Change was in the wind for several Mississippi-connected players on Thursday. On the big league front, ex-Mississippi State star Nate Lowe was traded from Tampa Bay to Texas, which has an apparent affinity for first basemen from MSU. In the Rule 5 draft’s minor league phase, three Mississippi college products changed organizations, with Ole Miss’ Errol Robinson and Southern Miss’ Chuckie Robinson going to Cincinnati and Itawamba Community College’s Tyreque Reed to Boston. Lowe, a lefty slugger who hit 11 homers in 71 games for the Rays over the last two seasons, projects as Texas’ first baseman in 2021. “I told him to expect competition, but we made this deal anticipating he would win the job and be our first baseman,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels told mlb.com. Former State star Rafael Palmeiro spent 10 of his 20 MLB seasons with the Rangers, and Will Clark manned first base for Texas for five years (between Palmeiro’s two stints there). Mitch Moreland, currently a free agent, spent the first seven of his 11 MLB seasons with the Rangers. … Errol Robinson, a shortstop, went from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Reds in the first round of the Rule 5 Triple-A phase, and Chuckie Robinson (no relation), a catcher, moved from Houston to the Reds in the third round. Errol is a .262 career hitter in four pro seasons and has reached the Triple-A level. “He’s a really good athlete. He’s extremely versatile,” Rob Coughlin, Cincinnati’s director of pro scouting, told mlb.com. Chuckie is a .249 hitter over four pro seasons and played at the Class AA level in 2019. He has a 15-homer season on his ledger. Reed, a storied slugger at Houlka High and ICC, was plucked out of the Texas system by the Red Sox in the first round of the Triple-A phase. “(W)e really believe in the power potential, so we’re excited to bring him into the organization,” Boston’s VP of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum told mlb.com. Reed, a first baseman, is a .281 hitter with 41 homers in three pro seasons. He played high-A ball in 2019.
Billy Hamilton’s potential as an offensive force was on full display for the first time on this date in 2013. The Taylorsville High product made his first major league start for Cincinnati and filled the box score with three hits, two walks, two runs, an RBI and, most notably, four stolen bases in a 6-5 victory. Seven years later, Hamilton has 302 career steals, most ever by a Mississippi native. But an inability to hit or reach base consistently (.241 career hitter, .289 OBP) has relegated the 30-year-old to role player status in 2020. Hamilton is with the Chicago Cubs, the third club he’s been with this year, and has just 23 at-bats in 23 games total. Used primarily as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, he has two hits and three steals. A second-round draft pick in 2009, Hamilton won’t go down as a total flop – he was second in National League rookie of the year voting in 2014, when he batted .250 and stole 56 bases – but the exciting potential he flashed on Sept. 18, 2013, was never fully realized.
Cincinnati had high hopes for Cody Reed when the club acquired him from Kansas City in a July 2015 trade that involved Johnny Cueto. It now appears that if Reed blossoms as a big league pitcher, the former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout will do it with another club. Reed was designated for assignment on Monday. “We know how talented Cody is. It’s not an easy decision,” Reds manager David Bell told mlb.com. The 27-year-old left-hander from Horn Lake had a 5.79 ERA in nine appearances out of the bullpen in 2020. His career ERA over parts of five seasons: 5.44. A second-round pick by the Royals out of Northwest in 2013, Reed had outstanding minor league numbers as a starter but went 0-7, 7.36 in his 2016 MLB debut. He bounced from the Reds to the minors — and from starter to reliever — thereafter. As a lefty with versatility, he’ll likely get another shot somewhere. P.S. When a player is DFA’d, he is immediately removed from the 40-man roster and within seven days of the transaction can either be traded or placed on irrevocable outright waivers. If he clears waivers (unclaimed by another team), he could be released or assigned to a minor league roster. … Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star who was DFA’d by the New York Mets on Aug. 16, was formally released on Sunday. … Anthony Alford, the Petal High product who was DFA’d by Toronto last Thursday, remains in seven-day limbo.
