Hunter Renfroe, who still has power in his bat and his arm, is rated the 24th-best free agent available in the new crop, per mlb.com. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State standout has been without a team since mid-September, when he was released by Cincinnati. The Reds had gotten the 32-year-old outfielder in a deadline trade with the Los Angeles Angels. Renfroe hit .233 with 20 homers last season and has 177 career bombs since 2016. Originally drafted by San Diego, he has bounced around quite a bit in recent years despite his power numbers. … Also hitting the market Thursday were ex-State star Adam Frazier (.240, 13 homers in one year with Baltimore); fellow Bulldogs alum and World Series champ Chris Stratton (3.94 ERA with St. Louis and Texas); and former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, who last pitched in the majors in 2021. … McComb native Corey Dickerson is also a free agent after being released by Washington in August; he is a .280 career hitter who got his 1,000th knock last season. … Ryan Rolison, a first-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2018 by Colorado, was recently removed from the Rockies’ 40-man roster and assigned to the minors. Rolison, yet to make the majors, has pitched in just four games since 2021 because of injury issues. … Ex-DeSoto Central High and current Atlanta star Austin Riley, already a Gold Glove finalist at third base, is also a Silver Slugger finalist. Five other former Mississippi Braves are up for Silver Sluggers, as is ex-MSU standout and World Series champ Nathaniel Lowe, also a Gold Glove finalist at first base. … MSU alum Eric Cerantola, now in Kansas City’s system, got his second win in the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, punching out five in two hitless innings for Surprise. Cerantola has a 3.75 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 12 AFL innings.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star now manning third base for Atlanta, and ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, are among the finalists for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Both have previously been recognized for their hitting prowess, Riley winning a Silver Slugger in 2021 and Lowe taking one in 2022. Also making the top three at each position (in each league) were former Mississippi Braves Michael Harris II (center field), Dansby Swanson (shortstop) and Freddie Freeman (first base) and Biloxi Shuckers alum Mauricio Dubon (both second base and utility). Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is among Riley’s competition at third base in the National League. Riley’s defensive metrics don’t compare well to Hayes’ or Ryan McMahon’s, but the ex-M-Braves star committed just 11 errors in 393 chances in 2023 and routinely made outstanding plays (see Game 2 of the NL Division Series). Gold Glove winners will be announced on Nov. 5. Of note: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia’s second baseman, is a finalist in his first year after moving from shortstop to second. Stott has credited Laurel native Bobby Dickerson with helping him make the transition. Dickerson, a former minor league player and longtime MLB coach, is in his second year as Phillies infield coach. He also has worked extensively with third baseman Alec Bohm and Bryce Harper, who learned to play first base at midseason. Bohm made several outstanding plays in the Phillies’ 10-0 win Tuesday in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “As much as we have a lot of really great hitters, games are won on defense,” Bohm told mlb.com.
Home runs were the dominant theme in the MLB playoffs on Wednesday night. There were 14 in the three games, and a couple of postseason homer records were set. Unfortunately for former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, he was on the bad end of one of those records. The 36-year-old right-hander, starting for Los Angeles, allowed four solo homers in the third inning, accounting for all of Arizona’s scoring in a 4-2 win that clinched a National League Division Series sweep for the upstart Diamondbacks. No team had ever hit four homers in one inning of a postseason game. “The way (Lynn) was throwing the baseball, I didn’t expect that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Times. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a total shock. Lynn led all of MLB with 44 homers allowed this season, which he split between the Chicago White Sox and the Dodgers. And the ball flies at Arizona’s Chase Field. Lynn — described by TBS’s Ron Darling as “stubborn, angry and mule-ish” on the mound — got through the first two innings, allowing just two singles. Then … boom: 1,626 feet of home runs in the third. Lynn was gone after 2 2/3 and the Dodgers, the No. 2 seed in the NL, were gone from the postseason a little while later. Lynn has had a great career. He won an SEC title at Ole Miss and a World Series title with St. Louis. He has made two All-Star Games. He has won 136 major league games, five more in the postseason, and he won a World Baseball Classic game earlier this year. But that four-homer inning is no doubt gonna sting for a while. … Elsewhere, Philadelphia hit a club-record six homers, two by Bryce Harper, in a 10-2 win over Atlanta at another homer haven, Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies lead that NLDS 2-1 heading into Game 4 tonight. Former Mississippi Braves standout Spencer Strider, a 20-game winner this year, will start for the Braves. … Houston clinched its seventh straight American League Championship Series appearance by beating host Minnesota 3-2 in Game 4. All the runs in that game came via the long ball, with Jose Abreu hitting the go-ahead shot — his third in the two games at Target Field — in the fourth inning.
