31 Aug

international news

There was a bit of an “old home week” vibe Tuesday night at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio, where the host Clippers and the Iowa Cubs hooked up in a Triple-A International League game. Pitchers from each of Mississippi’s Big 3 Division I schools went to the mound: Former Ole Miss standout Wyatt Short started and posted a win for the I-Cubs; Mississippi State product Konnor Pilkington started and took the loss for Columbus; and ex-Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty also worked for the Clippers, a Cleveland affiliate. (For the record, Delta State alum Trent Giambrone, an infielder, watched from the Iowa bench.) Short, a closer at UM and a reliever for most of his minor league career, made his third start and pitched a strong five innings in the I-Cubs’ 4-0 victory. The 5-foot-8 left-hander from Southaven is now 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA at Iowa in his sixth pro season. Wyatt has yet to get a big league call, unlike Pilkington and McCarty, both of whom have been up this year. Pilkington, a lefty from Pascagoula, yielded four hits, four walks and three runs with nine strikeouts in four innings, falling to 2-4, 5.66, with Columbus. He is 1-2, 4.17, in 12 MLB games this season. Hattiesburg native McCarty, a left-hander who has two big league wins for the Guardians, allowed one run in four innings Tuesday, trimming his ERA at Columbus to 3.58. … In an International League game at St. Paul, Minn., ex-USM star Matt Wallner and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton combined for four runs, four walks, two hits and a stolen base as Minnesota’s Triple-A club beat Omaha 10-6. The stolen base was the first for the veteran Hamilton in his second game with the Saints — and No. 402 in his minor league career. P.S. Several other former Ole Miss pitchers are in the news. Doug Nikhazy was promoted to Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system; he is slated to start Saturday. Taylor Broadway was traded to Boston from the Chicago White Sox to complete an earlier deal; the 2021 Rebels closer was pitching at Double-A Birmingham. Veteran big leaguer Mike Mayers, starting Tuesday for the Los Angeles Angels against the visiting New York Yankees, gave up three homers, including Aaron Judge’s No. 51, and took an L. Lance Lynn, 3-5, 5.00, for the White Sox but coming off one of his best starts, gets the ball tonight against Kansas City as the fading ChiSox try to stay in the playoff hunt.

30 Aug

something’s clicked

You might say Cade Bunnell has exceeded expectations. Actually, that would be a large understatement. A former 40th-round draft pick who played sparingly in college and hit .185 in A-ball this season, Bunnell finds himself batting .344 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 27 games for the Mississippi Braves. Having replaced Atlanta No. 1 prospect Vaughn Grissom as the M-Braves’ shortstop earlier this month, Bunnell is batting .327 with four homers in 15 games since he took on that role. Double-A pitching? What’s the big deal? The lefty-hitting Bunnell goes into the team’s home series (today-Sunday) against Tennessee after banging out three homers and driving in 10 runs in a six-game set at Birmingham. Bunnell, 25, who goes 6 feet, 190 pounds, was drafted in the last round — No. 1,207 overall — by the Braves in 2019 out of Indiana. In two years there, he hit under .200 with one homer in 60 at-bats. He hit .141 in rookie ball in 2019 and .216 (albeit with 13 homers) at Low-A Augusta last year. He has served three stints in 2022 with the M-Braves, having spent most of the season at High-A Rome, batting .185 with seven homers. But forget all that. Bunnell is in some kind of groove right now, helping the M-Braves (27-23, 4.5 games out of first) stay in the chase for a second-half title in the Southern League South. P.S. The top-rated position player prospect on the M-Braves team, No. 13 Justyn-Henry Malloy, also has been productive, batting .284 with five homers and 25 RBIs in 37 games since he came up from Rome. The 6-3, 212-pound outfielder was a sixth-round pick last year out of Georgia Tech. … Tennessee, a Chicago Cubs affiliate, features a pair of Mississippi products: pitcher Walker Powell out of Southern Miss and infielder Delvin Zinn from Pontotoc by way of Itawamba Community College. … The M-Braves’ Negro Leagues Tribute Night (see previous post), rained out in the last homestand, has been rescheduled for Saturday (6:05 p.m. start) at Trustmark Park.

