15 Mar

hit the reset

Hunter Renfroe, Tim Anderson and Dakota Hudson have several things in common. They attended Mississippi colleges, were picked in the first round of the MLB draft, enjoyed success in The Show — and now find themselves in spring training camps trying to re-establish their place in the game. Mississippi State product and Crystal Springs native Renfroe has 177 home runs in the big leagues but has bounced from team to team the last several years. In 2023, he was waived by the Los Angeles Angels, claimed and later released by Cincinnati in mid-September. He is in Kansas City’s camp on a one-year, $6.5 million contract, likely to be the lowly Royals’ right fielder. Anderson, a first-round pick by the Chicago White Sox out of East Central Community College in 2013 (same year Renfroe was drafted), was found wanting by the ChiSox after seven years as their regular shortstop and was cut loose after the season. Anderson had a poor year in 2023, with the bat and the glove, and has a flair for generating controversy. Miami recently signed Anderson, and he is expected to be the Marlins’ shortstop. He said in a recent MLB Network interview that he is “super-motivated, super-inspired and super-coachable” as well as “super-thankful and super-blessed” to have the opportunity. Hudson, another ex-MSU star, had a 38-20 career record and 3.84 ERA since 2018 with St. Louis. But he has had some recent injury issues, went 6-3, 4.98, in a bumpy 2023 and was non-tendered after the season. He signed with Colorado, where he’ll likely make the starting rotation for a club that sorely needs pitching. Spring training stats aren’t necessarily telling, but for what it’s worth, none of these three transplanted veterans has had a good camp. Renfroe is batting .118 with no homers in 17 at-bats. Anderson is hitting .182 in 22 ABs. Hudson is 1-1, 6.75, over 5 1/3 innings in three outings. P.S. Former Ole Miss pitcher Jacob Waguespack has made Tampa Bay’s team as a non-roster invitee and apparently will pitch in the rotation. He spent the last two years in Japan after posting a 5-5, 5.08, ledger in 2019-20 with Toronto.

06 Feb

better than most

In recognition of Black History Month, take a moment to appreciate the career of Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, arguably the best all-around player the Magnolia State has ever produced. His 1996 season with the Colorado Rockies might be the best single season any Mississippi native has put up in the big leagues. Born in Vicksburg in 1964, Burks also lived in Jackson for a time before his family moved to Texas. He was drafted out of Ranger College, a Texas juco, in the first round of the 1983 January draft by Boston. He debuted in MLB in 1987 at age 22 — amid Willie Mays comparisons — and batted .272 with 20 home runs as a Red Sox rookie. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound outfielder’s career ended in 2004, when injuries limited him to a handful of games, none in the postseason, for the Red Sox in their historic World Series-winning campaign. In between, he made two All-Star games, won two Silver Slugger awards and received a Gold Glove. He is now a scout for San Francisco. In 1996, as one of Colorado‚Äôs Blake Street Bombers, Burks batted .344 with 40 homers, 128 RBIs, a league-leading 142 runs, 45 doubles, 211 hits, 32 stolen bases and a 7.9 WAR, earning third place in the National League MVP voting. Among Mississippi natives, Burks is first in career homers (352), second in runs, RBIs and hits and fourth in stolen bases and batting average. And note that injuries curtailed several of his 18 seasons. On the career WAR chart, Burks is second among Mississippi-born position players with a 49.8; Jackson native Chet Lemon had a 55.6, aided considerably by his defense. Surprisingly, Burks lasted just one year on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, getting just two votes in 2010. But make no mistake: He had an impact, on and off the field. In 2004, when the Red Sox arrived back in Boston after winning the World Series in St. Louis, it was Burks — at the suggestion of Pedro Martinez — who got the honor of carrying the championship trophy off the plane. P.S. Mississippi State alum Ethan Small has landed with San Francisco, traded for cash by Milwaukee which had DFA’d the left-hander last week. … Mississippi College product Blaine Crim has received a non-roster invite to Texas’ spring camp.

