A panel of “MLB experts” overlooked Austin Riley in a recent mlb.com poll regarding top MVP candidates; he didn’t get a single vote. Those who follow the Atlanta Braves closely are scratching their heads. Former DeSoto Central High star Riley has been a major player in the Braves’ drive to the top of the National League East this summer, and he was at it again on Monday night. The Braves’ slumbering offense finally broke out in an 11-4 win at Arizona. Riley, the cleanup batter, contributed three doubles and three RBIs. For the year, the 24-year-old third baseman is batting .300 with 30 doubles, 29 homers, 92 RBIs and 81 runs. Since the All-Star break, he has batted .333 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs. He has been outstanding on defense, as well. It hurts Riley’s MVP case that he plays on a team that also features, among others, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall, who’ve had many shining moments. The Braves have potentially crucial series looming against San Diego (Sept. 24-26) and Philadelphia (Sept. 28-30). Might be an opportunity for Riley to win over some voters. P.S. Tonight in Milwaukee, Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff (9-9, 2.55 ERA) gets his shot at stopping surging St. Louis, which has won nine straight to jump to second in the wild card race. … Ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis, who has found new life as a starter for Baltimore, won’t get a shot at the Phillies tonight because of arm fatigue. Ellis has been pushed back in the rotation because of a tired arm. He has a 2.82 ERA in five starts for the O’s. … Tampa Bay, running away with the American League East, sent Cody Reed to Triple-A Durham for a rehab appearance on Sunday, and the ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College star threw a scoreless inning. The left-hander might be due for a return to the big leagues.
The Mississippi Braves will open the Double-A South Championship Series at Montgomery, a Tampa Bay affiliate against which the M-Braves have an unhappy history. The M-Braves, regular season champs in the league, will take on the Biscuits on Tuesday in Game 1 of the 5-game series. Game 3 (and any remaining games) will be played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park beginning Friday. The M-Braves lost their inaugural game against Montgomery in 2005 and also lost their home opener to the Biscuits that season. In 2007, when the M-Braves made the playoffs for the first time, Montgomery knocked them out. This is the M-Braves’ fifth playoff appearance; they won the Southern League pennant in 2008. Mississippi ranks second in the Double-A South in ERA and homers but seventh in batting average. Montgomery is third in batting average, fourth in homers and fourth in ERA. … Several Magnolia State products were on the final regular season roster of minor league teams making the postseason. Ex-Mississippi State star Konnor Pilkington is with Akron, which meets Bowie and Bulldogs alum Jordan Westburg in the Double-A Northeast title series. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner plays for Cedar Rapids, which is in the High-A Central series. Ex-MSU standout Hunter Stovall and Ole Miss alum Will Ethridge are with Spokane in the High-A West. Will Bednar, a first-round pick from State this year, finished his 2021 campaign with San Jose, which is in the Low-A West series. And former Northeast Mississippi Community College standout Tyler Samaniego pitches for Bradenton in the Low-A Southeast. … The Triple-A seasons continue through this month. P.S. After a Triple-A tour during which practically nothing went right, former Ole Miss star David Parkinson went down to Double-A and got a shot of confidence on Sunday. Parkinson, 1-11 with a 7.93 ERA for Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia system, threw three clean innings to notch a save in Reading’s last game of the season.
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.
At just the right time it would appear, Adam Frazier is heating up. The former Mississippi State star went 7-for-10 with three runs and two RBIs in San Diego’s last two games, big wins over San Francisco, the best team in the National League. The Padres, a half-game back of St. Louis in the battle for the second wild card, begin a three-game series with the Cardinals tonight at Busch Stadium. Frazier, who hit .324 as an All-Star with Pittsburgh to begin this season, started slowly with the Padres and even faded from regular playing time. In 42 games with the Padres, the lefty-hitting second baseman is batting .264 — but over his last 15, he’s at .349. Typically a leadoff batter in Pittsburgh, Frazier hit cleanup for the Padres on Thursday against Giants ace Kevin Gausman. He singled his first time up in the second inning and scored the game’s first run. He finished 3-for-5 with two runs as San Diego beat Gausman (14-6) and the Giants 7-4. The Padres are showing signs of life after a prolonged funk; they’ll meet a Cardinals team that has won five straight. … MSU product Dakota Hudson, coming back from Tommy John surgery, has an 0.66 ERA in four rehab appearances in the minors. He might be ready to help out in St. Louis’ bullpen. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, threw a scoreless inning Thursday in a rehab appearance for Tampa Bay’s Florida Complex League team. Reed, a lefty reliever, has been on the injured list since May and recently had shoulder surgery. There is speculation the Rays, top team in the American League, might activate Reed soon. He had a 3.72 ERA in 12 games before he went on the IL.
