Former Richton High standout JaCoby Jones has played a significant role in the Detroit Tigers’ surprising 2020 season. Unfortunately, he’ll only be able to watch how the rest of it plays out. Jones’ left hand was broken by a pitch on Tuesday, and he is done for the year. Playing regularly in center field, Jones was batting .268 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and 19 runs for a Tigers team that is 17-16 with six straight wins. The worst team in baseball in 2019 is in contention for a playoff spot. “I’ve been waiting on that for my whole career,” Jones, in his fifth MLB season, told mlb.com prior to Tuesday’s game against Milwaukee. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for our guys and I’m looking forward to it.” It’s the second straight year Jones’ season has been ended prematurely by a hand injury. He has endured more than his fair share of injuries the last few years, having been hit in the face by a pitch in 2017 and spent time on the injured list with back, shoulder and hamstring issues. The Tigers may never miss him more than this month. “He’s been the spark plug to this team all year — his hitting, his defense, his leadership in the dugout. It stinks to lose a guy like that,” Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer told mlb.com. P.S. On the bright side: Former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman was activated from the IL by Seattle. He has been out since Aug. 4 with neck problems stemming from a benign tumor on his spine. The veteran right-hander reportedly will shift from starter to the bullpen. Graveman, 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA in two starts for the Mariners, is in his first season with the team as he comes back from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him most of last season. … Ke’Bryan Hayes told reporters that his father, Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, couldn’t stop crying when informed his son was getting called to the big leagues. In his debut for Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the younger Hayes, a third baseman like his pops, went 2-for-5 with a homer that likely brought more tears. “Even when I was in the minor leagues and I hit a home run, my mom said he would cry,” Ke’Bryan Hayes said. “I thank him for everything.”
Kendall Graveman, dealing with a benign bone tumor in the C6 part of his cervical spine, plans to rejoin the Seattle team in the near future, according to reports. The ex-Mississippi State star, who went on the injured list with “neck spasms” after two starts this season, has been taking medication for inflammation for a couple of years. He is putting off a surgical procedure. “So the prayer and the hope is that doctors tell me that this thing goes away with time,” he told mlb.com. “That’s kind of where we’re at right now with it.” Graveman, 29, a six-year veteran, is in his first year with the Mariners as he comes back from 2018 Tommy John surgery. He is 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA. He has resumed pitching at the team’s alternate training site.
There’s a sizable list of former Mississippi Braves players who, for whatever reason, moved on to other organizations and enjoyed success. Among a group that includes current big leaguers Charlie Morton, Jose Martinez, Mallex Smith, Chasen Shreve, Tommy LaStella, Rio Ruiz, Willians Astudillo and Jose Peraza, none has been a bigger surprise than Dylan Moore. Moore, who debuted with Seattle last year and hit .206, has become one of the club’s key players this season. He is batting .294 with four homers, nine RBIs and four steals while playing five different positions. “He is an absolute stud,” teammate Kyle Seager told mlb.com. “He is a ballplayer. There is no doubt about it.” Call him a late bloomer. Moore is 28 and in his fourth organization since Texas drafted him out of Central Florida five years ago. Atlanta got him in a trade in 2016, and he was the M-Braves’ regular shortstop in 2017. He didn’t really distinguish himself, batting .207, slugging .292 and fielding at a .974 clip with 13 errors. The Braves released him in 2018 and he caught on with Milwaukee, playing briefly with Biloxi before being cut loose at the end of that year. Seattle picked him up and he made the Mariners’ roster out of spring training in 2019. In July of last year, Moore garnered attention when he infamously committed run-scoring errors on three consecutive plays. Well, forget that. He’s getting attention for very different reasons now.