To steal a line from Verne Lundquist, “In your life … have you seen anything like that.” The home run. The catch. The throw. A package deal. Fans of the Atlanta Braves surely will never forget what transpired on Oct. 9, 2023, at Truist Park. In a matter of minutes on Monday night, Austin Riley hit a go-ahead two-run homer, Michael Harris II made a sensational catch in center field and Riley fielded a wild throw from Harris and gunned down Bryce Harper for a game-ending double play. Hitless and scoreless for 5 2/3 innings, down four runs, the Braves got up off the mat to beat Philadelphia 5-4, squaring the National League Division Series at a game apiece. The Phillies’ Zack Wheeler handcuffed the Braves into the sixth, striking out 10 to tie a franchise postseason record held by, among others, Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee. Then the Braves got on the board thanks to some aggressive baserunning by Ronald Acuna Jr. Then Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-run homer in the seventh. Then Riley golfed a two-run shot off Jeff Hoffman to put the Braves ahead in the eighth and send the ballpark into a frenzy. These Braves hit homers. It’s what they do. It was the fourth postseason homer for former DeSoto Central High star Riley; his first, in Game 1 of the 2020 NLCS, put the Braves ahead in the ninth against Los Angeles. In Monday’s ninth, Harper drew a leadoff walk and was at first base when Nick Castellanos launched a drive to deep right-center. Harris — whose defensive skills are well-known to Mississippi Braves fans who watched him at Trustmark Park just last year — ran the ball down, leaping against the fence to make the catch. His throw to the infield got past Ozzie Albies, but third baseman Riley was backing up the play, fielded the ball and threw a laser to first base to catch Harper off the bag. “Right place, right time” was the ever-humble Riley’s postgame explanation. “The postseason is special,” he told mlb.com. And this was a special win for a 104-win team that appeared to be sleepwalking for the first 14 innings of the series. The Braves still have work to do. They must win at least once in Philadelphia to stay alive in the best-of-5. Monday might have been a turning point.
It has been a rather quiet start for the smattering of Mississippi-connected hitters in the MLB postseason. Collectively, the seven have five hits and one RBI. Texas has stormed to four straight road wins, but ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe is just 3-for-18 (.167) with an RBI and two runs in four starts at first base. Baltimore, which trails Texas 2-0 in their American League Division Series, has alternated former MSU standouts Adam Frazier and Jordan Westburg at second base and seen them go 1-for-8. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley went 1-for-4 in Atlanta’s loss to Philadelphia in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park; that was one of just five hits the Braves managed in a 3-0 loss. Riley and Co. need to step up tonight against Phillies ace Zack Wheeler. Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner is 0-for-6 for Minnesota, which swept Toronto in the wild card round and is 1-1 against Houston in the ALDS. Wallner, who typically sits against left-handers, didn’t play in the Twins’ 6-2 win on Sunday. Ole Miss alum Grae Kessinger, an Astros bench player, didn’t get in either game in Houston. Ex-UM standout Nick Fortes has already gone home; he went 0-for-2 as Miami was swept out of the wild card round by Philadelphia. … There is a high standard for Mississippians in postseason play. The record for highest career batting average is held by Charleston native Bill Hoskins, a Negro Leagues star who batted .487 in 43 NL World Series plate appearances between 1937-46. (Baseball Reference now includes Negro League stats in its all-time charts.) Hoskins, a 6-foot-2 left-handed batter, hit .325 with 36 homers in his career, most of it spent with the Baltimore Elite Giants. Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star still with the Chicago White Sox (for now), has the third-best single-postseason batting average (per baseballreference.com) with a .643 mark in 14 plate appearances in 2020. P.S. Houston kept MSU product Kendall Graveman off the roster for the NLDS because of a shoulder issue, but the right-hander could be activated for the next round. … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn reportedly is “in play” to be the Game 3 starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who got bludgeoned by Arizona in the NLDS opener. Game 3 is Wednesday at Phoenix.
