Speculation about Hunter Renfroe’s next home has included the Chicago Cubs and Houston, two clubs that might be in the market for right-handed power. The ex-Mississippi State star was designated for assignment by Tampa Bay on Friday and is apparently bound for free agency. Renfroe hit eight homers – plus two more in the postseason – during his one year with the Rays but batted just .156 and struck out in roughly a third of his at-bats. The Rays added several minor leaguers to their 40-man roster last week and needed to clear space. Renfroe was deemed expendable. He was expected to command about $3 million in arbitration for 2021. He is a .228 career hitter with 97 homers since his first MLB season with San Diego in 2016. … MSU product Nate Lowe, still on the Rays’ roster, has left his Dominican Winter League club, reportedly because of concerns about COVID-19. He was 3-for-16 in five games. A lefty-hitting first baseman, he smacked four homers in a brief stint in the majors in 2020. … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn is widely rumored to be on the trading block in Texas. The right-hander, 33, due to make about $9M in the last year of his contract, went 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA for a bad Rangers team last season. Starting pitching is an especially hot commodity this off-season.
In a truly unique and most memorable 2020 season, Mississippians did their part in filling up a highlight reel during MLB’s 60-game sprint. To wit: On July 26, fourth day of the campaign, Austin Riley hit a 458-foot (at least) home run for Atlanta. On July 27, Kendall Graveman, coming back from Tommy John surgery, pitched 4 1/3 innings for Seattle in his first big league appearance in some 26 months. Pittsburgh’s Adam Frazier hit a game-winning homer off Milwaukee’s Bobby Wahl in a Mississippi State-Ole Miss “rematch” on July 28. Spencer Turnbull ended a personal streak of 19 winless starts for Detroit on July 31. On Aug. 9, Mitch Moreland hit a walk-off homer, his second bomb of the game, for Boston. Hunter Renfroe hit two homers, doubling his season total, for Tampa Bay at Fenway Park on Aug. 13. Lance Lynn threw a two-hit complete game for Texas on Aug. 14. On Aug. 29, Tim Anderson – who won a Silver Slugger award on Thursday — banged out four hits, raising his average to a league-best .361, for the Chicago White Sox. Dakota Hudson allowed one earned run over seven innings with no walks and seven K’s to notch a win for St. Louis on Aug. 31. Brent Rooker, in his sixth big league game, smashed his first career home run for Minnesota on Sept. 8. Nate Lowe had a two-homer game as part of Tampa Bay’s unprecedented all-lefty lineup on Sept. 11. Garrett Crochet struck out the first two batters he faced in his MLB debut for the ChiSox on Sept. 18. Frazier hit his ninth career leadoff homer for Pittsburgh on Sept. 23. On Sept. 26, next-to-last day of the season, Brandon Woodruff threw eight shutout innings for Milwaukee in a must-win game. On Sept. 28, Mike Mayers was named the American League’s reliever of the month after posting a 0.98 ERA with 25 strikeouts and five walks in 14 appearances in September.
And then there was the postseason: Eleven Mississippians participated in MLB’s 16-team postseason tournament. None got a ring, but some enjoyed a shining moment or two: Hunter Renfroe went 4-for-23 with two home runs and seven RBIs during Tampa Bay’s run to the World Series. He was 1-for-8 in the Series, the one hit a long homer in Game 4. … Austin Riley batted .178 with a homer and four RBIs overall as Atlanta reached Game 7 of the NLCS. … Corey Dickerson was 4-for-19 with a homer overall and 3-for-12 with no RBIs in Miami’s NLDS loss to Atlanta. … Mitch Moreland was 4-for-8 overall in the postseason and 1-for-2 in San Diego’s NLDS loss to Los Angeles. Drew Pomeranz worked four scoreless innings in five appearances for the Padres, one inning total vs. the Dodgers. … Jonathan Holder pitched one scoreless inning for the New York Yankees in the ALDS loss to Tampa Bay. … Tim Anderson went 9-for-14 with two runs in the Chicago White Sox’s wild card series loss to Oakland. Jarrod Dyson went 0-for-1 in two appearances, and Garrett Crochet struck out the only two batters he faced in his lone appearance. … Billy Hamilton played in one game as a defensive replacement (no ABs) for the Chicago Cubs in the wild card round. … Brandon Woodruff took a loss, with a 5.79 ERA, in his one start for Milwaukee in the wild card round.
