The Brandon Woodruff situation is intriguing. It was reported Monday that the former Mississippi State star, a free agent, is attracting attention from “a majority” of MLB clubs. He is a 30-year-old two-time All-Star with a career record of 46-26 and a 3.10 ERA. Of course, he may not be able to pitch in 2024 because of recent shoulder surgery. For that reason, cost-conscious Milwaukee non-tendered the big right-hander from Wheeler, who was due a raise for next season from the $10.8 million he made in 2023. When he was healthy last season, Woodruff was good: 5-1, 2.28. He figures to be quite a catch for a club that can afford to wait for his return. Injuries also have impacted the future of two other Mississippi products. Dakota Hudson and Spencer Turnbull also became free agents when their 2023 clubs did not offer a contract for next season. Ex-State star Hudson, who is 38-20, 3.84, for his MLB career, missed most of the 2021 season after suffering an arm injury late in 2020. A 16-game winner in 2019, he has struggled to recapture that form. He had some good moments in 2023 but apparently not enough for St. Louis — which needs starting pitching — to keep him around. Hudson is only 28; he also could be a nice catch. Turnbull, the former Madison Central High standout, threw a no-hitter in May of 2021 and was 4-2, 2.88, for Detroit that season when he went down with an arm injury. He hasn’t been the same since. He missed all of 2022 and was ailing most of last season, when he posted a 7.26 ERA in limited MLB time. At 31, he may still have some value as a back-end starter. So many teams need starting pitchers. To wit: Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, 36 and coming off very uneven season with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, has signed as a free agent with the Cardinals, his original club, for one year and $11M.
The swarm of minor league free agents hitting the open market includes Demarcus Evans, the former Petal High star whose once promising career hit a pothole in 2023. Evans, who signed with the New York Yankees last year as a minor league free agent, went to spring training with the big league club but was sent to the minors and then missed the entire year with an undisclosed injury. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander, 27, has pitched in 29 MLB games, all with Texas from 2020-22, posting a 4.75 ERA while battling command issues. In the minors, he has piled up 444 strikeouts and a 2.76 ERA in 297 innings. So, he’s got some stuff. Drafted in 2015, he made it to the majors on Sept. 18, 2020. He was welcomed by Albert Pujols, who belted Evans’ second pitch over the wall in Anaheim for his 662nd career home run. If Evans is healthy, he figures to get another look. … Veteran big leaguers Billy Hamilton and Jonathan Holder are also now minor league free agents, along with fellow Mississippi products Zac Houston, Cooper Johnson, Tyreque Reed, Chuckie Robinson and Chad Smith. Taylorsville native Hamilton, 33, who appeared in three games with the Chicago White Sox this year, finished 2023 in Tampa Bay’s system. Gulfport’s Holder, 30, who last pitched in the majors in 2020, posted a 5.40 ERA in Triple-A with the Los Angeles Angels. Robinson, a Southern Miss alum with a touch of MLB experience as a catcher, hit .290 with 13 homers for Cincinnati’s Triple-A Louisville team; he has been playing in the Dominican Winter league. Ole Miss product Smith had a 6.59 ERA for Oakland this year and spent most of the season in the minors. Reed, former Itawamba Community College slugger from Houlka, missed the 2023 season in Boston’s system with an injury. In pro ball since 2017, he has a .268 average and 64 homers in 374 minor league games. Houston, a Mississippi State product, has a 3.18 career ERA in 230 minor league games and spent this season in the Yankees’ system. Ex-Ole Miss star Johnson batted .206 this season, playing in A-ball and Double-A in Texas’ organization. P.S. Ex-State star and 2021 College World Series hero Will Bednar has been pulled from the Arizona Fall League reportedly because of lingering back trouble. The San Francisco prospect allowed eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. He made only four rookie ball appearances this past season because of injury issues.
