24 Nov

reeling in the years

From the Where Did the Time Go Dept.: Charlie Morton, who has signed with Atlanta for 2021, pitched for the Mississippi Braves in 2007, the Double-A club’s third year in Pearl. The 37-year-old right-hander is the lone player from any of those first three teams still in the majors. A somber reminder of what a fleeting thing a pro baseball career truly is. The ’07 M-Braves’ roster also included Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Jo-Jo Reyes, Brandon Jones, Joey Devine and Brent Lillibridge, among other future big leaguers. Managed by Phillip Wellman, the ’07 M-Braves made the Southern League playoffs for the first time. Morton was not a real standout that year, going 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA mostly as a reliever, but he did throw a gem in the playoffs. He debuted with Atlanta in 2008, then was traded the next year. Morton’s MLB career really didn’t take off until 2017, when he helped Houston win the World Series. He nearly won another ring with Tampa Bay this season. He can help the Braves in what likely will be his final season.

23 Nov

on the move

Speculation about Hunter Renfroe’s next home has included the Chicago Cubs and Houston, two clubs that might be in the market for right-handed power. The ex-Mississippi State star was designated for assignment by Tampa Bay on Friday and is apparently bound for free agency. Renfroe hit eight homers – plus two more in the postseason – during his one year with the Rays but batted just .156 and struck out in roughly a third of his at-bats. The Rays added several minor leaguers to their 40-man roster last week and needed to clear space. Renfroe was deemed expendable. He was expected to command about $3 million in arbitration for 2021. He is a .228 career hitter with 97 homers since his first MLB season with San Diego in 2016. … MSU product Nate Lowe, still on the Rays’ roster, has left his Dominican Winter League club, reportedly because of concerns about COVID-19. He was 3-for-16 in five games. A lefty-hitting first baseman, he smacked four homers in a brief stint in the majors in 2020. … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn is widely rumored to be on the trading block in Texas. The right-hander, 33, due to make about $9M in the last year of his contract, went 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA for a bad Rangers team last season. Starting pitching is an especially hot commodity this off-season.

19 Nov

transaction watch

Friday is the day MLB clubs set their 40-man rosters heading into the winter meetings. It’ll be interesting to see whether ex-Ole Miss star David Parkinson makes the grade with Philadelphia. As a 2017 draftee, the 24-year-old left-hander would be eligible to be chosen by another team in the Rule 5 draft if he isn’t protected on the big league roster. He was the Phillies’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2018 after posting a sparkling 11-1 record and 1.45 ERA as a starter at two levels of A-ball. But he had some struggles in 2019 in Double-A and then did not make the Phillies’ 60-man roster for the truncated 2020 season. He is currently rated the Phils’ No. 21 prospect by MLB Pipeline. After the 2019 season – when he posted a 4.08 ERA and .247 batting average against at Reading – Parkinson reportedly worked hard that off-season to get stronger. “I’m not saying it was all about seeking velo,” he told The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., in August, “but it was a big part. I wanted to change the perception of me being a crafty lefty to someone who can compete at the big-league level.” He threw harder in big league camp last spring but made just one official appearance before the shutdown. The lost season could significantly impact Parkinson’s chances of making the majors. Friday might tell a lot about where he stands. P.S. Former Southern Miss standout Bradley Roney signed as a minor league free agent with Arizona, and Mississippi State product Ben Bracewell re-signed as a minor leaguer with Oakland. Roney put up a 1.94 ERA coming back from injury in 2019, when he spent part of the season with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. Bracewell spent most of 2019 at Triple-A Las Vegas in the A’s system.

17 Nov

winter is here

Scanning the stat charts from the Dominican Winter League, a few familiar names pop up, including two Mississippi college products. Ex-Mississippi State star Nate Lowe, who played 21 games for Tampa Bay this past season, is getting some bonus work with Escogido, while former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis, who became a free agent last spring, is pitching for Cibao. Lowe, a 25-year-old first baseman, spent most of 2020 in the Rays’ alternate camp. He hit seven homers as a rookie in 2019 and four more this season; he played in one wild card game but was not on the postseason roster thereafter. “We believe that (Lowe’s power) can be an attraction in the league,” Escogido’s GM, Jose Gomez Frias, told en24.news. Ellis made one MLB appearance with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick in 2019, then was returned to St. Louis’ system. He had a shaky ’19 season in Triple-A and ultimately was released last May when big league clubs were purging their minor league rosters. Once a highly rated prospect, Ellis, 28, has 164 minor league appearances under his belt. He went 8-2 for the 2016 Mississippi Braves, two years after winning 10 games for Ole Miss. … The DWL season began Sunday. The Mexican Pacific League season also is under way; no Mississippians appear on the current rosters.

