FanGraphs, the stats-driven website, doesn’t put much stock in Atlanta’s third base situation, ranking the Braves 25th among the 30 MLB clubs at the position entering 2021. That throws shade on Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who figures to get most of the playing time at third base. And he does have some things to prove, though raw power isn’t among them. He showed that off today against Pittsburgh. He mashed his first two home runs of the spring – 440 feet on a 1-2 curveball, then another deep bomb on a first-pitch sinker. He struck out in his third at-bat. Riley, 23, has 26 homers in 132 big league games but has batted just .232 with a lot of strikeouts and few walks. He hasn’t hit much in Florida this spring: 5-for-25 with one RBI before today. But neither has veteran Jake Lamb (.194, one homer), brought in presumably to push Riley for the job. The Braves have enough big bats elsewhere in the lineup that they don’t need Riley to carry them. Still, improved production would be nice. The Braves aren’t inclined to wait too long for that to happen. P.S. Mississippi State alum Adam Frazier, hitting a ridiculous .563 for the Pirates, smacked his second homer in as many days in today’s game.
If Adam Frazier is still a candidate for a trade, the ex-Mississippi State star has done nothing this spring but make himself more attractive. After a 2-for-3 effort in the Grapefruit League today, Frazier is 10-for-15 (.667) for Pittsburgh. The Pirates, regarded as one of the worst teams in MLB, likely could get a nice return for the lefty-hitting second baseman. Trade rumblings obviously haven’t affected Frazier. “I’ll be where my feet are and try to get better each day,” he told mlb.com at the start of spring training. “I’m in a position now to try to lead these guys, so I’ll do my best to do that.” Frazier, 29, has a .273 career average with 35 homers over five seasons and twice has been a Gold Glove finalist. He hit just .230 in 2020 but smacked seven homers in 58 games. … Frazier is one of three Mississippians, not including Ke’Bryan Hayes (Charlie’s son), in the Pirates’ camp this spring. Chris Stratton, a teammate of Frazier’s at MSU, has made three scoreless appearances this spring as he vies for a bullpen spot. He also has been rumored to be trade bait. Outfielder Anthony Alford, the oft-injured ex-Petal High standout, suffered a wrist contusion on Saturday but isn’t expected to be down long. Aiming to win the center field job, he is batting .385 with two homers. P.S. In the Pirates’ loss to Baltimore today, State product Jordan Westburg – a 2020 draftee recently invited to the Orioles’ camp – got his first hit in a big league uniform.
Anthony Alford, Brent Rooker and Bobby Bradley, each making a comeback of sorts, belted home runs in their spring training debuts on Monday. Alford, the former Petal High star, and Mississippi State product Rooker went yard in their first at-bat, while ex-Harrison Central standout Bradley waited until his second. Alford, whose 2020 season was ended by a broken elbow, was in Pittsburgh’s lineup as the DH and took Toronto’s Robbie Ray deep. Alford, expected to be the Pirates’ center fielder, reportedly is still building strength in his throwing arm. He played in just five games for the Bucs last summer after they claimed him on waivers from the Blue Jays. Rooker debuted in 2020 with Minnesota but played in only seven games (.316, one homer) before suffering a broken forearm when hit by a pitch. The big outfielder homered Monday off Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow (on a 98-mph pitch) and later added a sac fly. Rooker is trying to make the Twins’ roster as a reserve. Bradley, who made his MLB debut in 2019, did not play in 2020 and wasn’t at Cleveland’s alternate site for the summer. Contending for the Indians’ first base job, the lefty-swinging slugger mashed a homer off Kansas City’s Jake Kalish.
Three Mississippi State products avoided arbitration hearings by agreeing to new MLB contracts on Friday. Brandon Woodruff, who has emerged as the ace of the Milwaukee staff, got a nice pay raise, jumping from a 2020 salary of $633,100 to a reported $3.3 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The right-hander from Wheeler, a 2019 All-Star, is 19-11 with a 3.66 ERA in three-plus seasons in the majors. He went 3-5, 3.05 in last year’s abbreviated campaign. Chris Stratton, also an MSU alum, got $1.1M deal from Pittsburgh in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The Tupelo native, who made $507,500 in 2020, is 18-18 with a 4.97 ERA over parts of five seasons and posted a 3.90 in 27 relief outings last season. Ex-State star Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh’s second baseman last year, agreed to a $4.3M contract as a second-year arbitration eligible player. The .273 career hitter made $2.8M last year, when he batted .230. There has been speculation he’ll be traded before the season starts.
