The most intriguing name on the list of Mississippians headed for free agency this off-season belongs to one who is still playing. Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star now pitching for Houston in the World Series, will hit the market after the series concludes. Having found great success since switching from starter to reliever in 2020, the 30-year-old right-hander ought to attract many suitors. He put up a 1.77 ERA in 53 games split between Seattle and the Astros this season and has a 1.64 in 11 postseason innings, including the final two of the Game 5 victory in Atlanta. He was on a 1-year, $1.25 million deal this season; he’ll command a lot more this off-season. Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson also should be an attractive free agent. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .271 with six homers and 29 RBIs in an injury-shortened season split between Miami and Toronto. He played well down the stretch for the Blue Jays as they chased a playoff berth. The 2022 season will be McComb native Dickerson’s 10th in MLB; he made $17.5M over 2020-21. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of interest Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton and JaCoby Jones draw on the market. Amory native and MSU alum Moreland, 36, a 12-year vet with a good track record, hit just .227 with 10 homers in 81 games for Oakland and finished the season on the injured list with a wrist issue. Dyson, from McComb and Southwest Mississippi CC, is 37 and also a 12-year vet. He batted .207 with 10 stolen bases in 2021 between Kansas City and Toronto. He was used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High standout, filled a similar role for the Chicago White Sox, batting .220 with nine steals, 23 runs and 11 RBIs. He also spent time on the IL. Jones, a former Mr. Baseball at Richton High, finished 2021 in the minors, having lost his roster spot with Detroit. The oft-injured 29-year-old outfielder hit .170 in 36 big league games in his sixth MLB campaign. A minor league deal with a spring invite might be the best he can hope for.
In a lineup packed with attention-grabbing stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien and George Springer, Corey Dickerson has been a quiet but steady contributor for Toronto. The former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College standout went 2-for-4 with a home run Friday night as the Blue Jays beat Baltimore 6-4 to remain in the thick of the battle royale for the two American League wild card berths. Dickerson, who provides a left-handed bat in a largely right-handed order, is batting .333 over his last 15 games, .364 with two homers in his last seven. Toronto traded with Miami for the nine-year veteran, along with reliever Adam Cimber, back in late June. A foot injury kept Dickerson on the injured list until early August. He settled in quickly, driving in two runs in his second game. In 45 games overall for the Jays, he is at .289 with four homers, 15 RBIs and 16 runs. Toronto is tied with Seattle, 1 game back of Boston and 2 behind New York in the wild card standings with two games left on the schedule. Meanwhile, former Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe’s 31st homer broke a scoreless deadlock in the sixth inning and propelled Boston to a 4-2 win over Washington. Renfroe has three homers in the past four games. P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn notched his 11th win and East Central CC alum Tim Anderson went 4-for-4 as the playoff-bound Chicago White Sox beat Detroit. … Ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson, in his second game since returning from Tommy John surgery, threw five shutout innings for playoff-bound St. Louis in a win against the Cubs. … Mississippi Braves alum Spencer Strider made his MLB debut for Atlanta on Friday, completing an impressive step-by-step rise from Low-A ball to the big leagues this season. The hard-throwing right-hander, a 2020 draftee, was 3-7, 4.71 ERA for the Double-A M-Braves but demonstrated impressive stuff with 94 strikeouts in 63 innings.
Four Mississippians took the field in four of the biggest games on a compelling Tuesday night in the big leagues. Their results were a mixed bag. Only former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley celebrated a win, but he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and four stranded runners in Atlanta’s gut-churning 2-1 victory against Philadelphia in the crucial National League East showdown. Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, hit his 29th home run for Boston but saw his team lose to Baltimore and fall 2 games back of first-place New York in the crazy American League wild card race. Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a double and an RBI for Toronto, but the Blue Jays lost to the Yankees and slipped to fourth in the wild card standings, behind both Boston and surging Seattle. MSU alum Brandon Woodruff started for Milwaukee but lasted just four innings in the Brewers’ loss to St. Louis, which won for the 17th straight time and clinched the second NL wild card in the process. The Brewers have already clinched the Central Division crown. The big games continue tonight with the Braves, leading Philly by 3.5 games, sending ex-Mississippi Braves star Max Fried (13-7, 3.12 ERA) to the bump at Truist Park. P.S. Houston, which has not yet clinched the AL West, put State product Kendall Graveman, one of its key relievers, on the paternity list on Tuesday. The Astros, with a magic number of 1 to put away Seattle, are hosting AL East champion Tampa Bay. Houston won the series opener 4-3 on a walk-off walk. The Mariners are hosting Oakland.
