13 Apr

worth the wait

Seven years ago, the Chicago Cubs selected Justin Steele in the fifth round of the amateur draft out of George County High. On Monday, the left-hander from Lucedale made his big league debut, completing a long journey full of ups and downs. Steele, 25, came on in relief at Milwaukee and struck out the first batter he faced to end an inning. He then battled through the next frame, escaping a base-loaded jam without yielding a run. Steele was twice an organization All-Star in the Cubs’ system and has a career ERA of 3.62 in the minors. He also made a lot of trips to the injured list, which limited him to 80 appearances from 2014-19. He spent last season at the Cubs’ alternate site. Steele was recalled from that camp on Monday when the Cubs placed three pitchers on the COVID-19 list. How long he’ll remain on the active roster isn’t certain, but after seven years, he is officially in the MLB books. That in itself is quite an achievement.

26 Mar

big league chew

Bobby Bradley, the former Harrison Central High standout, will not be on Cleveland’s opening day roster, the team announced. Bradley was competing at first base this spring with the more experienced Jake Bauers. Bradley is hitting .303 in the Cactus League to Bauer’s .200, but Bauers is out of minor league options. Bradley, who played briefly in the majors in 2019, is not. Bradley has big-time power and no doubt will get to Cleveland sometime this season. … Though Minnesota has not named a starting left fielder, signs point to Brent Rooker, the Mississippi State product whose 2020 debut was curtailed by an injury. Rooker, batting .286 with a home run this spring, was in the lineup, in left and batting fifth, for today’s Grapefruit League game against Atlanta. Rooker’s competition is 29-year-old journeyman Kyle Garlick, another right-handed hitter who has four homers this spring. Rooker’s defense still needs polish, but the Twins, who made him the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft, seem to love the thunder in his bat. “You’re looking for ways to get a guy like that in the lineup because you know he can do damage, you know he can be a very productive major league offensive player,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said in an mlb.com piece. “That’s something that we can say with some certainty and feel good about it.” … Outfielder Eloy Jimenez’s injury surely increases the chances that Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton will make the Chicago White Sox’s 26-man roster. The speedy outfielder is in camp on a minor league deal. … Ex-State standout Jonathan Holder, battling for a bullpen role with the Chicago Cubs, is on the shelf with a “pec injury” and may be on the injured list when the season starts. He put up an 8.10 ERA in four games this spring. The veteran right-hander was signed in December after five seasons with the New York Yankees, for whom he posted a 4.38 ERA in 157 games. He reportedly still has minor league options remaining. … The Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation is accepting applications through April 23 for the 10-week Charley Pride Fellowship Program, an internship designed to promote diversity. The Grammy-winning Pride, a Sledge native who played minor league ball, was a part-owner of the Rangers for a time and was often around the team. A field at the team’s spring training complex bears his name. Pride died in 2020. … Zack Shannon, the former Delta State slugger, recently was released by Arizona. He hit .289 with 26 home runs in two seasons in the low minors. He blasted 50 homers — a school and state record 31 as a senior — in two years at DSU.

17 Dec

friendly confines?

The competition for innings was fierce in the New York Yankees’ bullpen in recent years. Jonathan Holder might find more opportunity with the Chicago Cubs, who have signed the Mississippi State product as a free agent. The deal is for one year and $750,000, according to the Chicago Tribune, if Holder makes the roster in spring training. Holder was non-tendered by the Yankees after posting a 4.98 ERA in 18 games during a rollercoaster 2020 season. The Gulfport native, 27, has a 4.38 career ERA in 157 big league appearances, all with New York, since 2016. A standout closer at State, Holder has no career MLB save chances. Holder’s competition in Chicago could include former George County High star Justin Steele, who has been in the Cubs’ system since 2014 but has yet to make his big league debut. Left-hander Steele was actually drafted a round ahead (the fifth) of Holder in ’14.

10 Dec

whatever happened to …

Trent Giambrone, former Delta State standout, doesn’t appear to have lost his hitting stroke despite many months away from facing live pitching. Giambrone, a Chicago Cubs farmhand currently playing in the Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rican) League, went 2-for-5 with two homers and four RBIs for Caguas on Wednesday. The 26-year-old infielder is 3-for-9 in two games since the league got under way. Giambrone was lighting up the Cactus League last spring, batting .458 with a homer and 12 RBIs in 15 games for the Cubs. Then, in mid-March, baseball came to a screeching halt. When MLB resumed in July, Giambrone was not among the 60 players in the Cubs’ pool for the 2020 season and thus never got any at-bats even in the team’s alternate camp. A 25th-round draft pick out of DSU in 2016, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Giambrone reached Triple-A Iowa in 2019 and hit .241 with 23 homers and 17 steals. He’s a good glove man, having won a national defensive player of the year award at DSU. He isn’t on the Cubs’ 40-man roster, so he’s eligible to be plucked in today’s Rule 5 draft.

23 Sep

more clinchers

Two more Mississippians had their postseason tickets punched on Tuesday: Austin Riley is in with Atlanta and Billy Hamilton (presumably) with the Chicago Cubs. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Riley did not make the Braves’ postseason roster in 2019 following his rookie year. He hit 18 homers last season but, after a hot start, slumped down the stretch. He has made strides in 2020, batting .239 with eight bombs in 50 games while striking out less and walking more. His defense at third base has been excellent. (In addition to Riley, seven other Mississippi Braves alumni played in Atlanta’s division-clinching win against Miami, its third straight title under former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker.) Taylorsville High product Hamilton was with the Braves in 2019 and got his first taste of the postseason, though he appeared in just two games in the division series loss. He’s not a lock to make the Cubs’ roster, but his speed can be a valuable asset in the outfield and as a pinch runner. He has appeared in nine games for Chicago and is 0-for-1 in steal attempts. … Regardless of whether St. Louis makes the playoffs, former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson won’t be on the postseason roster. The right-hander was moved from the 10-day to the 45-day injured list on Tuesday with a strained elbow suffered last week. He was 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA.

18 Sep

fade pattern

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.

09 Sep

that’s one

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.

02 Aug

transaction watch

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.

15 Jul

call to arms

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.

14 Jul

there were other days

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.