MLB’s fall version of March Madness starts Tuesday, and, as you’d expect, there are quite a few Mississippi connections among the 16 teams. Tampa Bay, top seed in the American League, features two Mississippi State products, Hunter Renfroe (.156, eight homers) and Nate Lowe (.224, four homers). Northwest Mississippi Community College alum Cody Reed is on the Rays’ injured list and out for the season. The Rays open with Toronto, which may or may not have Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack (8.15 ERA) in its bullpen; he finished the season on the IL. Ex-State star Jonathan Holder (4.98 ERA) will be in the New York Yankees’ bullpen when they open with Cleveland. The Chicago White Sox, who tumbled at season’s end to the No. 7 seed position, feature former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson (.322, 10 homers, 45 runs), Southwest CC alum Jarrod Dyson (.180, six steals) and Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet (0.00 ERA in five games), a late-season revelation in the bullpen. Milwaukee – and ex-MSU standout Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05 ERA) – snuck into the National League postseason despite losing its final game Sunday to St. Louis, which clinched a spot by winning. The Brewers got in after Tampa Bay, with ex-MSU stars Renfroe and Lowe contributing four hits, a run and an RBI, eliminated Philadelphia and San Diego, with a 2-for-3 and an RBI effort from State alum Mitch Moreland, KO’d San Francisco’s hopes. Milwaukee, which lists a bunch of former Biloxi Shuckers on its roster, draws top-seeded Los Angeles on Wednesday. Atlanta, the 2-seed in the NL, suits up ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley (.239, eight homers) and a host of other former Mississippi Braves. San Diego, the 4-seed in the NL, trots out Moreland (.265, 10 homers) and former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz (1.45 ERA/0.00 over his first 19 appearances). The Padres face St. Louis, which will be missing injured ex-State star Dakota Hudson from its rotation. The third-seeded Chicago Cubs dealt the rival White Sox a hurtful loss on Sunday as Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, making a rare start, went 2-for-4 with a homer, three runs and two steals, including one of home. He is 3-for-11 with three steals since joining the Cubs as a waiver claim on Sept. 7. The Cubs take on Miami, which features former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, who hit .258 with seven homers this season. P.S. There are also a few Mississippians on the coaching staffs of playoff-bound clubs: East Central CC alum Marcus Thames is the Yankees’ hitting coach, Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is the Padres’ bench coach and MSU product Chris Young is the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
Corey Dickerson has had a down year by his standards, but the Miami Marlins have had an unexpectedly good year — and as a result, the McComb native is going to the postseason for the first time in his eight-year MLB career. Miami, pegged for a last-place finish in the National League East, clinched second place in the division with a 4-3 win against the New York Yankees on Friday night. Dickerson, who signed with the Marlins as a free agent in the off-season, is batting .259 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 51 games. He hit .304 in 2019, playing with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and is a .284 career hitter with 122 homers. The former Meridian Community College star, 31, was a veteran presence for a Marlins team that was hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak at the start of this truncated season. … Elsewhere on an eventful Friday night: Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman may have had his MVP moment when he launched an 11th-inning walk-off homer for Atlanta, which clinched the No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs. Freeman’s blast upstaged Ronald Acuna’s. The M-Braves alum hit a 495-foot homer, the longest in MLB this season, to lead off the Braves’ first inning. It was Acuna’s 19th career leadoff bomb in three seasons. … Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Trent Grisham hit a seventh-inning walk-off home run, giving San Diego a win against San Francisco in the second game of a twinbill. It was Grisham’s 10th homer and it saved Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz from taking a loss. Pomeranz gave up a three-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Padres behind. Those were the first runs allowed all season by the big left-hander in 20 appearances. The playoff-bound Padres have clinched the No. 4 seed in the NL. P.S. There’s much more at stake tonight in the NL, and no game is more significant than Milwaukee-St. Louis. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers’ No. 1, faces St. Louis’ longtime ace, Adam Wainwright. Both teams are still grappling for a playoff berth. Woodruff is 2-5 with a 3.43 ERA, Wainwright 5-2, 3.05. Woodruff, who went 11-3, 3.62 and made the All-Star Game in 2019, has not had the type of season that was expected of him. He’s 0-2 in four September starts. Win today, and that’ll be forgotten. Several Cardinals have had success against Woodruff in limited at-bats. Paul DeJong is 3-for-9 with a homer, Brad Miller 2-for-6 with a homer and Paul Goldschmidt 3-for-12. Tyler O’Neill also has taken Woodruff deep.
