The likely delayed start of spring training for most minor leaguers scuttles what might have been a cool scene this spring in Fort Myers, Fla., site of Boston’s spring training facility. Imagine a batting practice session that includes three big dudes from Mississippi, each a newcomer to the Red Sox, each with a well-earned reputation as a masher. Imagine Hunter Renfroe, Tyreque Reed and Blaze Jordan taking their hacks in a group. Wouldn’t that be something to see? Renfroe, 6 feet 1, 230 pounds, from Crystal Springs by way of Mississippi State, has 97 home runs over his four-plus big league seasons. The Red Sox signed him as a free agent in December. Reed is from Houlka and an Itawamba Community College product. The 6-1, 250-pound first baseman has hit 41 bombs in two-plus minor league seasons at the rookie and A-ball levels. The Red Sox took him from the Texas organization in December’s Rule 5 draft. Jordan, from prep powerhouse DeSoto Central, was drafted in the third round in 2020 and jumped in as the organization’s No. 15 prospect. The 6-2, 220 third baseman has yet to play a game above the high school level, but he has been making headlines as a slugger since he was a pre-teen. He won the high school home run derby at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Renfroe, Reed and Jordan, launching missiles into the Florida sky at JetBlue Park. Maybe next year. P.S. Baseball America has reported that Double-A and Class A level players won’t start spring training until after the big league and Triple-A clubs have left. That means a later start and finish to the season for the lower minors, including the Class AA Mississippi and Biloxi teams. Additionally, there will be no postseason at those levels. MLB, now running the streamlined minor leagues, has not released any schedules.
Change was in the wind for several Mississippi-connected players on Thursday. On the big league front, ex-Mississippi State star Nate Lowe was traded from Tampa Bay to Texas, which has an apparent affinity for first basemen from MSU. In the Rule 5 draft’s minor league phase, three Mississippi college products changed organizations, with Ole Miss’ Errol Robinson and Southern Miss’ Chuckie Robinson going to Cincinnati and Itawamba Community College’s Tyreque Reed to Boston. Lowe, a lefty slugger who hit 11 homers in 71 games for the Rays over the last two seasons, projects as Texas’ first baseman in 2021. “I told him to expect competition, but we made this deal anticipating he would win the job and be our first baseman,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels told mlb.com. Former State star Rafael Palmeiro spent 10 of his 20 MLB seasons with the Rangers, and Will Clark manned first base for Texas for five years (between Palmeiro’s two stints there). Mitch Moreland, currently a free agent, spent the first seven of his 11 MLB seasons with the Rangers. … Errol Robinson, a shortstop, went from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Reds in the first round of the Rule 5 Triple-A phase, and Chuckie Robinson (no relation), a catcher, moved from Houston to the Reds in the third round. Errol is a .262 career hitter in four pro seasons and has reached the Triple-A level. “He’s a really good athlete. He’s extremely versatile,” Rob Coughlin, Cincinnati’s director of pro scouting, told mlb.com. Chuckie is a .249 hitter over four pro seasons and played at the Class AA level in 2019. He has a 15-homer season on his ledger. Reed, a storied slugger at Houlka High and ICC, was plucked out of the Texas system by the Red Sox in the first round of the Triple-A phase. “(W)e really believe in the power potential, so we’re excited to bring him into the organization,” Boston’s VP of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum told mlb.com. Reed, a first baseman, is a .281 hitter with 41 homers in three pro seasons. He played high-A ball in 2019.
Ran across an interesting old scoresheet while missing baseball and rummaging through some folders of baseball stuff. It’s from April 30, 2009, a game at Trustmark Park between the Mississippi Braves and the Montgomery Biscuits. It’s memorable not for any particular milestone but because it turned into a sort of showcase for Mississippi junior college baseball. The Biscuits, a Tampa Bay affiliate, won the game 9-2, fueled by the offensive exploits of state juco products Desmond Jennings, Rhyne Hughes and J.T. Hall. They combined to reach base 11 times, score five runs and drive in five runs. Collectively, they hit for the cycle. Leadoff batter Jennings, drafted by the Rays out of Itawamba Community College in 2006, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a double. He was on his way to Southern League MVP honors and a seven-year major league career with the Rays. No. 3 hitter Hughes, a 2004 Rays draftee out of Pearl River CC, went 3-for-5 with a homer off M-Braves starter Ryne Reynoso. Hughes made The Show in 2010, playing 14 games for Baltimore. Hall, drafted by Tampa Bay in 2004 (41st round) out of Southwest Mississippi CC, was the 6-hole hitter that day and went 3-for-3 with two walks, a triple, a homer (off Reynoso), a stolen base and three RBIs. The 2009 season was the last in affiliated ball for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder, who batted .253 with 43 homers in six minor league seasons. April 30, 2009, might’ve been Hall’s best day in pro ball. Bottom line: You never know what treasure you’ll find in an old scoresheet.