30 Aug

a homer to savor

Hear about the special home run hit Monday night at Great American Ballpark? No, not the Albert Pujols bomb. The St. Louis star’s 694th career homer off a record 450th different pitcher was certainly noteworthy. But Chuckie Robinson’s homer was the special one. It was the first for the former Southern Miss star in his fourth MLB game with Cincinnati. It came with his mother, Dionne, and younger brother in the park. “I think when I hit it, I kind of blacked out a little bit like, ‘Dang, I got it.’ I was super excited,” Robinson told mlb.com. You can bet that his grandfather and father were also super excited. Robinson is a third-generation pro player. Both his grandfather — “Big Chuck” — and father — “Little Chuck” — played in the minors. They were in Philadelphia last week when “Baby Chuck” made his debut and got his first knock. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day,” he said at the time. Robinson, a catcher drafted out of USM in 2016 by Houston, is 27 years old and put in six years in the minors before the Reds gave him this shot in the big leagues. Cincy manager David Bell has raved about him: “He’s absolutely earned the opportunity.” As fate would have it, someone from Robinson’s hometown of Danville, Ill., caught the home run ball and got it to his mother. Now that’s special. P.S. Mississippi State alumnus Nathaniel Lowe was named the American League’s player of the week on Monday. He batted .385 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Texas last week. For the year, Lowe is batting .300 with a career-high 22 homers and 65 RBIs.

29 Aug

around the horn

Chad Bradford was back in uniform (sorta) on Sunday as the Oakland A’s celebrated their 2002 team — Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” gang that won a then-record 20 straight games — before the club played the New York Yankees at Oakland Coliseum. Former Southern Miss and Hinds Community College star Bradford was a key member of that A’s team, posting a 3.11 ERA, four wins and two saves over 75 games. The submarine-style right-hander had a 3.26 ERA in 561 MLB games. … In a pregame ceremony at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes threw a ceremonial first pitch to son Ke’Bryan Hayes before the Phillies played the Pittsburgh Pirates. The elder Hayes spent three of his 14 big league seasons with the Phils. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pirates’ third baseman, went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a 5-0 win. The duo reportedly will do another first-pitch thing at Yankee Stadium next month. Charlie Hayes won a ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. … Garrett Mitchell became the 56th Biloxi Shuckers alumnus to make the majors when the outfielder debuted for Milwaukee on Sunday, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs in a 9-7 win vs. the visiting Chicago Cubs. Mitchell, a former first-round pick from UCLA, played parts of the last two seasons with the Shuckers, who arrived on the Coast in 2015. … Dylan Moore, who played for both the Shuckers and the Mississippi Braves, hit a big three-run homer for Seattle on Sunday in a 4-0 win against Cleveland in a battle of playoff contenders. … M-Braves alum Drew Waters, who debuted with Kansas City last week, had two hits, two walks, two runs and two RBIs for the Royals in a 15-6 romp over San Diego. … Ex-M-Braves star Michael Harris II, who made the jump from Mississippi in May, went 4-for-4 for Atlanta in its 6-3 loss at St. Louis. It was the second four-hit game for the rookie of the year candidate, who is batting .298 with 13 homers, 45 RBIs and 15 steals. … George County High product Justin Steele, 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA for the Cubs this year, won’t make the trip to Toronto this week because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. … Former USM star Matt Wallner belted his fourth homer for Triple-A St. Paul — and 25th bomb overall in 2022 — as the Minnesota affiliate beat Iowa in the International League. Ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Holder gave up four runs in an inning of work and took the loss for the I-Cubs; the onetime big leaguer has a 10.29 ERA in seven appearances. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren improved to 7-4, with a 3.38 ERA, as the Yankees’ Double-A Somerset club beat New Hampshire in the Eastern League. Warren, drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana last year, went 2-3 in A-ball this season, his first pro duty.