They labor in a sort of netherworld, an alternate universe, so to speak. Every major league club has an alternate camp, where 30 or so players are working out and scrimmaging, mostly out of the view of media. News from these camps is sparse, but the transactions page on mlb.com is always humming. Players come and go from the active big league roster to the alternate camp on a fairly regular basis. “Our job is to just be ready to go whenever we’re called upon,” Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, who is in Minnesota’s alternate camp in St. Paul, Minn., told the Columbus Commercial-Dispatch last month. “With this being a shortened season we kind of know anything can happen and we’re all just trying to stay ready to go.” Rooker, a first baseman/outfielder, hasn’t yet gotten the call for what would be his MLB debut. Former George County High star Justin Steele, also anticipating his first big league game, was summoned by the Chicago Cubs earlier this month, but the left-hander was sent back to their South Bend, Ind., camp a couple of days later. Southern Miss product Cody Carroll (Baltimore) and ex-Ole Miss standout Bobby Wahl (Milwaukee) were playing real games to start the season but are now in the alternate universe, where a bundle of other Mississippians work and wait. UM alum Jacob Waguespack was sent to Toronto’s alternate camp on Friday. Former State star Nate Lowe had an impact with Tampa Bay as a rookie in 2019, batting .263 with seven homers in 50 games, but the lefty-hitting first baseman hasn’t gotten a call from the Rays this summer. Ditto for Bobby Bradley, the Harrison Central High product who made his MLB debut last year with Cleveland and is no doubt itching for another crack. That would also be true for Jacob Lindgren, the injury-plagued former State ace who is in the Chicago White Sox’s alternate camp. His last MLB appearance was in 2015. Ex-Petal High standout Demarcus Evans, a hard-throwing reliever, appears to be on the cusp of his first call-up with Texas but for now is honing his command at Globe Life Park, the Rangers’ former home and current alternate camp. MSU product Ethan Small, Milwaukee’s first-round pick in 2019, is among a handful of inexperienced prospects who have been in alternate camp primarily to get specialized work. That group would include Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin (Cleveland) and two 2020 draftees, former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet (White Sox) and ex-Ole Miss star Tyler Keenan (Seattle). Justin Foscue, the 14th overall pick out of MSU by Texas in June, was just added to the Rangers’ 60-man pool and assigned to the alternate camp on Thursday. Crochet, who pitched at Tennessee, recently told the Chicago Tribune he would welcome a big league shot this year but is focused on other things in Schaumburg, Ill. “I feel as each side (session) has passed, I’m getting more and more comfortable in the environment and with the coaching staff,” he said. “I’m trusting the little tidbits of information they are feeding me. … I definitely would say each bullpen has progressed, but I’ve got a ways to go.” Still, in 2020, anything can happen. He might have to go fast.
Let the record show, the first home run by a Mississippian in this long-delayed major league season was struck Saturday by Mitch Moreland, the Amory native and ex-Mississippi State standout who went yard for Boston. His 167th career bomb was a wall-scraper to right field at Fenway Park, and it came in a 7-2 loss to Baltimore. Moreland did not play in the Red Sox’s opener, a 13-2 win on Friday. Let the record also show that the first game-winning homer by a Mississippian in 2020 also was struck on Saturday. Richton High product JaCoby Jones blasted a 400-footer in the top of the ninth inning at the Great American Ball Park, giving Detroit its margin of victory in a 6-4 takedown of Cincinnati. The backstory is a good one: Jones had been directed to bunt a runner over from first but fouled off two attempts. So, swinging away with a 2-2 count, he hit his 25th career homer, beating Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. “Screw bunting,” Jones reportedly, jokingly, told Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire after he reached the dugout. “Let me hit.” … Former Mississippi Braves star Phil Gosselin went deep twice for Philadelphia on Saturday and is currently tied for the MLB lead. But Gosselin wasn’t the first former M-Brave to homer in 2020. Rio Ruiz hit one out Friday for the Orioles.
Given a new lease on his baseball life by Boston in the off-season, former Mississippi Braves star Jose Peraza showed his gratitude with a smashing debut on Friday night. Peraza, starting at second base, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs in the Red Sox’s 13-2 season-opening rout of Baltimore at Fenway Park. Cincinnati gave up on Peraza after the 2019 season — he was not offered a contract after a .239 campaign — and the Red Sox, looking for a replacement for Dustin Pedroia, signed the five-year veteran. M-Braves fans might recall that Peraza arrived in Pearl in mid-2014 as a hot-shot prospect who would play in the Futures Game that summer. Atlanta sent him, along with Alex Wood and Luis Avilan, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 in the infamous Hector Olivera trade. Peraza was traded again in 2016 to Cincinnati, where he had some good moments before slumping last season. A career .275 hitter with 77 steals, he looks like a good fit in Boston. P.S. William Contreras, a 2019 M-Braves catcher, made his MLB debut with Atlanta on Friday. At least 150 players have now advanced from Double-A Mississippi to The Show since Brian McCann first made the trip in 2005.
