Petco Park should be the center of MLB attention tonight. The hard-charging San Diego Padres, with some Mississippi connections kicking in, host the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of a hot National League West series. The Padres closed to within 1.5 games of the Dodgers with a 7-2 win on Monday night, their eighth straight victory. They’ve made up 4 games in the standings over the last 10. “Of course we’re amped,” Trent Grisham, the former Biloxi Shuckers star who homered off Clayton Kershaw on Monday, told mlb.com. Grisham’s post-homer posturing riled up the Dodgers’ bench, perhaps adding more juice to a growing rivalry. Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz threw a scoreless inning in relief for San Diego and maintained his 0.00 ERA. Over 17 appearances, the big lefty, a high-priced free agent addition in the off-season, has eight holds and four saves. He has worked two straight days, so he might be down tonight, but ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland won’t be. Moreland, who doesn’t hit left-handers well, sat out against Kershaw on Monday, but the veteran first baseman is in the lineup tonight against right-hander Tony Gonsolin. Moreland was batting .328 with eight homers when the Padres traded with Boston to get him. He has hit just .167 with a homer and four RBIs in 11 games with San Diego. He’s bound to get going, and the last two games of this series are bound to be good. P.S. Washington has recalled Ole Miss alum Aaron Barrett from its alternate camp. The 32-year-old right-hander made an admirable comeback from injuries (see previous posts) to reach the majors last year for the first time since 2015.
Brent Rooker, the former SEC Triple Crown winner from Mississippi State, got some dents in his fender today in his first MLB game. He became the first Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in the big leagues in 2020 when he started in left field for Minnesota against Detroit in Game 1 of a twinbill at Target Field. In his first career at-bat, vs. lefty Matthew Boyd, Rooker was hit by a pitch on a 1-2 count. He then collided with the Tigers shortstop on a force play. In his second AB, he lined out, after which he was replaced in the field. He was back in the lineup, batting cleanup, for Game 2 and got his first hit and RBI. Rooker, an outfielder/first baseman, was a first-round pick by the Twins in 2017. He has batted .267 with 54 homers and 178 RBIs in 259 minor league games, reaching the Triple-A level last summer. He was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. … Seven players with Mississippi ties are among the 30 nominees, one from each team, for the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “an annual recognition of the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” The honored players include Mississippi State product and Amory native Mitch Moreland (now with San Diego, nominated by Boston); Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz (San Diego); ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox); Mississippi Braves alumni Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta) and Jason Heyward (Cubs); and Biloxi Shuckers alum Brent Suter (Milwaukee). … Former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader is Milwaukee’s bullpen ace, the hard-throwing lefty with the scraggly mane. Everyone knows this. The Brewers’ secret bullpen weapon is Devin Williams, another Shuckers alum who has been lights-out in 2020, his second MLB season. He has a better ERA than Hader, more strikeouts per inning and fewer walks. One analyst has called Williams “the most dominant reliever in baseball.” Featuring a great changeup, he has a 0.60 ERA and 31 punchouts and six walks in 15 innings. The right-hander, 25, pitched for Biloxi in 2019, posting a 7-2 record, four saves and a 2.36 ERA in the Double-A Southern League. He struck out 76 in 53 1/3 innings. He was also an All-Star Futures Game participant last summer before getting his first call-up in August. … Whatever happened to: Ernesto Mejia, who had a monster season with the Mississippi Braves back in 2011, is still swinging it for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese Pacific League. The 34-year-old Venezuela native hit a walk-off home run earlier this week and has seven bombs in 24 games. He has hit 340 homers in pro ball. Mejia had one of the best seasons ever by an M-Brave, batting .297 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs for the 2011 club. He reached Triple-A but never got to The Show. He has been in Japan since 2014.
