01 Aug

ouch

One call rarely decides a game, but it can certainly alter the course. Everyone watching Saturday’s Milwaukee-Atlanta game at Truist Park saw Brandon Woodruff throw strike three past Dansby Swanson for the second out of the Braves sixth inning. Everyone except home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor, who called it a ball. (Doesn’t it seem that bad ball-strike calls have become epidemic in the majors?) Swanson hit the next pitch out of the park to give the Braves a 3-1 lead. Mississippi State product Woodruff glared and barked at Bucknor as he left the game. Swanson, the former Mississippi Braves star, later hit a grand slam as the Braves claimed an 8-1 victory. Swanson said after the game that, yes, he thought the sixth-inning pitch was a strike. Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said, yes, it was a strike — but Swanson rated credit for banging the hanger that followed. Woodruff, who has endured a lot of tough luck this season, said in an mlb.com piece: “It [stinks] because we’re playing good baseball and something like that kind of bugs me a bit. I’ll get over it.” Woodruff, a 2021 All-Star, saw his record fall to 7-6 despite a 2.26 ERA, among the best in the big leagues. He was 0-3 in July for the first-place Brewers, who just don’t score when the big right-hander pitches. P.S. Delvin Zinn, the former Itawamba Community College star from Pontotoc, got a chance to try out his wheels on a new track on Saturday. He had a flat. Leading the High-A Central in stolen bases with 42, Zinn was promoted to Double-A Tennessee by the Chicago Cubs. He walked in his first at-bat, then promptly got picked off and cut down trying to steal second. Zinn went 0-for-1 with two walks and a sac bunt for the Smokies. He was batting .234 with four homers and 42 runs for South Bend in his fifth pro season.

31 Jul

smooth moves

He didn’t want to leave Seattle, but Kendall Graveman made himself right at home in Houston’s bullpen on Friday night. In his Astros debut, the former Mississippi State standout retired all four batters he faced, striking out the side in the eighth inning, to help Houston beat San Francisco 9-6 in a clash of first-place teams. Graveman lowered his ERA to a ridiculous 0.79. He has yielded only 15 hits in 34 1/3 innings this season. He has four wins, 10 saves and five holds. MLB Network’s Tom Verducci called Houston’s acquisition of Graveman “a big-time move” and raved about his stuff, particularly the movement on his power sinker. Graveman was upset about leaving the Mariners, still a wild card contender in the American League, but with the Astros he’ll have a much more legitimate chance at making the World Series. P.S. A move up to Triple-A has gone smoothly for Ole Miss product Nick Fortes. A catcher now in his third pro season, Fortes is 5-for-11 with two home runs and five RBIs in three games at Jacksonville in Miami’s system. He was batting .251 with three homers in 57 games at Double-A Pensacola. … Bidding for a move up is ex-State star Justin Foscue, who hit his 11th home run Friday in 24 games at High-A Hickory. He was a 2020 draft pick by Texas. … Foscue’s former keystone partner in Starkville, Jordan Westburg, also homered Friday for High-A Aberdeen (Baltimore) and is batting .303 with seven bombs and 37 RBIs in 49 games. He began his first pro season in Low-A. … Ex-Bulldogs lefty Christian MacLeod has signed with Minnesota, becoming the last of the 12 2021 draft picks out of state schools to join a pro club. Former Jackson Prep star Will Warren, drafted by the New York Yankees out of Southeastern Louisiana, also has signed.

30 Jul

part of the plan?

