The Los Angeles Angels’ 2023 quest to end their eight-year playoff drought will include Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State slugger whom they acquired in a trade Tuesday with Milwaukee. Renfroe, who hit 29 homers for the Brewers last season, joins an Angels lineup that features Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and he’ll be working with new hitting coach Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star. Renfroe, 30, is a .240 career hitter with 157 homers since his 2016 MLB debut and is regarded as an excellent right fielder. “He’s got the total package,” Angels GM Perry Minasian told mlb.com. “We felt like he was a really good fit for us.” The Brewers receive three young pitchers in the trade. The Angels will be Renfroe’s fifth team in five seasons. He has been on two postseason clubs: 2020 Tampa Bay and ’21 Boston. The Crystal Springs native was the 13th overall pick out of Starkville in 2013. P.S. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner, who made his big league debut in September, is pegged by mlb.com as Minnesota’s best rookie of the year candidate for 2023. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .228 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 18 games for the Twins. He put on a power show last year, blasting 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A and homering in the All-Star Futures Game and in his first MLB game. … USA Today ranks former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson No. 87 among the 87 best available free agents this off-season. The veteran outfielder, 33, had an inconsistent year with St. Louis, hitting .267 with six homers and 36 RBIs and missing a chunk of time with injury. … Kirk McCarty, ex-USM star from Hattiesburg, was released by Cleveland after being designated for assignment earlier this month. McCarty, a left-hander, made his MLB debut with the Guardians this past season (see previous post).
Colby White, whose meteoric rise in the Tampa Bay system was derailed by an arm injury last spring, has made the Rays’ 40-man roster. White, a Hattiesburg native drafted out of Mississippi State in 2019, had Tommy John surgery last April and missed the 2022 season. In 2021, the right-handed reliever rose through four levels of the minors, never missing a beat. He had a 1.86 ERA at Triple-A Durham and earned a non-roster invite to spring training. In 58 pro games, he has a 1.76 ERA and 12 saves. Look for him to debut with Tampa Bay sometime in 2023. … J.P. France, another ex-State standout, was added to Houston’s 40-man list after putting up a 3.90 ERA as a swingman at Triple-A Sugar Land. France, a right-hander, was drafted in the 14th round in 2018. He’ll try to earn a spot in the world champion Astros’ loaded bullpen in the spring. … Former Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty was designated for assignment by Cleveland, meaning he’s off the 40-man and available as a waiver claim by other clubs. The diminutive lefty made his MLB debut for Cleveland last season and went 4-3, 4.54. He was 4-1, 3.38, at Triple-A Columbus, bouncing up and down during the season. The Guardians actually lost him on waivers to Baltimore last summer but reclaimed him shortly thereafter. … Ex-MSU standout Jake Mangum was left unprotected by the New York Mets, who could potentially lose the switch-hitting outfielder in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Mangum hit .306 last season between Double-A and Triple-A and is a .284 career hitter in three pro campaigns. … Among Atlanta’s 40-man additions is shortstop Braden Shewmake, who played for the 2021 Double-A South champion Mississippi Braves. Shewmake, who goes 6 feet 4, 190 pounds, batted just .228 with 12 homers for the M-Braves but had several hot streaks and plays a good shortstop. He hit .259 at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022 before going down with a knee injury in August. He is the Braves’ No. 5 prospect (MLB Pipeline). P.S. Silver City native and Ole Miss alum Jack Reed, who got World Series rings with the New York Yankees in 1961 and ’62, died on Nov. 10. Reed hit .233 in 129 big league at-bats from 1961-63 and frequently was used as a defensive replacement/pinch runner for Mickey Mantle. Reed’s one homer was a game-winner in a 22-inning contest in 1962.
