13 May

swift swingers

For what it’s worth, Brent Rooker ranks 48th among major league hitters in average bat speed, a new stat made available Sunday from Statcast that “measures how fast the sweet spot of the bat is moving at the point of contact with the baseball.” Giancarlo Stanton — no big surprise — tops this list at 80.6 mph. Ex-Mississippi State star Rooker’s number is 73.8. For what it’s worth, Rooker’s average bat speed has been producing high-quality results of late: The Oakland A’s DH is hitting .400 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in his last 15 games. He hit his 10th bomb of the year in a Sunday loss and now has 50 homers in his MLB career. His season batting average is up to .292, and he has 27 RBIs for an Oakland team that has exceeded expectations. Of course, a swift swing doesn’t necessarily correlate with good hitting. (Stanton is batting .230 with eight homers and has fanned 50 times in 135 at-bats.) There is something to be said for just making consistent contact. Jordan Westburg, another former State standout, ranks 147th in average bat speed with a 70.8. He has produced a .304 average, six homers and 27 RBIs for the Baltimore Orioles. The top average bat speed among Mississippians in the majors belongs to Austin Riley (75.0), who is off to a lackluster start with Atlanta. Hunter Renfroe, No. 2 at 74.4, is off to a poor start in Kansas City.

05 May

blast from past

Joining a list that includes Mark McGwire can be pretty impressive, at least when it comes to hitting dingers. Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker blasted two home runs in one inning on Saturday, becoming the first Oakland player to do so since McGwire in 1996. Rooker, born in 1994, told mlb.com he grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Germantown, Tenn., and followed McGwire during the slugger’s time with the Redbirds. “Being able to do anything the same as him is a huge accomplishment, and something that’s really cool for me,” Rooker said. Rooker’s bombs came in a 10-run third inning that propelled the surprising A’s to a 20-4 win over visiting Miami. Oakland is 17-17 with six straight victories. Rooker, a 2023 All-Star who also homered on Friday, is batting .240 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 22 games, having spent 10 days on the injured list last month. As a BTW: Ex-Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes hit his first homer of the year for the lowly Marlins, 9-26. Also overshadowed by Rooker’s exploits was a four-hit game by another former Bulldogs masher, Nathaniel Lowe, who led Texas to a 15-4 rout of Kansas City. Lowe started the season on the IL and is batting .333 with a homer and four RBIs in 13 games since his return. He picked up two of those RBIs on Saturday. “I’m three weeks late to the party,” he told mlb.com, “so I have to get going.” The Rangers, 18-16 and second in the American League West to Seattle, visit division rival Oakland for a four-game series beginning Monday. P.S. William Carey University beat Blue Mountain Christian for the SSAC Tournament championship, the third tourney title in the last four years for coach Bobby Halford, who has a shelf full of trophies over his 39-year career. The Crusaders (34-14 with eight straight wins) will host an NAIA Opening Round tourney next week. BMC also gets an NAIA bid. … Delta State won an elimination game in the GSC Tournament and will play again today against Lee in Oxford, Ala. … Hinds Community College swept host Northwest Mississippi CC in their MACCC playoff series and advances to next week’s NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament in Poplarville. No. 1-ranked East Central, No. 13 Jones and Meridian all won their best-of-3 series openers on Saturday and will play again today.

22 Aug

great timing

Brent Rooker hit a milestone home run on Sunday, his 20th of the season accounting for Oakland’s lone run in a 12-1 loss to Baltimore. On Monday, the ex-Mississippi State star hit a much more significant home run, No. 21 producing a walk-off 6-4 victory for the A’s over Kansas City at Oakland Coliseum. Not only that, the homer came just in time for Rooker and some teammates to scurry over to the Oakland Arena and catch the show by Rooker’s favorite country music star, Zach Bryan. Rooker even made an appearance on stage with Bryan, who was performing before a crowd quite a bit larger than the 3,095 who watched the two worst teams in baseball fight to the finish on Monday. It has been a roller coaster of a season for Rooker, who joined the A’s as an off-season waiver claim from the Royals. He ht .358 with nine homers in April, which earned him an appearance on MLB Network’s MLB Central show and propelled him to his first All-Star Game nod. There have been a lot of struggles since then, but Rooker’s bat has perked up recently. He is hitting .346 over his last seven games. “Swing and approach-wise, I feel pretty solid,” he said. Rooker, batting .245 with 53 RBIs, and many of his teammates may be vying for 2024 jobs with the lowly A’s, who are 35-90. … Rooker stands second on the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby chart to Austin Riley, who has 29 this season. Hunter Renfroe is at 18, Nathaniel Lowe at 15, Adam Frazier at 13 and Matt Wallner at nine.

