After taking the road less traveled into affiliated ball – signing as an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss in 2015 – Jacob Waguespack arrived in the majors on this date — May 27 — in 2019. The Louisiana native originally signed with Philadelphia and moved to Toronto in a trade deadline deal in 2018. Despite a somewhat wobbly launch (three hits, three runs, three strikeouts in his first inning) in his MLB debut, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander fared pretty well for Toronto during several call-ups over the course of the season. Overshadowed by fellow rookies Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, Waguespack went 5-5 with a 4.38 ERA working primarily as a starter for a team that limped in at 67-95. After the Blue Jays added starters Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson in the off-season, Waguespack, now 26, was seen as a bullpen piece heading into spring training this year. Toronto could be a team on the rise, and Waguespack is positioned to ride that wave.
As major league clubs begin to make cuts, there are a handful of Mississippians on 40-man rosters who are out of options, which essentially means they can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers and possibly being snatched by another club. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the player. Of particular interest is the case of ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford, a longtime outfield prospect in Toronto’s system. Alford, 25, who has had limited big league time (33 games from 2017-19), has been inconsistent and injured over much of his minor league career. He is batting .167 in 24 at-bats with four steals this spring. Per milb.com, “(H)is plus speed and ability to cover plenty of ground on defense would be assets to the back end of the Blue Jays roster.” Alford is competing with several others for a backup outfield job. Three veteran pitchers are also on the roster bubble: Former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton (Pittsburgh), Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers (Los Angeles Angels) and Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed (Cincinnati). Mayers has been the most effective this spring, with a 4.76 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. … Former George County High star Justin Steele was optioned out by the Chicago Cubs last week. The oft-injured Steele, 24, had allowed six runs on two hits and six walks in 2 2/3 innings this spring. He was 0-6, 5.59 at Double-A Tennessee in 2019, his sixth pro season. Those numbers notwithstanding, the Cubs reportedly really like the left-hander’s upside.
Your first big league home run is going to be memorable. When it’s a walk-off bomb, in the 15th inning, well, that qualifies as historic. Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford accomplished that feat for Toronto on Monday night, reportedly becoming just the second player in modern history to hit a walk-off in the 15th inning or later for his first career homer. “It couldn’t happen to a better kid. Everybody was so happy for him,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told mlb.com after the 11-10 win against Baltimore. Alford had entered the game in the ninth inning as a pinch runner. The homer came on what was Alford’s 21st at-bat of the season. He has had just 48 big league ABs spread over the past three seasons. “I really just try to enjoy the moment,” Alford told mlb.com. “Because honestly, you never know when it will happen again.” The 25-year-old former Mr. Baseball has been on the Blue Jays’ prospect charts since 2012, when he was drafted in the third round despite his commitment to play college football (first at Southern Miss, then Ole Miss). He turned to baseball fulltime in 2015. He is a .265 hitter – with 34 homers and 114 steals – in a minor league career full of ups and downs and various injuries. Currently ranked the No. 20 prospect in the Toronto system by MLB Pipeline, Alford is stuck in a crowd of young outfielders vying for opportunities with the Blue Jays.
From the Sometimes This Game Ain’t Fair Dept.: Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack shut out the best team in baseball for seven innings on Thursday night. He wound up with a no-decision as his team — the Toronto Blue Jays – lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 via a ninth-inning walk-off hit. Waguespack, pitching his 10th big league game, allowed one hit, one walk and one HBP in a 95-pitch outing. He was pulled — with a 2-0 lead — because of stomach cramps. The Jays’ bullpen gave up three runs in the ninth. Waguespack is 4-1 with a 3.63 ERA this season. … Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier returned from paternity leave on Thursday and was back in the lineup for Washington. He went 0-for-3 in a win against Pittsburgh. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley is slated to begin a rehab assignment tonight for Class A Rome in the Atlanta system. Riley, coming back from a knee injury, has 17 homers with 45 RBIs in 66 games as a Braves rookie. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Nate Lowe is batting .375 over his last 10 games at Triple-A Durham, eagerly awaiting a recall by Tampa Bay. Lowe batted .295 with five homers during previous stints with the Rays this season. … Also hoping for a September call-up is Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central star now at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s chain. Bradley is hitting just .138 over his last 10 games. He leads all Mississippians in the minors with 30 homers; he hit one during his 15-game big league tour. … Behind the pitching of Claudio Custodio, the Mississippi Braves beat Pensacola 3-1 on Thursday at Pearl’s Trustmark Park to conclude a 4-7 homestand. At 27-33 in the second half, the M-Braves have an elimination number of 1 in the Southern League South. They have 10 games left, including an Aug. 29-Sept. 2 homestand that will end the season. … Former M-Braves star Mallex Smith, now with Seattle, will wear WATER on the back of his jersey for Players Weekend (which starts today). Why? “Because I flow anywhere.”
