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.
Friday is the day MLB clubs set their 40-man rosters heading into the winter meetings. It’ll be interesting to see whether ex-Ole Miss star David Parkinson makes the grade with Philadelphia. As a 2017 draftee, the 24-year-old left-hander would be eligible to be chosen by another team in the Rule 5 draft if he isn’t protected on the big league roster. He was the Phillies’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2018 after posting a sparkling 11-1 record and 1.45 ERA as a starter at two levels of A-ball. But he had some struggles in 2019 in Double-A and then did not make the Phillies’ 60-man roster for the truncated 2020 season. He is currently rated the Phils’ No. 21 prospect by MLB Pipeline. After the 2019 season – when he posted a 4.08 ERA and .247 batting average against at Reading – Parkinson reportedly worked hard that off-season to get stronger. “I’m not saying it was all about seeking velo,” he told The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., in August, “but it was a big part. I wanted to change the perception of me being a crafty lefty to someone who can compete at the big-league level.” He threw harder in big league camp last spring but made just one official appearance before the shutdown. The lost season could significantly impact Parkinson’s chances of making the majors. Friday might tell a lot about where he stands. P.S. Former Southern Miss standout Bradley Roney signed as a minor league free agent with Arizona, and Mississippi State product Ben Bracewell re-signed as a minor leaguer with Oakland. Roney put up a 1.94 ERA coming back from injury in 2019, when he spent part of the season with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. Bracewell spent most of 2019 at Triple-A Las Vegas in the A’s system.
Scanning the stat charts from the Dominican Winter League, a few familiar names pop up, including two Mississippi college products. Ex-Mississippi State star Nate Lowe, who played 21 games for Tampa Bay this past season, is getting some bonus work with Escogido, while former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis, who became a free agent last spring, is pitching for Cibao. Lowe, a 25-year-old first baseman, spent most of 2020 in the Rays’ alternate camp. He hit seven homers as a rookie in 2019 and four more this season; he played in one wild card game but was not on the postseason roster thereafter. “We believe that (Lowe’s power) can be an attraction in the league,” Escogido’s GM, Jose Gomez Frias, told en24.news. Ellis made one MLB appearance with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick in 2019, then was returned to St. Louis’ system. He had a shaky ’19 season in Triple-A and ultimately was released last May when big league clubs were purging their minor league rosters. Once a highly rated prospect, Ellis, 28, has 164 minor league appearances under his belt. He went 8-2 for the 2016 Mississippi Braves, two years after winning 10 games for Ole Miss. … The DWL season began Sunday. The Mexican Pacific League season also is under way; no Mississippians appear on the current rosters.
Eleven years ago today, Chris Coghlan became the first and so far only Mississippi native or college alumnus to win an MLB rookie of the year award. Coghlan, a former Ole Miss star, claimed the trophy with the Florida Marlins in 2009. He is one of only three Magnolia State natives or college alums to win one of baseball’s three big individual player awards. Grenada native Dave Parker won the National League MVP trophy in 1978, and Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2008. … Former Mississippi minor league players raked in a nice haul of awards this year, including former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman winning NL MVP and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams NL rookie of the year. Williams also won the league’s Trevor Hoffman Award as reliever of the year. Freeman won a Silver Slugger, as did M-Braves alum Ronald Acuna. Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried and ex-Shuckers outfielder Trent Grisham, who plays for San Diego, picked up Gold Gloves. … Freeman is the first M-Braves product to win an MVP but not the first former Jackson area Double-A player to do so. Former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell was NL MVP in 1989 with San Francisco, narrowly beating out former Mississippi State star and Giants teammate Will Clark. The M-Braves have produced two rookies of the year, Acuna in 2018 and Craig Kimbrel in 2011, and Jackson Mets alum Darryl Strawberry took that honor in 1983. Mike Scott, a former JaxMets pitcher, won the Cy Young Award in 1986.
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.
Ryan Rolison did not make it to the big leagues this season, but it’s a safe bet the ex-Ole Miss star will get the call in 2021. The 6-foot-2 left-hander, a 2018 first-round pick and Colorado’s No. 2-rated prospect, was in the Rockies’ alternate camp during the 2020 season. In a recent milb.com assessment of the Rockies’ minor league system, Rolison was pegged as “the next big thing.” “So he took steps in the right direction toward a major league career here at some point over the next year-ish,” Colorado assistant GM Zach Wilson said in the story. “When that happens, I don’t know, but he’s got himself closer to that over the last year.” Rolison, projected as a big league starter, throws four pitches and has demonstrated good command in pro ball: 132 strikeouts and 40 walks in 131 innings. He is 8-8 with a 4.40 ERA after finishing the 2019 season in the high-A California League. The Tennessee native was 16-7, 3.50 during two standout years in Oxford. Rolison will likely go to spring training to compete for a spot in a rotation that needs help after Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez and Kyle Freeland. … Three Magnolia State products made their MLB debut in 2020: Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, ex-Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet and Petal High’s Demarcus Evans. P.S. Washington has re-signed Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Barrett, who has a career 4.01 ERA, pitched in two games this season.