In his first game since becoming a father, Brent Rooker doubled and homered to help Minnesota cool off Toronto in a key American League game on Friday night. Former Mississippi State standout Rooker came off the paternity list to hit his eighth homer of the year and drive in two runs as the last-place Twins beat the Blue Jays 7-3 and knocked them back to third in the AL wild card race. Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star, had two hits and scored a run for the Blue Jays. … Elsewhere in the playoff chase: MSU product Hunter Renfroe drove in three runs and scored another as AL wild card leader Boston whipped Baltimore 7-1. East Central CC alumnus Tim Anderson went 1-for-3 and scored twice as AL Central leader Chicago thumped Texas 8-0. Former State star Kendall Graveman blew a save — just his third of the season — in the eighth inning, but AL West leader Houston rallied to beat Arizona 4-3 in 10 innings. Former Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Brett Phillips hit a walk-off homer — and celebrated as you might expect only him to do — to give AL East leader Tampa Bay a 7-4 win vs. Detroit. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Nick Fortes was called up by Miami on Friday and likely will make his MLB debut today against Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old catcher, a fourth-round pick in 2018, hit .245 with seven homers and 44 RBIs at the Double-A and Triple-A levels this season. The Marlins reportedly want to give him a closer look as they plan for next season. Fortes will be the fifth Mississippian (native or school alum) to debut in 2021 and the 29th to make a big league appearance this season.
After capping his week with a three-hit, six-RBI performance, Sam McWilliams earned Low-A West hitter of the week honors. The former Simpson Academy and Meridian Community College standout, playing outfield for Rancho Cucamonga in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system, batted .346 with three homers and 11 RBIs from Aug. 30-Sept. 5. On Sunday, McWilliams went 3-for-4 with a homer and six RBIs in the Quakes’ 19-9 victory against Lake Elsinore. McWilliams had a two-homer, four-RBI game earlier last week. A 19th-round pick by the Dodgers in 2018, McWilliams is batting .297 with 12 homers, 66 RBIs, 79 runs and 12 steals in 85 games for the Quakes. He is hitting .279 over his three pro seasons. He still has minor league hurdles to clear but is on a good track. Meridian CC has produced its fair share of big leaguers, including current Toronto star Corey Dickerson and former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. … Also with Rancho Cucamonga is Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, a 6-foot-6 right-hander originally drafted in the second round by Toronto in 2019 out of Florida’s IMG Academy. Williams is 3-2 with a 4.32 ERA. P.S. Greyson Jenista of the Mississippi Braves was the Double-A South’s award winner after batting .444 with four homers and eight RBIs last week. The first baseman/outfielder had a three-homer game at Biloxi last Thursday. The first-place M-Braves open their final homestand of the season tonight against Montgomery.
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.
The Mississippi Braves have risen to the best record in the Double-A South by minding their P’s: pitching and power. On a lazy Sunday afternoon at Trustmark Park in Pearl, they didn’t get enough of either. Biloxi bludgeoned the M-Braves 11-3, snapping an eight-game winning streak. The M-Braves lead the league in ERA (3.66) and rank second in home runs (117). On Sunday, the Shuckers, the league’s worst team by record, pounded out 16 hits – two by Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard, his first in Double-A – and drew six walks against five M-Braves pitchers. Starter Freddy Tarnok and Hayden Deal, first out of the bullpen, yielded four runs each. Braden Shewmake hit the M-Braves’ lone homer, his ninth, a first-inning solo shot that landed on the roof of the Farm Bureau Grill beyond right field. … Austin Riley hit his 25th home run in Atlanta’s 6-5 victory over Washington on Sunday, but the ex-DeSoto Central High star’s bigger contribution was the play he made to end the game. Riley dove and speared a hot shot down the third-base line, with runners at first and second, and threw out Carter Kieboom at first base. Riley’s glove rates some love. … Corey Dickerson may prove to be a valuable trade acquisition for Toronto, still scrapping in the wild card battle. The Meridian Community College alum hit his first homer for the Blue Jays in a win on Sunday and is 10-for-33 with five RBIs and five runs in 12 games for the team. He hit .260 with two homers for Miami before the trade. … San Francisco maintained the best record (76-42) in the big leagues with a 5-2 win against Colorado on Sunday, with two former M-Braves playing major roles. Alex Wood worked 6 2/3 innings to notch his 10th win and Tommy La Stella went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, boosting his August average to .300 coming off a three-month stay on the injured list. … Tough luck continues to hound former Petal High star Anthony Alford. After battling his way back to the majors from a demotion to Triple-A, the 27-year-old outfielder went on the IL on Sunday with a back strain. He is 4-for-17 since Pittsburgh brought him back to The Show. Alford’s 2020 season was curtailed by a fractured elbow. He suffered myriad injuries while in Toronto’s system from 2012-19.