The pitching line from Monday’s game wasn’t pretty for Kendall Graveman: 4-plus innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 7 runs (6 earned), 7 strikeouts. But, as Seattle manager Scott Servais told The Seattle Times, “I thought he threw the ball a lot better than what his line will look like. It was his first time out in 800 some days.” Indeed, just being healthy and back on a big league mound for the first time since May 2018 was a measure of success for Graveman, the Mississippi State alum who made his Mariners debut in an 8-5 loss at Houston. Graveman, 29 and entering his sixth MLB season, had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and made only a couple of minor league appearances in the Chicago Cubs’ system last summer. He signed with Seattle as a free agent in the off-season and reportedly had been sharp both in spring training and summer camp. After posting two scoreless innings Monday, he ran into trouble in a four-run third, giving up a three-run homer to Alex Bregman. Graveman was lifted after a fifth-inning homer by Jose Altuve, disappointed but not discouraged. “It was a blessing and a privilege to be back out there, but, man, I wanted the outcome to be better as I’m sure many people did,” he told The Seattle Times. Drafted out of MSU by Toronto in 2013, Graveman spent four years (2015-18) with Oakland, going 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA. Houston, defending American League champion, might not be the team you’d want to make your comeback against, but it won’t get any easier for Graveman. His next start will come next weekend against the A’s, another AL West power. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Bobby Wahl, who also last pitched in the majors in 2018, has made two appearances for Milwaukee to date. He got a one-pitch out vs. the Cubs last Friday, then yielded a homer in his one inning of work on Sunday.
Perusing the 60-man rosters released by most MLB teams on Sunday, there are a couple of surprises. One, Brian Dozier is NOT on San Diego’s list. Two, Tyler Keenan, drafted just this month, IS on Seattle’s. Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star, signed a minor league deal with the Padres and was vying for the second base job in spring training, batting .227 in eight games. But the eight-year veteran is not currently in the pool of eligible players, though he reportedly could be added later. Ole Miss product Keenan, a fourth-round pick who signed late last week for $500,000, is among three 2020 draftees Seattle put on its list, which is replete with prospect types. Keenan is a lefty-hitting third baseman with big power. … USM alum Nick Sandlin, Mississippi State product Jack Kruger and ex-Ole Miss star Ryan Rolison are among the non 40-man roster players appearing in the 60-man pools. Sandlin, a reliever, is with Cleveland; Kruger, a catcher, with the Los Angeles Angels; and Rolison, a lefty starter, with Colorado. Rolison, a 2018 draftee, is the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect, per mlb.com. Minnesota did not release its list on Sunday, but speculation is former State standout Brent Rooker and possibly USM alum Matt Wallner could be on it. Teams start summer camp on July 1, though not all of the 60-man roster members will report to the big league stadium. The others will go to an alternate facility. P.S. It hasn’t been officially announced as a signing, but Blaze Jordan reportedly has agreed to a $1.7 million bonus with Boston, well above the slot value for the third-round pick. The DeSoto Central High product, a longtime MSU commit, was the 89th overall selection. … MSU alum Jordan Westburg has formally signed with Baltimore ($2.4M as a competitive balance pick after the first round), leaving only State’s J.T. Ginn and UM’s Anthony Servideo unsigned among the seven in-state players drafted June 10-11.
Mississippi baseball aficionados may get a dose of nostalgia today if they follow the semifinals of mlb.com’s Dream Bracket 2, the computer-generated tournament matching some of the outstanding teams of recent years. The 1986 New York Mets, loaded with former Jackson Mets, are in the National League semis against the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. On the American League side, the 2001 Seattle Mariners, featuring three ex-Jackson Generals, take on the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The ’86 Mets, feeding on a farm system that had produced three Texas League titles (1981, ’84 and ’85), trotted out former OJMs Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Jesse Orosco, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman and Rick Aguilera, to name a few. The Generals, Houston’s Double-A club, claimed two TL pennants during their nine-year run at Smith-Wills Stadium and produced a long list of major leaguers. Three of them – Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama — were on the ’01 Mariners club that won an MLB-record 116 games in the regular season before falling to the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Those three were part of the blockbuster trade in July of 1998 in which the Astros acquired Randy Johnson from the M’s. Johnson went 10-1 for the Astros down the stretch but was 0-2 in the NLDS and then departed as a free agent to Arizona. Seattle, meanwhile, got long-term returns on the trade. All three ex-Gens were impactful players on the ’01 club. Garcia, a starting right-hander, went 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA and logged 238 2/3 innings, most on the staff. Halama, a lefty swingman, was 10-7 with a 4.73 in 31 games, 17 starts. Guillen, a good fielding shortstop, batted .259 with five homers and 53 RBIs as a complimentary piece in a loaded lineup with Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone. P.S. On June 2, 1935, Babe Ruth announced his retirement at age 40. On July 11, 1914, Ruth, pitching for the Boston Red Sox, struck out in his first career at-bat against Pleasant Grove native Willie Mitchell. On May 30, 1935, batting third for the Boston Braves, Ruth grounded out against Jackson native Jim Bivin in the first inning. It was Ruth’s final career at-bat; he was replaced in left field by Ludlow native Hal Lee. In between those two ABs, Ruth belted 714 home runs, which stood as the record for almost 40 years.