It’s a Welcome to the Big Time moment for Mississippi State junior left-hander Houston Harding. For sure, Harding pitched in some big games for Itawamba Community College over the previous two years – winning 19 times and setting a record for career strikeouts – but he’s up against a different animal tonight at Biloxi’s MGM Park. Texas Tech is 16-1 and ranked as high as No. 2 in the country. Harding has pitched just once this season for the 10-4 Bulldogs, a four-inning outing vs. Alcorn State on Feb. 26. He allowed three earned runs and punched out seven batters. Tech is hitting .338 as a team. Its most dangerous hitter might be Nate Rombach at .345 with six homers and 27 RBIs. The Red Raiders will start lefty Mason Montgomery (3-0, 1.93 ERA) in Game 1 of the two-game series and right-hander Hunter Dobbins (2-0, 1.29) in Wednesday’s contest. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs, who have struggled to push across runs at times, are batting .255, led by Justin Foscue at .340 with two homers and 15 RBIs. There’s nothing make-or-break about this series, but it should be a good barometer on where State is as a team heading into the SEC opener against Arkansas this weekend.
Boom. Bam. Pow. Home runs – in North Port, Fla., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Poplarville – are the theme here. At Atlanta’s new spring home in Florida – CoolToday Park – former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley hit a tape measure bomb in a Grapefruit League game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Riley’s second homer of the spring traveled an estimated 444 feet, crashing into the massive scoreboard in left-center field. “I’m pumped,” Riley said in an mlb.com story. “If we can just keep riding this out and stick with it, I think it’s going to be a good year.” The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Riley, hitting .316 this spring, is battling for the Braves’ third base job (see previous post). … At Scottsdale Stadium, San Francisco’s Cactus League home, Houlka native and Itawamba Community College alum Tyreque Reed crushed an opposite-field homer in his first at-bat of the spring for Texas. It came off big leaguer Shaun Anderson in the seventh inning and proved to be the game-winning hit. Reed, called over from minor league camp on Tuesday, homered in his lone big league spring game in 2019. An eighth-round pick by the Rangers in 2017, the 6-1, 250-pound Reed has 41 homers in his three minor league seasons. … At Dub Herring Park in Poplarville, Reece Ewing and Bryson Ware slugged two home runs apiece to power No. 2-ranked Pearl River Community College to a doubleheader sweep of Coastal Alabama-East. Ware, a Germantown High product and Auburn signee, has five homers on the year for 10-2 PRCC, while Ewing, a Southern Miss signee, now has three bombs.
“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.
Coming through with big hits in the postseason is a good way to impress the brass in the minor leagues. Tyreque Reed came through on Thursday night. The ex-Itawamba Community College star from Houlka went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs to help Hickory stave off elimination in the South Atlantic League Championship Series. “What I was thinking and doing tonight, it worked,” Reed said in an milb.com story. The Crawdads’ cleanup batter was 1-for-7 in the first two games as Lexington took both. Reed, drafted in 2017 by Texas, hit .282 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs for the Crawdads in his second stint with the low Class A club after scuffling at the high-A level to start 2019. … Bobby Bradley, the Harrison Central High product, celebrated an International League pennant on Thursday night when Columbus finished off a sweep of Durham for the Governors’ Cup. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in Game 3 but was 6-for-20 with two homers and eight RBIs during the Clippers’ postseason run. Columbus will play the Pacific Coast League champ in the Triple-A title game on Sept. 17 at Memphis. Bradley is surely anticipating a recall to Cleveland. P.S. Mississippi State alum Hunter Renfroe and East Central CC’s Tim Anderson are among the 30 nominees, one per MLB team, for the Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “the annual recognition of a major league player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” As part of the selection process, fans can vote through Sept. 29 for the overall winner via this link: mlb.com/clemente21.