28 Aug

prime nine

Down on the farm, a bundle of Mississippi products enjoyed a productive day at the plate on Saturday. Topping the chart: Reed Trimble, the former Southern Miss star. The second-year pro, recently activated from the injured list, went 3-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs for Low-Class A Delmarva in the Baltimore system.
Blaine Crim, Mississippi College alum, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs for Double-A Frisco (Texas).
Justin Foscue, the ex-Mississippi State star and a highly rated prospect for Texas, went 2-for-4 with an RBI at Frisco.
Tim Elko, a 2022 draft pick out of Ole Miss, went 3-for-5 with three runs and an RBI at Low-A Kannapolis (Chicago White Sox).
Emaarion Boyd, a 2022 draftee from South Panola High, went 3-for-4 with a stolen base for Low-A Clearwater (Philadelphia).
Kamren James, a 2022 draftee out of MSU, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in a win for Tampa Bay’s rookie team in the Florida Complex League championship series.
Hunter Stovall, former State standout, went 2-for-4 with an RBI, the game-winner in the ninth inning, for Double-A Hartford (Colorado).
Grae Kessinger, ex-Ole Miss star, went 2-for-4 with an RBI for Double-A Corpus Christi (Houston).
Blaze Jordan, the DeSoto Central High product, went 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs for High-A Greenville (Boston).
P.S. Brandon Woodruff could use a little luck. The former MSU standout from Wheeler threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts for Milwaukee against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. However, the Brewers didn’t score while he was on the mound, rallying late for a 7-0 win. Woodruff has five no-decisions in August despite a 2.70 ERA over 30 innings. He is 9-3, 3.31, on the year with eight no-decisions.

27 Aug

whatever happened to …

Cody Reed, the ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College star from Horn Lake, is toiling in Double-A as he tries to make his way back to the big leagues with Tampa Bay. The 29-year-old left-hander, now in his 10th pro season, has a 3.00 ERA in four games for Montgomery, having struck out seven and walked one in six innings. Reed was an effective reliever for the Rays in 2021 with a 3.72 ERA and three holds in 12 appearances before an injury (and surgery) halted his season in late May. He made a handful of rehab appearances in the minors, became a free agent after the season, re-signed with the Rays and then got hurt again in the spring. He finally returned to duty in mid-July and has pitched in 10 games all told. Reed isn’t on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster, but experienced lefties are always in demand, so it would not be a surprise to see him back in The Show in September for the playoff-hunting Rays. P.S. On the topic of lefties and comebacks, Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, on San Diego’s injured list all season, has a 7.71 ERA in five rehab games spread over three levels. He is currently at Triple-A El Paso. When healthy and in form, Pomeranz, 33 and in his 13th pro season, can certainly help the Padres in their playoff push. He had a 1.75 ERA for San Diego in 2021 and a 1.45 in 2020 with a combined 22 holds and four saves.

26 Aug

that was then

Not so long ago, Corey Dickerson’s status on the St. Louis roster looked rather shaky. On July 10, the Meridian Community College alum from McComb, just back from a month on the injured list with a calf issue, was batting .183 — roughly 100 points below his average over a 10-year MLB career. My, how things have changed. Dickerson, batting cleanup for the Cardinals at Wrigley Field on Thursday, went 3-for-5 to boost his average to .278 as the first-place Cardinals beat Chicago 8-3. Dickerson banged out hits in his first two at-bats on Thursday, stretching his streak of hits in consecutive ABs to 10, tying a franchise record, just two shy of the all-time mark. “You just have to keep grinding away,” Dickerson said in an mlb.com piece. The Cardinals signed Dickerson for one year and $5 million as a free agent in the off-season, hoping he would supply some left-handed thump. He hasn’t hit much for power — four homers all season — but has begun to produce other numbers for a club that has taken command in the National League Central. He is batting .460 since the All-Star break with 23 hits, six doubles, seven RBIs and six runs in 18 games. St. Louis is 22-9 since the break. Atlanta, on a similar roll, comes to Busch Stadium this weekend for a compelling three-game series. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Errol Robinson had an interesting line Thursday at Double-A Springfield in the St. Louis system: 1-4-1-3. Recently signed out of an independent league, Robinson walked four times, hit his first homer of the season and stole his fifth base in Springfield’s 14-6 win over Northwest Arkansas in the Texas League. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton, the well-traveled veteran outfielder, has signed a minor league contract with Minnesota. He went 1-for-13 in a brief fling with Miami this season, scoring nine runs and swiping seven bags while used mostly as a pinch runner.