A maroon four are bound for the stage in the Baltimore-Texas American League Division Series, with two former Mississippi State Bulldogs on the roster of each team. All four best-of-5 division series get under way Saturday. Baltimore, featuring Adam Frazier (MSU 2013) and Jordan Westburg (MSU 2020), is the top seed in the AL and will host Games 1 and 2 against wild card entrant Texas, which suits up Nathaniel Lowe (MSU 2016) and Chris Stratton (MSU 2012). The veteran Frazier, a lefty-hitting infielder, batted .240 with 13 homers, 60 RBIs and 11 steals in his first year with the Orioles; he has a .217 career postseason average and went 2-for-16 against Rangers pitching this year. Westburg, also an infielder, is a rookie called up in July. He hit .260 with three homers and 23 RBIs and didn’t face Texas. Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, saw a dip in his average (.262 from .302) and homer total (17 from 27) from 2022 but did post a .360 OBP, smack 38 doubles and drive in 82 runs. He has a .154 career postseason average; he was 2-for-24 with a homer against Baltimore this season. Stratton, acquired from St. Louis at the deadline, put up a 3.41 ERA for the Rangers, though he didn’t pitch in many high-leverage situations. The veteran right-hander didn’t face the Orioles in 2023. … In the other ALDS — Houston-Minnesota — the Astros’ roster is expected to include State alum J.P. France (11-6, 3.83 ERA as a rookie), ex-Bulldogs star Kendall Graveman (2.42 in 23 games with Houston in 2023) and former Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger (.200 in 40 at-bats). France started 23 games this season, but his postseason role seems unclear. Graveman, a veteran reliever, has a 1.64 career postseason ERA (in nine games with Houston in 2021). Kessinger, a reserve, has played four infield positions. Minnesota trots out Matt Wallner, the ex-Southern Miss slugger who belted 14 homers for the Twins and 11 more in the minors this year. He went 0-for-3 in the wild card round. … In the National League, DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley is the lone Mississippian on either active roster for the Atlanta-Philadelphia series. Riley batted .281 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs this season and finished strong. In the postseason, he has a .216 average, three homers, 13 RBIs and a World Series ring (from 2021). … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn went 7-2, 4.36, as a starter for Los Angeles after arriving at the deadline, and he has pitched in 27 postseason games over a long career. Still, his role for the Los Angeles-Arizona series was undecided at last report; he gives up a lot of home runs (44 all told in ’23), which seem to play an outsized role in the postseason.
Former Biloxi High star Colt Keith had a game on May 16 he’ll surely never forget. And now he has an award to commemorate it. Keith, playing for Double-A Erie in the Detroit system, went 6-for-6, hitting for the cycle, with two home runs and seven RBIs. Keith received MLB Network’s award for Best Single-Game Performance, announced during Monday night’s MiLB Awards Show. In his third pro season, Keith — Detroit’s No. 2 prospect — reached Triple-A and finished 2023 with a .306 average, 27 homers and 101 RBIs. An all-Mississippi minor league All-Star team would have to include Keith, who could slot in at second base, his secondary position. Here’s a position-by-position roster:
Starting pitcher: Will Warren (Jackson Prep), 10-4, 3.35 ERA, at Double-A and Triple-A (New York Yankees system)
Relief pitcher: Landon Harper (Southern Miss), 6-3, five saves, two holds, 3.34, in Low-Class A (Atlanta)
Catcher: Chuckie Robinson (USM), .290, 13 homers, 74 RBIs, at Triple-A (Cincinnati)
First base: Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), .289, 22 homers, 85 RBIs, at Triple-A (Texas)
Second base: Keith
Third base: Blaze Jordan (DeSoto Central High), .296, 18 homers, 86 RBIs, at High-A and Double-A (Boston)
Shortstop: Grae Kessinger (Ole Miss), .283, six homers, 32 RBIs, at Triple-A (now with Houston)
