A product of an Atlanta-area high school, he made the jump from Double-A Mississippi at the age of 21, took a starting outfield job with the Braves and proceeded to astonish at the plate and in the field. No, not Michael Harris II. This is about Jeff Francoeur, who made his big league debut on this date in 2005. Seventeen years later, it’s easy to forget just how good Francoeur was that summer. With all due respect to Harris, Atlanta’s current rookie center fielder, his numbers pale in comparison to Francoeur’s. Through 36 games, Harris is batting .300 with five homers and 19 RBIs. Through his first 36 games in 2005, Francoeur — who homered in his July 7 debut at Turner Field — hit .353 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs. Harris has had an impact with his defense, but so did Francoeur, who was an outstanding right fielder in his prime. Francoeur landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which was a weekly publication at the time, on Aug. 29, 2005. The headline called him “The Natural.” Francoeur went on to hit .300 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 70 games for the ’05 Braves, who won the National League East. He had some good years after that, and though he never blossomed into a true superstar, he played 12 years in the majors (six with Atlanta) and hit .261 with 160 homers and 698 RBIs. Francoeur was not the first M-Braves alum to reach the majors — Brian McCann and Blaine Boyer beat him to it — but he was the first to make a major splash, starting on this date 17 years ago. Braves fans should be reminded just how good he was.
Corey Dickerson and the Miami Marlins visit Truist Park in Atlanta tonight in the first meeting of 2021 between the National League East rivals who met in the NLDS last year. Miami is off to a 2-6 start, and Dickerson, the McComb native and ex-Meridian Community College standout, is batting .269 (7-for-26) with no homers, two RBIs and three runs as the leadoff batter. Dickerson was singled out by Sports Illustrated as the “make-or-break” player in Miami’s lineup. He “has to rediscover his swing (from 2017-19) to bolster an otherwise unthreatening Marlins lineup,” writes SI’s Nick Selbe in the April 2021 issue. In his first season with Miami, Dickerson hit .258 with seven homers in 52 games as the team made a surprising run to the postseason. The batting average was down from his career line (.284) and so was his slugging percentage (.402 compared to .497). To contend again in the NL East, the Marlins probably do need more from the lefty-hitting outfielder, 31, who is entering Year 2 of a $17.5 million, two-year deal. Tonight, he’ll face Braves righty Huascar Ynoa, a Mississippi Braves alumnus who is coming off a strong start against Washington. … The Braves, 4-5 after Sunday’s controversial loss to Philadelphia, would welcome some thunder from the bat of DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, the power-hitting third baseman who is batting .207 (6-for-29) and has yet to drive in a run. But Riley isn’t the only Braves hitter who is scuffling; he actually has the second-best average in tonight’s lineup.
’Tis the season for speculation on MLB player movement, and there is plenty of it out there. Lance Lynn, the ex-Ole Miss standout, did not make Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 50 free agents last month but is rated as one of the next best six in a piece posted today. The right-hander, 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA for Minnesota and the New York Yankees in 2018, is projected as a good fit for Philadelphia. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier was rated No. 28 by SI and projected as a nice fit in Cleveland, while Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum Tony Sipp ranked No. 46 and was targeted for the Chicago Cubs. … Ex-UM star Drew Pomeranz, also a free agent after winning a ring with Boston, might be on San Diego’s radar. The big lefty was an All-Star for the Padres in 2016 before being traded to the Red Sox. … Trade rumors again are mentioning Hunter Renfroe and Billy Hamilton. Former Mississippi State standout Renfroe mashed 26 homers last season for the Padres, who have a surplus of outfielders. “Renfroe would help fetch a nice return,” mlb.com’s AJ Cassavell wrote. “But he’s not an overwhelming favorite to be traded.” Taylorsville native Hamilton, a standout center fielder who hit just .236 with a career-low 34 steals for Cincinnati, will be a free agent after the 2019 season. … It’ll be interesting to see what Toronto’s plans are for Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal. He scuffled in Triple-A (.240) and barely played after a late September call-up. And the Blue Jays appear set in the outfield. … Seemingly entrenched in Pittsburgh is ex-State star Adam Frazier, who is projected as the Pirates’ regular second baseman or an everyday-playing utility man. Considered a natural leadoff hitter, Frazier batted .277 with 10 homers last season. “It seems like the more he plays, the better he gets,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said in September.
Brandon Woodruff found a niche in Milwaukee this season, his second in the majors. The Mississippi State alum from Wheeler became one of the many bullpen pieces Brewers manager Craig Counsell relied on as the club churned toward the National League Central championship. There’s a good chance Woodruff will pitch today in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against Colorado. Much as Oakland did – without great success – in Wednesday’s American League Wild Card Game, Milwaukee is expected to throw a bevy of relievers at the Rockies. And brace for plenty of pitching changes as the series rolls on. That’s the Brewers’ M.O. — and the key to their chances in this postseason. As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci writes: “This is the game today: a proliferation of relievers with powerful stuff, and managers armed with specific data on how best to deploy them. … And this October, nobody can play this game better than Milwaukee.” Woodruff made 19 appearances for the club, 15 out of the pen. He has a 3.61 ERA, a 3-0 record and one save. Over his last seven appearances, the 25-year-old right-hander had a 0.73 ERA with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 12 1/3 innings. Woodruff is one of a bunch of former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers — Corbin Burnes, Jacob Barnes, Freddy Peralta, Taylor Williams, Josh Hader – now populating the Milwaukee bullpen. P.S. Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton, has played in one postseason game in his seven years in the big leagues. He has to be champing at the bit for his next opportunity, which could come tonight. Dozier isn’t expected to start for Los Angeles in the NLDS opener against Atlanta, but, despite his late-season offensive struggles, he’ll play at some point in the series. Dozier, possibly dealing with a sore knee, batted .182 with five home runs for the Dodgers after being acquired from Minnesota in July. He did homer on the last day of the regular season. And in that one postseason game, last year against the New York Yankees, he went 2-for-4 with a bomb.
Marcus Thames, the slugger from Louisville, is on a list that is both short and long at the same time. In its current issue (May 18), Sports Illustrated highlights the players who homered on the first pitch they saw in the big leagues. Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario became the 29th to achieve that feat on May 6. Just the 29th. And yet, it seems crazy that it has happened 29 times! First pitch. Home run. Thames did it on June 10, 2002. The former East Central Community College star, debuting for the New York Yankees, took Randy Johnson deep at Yankee Stadium. Thames, now a coach in the Yankees’ minor league system, is one of the few players on the list the casual fan might actually have heard of. There’s Bert Campaneris, Junior Felix, Adam Wainwright (yes, the pitcher), Starling Marte, Daniel Nava and Jay Bell. Bell went on to hit 194 more homers and has the most of any player on the first-pitch-homer list. Thames is second with 115. He hit just .246 over his career, but he did have some thump, averaging a home run every 15.4 at-bats, a remarkable ratio. P.S. Kudos to Oxford High’s Jason Barber, who is featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd, which makes note of his 0.00 ERA and two no-hitters this season. … Kudos also to former Mississippi Braves star Todd Cunningham, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs in his first big league start, sparking Atlanta’s 5-3 win at Miami on Friday night. … Former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart and Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton homered for Cincinnati, the only runs yielded by Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco’s 10-2 rout of the Reds. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier went yard (on his 28th birthday) for Minnesota, and ex-UM standout Seth Smith homered for Seattle. Cozart leads all Mississippians in the majors with six homers.