He didn’t join the exclusive club of major leaguers who have homered in their first career at-bat, but Nick Fortes did do something special on Saturday. The former Ole Miss standout hit a home run in his second career AB — he singled in his first — for Miami in a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh. Fortes, a catcher called up on Friday, took former Mississippi Braves right-hander Bryse Wilson deep in the fifth inning, a 413-foot shot. “I had goosebumps and chills down my spine,” said Fortes, who had a gaggle of family and friends watching at loanDepot park. Fortes began this season, his third in pro ball, at Pensacola in the Double-A South before moving to Triple-A Jacksonville. He had seven homers in 330 at-bats for those two clubs. He became one of eight Marlins to homer in his first game. Ex-Mississippi State star Will Clark and Louisville native Marcus Thames are the only Mississippians to homer in their first career at-bat. P.S. Milwaukee, with Biloxi Shuckers alums Devin Williams and Josh Hader getting the win and the save, clinched a playoff berth on Saturday by beating the Chicago Cubs. For the record, George County High product Justin Steele, the Cubs’ starter, got his first career hit (in nine ABs). Steele allowed two runs in four innings and wasn’t part of the decision. The rookie left-hander is 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA in his seven starts this season.
There is a new leader in the clubhouse. In the category of Longest Home Run by a Mississippian in 2021, it’s now Anthony Alford. The former Mr. Baseball from Petal hit a 469-foot homer at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Friday. Actually, the ball left Wrigley Field and landed somewhere on Waveland Ave. As the Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasters like to say, “Clear the deck. Cannonball coming.” In the very next inning, Alford hit another homer, a 435-footer, that tied the score — but the Bucs wound up losing to the Cubs in a battle of National League Central also-rans. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Alford reportedly puts on a show of power in batting practice. A teammate says he has “crazy-stupid pop.” Seeking to impress Pirates brass looking to next year, Alford has four homers in 70 at-bats this season but is hitting just .186 with 37 strikeouts. … According to onlyhomers.com, Alford’s 469-footer tops the 465-foot shot by Mississippi State alum Nate Lowe as the longest by a state product this season. Third on that list is Brent Rooker’s 460-footer, followed by Hunter Renfroe’s 456. Renfroe, the crusher from Crystal Springs, also has a 453, a 444 and a 439. Lowe also has a 451. Mitch Moreland’s longest is 444, Austin Riley’s 439. Could we get these guys together for a Home Run Derby?
The Mississippi Braves switched on some stored energy Thursday night, bashing seven home runs in a 16-8 win at Biloxi. Playing for the first time in nine days (COVID-19 protocols and then poor field conditions), the M-Braves improved to 59-39, best record in the Double-A South. Greyson Jenista, the 9-hole hitter on Thursday, went deep three times at MGM Park. He now has 16 homers, tied with Drew Lugbauer for second on the team. Shea Langeliers, who did not homer Thursday, has 19. Wendell Rijo (15), Trey Harris (eight), Justin Dean (seven) and Braden Shewmake (11) were the others to hit one out Thursday. The M-Braves have 131 homers as a team, second in the league (to Rocket City) and 16 shy of the franchise record with 17 regular season games left. They have hit 85 of their homers on the road, 46 at Trustmark Park, a notoriously tough place to hit one out. The next home game is Tuesday. P.S. Hunter Renfroe, batting leadoff for just the second time in his six-year MLB career, led off Boston’s game at Tampa Bay on Thursday with a single, scored the first run and later drove in the second to help the Red Sox score a big 4-0 victory. Crystal Springs native Renfroe returned from a five-day bereavement leave on Tuesday and was put in the leadoff spot for the first time that night. He went 2-for-5 and is 4-for-14 since his return. His father, Todd, died last week. … Austin Riley had two hits and two RBIs in Atlanta’s funk-busting 6-5 win at Colorado. The DeSoto Central High product, generating MVP buzz, is batting .305 with 82 RBIs for the first-place Braves. … Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, inching closer to a return to the majors, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings for Double-A Springfield in St. Louis’ system. It was the second scoreless rehab appearance for Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago.