Braxton Lee, the ex-Ole Miss standout from Picayune, has done quite a few noteworthy things in his eight-year pro career. Won a Southern League batting title. Played in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game. Played in the big leagues. On Wednesday night, the 28-year-old Lee did something entirely different: He pitched. Lee, an outfielder by trade, threw a scoreless eighth inning for Triple-A Louisville in a 12-3 loss at Memphis. A lefty hitter who throws righty, Lee didn’t allow a hit and walked just one in his mound debut. He went 1-for-3 as a hitter, lifting his average to .242 in 41 games with Cincinnati’s top minor league club. Lee played in eight games for the Miami Marlins in 2018 but has spent the past couple years bouncing around the minors. He was playing in the independent Atlantic League when the Reds signed him in June. He started the season with Chattanooga in the Double-A South. The Pearl River Community College product has a .262 career average in the minors over 676 games. P.S. Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim and Mississippi State product Justin Foscue went a combined 5-for-5 with four runs and six RBIs for Double-A Frisco on Wednesday. Both homered. Alas, the Texas Rangers affiliate lost 10-9 at Amarillo. Crim is batting .290 with eight bombs, and Foscue — a highly rated prospect — is at .247 with two homers, one in each of the last two games. Crim has 28 homers on the year at two levels, and Foscue, the 14th overall pick in 2020, has 17 at three levels.
Emotion bubbles up — and sometimes over — in September, when MLB games matter more. There’s the elation of clinching a playoff berth (see the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday) and there’s the frustration of dropping critical games (see Pete Alonso of the New York Mets snapping a bat over his knee). Mississippians Austin Riley, Corey Dickerson and Adam Frazier felt the frustration Tuesday. Riley, the former DeSoto Central High standout, and his Atlanta teammates lost 5-4 at home to Colorado; the Braves have a less-than-comfortable lead in the National League East. Riley went 1-for-4 and left two runners on base. McComb native Dickerson took an 0-for-3 in Toronto’s 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay; the Blue Jays, who have been on quite a roll, slipped into a three-way tie with Boston and New York for the two American League wild card berths. Mississippi State product Frazier, who has scuffled since being acquired by San Diego from Pittsburgh, was on the losing side of a 6-1 game at San Francisco; the Padres are a game back of a wild card spot in the NL. Frazier, an All-Star this summer, was 1-for-2 but is batting just .231 as a Padre. Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and dropped a fly ball, but his night ended well when Boston rallied to beat Seattle, another AL wild card contender. Ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson had a somewhat frustrating return to the active roster — 1-for-5 and an error — but his Chicago White Sox team did beat the Los Angeles Angels to stay on track for the AL Central title. It has been a frustrating season for MSU alums Chris Stratton and Nate Lowe, but both enjoyed playing spoiler on Tuesday. Stratton notched his fifth save — and third in his last three outings — as last-place Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 6-5, dropping the Reds behind St. Louis in the NL wild card standings. Lowe hit a first-inning homer, his 15th, to propel last-place Texas to an 8-1 victory against Zack Greinke and Houston, still trying to clinch the AL West. P.S. Down on the farm, ex-State and Brandon High standout J.T. Ginn took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and earned his third win of the season for High-A Brooklyn in the New York Mets’ chain. Ginn (3-3, 3.42 ERA in nine starts for the Cyclones) worked seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.
Capping a rapid rise through the minor leagues this season, Colby White made his Triple-A debut on Sunday, pitching 1 2/3 innings in relief for the Durham Bulls. The former Mississippi State star began his second year in pro ball at the Low-A level for Tampa Bay, advanced to High-A, then Double-A and got the promotion to Durham last week. “This is my first full season, and I’m in Triple-A,” the 2019 draftee told The Columbian-Progress of Columbia. “It’s pretty cool.” White played at West Marion High and Pearl River Community College before signing with MSU, where he posted a 3.12 ERA in 27 games in 2019 on a staff that included Ethan Small, J.T. Ginn and Cole Gordon. Tampa Bay drafted the hard-throwing right-hander in the sixth round, and he made 15 appearances at the rookie level that summer. After the 2020 COVID-19 hiatus, White has been nothing short of sensational this season: 1.49 ERA, 10 saves, 93 strikeouts and 12 walks in 54 1/3 innings over the four levels. He reportedly touched 100 mph in an outing with Montgomery at Trustmark Park in Pearl last week. P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn returned from an injured list stint (knee) on Sunday to throw five scoreless innings for the Chicago White Sox against Boston. He yielded two hits, no walks and fanned nine. Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet followed Lynn and got five outs in a game the first-place White Sox would win 2-1 on Leury Garcia’s walk-off homer. … Former State standout Brandon Woodruff (9-8, 2.48) was held out of a slated start on Sunday for first-place Milwaukee because of a stomach ailment. He’ll go Wednesday. … Ex-Bulldogs ace Dakota Hudson, rehabbing in St. Louis’ system (see previous posts), went five innings Sunday and got a win for Double-A Springfield.
