The expansion of MLB rosters for the 2020 season to 60 eligible players – 40-man roster members plus a taxi squad of 20 – might open the door for some Triple-A level players to get their first MLB opportunity. Mississippians who fall into that category include non-roster spring invitees such as Trent Giambroni (Cubs), Jack Kruger (Angels), Jacob Robson (Tigers) and Brent Rooker (Twins) along with Zac Houston (Tigers), Dalton Moats (Rays), Errol Robinson (Dodgers) and Bradley Roney (Braves). The 60-man rosters are to be announced by Sunday. … With 30 players to be active for the first two weeks of the season, the chances of Petal High product Demarcus Evans making Texas’ opening day roster would seem to be enhanced. Evans, 24, a hard-throwing reliever, made the 40-man for the first time this off-season but was optioned to the minors just before the shutdown. He has a 2.53 career ERA and has averaged 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings. … In addition to the MLB taxi squads, there is a tentative plan for a group of veteran free agents to play a short season of games in Nashville starting in late July. The Tennessean newspaper reported that Triple-A Nashville Sounds GM Adam Nuse has a list of about 70 free agents who might participate. Those players would provide another pool of talent for MLB teams to draw from down the stretch. Ole Miss products Zack Cozart and Chris Ellis and ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Tony Sipp are current free agents with big league experience. … Add former Southern Miss star Taylor Braley and Meridian CC alum Milton Smith II to the lengthy list of minor league players released in recent weeks. Braley, a right-hander from Hattiesburg, had a career ERA of 3.86 over three years in Miami’s system, having reached high Class A in 2019. Starkville native Smith batted .326 with 27 steals in two years in the low minors with the Marlins.
Jarrod Dyson, who’s had to scrap for playing time over most of his 10-year big league career, may well begin the 2020 season as Pittsburgh’s starting center fielder. The Pirates reportedly have agreed to a contract with the McComb native, who spent last year with Arizona and batted .230 with 30 steals in a career-high 130 games and 400 at-bats. Dyson is 35 and has had some injury issues in recent seasons, but when healthy he brings plus-speed on the bases and in the field. He had a very productive 2019, setting career-highs for hits, runs, home runs and total bases. He’s a career .247 hitter (.319 on-base percentage) with 250 steals, second all-time (to Billy Hamilton’s 299) among Mississippi natives. A 50th-round draft pick out of Southwest Mississippi Community College by Kansas City in 2006, Dyson won a ring with the Royals in 2015.
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.
Pittsburgh reportedly is considering Billy Hamilton, among others, to fill its vacancy in center field after the trade of Starling Marte. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, a free agent, is coming off the worst of his six full big league seasons, but at age 29 can still fly. He batted .218 overall with 22 steals last season, .268 with four bags in 26 games for Atlanta, which used him primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement after grabbing him on waivers from Kansas City. Hamilton finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting in 2014 with Cincinnati but hasn’t progressed as a hitter. A switch-hitter, he has a woeful .297 career on-base percentage but also 299 steals and a .995 fielding percentage with 55 assists. Oddly enough, Hamilton has not won a Gold Glove or a stolen base crown.
Mitch Moreland and the Boston Red Sox have a thing. For the third time in four years, ex-Mississippi State star Moreland has signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. The latest deal is one year with an option worth $3 million. Over his three seasons with Boston, the lefty-hitting first baseman, 34, has batted .247 with 56 home runs and 205 RBIs. In two postseasons for the club, he is 10-for-30 with three doubles, a homer, five RBIs and seven runs. He has won a ring and made an All-Star Game appearance while with the BoSox. He won a Gold Glove with Texas in 2016. Before signing Moreland, Boston was heading into spring training with two young players, second-year man Michael Chavis and untested Bobby Dalbec, penciled in at first base. As Boston-based nesn.com described it, the Moreland addition “wasn’t a big move, but it was a prudent one.” Moreland, who broke in with the Rangers in 2010, has 166 career homers, seventh all-time among Mississippi natives. Nicknamed “2-Bags” while in Boston, he has 199 career doubles. … Notable Mississippians still on the MLB free agent market are Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton and Tony Sipp.
Rumors that Arizona was interested in signing Brian Dozier to play second base apparently were quelled on Monday when the Diamondbacks traded for Starling Marte, who’ll play center field and make Ketel Marte the D’backs’ everyday second baseman. Former Southern Miss standout Dozier, who turns 33 in May, batted .238 (.340 on base) with 20 homers for world champion Washington in 2019, though he played sparingly toward season’s end and in the postseason. Dozier, an eight-year MLB veteran, is a career .245 hitter with 192 homers. He’s a good defensive player and a good clubhouse guy, even if his offensive production has fallen off, so it seems likely that he’ll land a job somewhere as a role player. P.S. Reports continue to pop up linking Mitch Moreland to Boston, where the Mississippi State product – and current free agent — played the previous three years, smashing 56 homers and collecting a World Series ring.