The impact of rookies with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019 has been something to behold. First it was Vladimir Guerrero Jr., then Cavan Biggio and now Bo Bichette. Though he hasn’t generated the kind of buzz afforded those sons of former big leaguers, Jacob Waguespack also has had a solid debut season. The Ole Miss product picked up another win on Monday – boosted by a Bichette homer and an RBI hit by Biggio – as the Blue Jays topped Tampa Bay 2-0. Waguespack allowed just four hits and one walk in six innings, pitching in front of a bunch of family and friends assembled at Tropicana Field by an uncle who lives in the area. “Warms your heart, and it takes a village, to have those people in your corner. I’m pretty humbled,” Waguespack told the Toronto Sun. Now 3-1 with a 4.00 ERA in seven MLB appearances, Waguespack doesn’t have the legacy of those other rookies, but his story is interesting just the same. The Louisiana native was drafted out of high school (37th round, 2012) by Pittsburgh but chose to play at Ole Miss, where he had a largely unsung career. He wasn’t drafted out of UM, instead signing in June 2015 as a free agent with Philadelphia. The Phillies traded the 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander to Toronto last July. Though he never posted any eye-opening numbers in the minors, the Blue Jays put him on their 40-man roster last fall and called him up in May. He struck out a club rookie record seven batters in his debut. P.S. Madison Central High alum Spencer Turnbull, a rookie right-hander with Detroit, returned Monday from a stint on the injured list and worked three innings vs. the Chicago White Sox, yielding two runs but fanning seven. He wasn’t involved in the decision as the Tigers lost. Again. … Drew Pomeranz, the veteran lefty out of Ole Miss, pitched a scoreless inning for Milwaukee against Pittsburgh and got his first hold in his second Brewers appearance. Traded from San Francisco last week, Pomeranz (5.54 ERA) has strung together six straight scoreless relief outings after struggling as a starter.
Getting to the big leagues is hard. Staying in the big leagues might be even harder. Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High standout, was sent back to Triple-A by Cleveland on Tuesday. The Indians needed to call up a starting pitcher, so Bradley, just 8-for-45 with one homer since making The Show, was bumped from the 25-man roster. “It’s not going to hurt him to get at-bats at Triple-A,” Indians manager Terry Francona told cleveland.com. Of the five Mississippians to debut in the majors this year, only ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley hasn’t gone back down. Mississippi State product Nate Lowe has been sent down twice by Tampa Bay; he is currently with the big league club again (and hitting a ton). Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack also has been yo-yo’ed by Toronto; he was recalled Tuesday to make a spot start. Then there’s Chris Ellis. Ellis, a former UM and Mississippi Braves ace, made Kansas City’s opening day roster as a Rule 5 draftee out of St. Louis’ system. He pitched a scoreless inning in his debut on March 31. He was dropped from the active roster a couple days later and, per Rule 5 rules, was returned to the Cardinals. The 26-year-old right-hander has struggled mightily at Triple-A Memphis, with a 7.74 ERA and four blown saves in five chances over 30 appearances. One has to wonder if he’ll ever get another big league look. Bradley, only 23, surely will, though it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the demotion. He was killing it at Columbus (.292, 24 homers) before his call-up.
