampa Bay signed Ellis in the off-season; he is 0-1 with a 6.45 ERA in eight games at Durham. Jones, 29, the former Mr. Baseball from Richton, seemingly had established himself as an outfielder with Detroit. But after struggling to start this season, he was demoted and then DFA’d on June 6. He is batting .222 in 25 games for Toledo. Waguespack, 27, an Ole Miss alum, was up with Toronto last summer (8.15 ERA) but was DFA’d in March. He is 3-2, 3.43 at Buffalo. What are the odds any of these players gets another shot in the big leagues? Well, as they say, as long as you’re wearing a uniform, you’ve got a chance. P.S. Former Mississippi State ace Ethan Small and Mississippi Braves product Drew Waters have been selected for the All-Star Futures Game in Denver on July 11. Small, recently promoted from Double-A Biloxi to Triple-A Nashville, is Milwaukee’s top-rated pitching prospect. Waters, 2019 Southern League MVP, is playing at Triple-A Gwinnett; the switch-hitting outfielder is Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect.
The 2021 season has taken another twist for Corey Dickerson, the McComb native and former Meridian Community College standout. Currently in a walking boot with a foot injury, and in the midst of a slump, veteran outfielder Dickerson reportedly has been traded (along with pitcher Adam Cimber) from Miami to Toronto. The nine-year big leaguer was batting .208 over his last 30 games for Miami when he hurt his left foot and landed on the 10-day injured list on June 15. He was not expected back on the field until after the All-Star break in mid-July. In his first year with the Marlins in 2020, Dickerson helped a young team make a surprising run to a playoff berth. The current Marlins team was in last place when Dickerson went on the IL, and he had not been very impactful. He is hitting .260 with just two homers, 14 RBIs and 27 runs over 62 games. His average with runners in scoring position is under .200. Much more was expected in the last year of his two-year, $17.5M contract. He was an All-Star just four years ago with Tampa Bay, when he batted .282 with 27 homers. And he won a Gold Glove the next season in Pittsburgh. If he’s healthy, he might still have something left to help the Blue Jays in the competitive American League East. P.S. Injury updates: Former George County High star Justin Steele (hamstring) is on a rehab assignment for the Chicago Cubs. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Holder (shoulder) remains on the Cubs’ 60-day IL with no projected return date. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz (lat strain) reportedly is close to returning to San Diego’s active roster. Spencer Turnbull (forearm), the Madison Central product, is expected back with Detroit in early July. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton (oblique) reportedly is close to getting back to the Chicago White Sox. Northwest CC product Cody Reed (thumb), with Tampa Bay, had surgery on June 2 and is done for the season. MSU alum Dakota Hudson (2020 Tommy John surgery) might return to St. Louis in September.
2 – National championships by four-year schools in Mississippi: William Carey in NAIA in 1969 and Delta State in NCAA Division II in 2004. (Jones College won a junior college title in 2013.)
7 – Wins this season by Houston Harding, Mississippi State’s projected starter in tonight’s Game 2 of the College World Series finals. The left-hander also got a W in 2020 and won 19 in two years at Itawamba Community College. He beat Campbell in the regional and got no-decisions vs. Notre Dame in the super regional and Texas in the CWS.
3 – Wins this season by Christian Little, Vanderbilt’s projected starter in Game 2 of the CWS finals. The 17-year-old, 6-foot-4 freshman right-hander – a January enrollee — went 5 1/3 innings (one run) in a Vandy victory vs. Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament but was not the pitcher of record. He also worked against Tennessee, Louisville and Stanford.
873 – Feet covered by Hunter Renfroe’s two home runs in Boston’s win over Kansas City on Monday. Mississippi State alum Renfroe now has 11 homers on the year and is batting .340 with six bombs in his last 30 games.
1 – Earned run allowed by rookie Nick Sandlin for Cleveland in 10 June appearances. The Southern Miss product worked a clean inning in a win against Detroit on Monday and now has a 2.08 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings over 19 games.
0.47 – Brandon Woodruff’s ERA in three games vs. the Chicago Cubs this season. The ex-MSU star, 6-3 with a 1.89 on the season, will start for host Milwaukee tonight against National League Central rival Chicago.
1 – Hit, a single, in two at-bats for Blaze Jordan in his pro debut on Monday. Jordan, a third-round pick out of DeSoto Central High by Boston in 2020, is playing for the Red Sox’s Florida Complex League team.