From a Mississippi perspective, there is much to absorb today on Opening Day Take 2 of the 2020 season. Brandon Woodruff goes to the bump for Milwaukee, while Lance Lynn starts for Texas in the first game at Globe Life Field. Former Mississippi Braves Mike Soroka (Atlanta) and Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay) also drew Game 1 assignments. Austin Riley makes his first Opening Day appearance for the Braves, starting at third base. Faces in new places include Corey Dickerson with Miami, Jarrod Dyson in Pittsburgh, Hunter Renfroe in Tampa Bay, Kendall Graveman with Seattle, Mike Mayers with the Los Angeles Angels and Drew Pomeranz in San Diego, where the peripatetic lefty actually has been before. Anthony Alford and Jacob Waguespack made the roster for the team with no home, the Toronto Blue Jays. Billy Hamilton is now with San Francisco and Brian Dozier with the New York Mets (as of Wednesday), but neither made the Game 1 roster. Bobby Wahl, who made Milwaukee’s roster, was in the team’s system in 2019 but down most of the year with an injury, so he has yet to make his Brewers debut. Cody Reed, who made just three big league appearances in 2019, is on Cincinnati’s 30-man roster. Cody Carroll, who didn’t get an MLB look in an injury-marred 2019, made Baltimore’s roster. Perhaps no player appreciates being back in a big league unie more than Graveman, the former Mississippi State star who last pitched in the majors more than two years ago. He said in a recent mlb.com piece that he’ll likely get emotional when he makes his first start next week. He also said he’ll miss the crowds: “To me, that interaction with a fan on a daily basis, giving a ball to a 10-year-old kid at his first game or whatever it may be, kids are going to remember that. That’s the thing I’ll miss the most. And the electricity the fans bring. So it’ll be different.” Yes, it will — in many ways.
As recently as 2018, there were seven managers with Mississippi ties running games in the big leagues. As the 2020 season finally opens, there are but two left: Ex-Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker in Atlanta and former Jackson Mets infielder Ron Gardenhire in Detroit. State-connected coaches on MLB staffs are a bit more plentiful, and the list includes one making a special debut on the big stage: Antoan Richardson. The former M-Braves outfielder, who spent parts of 2010 and ’11 in Pearl, is the first-base coach for San Francisco, having been added to new manager Gabe Kapler’s crew in January. Richardson is the first native of the Bahamas to coach in the majors. He also made a name for himself as a player in 2014, when he scored the game-winning run on Derek Jeter’s walk-off hit in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium. Other connected coaches: Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star Marcus Thames is again the hitting coach for the New York Yankees. … Former Jackson Generals hitting coach Dave Hudgens – the Houston Astros’ hitting coach during the scandalized 2017 season — is the bench coach for Toronto. … Gardenhire’s Detroit staff includes JaxMets alum Rick Anderson as pitching coach and Jackson State product Dave Clark as first-base coach. … Al Pedrique, a fan favorite as a JaxMets shortstop in the early 1980s, is the third-base coach in Oakland. … Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway, manager of the New York Mets in 2018-19, is now the pitching coach under Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels. … JaxMets alum Tim Bogar returns as first-base coach for World Series champ Washington. … Marty Reed, a former M-Braves pitching coach, is the bullpen coach in Atlanta. … Ex-M-Braves standout Eric Duncan is now an assistant hitting coach in Miami. … Chris Young, a Mississippi State product from Biloxi who was Philadelphia’s pitching coach in 2019, is now bullpen coach for the Chicago Cubs. … Alan Zinter, a former JaxMets catcher, is the new hitting coach in Cincinnati. … Former Biloxi Shuckers pitching coach Chris Hook new fills that role in Milwaukee. … Colorado’s staff includes a pair of JaxMets alums: Dave Magadan is the hitting coach and Ron Gideon the first-base coach. … Laurel native and veteran big league coach Bobby Dickerson is in his first year as bench/infield coach in San Diego.
Mitch Moreland earned the nickname “2-Bags” a couple of years ago during a stretch when he was banging out doubles at a high rate for the Boston Red Sox. As he enters his 11th major league season, Amory native Moreland is on the brink of a career doubles milestone. The Mississippi State alum has 199 2-baggers. Two hundred doubles is not an astounding total by MLB standards, but it is a milestone just the same. And tracking milestones is what baseball aficionados do. So, watch for Moreland’s 200th double this season; don’t be surprised if it comes in the Red Sox’s opener vs. Baltimore at Fenway Park on July 24. Other Mississippi-connected players in the majors have notable (if modest) milestones in their sights in this 60-game season, including:
600 hits – Jarrod Dyson, the former McComb High and Southwest Mississippi Community College standout, has 573.