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.
Greg Hibbard, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout, is still out there plying his craft as a pitching coach — 25 years after he last pitched in the big leagues. Hibbard is set to begin his second year with Texas’ Double-A Frisco team (which is managed by former Jackson Generals star Joe Mikulik). Hibbard coached in Cleveland’s system for 13 seasons and is now in his fourth year with the Rangers. The left-hander was a pretty good big league pitcher for a fairly short period, posting a 57-50 record with a 4.05 ERA across parts of six seasons. He played at Harrison Central High before Gulf Coast CC and then went to Alabama. Drafted by Kansas City, he broke in with the Chicago White Sox and won 14 games in 1991. The next year, he was taken by Florida in the expansion draft and then traded to the Cubs. He won 15 games for them in 1993 and parlayed that success into a three-year deal with Seattle. But shoulder problems limited Hibbard to 15 games for the ’94 Mariners and ultimately ended his career. He pitched for the final time in June of that year at age 29.
One of the great mysteries of this season at Trustmark Park is the abrupt decline of Alex Jackson. The 22-year-old catcher, rated Atlanta’s No. 14 prospect entering the year, is batting .182 with one home run and eight RBIs in 32 games for the Mississippi Braves. He started off well enough, with eight hits in his first seven games in his second Double-A stint, but has since fallen into an abyss with no signs of climbing out. He’s batting .132 over his last 10 games, including an 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Thursday’s first game against Jacksonville at the TeePee. Jackson was the sixth overall pick by Seattle in the 2014 draft, but he struggled to adjust to pro ball. Prior to last season, the Braves acquired him in a trade, moved him back to catcher – his high school position – and watched him take off. He hit .272 with 14 homers at Class A Florida before getting bumped to Mississippi. In 30 games in the Southern League, he batted .255 with five homers and 20 RBIs. He went to the Arizona Fall League and made the Top Prospects Team, sort of an All-AFL list. He was named an Atlanta organization All-Star by milb.com and invited to big league camp. MLB Pipeline projected him as a “Javy Lopez type of regular big league backstop when it’s all said and done.” That was before this season began. With three months left, Jackson has time to get back on that track. Some mysteries do have happy endings. P.S. Laurel’s Wooten Legion Field is the site for tonight’s National Urban Professional Baseball League (see previous posts) inaugural game, with the Josh Gibson All-Stars hosting the Vickie Pasley All-Stars in the opener of a four-game series. The four-team NUPBL was founded in response to declining numbers of African-American players in the game but is open to players of all races.
Jarrod Dyson – and the Seattle Mariners – got some bad news on Monday when it was revealed that the M’s center fielder would have season-ending surgery for an apparent sports hernia. The Southwest Mississippi Community College product from McComb hit .251 with five homers, 30 RBIs, 56 runs and 28 steals in 111 games. He also had 11 outfield assists. The Mariners, still in the American League wild card hunt, will no doubt miss Dyson. “When he was healthy, he did a lot for us in the outfield defense-wise and what he can do on the bases, that’s his game,” Seattle manager Scott Servais told the Seattle Times. Dyson, 33, is a free agent at the end of this season. He joins a sizable list of Mississippians in the majors who have suffered significant injuries this season. Billy Hamilton and Bobby Wahl are also out for the year, and Kendall Graveman, Tony Sipp, Brandon Woodruff, Zack Cozart and Adam Frazier missed chunks of time. Woodruff’s big league debut was delayed by a pregame injury. Anthony Alford, called up by Toronto on May 19, went on the DL on May 24, was optioned back to the minors on July 25 and hasn’t been back up. JaCoby Jones also was knocked out of the big leagues by an injury, though he is with Detroit again now.