It’s a long way from the quaint little ballfield at Copiah Academy to the glorious green cathedral that is Fenway Park — and not just in miles. But you can go the distance. Hunter Renfroe is living, home run-bashing proof of that. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State star crushed two homers over the Green Monster on Tuesday, powering the Boston Red Sox to a big 11-9 win over Minnesota. With an MLB-leading 10 homers in August, Renfroe now has 25 on the season, matching his career-best. He is having a resurgent season, batting .256 with 77 RBIs in his first year with the Red Sox, who are feverishly chasing an American League playoff berth. “Yeah, this is what I expect myself to do every year and even better most of the time,” Renfroe, a .234 career hitter with 122 homers in 546 games, said in an mlb.com article. Renfroe was not the only Mississippi-produced star who shined brightly on a Tuesday filled with compelling matchups. To wit: DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, who leads the all-Mississippi home run derby with 27, went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run for Atlanta in a tough loss to the New York Yankees in an interleague meeting of first-place teams. Former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went yard for Toronto, which suffered a hurtful loss to the Chicago White Sox. Dickerson has three homers and nine RBIs in 18 games since joining the Blue Jays. Mitch Moreland, ex-Amory High and MSU star, had two hits and an RBI for Oakland in a loss to Seattle in a game between postseason contenders. Former State standout Nate Lowe put up a career-best five hits, including his 13th homer, as Texas beat Cleveland. Lowe had not homered since July 1. And Petal High product Anthony Alford, fresh off the injured list, hit his first home run of the year for Pittsburgh. Alford, playing well in Triple-A when the Pirates brought him back up for another trial, is batting .163 in 17 big league games in 2021. Said Alford in an mlb.com story: “I’ve just got to find a way to persevere.” These days, don’t we all. P.S. Southern Miss alumnus Cody Carroll has signed a minor league contract with Miami and was assigned to the Marlins’ Florida Complex League team. The 28-year-old onetime major league pitcher was released by Baltimore from its Triple-A team earlier this month.
In his long-awaited debut for the Salem Red Sox on Thursday night, Blaze Jordan hit a home run. Very appropriate. The slugger from Southaven, whose long-ball exploits as a kid have been well-chronicled (see previous posts), hit one out in the ninth inning at Lynchburg for his first hit with Boston’s Low-A club. Jordan, 18, was promoted from the rookie Florida Complex League two weeks ago but had not played before Thursday, when he hit fifth as the Salem DH. Jordan batted .362 with four homers in 19 games for the FCL Red Sox this season in his pro debut. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Jordan, a third baseman in high school, was a third-round pick in 2020 (after reclassifying at DeSoto Central to be eligible for that draft) and is currently rated Boston’s No. 9 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. The scouting report on mlb.com touts Jordan’s “impressive bat speed and strength that allow him to hit tape-measure shots without a lot of loft in his right-handed swing.”
He has mashed 167 home runs in his pro career, but Friday night’s bomb was unique for Bobby Bradley. The ex-Harrison Central High star from Gulfport hit his first career walk-off homer, lifting Cleveland to a 2-1 victory against Kansas City. Bradley, 25, in his second big league season, did a modest bat flip as the line drive sailed out to right-center at Progressive Field. He was mobbed at home plate by his teammates, who were celebrating their second straight walk-off win after a nine-game skid. “Everybody was pumped up and beating me up a little bit and throwing water everywhere,” Bradley told mlb.com. “It’s awesome.” The article said it was Bradley’s first walk-off homer at any level, though it’s hard to imagine he didn’t hit one at Harrison Central. The left-handed hitting first baseman has 10 homers in 100 at-bats this season, which is an amazing ratio even for a small sample size. He has 11 in 145 MLB at-bats overall, one per 13.2 ABs. Mark McGwire’s career record is 10.6. Babe Ruth had an 11.7, Barry Bonds a 12.9. Bradley has 156 minor league homers (one every 16 ABs) since 2014, when the Indians drafted him in the third round out of high school. That’s a special kind of power. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff is slated to pitch Sunday for Milwaukee, which means he can’t pitch in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. He has been replaced on the National League roster by teammate Freddy Peralta, another Biloxi Shuckers alumnus. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz has returned to the injured list (forearm) for San Diego. Pomeranz, who missed most of May and June on the IL, has a 1.59 ERA in 18 relief outings.
Mississippi will be represented by at least one state college product in the MLB All-Star Game for the sixth straight time. Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State alumnus now with Pittsburgh, was the winner in fan balloting to start at second base for the National League. It’ll be his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, and he is very deserving of the honor. The lefty-hitting Frazier, in his sixth MLB season, is batting .326 with 101 hits, four homers, 28 RBIs and 50 runs. “I don’t really love the spotlight itself. I just try to go about my business and take care of what I need to take care of,” Frazier said in an mlb.com article. “It’s pretty cool to have the support, and I’m happy for that.” This is also pretty cool: The last Pirates second baseman to start an All-Star Game was Bill Mazeroski in 1967. More Mississippians could be headed for Colorado for the July 13 game when pitchers and reserves are announced Sunday. In 2019, the last time there was an All-Star Game, Brandon Woodruff, the ex-State standout from Wheeler, went as a replacement to the National League pitching staff. He followed Mitch Moreland (2018), Zack Cozart and Corey Dickerson (2017), Drew Pomeranz (2016) and Brian Dozier and Jonathan Papelbon (2015) as recent All-Stars out of Magnolia State schools. … Former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna also were voted in, as announced by MLB on Thursday. P.S. The all-Mississippi home run chase in MLB is proving to be quite interesting. DeSoto Central product Austin Riley belted his 14th on Thursday (off Jacob deGrom, no less), moving two ahead of ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe and Bulldogs alum Nate Lowe, who hit two on Thursday to get to 12. Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley, who has only been up since June 5, has eight. Still waiting for former State standout Moreland to get it going; he’s at six. … Down in the minors, Houlka’s Tyreque Reed hit two bombs for High-A Greenville (Boston) and has 12 on the season.