As it turns out, an undefeated record, a state championship, MACCC pitcher of the year honors and an All-America nod were just appetizers for Pearl River Community College redshirt freshman Landon Gartman. The season’s entrée arrived today when Gartman was named the winner of the NJCAA Division II Pitcher of the Year award. Gartman, a Memphis signee, went 9-0 with a 1.95 ERA for the 36-9 Wildcats. He struck out 81 batters, 12.2 per game. A four-time winner of the MACCC weekly top pitcher award, Gartman won his only start for the regular season champs in the Region 23 Tournament. The former Enterprise High standout will move on to Memphis, which is coached by Daron Schoenrock, a former pitching coach under Ron Polk at Mississippi State. Memphis, in the American Athletic Conference, went 18-39 in 2021.
Flashing the power he displayed at Oxford High and Ole Miss, Thomas Dillard hit a pair of home runs in a game for High-A Wisconsin on Sunday. One of the bombs was a reported 438-footer. Dillard enjoyed a 3-for-6 day with five RBIs in a twinbill sweep by the Timber Rattlers, a Milwaukee farm team. Dillard is batting .240 (.420 slugging) with five homers and 37 RBIs in his second pro season. The switch-hitting catcher/first baseman, Milwaukee’s No. 22 prospect, was a fifth-round pick in 2019. He hit seven homers that summer and spent 2020 at the Brewers’ alternate site. … Joe Gray Jr., another Brewers prospect, hit his 11th homer on Sunday at Low-A Carolina. That total leads the Low-A East and is tied (with Brent Rooker in Triple-A) for the most by Mississippian in the minors. Former Hattiesburg High star Gray, in his third pro season, is batting .308 with 49 RBIs, bidding for a promotion to the Wisconsin team. Two more Mississippi-connected prospects went deep in the minors Sunday: Former Itawamba Community College and Houlka High star Tyreque Reed smacked his ninth homer for High-A Greenville in Boston’s system, and Ole Miss product Tyler Keenan, a 2020 draftee, hit No. 4 for High-A Everett in Seattle’s system. And something to watch for today: Blaze Jordan, the storied slugger from DeSoto Central, is expected to make his pro debut for Boston’s Florida Complex League team. Jordan famously hit two 500-foot homers in a showcase event at age 13 and won the high school home run competition at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game.
Back in April, which seems like such a long time ago, College World Series finalists Mississippi State and Vanderbilt hooked up in Nashville for an SEC series. The Commodores, behind the pitching of Ace 1A Kumar Rocker and the lesser known duo of Chris McElvain and Nick Maldonado, took two of three from the Bulldogs. Rocker pitched a three-hitter in the opener and McElvain and Maldonado provided stout relief in the rubber game in which State couldn’t hold an early 4-0 lead. State’s win in Game 2 was an eye-opener, as Will Bednar, with a big assist from Landon Sims, beat Vandy’s other ace, Jack Leiter, who hadn’t lost a game in his Vandy career. Rowdey Jordan and Logan Tanner homered off Leiter. The pitching matchups for the best-of-3 CWS finals, which start Monday, haven’t been announced, though it’s a good bet Leiter will start the opener. How much should be made of the April meeting? It can’t be totally dismissed, but, of course, the stakes are little different this week. And then there’s the atmosphere. The biggest crowd at Vandy’s Hawkins Field during the April series was 1,407, very few of them State fans. TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha will be a sea of maroon. Think it’ll make a difference?
If you’re gonna have a moment in the big leagues, there’s no better place to do it than Fenway Park during a Yankees-Red Sox game on a Friday night. Hunter Renfroe, the former Mississippi State standout, earned a spot in Boston lore on an electric night that featured a packed house of 36,000-plus and a pregame tribute to Dustin Pedroia. Renfroe drove in two runs, scored one and cut down a runner at the plate with a sizzling throw in the Red Sox’s 5-3 win, their fourth in as many games against New York this season. “Obviously, this is the thing you live for,” the Crystal Springs native said in an mlb.com story. “These are the games you live for.” Renfroe is in his first season with the Red Sox after being unceremoniously cut loose by Tampa Bay after a down year in 2020. He started slowly but has picked it up of late, batting .308 with four homers and 17 RBIs in his last 30 games. He was 4-for-10 in Boston’s sweep at Yankee Stadium earlier this month. On Friday, his stamp was all over the place. He doubled in a run to cap a three-run first inning and hit a sac fly to make it 4-3 in the third. In the top of the fourth, the Yankees’ Gio Urshela tried to score from second on a single to right field. Bad idea. Renfroe’s 94.7 mph throw covered 190 feet on the fly — per Statcast — and nailed Urshela by five feet. Fenway went wild. Renfroe now has 11 assists, best in the majors. He has 41 career assists. Renfroe capped his night by scoring after drawing a walk in the eighth, stretching the Red Sox’s lead. “I’ve been saying Friday nights at Fenway are cool,” Boston manager Alex Cora told mlb.com. “They’re pretty cool, and it was another great atmosphere.” They’ll play again today. Renfroe probably can’t wait.