03 Jul

very cool moment

Before the Oakland A’s played on Sunday, manager Mark Kotsay addressed the team in the clubhouse and, in a very cool way, informed them that Brent Rooker had made the All-Star Game, voted in as a DH by his peers. Rooker, the former Mississippi State slugger, buried his face in his hands as his teammates applauded and cheered. (Watch the video; it’s emotional.) Rooker went to spring training with the A’s — his fourth organization in a year’s time — unsure of a roster spot. He not only made the club but was one of baseball’s hottest hitters in April, batting .358 with nine homers and 22 RBIs that month. He has cooled off of late (.191, three homers, 39 strikeouts in his last 30 games), but Kotsay stressed that Rooker was deserving of the All-Star nod and hailed his “perseverance and grit” in getting to where he is. “It’s overwhelming,” said Rooker, seemingly as humble a guy as you could hope to meet. He thanked his teammates for making him feel welcome as a newcomer in the spring. Rooker didn’t start Sunday’s game but entered as a pinch hitter and belted his team-leading 14th homer in the A’s 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He is batting .243 with 41 RBIs, also a team-high. P.S. Fingers are crossed in Baltimore after Jordan Westburg, the rookie out of MSU, was hit by a pitch on the left arm Sunday. He was expected to undergo an MRI. The HBP came with the bases loaded in the eighth inning and pushed the winning run across in a 2-1 victory against Minnesota. It was Westburg’s third RBI in six games in the majors; he is batting .263. He stayed in the game at second base in the ninth. … Braden Montgomery, the Madison Central High product and current Stanford star, hit a two-run homer for Team USA in a 10-0 romp over Chinese Taipei. He is 2-for-12 in the team’s three games to date; he has not yet pitched in the series.

07 Jun

in keystone state news …

There were a couple of rare occurrences in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. Oakland won a game, just its 13th of the season, and Brent Rooker hit a home run, ending his personal 20-game drought. Former Mississippi State star Rooker, one of the hottest players on the planet in April when he blasted nine home runs, has cooled off of late. He has three homers since the calendar flipped to May, and he hit .198 for the month after finishing April with a .353 average for the season. (Note: He was hitting .333 on May 5 when he went on the MLB Central show to talk hitting with Mark DeRosa.) On the positive side, Rooker has hit safely in three of four games this month and is sitting at .261 with 34 RBIs on the year. The awful A’s, now 13-50, hit four homers all told in their 11-2 win at PNC Park. … Across the Keystone State in Philadelphia, the best display of power might have come in a pregame exhibition by a football player. Before the Phillies put up three hits to beat Detroit 1-0 at Citizens Bank Park, Eagles All-Pro receiver A.J. Brown, the ex-Ole Miss football star, took batting practice and impressed onlookers with a smooth, powerful swing. Brown, a two-sport standout at Starkville High, is the rare prep player to participate in both the Under Armour Football and Baseball All-America Games. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 19th round out of high school in 2016 and signed a pro contract. He worked out for the Padres in extended spring training several times while at Ole Miss but never actually played a pro game. Currently listed at 6 feet 1, 226 pounds, the 25-year-old Brown has teased the idea recently that he might give baseball another shot.

13 May

crushing it

Your first thought as you watch the highlight footage of Brent Rooker’s walk-off home run on Friday night is, “Wow, he got all of that one.” Rooker, the ex-Mississippi State slugger, crushed a line drive to left field at Oakland Coliseum for a three-run homer that gave the A’s a 9-7 win in 10 innings against Texas. “It’s pretty close to as good and clean as I can hit a ball,” Rooker told mlb.com after his first career walk-off hit. “That one felt good.” How hard was it hit? Well, they measure such things these days, and according to Baseball Savant, the exit velocity of Rooker’s rocket was 110.7 mph. Impressive, yes, but not his hardest hit ball of 2023. He has a 112 on his ledger. The hardest hit ball by a Mississippian this year belongs to Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum who plays for Atlanta. He has a 113.3 exit velo, a tick ahead of ex-MSU and current Los Angeles Angels star Hunter Renfroe’s 113.2. (Matt Olson’s 118.6 is the big league best.) At any rate, Rooker’s other numbers in this breakout season are also pretty impressive. He now has 11 homers, tied for the American League lead, and a .673 slugging percentage, which leads all of MLB. He is batting .319 with 29 RBIs for the woeful A’s, who have won just nine of 40 games. P.S. Props to ex-State standout J.P. France, who notched his first big league win for Houston, throwing 6 2/3 innings (three hits, one walk, one run) against the Chicago White Sox. He is 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA in two starts. … McComb native Corey Dickerson went 1-for-3 on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester in Washington’s system. Dickerson has been on the injured list since April 2. … Detroit placed Spencer Turnbull on the IL. The Madison Central product, recently sent to the minors, joins a list of Mississippi-connected pitchers on the major or minor league IL that includes: Drew Pomeranz, Garrett Crochet, Dakota Hudson, Demarcus Evans, Ryan Rolison, Zac Houston, Gunnar Hoglund, Will Bednar and Landon Sims.