Marcus Thames’ whirlwind tour of MLB’s big markets reportedly will resume. The Louisville native reportedly has been hired as hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox. Thames, who hit 115 homers over a 10-year big league career that ended in 2011, was the hitting coach with the New York Yankees for several years, took a detour to Miami’s staff in 2022 and then spent 2023 with the Los Angeles Angels, who fired manager Phil Nevin after the season. Thames is a well-respected hitting coach, and the Angels’ offensive numbers in many categories improved under his watch. He will not get a chance to work in 2024 with fellow East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson. The White Sox recently declined an option on the veteran shortstop’s contract, making him a free agent. Anderson signed a seven-year deal ($37.5 million) after a promising rookie campaign in 2016, won a batting title and made two All-Star teams before suffering a dreadful 2023 season, batting .245 with one home run, 25 RBIs and a negative WAR. The outspoken Alabama native is also a lightning rod for controversy. P.S. Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter, dismissed by the Mets after his second year as manager, reportedly is a candidate for the Angels job, as is former Jackson Generals star Ray Montgomery. … Lance Lynn, the veteran pitcher out of Ole Miss, became a free agent after the Dodgers declined an option in his contract. Lynn had a tough year (5.73 ERA) that ended when he gave up four home runs in one inning in a playoff game against Arizona. … Kudos to ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe on winning a Gold Glove at first base for world champion Texas. Mauricio Dubon, who passed through Biloxi on his way to The Show, earned a Gold Glove as a utitity player for Houston. … Oakland outrighted Ole Miss product Chad Smith to Triple-A; he had a 6.59 ERA in 10 games for the A’s. … Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, a Dodgers prospect, pitched in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game on Sunday and yielded a 433-foot home run to Kyle Manzardo.
Hunter Renfroe, who still has power in his bat and his arm, is rated the 24th-best free agent available in the new crop, per mlb.com. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State standout has been without a team since mid-September, when he was released by Cincinnati. The Reds had gotten the 32-year-old outfielder in a deadline trade with the Los Angeles Angels. Renfroe hit .233 with 20 homers last season and has 177 career bombs since 2016. Originally drafted by San Diego, he has bounced around quite a bit in recent years despite his power numbers. … Also hitting the market Thursday were ex-State star Adam Frazier (.240, 13 homers in one year with Baltimore); fellow Bulldogs alum and World Series champ Chris Stratton (3.94 ERA with St. Louis and Texas); and former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, who last pitched in the majors in 2021. … McComb native Corey Dickerson is also a free agent after being released by Washington in August; he is a .280 career hitter who got his 1,000th knock last season. … Ryan Rolison, a first-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2018 by Colorado, was recently removed from the Rockies’ 40-man roster and assigned to the minors. Rolison, yet to make the majors, has pitched in just four games since 2021 because of injury issues. … Ex-DeSoto Central High and current Atlanta star Austin Riley, already a Gold Glove finalist at third base, is also a Silver Slugger finalist. Five other former Mississippi Braves are up for Silver Sluggers, as is ex-MSU standout and World Series champ Nathaniel Lowe, also a Gold Glove finalist at first base. … MSU alum Eric Cerantola, now in Kansas City’s system, got his second win in the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, punching out five in two hitless innings for Surprise. Cerantola has a 3.75 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 12 AFL innings.
Different season, different league, same old Thomas Dillard. The former Ole Miss slugger, who led the independent Atlantic League in homers this summer, has hit three bombs in 11 games in the Mexican Pacific League, Mexico’s winter league. Dillard, a switch-hitting first baseman, belted 39 homers for Lexington in his first year of indy ball and batted .258 with 100 RBIs. Now playing for Culiacan, Dillard is hitting .308 with nine RBIs. As a senior at Oxford High in 2016, Dillard led the nation with 16 homers and went on to hit 31 in three years at UM, including 14 as a junior in 2019. He spent three seasons in Milwaukee’s system, belted 12 homers for Double-A Biloxi in 2022 but was released after the season. Playing for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks in the Atlantic League — a Triple-A caliber loop — and now in the MPL, Dillard is showing that he still has plenty of thunder in his bat. P.S. Blaine Crim, the ex-Mississippi College star who played in Triple-A for Texas this season, mashed a home run in his first game in the Dominican Winter League but has just one hit since. He is 2-for-20 for Escogido. Crim hit 22 homers for Round Rock this summer and has 83 homers in his four-year minor league career. Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who had a good year (.290, 13 homers) in Triple-A for Cincinnati, is hitting .278 with three doubles for Cibao in the DWL. Also in the league is Ole Miss product David Parkinson, who got a win with three scoreless innings of work in his only appearance to date for Escogido. Parkinson, on a bit of a roller coaster since being drafted by Philadelphia in 2017, spent most of the 2023 season in Double-A, going 9-5 for Reading.