Rafael Palmeiro, one of seven players in MLB history with 500 homers and 3,000 hits, made the cut for the Contemporary Era Hall of Fame ballot. The former Mississippi State star is among eight finalists chosen by special committee. Also on the list are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens; like Palmeiro, their careers were tainted by PED allegations. The BBWAA will vote on these candidates on Dec. 4. Will Clark, Dave Parker and Frank White were among candidates who did not make the eight-man ballot… Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Mississippi’s Gatorade player of the year in 2019, went 1-for-3 with a double and RBI in Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game. Keith is a highly rated Detroit prospect. … MSU alum Jake Mangum made the New York Mets’ Organization All-Star team, as selected by milb.com. Mangum, an outfielder, hit .306 with four homers, 35 RBIs and 14 steals in 2022, spending most of the year in Triple-A. … Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson, ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton and MSU product Adam Frazier have elected free agency.
In what was a deflating season for his team, Nathaniel Lowe might draw some small consolation from the fact that he had a bust-out year. The Mississippi State product led all Mississippians in the majors in batting with a .302 average while hitting 27 homers and driving in 76 runs in his second full MLB campaign. Texas, which spent a lot of money in the off-season, finished 68-94 and saw its manager fired during the year. But the Rangers got plenty of bang for their buck ($700,000 in 2022) from Lowe, acquired from Tampa Bay prior to the 2021 season. In the other major offensive categories, DeSoto Central High alumnus Austin Riley of Atlanta topped all Mississippians with 38 homers, 93 RBIs and 90 runs. Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star, led in stolen bases with 13; he played only 79 games for the Chicago White Sox because of injuries. Brandon Woodruff, the former State standout from Wheeler, was the top pitcher from the state, posting 13 wins, a 3.05 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 190 strikeouts for Milwaukee. Woodruff, who spent some time on the injured list, pitched 153 1/3 innings, falling short of qualifying for the official MLB leaderboard. Kendall Graveman, another ex-Bulldogs star, posted six saves for the White Sox. Chris Stratton, a State alum from Tupelo, had two saves for Pittsburgh, none for St. Louis, where he finished the season. It’s worth noting that a number of Mississippi-connected pitchers were impacted by injuries in 2022, including Lance Lynn, Justin Steele, Chris Ellis, Spencer Turnbull, Garrett Crochet and Drew Pomeranz. P.S. The most interesting stats from a Mississippian in 2022 were produced by Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton. The 10-year vet went 1-for-20, striking out 12 times, but managed to score 13 runs and steal 10 bases. Playing for Miami and Minnesota, Hamilton was used primarily as a pinch runner.
There was another celebration in MLB on Sunday — the fifth in a seven-day stretch — when Cleveland clinched the American League Central with a 10-4 win at Texas. Former Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty, one of the record 16 rookies to suit up for Guardians in their title run, threw two scoreless innings in relief, trimming his ERA to 4.28 over 11 appearances. Fellow rookie Konnor Pilkington, the Mississippi State product, wasn’t on the active roster Sunday but also contributed this season, as did ex-USM standout Nick Sandlin, a second-year player who was in uniform and in the clubhouse for the after-party. … MSU alum Kendall Graveman took the loss against Detroit for the Chicago White Sox, whose sixth straight defeat officially eliminated them from the AL Central race. The ChiSox, the preseason favorite in the division, are still in the wild card chase but barely. … Seattle, an AL wild card contender, blew a nine-run lead and lost to Kansas City 13-12. Ex-State star Adam Frazier went 1-for-2 with an RBI for the Mariners but was on the bench when the Royals scored 11 runs in the sixth inning. … Milwaukee, bidding for a National League playoff berth, saw its five-game win streak snapped in a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati. Former MSU standout Hunter Renfroe’s 28th homer accounted for the Brewers’ lone run. He homered and drove in five runs all told in a 10-2 win on Saturday. … Don Mattingly is out as Miami manager after this season, which means former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames, the Marlins’ first-year hitting coach, probably will be out, as well. Miami has scuffled with the bats this season. P.S. Last week was filled with memorable events in addition to the postseason clinchings, and Mississippians were front-and-center for several. When the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge hit his 60th homer on Tuesday, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes — an ex-Yankee — was in the house after a first-pitch ceremony with his son Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh’s third baseman. Ex-MSU star Buck Showalter, the Mets manager, sarcastically called for the ball when his club suffered its MLB-record 106th hit batsman on Wednesday. When Albert Pujols hit home runs No. 699 and 700 for St. Louis on Friday, Mississippi college products Dakota Hudson, Chris Stratton and Corey Dickerson, fellow Cardinals, had front-row seats at Dodger Stadium.