05 Jan

head for rockies

Mississippi State alum Dakota Hudson, who has a 38-20 career record in the majors, has signed with Colorado, which needs pitching help. Hudson, 29, once a regular member of St. Louis’ rotation, didn’t make the club out of spring training last year but did eventually get called up, posting a 6-3 record and 4.98 ERA in 18 appearances, 12 starts. The right-hander, a first-round pick in 2016, has a career 3.84 ERA in six seasons and joins a Rockies staff that finished last in MLB with a 5.68 in 2023. … The Rockies might still hold out hope that ex-Ole Miss star Ryan Rolison can contribute someday. The 26-year-old lefty was a first-round pick in 2018 but has been derailed by injuries, pitching in just four games since 2021. Yet to make his MLB debut, he is no longer on Colorado’s 40-man roster. P.S. If you’re keeping score, Hudson joins Lance Lynn (St. Louis), Chris Stratton (Kansas City) and Hunter Renfroe (Royals) as Mississippi-connected free agents to sign big league contracts this off-season. Still available: Adam Frazier, Tim Anderson, Brandon Woodruff and Spencer Turnbull.

23 Oct

totally random

While in the grip of postseason fever, here’s a well-deserved shout-out to Luther Hackman, the former Columbus High star who took MVP honors in back-to-back Taiwan Series in 2008 and ’09. (Stumbled across this compelling nugget of information while searching for something else on baseball-reference.com.) Hackman, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who pitched in the big leagues from 1999-2003, threw 17 shutout innings for the Uni-President Lions and won Games 4 and 7 in the ’08 Taiwan Series, the championship of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009, Hackman won Games 1, 4 and 7 of the series for the Lions. Hackman pitched in the CPBL for three years, 2010 being his last as a player. Drafted by Colorado in the sixth round in 1994, Hackman pitched in 149 big league games with three clubs and posted a 5.09 ERA. He also pitched in the independent Atlantic League, Mexico and Korea, with middling success. Yet he may still be a legend in the CPBL. P.S. A belated shout-out to umpire Lance Barksdale, the Brookhaven native who was behind the plate for Saturday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Barksdale missed just one call, according to umpscorecards.com, posting a 99 percent accuracy rate. The one miss: a called strike on a 3-2 pitch to Philadelphia’s Trea Turner in the third inning.

16 Sep

on this date

On Sept. 16, 2007, Seth Smith — a September call-up by the Colorado Rockies — made his big league debut, launching an 11-year career that should have gotten more acclaim than it did. The left-handed hitting outfielder, a Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss alumnus, went 0-for-2 in that first game but went 5-for-6 thereafter, making enough of an impression that the Rockies kept him on their postseason roster. He was 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs as a pinch hitter as the Rockies rolled into the World Series before losing to Boston. Ten years later, early in his final season, Smith hit a big home run that won a game for Baltimore. “It was a good, professional at-bat,'” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said at the time. “He’s a good guy to have up in that situation.” That would be a great summation of Smith’s career. He batted .261 with a .344 on-base percentage, banging out 126 homers among his 934 career hits, scoring 525 runs and driving in 458 while playing for five different organizations. Soft-spoken and deeply religious, Smith never sought the limelight. He never made an All-Star team or won a World Series ring, but he had a positive impact everywhere he went. He played on four teams that reached the postseason, batting .262 with four homers, and on six winning clubs overall. In his last season, with the ’17 Orioles, Smith batted .258 with 13 homers in 111 games. He played his last game on his 35th birthday, Sept. 30. Then he retired — with no fanfare, no formal announcement — and returned to Mississippi, settling into family life.

24 Jul

off to a good start

Will Verdung hit 25 home runs in two seasons at Itawamba Community College, tying former Indians slugger Tyreque Reed for the most in program history. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise what Verdung did in his first at-bat in pro ball. The Corinth native hit a three-run homer today for the Florida Complex League Braves, Atlanta’s rookie-level affiliate. Verdung finished 1-for-3 against the FCL Orioles in Sarasota. Verdung, the MACCC’s player of the year for 2023, was drafted in the 13th round by the Braves earlier this month. A 6-foot-1, 185-pound third baseman, Verdung batted .389 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season and was a second-team NJCAA Division II All-America pick. He had signed with Southern Miss. … USM alum Hurston Waldrep, Atlanta’s first-round pick out of Florida, has yet to make his pro debut. More Braves stuff: Kudos to Mississippi Braves alum Daysbel Hernandez for picking up the win for Atlanta on Sunday against Milawukee. Hernandez struck out the side in his one inning of relief work. … Kudos to current M-Braves lefty Luis De Avila for being named Southern League pitcher of the week after tossing six no-hit innings with 11 strikeouts at Tennessee on Sunday. De Avila, 5-5, 3.04 ERA, has a current streak off 11 no-hit innings. … Atlanta traded prospects Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon, both of whom were on the M-Braves’ roster, to Colorado for major league reliever Pierce Johnson.