Jarrod Dyson, Kendall Graveman and Billy Hamilton became free agents on Wednesday, the first day MLB players could declare. Mississippi State alum Graveman promptly re-signed today with his 2020 team, Seattle. The Mariners declined an option to bring right-hander Graveman back, then re-signed him for less money ($1.25 million). Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, finished 2020 with the Chicago White Sox. At 36, the outfielder may be near the end. Taylorsville High product Hamilton finished 2020 with the Chicago Cubs; he played sparingly for the Cubs and the New York Mets, hitting .125 in 32 at-bats. … Former MSU standout Mitch Moreland, who had a good 2020, has a team option for one year at $3 million in his contract with San Diego. Uncertainty over whether the NL will have the DH in 2021 could affect the Padres’ decision. … Detroit has interviewed East Central CC alum Marcus Thames, the New York Yankees hitting coach, for its vacant managerial position. … Devin Williams, a Biloxi Shuckers alumnus, won the National League’s Trevor Hoffman Award as the reliever of the year after a jaw-dropping season for Milwaukee. He struck out 53 while walking only nine in 27 innings and yielded just one earned run. … Former Jackson Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey recently was named the Washington Nationals’ new pitching coach. He was a longtime coach in Tampa Bay (2006-17). … The Dominican Winter League reportedly will start its season on Nov. 15. Whether any MLB players will participate is unclear. … In Mississippi State’s Fall World Series finale on Tuesday, Team Queso finished off Team Goat with a 3-2 victory. Josh Hatcher hit a three-run home run for Team Queso, and Kamren James belted a two-run shot for Team Goat. Spencer Price got a dramatic save. Fall ball is ongoing at Ole Miss and Southern Miss. … From the Great Idea Dept.: Sports Force Park in Vicksburg hosted the first annual “JUCO Games on the River” in early October, with 11 of the state’s 15 MACCC schools participating in a four-day, round-robin event.
There is a positive report on Garrett Crochet’s arm injury, which has been termed a “flexor strain in his left forearm.” The former Ocean Springs High (and Tennessee) star made his big league debut for the Chicago White Sox this season – just weeks after being drafted in the first round – and impressed with a 100-mph fastball and eight strikeouts in six innings. But he left his one postseason appearance with the injury, triggering concerns. Apparently, he’ll be fine. White Sox GM Rick Hahn told mlb.com, “We expect him to continue to progress and he’ll be without restriction come next spring.” … Former Mississippi State ace Ethan Small, who seemed on the cusp of a call-up with Milwaukee, got good reviews from his time in the Brewers’ alternate camp. “Ethan really worked on his off-speed offerings while in Appleton,” Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said in an mlb.com story. “He made some strides and left in a really good place.” … Ex-Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard was also in the Brewers’ alternate camp, where he continued to work at catcher, his position at Oxford High. “He got a lot of time behind the plate and looked very playable back there,” Flanagan said. … Tyler Keenan, drafted out of UM by Seattle in June and invited to their alternate camp, is among 40 players in the Mariners’ Developmental Fall League program in Arizona. (There is no Arizona Fall League this year.) … Blaze Jordan, the ex-DeSoto Central star drafted in the third round this year, is on Boston’s Instructional League roster and is already slotted as the Red Sox’s No. 15 prospect by MLB Pipeline. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound corner infielder is 17 years old. … Other 2020 draftees in fall camps include Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo and State’s Jordan Westburg with Baltimore; State’s Justin Foscue with Texas; Bulldogs product J.T. Ginn with the New York Mets; and Biloxi High alum Colt Keith with Detroit. Ginn is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. … Ex-Rebels star Ryan Rolison is in Colorado’s fall program, as is fellow UM product Will Ethridge and Delta State alum Tanner Propst, a 2020 undrafted signee. Rolison and Ethridge are ranked among the Rockies’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, Rolison at No. 2.