Milwaukee needs a stopper to step up, and it’s Brandon Woodruff’s turn. The Mississippi State alum from Wheeler goes to the bump tonight against first-place Atlanta, aiming to stop the skidding Brewers’ 1-5 tumble. He would seem to be the right guy to do it. Woodruff, whose last appearance was in the All-Star Game a week ago, is 10-3 with a 3.67 ERA. He has faced the Braves once before, on May 19 in Atlanta, when he threw eight strong innings but got a no-decision in a game the Brewers won 3-2 in 10. He yielded six hits – including homers by Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna – with six strikeouts and no walks. Milwaukee has lost eight of 10 to fall to 48-47, third in the National League Central. The Braves, who’ve won eight of 10 and are comfortably atop the NL East, will throw rookie and former Mississippi Braves righty Bryse Wilson. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, who is an MLB-best 12-4, 3.69, gets the start tonight for Texas against visiting Arizona, and another former Rebel, Jacob Waguespack, will start for Toronto against Boston at Fenway Park. It’ll be the third career appearance for Waguespack (1-0, 5.00), who beat the Red Sox on July 3 with a solid five-inning effort.
The Toronto Blue Jays, foundering at 24-43 in the American League East, have used eight different players in the outfield. Only one of the current group has a batting average over .221; only one has more than five home runs. Meanwhile, at Triple-A Buffalo, former Petal High star Anthony Alford has been raking. Alford, who went 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs in a Bisons win on Wednesday, is batting .375 this month. He is batting .242 with five homers, 28 RBIs and 13 steals for the season. Alford began this season on the big league roster after a strong spring. He played in one game, on April 2, and went 0-for-3. Sent down to Buffalo, he struggled mightily in April. He bounced back to hit .276 in May and has really caught fire this month. But there’s been no call from Toronto. “I can sit there and be frustrated and be (upset) about it, but I can’t control that,” Alford told The Buffalo News in a story that published Wednesday. “But what I can control is what I’m doing here.” The 24-year-old former Southern Miss and Ole Miss football player has been a top-rated prospect in the Jays’ system for several years. He has had many highs and lows, including a 3-for-30 showing in 18 big league games over three seasons. The Jays are going nowhere this year. They’re getting little production from their current outfielders. Seems like it might be a prime opportunity to see what Alford can do with some regular playing time.
He yielded hits to three of the first five batters he faced and three runs (two earned) in his first inning, but Ole Miss product Jacob Waguespack settled in nicely from there in his big league debut on Monday. Waguespack, called up on Sunday by Toronto, pitched four innings in relief at Tampa Bay and finished with seven strikeouts, most ever by a Blue Jays rookie in his debut. He allowed just two baserunners in his last three innings. “I’ve had a pretty crazy journey here,” Waguespack, who had an entourage of friends and family at the game, told mlb.com. “It’s not expected to make it this far and I’m just thankful for their support.” The 6-foot-6 Louisiana native signed with Philadelphia as a non-drafted free agent in 2015, grinded his way up the ladder to Triple-A and then was traded to Toronto last July 31 for big leaguer Aaron Loup. Waguespack was placed on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster in November. The 25-year-old right-hander was just 2-6, 5.86 ERA in nine starts at Triple-A Buffalo when he was recalled. His career minor league ERA is 4.07. He follows Chris Ellis, Nate Lowe and Austin Riley as Mississippi-connected players to debut in MLB in 2019. P.S. Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, on the injured list (shoulder) for Pittsburgh since April 4, is 2-for-13 in three games on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis. He was placed on the 60-day IL on Monday as a procedural move.
Most projections don’t have Anthony Alford making Toronto’s opening day roster. The former Mr. Baseball is doing his best to change that. Alford hit his fourth home run of the spring on Saturday, his third in two days. He is batting .286 with seven RBIs and two steals, including one he got Saturday. Though his rank on the Blue Jays’ prospect charts has tumbled, the 24-year-old outfielder still possesses tantalizing five-tool talent and, apparently, the right mindset. “I’ve always had people doubt me,” Alford told The Toronto Star early this month. “Saying, ‘Oh, he can’t make it out of here,’ because nobody makes it out of where I came from.” The Columbia native and Petal High product overcame some obstacles in his early life before sports opened doors for him. He played football at Southern Miss and Ole Miss before opting to pursue a pro baseball career. He spent most of 2018 — his fourth season since fully committing to baseball — in Triple-A. Alford has shown flashes of finding it in the minors, batting .265 with 26 homers and 92 steals over 413 games, but has managed to get only 27 MLB at-bats. It would seem that something needs to happen this year.