01 Jul

bravissimo

Before the curtain fell on June, a handful of Mississippians delivered performances worthy of raucous applause. Bidding for a spot on the National League All-Star team, Justin Steele — the lefty from Lucedale — pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings for the Chicago Cubs in a 10-1 win Friday against Cleveland. Steele is 9-2 with a 2.43 ERA, tied for second-most wins in the NL and tops in ERA. He should be in Seattle, for sure. … Austin Riley, the slugger from Southaven, went 3-for-5 with his 15th home run in Atlanta’s 16-4 demolition of Miami, its closest pursuer in the NL East. Riley, batting .270 with 43 RBIs, 55 runs and a .459 slugging percentage, was a finalist at third base in the All-Star voting and deserves a spot on the roster as a reserve. It would also be great to see him in the Home Run Derby. … Down in the minors, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner continues to build his case for a return to the big leagues with Minnesota. He went 3-for-5 with a single, double and triple for Triple-A St. Paul a day after hitting two home runs for the Saints. He is at .307 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs. Sent down on May 29 — despite getting seven hits in a four-game stretch for the Twins — Wallner hit .320 with five bombs in June for St. Paul. … Colt Keith, the former Biloxi High star, hit a 473-foot home run for Triple-A Toledo and is 7-for-13 in three games since Detroit promoted him from Double-A. The 21-year-old lefty-hitting third baseman is ticketed to play in the All-Star Futures Game on July 8 in Seattle. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Hunter Stovall, quietly having a nice year for Triple-A Albuquerque, delivered a walk-off hit for the Isotopes in a 4-3 win against El Paso. Stovall, a sixth-year pro, is batting .281 with six homers and 26 RBIs for Colorado’s top farm club. … In Low-Class A, former South Panola High standout Emaarion Boyd went 2-for-4 with three runs, two walks and a stolen base — his 39th of the year — in a win for Clearwater. The Philadelphia prospect is batting .276 (.400 OBP) with 46 runs in 52 games in his first full pro season.

28 May

worth noting

With a sixth-inning double Saturday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Corey Dickerson reached a pretty cool milestone: 1,000 career hits. McComb native Dickerson, 34, got his first big league hit in 2013 with Colorado, which drafted the lefty-hitting outfielder out of Meridian Community College in 2010. Now with Washington, Dickerson has played for eight different clubs over his career and has been an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. He has 136 career homers and 460 RBIs. The career hits leader among Mississippi natives is Dave Parker with 2,712. Three others (Buddy Myer, Ellis Burks and Frank White) reached the 2,000-hit level. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner now has 18 career hits after a 4-for-4 effort for Minnesota on Saturday. Wallner, who has played in just 28 games over his young MLB career, hit his first homer of 2023 in the win against Toronto; he hit two last season. … USM will play for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title Sunday in Montgomery, Ala., after beating Appalachian State 11-1 in an elimination game on Saturday. USM lost an earlier game to the Mountaineers. In the win, Will Armistead threw a seven-inning four-hitter and Matthew Etzel and Reece Ewing banged out three hits apiece in a 15-hit attack. … East Central Community College got run-ruled 12-2 by Southeastern Iowa on Saturday in the NJCAA Division II World Series and plays an elimination game Sunday vs. Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. … William Carey University won its opener Friday against Bellevue (Neb.) and will play again Monday in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. R.J. Stinson hit an RBI double and scored on a Jake Lycette sac fly to give the Crusaders a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Preston Ratliff pitched the ninth to nail down the win, Carey’s 48th of the season.