From all indications, the Chicago Cubs are now in wait-till-next-year mode. Former George County High star Justin Steele is making a strong case to be part of the 2022 plan. Left-hander Steele threw five shutout innings for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, yielding just four hits and fanning five in his fourth start since the Cubs decided to return him to that role. Steele has a 1.15 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings over those four starts. He posted a 2.03 ERA in 11 relief appearances in his long-awaited MLB debut this year – he was drafted in 2014 — before a hamstring injury put him on the injured list in late May. Steele reportedly improved his slider during his time in the Cubs’ alternate camp last summer and now features an impressive array of pitches, including a high-90s fastball. “I’m really starting to settle into my mechanics, really feeling smooth out there, been a while since I’ve felt so smooth,” Steele, 26, said in a bleachernation.com article last week following his third start for the I-Cubs. P.S. Jacob Waguespack, the Ole Miss alum, also picked up a win Thursday, his sixth of the year at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s chain. Waguespack, who has big league time, was cut from the 40-man roster in March and sent to Buffalo, where he has gone 6-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 games (nine starts). … Wondering what Atlanta’s plan is for Drew Waters, the ex-Mississippi Braves standout and 2019 Southern League MVP? The switch-hitting outfielder had a four-hit game Thursday for Triple-A Gwinnett and is batting .262 with eight homers, 27 RBIs, 43 runs and 16 steals. He has power and speed and might be able to inject some life into the Braves’ frequently sleepy offense.

29 Jul

trade winds

The Chicago White Sox sent former Mississippi State star Konnor Pilkington to Cleveland today in a trade for veteran big league second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Pilkington, a Pascagoula native and East Central High alum, was 4-4 with a 3.48 ERA at Birmingham in the Double-A South. He’ll likely report to Double-A Akron. The third-year pro has a 4.13 career ERA over 47 games in the minors; Baseball America ranked him No. 17 on the ChiSox’s prospect chart early in 2020. … The trade deadline is 3 p.m. CDT Friday. Other Mississippi products involved in recent trades include Corey Dickerson (Miami to Toronto), Adam Frazier (Pittsburgh to San Diego) and Kendall Graveman (Seattle to Houston). P.S. Taylor Broadway, a 2021 draft pick by the White Sox out of Ole Miss, has signed, leaving only Christian MacLeod unsigned among the 12 picks from Mississippi this year, per mlb.com’s Draft Tracker. … Tanner Allen, SEC player of the year at MSU, made his pro debut today for Miami’s Florida Complex League team, going 0-for-3.

29 Jul

soldiering on

Former Ole Miss standout David Parkinson, now a Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer, got a major monkey off his back on Wednesday. The 25-year-old lefty worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs, and got the win as Lehigh Valley beat Rochester 5-3 in the Triple-A East. It was Parkinson’s first win since 2019. He is now 1-7 (with a 6.36 ERA) over 15 appearances in his first Triple-A campaign. A 12th-round draftee in 2017, he was the Phillies’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, going 11-1, 1.45 at two levels of A-ball. He wasn’t as sharp in Double-A in 2019 and didn’t pitch at all last year. Parkinson reportedly has a tendency to dwell on bad outings, of which he has had several in 2021. “One thing about Park is that he’s very cerebral, analytical,” LV pitching coach Aaron Fultz told The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., earlier this season. “The biggest advice I can give to him is that this game is very, very hard.” Wednesday’s win was a nice reward for his perseverance. … Also admirably soldiering on is Anthony Alford, the Columbia native and former Petal High two-sport star now in Triple-A in Pittsburgh’s system. Alford was 2-for-3 with his 10th homer of the season for Indianapolis on Wednesday. Alford’s latest big league trial ended on April 21, when Pittsburgh took him off its 40-man roster after a 2-for-24 start. He was assigned on May 1 to Indianapolis, where he struggled initially. Batting .175 on June 1, Alford is currently hitting .302, batting third and playing center field. He is 27 now – a long way from his days as a highly rated Toronto prospect — and owns a .150 career average in the big leagues. But he’s still wearing a uniform and trying to remain relevant.