Eric Cerantola, who did not make Mississippi State’s travel roster for Omaha, headed to Cary, N.C., instead to work out in the MLB Draft Combine. According to mlb.com’s Jim Callis, it was a worthwhile trip. Cerantola reportedly hit 96 mph four times and registered the highest spin rate among 13 pitchers who threw in a Thursday session. Cerantola, a big righty from Canada, was considered a potential first-round pick headed into 2021 but had a poor year for the Bulldogs. After starting the season in the rotation, he wound up appearing in just 10 games, posting a 5.71 ERA. He struck out 24 in 17 1/3 innings but walked 11, hit six batters and threw four wild pitches. Callis writes that Cerantola “has some stiffness in his delivery that makes it tough for him to locate his pitches.” Rated No. 248 by MLB Pipeline, his work at the combine might entice an MLB club to take a chance on him. … Braden Montgomery, the star of Madison Central’s state championship team, is showcasing skills as both a hitter and pitcher at the combine. “I picked up pitching more recently, but I’ve always been a hitter,” he said in a recent interview on MLB Network. “So, there are some days where maybe I’ll turn out a poor pitching performance, but I’ll hit well and feel like I won’t have to pitch anymore or turn out a really good pitching performance, and I don’t hit well at all. So, I enjoy them both.” The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Montgomery is a switch-hitting outfielder and righty pitcher. He had nine hard-hit (95 mph-plus) balls in a BP session this week; the top number in that session was 15. He broad-jumped 11.04 feet and scored 11.31 on the agility drill, both among the best scores in his groups. He is a Stanford signee who’ll go high in the draft. He is ranked No. 65 by MLB Pipeline, just four spots behind Ole Miss’ Doug Nikhazy.
Most of the highly rated prospects on the Mississippi Braves’ roster are position players. But the Double-A team’s rise to the top of their division can be attributed more to the arms than the bats. The M-Braves have won 19 of 25 to reach 27-18 on the season. Last in the Double-A South in hitting (.211) and next-to-last in runs, they have the best staff ERA in the league at 3.30. Opponents are hitting just .216 against them – lowest in the league – and have a league-low 20 homers in 45 games. There is some power in the M-Braves’ lineup, and they hit three home runs in Thursday night’s 6-2 win over Tennessee at Trustmark Park. But the pitching rates a shout-out, as well. Spencer Strider, Atlanta’s No. 20 prospect (with a bullet), made his Double-A debut and yielded two runs in 4 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. He has a 1.82 ERA and 64 punchouts in 34 2/3 innings over three levels. The 2020 fourth-round pick from Clemson was followed to the bump by Kurt Hoekstra, Brooks Wilson and Brandon White, who combined to allow just two hits and fan six over the final 4 1/3. White has emerged as a reliable closer with seven saves and a 1.69 ERA. Hoekstra (3.38), Wilson (1.71), Josh Graham (2.33) and Troy Bacon (1.93) have been effective out of the pen. Bacon had a rare immaculate inning (three K’s on nine pitches) in Tuesday’s game. Nolan Kingham, a former Texas star, has emerged as the ace among M-Braves starters. The right-hander tossed 7 1/3 shutout innings Wednesday to improve to 5-1 with a 2.29 ERA. Opening day starter Hayden Deal, a lefty who’ll go tonight at the TeePee, is 1-2 with a 3.28 and has yet to allow a home run. Odalvi Javier is 3-1, 2.78 and A.J. Puckett 1-2, 2.59. The highest-rated pitching prospect on the roster is No. 14 Viktor Vodnik (0-1, 2.51), but he is currently on the injured list. If it’s true that good pitching beats good hitting, the 2021 M-Braves are in good shape.
The first phase of fan voting for the All-Star Game ended today with Adam Frazier looking like the lone Mississippi product on track to make Phase 2. Per the last update on the results, former Mississippi State standout Frazier was second in the voting for National League second baseman (behind Ozzie Albies); the top three advance in the voting process. The finalists for Phase 2 will be announced on Sunday. Frazier is among the league leaders with a .324 average for Pittsburgh. Ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson, having an All-Star type year for the Chicago White Sox, stood fourth at American League shortstop. Xander Bogaerts, Bo Bichette and Carlos Correa led that pack. Anderson, batting .297 with six homers, 41 runs and 13 steals, might still get picked as a reserve. A recent slump may have cost Austin Riley a shot at making the NL team at third base; he was fourth in the latest release. The DeSoto Central High product, who had a great month of May, is hitting .276 with 12 homers. Former State standout Brandon Woodruff (6-3, 1.89 ERA) and Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn (7-3, 2.14) would appear to be solid candidates as pitchers, which are chosen by player ballot and the Commissioner’s Office.