The Green Monster beckons for Hunter Renfroe. The former Mississippi State standout has signed as a free agent with Boston, where the iconic left-field wall has been an inviting target for many a right-handed slugger. Renfroe, 28, who reportedly got a 1-year deal worth $3 million-plus, hit two of his eight homers in 2020 at Fenway on Aug. 13 while playing for Tampa Bay. One of those bombs cleared the Monster. Renfroe has 97 homers in an MLB career that began in 2016. He hit just .156 for the Rays this season, dragging his career average down to .228. A good defender, he could be a fit in right or left field for Boston. The Red Sox actually drafted Renfroe in the 31st round in 2010 out of Copiah Academy, but he chose to go to State, where he became a first-rounder with San Diego in 2013.
In the midst of a humble postseason, his first in the majors, Hunter Renfroe took a star turn on Tuesday night and is now on the brink of a World Series trip. The former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs hit a two-run double and made two sparkling catches in right field to help Tampa Bay beat Houston 5-2 and go up 3-0 in the American League Championship Series. Renfroe was 1-for-10 in the 2020 postseason when he stepped in as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning at San Diego. He hit an opposite-field flare that dropped into right field and plated two runs, capping the Rays’ game-turning five-run inning. Renfroe stayed in the game as the right fielder and made lunging, run-saving catches in the seventh and eighth innings. He came up with the Padres and played many innings in right at Petco Park, though he was known more for his arm than his glove. “I feel really comfortable here, as far as playing the outfield,” Renfroe said in an mlb.com piece. “I knew, right away, what these balls were going to do.” Renfroe’s only other postseason hit was a grand slam against Toronto in the wild card round. He batted just .156 in the regular season but had a knack for productive swings. Of his 19 hits, 13 were for extra bases, and he drove in 22 runs in 42 games. P.S. So, how productive has Atlanta’s farm system been in recent years? Consider this evidence: In Game 3 of the National League Championship Series today, the Braves’ nine-man lineup included seven players who suited up for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. And the starting pitcher, Kyle Wright, also did time at Trustmark Park, as did the starters in Games 1 and 2. More than 150 players have advanced to the big leagues through Pearl since 2005. The Los Angeles Dodgers started four players who came up through their system, plus the starting pitcher, in today’s game.
One of the ironies of Tampa Bay’s strong start – the Rays (12-8) just put up 42 runs in a four-game sweep at Boston – is that Hunter Renfroe, acquired for his power, hadn’t provided a whole lot before flexing some on Thursday. The former Mississippi State star hit two bombs in the 17-8 rout, his first homers since July 27. After going 4-for-11 in two starts at Fenway Park, Renfroe is batting .200 with four homers and 14 RBIs on the season. He picked up five of his RBIs in the Red Sox series. Both of Renfroe’s homers on Thursday were impressive, one to right-center, the other yanked way over the Green Monster in left. “It’s pretty cool,” Renfroe said, in an mlb.com story, about clearing the Monster. “Obviously this is a historic field and a beautiful field, just to kind of check that off my home run list of stadiums to hit one (in) is pretty cool.” He hit 89 homers in three-plus years with San Diego. He’s about due to go off. The Rays play Toronto in Buffalo this weekend. There were eight homers at Sahlen Field, the converted minor league facility, on Wednesday. P.S. Chad Smith, drafted by Miami out of Ole Miss in 2016, has been traded to Colorado and will move from the Marlins’ alternate training site to the Rockies’. He’s not going on the 40-man roster. Smith, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, went 4-4 with a 4.22 ERA in his one year in Oxford after transferring from an Alabama juco. He has a 4.46 ERA in four minor league seasons, reaching Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League last year.