You kinda wanna root for Trent Grisham, even if you’re not a San Diego Padres fan. It’s kinda nice to see that the former Biloxi Shuckers star is off to a hot start in 2020. He hit his fourth home run on Monday night, helping the surprising Padres beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4. Grisham, starting in center field for a 7-4 club, is batting .293 with seven RBIs and 11 runs. He seems to be in a good place, quite a contrast to where he was last October. You remember. Grisham, a rookie then with Milwaukee, in his first postseason game, misplayed a single in right field that allowed Washington to score the go-ahead run in the National League Wild Card Game. The Nationals won. The Brewers’ season ended. Grisham faced the media afterward and, appearing crushed, made no excuses for his error. You had to feel for him. It would be, coincidentally, his last game in a Milwaukee uniform. He was traded in November to the Padres, who were looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder and were willing to part with touted infield prospect Luis Urias to get Grisham. “He can do a lot of positive things on the baseball field,” Padres GM A.J. Preller told mlb.com at the time. Grisham, the 15th overall pick by Milwaukee in 2015, scuffled early in his pro career. He batted just .233 at Double-A Biloxi in 2018 but kept grinding. He hit .254 with 13 homers in 63 games for the Shuckers in 2019, got an All-Star nod and earned a promotion to Triple-A San Antonio, where he raked (.381, 13 homers in 34 games). He debuted for Milwaukee last Aug. 1, then found himself taking the place of the injured Christian Yelich in right field. No pressure there. Grisham, only 23, seems determined that the incident last October won’t define him. “Failing is not fun, and I like to have a lot of fun,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune during spring training. “I play this game because I enjoy it. … That’s why I work, so when I get in the game it can be fun.” P.S. Ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford is slated for his first start of the season for Toronto tonight at Atlanta. Alford, who is 0-for-2 in 2020, has just 57 career at-bats (eight hits) since his MLB debut in 2017. He’s in left field batting ninth. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley is starting at third base and batting sixth for the Braves. They were the top prep players in the state their senior year, Alford in 2012 and Riley in 2015.
On this date five years ago, the Biloxi Shuckers ended the 54-game road trip that launched their inaugural season with a victory at Birmingham. They stood at 33-21 when they won their first game at MGM Park, which had been under construction, the next night. The Shuckers went on to clinch the first-half championship in the Southern League South on June 14 with a win over the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park. That Shuckers team, a Milwaukee affiliate, featured Josh Hader, Orlando Arcia (who hit the first homer at MGM), Adrian Houser and Brent Suter, among others, and reached the SL Championship Series before falling to Chattanooga. … On June 5, 1992, Pete Young, the ex-Mississippi State and McComb High star, made his MLB debut for Montreal, throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Young posted a 3.86 ERA in 17 games over two years with the Expos. … Among the big wave of minor league players released in recent days by major league clubs are: Southern Miss alum Luke Reynolds (by the Chicago Cubs), ex-Mississippi State standout Jacob Billingsley (Houston), MSU product Hunter Stovall (Philadelphia), former Ole Miss star Chris Ellis (St. Louis), George County High alum Walker Robbins (St. Louis) and ex-MSU standout Daniel Brown (Milwaukee). Ellis, also a former M-Braves pitcher, made his big league debut last summer, appearing in one game for Kansas City. … Looking ahead to next week’s draft: If State’s Justin Foscue goes in the first round (as widely projected), the second baseman will be the 13th Bulldogs player to be picked in the opening round since the draft started in 1965. That’s more than all but 14 other schools, according to mlb.com. Stanford leads the way with 23 first-rounders, followed by Arizona State with 21. Six schools have had 13 first-round picks. … The Cotton States League is slated to open its season tonight with three games at two different fields at BNA Bank Park in New Albany. The wood-bat college summer league is in its 12th year. The new Southeast Collegiate League, based in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Baton Rouge, La., starts play next week. … New coaches are settling in at two state junior colleges. Luke Stanley, former Delta State player from Oxford, is the new Mississippi Delta CC coach, replacing Dan Rives, who moved into the AD chair. Longtime Holmes CC coach Kenny Dupont retired and is succeeded by Scott DeLoach, a former Mississippi State player from Madison.