As we watch for the next Mississippian to break through in the big leagues, it’s worth noting that a great debut really isn’t much of a predictor about a player’s career. Some superstars had forgettable first games, and plenty of short-term journeymen started off with a bang. Take the case of Meredith “Mo” Sanford, the former Starkville High star who had an MLB debut that made jaws drop back in 1991. Sanford was a 6-foot-6, 220-pound right-hander whose potential in high school was intriguing enough that a Rolling Stone writer, looking for the “next big thing,” visited Starkville and did a feature for the magazine in the spring of 1984. “I’m not telling you this kid can throw a baseball through a car wash without getting it wet,” a scout told the Rolling Stone writer. “He’s still kind of raw. He’s big and he throws hard and he just turned seventeen and he’s going to get better and who the hell really knows?” Sanford threw hard enough to get drafted in the third round in ’84 by the New York Yankees. He opted instead for a scholarship to Alabama, where he labored rather unspectacularly for four years. He was drafted as a senior in 1988 by Cincinnati in Round 32. Under the tutelage of pro instructors, Sanford pitched well in the minors, advanced quickly and on Aug. 9, 1991, got the call to the majors. He started against San Diego, and in the bottom of the first inning he struck out, in succession, Bip Roberts, Tony Fernandez and Tony Gwynn. He wound up going seven innings, allowing two hits and a lone, unearned run in the Reds’ 5-1 victory. He punched out eight, walked one. Unfortunately, Sanford never quite bottled that lightning again, finishing 2-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 27 games spread over three seasons with three different clubs. His last MLB appearance came with Minnesota in 1995, a forgettable outing (three runs in 2/3 of an inning) against Milwaukee. He pitched in various pro leagues for five more years, chasing the magic of Aug. 9, 1991.
On this date in 1942, Ellisville native Harry Craft struck out in the last at-bat of the last game of a big league career that sparkled early on before fizzling out rather quickly. The Mississippi College alumnus entered pro ball in 1935 and made the majors in 1937, hitting .310 in a brief stint with Cincinnati as a 22-year-old. He batted .270 with 15 homers and 83 RBIs as the Reds’ regular center fielder the next year. He slipped to .256 with 13 homers in 1939, then scuffled for a couple of years before bottoming out in ’42 at age 27. He was batting .177 when the Reds traded him shortly after that final game to the New York Yankees. He served in the Navy for three years during World War II and returned to play in the minors with the Yankees until retiring in 1949. But Craft stayed in the game, in some capacity or another, until 1991, four years before his death, and the highlights of his time are rather fascinating. To wit: He acquired two nicknames during his playing days, Popeye and Wildfire. … He led National League outfielders in putouts and fielding percentage in 1938. … He caught the final out of Johnny Vander Meer’s second straight no-hitter in ’38. … He hit for the cycle in a 1940 game, one of just a handful of Mississippians to accomplish that feat. … He won a World Series title with the Reds in 1940, though he played in only one game in the Series. … In 1949, he was Mickey Mantle’s first manager in the minor leagues. … He became the second Mississippi native (after Harry Walker) to manage a major league club in 1957 when he was hired by the Kansas City Athletics. … In 1961, he was one of the “head coaches” who took turns running games for the Chicago Cubs. … In 1962, he became the first manager of the expansion Houston Colt .45s, and they beat the Cubs 11-2 in their debut at old Colt Stadium.
On this date in 2013, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his first big league start for Cincinnati and flashed the skills that had so many in baseball excited about his future. Hamilton, who had already stolen five bases as a pinch runner before he got his first start, went 3-for-4 with a double, two walks, two runs, an RBI and four stolen bases as the Reds beat Houston 6-5 in 13 innings at Minute Maid Park. Hamilton led off the 13th with a walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jay Bruce’s two-run double. Though he now has 298 steals – most ever by a Mississippi native – Hamilton’s inability to hit consistently (.242) has dogged his career. He is currently filling a role – and filling it well — as a pinch runner/defensive replacement for Atlanta. … With a 4-for-6 effort on Tuesday, East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson moved into the major league lead with a .336 batting average. The Chicago White Sox shortstop hit his 17th home run in a loss to Minnesota. The last Mississippian (native or college alum) to win a batting title was Grenada native Dave Parker, who won the National League crown in 1978 with Pittsburgh. … Corey Dickerson may have played his last game for Philadelphia. The Meridian Community College alum from McComb, a free agent after this season, went on the injured list for the Phillies on Tuesday with a broken foot. He hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 34 games for Philly. Dickerson, a .286 career hitter, also missed a lot of time early in the season with Pittsburgh because of a shoulder injury.
