Billy Hamilton’s potential as an offensive force was on full display for the first time on this date in 2013. The Taylorsville High product made his first major league start for Cincinnati and filled the box score with three hits, two walks, two runs, an RBI and, most notably, four stolen bases in a 6-5 victory. Seven years later, Hamilton has 302 career steals, most ever by a Mississippi native. But an inability to hit or reach base consistently (.241 career hitter, .289 OBP) has relegated the 30-year-old to role player status in 2020. Hamilton is with the Chicago Cubs, the third club he’s been with this year, and has just 23 at-bats in 23 games total. Used primarily as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, he has two hits and three steals. A second-round draft pick in 2009, Hamilton won’t go down as a total flop – he was second in National League rookie of the year voting in 2014, when he batted .250 and stole 56 bases – but the exciting potential he flashed on Sept. 18, 2013, was never fully realized.
Brent Rooker, the latest in a string of sluggers Mississippi State has propelled to the big leagues, hit his first home run on Tuesday in Minnesota’s loss to St. Louis in Game 2 of a twinbill. He’ll likely hit a few more. Rooker has been rated one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Twins’ system since he was drafted out of Starkville in 2017. He has 54 minor league bombs in 259 games, and he blasted a tape-measure shot in Tokyo in a Team USA game last fall. Rooker hit 23 homers at State in his All-America junior season and 36 over his three-year career. So, yes, he’s got pop. The all-time leader in homers by a State alum is, of course, Rafael Palmeiro, who ranks 13th on MLB’s career chart with 569. Coincidentally, Palmeiro hit his first career homer on this date in 1986. He played 20 years. Second on the all-Bulldogs list is Will Clark with 284, followed by the active leader, Mitch Moreland, who has 174, including eight in 2020. Hunter Renfroe, who has six homers this year, stands at 95 career. Tyler Moore topped out at 30 after a promising start to his career. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his Chicago Cubs debut on Tuesday as a defensive replacement in center field, a role that figures to be his primary. The speedy Hamilton was a waiver claim from the New York Mets this week and reportedly would be eligible for the postseason.
Billy Hamilton, the speedster from Taylorsville, is on the move again. The New York Mets have traded for the veteran center fielder, who had been in San Francisco’s alternate camp. Hamilton is valued for his defense and speed on the bases, a skill that has gained importance with the new extra-inning rule in MLB this season. “The guy is incredible, and he’s got tons of energy,” Mets pitcher Jared Hughes, who played with Hamilton in Cincinnati, told the New York Post. “He’s a good influence in the clubhouse. Everybody loves him.” Hamilton, a .242 career hitter with 299 steals, came up with the Reds in 2013 and spent last season with Kansas City and Atlanta. He joins fellow Mississippi native Brian Dozier (Tupelo/Fulton) on the Mets’ roster. … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, a left-hander, has been added to the Chicago Cubs’ 30-man roster. Steele, a fifth-round pick in 2014, has not pitched above Double-A. He has a 3.62 career ERA.
Three Mississippians, all left-handed pitchers, were added to MLB 60-man rosters on Tuesday. The Chicago White Sox invited 2020 first-round draftee Garrett Crochet of Ocean Springs and onetime big leaguer Jacob Lindgren of Biloxi to their satellite camp in Schaumberg, Ill. Justin Steele, a former George County High star from Lucedale, was added to the Chicago Cubs’ pool of 2020 eligible players and will report to their secondary camp in South Bend, Ind. Crochet, who signed for $4.5 million as the 11th overall pick out of Tennessee, isn’t likely to make his big league debut this summer, but nothing is out of the question in this most unusual season. “Garrett is a talented player, but the focus is truly just to get his foot in the door here and get around our guys, and we’ll go from there,” White Sox farm director Chris Getz told reporters. “With talented players like himself, I hate to rule anything out.” Lindgren, a former Mississippi State star, was a second-round pick in 2014 by the New York Yankees and reached the majors in 2015. He has battled arm injuries ever since, though he put up a 1.53 ERA in 12 games in high-A ball last season. Steele, a fifth-round pick by the Cubs in 2014 and a member of their 40-man roster, also has had arm troubles. He has a 3.62 career ERA but posted a 5.59 in 11 starts at Double-A in 2019. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Ryan Rolison, a 2018 first-rounder who is on Colorado’s 60-man list, drew praise from Rockies manager Bud Black after an outing in the main summer camp last weekend. “This guy knows how to pitch; he can change speeds,” Black told mlb.com. “He’s got two secondary pitches that I think will play in the big leagues, (and) he’s got enough fastball.” Rolison, a lefty, pitched in high-A last season.
On this date in 1942, Ellisville native Harry Craft struck out in the last at-bat of the last game of a big league career that sparkled early on before fizzling out rather quickly. The Mississippi College alumnus entered pro ball in 1935 and made the majors in 1937, hitting .310 in a brief stint with Cincinnati as a 22-year-old. He batted .270 with 15 homers and 83 RBIs as the Reds’ regular center fielder the next year. He slipped to .256 with 13 homers in 1939, then scuffled for a couple of years before bottoming out in ’42 at age 27. He was batting .177 when the Reds traded him shortly after that final game to the New York Yankees. He served in the Navy for three years during World War II and returned to play in the minors with the Yankees until retiring in 1949. But Craft stayed in the game, in some capacity or another, until 1991, four years before his death, and the highlights of his time are rather fascinating. To wit: He acquired two nicknames during his playing days, Popeye and Wildfire. … He led National League outfielders in putouts and fielding percentage in 1938. … He caught the final out of Johnny Vander Meer’s second straight no-hitter in ’38. … He hit for the cycle in a 1940 game, one of just a handful of Mississippians to accomplish that feat. … He won a World Series title with the Reds in 1940, though he played in only one game in the Series. … In 1949, he was Mickey Mantle’s first manager in the minor leagues. … He became the second Mississippi native (after Harry Walker) to manage a major league club in 1957 when he was hired by the Kansas City Athletics. … In 1961, he was one of the “head coaches” who took turns running games for the Chicago Cubs. … In 1962, he became the first manager of the expansion Houston Colt .45s, and they beat the Cubs 11-2 in their debut at old Colt Stadium.