One of the new age measures of a good pitch is something called “expected weighted on-base average allowed.” By that measure, former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff’s four-seam fastball was among the best in the game in 2019, his .264 mark ranking behind only Gerrit Cole’s, according to the good folks at mlb.com. Woodruff’s four-seamer made their list of the top five “nastiest” in MLB, joining those of Cole, Josh Hader, Yu Darvish and Jordan Hicks. Woodruff was pretty good by the old-fashioned measures, as well, posting an 11-3 record and a 3.62 ERA in 121 2/3 innings for Milwaukee, with 143 strikeouts, 30 walks and a .240 batting average against. The big right-hander’s average velocity on his four-seamer, per mlb.com, was 96.3 in 2019, his third season with the Brewers and first as a full-time starter. Woodruff’s stuff has garnered attention since his days at Wheeler High, where, as a senior in 2011, he punched out 100 batters in 49 1/3 innings and was drafted in the fifth round by Texas. He chose to go to State, where he had trouble harnessing his stuff during an underwhelming three-year career. As a junior in 2014, he made 15 appearances, posting a 6.75 ERA with 29 strikeouts, 25 walks (plus four hit batsmen) in 37 1/3 innings. But the stuff was still good enough for the Brewers to pluck Woodruff in the 11th round, and in 2016, things started to click. Woodruff went 14-9, 2.68 at two minor league levels that season; at Double-A Biloxi, he struck out 124 in 113 2/3 innings with just 30 walks. After his “nasty” big league breakthrough last season, he may well have a Cy Young Award in his future.
In identifying an X-factor for each of the current playoff teams, mlb.com’s Richard Justice pegged Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, as that player for Milwaukee. The veteran left-hander has a 2.39 ERA in 25 appearances for the Brewers with 45 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings. “Pomeranz has been reborn as a dominant late-inning reliever since the Brewers acquired him from the Giants at the Trade Deadline,” Justice wrote. It’s been a long, strange trip for Pomeranz, not only this season but over his entire MLB career. He has been an All-Star and won a World Series ring. He also has been traded four times and pitched in seven different organizations since Cleveland drafted him fifth overall out of Oxford in 2010. After winning a ring with Boston last fall, he signed as a free agent with San Francisco. Through 17 starts with the Giants, he was 2-9 with a 6.10 ERA. They moved him to bullpen, where he had worked in the past – and suddenly everything changed. Pomeranz made four scoreless appearances in late July and impressed the Brewers enough that they traded a top prospect to get him. He has been everything they could have hoped for. Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff will start tonight’s National League Wild Card Game at Washington but expect to see Pomeranz – the X-factor — before it’s over. P.S. Woodruff is one of four Biloxi Shuckers alums projected to be in Milwaukee’s lineup. The others are second baseman Keston Hiura, shortstop Orlando Arcia and right fielder Trent Grisham. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who played sparingly down the stretch, isn’t likely to start at second base for Washington.
Congratulations to Phillip Wellman, the former Mississippi Braves manager who piloted the Amarillo Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship on Sunday, beating Tulsa 8-3 in the decisive fifth game. This is the team’s first year in Amarillo after the franchise – still a San Diego affiliate — moved from San Antonio. (Sod poodle is a pioneer nickname for prairie dog.) It was the second championship for Wellman in 19 seasons as a minor league skipper; he won the other in 2008 in the second of his four seasons with the M-Braves. … Condolences to the Biloxi Shuckers, who lost at Jackson, Tenn., on Sunday in Game 5 of the Southern League Championship Series. The Shuckers, a Milwaukee affiliate, have lost in the SL finals in three of their five seasons on the Coast. … It’s now been 11 years since Mississippi celebrated a pro baseball championship, which is beginning to feel like a drought. Over a 15-year span starting in 1981, Jackson’s Texas League clubs won five championships – the Mets in 1981, ’84 and ’85 and the Generals in ’93 and ’96. The independent Senators won a Central League crown in 2003, and five years later, the M-Braves won their lone Southern League title. Long before that, Jackson-based teams won league championships in 1908, 1913, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1940 and 1947, according to research in the Minor League Encyclopedia of Baseball. The 1913 team, known as the Lawmakers, posted an impressive 71-24 record (.747 winning percentage) in the old Cotton States League. Mississippi did not have a pro club from 1953, when the original Senators left town, to 1975, when the Mets moved into Smith-Wills Stadium.