400 hits – Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State alum, has 398.
400 RBIs – Corey Dickerson, the Meridian CC alum from McComb, enters 2020 with 370.
300 runs – Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central CC star, has scored 287.
300 steals – Billy Hamilton, the Taylorsville High product, is sitting on 299, already the most ever by a Mississippi native.
100 home runs – Hunter Renfroe, the former MSU star from Crystal Springs, has 89.
100 wins – Lance Lynn, the Ole Miss product, has piled up 98 over eight seasons.
20 wins – Both Brandon Woodruff, an MSU product from Wheeler, and Chris Stratton, a State alum from Tupelo, have 16 career W’s.
200 strikeouts – Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High standout, has fanned 161 in 34 career outings.
500 innings – Kendall Graveman, former MSU star, sits at 446 as he tries to bounce back from arm surgery.
Three Mississippians, all left-handed pitchers, were added to MLB 60-man rosters on Tuesday. The Chicago White Sox invited 2020 first-round draftee Garrett Crochet of Ocean Springs and onetime big leaguer Jacob Lindgren of Biloxi to their satellite camp in Schaumberg, Ill. Justin Steele, a former George County High star from Lucedale, was added to the Chicago Cubs’ pool of 2020 eligible players and will report to their secondary camp in South Bend, Ind. Crochet, who signed for $4.5 million as the 11th overall pick out of Tennessee, isn’t likely to make his big league debut this summer, but nothing is out of the question in this most unusual season. “Garrett is a talented player, but the focus is truly just to get his foot in the door here and get around our guys, and we’ll go from there,” White Sox farm director Chris Getz told reporters. “With talented players like himself, I hate to rule anything out.” Lindgren, a former Mississippi State star, was a second-round pick in 2014 by the New York Yankees and reached the majors in 2015. He has battled arm injuries ever since, though he put up a 1.53 ERA in 12 games in high-A ball last season. Steele, a fifth-round pick by the Cubs in 2014 and a member of their 40-man roster, also has had arm troubles. He has a 3.62 career ERA but posted a 5.59 in 11 starts at Double-A in 2019. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Ryan Rolison, a 2018 first-rounder who is on Colorado’s 60-man list, drew praise from Rockies manager Bud Black after an outing in the main summer camp last weekend. “This guy knows how to pitch; he can change speeds,” Black told mlb.com. “He’s got two secondary pitches that I think will play in the big leagues, (and) he’s got enough fastball.” Rolison, a lefty, pitched in high-A last season.
Hunter Renfroe took some batting practice cuts Sunday in his new home park, Tropicana Field, and put on a show of power, according to an mlb.com account. Former Mississippi State star Renfroe, acquired by Tampa Bay from San Diego in the off-season, hit a pair of balls off the indoor stadium’s catwalks, considered quite a poke. “Renfroe was playing pepper with the back wall,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “That’s not something you see a lot of guys do.” Renfroe averaged 28 homers over the past three seasons with the Padres. … Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central High alumnus now with Detroit, spent time during MLB’s shutdown back in Mississippi throwing to dad Jim, who, per an mlb.com report, wore full catcher’s gear as his son worked on his complete arsenal of pitches. “He’s caught me my whole life,” Spencer said. “Anytime I go home in the off-season, I’ll throw to him. He’s not usually in full gear, but I’m throwing flat grounds to him all the time.” … Ex-State star Mitch Moreland drew praise from Boston manager Ron Roenicke following his BP session at Fenway Park on Sunday. “When we have him out there on the field, hopefully he can start like he did last year,” Roenicke told mlb.com. “We know how important starting well is this year. Today is about as good a day as you can have for him.” Moreland, typically a fast starter, hit 13 homers in his first 46 games in 2019 and 10 homers in his first 44 games in 2018. … MSU product Dakota Hudson threw live BP in St. Louis’ camp on Saturday and said afterward he is pleased with how efforts to smooth out his delivery have gone. “I feel comfortable with what I’m doing,” Hudson said in an mlb.com article. “I was trying to mess with some stuff at the end of last year, and going into spring this year, I was able to show it off a little bit.” Hudson, 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 2019, is seeking to cut down on walks this season; he led the majors with 86 a year ago. … On the local front, there was some actual baseball in Vicksburg over the holiday weekend, with the Hattiesburg Black Sox semi-pro team taking on the US Military Baseball Team in a three-game series at Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi. The US Military team, a touring independent club, is not affiliated with the Department of Defense but plays in honor of the U.S. Armed Forces.