On his way to 700 home runs, Albert Pujols victimized seven different Mississippians for a total of 14 round-trippers during his 22-year career. He took Roy Oswalt and Kendall Graveman deep four times each, got Paul Maholm twice and belted one apiece against Louis Coleman, Drew Pomeranz, Dakota Hudson (his current teammate with St. Louis) and Demarcus Evans. Pujols got Weir’s Oswalt for No. 23 in 2001, when both were rookies. He got ex-Mississippi State star Graveman twice in one game in 2017, Nos. 611 and 612. Evans, the former Petal High standout, made his big league debut on Sept. 18, 2020, for Texas, and, as luck would have it, the first hitter he faced was future Hall of Famer Pujols, then with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols sent Evans’ second pitch — a 93-mph fastball — over the wall in Anaheim for his 662nd career home run. Pujols, one of four members of the 700 home run club, has gone deep off a record 455 different pitchers. So far. P.S. Friday night was also a somewhat special occasion for Pujols’ teammate Corey Dickerson. The outfielder from McComb made his first MLB pitching appearance, working a scoreless ninth inning in the Cardinals’ 11-0 win against the Dodgers.
By some cosmic coincidence, five Mississippi natives debuted in the major leagues on this date between 1917 and 1955: Sammy Vick, Eric McNair, Culley Rikard, Don Blasingame and Fred Waters. Vick, born in Batesville, broke in with the New York Yankees in 1917 and enjoyed his best season in 1919 as the team’s primary right fielder. The next season Babe Ruth arrived in town, and Vick was displaced. They reportedly were pals before Vick was traded in 1921 and faded from the big leagues. He batted .280 over his five-year career. Meridian native McNair, nicknamed “Boob,” debuted with the Philadelphia A’s in 1929 and was a regular on some outstanding clubs. He won a World Series ring with the 1930 A’s. An infielder, he played 14 years in The Show and batted .274 with 82 home runs. Rikard, from Oxford, came up with Pittsburgh in 1941 and batted .270 over three seasons with the Pirates. Blasingame, the “Corinth Comet,” broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955 and enjoyed an outstanding 12-year career that included an All-Star Game appearance. He hit .258 and stole 105 bases. Benton native Waters, who played at Southern Miss, reached the big leagues in ’55 with Pittsburgh and went 2-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 25 games over two years. P.S. Born on Sept. 20, 1970: former Ole Miss star Chris Snopek, who played in 215 MLB games over four years in the late ’90s.
Friday was a banner day for ex-Mississippi State stars in the big leagues and the minors. Start in Milwaukee, where Bulldogs alumnus Hunter Renfroe led off the ninth inning with a double and eventually scored the walk-off run in a 7-6 victory against the New York Yankees. (Garrett Mitchell, a rookie who spent most of this season at Double-A Biloxi, got the winning knock for the Brewers, clinging to hope in the National League wild card race.) Move to St. Louis, where Chris Stratton threw three pitches, got one key out and notched the win for the Cardinals, who are closing in on the NL Central title. Stratton got the final out of the seventh inning with two runners on base and St. Louis rallied in the bottom half to go ahead and ultimately beat Cincinnati 6-5. Stratton is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA since he joined the Cards in August and has a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. At Tampa Bay, Nathaniel Lowe blasted his 25th homer to help also-ran Texas beat the wild card-chasing Rays 4-3. Tampa Bay is third in the American League wild card standings, behind Toronto and Seattle. … Down in the minors: Justin Foscue homered and drove in four runs as Frisco, Texas’ Double-A club, clinched the second-half title in the Texas League South; Jordan Westburg went 5-for-5 with his 17th homer for Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore), his 26th overall this season; and Brent Rooker smacked his fifth homer for Triple-A Omaha (Kansas City), his 24th all told in the minors this season.
