Friday was a banner day for ex-Mississippi State stars in the big leagues and the minors. Start in Milwaukee, where Bulldogs alumnus Hunter Renfroe led off the ninth inning with a double and eventually scored the walk-off run in a 7-6 victory against the New York Yankees. (Garrett Mitchell, a rookie who spent most of this season at Double-A Biloxi, got the winning knock for the Brewers, clinging to hope in the National League wild card race.) Move to St. Louis, where Chris Stratton threw three pitches, got one key out and notched the win for the Cardinals, who are closing in on the NL Central title. Stratton got the final out of the seventh inning with two runners on base and St. Louis rallied in the bottom half to go ahead and ultimately beat Cincinnati 6-5. Stratton is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA since he joined the Cards in August and has a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. At Tampa Bay, Nathaniel Lowe blasted his 25th homer to help also-ran Texas beat the wild card-chasing Rays 4-3. Tampa Bay is third in the American League wild card standings, behind Toronto and Seattle. … Down in the minors: Justin Foscue homered and drove in four runs as Frisco, Texas’ Double-A club, clinched the second-half title in the Texas League South; Jordan Westburg went 5-for-5 with his 17th homer for Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore), his 26th overall this season; and Brent Rooker smacked his fifth homer for Triple-A Omaha (Kansas City), his 24th all told in the minors this season.
There may have been cosmic forces at work on Wednesday in Corpus Christi, Texas. Grae Kessinger, the ex-Ole Miss star and Oxford native, got four hits, including a home run, in a doubleheader for the host Hooks, Houston’s Double-A team. Fifty-eight years ago, on Sept. 7, 1964, Kessinger’s grandfather, ex-Ole Miss star Donnie, made his major league debut, going 1-for-2 for the Chicago Cubs and launching a brilliant 16-year career. The younger Kessinger, in his third pro season, is chasing the big league dream and making some strides. A good-fielding shortstop like his grandfather, Kessinger’s bat has perked up in recent weeks at Corpus Christi. He batted .276 in August and is at .333 in six September games, lifting his season average to .212. (He hit .109 in April.) Kessinger has 15 homers, 48 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in his second Double-A tour. A second-round pick in 2019 after an All-America career at UM, Kessinger has been in the Astros’ big league camp each of the last two springs and played in the Arizona Fall League last year. He is 25 and recently slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart, so he may be feeling a sense of urgency as this minor league season draws to a close. P.S. On the topic of hot hitting, Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe leads all of MLB in batting average over the last 30 days. He got two more hits, including his 24th homer, for Texas on Wednesday and is batting .383 with eight bombs and 21 RBIs in his last 28 games.
Blaine Crim, the ex-Mississippi College standout, batted .323 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in August, capping his strong month with a three-hit, two-homer, five-RBI game for Double-A Frisco last Wednesday. August ended. Crim’s mashing did not. On Sunday, he homered for the fifth straight game in a win at Amarillo. That’s 22 homers on the season. He is batting .556 with 10 RBIs in four September games. He set a Frisco record with five hits in a game on Friday (see previous post). For the season, he is at .291 with 80 RBIs. No flash in the pan, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound first baseman has put up impressive numbers over three pro campaigns: .305 career average (.369 on-base percentage) with 59 homers. The Rangers have a strong farm system, but it is still hard to fathom how Crim does not appear on their Top 30 prospect list as compiled by MLB Pipeline. He has quite the resume. He batted .350 over four seasons at NCAA Division II MC and was the Gulf South Conference’s player of the year in 2019. Drafted in the 19th round by Texas, the Alabama native was the Northwest League MVP in 2019, a High-A East All-Star in 2021 and a Puerto Rican Winter League batting champion earlier this year. He went 4-for-12 in MLB spring training games in March. After the way Crim has handled the challenge of Double-A pitching over the past two seasons, it’ll be interesting to see what his future holds.