The San Diego Padres were never a contender during Hunter Renfroe’s three-plus seasons there. He’s in a different place now. Tampa Bay was a postseason team in 2019 and is expected to battle for a playoff berth again this year. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, is expected to contribute to the charge. Acquired by the Rays in an off-season trade, Renfroe hit 33 home runs last season and has 89 in 390 MLB games in his career. “Obviously, (there’s) the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’s just getting better and better,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino told mlb.com. “That power is going to be big in our lineup.” Renfroe has yet to homer for the Rays this spring but has made an impression with the bat just the same. “Hunter has unbelievable power,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “His batting practice is ridiculous.” Renfroe is just a .235 career hitter (.294 on-base percentage) with high strikeout numbers, but his defensive ability is another plus. A Gold Glove finalist in 2019, he is projected to start in left field, though there is a crowd in the Rays’ outfield. Nevertheless, Renfroe is happy with the change of scene. “It’s a win-win situation for me,” he told Tampa’s Fox 13 News. “I have a chance to do something special here with these guys — going to the World Series and stuff like that, so I look forward to it, and I look forward to the season.”
If the rumored San Diego-Tampa Bay trade goes down, it’ll be a big change for Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State standout who is a key piece in the deal. The power-hitting outfielder would go to the Rays along with a top prospect for outfielder Tommy Pham and a prospect. For Renfroe, that’d be a change not only of time zones and leagues but also of expectations. Tampa Bay, in the dog-eat-dog American League East, won 96 games and a wild card playoff berth in 2019 and won 90 games in 2018. The Padres finished 70-92, last in the National League West, in 2019. The Padres have finished fourth, fifth and fifth in Renfroe’s three full seasons with the club. They’ve already made a couple of big trades this off-season. Renfroe, a corner outfielder with a big arm, hit 33 homers last season but batted just .216; he was a Gold Glove finalist in left field. Pham, the Rays’ left fielder, hit .273 (.369 on-base percentage) with 21 homers and batted .360 in the postseason. Tampa Bay’s right fielder last year was rookie Austin Meadows.
Corey Dickerson, who hasn’t yet played a postseason game in his seven-year big league career, is playing like a man on a mission for a Philadelphia team battling for a wild card berth in the National League. The former Meridian Community College star from McComb hit two home runs on Tuesday night, propelling the Phillies to a huge 6-5 win against visiting Atlanta. Philly is 2 games out of the second wild card spot. Since joining the Phillies at the trade deadline, Dickerson has batted .300 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 33 games. “I’ve loved it here,” he told mlb.com. For the year, including 44 games with Pittsburgh, Dickerson is batting .307 with 12 bombs and 59 RBIs. … Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, has been out of the San Diego lineup for several days and apparently will be out for quite a few more as he rests a sore ankle. The ankle issue, coupled with an elbow problem, helps to explain Renfroe’s woeful second half. (He never publicly complained about either injury.) He is batting .169 with four homers and 13 RBIs since the All-Star break. He has two homers since the start of August. On the year, Renfroe has 31 homers with a .222 average and 143 strikeouts in 414 at-bats. P.S. Down on the farms: Harrison Central High alum Bobby Bradley hit a three-run homer to help Columbus beat Durham 8-3 in the opener of the Governors’ Cup, aka the International League Championship Series. It was the second postseason clout for Bradley, who hit 33 homers for the Clippers in the regular season, plus one in MLB with Cleveland. … Ex-State star Jake Mangum singled and scored the tying run in the seventh inning as Brooklyn rallied past Lowell 4-3 to win the New York-Penn League championship. Mangum, a 2019 draftee of the New York Mets, batted .247 with 18 RBIs and 29 runs in 53 games for the short season Class A Cyclones.
Right field in San Diego now belongs to Hunter Renfroe. With the trade of Franmil Reyes on July 31, the Padres committed to Renfroe, the former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, as their regular in right. Before Reyes’ departure, Renfroe had played more left field this season and wasn’t an everyday starter. Now in his fourth MLB season, the 27-year-old Renfroe has the kind of power in his bat and arm that you’d want in a right fielder. The monstrous Reyes, shipped off to Cleveland, can slug with anyone but is a weak defender. It would seem the Padres made the smart choice. And Renfroe seemed to justify their faith in him by hitting his 30th home run of the season on Aug. 1 against Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Renfroe hasn’t homered – or driven in a run – in six games since. He’s hit .185 this month and is at .233 for the year. He also has 110 strikeouts in 105 games, which is a lot (though less than Javy Baez, Ronald Acuna, Pete Alonso and some other All-Star types). Renfroe is just one of those players for whom the pursuit of more consistent contact is eternal. But if he belts 40 homers a year and makes some plays in right field, the Padres likely can live with that.