The Detroit Tigers added Colt Keith to a system already well-stocked with Mississippi connections when they drafted the former Biloxi High star in the fifth round in June. The left-handed hitting third baseman, one of three state products currently in the Tigers’ Instructional League camp in Florida, reportedly has made a good impression. “Colt is a big, strong athlete who can really impact the ball. We’re all glad to be able to have him here,” Tigers VP for player development Dave Littlefield told MLB Pipeline. Keith, 19, who moved to Biloxi in 2019, was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year that season, batting .527 with eight homers while also pitching. He batted .269 in the curtailed 2020 season. Also in the Tigers’ fall camp is former Mississippi State standout Zac Houston and Ole Miss product Cooper Johnson. Right-hander Houston, 25, was drafted in 2016 and has 10 wins, 22 saves and a 2.42 ERA over 138 games in the minors. Johnson, one of five catchers in the fall camp, was a sixth-rounder in 2019 and batted .198 in 41 games in the low minors that year. “He has some power,” Littlefield told MLB Pipeline. “He looks like a major league catcher, so we just need to keep working on the bat.” The Tigers have Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull and Richton High product JaCoby Jones on their major league roster and ex-State standout Jacob Robson and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque on their current Triple-A roster. … The Tigers named A.J. Hinch their new manager today. P.S. Jordan Westburg, a 2020 draftee out of MSU, has gotten some good reviews in Baltimore’s fall program. He and another draftee, Gunnar Henderson, were described as “two thoroughbred stallions” by farm director Matt Blood said in an mlb.com piece. “Both can play shortstop, both can hit and both can run. … It’s exciting what our player procurement staff has done bringing in talent.”
World Series anniversaries of note: Ten years ago, Eli Whiteside, the Delta State product from New Albany, won a ring with the San Francisco Giants without playing in any of the five games. Whiteside was the backup catcher for the great Buster Posey, who started every game against Texas. Whiteside hit .238 in 56 games during the season. On the losing side that year were ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland and Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee. Moreland, a rookie, went 6-for-13 with a homer, while lefty Lee was 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in two starts. … Forty years ago, former MSU star Del Unser sparked Philadelphia past Kansas City in the pivotal fifth game of the Fall Classic. Unser, a 13-year vet at the time, delivered a game-tying pinch double off Dan Quisenberry in the ninth inning and then scored the go-ahead run in the 4-3 victory. The Phillies took the series in six. Unser went 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs overall. On the losing side in 1980, Greenville native Frank White, who had been the American League Championship Series MVP, had a World Series to forget: 2-for-25 with three errors at second base. … Sixty years ago, Magnolia State natives Joe Gibbon and Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell won rings with Pittsburgh thanks to Bill Mazeroski’s legendary walk-off homer in Game 7 vs. the New York Yankees. Gibbon, from Hickory and Ole Miss, yielded three runs in two appearances, and Leakesville’s Mizell took the loss as the starter in Game 3 and had a 15.43 ERA over two games.
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.
The Tampa Bay-New York series at San Diego’s Petco Park may have the look of a Mississippi State reunion for some, though these are two teams that really don’t get along. Former Bulldogs star Hunter Renfroe plays for the Rays and former State teammate Jonathan Holder for the Yankees; they are among the six Mississippians expected to be active for the second round of this unique MLB postseason. The openers of the two American League Division Series are today. Renfroe, who spent the first four years of his career playing home games at Petco, had an odd season, hitting just .156 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. He was 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts and three walks against Yankees pitchers. He was 0-for-1 vs. Holder. (MSU alum Nate Lowe, who batted .224 with four homers and 11 RBIs for the Rays after getting recalled in September, was left off the ALDS roster.) Holder, who had a 4.98 ERA in 18 appearances, worked five innings against the Rays, allowing four hits in 18 at-bats. He allowed one run, a homer by Mike Brosseau. On the National League side, MSU alum Mitch Moreland and Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz are with San Diego, which faces Los Angeles beginning Tuesday, and ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson go head-to-head in the Atlanta-Miami series. P.S. Here’s a number to crunch: 29. That’s the number of Mississippians (natives or college alums) who appeared in a major league game in 2020. Of those 29, 16 are products of state high school programs. Three players made their debuts this season, Brent Rooker, Garrett Crochet and Demarcus Evans. The totals don’t include Justin Steele, former George County High star who was on the Chicago Cubs’ active roster for four days in early August but did not make an appearance. The full rundown: Hitters: Anthony Alford (Petal High); Tim Anderson (East Central CC); Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC); Brian Dozier (Southern Miss); Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC); Adam Frazier (Mississippi State); Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville); JaCoby Jones (Richton); Nate Lowe (MSU); Mitch Moreland (MSU); Hunter Renfroe (MSU); Austin Riley (DeSoto Central); Brent Rooker (MSU); Pitchers: Aaron Barrett (Ole Miss); Cody Carroll, (USM); Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs High); Demarcus Evans (Petal High); Kendall Graveman (MSU); Jonathan Holder (MSU); Dakota Hudson (MSU); Lance Lynn (UM); Mike Mayers (UM); Drew Pomeranz (UM); Cody Reed (Northwest CC); Chris Stratton (MSU); Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central); Jacob Waguespack (UM); Bobby Wahl (UM); and Brandon Woodruff (MSU).