When you’ve been found wanting by one of the worst teams in baseball, it’s not a good sign. But Billy Hamilton, still one of the fastest players in MLB, may find another opportunity to use his breathtaking speed. The former Taylorsville High star was designated for assignment today by Kansas City, which means he could be claimed by another team or, more likely, become a free agent. Hamilton signed a one-year free agent deal with the Royals in the off-season after six years with Cincinnati, where, from 2014-17, he averaged 58 steals a year despite a sub-.250 average. Wrote MLB Trade Rumors at the time he signed with Kansas City: “(I)f Hamilton starts filling those massive gaps (in Kauffman Stadium) with liners and shows a newfound devotion to the strike zone, the Royals could have the steal of the decade … .” That didn’t happen, and his plus-defense in center field wasn’t enough to keep him in the Royals’ lineup. Hamilton was batting .211 with 18 bags in 93 games. At 28, he can still run, so perhaps a team with a need for such a specialist will come calling.
Though the benches-clearing melee will get most of the attention, they did play some baseball in Cincinnati on Tuesday. Corey Dickerson, the McComb native and ex-Meridian Community College star, drove in a career-best five runs and hit two homers to lead Pittsburgh to an 11-4 win that stopped a nine-game losing streak. Dickerson, who has battled injuries all season, appeared to stay on the fringes of the fracas in the ninth inning that resulted in multiple ejections. The lefty-hitting outfielder has played well when he’s been on the field (.317, four homers, 25 RBIs) but has appeared in just 43 games, most recently sidelined for three days by a groin problem. He also has been the subject of trade rumors, which he claimed have not been a distraction. “I’ve been so focused on my routine (and) the process of being healthy and trying to be the best version of me every day,” Dickerson told mlb.com. P.S. East Central CC alum Tim Anderson returned to the Chicago White Sox’s lineup from the injured list and went 0-for-3 with a ninth-inning sac fly in a game won by the New York Mets 5-2 in 11 innings. … Former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull began a rehab assignment for Detroit by throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts for Triple-A Toledo. Turnbull is 3-9 with a 3.65 ERA for the Tigers.
As we await the announcement on Monday of the 2019 Ferriss Trophy winner, it feels like a good time to check in on the last two winners of the state’s top college player award, both now in the minor leagues. Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin, last year’s honoree, is dealing at Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. The sidearming right-hander, a second-round pick last June, has an 0.79 ERA in 10 games (11 1/3 innings) with 17 strikeouts. He earned his first save with a two-inning effort on Thursday night, fanning four of the eight batters he faced. Sandlin zipped through four levels of the minors in 2018, topping out at Akron, and posted a 3.00 ERA, two wins and five saves in 25 games. The Indians moved Sandlin back to the bullpen after he served as the No. 1 starter for USM last year. The 2017 Ferriss winner, Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, moved quickly up Minnesota’s ladder after being a supplemental first-rounder in June ’17, starting this season at Triple-A Rochester. But the righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman has scuffled at the new level, batting just .222 with six homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 43 times in 90 at-bats. Rooker hit 40 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. P.S. Cody Reed, the veteran lefty out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, was recalled today by Cincinnati from Triple-A Louisville. He got into one game with the Reds earlier this season and has 40 appearances over the past four years.
Take a deep breath, Mississippi. On a Sunday that included Ole Miss’ all-time crazy win at LSU, Southern Miss’ huge walk-off win against Florida Atlantic, Delta State’s homer-fueled, elimination-game win in the Gulf South Tournament and the Mississippi Braves’ squeeze-bunt walk-off vs. Jacksonville, the scene-stealing moment from a state-connected player may well have been delivered by big leaguer Hunter Renfroe in San Diego. The former Mississippi State star hit a two-out, pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace closer Kenley Jansen 8-5. “This is my second walk-off home run, and there’s nothing like it in this world,” Renfroe, the pride of Crystal Springs, said in an mlb.com game story. It was the first pinch-hit walk-off slam in Padres history and salvaged the third game of the series for San Diego, which suffered tough losses in the first two. “These moments shape your season,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. The slam was Renfroe’s seventh homer of the season. Fighting a slump of late, he is batting .227 with 16 RBIs. He joins Tim Anderson – American League player of the month for April – and Jarrod Dyson as Mississippians with walk-off homers in MLB already in 2019. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday in his 2019 debut for Cincinnati but was returned to the minors on Sunday. Reed has been up and down with the Reds since 2016. He has a 3.21 ERA at Triple-A Louisville.