With a pair of Mississippians — Mississippi State alumni Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton — on the Texas roster for the 2023 World Series, here’s a quick review of some Series anniversaries and Magnolia State products who were involved. … Ten short years ago, in the 2013 World Series, former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn made the second — and final — Series appearance of his still active career. Lynn got a ring as a rookie with St. Louis in 2011 but in 2013, the Cardinals lost to Boston in six games. Lynn had a 4.76 ERA in two games. He has appeared in five postseasons since — and pitched for six different teams all told — but hasn’t gotten back to the Fall Classic. … Thirty years ago, in the Series widely remembered for Joe Carter’s walk-off homer for Toronto, there were a couple of Mississippi college products on the losing side. Ex-Jackson State star Wes Chamberlain and Mississippi State’s Bobby Thigpen played for Philadelphia in the ’93 Series, though neither had much of an impact as the Phillies fell in six games. That was the only World Series appearance for either Chamberlain or Thigpen. … This year marks the 80th anniversary of a classic Negro Leagues World Series between Homestead and Birmingham. The Homestead Grays, who won the Series 4-3 (there was also a tie), featured a pair of Mississippi natives: Starkville’s Cool Papa Bell, the Hall of Famer who, at age 40, batted .308 in the Series, and Mt. Olive’s Howard Easterling, a five-time All-Star in the Negro Leagues who batted .327 and drove in seven runs in the ’43 Series. Homestead’s lineup also included Hall of Famers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. … In the 1933 World Series, a pair of Mississippi natives squared off as the New York Giants beat the Washington Senators in five games. Starkville’s Hughie Critz was the second baseman and 2-hole hitter for the Giants; he went just 3-for-22 with a couple of runs but did get to celebrate a championship in his only Fall Classic appearance in a 12-year career. Myer, from Ellisville, was one of the few Senators hitters who had a good Series; the second baseman and leadoff batter was 6-for-20 with two RBIs and two runs. In the only game Washington won — Game 3 — he went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. That ’33 Series was his second and final appearance in a Fall Classic; he was also on the losing side in 1925. P.S. Columbus native Red Barber, named this week as a member of the 2024 class of Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductees, did national radio broadcasts of nine World Series and TV broadcasts of two Fall Classics between 1937 and 1952, according to information on Wikipedia. The late Barber, also in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, has been called baseball’s “play-by-play pioneer.”
Twenty-two years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks did something amazing. They scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera and beat the mighty New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. On Tuesday night, the D’backs did something amazing again. They beat mighty Philadelphia — at Citizens Bank Park, for the second straight night — to win Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and reach the second Fall Classic in their 26-year history. The franchise was just four years old when the ’01 team, which included former Ole Miss star David Dellucci, won the championship. That club had been largely constructed by Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter, who was fired as manager after the 2000 season reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. Originally drafted by Baltimore, Dellucci was plucked by Arizona (and Showalter) in the expansion draft in the fall of 1997. He hit .260 with a league-best 12 triples in 1998 and was still a reserve outfielder on the 2001 club. He played in two World Series games, including a pinch-running appearance in the fateful ninth inning of Game 7; he was erased on a fielder’s choice for the first out. Interestingly enough, Dellucci also played for Texas, which will face the D’backs in the Fall Classic that begins Friday in Arlington. Showalter was manager of the Rangers when Dellucci was with the team (2004-05).
Grae Kessinger, rookie infielder for Houston, watched the first eight games of the Astros’ postseason run from the dugout. The ex-Ole Miss star got quite a different view of the proceedings in the ninth inning Friday night, watching from first base as a pinch runner when Jose Altuve launched a momentum-shifting three-run homer that carried the Astros to a 5-4 win over Texas in a wild, wild Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Kessinger went in at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth and, with two runners on, made a leaping snag of a line drive for the first out. Two outs later Houston had swept the three games at Globe Life Field to go up 3-2 in the best-of-7. The defending champs can earn yet another trip to the World Series with a win in Game 6 at home on Sunday. The grandson of longtime big leaguer Don Kessinger — who never made a postseason appearance in 16 years in The Show — Grae was a midseason call-up by the Astros this year and played sparingly, batting .200 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Houston kept the versatile Kessinger on the postseason roster but didn’t get him into a game before Friday. It was one that won’t soon be forgotten, by Kessinger or anybody else who watched. Before Adolis Garcia’s dramatic three-run homer for Texas in the sixth inning and the benches-clearing kerfuffle he instigated in the eighth, former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe put the Rangers on the board with an opposite-field homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. It was Lowe’s second homer this postseason, and he is now 5-for-19 in the ALCS. … Meanwhile, in Arizona, things got a little wild also in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks, summoning a rally for the second straight day, scored three times in the eighth inning, handing ex-Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel the first blown save of his postseason career and beating Philadelphia 6-5. The series is square at 2-2. The big blow against Kimbrel (now 10-for-11 in saves) was a two-run, game-tying bomb by pinch-hitter Alek Thomas. A subsequent single and walk knocked Kimbrel out of the game, and the go-ahead hit came from Gabriel Moreno against Jose Alvarado. The Phillies struck out three times in the ninth. Of note: Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is slated to be behind the plate for Game 5 tonight at Chase Field, which will feature aces Zack Wheeler and Zac Gallen.