16 Nov

hardware store

Eleven years ago today, Chris Coghlan became the first and so far only Mississippi native or college alumnus to win an MLB rookie of the year award. Coghlan, a former Ole Miss star, claimed the trophy with the Florida Marlins in 2009. He is one of only three Magnolia State natives or college alums to win one of baseball’s three big individual player awards. Grenada native Dave Parker won the National League MVP trophy in 1978, and Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2008. … Former Mississippi minor league players raked in a nice haul of awards this year, including former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman winning NL MVP and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams NL rookie of the year. Williams also won the league’s Trevor Hoffman Award as reliever of the year. Freeman won a Silver Slugger, as did M-Braves alum Ronald Acuna. Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried and ex-Shuckers outfielder Trent Grisham, who plays for San Diego, picked up Gold Gloves. … Freeman is the first M-Braves product to win an MVP but not the first former Jackson area Double-A player to do so. Former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell was NL MVP in 1989 with San Francisco, narrowly beating out former Mississippi State star and Giants teammate Will Clark. The M-Braves have produced two rookies of the year, Acuna in 2018 and Craig Kimbrel in 2011, and Jackson Mets alum Darryl Strawberry took that honor in 1983. Mike Scott, a former JaxMets pitcher, won the Cy Young Award in 1986.

10 Nov

the clear choice

This was a no-brainer, really. Tim Anderson was the clear choice for the 2020 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the top performance by a Mississippian (native or college alum) in the major leagues. Former East Central Community College star Anderson, who also won the award in 2019, earned a Silver Slugger this season at shortstop in the American League, which, considering all the good players at that position, is quite an honor. In 49 games, Anderson batted .322 with 10 homers, 21 RBIs and a league-leading 45 runs. He helped the Chicago White Sox reach the postseason and went 9-for-14 in the wild card round. Anderson was the AL batting champion in 2019, a year when he also garnered a lot of attention for his demonstrative style, including some much-publicized bat flips. The White Sox have hired a new manager for 2021: Tony LaRussa, who is not just old at 76 but has a reputation as an old-school skipper. Anderson, for his part, said he won’t be constrained. “I won’t change my style, the way I play, for Tony. I will continue to be me,” he told reporters after winning the Silver Slugger award. We’ll see how that works out. … Previous winners of the Cool Papa Bell Award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. P.S. Kudos to Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams on winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. He is the first relief pitcher to be named the loop’s top rookie since former Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel in 2011.

06 Nov

cue the highlights

In a truly unique and most memorable 2020 season, Mississippians did their part in filling up a highlight reel during MLB’s 60-game sprint. To wit: On July 26, fourth day of the campaign, Austin Riley hit a 458-foot (at least) home run for Atlanta. On July 27, Kendall Graveman, coming back from Tommy John surgery, pitched 4 1/3 innings for Seattle in his first big league appearance in some 26 months. Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier hit a game-winning homer off Milwaukee’s Bobby Wahl in a Mississippi State-Ole Miss “rematch” on July 28. Spencer Turnbull ended a personal streak of 19 winless starts for Detroit on July 31. On Aug. 9, Mitch Moreland hit a walk-off homer, his second bomb of the game, for Boston. Hunter Renfroe hit two homers, doubling his season total, for Tampa Bay at Fenway Park on Aug. 13. Lance Lynn threw a two-hit complete game for Texas on Aug. 14. On Aug. 29, Tim Anderson – who won a Silver Slugger award on Thursday — banged out four hits, raising his average to a league-best .361, for the Chicago White Sox. Dakota Hudson allowed one earned run over seven innings with no walks and seven K’s to notch a win for St. Louis on Aug. 31. Brent Rooker, in his sixth big league game, smashed his first career home run for Minnesota on Sept. 8. Nate Lowe had a two-homer game as part of Tampa Bay’s unprecedented all-lefty lineup on Sept. 11. Garrett Crochet struck out the first two batters he faced in his MLB debut for the ChiSox on Sept. 18. Frazier hit his ninth career leadoff homer for Pittsburgh on Sept. 23. On Sept. 26, next-to-last day of the season, Brandon Woodruff threw eight shutout innings for Milwaukee in a must-win game. On Sept. 28, Mike Mayers was named the American League’s reliever of the month after posting a 0.98 ERA with 25 strikeouts and five walks in 14 appearances in September.
And then there was the postseason: Eleven Mississippians participated in MLB’s 16-team postseason tournament. None got a ring, but some enjoyed a shining moment or two: Hunter Renfroe went 4-for-23 with two home runs and seven RBIs during Tampa Bay’s run to the World Series. He was 1-for-8 in the Series, the one hit a long homer in Game 4. … Austin Riley batted .178 with a homer and four RBIs overall as Atlanta reached Game 7 of the NLCS. … Corey Dickerson was 4-for-19 with a homer overall and 3-for-12 with no RBIs in Miami’s NLDS loss to Atlanta. … Mitch Moreland was 4-for-8 overall in the postseason and 1-for-2 in San Diego’s NLDS loss to Los Angeles. Drew Pomeranz worked four scoreless innings in five appearances for the Padres, one inning total vs. the Dodgers. … Jonathan Holder pitched one scoreless inning for the New York Yankees in the ALDS loss to Tampa Bay. … Tim Anderson went 9-for-14 with two runs in the Chicago White Sox’s wild card series loss to Oakland. Jarrod Dyson went 0-for-1 in two appearances, and Garrett Crochet struck out the only two batters he faced in his lone appearance. … Billy Hamilton played in one game as a defensive replacement (no ABs) for the Chicago Cubs in the wild card round. … Brandon Woodruff took a loss, with a 5.79 ERA, in his one start for Milwaukee in the wild card round.

