06 Nov

cue the highlights

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.

05 Nov

getting close

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.

30 Oct

detroit leaning

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.”

20 Oct

back, back, back …

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.

14 Oct

in other news

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.

05 Oct

playing on

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).

01 Oct

october is back

Flashback to Oct. 12, 2018: Game 1, National League Championship Series. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, hits a home run off Clayton Kershaw and works two perfect innings in relief to lead Milwaukee to a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s an enduring postseason highlight for a Mississippi baseball aficionado. (Worth noting: Five days later, Kershaw beat the Brewers – and Woodruff, who again worked in relief – in Game 5. LA won the series in seven.) Back to Oct. 1, 2020: Woodruff squares off with Kershaw again tonight at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of their NL Wild Card Series; it’s a must-win for the Brewers. Though Woodruff won’t get to hit against Kershaw tonight, the pitching matchup alone is compelling. Woodruff is coming off his best start of the season (eight shutout innings vs. St. Louis on Sept. 26) and has a strong postseason resume (2.20 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings over five games). The Hall of Fame-bound Kershaw, 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA this season, has had his ups and downs in the postseason: 9-11, 4.43 in 32 appearances. Woodruff told reporters Wednesday he is taking a measured approach: “I try to treat each day the same and come in and do the same routine, keep everything the exact same.” Perhaps that’ll rekindle some of the magic of Oct. 12, 2018. P.S. MSU product Hunter Renfroe hit .156 for Tampa Bay this season, but eight his 19 hits left the park. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, that his lone hit (in four at-bats) in the AL Wild Card Series vs. Toronto was a home run. Renfroe, playing in his first postseason game on Wednesday, hit the first postseason grand slam in Tampa Bay history to cap a six-run second inning as the Rays completed a sweep of the Blue Jays with an 8-2 win. … Former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson, playing in his first postseason game, hit a go-ahead three-run homer for Miami – off Kyle Hendricks, no less — in a Game 1 win against the Chicago Cubs. “It was about seeing it over the plate, get my timing right and letting it go,” Dickerson told mlb. com. “I got a good pitch to hit (a first-pitch, four-seam fastball).” … Former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley, in his first postseason, went 1-for-8 in Atlanta’s series sweep against Cincinnati. He contributed to the game-winning rally in the 13th inning on Wednesday with a single that moved pinch runner Cristian Pache to second base. Pache later scored the marathon game’s lone run on a Freddie Freeman single. (Worth noting: There were 13 former Mississippi Braves on Atlanta’s 28-man roster.) … Drew Pomeranz, an Ole Miss alum and postseason veteran, worked a scoreless inning in San Diego’s loss to St. Louis in their series opener on Wednesday. Mitch Moreland, an MSU product and also a postseason vet, did not play in Game 1 but is in the lineup at DH for Game 2. … East Central CC alum Tim Anderson, appearing in his first postseason and apparently thrilled to be on the big stage, was 6-for-9 with two runs in the first two games of the White Sox’s AL series against Oakland, then got hits in his first two ABs in today’s Game 3. Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet, the ChiSox’s gas-throwing lefty making just his sixth appearance in a big league game, struck out Matt Olson with runners at the corners and two outs in the first inning of Game 3, then struck out Khris Davis to start the second inning before departing with an apparent injury. His velocity reportedly was down.

26 Sep

thrill ride

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.

22 Sep

welcome back

For the first five weeks of this season, Nate Lowe was stuck in Tampa Bay’s alternate camp, squeezed off of the active roster by the sheer number of infielders. On Sept. 1, an injury to one of those infielders prompted the Rays to recall the former Mississippi State standout. It’s almost an understatement to say he has made the most of the opportunity. The lefty-hitting first baseman is batting .260 with four home runs, 11 RBIs and nine runs in 17 games for a club that is bearing down on a division title and top seed in the American League playoffs. “It’s so fun to come to work every day,” he said in an mlb.com article. Lowe had a blast on Monday night, scoring both of the Rays’ runs in a 2-1 win against the New York Mets and ace Jacob deGrom. Lowe, batting cleanup, walked to lead off the second inning and scored on a sac fly, then hit a laser of a homer to center field in the fourth. That was one of just four hits allowed by deGrom, who fanned 14 in seven innings. Lowe, who hit .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a rookie in 2019, reported for spring training this year much fitter, having dropped about 20 pounds (to 220) from his 6-foot-4 frame. Lowe hit just five homers in 63 games at MSU in 2016 but has found his power stroke in the pros. He hit 43 homers in the minors in 2018 and ’19 as he soared through the Rays’ system. P.S. Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett has gone on the injured list for Washington with a right triceps strain. Barrett made two relief appearances this season; he battled back from myriad arm injuries to return to the big leagues in 2019 for the first time in four years.

21 Sep

join the party

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.