Marcus Thames’ whirlwind tour of MLB’s big markets reportedly will resume. The Louisville native reportedly has been hired as hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox. Thames, who hit 115 homers over a 10-year big league career that ended in 2011, was the hitting coach with the New York Yankees for several years, took a detour to Miami’s staff in 2022 and then spent 2023 with the Los Angeles Angels, who fired manager Phil Nevin after the season. Thames is a well-respected hitting coach, and the Angels’ offensive numbers in many categories improved under his watch. He will not get a chance to work in 2024 with fellow East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson. The White Sox recently declined an option on the veteran shortstop’s contract, making him a free agent. Anderson signed a seven-year deal ($37.5 million) after a promising rookie campaign in 2016, won a batting title and made two All-Star teams before suffering a dreadful 2023 season, batting .245 with one home run, 25 RBIs and a negative WAR. The outspoken Alabama native is also a lightning rod for controversy. P.S. Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter, dismissed by the Mets after his second year as manager, reportedly is a candidate for the Angels job, as is former Jackson Generals star Ray Montgomery. … Lance Lynn, the veteran pitcher out of Ole Miss, became a free agent after the Dodgers declined an option in his contract. Lynn had a tough year (5.73 ERA) that ended when he gave up four home runs in one inning in a playoff game against Arizona. … Kudos to ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe on winning a Gold Glove at first base for world champion Texas. Mauricio Dubon, who passed through Biloxi on his way to The Show, earned a Gold Glove as a utitity player for Houston. … Oakland outrighted Ole Miss product Chad Smith to Triple-A; he had a 6.59 ERA in 10 games for the A’s. … Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, a Dodgers prospect, pitched in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game on Sunday and yielded a 433-foot home run to Kyle Manzardo.
A shout-out to a quartet of Mississippians who delivered ace-worthy efforts on Saturday. In Triple-A, Jonathan Holder, ex-Mississippi State star from Gulfport, notched his first win of the season, throwing two scoreless relief innings for Salt Lake of the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. The 30-year-old Holder is still grinding, three years after he last pitched in a big league game. He has filled many roles for Salt Lake, making four starts and registering six holds and one save in four chances. He sits at 1-5 with a 5.55 ERA in 61 1/3 innings. Holder, once a key bullpen piece for the New York Yankees, spent a couple of injury-riddled years in the Chicago Cubs’ system before signing a minor league deal with the Angels this past off-season. Down in Low-Class A, Landon Harper, a Southern Miss alum from Meridian, notched his fifth save of the year, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth, for Augusta in the Atlanta system. Harper, a 2022 draftee, is 6-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 31 relief appearances for the GreenJackets. In the big leagues, Lucedale native Justin Steele registered his 20th quality start of the season for the Cubs, throwing seven innings of one-run ball against Arizona in a battle of wild card contenders. Steele, 16-3 with a 2.49, got a no-decision in a game the faltering Cubs would lose in 10 innings at Wrigley Field. At Toronto, former Ole Miss standout James McArthur made his second MLB start — as an “opener” — for Kansas City and threw two clean innings against the Blue Jays, who scored four times against Zack Greinke over the next four innings. McArthur, who yielded seven runs in his MLB debut in June, has an 8.53 ERA in 10 games but hasn’t allowed a run in his last four appearances.
Cincinnati has fortified its lineup with the reported addition via waiver claims of outfielders Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State slugger, and Harrison Bader. Renfroe, 31 and an eight-year MLB vet, was batting .242 with 19 home runs and 56 RBIs for the scuffling Los Angeles Angels. Bader was with the enigmatic New York Yankees. The Reds, with a very young roster, are 69-66, 6 games back in the National League Central and fifth in the wild card standings. Ex-MSU star Jeff Brantley, now a Cincy broadcaster, said in an interview in late June — when the Reds were in first place and riding an 11-game win streak — that the true test for the team would come in the dog days of August (see previous post). “The young guys haven’t played that duration of baseball,” Brantley said. The Reds went 10-17 in August, an indication they needed some juice. Renfroe’s power should play well at Great American Ballpark, a well-known launching pad where the Reds will host division and wild card rival Chicago in a big series that begins Friday. Renfroe has belted 120 homers the past five seasons while playing for five different clubs.