If history — and coincidence — serve as a guide, a Mississippian will have an impact in tonight’s American League Championship Series opener. Houston, with Mississippi State alum J.P. France and ex-Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger on its roster, hosts Texas, with former State stars Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton on board, in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park. Way back on Oct. 15, 1946, in Game 7 of the World Series, Pascagoula native Harry “The Hat” Walker famously drove in Enos Slaughter with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning, propelling St. Louis to a 4-3 win against Boston at Sportsman’s Park. The hit was Walker’s seventh and produced his sixth RBI of the Series. Shaw native and MSU alum Boo Ferriss started that game for the Red Sox and pitched well into the fifth inning. On Oct. 15, 2013, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn pitched 5 1/3 innings and got the win as St. Louis beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 and went up 3-1 in the National League Championship Series. It was Lynn’s second win in the NLCS, which the Cardinals won in six. On Oct. 15, 2019, former MSU standout Dakota Hudson, starting for St. Louis, had the dubious honor of allowing all seven runs in Washington’s 7-4 win that finished off a four-game sweep in the NLCS. Hudson retired only one of the eight batters he faced, yielding five hits and a walk. Three of the runs he was charged with were unearned because of an error. Just for the record, on Oct. 15, 2011, the Rangers beat Detroit 15-5 to clinch a second straight trip to the World Series. Amory native and State product Mitch Moreland was on that club, though he did not play in the Game 6 clincher. P.S. Former MSU pitcher Kendall Graveman did not make the Astros’ ALCS roster because of a shoulder problem. … Milwaukee has announced that MSU product Brandon Woodruff will have shoulder surgery and miss most if not all of the 2024 season. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers, an MLB vet who finished 2023 in the Chicago White Sox’s system, has become a minor league free agent. … Ex-MSU pitcher Chris Young was fired as the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
Home runs were the dominant theme in the MLB playoffs on Wednesday night. There were 14 in the three games, and a couple of postseason homer records were set. Unfortunately for former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, he was on the bad end of one of those records. The 36-year-old right-hander, starting for Los Angeles, allowed four solo homers in the third inning, accounting for all of Arizona’s scoring in a 4-2 win that clinched a National League Division Series sweep for the upstart Diamondbacks. No team had ever hit four homers in one inning of a postseason game. “The way (Lynn) was throwing the baseball, I didn’t expect that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Times. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a total shock. Lynn led all of MLB with 44 homers allowed this season, which he split between the Chicago White Sox and the Dodgers. And the ball flies at Arizona’s Chase Field. Lynn — described by TBS’s Ron Darling as “stubborn, angry and mule-ish” on the mound — got through the first two innings, allowing just two singles. Then … boom: 1,626 feet of home runs in the third. Lynn was gone after 2 2/3 and the Dodgers, the No. 2 seed in the NL, were gone from the postseason a little while later. Lynn has had a great career. He won an SEC title at Ole Miss and a World Series title with St. Louis. He has made two All-Star Games. He has won 136 major league games, five more in the postseason, and he won a World Baseball Classic game earlier this year. But that four-homer inning is no doubt gonna sting for a while. … Elsewhere, Philadelphia hit a club-record six homers, two by Bryce Harper, in a 10-2 win over Atlanta at another homer haven, Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies lead that NLDS 2-1 heading into Game 4 tonight. Former Mississippi Braves standout Spencer Strider, a 20-game winner this year, will start for the Braves. … Houston clinched its seventh straight American League Championship Series appearance by beating host Minnesota 3-2 in Game 4. All the runs in that game came via the long ball, with Jose Abreu hitting the go-ahead shot — his third in the two games at Target Field — in the fourth inning.