Though he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, Mississippi State product Adam Frazier does have a knack for jump-starting his team’s attack. Frazier hit his ninth career leadoff homer for Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, propelling the Pirates to a 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs and ace Kyle Hendricks. (Ke’Bryan Hayes – Hattiesburg native Charlie’s kid – followed Frazier’s homer with one of his own.) Frazier, who has 34 career homers over five MLB seasons, is third on the Pirates’ all-time chart for leadoff homers, trailing only Barry Bonds (20) and Al Martin (10). MLB’s all-time leader is Rickey Henderson with a ridiculous 81. Based on a little research in baseball-reference.com, Frazier ranks second – unofficially — among Mississippi-connected players in leadoff shots, trailing only Brian Dozier, who is sitting on the sideline at the moment with 28. Corey Dickerson, still active, has eight, same as Zack Cozart, who is not currently playing. At seven is a group that includes Seth Smith, Matt Lawton, Ellis Burks and Del Unser. Fred Lewis had five and Don Kessinger four. Jarrod Dyson and Billy Hamilton, both active, have three apiece, same as Frank White, Don Blasingame and Eric McNair.
Former Richton High standout JaCoby Jones has played a significant role in the Detroit Tigers’ surprising 2020 season. Unfortunately, he’ll only be able to watch how the rest of it plays out. Jones’ left hand was broken by a pitch on Tuesday, and he is done for the year. Playing regularly in center field, Jones was batting .268 with five home runs, 14 RBIs and 19 runs for a Tigers team that is 17-16 with six straight wins. The worst team in baseball in 2019 is in contention for a playoff spot. “I’ve been waiting on that for my whole career,” Jones, in his fifth MLB season, told mlb.com prior to Tuesday’s game against Milwaukee. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for our guys and I’m looking forward to it.” It’s the second straight year Jones’ season has been ended prematurely by a hand injury. He has endured more than his fair share of injuries the last few years, having been hit in the face by a pitch in 2017 and spent time on the injured list with back, shoulder and hamstring issues. The Tigers may never miss him more than this month. “He’s been the spark plug to this team all year — his hitting, his defense, his leadership in the dugout. It stinks to lose a guy like that,” Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer told mlb.com. P.S. On the bright side: Former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman was activated from the IL by Seattle. He has been out since Aug. 4 with neck problems stemming from a benign tumor on his spine. The veteran right-hander reportedly will shift from starter to the bullpen. Graveman, 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA in two starts for the Mariners, is in his first season with the team as he comes back from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him most of last season. … Ke’Bryan Hayes told reporters that his father, Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, couldn’t stop crying when informed his son was getting called to the big leagues. In his debut for Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the younger Hayes, a third baseman like his pops, went 2-for-5 with a homer that likely brought more tears. “Even when I was in the minor leagues and I hit a home run, my mom said he would cry,” Ke’Bryan Hayes said. “I thank him for everything.”
With a boatload of makeup games ahead for the St. Louis Cardinals in September, the durability of their pitchers will be tested as they try to make a playoff push. Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson gave them some length on Monday, working seven innings in a 7-5 win against Cincinnati that got the Cardinals to 13-13. The 25-year-old right-hander (1-2, 2.77 ERA in five starts) allowed just one earned run on four hits at the Reds’ so-called Great American Small Park. He struck out seven and walked none. While winning 16 games for St. Louis as a rookie in 2019, he led the majors in total walks (86 or 4.4 per nine innings), a stat that needs to improve. Through 26 innings in 2020, he has seven walks (2.4 per nine). He is reportedly throwing more curveballs and fewer sinkers this year. Hudson got a final swinging strike from three Reds batters on a different type of pitch in one inning. “It’s just me recognizing quality hitters that I’m facing and having a complete arsenal as a starter, rather than just being out there trying to overpower guys,” Hudson said in an mlb.com piece. P.S. Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and longtime big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is slated for his big league debut tonight for Pittsburgh. The younger Hayes, one of the Pirates’ top prospects, is in the lineup at third base, batting seventh, against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. … Tampa Bay has recalled ex-MSU standout Nate Lowe from its alternate camp. Lowe batted .263 with seven homers as a rookie for the Rays in 2019. … Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, a second-round pick out of IMG Academy in Florida last year, has been traded from Toronto to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander was in the Blue Jays’ alternate camp.