There was a reference to Jermaine Van Buren in the wind of the internet today. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, a seamhead of great renown, compiled an All-Presidential team in honor of a visit he made to the White House on this date in 2006. On a 25-man roster with the likes of Gary Carter, Homer Bush, Lou Clinton, Dan Ford and J.J. Hoover was – ta da — Jermaine Van Buren, the former Hattiesburg High star who pitched in 16 MLB games in 2005-06. Van Buren, no relation to the eighth president, Martin, was a dominant prep pitcher (21 strikeouts in one seven-inning game) and a second-round draft pick by Colorado in 1998. He stalled in the Rockies’ system, revived his career in the indy Central League and finally made the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs. He got his lone win with Boston in ’06, finishing up with a 9.00 ERA. Van Buren pitched in various leagues, including China, until 2010.
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.
Trent Giambrone: The ex-Delta State star, now in the Chicago Cubs’ system, had a hit and an RBI in Cactus League play on Sunday and is now 8-for-14 this spring. Over the last three springs, he is batting .352 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 11 runs in 32 games. He is in camp as a non-roster invitee.
Wesley Reyes: The Jackson State senior went 2-for-3 with a key home run and four RBIs as the Tigers beat Alcorn State 10-6 on Sunday to complete a SWAC sweep. Reyes is batting .394.
Tyler Keenan: The Ole Miss preseason All-America pick banged out four hits and drove in two runs as the Rebels beat Indiana to complete a 3-0 run through a tournament in Greenville, N.C. Keenan went 7-for-13 with two homers and four RBIs for the weekend.
Matt Guidry: The Southern Miss senior went 3-for-4 with two homers, four RBIs and four runs in a 13-1 win against Valparaiso in a tourney game in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday. The Oak Grove High product is batting .359 with two homers and 11 RBIs on the season.
Tanner Allen: The Mississippi State junior had a double and triple, three RBIs and two runs on Saturday in the only game the Bulldogs won in their trip to Long Beach State.
Sloan Dieter: The William Carey two-way standout threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and drove in three runs in the Crusaders’ 10-0 win over NAIA No. 6 Faulkner on Friday. The senior is 3-1 with a 1.26 ERA and is hitting .250 with two homers and 14 RBIs.
Ken Scott: The Mississippi College junior, from Meridian via East Central Community College, hit two home runs and drove in four as the Choctaws won the rubber game Sunday of a Gulf South series vs. Union.
Hunter White: The Belhaven senior, from Mantachie by way of Northwest Mississippi CC, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to pace the Blazers to 15-5 win Saturday and a sweep of an American Southwest Conference series at Mary Hardin-Baylor. He is batting .433.
Jimmy Johnstone: The Millsaps senior was 3-for-3 with an RBI and three runs as the Majors beat Southwestern University 17-3 on Sunday. He is hitting .357.
Will Garriga: The Blue Mountain senior from Hurley belted a walk-off double in the 12th inning as the Toppers took down Martin Methodist in the first game of a Saturday twinbill.
Another potential landing spot for free agent Brian Dozier appears to have been eliminated. The Chicago Cubs, in the market for a second baseman, have signed Jason Kipnis to a minor league deal. The Cubs were reported to be interested in ex-Southern Miss standout Dozier, who is no doubt seeking a major league contract. Several teams have been linked to Dozier. One of those was Arizona, which opted to trade for Starling Marte and make Ketel Marte its regular second baseman. Miami is another; the Marlins’ current starter is Isan Diaz, who batted .173 in 49 games as a rookie last year. Dozier, 32, hit .238 with 20 home runs in 2019 for Washington, though he got only six postseason at-bats as the Nationals rolled to the World Series title. Over his eight-year career, Dozier is a .245 hitter (.326 on-base percentage) with 192 homers. He made $9 million in 2019.
The addition of a 26th roster spot for major league clubs this season could help former Delta State star Trent Giambrone land a job with the Chicago Cubs this spring. Giambrone has received a non-roster invite to big league camp and figures to compete for a utility role. The fifth-year pro, who goes 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, can play virtually anywhere and has some power, having hit 23 homers in Triple-A last year. He is a .250 career hitter and played well in the Cubs’ camp last spring. Also on the Cubs’ NRI list, for the first time in his five years in pro ball, is ex-Ole Miss left-hander Wyatt Short, who posted a 2.95 ERA and nine saves between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. Ethan Small, the first player from Mississippi picked in last summer’s draft (28th overall out of Mississippi State), will be in Milwaukee’s camp as an NRI. The left-hander, already rated among the Brewers’ top prospects, pitched only 21 innings in the low minors last year. Ex-Ole Miss standout Ryan Rolison, Colorado’s first-round pick in 2018, received his first invite to Rockies’ camp, while MSU alum Brent Rooker, a supplemental first-round choice by Minnesota in 2017, will be back in the Twins’ camp for a second year. Other NRIs from the state include: Cooper Johnson (Ole Miss), Detroit; Jack Kruger (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Henri Lartigue (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Chuckie Robinson (Southern Miss), Houston; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit; Kade Scivicque (Southwest CC), Detroit; Tim Dillard (Itawamba CC), Texas; and Jacob Lindgren (MSU), Chicago White Sox.