Too bad fans don’t get to pick whom they’d like to see in the MLB Home Run Derby. San Diego fans – and no doubt a bunch of folks in Mississippi, too – would surely cast votes for Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs. Not only can the 6-foot-1, 220-pound outfielder really mash, but he is deserving of the recognition, ranking among the MLB leaders in homers with 18. He hit his latest on Thursday, a 422-footer at Petco Park that helped the Padres beat Washington 5-4. In this year of the long ball, Renfroe is on pace to shatter his season-best of 26, a mark he reached each of the last two seasons. He has 74 career homers, averaging one every 14.3 at-bats. (Giancarlo Stanton’s average is 13.8.) Injuries have thinned the Padres’ once-crowded outfield, and Renfroe has reaped the benefits of regular duty. He is batting .250 with 35 RBIs and 26 runs in 57 games. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier, who was the last Mississippian to participate in the home run derby in 2014, hit his ninth homer of the year Thursday for the Nationals. Grenada native Dave Parker won the first derby competition in 1985. The only other Mississippians to compete are Ellis Burks in 1996 and Rafael Palmeiro in 2002. The 2019 derby is set for July 8 at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
Take a deep breath, Mississippi. On a Sunday that included Ole Miss’ all-time crazy win at LSU, Southern Miss’ huge walk-off win against Florida Atlantic, Delta State’s homer-fueled, elimination-game win in the Gulf South Tournament and the Mississippi Braves’ squeeze-bunt walk-off vs. Jacksonville, the scene-stealing moment from a state-connected player may well have been delivered by big leaguer Hunter Renfroe in San Diego. The former Mississippi State star hit a two-out, pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace closer Kenley Jansen 8-5. “This is my second walk-off home run, and there’s nothing like it in this world,” Renfroe, the pride of Crystal Springs, said in an mlb.com game story. It was the first pinch-hit walk-off slam in Padres history and salvaged the third game of the series for San Diego, which suffered tough losses in the first two. “These moments shape your season,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. The slam was Renfroe’s seventh homer of the season. Fighting a slump of late, he is batting .227 with 16 RBIs. He joins Tim Anderson – American League player of the month for April – and Jarrod Dyson as Mississippians with walk-off homers in MLB already in 2019. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday in his 2019 debut for Cincinnati but was returned to the minors on Sunday. Reed has been up and down with the Reds since 2016. He has a 3.21 ERA at Triple-A Louisville.
They say you shouldn’t put much stock in spring training stats, but it’s hard not to notice that Hunter Renfroe’s numbers lag behind the other players competing for playing time in San Diego’s crowded outfield. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe returned to the Padres’ lineup on Tuesday after getting some time off for rest and went 1-for-4 with an RBI. That puts him at .182 with a homer and seven RBIs. Among the other outfielders on the 40-man, Jose Pirela is hitting .333 with three homers, Manuel Margot .268, Franmil Reyes .268 (two bombs), Franchy Cordero .237 and Wil Myers .206. Cordero is the only left-handed batter. Renfroe finished strong in 2018, his second full MLB tour, and wound up at .248 with 26 homers. His power – and his arm in either right field or left – should keep him in the mix for playing time this year. Still, a strong finish to the Cactus League season wouldn’t hurt. … Meanwhile, Taylorsville High alumnus Billy Hamilton is having a good spring with his new club, Kansas City. Signed in large part for the defense he’ll provide in center field, the speedy Hamilton is batting .333 (.391 on-base percentage) with six doubles, seven runs and four steals in 16 games. Hamilton’s weak bat ultimately made him expendable in Cincinnati.