Flashing the power he displayed at Oxford High and Ole Miss, Thomas Dillard hit a pair of home runs in a game for High-A Wisconsin on Sunday. One of the bombs was a reported 438-footer. Dillard enjoyed a 3-for-6 day with five RBIs in a twinbill sweep by the Timber Rattlers, a Milwaukee farm team. Dillard is batting .240 (.420 slugging) with five homers and 37 RBIs in his second pro season. The switch-hitting catcher/first baseman, Milwaukee’s No. 22 prospect, was a fifth-round pick in 2019. He hit seven homers that summer and spent 2020 at the Brewers’ alternate site. … Joe Gray Jr., another Brewers prospect, hit his 11th homer on Sunday at Low-A Carolina. That total leads the Low-A East and is tied (with Brent Rooker in Triple-A) for the most by Mississippian in the minors. Former Hattiesburg High star Gray, in his third pro season, is batting .308 with 49 RBIs, bidding for a promotion to the Wisconsin team. Two more Mississippi-connected prospects went deep in the minors Sunday: Former Itawamba Community College and Houlka High star Tyreque Reed smacked his ninth homer for High-A Greenville in Boston’s system, and Ole Miss product Tyler Keenan, a 2020 draftee, hit No. 4 for High-A Everett in Seattle’s system. And something to watch for today: Blaze Jordan, the storied slugger from DeSoto Central, is expected to make his pro debut for Boston’s Florida Complex League team. Jordan famously hit two 500-foot homers in a showcase event at age 13 and won the high school home run competition at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game.
Luke Easter, slugging long homers well before the Statcast era, hit a bunch of bombs that are the stuff of legend. One of those came on June 23, 1950. The Jonestown native, who was the first black Mississippian to play in the major leagues, hit a ball over the auxiliary scoreboard in Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium and into the second deck of seats. It was estimated at 477 feet and is regarded as the longest homer ever hit at the ballpark the Indians called home until 1994. The only other player reported to have hit one over that scoreboard was Mickey Mantle, who did it 10 years later. Easter, already 34 years old in 1950, hit 28 homers for the Indians that season and finished his brief MLB career with 93. He also hit 10 official Negro League homers. … For the record, the longest Statcast-measured bomb by a Mississippi product in 2021 is Mississippi State alum Nate Lowe’s 465-footer. Hunter Renfroe hit one 453, Mitch Moreland 444 and Austin Riley and Corey Dickerson both 432.
Fear the Fighting Camels? Beware the ’Noles? If power is the key to winning these days, then the teams to watch in the Starkville and Oxford Regionals, respectively, are Campbell and Florida State. Campbell (35-16) has more total home runs (65) and the best homers-per-game average (1.27) of the four teams bound for Starkville. Matthew Christian leads the Camels with 16. Campbell pitchers also have done a good job of limiting homers, having yielded just 33. Samford (35-22), which plays Mississippi State in the first round, punched its ticket to the NCAAs with two huge homers in the ninth inning of the Southern Conference title game: a game-tying shot by Towns King and a walk-off bomb by Max Pinto. Sonny DiChiara has 16 of Samford’s 64. On the flip side, Samford pitchers have given up 70 homers. Logan Tanner (team-best 16 round-trippers) and the other State sluggers may be salivating over that stat. State (40-15) sits at 60 as a team, eight more than its pitchers have allowed. Another masher of note in that regional is Virginia Commonwealth’s Tyler Locklear, who has 16 bombs. The Rams (37-14) have allowed only 37 homers. … In Oxford, where the red cup crowd really digs the long ball, Florida State (30-22) comes in with 74 homers (1.42 per game, 18th in the nation). The Seminoles’ Mat Nelson is tied for the national lead with 22. FSU opens regional play against Southern Miss (37-19), which has belted 67 bombs, led by Reed Trimble with 14. Ole Miss (41-19) has slugged 75 homers (1.25 per game), led by Kevin Graham’s 14. Tim Elko, perhaps UM’s best power source, has 13 despite missing a big chunk of time with an injury. Rebels pitchers have allowed 65 homers, a relatively high number. Notably, UM’s opening opponent, Southeast Missouri State (30-20), is a relatively power-starved team with just 37 homers. Wade Strauss hit 14 of those.