For Luke Easter, it was Sept. 29, 1951. For Dmitri Young, it was May 6, 2003. Great days at the plate by those two Mississippi natives have been rated among the top 5 all-time single-game performances for their respective MLB teams. Writers for mlb.com compiled the lists. Jonestown native Easter’s big day came in at No. 4 for Cleveland and Vicksburg native Young’s was No. 4 for Detroit. Easter — who became on Aug. 11, 1949, the first black Mississippian to play in the major leagues — went 4-for-6 with two homers, a triple, three runs and five RBIs against Detroit on Sept. 29, 1951. One of his homers was a grand slam and the other a game-tying blast in the bottom of the eighth inning. Young went 5-for-5 with two homers, two triples and five RBIs on May 6, 2003, at Baltimore. His 15 total bases were one shy of Ty Cobb’s club record. On April 4, 2005, Young hit three homers on opening day for the Tigers. That rare feat – only three others have ever done it — didn’t make Detroit’s top five. … The Kansas City Royals’ page on mlb.com didn’t have a top 5 list as of Tuesday, but if one was produced, Frank White’s Aug. 3, 1982, performance would surely be on it. The Greenville native hit for the cycle with four RBIs. His fourth and final hit was a two-out triple in the bottom of the ninth that drove in the game-winning run against Detroit. P.S. Easter hit .274 with 93 homers in his brief big league career; he was 34 when he debuted. Young, who went to high school in California, hit .292 with 171 bombs and made two All-Star Games over his 13 seasons. White, who grew up in Missouri, was a .255 hitter, five-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glover and a world champ (in 1985) who ought to be in the Hall of Fame.
The likely delayed start of spring training for most minor leaguers scuttles what might have been a cool scene this spring in Fort Myers, Fla., site of Boston’s spring training facility. Imagine a batting practice session that includes three big dudes from Mississippi, each a newcomer to the Red Sox, each with a well-earned reputation as a masher. Imagine Hunter Renfroe, Tyreque Reed and Blaze Jordan taking their hacks in a group. Wouldn’t that be something to see? Renfroe, 6 feet 1, 230 pounds, from Crystal Springs by way of Mississippi State, has 97 home runs over his four-plus big league seasons. The Red Sox signed him as a free agent in December. Reed is from Houlka and an Itawamba Community College product. The 6-1, 250-pound first baseman has hit 41 bombs in two-plus minor league seasons at the rookie and A-ball levels. The Red Sox took him from the Texas organization in December’s Rule 5 draft. Jordan, from prep powerhouse DeSoto Central, was drafted in the third round in 2020 and jumped in as the organization’s No. 15 prospect. The 6-2, 220 third baseman has yet to play a game above the high school level, but he has been making headlines as a slugger since he was a pre-teen. He won the high school home run derby at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Renfroe, Reed and Jordan, launching missiles into the Florida sky at JetBlue Park. Maybe next year. P.S. Baseball America has reported that Double-A and Class A level players won’t start spring training until after the big league and Triple-A clubs have left. That means a later start and finish to the season for the lower minors, including the Class AA Mississippi and Biloxi teams. Additionally, there will be no postseason at those levels. MLB, now running the streamlined minor leagues, has not released any schedules.
Now that the old Negro Leagues are being formally recognized as major leagues and players’ stats included in MLB records, one has to wonder: Where does Cool Papa Bell fit in among Mississippi natives on the all-time charts? The Hall of Famer from Starkville, a legendary speedster, played in the Negro Leagues for 21 years between 1922 and ’46. According to seamheads.com, the foremost authority on Negro Leagues numbers, Bell batted .324 for his career. That would be tops among Mississippians. The leader was Buddy Myer, an Ellisville native who played from 1925-41 and hit .303 (.3028 to be precise). Bell’s career stolen base total of 297 would trail only Billy Hamilton’s 305; Jarrod Dyson drops to third at 256. Bell’s best single-season steal total was 52 in 1929, when he played 102 games. That would rank second on the Magnolia State chart. Hamilton stole 59 in 139 games in 2017. Bell banged out 82 career triples, which trails only Myer’s 130 on the state list. Bell was credited with 1,636 hits, well short of Dave Parker’s 2,712, though, again, Bell played far fewer games. In 1,273 games, Bell also scored a remarkable 1,208 runs. That ranks a close third behind Parker’s 1,272 (in 2,466 games) and Ellis Burks’ 1,253 (2000 games). … William (Bill) Foster, a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest Negro Leagues pitchers, isn’t a Mississippi native but did move to Rodney as a child and grew up there (see previous posts). His numbers are worthy of a look. The left-hander, a former Alcorn State player and coach, won 150 games (per seamheads.com) between 1923-46 with a 2.59 ERA and 1,263 strikeouts. Only three Mississippians rank above him in wins: Guy Bush (176), Roy Oswalt (163) and Claude Passeau (162). Only Oswalt (1,852) had more K’s, and only Reb Russell (2.33 from 1913-19) had a better ERA.
With Carlos Santana officially out of the picture, the first base job in Cleveland for 2021 is open. Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley figures to get a shot in spring training but will face stiff competition. Bradley, Jake Bauers and Josh Naylor are all young, left-handed power hitters. Naylor, 23, acquired from San Diego last summer in the Mike Clevinger trade, is the only one of the three to play for the big league team in 2020. (He made a splash in the postseason, going 5-for-7 with a homer.) Bradley, 24, and Bauers, 25, spent the entire season in the Indians’ alternate camp. What that says about their status, who knows? Bradley, the Indians’ No. 13 prospect, is a decorated minor league player who has demonstrated big power with 147 home runs since 2014. He is a .254 hitter who strikes out a lot. And that can be a problem. In a brief MLB stint in 2019, he fanned 20 times in 45 at-bats while hitting one homer. Bradley is about to enter his eighth pro season. If he’s going to stick in the big leagues, 2021 has got to be the year, if not in Cleveland then somewhere else.
Another Mississippian hit the MLB free agent market on Wednesday when ex-Mississippi State standout Jonathan Holder was not offered a 2021 contract by the New York Yankees. Holder, 27, a right-handed middle reliever, has a 4.38 career ERA over 157 games since his 2016 debut. His best season was 2018, when he put up a 3.14 in 60 appearances, but he has not been as effective the last two years. The Gulfport native, a sixth-round pick by the Yanks in 2014, piled up 37 saves at State and another 19 during his brief time in the minors. But he never got a single save opportunity with New York. Perhaps he’ll find that opportunity with another club. … Holder joins fellow former Bulldogs Mitch Moreland and Hunter Renfroe, Southwest Mississippi Community College product Jarrod Dyson and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton as veteran free agents. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, released in August by the New York Mets, is also on the market. Moreland finished last season in San Diego, which did not pick up his option for 2021. He’ll have plenty of suitors. Renfroe was cut loose by Tampa Bay; his right-handed power should be attractive to some teams. The market for Dyson, Hamilton and Dozier may be tighter. Dyson, an outfielder, is slowing down at 36. Hamilton, 30, also a speed-and-defense outfielder, has been woeful at the plate the last several seasons. Second baseman Dozier is 33 and seems to be fading.
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.