MLB’s fall version of March Madness starts Tuesday, and, as you’d expect, there are quite a few Mississippi connections among the 16 teams. Tampa Bay, top seed in the American League, features two Mississippi State products, Hunter Renfroe (.156, eight homers) and Nate Lowe (.224, four homers). Northwest Mississippi Community College alum Cody Reed is on the Rays’ injured list and out for the season. The Rays open with Toronto, which may or may not have Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack (8.15 ERA) in its bullpen; he finished the season on the IL. Ex-State star Jonathan Holder (4.98 ERA) will be in the New York Yankees’ bullpen when they open with Cleveland. The Chicago White Sox, who tumbled at season’s end to the No. 7 seed position, feature former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson (.322, 10 homers, 45 runs), Southwest CC alum Jarrod Dyson (.180, six steals) and Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet (0.00 ERA in five games), a late-season revelation in the bullpen. Milwaukee – and ex-MSU standout Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05 ERA) – snuck into the National League postseason despite losing its final game Sunday to St. Louis, which clinched a spot by winning. The Brewers got in after Tampa Bay, with ex-MSU stars Renfroe and Lowe contributing four hits, a run and an RBI, eliminated Philadelphia and San Diego, with a 2-for-3 and an RBI effort from State alum Mitch Moreland, KO’d San Francisco’s hopes. Milwaukee, which lists a bunch of former Biloxi Shuckers on its roster, draws top-seeded Los Angeles on Wednesday. Atlanta, the 2-seed in the NL, suits up ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley (.239, eight homers) and a host of other former Mississippi Braves. San Diego, the 4-seed in the NL, trots out Moreland (.265, 10 homers) and former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz (1.45 ERA/0.00 over his first 19 appearances). The Padres face St. Louis, which will be missing injured ex-State star Dakota Hudson from its rotation. The third-seeded Chicago Cubs dealt the rival White Sox a hurtful loss on Sunday as Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, making a rare start, went 2-for-4 with a homer, three runs and two steals, including one of home. He is 3-for-11 with three steals since joining the Cubs as a waiver claim on Sept. 7. The Cubs take on Miami, which features former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, who hit .258 with seven homers this season. P.S. There are also a few Mississippians on the coaching staffs of playoff-bound clubs: East Central CC alum Marcus Thames is the Yankees’ hitting coach, Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is the Padres’ bench coach and MSU product Chris Young is the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
He had one job to do. He nailed it. The Milwaukee Brewers needed a win on Saturday to keep their postseason hopes alive. Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State star from Wheeler, went to the bump and delivered his best start of the season. “The story of this game was Woody,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told mlb.com. Woodruff handcuffed the St. Louis Cardinals on two hits and a walk over eight shutout innings in a 3-0 victory. He struck out 10. He retired 19 in a row from the second inning into the eighth. Former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader pitched the ninth for his 13th save. So now, the Brewers’ task for today’s season finale at Busch Stadium is simple: Win and they’re in the National League playoffs. Woodruff has had an uneven season. He’s 3-5 despite a 3.05 ERA. He had not won since Aug. 25 before Saturday’s pressure-packed gem. “I love throwing in these types of games,” he said. As a reward for Saturday’s win, he might get to throw in some more in October. … Meanwhile, at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday, another Mississippi native came up large in a big game. Former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, appearing in just his fifth MLB game, notched his first hold with two scoreless innings for the White Sox against the Cubs. Crochet worked the fifth and sixth innings after the Sox had rallied for a 7-5 lead in a game they’d win 9-5 to keep alive their hopes for an American League Central title. Crochet, a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee in June, has lit up the radar guns since his arrival in the big leagues, throwing 45 pitches of 100 mph or more. He has struck out eight batters in six innings and allowed just three hits and no runs. The 6-foot-6, 218-pound lefty said he never threw all that hard as a kid, so this new-found heat “is pretty cool.”
Corey Dickerson has had a down year by his standards, but the Miami Marlins have had an unexpectedly good year — and as a result, the McComb native is going to the postseason for the first time in his eight-year MLB career. Miami, pegged for a last-place finish in the National League East, clinched second place in the division with a 4-3 win against the New York Yankees on Friday night. Dickerson, who signed with the Marlins as a free agent in the off-season, is batting .259 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 51 games. He hit .304 in 2019, playing with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and is a .284 career hitter with 122 homers. The former Meridian Community College star, 31, was a veteran presence for a Marlins team that was hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak at the start of this truncated season. … Elsewhere on an eventful Friday night: Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman may have had his MVP moment when he launched an 11th-inning walk-off homer for Atlanta, which clinched the No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs. Freeman’s blast upstaged Ronald Acuna’s. The M-Braves alum hit a 495-foot homer, the longest in MLB this season, to lead off the Braves’ first inning. It was Acuna’s 19th career leadoff bomb in three seasons. … Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Trent Grisham hit a seventh-inning walk-off home run, giving San Diego a win against San Francisco in the second game of a twinbill. It was Grisham’s 10th homer and it saved Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz from taking a loss. Pomeranz gave up a three-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Padres behind. Those were the first runs allowed all season by the big left-hander in 20 appearances. The playoff-bound Padres have clinched the No. 4 seed in the NL. P.S. There’s much more at stake tonight in the NL, and no game is more significant than Milwaukee-St. Louis. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers’ No. 1, faces St. Louis’ longtime ace, Adam Wainwright. Both teams are still grappling for a playoff berth. Woodruff is 2-5 with a 3.43 ERA, Wainwright 5-2, 3.05. Woodruff, who went 11-3, 3.62 and made the All-Star Game in 2019, has not had the type of season that was expected of him. He’s 0-2 in four September starts. Win today, and that’ll be forgotten. Several Cardinals have had success against Woodruff in limited at-bats. Paul DeJong is 3-for-9 with a homer, Brad Miller 2-for-6 with a homer and Paul Goldschmidt 3-for-12. Tyler O’Neill also has taken Woodruff deep.