05 Nov

getting close

Ryan Rolison did not make it to the big leagues this season, but it’s a safe bet the ex-Ole Miss star will get the call in 2021. The 6-foot-2 left-hander, a 2018 first-round pick and Colorado’s No. 2-rated prospect, was in the Rockies’ alternate camp during the 2020 season. In a recent milb.com assessment of the Rockies’ minor league system, Rolison was pegged as “the next big thing.” “So he took steps in the right direction toward a major league career here at some point over the next year-ish,” Colorado assistant GM Zach Wilson said in the story. “When that happens, I don’t know, but he’s got himself closer to that over the last year.” Rolison, projected as a big league starter, throws four pitches and has demonstrated good command in pro ball: 132 strikeouts and 40 walks in 131 innings. He is 8-8 with a 4.40 ERA after finishing the 2019 season in the high-A California League. The Tennessee native was 16-7, 3.50 during two standout years in Oxford. Rolison will likely go to spring training to compete for a spot in a rotation that needs help after Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez and Kyle Freeland. … Three Magnolia State products made their MLB debut in 2020: Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, ex-Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet and Petal High’s Demarcus Evans. P.S. Washington has re-signed Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Barrett, who has a career 4.01 ERA, pitched in two games this season.

02 Nov

on the market

From all indications, San Diego wasn’t displeased with Mitch Moreland this season but declined to pick up his $3M option for 2021 just the same. The uncertainty over whether the DH will be used in the National League next year may have been the key factor. The former Mississippi State standout, 35, is sure to draw interest on the free agent market, possibly even from San Diego. “We may have some more conversations regarding Mitch going forward,” Padres GM A.J. Preller told mlb.com. Milwaukee is another club rumored to have interest, and there is always the possibility Moreland could return to Boston, where he had considerable success. Three different times since 2016 Moreland has signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. From 2017 to August of 2020, he called Fenway Park home and hit 66 homers during that period. He has 176 career homers over 11 MLB seasons, ranking sixth all-time among Mississippi natives. Traded from Boston to the Padres at the deadline this summer, Moreland batted .265 overall with 10 homers in 2020 and went 4-for-8 in the playoffs. He’s a standout first baseman and is also regarded as a good guy in the clubhouse.

30 Oct

detroit leaning

The Detroit Tigers added Colt Keith to a system already well-stocked with Mississippi connections when they drafted the former Biloxi High star in the fifth round in June. The left-handed hitting third baseman, one of three state products currently in the Tigers’ Instructional League camp in Florida, reportedly has made a good impression. “Colt is a big, strong athlete who can really impact the ball. We’re all glad to be able to have him here,” Tigers VP for player development Dave Littlefield told MLB Pipeline. Keith, 19, who moved to Biloxi in 2019, was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year that season, batting .527 with eight homers while also pitching. He batted .269 in the curtailed 2020 season. Also in the Tigers’ fall camp is former Mississippi State standout Zac Houston and Ole Miss product Cooper Johnson. Right-hander Houston, 25, was drafted in 2016 and has 10 wins, 22 saves and a 2.42 ERA over 138 games in the minors. Johnson, one of five catchers in the fall camp, was a sixth-rounder in 2019 and batted .198 in 41 games in the low minors that year. “He has some power,” Littlefield told MLB Pipeline. “He looks like a major league catcher, so we just need to keep working on the bat.” The Tigers have Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull and Richton High product JaCoby Jones on their major league roster and ex-State standout Jacob Robson and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque on their current Triple-A roster. … The Tigers named A.J. Hinch their new manager today. P.S. Jordan Westburg, a 2020 draftee out of MSU, has gotten some good reviews in Baltimore’s fall program. He and another draftee, Gunnar Henderson, were described as “two thoroughbred stallions” by farm director Matt Blood said in an mlb.com piece. “Both can play shortstop, both can hit and both can run. … It’s exciting what our player procurement staff has done bringing in talent.”