With the addition of Petal High product Anthony Alford, the pitiable Pittsburgh Pirates presently have a plethora of players with Mississippi ties populating their roster. Alford was picked up today as a waiver claim from Toronto. The 26-year-old outfielder joins McComb native Jarrod Dyson and Mississippi State products Adam Frazier and Chris Stratton on a Pirates team that has the worst record in baseball. Alford found playing time hard to come by in his long tenure in the Blue Jays’ system. He hit .155 in 71 at-bats over four MLB stints. Designated for assignment by the Jays, he might get more opportunity with Pittsburgh, which has made a flurry of moves this week and may be planning more. Dyson and Frazier have not been hitting, and Stratton has a 4.20 ERA.
There was a case of Bulldog on Rebel crime on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Former Mississippi State star Adam Frazier belted a go-ahead, two-run home run off Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl in the eighth inning at PNC Park, lifting Pittsburgh to an 8-6 win against Milwaukee. It was the first homer – and just the third hit – of the season for Frazier, the Pirates’ leadoff batter. “First ball I’ve driven all year, so I kind of forgot what it felt like,” Frazier said in an mlb.com story. “It felt pretty good.” It was the second homer allowed in 2 1/3 innings this season by Wahl, who missed the 2019 season because of a torn ACL. For Frazier and Wahl, there may have been something familiar about their encounter. The two had never faced each other in an MLB game before, but they did cross paths during their college careers. Wahl left the field disappointed each time then, too. In 2011, when both were freshmen, Wahl took the loss in relief in a game won by the Bulldogs 7-6. Frazier struck out in his one appearance vs. Wahl. In 2012, State – and Chris Stratton, who pitched in relief for the Pirates on Tuesday – beat UM and Wahl 4-0. Frazier went 1-for-3 with a run against Wahl. And on May 12, 2013, in Oxford, Frazier and the Bulldogs rallied from an early six-run deficit to beat the Rebels 7-6. Frazier had a single and a walk against Wahl, who started but wasn’t in the game in the seventh when Frazier delivered a two-run single that put State ahead. Both were drafted that June, Wahl by Oakland in the fifth round, Frazier by the Pirates in the sixth. Both were in the New York-Penn League that summer as they began their climb to the majors, Frazier arriving in 2016, Wahl the next year. On Tuesday, they met up again, much to Wahl’s chagrin. P.S. Frazier will face a former State teammate tonight when Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff gets the start in Game 3 of the series between the National League Central rivals. Frazier is 4-for-10 career vs. Woodruff.
Having passed a physical on Thursday, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made an appearance at San Francisco’s summer camp, but it appears unlikely he’ll be active for the Giants’ opener next week. “I don’t see that as a realistic expectation right now,” manager Gabe Kapler said in a San Jose Mercury News story. Hamilton, who could play a valuable role on defense and as a pinch runner, is with the Giants on a minor league deal. The veteran outfielder was placed on the injured list last week for undisclosed reasons. … The Boston Red Sox have formally signed DeSoto Central High product Blaze Jordan, their third-round draft pick. Jordan, 17, received a reported $1.75 million bonus, much higher than the slot value of $667,900 for the 89th pick. … If Freddie Freeman, currently on the COVID-19 injured list, is unable to answer the starting bell for Atlanta, ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley appears to be the leading candidate to man first base. Riley made six appearances (three starts) at first last season as a rookie, when he hit 18 homers in 80 games. … Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff has displayed lights-out stuff in Milwaukee’s camp. “I’ve had probably seven to eight at-bats against him,” Brewers outfielder Ben Gamel told mlb.com. “His fastball is just different. He’s got a different gear to him. And me, just playing behind him, his changeup’s filthy.” Woodruff struck out Christian Yelich three times in an intrasquad game this week. … Brent Rooker, another former State standout, saw a lot of duty behind Marwin Gonzalez at first base in Minnesota’s camp while Miguel Sano was in COVID-19 quarantine. Sano, transitioning from third to first this season, returned to camp Wednesday. Rooker, who has 54 homers in 259 minor league games, could make the 30-man active roster if Sano isn’t ready for opening day. … The Chicago White Sox reportedly are thrilled with Tim Anderson’s work at shortstop in summer camp. “Defensively, his jumps have been amazing getting off the ball,” coach Joe McEwing said of the former East Central Community College star in an mlb.com story. “We have been really focusing on keeping his head in there and staying through it and finishing his throws.” The American League batting champ led league shortstops in errors the last three years. … Ex-MSU standout Chris Stratton, vying for a role on Pittsburgh’s pitching staff, says he is well-equipped for the new three-batter minimum rule for pitchers. “I just think that I’m capable of getting multiple outs,” he told mlb.com. “If that’s at the beginning of the game, if it’s opening, if it’s starting, whatever, if it’s in the middle of the game, hopefully I can help the team as best as possible with the things that I have.”