Two more Mississippians had their postseason tickets punched on Tuesday: Austin Riley is in with Atlanta and Billy Hamilton (presumably) with the Chicago Cubs. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Riley did not make the Braves’ postseason roster in 2019 following his rookie year. He hit 18 homers last season but, after a hot start, slumped down the stretch. He has made strides in 2020, batting .239 with eight bombs in 50 games while striking out less and walking more. His defense at third base has been excellent. (In addition to Riley, seven other Mississippi Braves alumni played in Atlanta’s division-clinching win against Miami, its third straight title under former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker.) Taylorsville High product Hamilton was with the Braves in 2019 and got his first taste of the postseason, though he appeared in just two games in the division series loss. He’s not a lock to make the Cubs’ roster, but his speed can be a valuable asset in the outfield and as a pinch runner. He has appeared in nine games for Chicago and is 0-for-1 in steal attempts. … Regardless of whether St. Louis makes the playoffs, former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson won’t be on the postseason roster. The right-hander was moved from the 10-day to the 45-day injured list on Tuesday with a strained elbow suffered last week. He was 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA.
San Diego’s win over Seattle on Sunday was cause for two celebrations, though one was a little muted. The Padres, with Mississippi college products Mitch Moreland and Drew Pomeranz doing their part, clinched a playoff berth for the first time in 14 years by beating the Mariners 7-4 in 11 innings at Petco Park. Seattle’s loss handed the New York Yankees a playoff spot, though the Yankees weren’t really in a celebratory mood after losing to rival Boston 10-2 at Fenway Park. Mississippian Jonathan Holder, working in relief, took some lumps for New York in the defeat that snapped a 10-game win streak. For the Padres, who did party down Sunday, Amory native and Mississippi State alum Moreland went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. His double in the 11th inning scored the go-ahead run. He has batted just .185 for San Diego since being acquired from Boston at the trade deadline. Ex-Ole Miss star Pomeranz made his 18th scoreless appearance for the Padres, working the seventh inning for his ninth hold. The Yankees’ Holder, an MSU product from Gulfport, has made 17 appearances in a secondary bullpen role and, after back-to-back rocky outings, has seen his ERA rise to 5.03. The hot-hitting Yankees, whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames (see previous post), are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year and still have a chance to catch American League East leader Tampa Bay. P.S. The sudden retirement of former Jackson Mets standout Ron Gardenhire as Detroit’s manager might open a door for Tupelo native and ex-Jackson State star Dave Clark to get the job. Currently the Tigers’ first base coach, Clark has been a candidate for several managerial posts in the past. He served as interim skipper for Houston at the end of the 2009 season and has managed in the minors. One has to wonder also if Thames’ name might come up.
Demarcus Evans and Garrett Crochet made their major league debuts on Friday night, but the two former Mississippi prep standouts took very different paths to The Show. Their results were a little different, too. Evans, a 25th-round draft pick out of Petal High by Texas in 2015, spent five years honing his craft in the minors; he posted a 0.90 ERA in 2019. First batter he faced on Friday: Albert Pujols. The Los Angeles Angels’ future Hall of Famer sent Evans’ second pitch — a 93-mph fastball — over the wall in Anaheim for his 662nd career home run. Evans plunked the next batter, Justin Upton, but the the 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander got out of his only inning with no further damage. Crochet, an Ocean Springs High alum who pitched at Tennessee the last three years, was drafted 11th overall in June by the Chicago White Sox. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound lefty became the first player since Brandon Finnegan with Kansas City in 2014 to make his MLB debut in the same year he was drafted. For Crochet, who has been working out in the White Sox’s alternate camp, this was his first professional game. First batter he faced: Brian Goodwin of Cincinnati. Crochet struck him out, then struck out the next batter and retired the third on a grounder to first base. He threw six of his 13 pitches at 100 mph or more, including two clocked at 101-plus, in his lone inning. “I felt like I was on top of the world and just truly living the dream,” he told mlb.com. It was surely a dream come true for Evans, as well, and he’ll have better days. Crochet has set his bar pretty high. It’s gonna be fun to see what they do next.