Seat belts should have been required Friday night for the Amarillo fans in Hodgetown ballpark. They were subjected to a rough ride by a visiting Frisco RoughRiders team that bashed eight home runs, three by a pair of Mississippi products. Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim went 5-for-6 with his 20th homer and ex-Mississippi State star Justin Foscue added two bombs, his 13th and 14th, as Frisco steamrolled Amarillo 21-2 in a Texas League game. Crim set a Frisco record for hits in a game, boosting his average to .290, and scored four times. Both he and Foscue, the Texas Rangers’ No. 5 prospect, homered in the Riders’ record-setting 11-run fifth inning. The 21 total runs was also a franchise record. Foscue, batting .289 after a 3-for-6, drove in four runs and scored three. The host Sod Poodles, an Arizona affiliate, put third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes on the mound in the ninth. The former Mr. Baseball from Columbia High yielded two hits, including a homer, in his professional pitching debut. Forbes, in his eighth minor league season, did have two of Amarillo’s 10 hits. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his Minnesota debut on Friday and was caught stealing as a pinch runner in the eighth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox. He is 321-of-393 (81.7 percent) in his MLB career that started in 2013.
Hear about the special home run hit Monday night at Great American Ballpark? No, not the Albert Pujols bomb. The St. Louis star’s 694th career homer off a record 450th different pitcher was certainly noteworthy. But Chuckie Robinson’s homer was the special one. It was the first for the former Southern Miss star in his fourth MLB game with Cincinnati. It came with his mother, Dionne, and younger brother in the park. “I think when I hit it, I kind of blacked out a little bit like, ‘Dang, I got it.’ I was super excited,” Robinson told mlb.com. You can bet that his grandfather and father were also super excited. Robinson is a third-generation pro player. Both his grandfather — “Big Chuck” — and father — “Little Chuck” — played in the minors. They were in Philadelphia last week when “Baby Chuck” made his debut and got his first knock. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day,” he said at the time. Robinson, a catcher drafted out of USM in 2016 by Houston, is 27 years old and put in six years in the minors before the Reds gave him this shot in the big leagues. Cincy manager David Bell has raved about him: “He’s absolutely earned the opportunity.” As fate would have it, someone from Robinson’s hometown of Danville, Ill., caught the home run ball and got it to his mother. Now that’s special. P.S. Mississippi State alumnus Nathaniel Lowe was named the American League’s player of the week on Monday. He batted .385 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Texas last week. For the year, Lowe is batting .300 with a career-high 22 homers and 65 RBIs.
There were highlights aplenty from Mississippians in the majors on Wednesday, but Nathaniel Lowe’s big day stole the show. The former Mississippi State standout stood in the batter’s box at Coors Field in the ninth inning needing a double for the cycle, which would be the first for a Mississippi-connected big leaguer since Fred Lewis in 2007. Lowe whiffed. But that hardly spoiled his performance: a career-high five RBIs and his 20th homer — a 443-foot blast — in Texas’ 16-4 win vs. Colorado. Lowe is batting .378 in August. “I think I’ve done a better job of just trying to do what I can do with a good pitch to hit,” he told mlb.com. Uh, yeah. … Atta-boys also go out to: Kendall Graveman, the State alum who notched his 21st hold in the Chicago White Sox’s 5-3 win over Baltimore. He pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, though it took a sensational play by third baseman Yoan Moncada to bail him out of a seventh-inning jam. … Chuckie Robinson, the ex-Southern Miss star who made his big league debut and got his first hit for Cincinnati. He became the 24th Mississippian (native or school alum) to appear in an MLB game this season. … Mike Mayers, the Ole Miss product who started and threw five scoreless innings for the Los Angeles Angels against Tampa Bay. It was Mayers’ first start of 2022 after 18 relief appearances (and a trip to the minors). Alas, the hapless Angels fell 4-3 in 11 innings. … Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star who drove in two runs, Nos. 81 and 82 on the year, in Atlanta’s 14-2 romp at Pittsburgh. … Nick Fortes, the ex-Ole Miss standout whose seventh homer of the year tied the score in the ninth inning in Miami’s game at Oakland. The Marlins lost 3-2 in 10. … Hunter Renfroe, the Crystal Springs native who belted his 23rd homer, added two more hits and drove in three runs as Milwaukee lost to the Dodgers. P.S. For the record, five Mississippians have hit for the cycle in MLB history: Lewis, Frank White (twice), Harry Craft, Gee Walker and Sam Leslie. There have been 297 cycles in the modern era (since 1901).