19 Jan

on comeback trail

There will be a small crowd of Mississippi-connected pitchers on the proverbial comeback trail when major league spring training camps open next month. MLB veterans Spencer Turnbull, Garrett Crochet and Drew Pomeranz and minor league prospects Ryan Rolison and Colby White missed the entire 2022 season rehabbing from arm injuries that required surgery. Ole Miss product Rolison and Mississippi State alum White appeared to be on the brink of their big league debut last season before injury shut them down. Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central High star, hasn’t pitched in a game since May of 2021. The Detroit right-hander had Tommy John surgery that summer, shortly after throwing a no-hitter on May 18. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA over nine starts in 2021 and is 11-25, 4.25, for his MLB career with the Tigers. He is penciled in as one of their top starters, assuming he regains his 2021 form. Ocean Springs native Crochet, a flame-throwing left-hander with the Chicago White Sox, had Tommy John surgery last spring, a blow to the White Sox’s bullpen. Crochet, 23, exploded on the scene in 2020, shortly after being drafted out of Tennessee. He has a 2.54 ERA over his two MLB campaigns with 73 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. It’ll be interesting to see how his velocity is affected by the injury. Former Ole Miss star Pomeranz, now with San Diego, went down with a flexor tendon injury late in the 2021 season and had surgery that off-season. The big left-hander made some rehab appearances last summer but never made it back to the Padres’ active roster, missing all the drama of their ’22 season. Now 34, the former first-round pick had a 1.75 ERA as a key bullpen piece for the Padres in 2021 and carries a 3.91 career ERA. Rolison, another UM alum and former first-rounder, was derailed by shoulder surgery last year. The 25-year-old lefty, who has slipped on Colorado’s prospect list to No. 22, reached Triple-A in 2021. Over three minor league seasons, he is 12-12, 4.35, in 50 games. He’ll likely debut with the Rockies sometime this season. White, a Hattiesburg native drafted out of MSU in 2019, had Tommy John surgery last April after going to camp with Tampa Bay as a non-roster invitee. He made the 40-man this off-season. In 2021, the right-handed reliever, now 24, rose through four levels of the minors with the Rays. He had a 1.86 ERA at Triple-A Durham and in 58 pro games overall has a 1.76 ERA and 12 saves. His MLB debut may be coming soon. P.S. Here’s a prep player to watch in 2023 and beyond: Samuel Richardson, a junior third baseman at Lewisburg, was recognized by mlb.com as one of the top hitting prospects at last weekend’s DREAM Series in Arizona. Richardson, who played at Senatobia last year, was among the 80 players, predominantly African-American, invited to the annual instructional event held on MLK Day weekend and sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball. … Mel Rojas Jr., who played for the Mississippi Braves in 2016, got the walk-off hit on Wednesday night as Licey won the Dominican Winter League championship. Ex-M-Braves catcher and longtime big leaguer Jesus Sucre also plays for Licey.

18 Oct

taking stock

The 2021 champions of the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves didn’t produce another trophy in 2022, finishing well off the pace in both halves of the Southern League season. What the M-Braves did produce were two players who made significant contributions in Atlanta’s playoff charge: likely National League rookie of the year Michael Harris II, who made the jump in May, and Vaughn Grissom, who followed in August. And that’s what the minor leagues are really all about. All told, nine M-Braves alums debuted in the big leagues in 2022 (not all with Atlanta): Harris, Grissom, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers, Freddy Tarnok, Joey Meneses, William Woods, Bryce Elder and Joey Wentz. A 10th, Alan Rangel, was recalled in late September but did not appear in a game. In total, more than 160 have made their MLB debuts since the M-Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005. While the team limped in with a 62-74 overall record under first-year manager Bruce Crabbe, six 2022 M-Braves made Atlanta’s organizational All-Star team as selected by milb.com. First baseman Drew Lugbauer, a fringy prospect, opened eyes with his 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. However, he batted just .213 and struck out 212 times. Cody Milligan was the pick at second base, Justyn-Henry Malloy at third (though he played mostly left field in Mississippi), Andrew Moritz in the outfield and Jared Shuster and Justin Yeager as pitchers. The top hitter, statistically, on the ’22 club was shortstop Cade Bunnell, who seemingly came from out of nowhere to bat .301 with eight homers. Shuster, a highly rated prospect who finished the season in Triple-A, posted a 2.73 ERA, best among the M-Braves’ starters. Tanner Gordon led in wins with nine and Justin Maese in saves with 11. Looking to next year, shortstop Cal Conley, currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, is a name to know. The Texas Tech product hit .251 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and 36 steals at High-Class A Rome. Another key player in 2023 figures to be outfielder Jesse Franklin, who began the year with the M-Braves but missed virtually all of the season with an injury. The M-Braves open the ’23 season on April 7 against Biloxi at Trustmark Park. P.S. The last time Philadelphia was in the National League Championship Series, back in 2010, former Weir High and Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt was one of the three (four?) aces on the Phillies’ pitching staff. Acquired in a midseason trade from Houston, Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch for the National League East champs. The staff also featured Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, but the Phils were knocked out by San Francisco. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier, who helped Seattle end its 21-year playoff drought, will be a free agent after the World Series. A 2021 All-Star in Pittsburgh, the lefty-hitting second baseman had a down year in 2022, batting .238. … Former Jackson Mets standout Dave Magadan is out as hitting coach in Colorado, which has had four straight losing seasons. Magadan was the third baseman on the JaxMets’ 1985 Texas League championship club.