28 Jul

star quality

Charlie Morton, the veteran Atlanta pitcher, gives an endearing assessment of Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum and current Braves third baseman. “He’s easy to root for,” Morton said in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story. “He’s great in the clubhouse. Just an all-around really good dude.” Riley also has become an all-around really good player, a blossoming star, in fact. The 24-year-old, third-year big leaguer smacked two home runs, one a grand slam, and drove in six runs to power the Braves to a 12-5 win against the first-place New York Mets on Tuesday night at CitiField. The two homers went deep into the left-field seats and covered a combined 850 feet-plus. “The power’s unbelievable,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told The Associated Press. “He’s still figuring things out. … Still a lot of upside in this guy.” Riley is batting .288 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs. Over the last 15 days, mostly spent in the cleanup spot, Riley is batting .372 (second among all MLB third basemen) with 16 hits (first), a .791 slugging percentage (first), five homers (tied for the most) and 14 RBIs (first). And, he hasn’t made an error since June 20. P.S. Adam Frazier fit seamlessly into San Diego’s lineup on Tuesday, going 2-for-5 and scoring twice as the leadoff batter (and left fielder) in a 7-4 win over Oakland. The 2021 All-Star out of Mississippi State was traded on Monday from Pittsburgh. Frazier is hitting .325. … Former MSU standout Kendall Graveman, traded from Seattle to Houston in the midst of a series between the two American League West rivals, was in an Astros uniform but did not pitch in Tuesday’s game, an 8-6 Houston win. Graveman, a bit surprised by the trade, got visibly emotional in a TV interview discussing the move. The right-handed reliever is 4-0 with an 0.82 ERA and 10 saves. … Ex-State star Nate Lowe stuffed the stat sheet in helping Texas stop a 12-game losing streak with a 5-4 win against Arizona. Lowe, batting .251 with the Rangers, had two hits, a walk, two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. … And down in Double-A, the Mississippi Braves, powered by a club-record seven homers, stopped an eight-game skid with a resounding 9-3 win at Pensacola. Shea Langeliers, who could be Atlanta’s catcher next season, hit two bombs, raising his season total to 17.

27 Jul

odds and ends

Stanley Stubbs, who won championships at two colleges in Georgia and coached at Rust College the last two years, will be named coach at Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday. Stubbs succeeds Aaron Stevens, fired after an 0-20 season. Stubbs is a Booneville native who played at Northeast Mississippi Community College and was an assistant coach under Bob Braddy at Jackson State for several years. Rust, an NAIA program, finished 13-20 in 2021. Alcorn State has yet to name a replacement for Brett Richardson, who was not retained after a 7-20 season. … The Mississippi Braves are riding an eight-game losing streak as they head into a 12-game road trip that begins tonight at Pensacola. The Double-A club’s longest losing streak since it arrived in Pearl in 2005 is nine. At 40-32, the M-Braves no longer have the Double-A South’s best record. … Whatever happened to Corey Dickerson? Well, the former Meridian Community College star is expected to begin a rehab assignment this week for the Toronto Blue Jays. Dickerson was on the injured list (foot) with Miami when he was traded on June 29. The veteran outfielder hit .260 with two homers in 62 games for the Marlins. … No surprise really that the top two teams in the Cotton States League North feature the college summer league’s top two pitchers. Will Cook, of Holmes Community College, is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA for the Tupelo Thunder, 13-6 heading into the season’s final weekend in New Albany. Camron Wright, a lefty from Itawamba CC, is 3-1, 1.66 for the North Delta Dealers, also 13-6. The Dealers took two of three from the Thunder back in June, with Cook notching Tupelo’s lone win. Wright pitched well in the rubber game but didn’t get a decision. … Among the array of stars who’ll be formally inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night are two baseball icons: former high school coach Jerry Boatner and renowned stadium architect Janet Marie Smith. In addition, Con Maloney, longtime owner of Jackson’s Texas League franchise, will receive the Rube Award, which recognizes lifetime contributions to Mississippi sports and is named in honor former sports museum director Michael Rubenstein.