Tim Dillard, at age 36 and in his 18th pro season, has enjoyed a resurgence the last few weeks at Triple-A Nashville. Dillard, the former Itawamba Community College star from Saltillo, went seven innings Wednesday night to beat Oklahoma City 7-2 and improve to 3-0 over his last six starts. The sidewinding right-hander is 8-8 with a 4.61 ERA this season, his first in the Texas system after 17 in Milwaukee’s. The Brewers drafted Dillard, son of former big leaguer and Ole Miss alum Steve, out of ICC in 2002. He has made 582 appearances – working more than 1,500 innings — in affiliated ball, including 73 major league games, a commendable accomplishment for a 34th-round draft pick. His last MLB appearance was in 2012. Whether another call to The Show is in the cards is not something Dillard, a bit of a free spirit, is worried about. “I would say the secret to success in baseball is finding joy in every moment,” he told the Tupelo Daily Journal earlier this month. “But that’s really for life. I try to find the joy in every moment, even the bad moments.” Words to live by, for sure. P.S. Mississippi State right-hander J.T. Ginn is rated the No. 10 college prospect in the 2020 draft by mlb.com’s Jim Callis. Ginn went 8-4 with a 3.13 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings as a freshman in 2019. He’ll turn 21 next May, making him eligible for the June draft. He was the 30th overall pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Brandon High in 2018.
Wyatt Short, the former Ole Miss standout from Southaven, has been promoted to Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs’ system and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his debut on Sunday. Short, a 5-foot-8 left-hander, posted a 1.63 ERA and nine saves at Double-A Tennessee, where he was a Southern League All-Star this summer. He has a career 2.37 ERA with 16 wins and 38 saves in 136 relief appearances. Short was a 13th-round pick by the Cubs in 2016 and is one of six Mississippi products now in that organization. Ex-Mississippi State star and veteran big league pitcher Kendall Graveman signed as a free agent in the off-season but is on the injured list recovering from Tommy John surgery in July 2018. George County High alum Justin Steele is also on the Cubs’ 40-man roster, but the injury-hampered top 20 prospect, a 2014 draft pick, is on the IL at Double-A Tennessee. With Short at Iowa is Delta State product Trent Giambrone, the Cubs’ No. 28 prospect (per MLB Pipeline); the versatile Giambrone, a 2016 draftee, is batting .242 with 23 home runs. Playing the infield at Class A Myrtle Beach are former Southern Miss star Luke Reynolds and Itawamba Community College product Delvin Zinn. Zinn, a 2016 draftee, is hitting .233 with 12 RBIs and eight steals in 35 games since he moved up from low-A ball in early July. Reynolds, C-USA player of the year in 2018 and a 10th-round pick that year, was demoted from Myrtle Beach to low-A South Bend when Zinn moved up. He returned to the Carolina League on Aug. 2 and is 10-for-33 with a homer and five RBIs since.
Nobody doubts that Jake Mangum can put the bat on the ball. After a sluggish start to his pro career, the ex-Mississippi State and Jackson Prep standout is batting .345 over his last 10 games, boosting his average to .252 for short season Class A Brooklyn in the New York Mets’ chain. A fourth-round pick in June, Mangum is rated the No. 24 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) in the Mets’ system. He’s shown off his plus speed, with 11 stolen bases. He has made just one error in 31 games in the outfield, playing mostly center. The question about Mangum is power, which seems to be of utmost importance in today’s game. So far, Mangum hasn’t shown much: five extra-base hits and no homers in 113 at-bats. … Former George County High two-way star Walker Robbins’ switch from hitter to pitcher in the St. Louis system has gone well. The 6-foot-3 left-hander has a 3.95 ERA and two saves in 11 games at rookie-level Johnson City. A fifth-round pick in 2016, he batted .170 over three seasons before going on a pitching program this past off-season. “Hitting’s fun and playing every day is great, but striking somebody out is an adrenaline rush. All eyes are pretty much on you when you’re on the mound. It’s fun.” Robbins told the Johnson City (Tenn.) Press. … Tyreque Reed, the Itawamba Community College product from Houlka, took one step forward and then one step back this season and appears to have regained his footing. Reed began 2019 at high Class A Down East in the Texas system but batted just .216 with four homers in 32 games. He returned to low-A Hickory, where he is hitting .268 with 11 homers in 42 games. Reed batted .267 with 18 bombs at Hickory in 2018, his second pro season. This is a guy who hit .504 with 15 homers at ICC in 2017. … Ex-State star Jacob Lindgren is making progress in his bounce-back season from two Tommy John surgeries. The onetime big leaguer has allowed one run in nine innings at high-A Winston-Salem (Chicago White Sox) and has punched out 13, including four in two innings Thursday. (Ole Miss product Tate Blackman hit a home run for the Dash in that game.) … Southern Miss alum Bradley Roney, also coming back from injury, has an 0.69 ERA in his last 10 appearances for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He has 27 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. … MSU product Nate Lowe was bumped back to Triple-A Durham — despite a .294 average and five homers over 30 MLB games – when Tampa Bay acquired Jesus Aguilar. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis predicts that the lefty-hitting Lowe will soon get another call-up, which would be his fourth of 2019. The Rays are an American League wild card contender.