The 2021 season has taken another twist for Corey Dickerson, the McComb native and former Meridian Community College standout. Currently in a walking boot with a foot injury, and in the midst of a slump, veteran outfielder Dickerson reportedly has been traded (along with pitcher Adam Cimber) from Miami to Toronto. The nine-year big leaguer was batting .208 over his last 30 games for Miami when he hurt his left foot and landed on the 10-day injured list on June 15. He was not expected back on the field until after the All-Star break in mid-July. In his first year with the Marlins in 2020, Dickerson helped a young team make a surprising run to a playoff berth. The current Marlins team was in last place when Dickerson went on the IL, and he had not been very impactful. He is hitting .260 with just two homers, 14 RBIs and 27 runs over 62 games. His average with runners in scoring position is under .200. Much more was expected in the last year of his two-year, $17.5M contract. He was an All-Star just four years ago with Tampa Bay, when he batted .282 with 27 homers. And he won a Gold Glove the next season in Pittsburgh. If he’s healthy, he might still have something left to help the Blue Jays in the competitive American League East. P.S. Injury updates: Former George County High star Justin Steele (hamstring) is on a rehab assignment for the Chicago Cubs. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Holder (shoulder) remains on the Cubs’ 60-day IL with no projected return date. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz (lat strain) reportedly is close to returning to San Diego’s active roster. Spencer Turnbull (forearm), the Madison Central product, is expected back with Detroit in early July. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton (oblique) reportedly is close to getting back to the Chicago White Sox. Northwest CC product Cody Reed (thumb), with Tampa Bay, had surgery on June 2 and is done for the season. MSU alum Dakota Hudson (2020 Tommy John surgery) might return to St. Louis in September.
Rancho Cucamonga, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Low-A affiliate, put up a jarring number on Sunday, beating Lake Elsinore 24-5 in the Low-A West. Leading the assault for the Quakes was Sam McWilliams, a former Meridian Community College standout from Mendenhall, who hit two of the team’s six homers and finished with five RBIs. McWilliams, a 6-foot, 178-pound outfielder, is batting .282 with four homers, 27 RBIs and nine stolen bases. The five-RBI game is not a career-best for McWilliams; he drove in seven in a 2019 game in rookie ball. McWilliams was one of three players, all outfielders, drafted in 2018 from the Meridian CC team that reached the finals of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. McWilliams — a .399 hitter that year — went in the 19th round, Davis Bradshaw in the 11th and Milton Smith Jr. in the 22nd. Bradshaw and Smith were picked by the Miami Marlins. Bradshaw, who got a taste of Triple-A ball this season, is currently playing at Low-A Jupiter. Smith was released last summer — despite a .326 career average — and is now in the independent Frontier League with the New York Boulders.
A new rule in High-A ball this season has given some players what must feel like a license to steal. The pitcher must step off the rubber before making a pickoff move. No one has taken better advantage of the rule than Delvin Zinn, the former Itawamba Community College star now with the Chicago Cubs’ South Bend affiliate. Zinn pilfered his 22nd bag on Saturday; that leads all three High-A leagues. He hasn’t been thrown out once. Zinn’s career may have stalled a bit; he was drafted in 2016 and hasn’t played above A-ball. But the 5-foot-10, 170-pound shortstop does have some speed. He stole 30 bases in A-ball two years ago under the old rules. As great as his pace is this season, Zinn isn’t going to match what Billy Hamilton did at the high Class A level in 2012. The Taylorsville Tornado stole 104 bases in the California League before adding 51 more in Double-A to set an all-time pro record with 155 bags. … In Low-A ball, where the pitcher is limited to two pickoff moves per plate appearance, steals are also up this season, though none of the Mississippians at that level are exactly running wild. Former Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr., having a really good year, has eight steals for Carolina (Milwaukee), and Meridian CC product Sam McWilliams has eight for Rancho Cucamonga (Los Angeles Dodgers). Willie Joe Garry Jr., from Pascagoula, has seven bags for Fort Myers (Minnesota) while hitting .165.