At last, a trickle of news on the free agent front: MassLive.com speculates that Mitch Moreland would be a “good fit” on Boston’s 2020 roster and might be available at a price the Red Sox would like. Moreland, the former Mississippi State standout from Amory, spent the previous three seasons with the Red Sox, making the All-Star Game and winning a World Series in 2018. A 10-year veteran, the left-handed hitting Moreland batted .252 with 19 homers in 2019, playing only 91 games because of back problems. He said late last season that he’d love to return to Boston. He made $6.5 million last year and, at age 34, may have to settle for much less for 2020. The Red Sox’s only first base options at the moment are Michael Chavis, a 2019 rookie, and Bobby Dalbec, a highly rated prospect who has yet to debut. Both are right-handed batters. … Other Mississippians remaining on the free agent market are Brian Dozier, Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson and Tony Sipp, who reportedly might be on Oakland’s radar. Three have signed: Corey Dickerson with Miami, Kendall Graveman with Seattle and Drew Pomeranz with San Diego.
“The best free agent that no one is talking about” is, according to an mlb.com story published Thursday, former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson. That headline is a bit of hyperbole, of course, because there is little doubt people are talking about Dickerson, a lefty-hitting outfielder with a career .286 average on his baseball card and a Gold Glove in his trophy case. He has hit .300 or better in five of his seven big league campaigns. Injuries limited him to 78 games in 2019, which he split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A scout recently told yahoo!sports about Dickerson: “He really produced in a short time in Philly, but with McCutchen and Harper there, where’s he going to play? He’s more than a bench bat. He’ll be somewhere.” The mlb.com story speculates that Cincinnati, Miami and St. Louis are the favorites to sign Dickerson, one of several notable Mississippians (see Brian Dozier, Mitch Moreland, Billy Hamilton) still on the market. The 30-year-old McComb native made $8.5 million last year. P.S. Tim Dillard, the ex-Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College standout, has signed on for an 18th season of pro ball. Dillard, 36, signed a minor league contract with Texas; he put up a 4.75 ERA in 33 games (21 starts) for Triple-A Nashville in the Rangers’ system in 2019. Dillard, son of Ole Miss product and ex-big leaguer Steve Dillard, has made 619 appearances, 73 in the majors (all with Milwaukee). The Brewers drafted him twice, out of Saltillo in 2001 and ICC in 2002.
Kendall Graveman, who last pitched in the majors in May of 2018, will get a comeback opportunity with the Seattle Mariners next spring. Ex-Mississippi State star Graveman has signed a $1.5 million contract (plus a 2021 option) with the M’s, who would appear to have openings in their rotation. Coming off 2018 Tommy John surgery, Graveman signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs last year but made just two minor league appearances. He became a free agent again when the Cubs didn’t pick up his 2020 option. Graveman, 29 next month, has a 23-29 career record with a 4.38 ERA. Drafted in the eighth round in 2013 by Toronto, he made his big league debut for the Blue Jays in 2014, then moved to Oakland in a trade the next year. He was the A’s opening day starter in 2017 and ’18. “His makeup is off the charts,” Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto told mlb.com.
Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, celebrates his 31st birthday today. Soon, he’ll be celebrating a sweet free-agent contract. Coming off a bounce-back finish to his 2019 season, left-hander Pomeranz is considered one of the top relief pitchers currently on the market. As a starter in San Francisco last season, Pomeranz was mostly awful. The Giants moved him to the bullpen, where something clicked. Milwaukee traded for him, and Pomeranz became one of the key pieces in the Brewers’ drive to the postseason. In 26 1/3 innings down the stretch, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and, suddenly throwing much harder, fanned 45 batters. He made $1.5 million last year on a free agent deal he signed with the Giants after a bad 2018 season in Boston, where he made $8M in the final year of his three with the Red Sox. … Pomeranz leads a long list of Mississippians on the free agent market: Corey Dickerson, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, Mitch Moreland, Kendall Graveman, Tony Sipp … . Petal High product Demarcus Evans (see previous post) was placed on Texas’ 40-man roster this week, and the big right-hander reportedly will compete for a big league bullpen job in the spring. … The Atlanta Braves have added outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher William Contreras, right-hander Jasseel De La Cruz and lefties Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer – all Mississippi Braves alumni – to their 40-man roster. (Outfielder Drew Waters, the Southern League MVP with the M-Braves last season, does not yet have to be protected on the 40-man.) … The Detroit Tigers re-signed former Southwest Mississippi Community College (and M-Braves) catcher Kade Scivicque to a minor league deal. He played at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2019. … In case you missed it, Hattiesburg-based Rodney Richardson of RARE Design handled the rebranding of the Brewers’ logo and uniforms for 2020, when the club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its move to Milwaukee. Richardson told mlb.com at Monday’s unveiling: “We want them to love it because we’ve fallen in love with their story, with their team, with what’s happening here. It’s not following any design trends or anything like that. It’s about representing this team and this place and their love for this game. We want to see that resonate.”