Tommy John surgery — or elbow ligament replacement – has become almost commonplace in baseball. Pitchers routinely come back from it; it just takes about a year. And a lot of diligent work. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn missed the entire 2016 MLB season; five years later, at age 34, he’s as good as ever. Former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman missed the 2019 MLB season but has bounced back strong. J.T. Ginn, ex-MSU star from Brandon, had the procedure in the spring of 2020 while still in Starkville. The New York Mets drafted him in the second round that summer, and he is making steady progress in the minors this season. Same with former Bulldogs ace Dakota Hudson, who went under the knife last September. He appears close to a return to the big leagues with St. Louis after three minor league rehab appearances. Ginn, pitching at High-A Brooklyn, threw five shutout innings on Wednesday to get a win, improving to 2-3 with 4.02 ERA in eight starts at that level. He was 2-1, 2.56 in eight Low-A starts. Hudson, who debuted in the majors in 2018 and won 16 games for the Cardinals in 2019, went down a year ago after eight starts (3-2, 2.77). He’s efforting to get back for the playoff race and has yet to allow an earned run in 8 2/3 innings in his rehab work. He threw four frames for Double-A Springfield on Tuesday. Further behind Ginn and Hudson on the comeback trail are Gunnar Hoglund, a first-round pick out of Ole Miss this summer, and big league veteran Spencer Turnbull. Hoglund had Tommy John in May, curtailing his college season, before he was drafted by Toronto. Ex-Madison Central High star Turnbull, a rising star with Detroit, had his surgery in July. If all goes well, as it usually does, those two will be back on the bump next summer.
In his first season with Boston, Hunter Renfroe is rubbing elbows (virtually, of course) with Red Sox legends. In a jaw-dropping performance on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, in the heat of the battle for playoff spots, former Mississippi State star Renfroe hit a game-turning home run and made a game-ending throw. The Red Sox beat division rival Tampa Bay 2-1 and moved into first place – ahead of New York – in the American League wild card race. Renfroe, cut loose by the Rays after the 2020 season, launched a two-run homer in the eighth inning to put the Sox ahead. “There’s your magic, baby,” screamed one of the Boston broadcasters. There was more to come. In the ninth, Renfroe scrambled into deep center field to run down a ball hit by Joey Wendle and fired a cannon shot to nail Wendle at third base to end the game. It was the second assist of the night for Renfroe, who has 16 on the season, the most by a Boston right fielder since at least 1961, per mlb.com. Move over Dwight Evans. Renfroe’s homer was his 27th. He is just the sixth player in Boston’s long history with 25-plus homers and 15-plus assists in a season, again per mlb.com. Others on the list: Jason Bay, Manny Ramirez, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams. Renfroe is batting .267 and slugging .515 with 85 RBIs. He has 12 bombs since Aug. 1. “What he’s done for us this season, it’s been amazing,” manager Joey Cora said in an mlb.com piece. P.S. In other impactful games, MSU product Adam Frazier, in need of some big hits, went 2-for-4 with three RBIs in San Diego’s 8-5 win against the Los Angeles Angels. In a funk since joining the Padres at the trade deadline, Frazier doubled his RBI total and raised his average to .235 in 35 games with his new club, which is clinging to second in the National League wild card chase. … At Yankee Stadium, in red-hot Toronto’s 6-3 win over the skidding Yankees, Jarrod Dyson did what Jarrod Dyson do: The McComb native entered the game late as a pinch runner, scored on a sac fly and then ended the game with a diving catch in center field. The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by 1.5 games for the second AL wild card.
Several atta-boys are in order: Thomas Dillard, the ex-Ole Miss star from Oxford, hit his first Double-A home run on Saturday in Biloxi’s loss to the Mississippi Braves at MGM Park. Dillard is batting .296 in 16 games since Milwaukee promoted him from A-ball, where he had blasted 16 homers. … Mississippi State product Konnor Pilkington posted his third win in his fifth start for Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. Pascagoula native Pilkington was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Indians for big league infielder Carlos Hernandez in July. The big left-hander is 7-2 with a 2.72 ERA overall in his third pro season. He has a 1.17 ERA for Akron. … Jacob Waguespack, an Ole Miss alum, improved to 7-2 with a 2.66 ERA for Toronto’s Triple-A Buffalo club. The onetime big leaguer is no longer on the 40-man roster but might rate another shot. … Former MSU standout Ben Bracewell notched his third save for Triple-A Las Vegas in the Oakland chain. The 30-year-old minor league vet is 5-1 with a 3.91 ERA as a reliever. … MSU product Hunter Stovall, who turns 25 today, had a 21-game hit streak stopped on Friday. He is batting .314 with six homers, 40 RBIs and 24 steals for High-A Spokane in Colorado’s system. He’s due for a promotion. … Will Bednar, the 2021 College World Series MVP for State, made a second straight scoreless appearance for San Francisco’s Arizona Complex League team. The Giants’ first-round pick has three punchouts in two innings of work. … On a sour note, ex-Ole Miss standout David Parkinson fell to 1-11 after yielding six runs in two innings for Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley club. Parkinson, who has a career 3.86 ERA, is at 7.93 in 2021.