09 May

good luck

Here’s hoping that Brent Rooker’s memorable appearance on MLB Network’s MLB Central show this morning won’t be some kind of jinx for the great season he is having. The former Mississippi State star, who leads the big leagues in OPS and has 10 homers in 29 games, did the breakdown segment with Mark DeRosa. Rooker was insightful, engaging and funny. The hosts jokingly invited him to stick around and do some more network shows later in the day. He talked about the swing changes he made at State before his junior year in 2017, when he was the SEC’s player of the year, Triple Crown winner, Ferriss Trophy recipient and 35th overall draft pick. He also noted the commitment he made last spring to an open stance and a pull mentality. “That’s what I’m good at. That’s what’s going to keep me (in pro ball),” Rooker said. Oakland is Rooker’s fourth stop on the MLB circuit. After getting limited chances at the other three, he seems to have found a niche with the A’s. Rooker and Co. face the New York Yankees tonight at the stadium. Here’s hoping he doesn’t go 0-for-4. P.S. On this date in 1996, Russ Johnson of the Jackson Generals hit for the cycle in a Texas League game against Wichita at Smith-Wills Stadium. It was the first cycle for a Generals player since the Houston Astros placed their Double-A club in Jackson in 1991. Making it even more unique: There was a promotional photo giveaway that night and, yes, Johnson was the featured player.

17 Nov

on the move — again

Put yet another sticker on Brent Rooker’s suitcase. Pardon the old metaphor, but the former Mississippi State star was claimed off waivers today by Oakland, which is the fourth MLB team he has been a part of since April. Rooker, a power-hitting outfielder, went to spring training with Minnesota, which traded him to San Diego, which traded him to Kansas City, which waived him earlier this week. The 35th overall pick by the Twins in 2017, after winning the SEC Triple Crown and player of the year laurels, Rooker has mashed 102 homers in his minor league career — 28 in Triple-A in 2022 — but batted just .200 with 10 homers in 81 big league games. He went 4-for-25 for the lowly Royals last summer. At present, there may be room in Oakland’s outfield for the 28-year-old Rooker; the A’s are in full rebuild mode after a 102-loss season. And, hey, if he plays well next season, the A’s could always trade him for some younger talent.

11 May

whatever happened to …

Brent Rooker, after a lengthy layoff because of a shoulder injury, homered Tuesday night in his first game back with Triple-A El Paso in the San Diego organization. The former Mississippi State star had not played since April 17. Rooker, the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft by Minnesota, was found wanting by the Twins (.212 in 208 MLB at-bats) and was traded in early April to the Padres in the Chris Paddack deal. In eight games for El Paso, he is batting .222 with three homers and 14 strikeouts in 27 ABs. Rooker won the SEC Triple Crown — and the Ferriss Trophy — in his last season at State but hasn’t hit consistently in pro ball (.262, 77 homers, 407 K’s in 329 games in the minors). The 6-foot-4, 225-pound outfielder/first baseman is on the Padres’ 40-man roster, can hit the long ball and may well get a call-up if a need arises. P.S. On this date in 2003, another ex-Bulldogs slugger and SEC Triple Crown winner, Rafael Palmeiro, hit his 500th career homer, becoming the 19th big leaguer to reach that milestone. Palmeiro finished with 569 bombs, far and away the most by a Mississippi college alum or state native.

15 Aug

warming trend

When you’ve been in the deep freeze, a 6-for-9 spurt over two games qualifies as a hot streak. Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker homered Saturday for the second straight game for Minnesota and raised his average to .198. He has six homers on the season in 28 MLB games. Rooker entered Friday’s game in a 1-for-24 slump that had dropped his average to .157. The guy can hit. He batted .344 in his State career and was the SEC’s Triple Crown winner in 2017, prompting the Twins to take him 35th overall in the draft. In the minors, he has hit .262 with 73 homers in 320 games. But this season has been a rocky one. He was batting .103 for the Twins in April when he was sent down. He had 19 homers but just a .239 average at Triple-A St. Paul when he was recalled in July. Rooker put up a five-game hit streak at one stage that month before tailing off again. In addition to his two hits on Saturday, Rooker made a sweet diving catch in left field. “It’s something that I’ve continued to work on,” he said of his defense in an mlb.com story. “I think I’ve done a good job at this point … .” He needs to keep it going — in both phases. P.S. Mitch Moreland, another ex-Bulldogs star, also appears to be heating up. The Oakland DH (see previous post) is 5-for-13 in his last three games with three homers, a triple and a double. Moreland has 10 bombs and is up to .236 for the season.