25 Aug

the brightest light

There were highlights aplenty from Mississippians in the majors on Wednesday, but Nathaniel Lowe’s big day stole the show. The former Mississippi State standout stood in the batter’s box at Coors Field in the ninth inning needing a double for the cycle, which would be the first for a Mississippi-connected big leaguer since Fred Lewis in 2007. Lowe whiffed. But that hardly spoiled his performance: a career-high five RBIs and his 20th homer — a 443-foot blast — in Texas’ 16-4 win vs. Colorado. Lowe is batting .378 in August. “I think I’ve done a better job of just trying to do what I can do with a good pitch to hit,” he told mlb.com. Uh, yeah. … Atta-boys also go out to: Kendall Graveman, the State alum who notched his 21st hold in the Chicago White Sox’s 5-3 win over Baltimore. He pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, though it took a sensational play by third baseman Yoan Moncada to bail him out of a seventh-inning jam. … Chuckie Robinson, the ex-Southern Miss star who made his big league debut and got his first hit for Cincinnati. He became the 24th Mississippian (native or school alum) to appear in an MLB game this season. … Mike Mayers, the Ole Miss product who started and threw five scoreless innings for the Los Angeles Angels against Tampa Bay. It was Mayers’ first start of 2022 after 18 relief appearances (and a trip to the minors). Alas, the hapless Angels fell 4-3 in 11 innings. … Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who drove in two runs, Nos. 81 and 82 on the year, in Atlanta’s 14-2 romp at Pittsburgh. … Nick Fortes, the ex-Ole Miss standout whose seventh homer of the year tied the score in the ninth inning in Miami’s game at Oakland. The Marlins lost 3-2 in 10. … Hunter Renfroe, the Crystal Springs native who belted his 23rd homer, added two more hits and drove in three runs as Milwaukee lost to the Dodgers. P.S. For the record, five Mississippians have hit for the cycle in MLB history: Lewis, Frank White (twice), Harry Craft, Gee Walker and Sam Leslie. There have been 297 cycles in the modern era (since 1901).

24 Aug

minor matters

Former Southern Miss star Chuckie Robinson, having received his second big league call-up on Tuesday, might be in line for his debut tonight when Cincinnati plays Philadelphia. Robinson joined the Reds for the recent Field of Dreams Game but did not play and was sent back to Triple-A the next day. The right-handed hitting catcher, now in his seventh pro year, was batting .253 with two homers and 12 RBIs at Louisville after starting the season in Double-A. Cincinnati’s No. 1 catcher, Austin Romine, is batting .194. The Phillies are starting a left-hander tonight. … The minor league transaction wire was humming on Tuesday. In other noteworthy moves: Mississippi State product Jake Mangum, coming off a rehab stint in rookie ball, was assigned to Double-A Binghamton and promptly went 2-for-5 with a homer for the New York Mets’ affiliate. Mangum was in Triple-A when he went on the injured list in late May. … Ex-Ole Miss slugger Tim Elko was promoted from the rookie level to Low-Class A Kannapolis by the Chicago White Sox and went 1-for-4 in his first game. He was batting .154 with three homers in the Arizona Complex League. In a related move, the White Sox bumped Loyd Star High product James Beard from Kannapolis to High-A Winston-Salem. He went 0-for-4. Beard was batting .163 with four homers and 25 stolen bases in Low-A. … USM alum and former big leaguer Cody Carroll was released from San Francisco’s Triple-A Sacramento club. He had a 7.62 ERA over 31 appearances. … Ex-USM standout Jarod Wright was activated from the IL at High-A South Bend in the Cubs’ system; he is 2-4, 4.60 ERA this season. … MSU alum Peyton Plumlee was activated at Low-A Fayetteville in the Houston chain. He had been on the IL all season before making a rehab appearance in rookie ball. … When Milwaukee put left-hander Aaron Ashby on the IL, it did not recall Ethan Small, the former State star and No. 12 prospect who has made two big league appearances this season, both fairly shaky. The left-hander is 6-4, 3.50, at Triple-A Nashville but has not been sharp of late. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt caught the first eight innings for Tampa Bay on Tuesday, homered and drove in three runs and then pitched a scoreless ninth in an 11-1 blowout of the Los Angeles Angels. The homer was Bethancourt’s eighth. He has made eight career pitching appearances (7.36 ERA). Oddly enough, ex-M-Braves infielder Phil Gosselin got the last three outs for the Angels working in the eighth. … Bryce Harper went deep twice in his first rehab game for Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley team, both bombs coming against former M-Braves pitchers, Jared Shuster and William Woods, now at Gwinnett.