Former Petal High star Anthony Alford has fit in nicely with the KT Wiz of the Korean Baseball Organization. Alford, a onetime big leaguer who played two games for Pittsburgh this season, is batting .268 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs for KT. … Ole Miss product and ex-major leaguer Jacob Waguespack is 2-6 with four saves, five holds and a 3.19 ERA in 27 appearances for Orix in Japan’s Pacific League. … Ex-UM standout and Picayune native Braxton Lee leads the independent Atlantic League in triples with nine and is batting .306 with 73 RBIs, 60 runs and 19 steals for playoff-bound Southern Maryland. The Blue Crabs are managed by Jackson native Stan Cliburn. … Jacob Robson, the Mississippi State alum who had a cup of coffee in the majors in 2021, is playing for the independent Kansas City Monarchs, who are in the semifinals of the American Association playoffs. Robson, a former Detroit farmhand, hit .278 with nine homers, 34 RBIs and nine steals for the Monarchs. His teammates include Mississippi Braves alum Mallex Smith and Casey Gillaspie, son of ex-MSU star Mark Gillaspie. … Former Hattiesburg High star and ex-big league pitcher Robert Carson is the pitching coach for the independent Quebec Capitales, who are in the Frontier League title series. … Colt Keith, the ex-Biloxi High standout, has been given an Arizona Fall League assignment by Detroit. Keith, a highly regarded third base prospect, hit .301 with nine homers at High-Class A West Michigan but didn’t play after June 10 because of a shoulder injury. The AFL season begins Oct. 3. More roster assignments will be announced in the coming days. P.S. Props to Ole Miss product Will Ethridge, who threw five shutout innings on Wednesday night to notch his first Double-A win for Hartford in the Colorado system. Ethridge, a 2019 draftee, is 1-1, 3.42 ERA, in seven games for the Yard Goats. He was 5-6, 5.65, in A-ball.
It wasn’t all cupcakes and balloons for Konnor Pilkington on his 25th birthday, though the night did have a happy ending. The Mississippi State product from Pascagoula got the start for Cleveland against the Los Angels on Monday — in a game featured on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Edition — and he no-hit the Angels for 3 1/3 innings. But the big lefty, working with a lead, yielded two-run home runs to Matt Duffy and Mike Trout in consecutive innings that tied the score. Pilkington departed after the fifth and watched from the dugout as the Guardians rallied to win 5-4 in a tense game in which both managers were ejected. Cleveland increased its lead in the American League Central to 3 games. Pilkington, a rookie, has been called up eight different times from Triple-A Columbus yet has managed a fairly steady performance in his big league opportunities. Over 14 games, 10 starts, he has a 4.30 ERA and a 1-2 record. At Columbus, he is 2-4, 5.66. A third-round pick out of State by the Chicago White Sox in 2018, Pilkington was traded to Cleveland last summer. He and former Southern Miss pitchers Nick Sandlin and Kirk McCarty, also a rookie, have been contributors for what appears to be a playoff-bound club. P.S. The Dodgers became the first team to clinch a postseason berth by beating Arizona 6-0 on Monday. Former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman, in his first year in L.A., has been a driving force in the star-studded lineup. Not to be overlooked is the performance of another M-Braves alum, right-hander Evan Phillips. Phillips, who passed through Pearl in 2016-17, notched his 18th hold on Monday and trimmed his ERA to 1.33 in 55 appearances. He has six wins and two saves for the National League West behemoth.