27 Jul

boom or bust

Brent Rooker doesn’t always hit the ball. But when he does, it goes a long way. Mississippi State product Rooker blasted a 460-foot home run on Monday night for the Minnesota Twins. In four games since being recalled from Triple-A St. Paul, Rooker has three hits: two homers and a double. Including his April stint with the Twins, he is 6-for-44, with three homers and two doubles. He has struck out 18 times. From all indications, Rooker – the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft — is going to play down the stretch, either as the DH or a corner outfielder. His MLB debut in 2020 was cut short by injury; he hit .316 with a homer and five RBIs in seven September games. He struggled at the outset of this season and was shipped out to St. Paul, where he was batting .239 (.546 slugging) with 19 homers. His career minor league numbers: .262 (.512 slugging), 73 homers, 393 K’s in 320 games. As a blogger at twinkietown.com notes: “At this point, he mostly is what he is going to be. It’s time to find out if what he is will be good enough to produce at the game’s highest level.” Basically, he just needs to hit the ball more often. … Rooker’s 460-foot bomb is the second-longest by a Mississippian in the majors this season, topped only by Nate Lowe’s 465-footer, per Baseball Savant. Hunter Renfroe has a 453, Mitch Moreland a 444, Austin Riley a 439, Bobby Bradley and Corey Dickerson each a 432.

26 Jul

very interesting …

Mississippi State product Justin Foscue, a first-round pick by Texas in the 2020 draft, homered in his eighth straight game on Sunday. (Note: The big league record is eight straight.) Foscue went deep for High-A Hickory in the completion of a game suspended last Friday. His streak began on July 9 when he was on a rehab assignment with the Arizona Complex League Rangers. He is batting .324 with 10 homers and 23 RBIs for Hickory. Foscue didn’t play in Sunday’s regularly scheduled game, but ex-Mississippi College star Blaine Crim did. And he homered in his second straight game and for the 12th time in July. Crim is batting .298 with 19 homers and 58 RBIs for Hickory. … The remains of the 2021 season will be a lot more interesting for Adam Frazier now that the ex-State standout has been traded from Pittsburgh to San Diego. The Pirates are mired in last place in their division. The Padres are in a heated battle with San Francisco and Los Angeles in the National League West. Frazier, 29, was a coveted trade piece, with several teams reportedly expressing interest. The All-Star second baseman is batting .324 and leads the big leagues in hits with 125. According to mlb.com, Frazier is only the third player in the modern era to be traded midseason while leading MLB in hits. The others: Willie McGee (1990) and Red Schoendienst (1957). Frazier is a left-handed hitter with some pop (39 career homers) who has played six different positions over his six seasons in the majors. … It wasn’t surprising that All-Stars Lance Lynn and Brandon Woodruff gave us quite the pitchers’ duel on Sunday night (see previous post). The surprise was that former Ole Miss star Lynn delivered the game’s biggest hit, a two-run single off MSU product Woodruff that propelled the Chicago White Sox to a 3-1 win over Milwaukee in a matchup of division leaders. Lynn’s second-inning hit, on an 0-2 fastball, was his first since 2017. It came in his first plate appearance in over two years. Woodruff, a good-hitting pitcher, also had a knock off Lynn but came up empty in a key at-bat in the fifth inning. Down 3-1 with a runner at second and one out, Woodruff took a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch.

25 Jul

marquee event

Lance Lynn vs. Brandon Woodruff. Two All-Stars from rival Magnolia State schools pitching for division leaders in the ESPN Sunday night feature. This ought to be good. Lynn, the very intense Ole Miss product, is 9-3 with a 1.94 ERA for the Chicago White Sox, who lead the American League Central with a 58-40 record. Brandon Woodruff, the very intense Mississippi State product, is 7-4 with a 2.04 ERA for the host Milwaukee Brewers, 58-41 in the National League Central. Though their college careers did not intersect, surely one of the ESPN broadcasters will pick up on the Rebel vs. Bulldog theme. However, the depth of that rivalry probably isn’t known to them. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Yelich have a combined four homers against Lynn in 13 combined at-bats. Few of the White Sox have ever faced Woodruff. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton is 0-for-4. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson hasn’t had the pleasure. P.S. Update: Eric Cerantola has signed a pro contract, leaving just two of the 12 picks from the state unsigned.