A day after being placed on waivers, Hunter Renfroe did a little personal public relations work, going 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in the Los Angeles Angels’ 10-8 win at Philadelphia. The hard-luck Angels waved the white flag on 2023 on Tuesday when they placed several key veterans on waivers, hoping they might be claimed — and their remaining salary picked up — by a contending club. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe showed what he is capable of against the Phillies, who happen to be a contender. He belted his 19th homer, a two-run shot in the second inning, and added a two-run single as part of an eighth-inning rally. He also had a double, his 31st. The Crystal Springs native, in a bit of a slump of late, is batting .242 with 56 RBIs. With 176 career homers, he ranks seventh on the all-time list among Mississippi natives. He also plays a mean right field, having registered eight assists this year and 65 career. Renfroe signed a 1-year, $11.9 million contract with the Angels as a free agent in the off-season, joining his fifth different team in five years. Another change of uniforms might be in the offing. P.S. Darius Vines, who went 7-4 with a 3.95 ERA for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in 2022, is set to join the long list of M-Braves alums to pitch in the majors. The right-hander is scheduled to start tonight for Atlanta — at Colorado, not exactly the place you’d pick for your debut. … Hurston Waldrep, the Braves’ first-round pick in July who joined the M-Braves on Tuesday, made four starts in A-ball, last pitching on Aug. 26. On four days rest, his next start would come Thursday, when the M-Braves play Rocket City at Trustmark Park. No announcement has been made. The Southern Miss alum, drafted out of Florida, has a 1.20 ERA so far this season.
Brandon Parker, former West Harrison High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, will make his home debut this week for the Mississippi Braves, who are hosting Rocket City in a seven-game Southern League series at Trustmark Park. Parker, an outfielder now in his fourth pro season, is 3-for-13 since Atlanta moved him to Double-A from High-Class A Rome, where he hit .250 with five homers and 21 RBIs. As a freshman at Gulf Coast in 2018, Parker was the NJCAA Division II player of the year. He set the school home run record with 24 and batted .424 with 81 RBIs that year. The Braves drafted him in 2019. On Rocket City’s roster is former Itawamba CC and Mississippi State left-hander Houston Harding, who has a 9.48 ERA (thanks mainly to a couple of rocky outings) in 13 appearances for the Los Angeles Angels’ affiliate. The Coldwater native had a 1.32 ERA at High-A Tri-City before being promoted in late June. … Biloxi High product Colt Keith and ex-Ole Miss ace Gunnar Hoglund were named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week. Keith, a top Detroit prospect, went 11-for-24 with three homers for Triple-A Toledo last week, when he was also named the International League’s player of the week. Hoglund, Oakland’s No. 19 prospect and a first-round pick (by Toronto) in 2021, threw five hitless innings with seven strikeouts in his debut for High-A Lansing. … Former Magnolia Heights Academy standout Cooper Pratt, a sixth-round pick this year by Milwaukee, helped the Brewers’ Arizona Complex League team win the league championship. Pratt, a shortstop, batted .356 for the ACL Brewers. … Former MSU pitchers Jackson Fristoe and Eric Cerantola have been promoted by their respective organizations. Fristoe moved up to Low-A Tampa in the New York Yankees’ system and Cerantola to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in the Kansas City system. … Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin and ex-Madison Central star Braden Montgomery, now at Texas A&M, have been ranked among the top 10 2024 major league draft prospects by MLB Pipeline. Griffin, an outfielder/pitcher, is a senior this year. Montgomery, also a two-way player, recently transferred from Stanford, where he was an All-Pac-12 performer.