Outfield: Jake Mangum (Mississippi State), .298, five homers, 52 RBIs, 16 steals, at Triple-A (Miami); Emaarion Boyd (South Panola High), .262, 36 RBIs, 68 runs, 56 steals, in Low-A (Philadelphia); Davis Bradshaw (Meridian Community College), .314, .383 OBP, four triples, 47 runs, at High-A and Double-A (Miami)
DH: Tim Elko (UM), .295, 28 homers, 106 RBIs, in A-ball and Double-A (Chicago White Sox)
Utility: Justin Foscue (MSU), .266, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, in Triple-A (Texas)
P.S. The best season by a player drafted from the state this year was posted by USM product Matthew Etzel, a 10th-round selection by Baltimore who batted .323 with two homers, 25 RBIs and 21 steals in 30 games over three levels, topping out in High-A. Former Magnolia Heights star Cooper Pratt, a sixth-rounder by Milwaukee, hit .356 in 12 games in rookie ball and won a championship. Kellum Clark, the last player picked (20th round) from the state out of MSU, hit .262 with a homer and eight RBIs in 22 games at the rookie and Low-A levels in the Mets’ system.
The 2023 phase of Baltimore’s long-term rebuild, which culminated Thursday night in a division title, included the off-season signing of free agent Adam Frazier and the late June call-up of rookie Jordan Westburg. The two Mississippi State alumni made solid contributions as the Orioles, predicted to finish near the bottom of the American League East, won their first division title since 2014 — back in the Buck Showalter era — by beating Boston 2-0 at Camden Yards. The young Orioles also clinched home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Westburg, a 2020 first-round pick who started at second base Thursday, is batting .259 with 21 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs and 25 runs in 65 games. He was raking in Triple-A when the O’s brought him up. Frazier, an eight-year veteran signed for $8 million for 2023, pinch hit for Westburg in the eighth inning, walked and scored the big second run. The lefty-hitting Frazier is hitting .242 with 13 homers, 60 RBIs, 59 runs and 11 steals in 138 games. Both also made numerous highlight-reel plays on defense at various positions. Two years after losing 100 games, the Orioles celebrated their 100th win in a raucous clubhouse Thursday. “Pretty damn awesome,” Frazier said in an mlb.com article. P.S. In Atlanta, the Braves whipped the Chicago Cubs for the third straight night and clinched home field through the World Series, should they get there. Ex-DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley went 3-for-4 — single, double and triple — and scored three times in the Braves’ 5-3 win. Now hitting .282, Riley has 116 runs, third on the team and fifth in the National League. The fading Cubs, in a 6-13 skid, fell to fourth in the NL wild card standings, a half-game behind Miami; the Marlins’ game against the New York Mets was suspended (until Monday?) with Miami leading 2-1 in the ninth. … In the AL West, where nothing is settled, third-place Seattle walked off division-leader Texas 3-2 on a clutch knock by J.P. Crawford; Mississippi Braves alum Dylan Moore scored the winning run in the ninth. The Mariners are 3 games back of the Rangers in the division and 1 game back of Houston in both the division and the AL wild card race. The Astros are third in the wild card standings — a game back of Toronto — and will throw J.P. France (11-6, 3.83), the rookie out of MSU, in tonight’s game at Arizona, which will start Cy Young candidate Zac Gallen (17-8, 3.49). The Diamondbacks are second in the NL wild card standings, just ahead of the Marlins and Cubs. … A pair of former first-round draftees out of MSU faced off — sorta — in the inconsequential St. Louis-Milwaukee game. Ethan Small (28th overall pick, 2019) notched his first MLB save in his fourth appearance over two years as the playoff-bound Brewers beat the also-ran Cardinals 3-0. St. Louis starter Dakota Hudson (34th overall, 2016) allowed all three runs in five innings of work to fall to 6-3, 4.98, this season.