The team he left behind in late June will play for the Southern League championship this week. But rest assured former Biloxi Shuckers standout Trent Grisham is quite happy to be where he is – with Milwaukee in the heat of a playoff race. The 22-year-old outfielder, batting leadoff for the Brewers at Miami, matched a franchise rookie record with five hits on Monday, sparking the club to an 8-3 win that kept it within 2 games of the second wild card in the National League. “It’s a lot of fun,” Grisham told mlb.com. Grisham doubled, tripled, scored twice and drove in two runs in Monday’s victory. Called up on Aug. 1, the lefty hitter is batting .260 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 32 big league games. He batted .254 with 13 homers for the Shuckers this season – his second tour with the Double-A team – and made the SL All-Star Game. He was promoted to Triple-A San Antonio on June 20. A 2015 first-round pick, Grisham is one of several ex-Shuckers having an impact with the Brewers. … The current Biloxi team, in the SL Championship Series for the third time since 2015, hosts Game 1 against the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals tonight at MGM Park.
Thing 1: If you watched Max Fried pitch Thursday night, you’d be lying if you claimed your jaw didn’t drop. One hit and no walks allowed over seven shutout innings against a loaded Washington lineup in the opener of a big four-game series in Atlanta. Fried is 16-4, 3.86 ERA, for the first-place Braves, who won 4-2 on Thursday. If you watched Fried pitch in 2017 for the Mississippi Braves, you’d be stretching it to say you saw this coming. In his second season after returning from Tommy John surgery, the tall left-hander from California went 2-11 with a 5.92 ERA. Ugh. He struck out 85 in 86 2/3 innings but walked 43. Acquired from San Diego in 2014 as part of the Justin Upton deal, Fried was a highly rated prospect in 2017. The Braves gave him a big league look that season and more time in 2018, when Fried posted a 2.94 ERA over 14 games. He won a job in the rotation this spring, and his development hit a new peak on Thursday. “As good as it gets” is how catcher Brian McCann described it to mlb.com. … Thing 2: Dakota Hudson, the ex-Mississippi State star and current St. Louis ace, had a day on Thursday. The rookie right-hander tossed six shutout innings, yielding just one hit, and picked up the first two RBIs of his MLB career in a 10-0 win against San Francisco. Hudson is 15-6 — two wins off the big league lead and tops among all rookies – and has a 3.40 ERA for the surging first-place Cardinals, who, according to Hudson, are having “a blast.” … Thing 3: Dylan File gave up one run over 8 1/3 innings to pace Biloxi to a 4-1 win over Pensacola in Game 2 of the Southern League South playoff series at MGM Park. The Shuckers lead the best-of-5 series 2-0. File went 9-2, 2.79 this season for the Double-A Shuckers, a Milwaukee affiliate.
Former Mississippi high school stars Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central) and Austin Riley (DeSoto Central) faced off, sorta, in the International League playoffs on Wednesday when Columbus and Gwinnett tangled in the semifinals. Riley homered for the Gwinnett Stripers (Atlanta’s Triple-A club), but Columbus (Cleveland) won Game 1 5-4 as Bradley went 2-for-5 with two RBIs, a run and a stolen base. Riley, currently on a big league rehab assignment, hit 15 homers for the Stripers this season before moving up to the majors, where he hit 17 more for the Braves. Bradley, who also got a look in MLB this summer, led the IL with 33 homers. … Biloxi won its Southern League South playoff opener 11-10 on a Dillon Thomas walk-off homer in the 10th inning at MGM Park. In the North opener, Delta State product Dalton Moats threw a scoreless inning in Montgomery’s 4-0 win against Jackson. … Ex-DSU star Zack Shannon hit a home run for Kane County in a loss to Clinton in the Class A Midwest League playoffs. Shannon hit 12 homers during the season. Also in the MWL, Ole Miss product Grae Kessinger and former Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner, both 2019 draftees, are on opposing sides in the Quad Cities-Cedar Rapids series. Kessinger had a hit and a run QC’s Game 1 win, while Wallner went 0-for-4. … Former Itawamba Community College star Tyreque Reed belted a homer for Hickory as the Crawdads beat Delmarva in the Class A South Atlantic League playoffs. Reed hit .282 with 13 homers for Hickory this season. … Walker Robbins, the George County High alum, notched a hold for Johnson City as the Cardinals beat Burlington to claim the rookie Appalachian League championship. Robbins, in his fourth pro season but first as a fulltime pitcher, posted a 2.52 ERA in 17 games for Johnson City.