The big fish landed by the Texas Rangers in their trading frenzy are starters Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery. Not to be overlooked is Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State star who’ll bolster the Rangers’ bullpen. Stratton joined Montgomery in moving from St. Louis to Texas. The right-hander from Tupelo has a 4.36 ERA and one save in 42 games for the Cardinals this season and a 4.50 career ERA over 280 games, most as a reliever. In 53 2/3 innings in 2023, he has 59 strikeouts and 17 walks and batters are hitting .231 against him. Stratton was the 20th overall pick out of MSU by San Francisco in 2012, shortly after winning SEC pitcher of the year honors, as well as the Ferriss Trophy. He joins Lance Lynn and Kendall Graveman as Mississippi college alums changing teams in the past couple of days. The trade deadline is Tuesday. P.S. Home run report: MSU product Hunter Renfroe’s 17th homer of the year Sunday was a game-winner for the Los Angeles Angels, coming in the 10th inning at Toronto; Renfroe is hitting .440 over his last seven games. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley belted No. 24 in Atlanta’s 8-6 win over Milwaukee. Riley has eight homers in his last 15 games. And former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner hit his fifth homer (in 62 at-bats) for Minnesota, accounting for the Twins’ lone run in a 2-1 loss to Kansas City; Wallner has four homers in his last five games.
Hunter Renfroe had a very good day on Thursday: six hits, including his 16th homer and a couple of doubles, two RBIs and a pair of runs in the Los Angeles Angels’ doubleheader sweep of Detroit at Comerica Park. And yet, the former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs was upstaged, to say the least, by teammate Shohei Ohtani, who had what mlb.com called “one of the best days baseball has ever witnessed.” A day after his team announced he would not be traded, Ohtani threw a one-hit shutout in Game 1 of the twinbill, then belted two homers — Nos. 37 and 38 — in Game 2. “He’s doing the impossible,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said in an espn.com story. The shutout was Ohtani’s first career complete game and his ninth win of the year. He leads the big leagues in homers. For Renfroe, well, it’ll be a cool story to tell his kids and grandkids someday: “I was there when … .” Buoyed perhaps by the news that the Angels are all in on making a playoff push, Renfroe raised his average to .249 and ran his RBI total to 44. Renfroe is playing for his fifth different team in the last five seasons. He has been in the playoffs twice, with Tampa Bay in 2020 and Boston in 2021. He has a .186 average and no rings. He’d surely relish another shot at the postseason. … Dakota Hudson, another State product, had a very tough day on Thursday. Thrust into the game after St. Louis starting pitcher Miles Mikolas was ejected three batters in, Hudson allowed the first four Chicago Cubs he faced to reach as the Cardinals fell behind 3-0. That was more than enough support for Cubs starter Justin Steele, the All-Star lefty from Lucedale who yielded one run in six innings to record his 11th win. Hudson lasted 4 1/3, allowing nine hits, two walks and five runs in the 10-3 loss. P.S. The last player to throw a one-hit (or no-hit) shutout and homer on the same day, per mlb.com research, was former Jackson Mets pitcher Floyd Youmans, who did it for Montreal in a single game on June 8, 1986. Ohtani is one of five players to throw a shutout and homer twice on the same day; the other four did it in one game. … Ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue and former Mississippi College star Blaine Crim were part of a 5-4-3 triple play and two 5-4-3 double plays for Triple-A Round Rock (Texas system) on Thursday. Alas, the two went 0-for-10 at the plate as the Express fell to El Paso 10-9.
Jarod Wright, Southern Miss alumnus, did the lion’s share of the work Thursday night as part of a four-man combo no-hitter for the South Bend Cubs. Wright pitched innings 4-7, allowing only a walk, and notched the win in High-Class A South Bend’s 4-0 victory against Peoria. He followed starter Michael Arias, and Eduarniel Nunez and Frankie Scalzo Jr. pitched an inning each to close. Wright is 3-1 with a 3.27 ERA in 21 games as a reliever for South Bend. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, now 26, went undrafted out of USM in 2019, pitched in a pop-up independent league in 2020 and signed with the Chicago Cubs in May ’21. He reached Double-A briefly last year. He is part of a large flock of Golden Eagles pitchers currently in pro ball, including Nick Sandlin, now with Cleveland, and erstwhile big leaguer Kirk McCarty, now shining in the Korean Baseball Organization. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State standout Houston Harding was on the wrong side of history Thursday. He was one of the Rocket City pitchers who yielded 18 hits and 19 walks in a 29-3 loss to Chattanooga. The runs by the Lookouts set a Double-A Southern League record. Harding came on in the first inning after the starter failed to get an out and yielded nine runs before being pulled in the second inning. Harding, recently promoted to Rocket City in the Los Angeles Angels’ system (see previous post), has a 24.65 ERA in five games.