A pair of Mississippi natives went toe-to-toe at Wrigley Field on Sunday in a veritable must-win game for the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers did win, but, much to their chagrin, so did St. Louis, which got a clutch performance from another Magnolia State product in its seventh straight victory. Just another day of drama in the National League Central. Chicago Cubs left-hander Justin Steele, the pride of Lucedale, outpitched Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff of Wheeler, but the Brewers rallied late against the Cubs’ leaky bullpen for a 5-2 win, avoiding a series sweep. Steele allowed just two hits with nine strikeouts in six scoreless innings; the George County High alum has a 3.25 ERA in 23 starts for a Cubs team that has long been out of contention. Mississippi State product Woodruff, making his 19th start, threw 105 pitches over 5 2/3 innings. Two of his pitches left the yard — homers by Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki. The Brewers’ rally from that 2-0 hole kept them within 5 games of the surging Cardinals in the division. Milwaukee led St. Louis by 3 games on Aug. 1, when the controversial trade of closer Josh Hader went down. They are 7-11 since. “We can get on a roll here and we can look back at this and talk about it like we always do and say this is a stretch where we got through it and started playing good baseball,” Woodruff said in an mlb.com article. “We’ll see what happens.” Playing at Arizona on Sunday, the Cardinals fell behind 4-3 in the third inning as starter Jose Quintana struggled. Enter Tupelo native and ex-MSU standout Chris Stratton, who stopped the Diamondbacks cold for 2 2/3 innings, paving the way for the Cardinals to rally late for a 6-4 win. Stratton, a trade acquisition from Pittsburgh, has a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 relief innings for the Cardinals. Milwaukee and St. Louis will have to wage their battle remotely for a while; they don’t go head-to-head again until Sept. 13-14 at Busch Stadium. P.S. MSU product Nathaniel Lowe hit his 18th homer — a 424-footer — for Texas in a win at Minnesota on Sunday. He is batting .386 over his last 15 games, .295 on the year. … McLaurin High alum Davis Bradshaw, back on his home turf with Double-A Pensacola (see previous post), went 6-for-13 in the rain-plagued series against the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Bradshaw is batting .310 in 14 games since being promoted to Miami’s Double-A club.
Christian Johnson, a former Clinton High star who has been plugging away in the low minors since 2019, hit his first career home run on Saturday night for the Low-Class A Charleston RiverDogs, then belted his second in his next at-bat. Johnson, now 21, was drafted in the 19th round by Tampa Bay in ’19 and had played in rookie ball for three seasons before getting a brief call-up to Charleston in July. He went back to the Florida Complex League after two games (1-for-7), then returned to the RiverDogs on Aug. 4. He is 4-for-17 since. Johnson’s career average is just .177, but maybe Saturday’s performance will be a spark. … A trio of Mississippi State products took star turns in the big leagues on Saturday. Hunter Renfroe smacked his first triple since 2019, driving in the go-ahead run and then scoring an insurance run in the 10th inning of Milwaukee’s 3-2 win at St. Louis in the National League Central showdown. The Brewers are just a half-game behind the Cardinals entering today’s series finale. Renfroe, batting .246, has 44 RBIs. At Texas, Nathaniel Lowe went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run as the Rangers, playing a spoiler role, beat wild card-chaser Seattle 7-4 in an American League West clash. Lowe, a .284 hitter this year, has a 19-game on-base streak during which he is batting .357. And at Kansas City, while the hapless Royals were getting crushed by the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-3, Brent Rooker got his first two hits of 2022 in his first game for KC. He also drove in a run and threw out a runner at the plate from left field. Rooker, a .211 career hitter in 68 MLB games, was 0-for-7 for San Diego this year before being traded at the deadline. P.S. Ex-Taylorsville High star and big league vet Billy Hamilton chose free agency rather than accept an assignment to the minors by Miami. He has played for seven different big league clubs since 2013 and swiped 321 bases, most ever by a Mississippi native. He also has 401 minor league bags.