23 Aug

an ode to speed

The stolen base ain’t what it used to be, usurped by the home run at most levels of the game. Small ball generally has given way to the quest for power and the big inning. But speed can still be a valuable tool. And Mississippi has a long history of producing players who have it. From Cool Papa Bell — the Negro Leagues legend from Starkville who is credited with 285 official stolen bases — to Billy Hamilton — the Taylorsville product who has 321 career bags in MLB and once got a record 155 in a single season in the minors. Eight Mississippi natives, none currently active, have 150 or more steals in the majors, nine if you include Bell. Silento Sayles set a national high school record with 103 bags in 2013 at Port Gibson. Gulfport’s Marcus Lawton stole 111 bases in the minors in 1985, one of just a few to reach that milestone. Major league scouts still hunt speed, and it no doubt was a key factor in Philadelphia’s decision to draft South Panola High’s Emaarion Boyd in the 11th round of the 2022 draft. Boyd swiped two bases in a Florida Complex League game on Monday, giving him six in eight pro games. He is batting .333. Tishomingo County’s Spence Coffman, drafted in the 19th round by San Diego, also was rated as a plus-runner. He stole 17 bags as a prep senior but is 0-for-1 in four rookie-ball games. The current steals leader among Mississippians in the minors is James Beard, former Loyd Star standout, who has 25 bags at the Low-Class A level in the Chicago White Sox’s system. Beard was considered the fastest high school player available in the 2019 draft, and he went in the fourth round. Alas, he is hitting just .163 this year (.185 career), clouding his prospects for advancement. Jake Mangum, the ex-Mississippi State and Jackson prep star, was one of the fastest college players in the 2019 draft, and he went in the fourth round to the New York Mets, eight picks after Beard despite being a much more accomplished hitter. Mangum swiped 17 bases in 53 games in his pro debut and has 39 career bags. A .280 career hitter, he has reached Triple-A, knocking on the door to the big leagues. Speed is good, but without the hit tool, a player’s chances of advancement aren’t so good. To wit: Sayles, drafted by Cleveland, stole 36 bases in 200 minor league games but retired in A-ball with a .222 career average in 2017. Lawton, for all his speed, made it to the big leagues for just a cup of coffee (10 games in 1989) and finished with one career steal, 164 fewer than his brother Matt, not as fast but a better hitter. Wiggins native D.J. Davis, a first-round pick by Toronto in 2012, got 134 bags over seven seasons but never got past A-ball. Pontotoc’s Delvin Zinn stole 42 bases in A-ball last year but has seen his career stall in Double-A, currently batting .113 (with seven steals) at Tennessee in the Chicago Cubs’ system. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray Jr., a second-rounder in 2018, has 17 steals in 110 games at the High-A level for Milwaukee but also has a .192 average. Pascagoula’s Willie Joe Garry stole 24 bases last year and has 12 this season in A-ball but is floundering around the .200 mark. Maybe someday, considering the radical changes MLB is making in the grand old game, there will be a designated runner, whose only job is to pinch run, ala Herb Washington, the Belzoni native who played such a role with the 1974-75 Oakland A’s. He stole 31 bases and never batted or played the field before being unceremoniously released.