If you could pick a date for your first career major league home run, the Fourth of July might be the perfect choice. Good job, Grae Kessinger. With the home crowd of 39,533 at Houston’s Minute Maid Park in a celebratory mood from the start, former Ole Miss standout Kessinger launched a 397-foot bomb to give the Astros a 1-0 lead in the third inning of a game they’d go on to win 4-1 against Colorado. Kessinger told mlb.com that he jumped on a hanging curveball from Kyle Freeland for the memorable blast: “I got a barrel on it, was able to elevate it and got to enjoy it.” Kessinger, called up by the Astros on June 5, had gotten just 10 at-bats and one hit prior to Tuesday’s game, when he went 2-for-4. He started at shortstop, his first start since June 17. (The world champion Astros’ lineup is tough to crack.) Kessinger hit six homers in 52 games this season at Triple-A Sugar Land and has 33 in his minor league career. He hit 17 in three years at Ole Miss. Grandfather Don, a six-time All-Star shortstop who played 16 years in the majors, hit 14 homers all told. Uncle Keith, another UM product, hit one homer in his 11 games with St. Louis in 1993. P.S. Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State slugger from Crystal Springs, hit a significant homer on Tuesday. Career bomb No. 172 moved him past Dmitri Young and into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list of homers by Mississippi natives in the majors. Renfroe has 15 homers this season for the troubled Los Angeles Angels, who lost again on Tuesday, their seventh L in 10 games. … East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson smacked his first triple of 2023 on Tuesday, his first extra-base hit since June 9. The former All-Star still doesn’t have a home run in 251 ABs and is batting .235 for the troubled Chicago White Sox, who lost Tuesday and are 13 games under .500.
Hunter Hines essentially has taken the Cape Cod League by storm. The Mississippi State star leads the elite college summer league with eight home runs, five more than the next-closest total, and 26 RBIs, 11 more than the next-highest number. Through 20 games for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, the lefty-hitting outfielder, who goes 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, is batting .289 with 14 runs. Facing some of the top college arms in the country, Hines has picked up right where he left off at State. He hit .297 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs, made All-SEC and was a Ferriss Trophy finalist as a sophomore in 2023. As a freshman, he hit .300 with 16 bombs and 52 RBIs. “From his first BP (batting practice) until now, he’s been the best hitter in our program,” State coach Chris Lemonis said at the Ferriss Trophy ceremony. Hines was a highly touted recruit coming out of Madison Central High in 2021, overshadowed a bit by teammate Braden Montgomery, who took Gatorade player of the year honors. Hines comes by his talent naturally, of course. His father, Richey, was a tremendous hitter at Mississippi College, where he still holds school records for career homers and RBIs. P.S. A raw box score doesn’t always tell the story. Hunter Renfroe went 2-for-5 for the Los Angeles Angels on Monday, boosting his average to .248. But the ex-MSU standout most certainly didn’t feel good about his game. The Angels stranded 14 runners in a 10-3 loss to San Diego. Renfroe personally left eight runners on base, twice striking out in early run-scoring situations. As a team, the Angels are batting just .246 with runners in scoring position, one of the worst averages in baseball. … Kudos to Ole Miss product Nick Fortes, whose clutch hit delivered the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Miami’s 5-4 win against St. Louis. The second-place Marlins managed to stay within 9 games of red-hot Atlanta, which has won nine in a row, in the National League East.