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.
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.
Jarrod Dyson, Kendall Graveman and Billy Hamilton became free agents on Wednesday, the first day MLB players could declare. Mississippi State alum Graveman promptly re-signed today with his 2020 team, Seattle. The Mariners declined an option to bring right-hander Graveman back, then re-signed him for less money ($1.25 million). Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, finished 2020 with the Chicago White Sox. At 36, the outfielder may be near the end. Taylorsville High product Hamilton finished 2020 with the Chicago Cubs; he played sparingly for the Cubs and the New York Mets, hitting .125 in 32 at-bats. … Former MSU standout Mitch Moreland, who had a good 2020, has a team option for one year at $3 million in his contract with San Diego. Uncertainty over whether the NL will have the DH in 2021 could affect the Padres’ decision. … Detroit has interviewed East Central CC alum Marcus Thames, the New York Yankees hitting coach, for its vacant managerial position. … Devin Williams, a Biloxi Shuckers alumnus, won the National League’s Trevor Hoffman Award as the reliever of the year after a jaw-dropping season for Milwaukee. He struck out 53 while walking only nine in 27 innings and yielded just one earned run. … Former Jackson Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey recently was named the Washington Nationals’ new pitching coach. He was a longtime coach in Tampa Bay (2006-17). … The Dominican Winter League reportedly will start its season on Nov. 15. Whether any MLB players will participate is unclear. … In Mississippi State’s Fall World Series finale on Tuesday, Team Queso finished off Team Goat with a 3-2 victory. Josh Hatcher hit a three-run home run for Team Queso, and Kamren James belted a two-run shot for Team Goat. Spencer Price got a dramatic save. Fall ball is ongoing at Ole Miss and Southern Miss. … From the Great Idea Dept.: Sports Force Park in Vicksburg hosted the first annual “JUCO Games on the River” in early October, with 11 of the state’s 15 MACCC schools participating in a four-day, round-robin event.
“Baseball’s fun.” Brett Phillips, the former Biloxi Shuckers outfielder and hero of Game 4 of the World Series, threw out that little pearl in his breathless postgame TV interview Saturday night. Baseball can be gut-churning and soul-crushing, too, because one team has to lose. That’s how it works. But at its core, baseball is a kids’ game — and it’s fun. How could Game 4 be described as anything else? Filled with twists and turns, capped by a crazy walk-off play, three images will endure: Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena, who scored the winning run, lying in the third-base line, slapping home plate with his hand. Phillips, whose two-out hit set in motion the game-deciding play, imitating an airplane in the outfield as his exhuberant teammates chased after him. Dave Roberts, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, looking out incredulously at the scene from the dugout railing. Game 4, an 8-7, series-squaring win for the Rays, featured six home runs, including a tape-measure blast by ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe. There was some clutch pitching, too, as a parade of arms went to the bump. There was some good defense — Renfroe was credited with two outfield assists and Mookie Betts made another athletic snag — and there was the shaky D on the final play, where a bobble, a hesitant relay throw and a whiffed catch allowed the winning run to score. It’s a best-of-3 now. Game 5 is tonight. It’s gonna be fun.
In addition to Crystal Springs native and Mississippi State alum Hunter Renfroe, Tampa Bay’s right fielder and cleanup batter tonight, there are several other Magnolia State connections on this year’s World Series clubs. Former Mississippi Braves standout Charlie Morton, who pitched for the Southern League playoff team in 2007, is likely to start Game 3 for Tampa Bay. The veteran right-hander has seven career postseason wins and is 3-0 in this year’s playoffs. The Rays’ roster also includes former Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Brett Phillips, a self-anointed player-coach of sorts. “I’m looking around and I’m like, we got the manager and the bench coach, and the analytical guy, but we don’t have the keep-it-simple guy,” Phillips said in a recent Sports Illustrated story. “So I call myself the keep-it-simple guy. I consider myself a player-coach.” Phillips played for the Shuckers in 2015 and 2016, belting 16 homers the latter season. He has been with four organizations in his brief pro career and batted .150 in 20 at-bats for the Rays this season. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a couple of Mississippi ties: left-hander Alex Wood, a onetime M-Braves star, and, behind the scenes, Director of Player Health Ron Porterfield, who was the trainer for the Double-A Generals when the Houston farm team first arrived in Jackson in 1991. Wood pitched at Trustmark Park in 2013, going 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA in 10 starts before earning a promotion to Triple-A. He has an MLB career ERA of 3.45. Porterfield, a widely acclaimed trainer, spent 12 years in the Rays’ organization before joining the Dodgers in 2017.
Among the flood of pitchers who have toed the rubber at Trustmark Park en route to the big leagues, Ian Anderson achieved a special distinction. He had a hand in one of the three no-hitters hurled by Mississippi Braves pitchers during the Double-A club’s first 15 years in Pearl. The right-hander, now Atlanta’s No. 2 starter, worked the first seven innings of a combo no-no (with Jeremy Walker) in June of 2019. And Anderson worked his magic on a special night in front of a big crowd: The M-Braves wore throwback Jackson Generals uniforms, honoring the old Double-A franchise that played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1975-99. M-Braves fans might remember Anderson, with his distinctive, over-the-top delivery, as a good — if not great — pitcher. He went 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA over 19 starts in 2019. Since getting the call to Atlanta in late August, Anderson has been even better: 3-2, 1.95 in the regular season. He shut down the New York Yankees in his MLB debut and handcuffed Cincinnati in Game 2 of the wild card series. He goes today in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against Miami, with the Braves up 1-0. Braves fans should be enthused. Here’s what Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci recently wrote: “Anderson, 22, is the difference-maker, capable of reshaping what you thought you knew about this postseason the way rookie Michael Wacha of the (St. Louis) Cardinals did in 2013.” Wacha went 4-1, 2.64 in five postseason starts for the World Series team. P.S. Another former M-Braves hurler, Charlie Morton, starts for Tampa Bay against the Yankees tonight in Game 3 of that division series. Morton had a down year: 2-2, 4.74 ERA. … Baseball Digest’s annual awards had a distinct Mississippi flavor, with former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman earning player of the year honors and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams tabbed as reliever of the year. Freeman batted .341 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs and an MLB-leading 51 runs scored for National League East champion Atlanta. Freeman passed through Trustmark Park in 2009 – arriving in July in tandem with Jason Heyward – and hit .248 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 41 games, missing part of the season with an injury. Williams, a rookie, had a breakout campaign for Milwaukee, finishing with an 0.33 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 27 innings, leading all relievers. He pitched for Biloxi in 2019, going 7-2 with four saves and a 2.70 ERA in 31 relief appearances. Williams joined the Braves’ Anderson on MLB Pipeline’s all-rookie team for 2020. … Ole Miss alum and Mississippi resident Andy Fletcher was behind home plate for Tuesday’s Atlanta-Miami game, which produced some drama after Ronald Acuna, who belted a leadoff homer, was hit by a pitch in his second at-bat.
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.
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.