Justin Foscue looks ready to take the next step on the minor league ladder. The ex-Mississippi State standout rapped two doubles and a homer and drove in three runs for Double-A Frisco on Thursday night. With 10 hits, including three home runs, in his last 12 games, the 23-year-old infielder is batting .281 with seven homers and 48 RBIs in his first full Double-A campaign. He is rated Texas’ No. 4 prospect in the new MLB Pipeline rankings. He has played mostly second base this season but also has seen some time at third. Foscue was drafted 14th overall in the 2020 draft that followed the pandemic-shortened college season; only two Bulldogs position players have been picked higher: Will Clark (No. 2 in 1985) and Hunter Renfroe (No. 13, 2013). Foscue is batting .279 overall with 24 bombs in his two pro seasons. It’ll be interesting to see who gets to the big leagues first, Foscue or his former State keystone mate Jordan Westburg, Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect now in Triple-A. P.S. Brent Rooker, traded from San Diego to Kansas City, hit his first home run for Triple-A Omaha on Thursday. The former State star has 20 homers on the season. … MSU product and veteran big leaguer Jonathan Holder has been assigned to Triple-A Iowa in the Chicago Cubs’ system after a brief rehab assignment in rookie ball. He has been on the injured list all season.
In the category Best Performance by a Mississippian on a Team Going Nowhere, here’s a nominee: Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers. Ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe hit a home run and a triple off Shohei Ohtani on Thursday night in the Rangers’ 2-0 win against the Los Angeles Angels. Lowe, hitting .370 over his last seven games, is batting .276 with 15 homers and 43 RBIs for the Rangers (44-54). A 13th-round draft pick out of State back in 2016, Lowe is now in his fourth MLB campaign, second with Texas. He has 97 hits this season and his next will be his 300th total in The Show. He is a .265 career hitter. A few other praiseworthy performances from Thursday down on the farm: Ex-Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes hit two doubles and a homer, driving in six runs, for Double-A Amarillo in the Arizona system. Forbes is at .247 with seven homers. … Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard went 2-for-3 with his eighth homer for Double-A Biloxi, which got a win over Montgomery but is in last place in the Southern League South. … Davis Bradshaw, a Meridian Community College product from McLaurin, went 1-for-3 for High-A Beloit in the Miami chain and raised his average to .322. He has 23 RBIs, 23 runs and eight steals in 67 games. He is a career .302 hitter in four pro seasons. … Southern Miss alum Reed Trimble, only recently activated from the injured list, extended his hit streak to four games and is 6-for-20 (.300) for Low-A Delmarva in the Baltimore system. He was the 65th overall pick in 2021. P.S. Tyler Stuart, the 6-foot-9 right-hander from USM, has signed with the New York Mets, per mlb.com. He was a sixth-round pick. … Detroit has announced that Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central High alum, won’t pitch in the big leagues this season. The right-hander had Tommy John surgery last summer, shortly after throwing a no-hitter on May 18. He was 4-2, 2.88 ERA, in 2021 and is 11-25, 4.25, for his MLB career with the Tigers. … On this date in 1966, Clarksdale native Fred Valentine had a day: a franchise-record seven hits, including two doubles, and four RBIs in a doubleheader for the Washington Senators. He hit .247 over a seven-year career.