Another wild night in Atlanta saw another clinching for the Braves, another amazing milestone for Ronald Acuna and another crippling loss for the Chicago Cubs. Former Mississippi Braves star Acuna stole his 70th base on Wednesday night — notching the first 40 homer-70 steal season in MLB history — and scored the game-winning run on an Ozzie Albies hit in the 10th inning as the Braves topped the Cubs 6-5 at Truist Park. (If Acuna doesn’t win MVP, it’s a crime.) Atlanta clinched the top seed and home-field advantage in the National League postseason. M-Braves alum Albies homered and drove in three runs all told; he has 33 and 107. The Cubs, suffering a second straight heart-breaking defeat in the ATL, are now tied for third in the NL wild card race with Miami, which holds the tiebreaker. In other games of note: Former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman pitched a tidy fifth inning in relief and plucked the win as Houston beat Seattle 8-3 and clung to the third wild card in the American League, 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners. Graveman has two wins, four holds and a 2.45 ERA in 22 games for the Astros, who have won just five of their last 15. (Nothing has been clinched in the AL West, which Texas still leads.) Baltimore, with MSU product Jordan Westburg contributing a hit and an RBI walk, beat Washington 5-1 and reduced its magic number for clinching the AL East to 1. Rookie Westburg is batting .261. P.S. Milwaukee, which has clinched the NL Central, recalled former State standout Ethan Small from Triple-A Nashville. The former first-rounder did not pitch Wednesday. … Four Biloxi Shuckers and two M-Braves made milb.com’s Southern League All-Star team. The Shuckers’ Carlos F. Rodriguez (9-6, 2.77 ERA) was named the pitcher of the year, and outfielder Jackson Chourio, catcher Jeferson Quero and utilityman Tyler Black also made the team. The M-Braves were represented by pitcher Luis De Avila and second baseman Luke Waddell. … Mississippi State ranks 10th and Ole Miss 11th in Collegiate Baseball’s 2024 recruiting rankings. Arkansas’ class was rated No. 1, and 10 of the top 11 are SEC schools (if you include Texas). Southern Miss did not crack the top 50.
It was at some point during the fourth inning Tuesday night that Atlanta broadcaster Tom Glavine, who knows a thing or two about crafty pitching, remarked that Chicago Cubs lefty Justin Steele was giving “a clinic on pitching.” Indeed, the former George County High star shut out the powerful Braves through five innings, retiring eight in a row at one stage, and carried a six-run lead into the sixth. Then Kevin Pillar crushed a leadoff homer — the Braves’ 300th of the season — and everything changed — at Truist Park and elsewhere. The Atlanta crowd woke up and so did the Braves, who knocked out Steele, rallied to win 7-6 — aided greatly by a two-out, two-run fielding error in the eighth inning — and delivered the Cubs a crushing blow in the National League playoff race. On a night when Philadelphia secured the top wild card seed in the NL, the Cubs’ loss also clinched the Central Division title for Milwaukee. In addition, the Cubs fell to third in the wild card standings, a game back of Arizona and just a half-game ahead of Miami. Steele, an All-Star this year and a darkhorse Cy Young Award candidate, went 5 1/3 innings vs. the Braves and was charged with three runs. He has been stuck on 16 wins since Sept. 4. He is 0-2 in his last four outings as his ERA has risen to 3.06. He could get one more start, in the season finale. … The Phillies — and Laurel native Bobby Dickerson, their infield coach — partied hard at Citizens Bank Park after a walk-off hit in the 10th inning against Pittsburgh. They’ll host a wild card series next week. … The Brewers, who had already clinched a playoff berth, celebrated their division title with much more fervor, despite having lost their game Tuesday at American Family Field against St. Louis. They will also host a wild card series. P.S. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner hit a 463-foot grand slam for playoff-bound Minnesota at Target Field, his second slam and 13th homer of 2023. “One of the furthest balls I’ve ever seen hit. Ever. That’s 20-something years of professional baseball,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told The Associated Press after Minnesota’s 11-3 win over Oakland. … Ex-USM star Walker Powell celebrated a Southern League pennant after Tennessee, the Cubs’ Double-A team, beat Pensacola 10-3 to sweep the best-of-3 finals. Walker, an 11-game winner this year, did not pitch in that series.