The likely delayed start of spring training for most minor leaguers scuttles what might have been a cool scene this spring in Fort Myers, Fla., site of Boston’s spring training facility. Imagine a batting practice session that includes three big dudes from Mississippi, each a newcomer to the Red Sox, each with a well-earned reputation as a masher. Imagine Hunter Renfroe, Tyreque Reed and Blaze Jordan taking their hacks in a group. Wouldn’t that be something to see? Renfroe, 6 feet 1, 230 pounds, from Crystal Springs by way of Mississippi State, has 97 home runs over his four-plus big league seasons. The Red Sox signed him as a free agent in December. Reed is from Houlka and an Itawamba Community College product. The 6-1, 250-pound first baseman has hit 41 bombs in two-plus minor league seasons at the rookie and A-ball levels. The Red Sox took him from the Texas organization in December’s Rule 5 draft. Jordan, from prep powerhouse DeSoto Central, was drafted in the third round in 2020 and jumped in as the organization’s No. 15 prospect. The 6-2, 220 third baseman has yet to play a game above the high school level, but he has been making headlines as a slugger since he was a pre-teen. He won the high school home run derby at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Renfroe, Reed and Jordan, launching missiles into the Florida sky at JetBlue Park. Maybe next year. P.S. Baseball America has reported that Double-A and Class A level players won’t start spring training until after the big league and Triple-A clubs have left. That means a later start and finish to the season for the lower minors, including the Class AA Mississippi and Biloxi teams. Additionally, there will be no postseason at those levels. MLB, now running the streamlined minor leagues, has not released any schedules.
As major league clubs begin to make cuts, there are a handful of Mississippians on 40-man rosters who are out of options, which essentially means they can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers and possibly being snatched by another club. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the player. Of particular interest is the case of ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford, a longtime outfield prospect in Toronto’s system. Alford, 25, who has had limited big league time (33 games from 2017-19), has been inconsistent and injured over much of his minor league career. He is batting .167 in 24 at-bats with four steals this spring. Per milb.com, “(H)is plus speed and ability to cover plenty of ground on defense would be assets to the back end of the Blue Jays roster.” Alford is competing with several others for a backup outfield job. Three veteran pitchers are also on the roster bubble: Former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton (Pittsburgh), Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers (Los Angeles Angels) and Northwest Mississippi Community College product Cody Reed (Cincinnati). Mayers has been the most effective this spring, with a 4.76 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. … Former George County High star Justin Steele was optioned out by the Chicago Cubs last week. The oft-injured Steele, 24, had allowed six runs on two hits and six walks in 2 2/3 innings this spring. He was 0-6, 5.59 at Double-A Tennessee in 2019, his sixth pro season. Those numbers notwithstanding, the Cubs reportedly really like the left-hander’s upside.
Mississippi State’s resilience will be tested this weekend as the team absorbs the impact of losing ace J.T. Ginn for the season and slugging first baseman Tanner Allen for an extended period. Ginn reportedly had Tommy John surgery, which typically involves a year of recovery. A first-round MLB draft pick out of Brandon High in 2018, he is eligible to be drafted again this summer. Allen, State’s leading hitter in 2019, has a broken hand. The Bulldogs, scuffling at 7-4, host Quinnipiac this weekend. … In other news: Nationally ranked Ole Miss, surging at 11-1, hosts Princeton (0-4) this weekend; it’s the first ever meeting between the two. … Delta State (10-8) has lost five straight – its longest skid since 1979 – heading into a Gulf South series against Auburn-Montgomery (6-10, 5-4) at Ferriss Field. DSU is 4-5 in league play after being swept at West Florida last weekend. … William Carey swept SSAC player (R.J. Stinson) and pitcher (Sloan Dieter) of the week honors after winning a league series against nationally ranked Faulkner and hopes to ride that momentum in an SSAC series this weekend against visiting Brewton-Parker. … Belhaven, 6-7 with four straight wins (including a 12-11 conquest of rival Millsaps), hosts Hardin-Simmons in an American Southwest series this weekend. BU is 3-3 in the league. … Pearl River Community College’s Leif Moore earned NJCAA Division II pitcher of the week honors after tossing six no-hit innings with 16 strikeouts vs. Nunez (La.) last week. Moore, from Biloxi’s St. Martin High, is 2-0, 0.00 ERA for the 10-2 Wildcats, ranked No. 2. Hinds (10-0) is ranked third, Northwest (12-1) seventh, Itawamba (9-3) ninth and Northeast (12-2) 12th. … Nationally ranked DeSoto Central High went 2-0 in the Perfect Game Showdown at Hoover, Ala., on Thursday and is 8-1 on the year. Blaze Jordan, generally regarded as the state’s top player, is batting .467 with four doubles and four triples. Cade Smith is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks, another of the state’s best, hit four homers in his team’s first four games. … Travis Demeritte, who slugged 32 homers in two seasons with the Mississippi Braves, hit two homers off Gerrit Cole on Thursday in Grapefruit League play. Demeritte, vying for an outfield job with Detroit, also hit two bombs in a game on Monday. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier is 4-for-13 in five games in his bid to win the second base job with San Diego this spring. … Harrison Central alum Bobby Bradley, hoping to make Cleveland’s club, is 7-for-19 with two homers and five RBIs in Cactus League play. … MSU product Mitch Moreland, pulled from Boston’s game on Sunday with what was described as a minor hamstring problem, has not played since.
The San Diego Padres were never a contender during Hunter Renfroe’s three-plus seasons there. He’s in a different place now. Tampa Bay was a postseason team in 2019 and is expected to battle for a playoff berth again this year. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, is expected to contribute to the charge. Acquired by the Rays in an off-season trade, Renfroe hit 33 home runs last season and has 89 in 390 MLB games in his career. “Obviously, (there’s) the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’s just getting better and better,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino told mlb.com. “That power is going to be big in our lineup.” Renfroe has yet to homer for the Rays this spring but has made an impression with the bat just the same. “Hunter has unbelievable power,” outfielder Austin Meadows said. “His batting practice is ridiculous.” Renfroe is just a .235 career hitter (.294 on-base percentage) with high strikeout numbers, but his defensive ability is another plus. A Gold Glove finalist in 2019, he is projected to start in left field, though there is a crowd in the Rays’ outfield. Nevertheless, Renfroe is happy with the change of scene. “It’s a win-win situation for me,” he told Tampa’s Fox 13 News. “I have a chance to do something special here with these guys — going to the World Series and stuff like that, so I look forward to it, and I look forward to the season.”
Boom. Bam. Pow. Home runs – in North Port, Fla., Scottsdale, Ariz., and Poplarville – are the theme here. At Atlanta’s new spring home in Florida – CoolToday Park – former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley hit a tape measure bomb in a Grapefruit League game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Riley’s second homer of the spring traveled an estimated 444 feet, crashing into the massive scoreboard in left-center field. “I’m pumped,” Riley said in an mlb.com story. “If we can just keep riding this out and stick with it, I think it’s going to be a good year.” The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Riley, hitting .316 this spring, is battling for the Braves’ third base job (see previous post). … At Scottsdale Stadium, San Francisco’s Cactus League home, Houlka native and Itawamba Community College alum Tyreque Reed crushed an opposite-field homer in his first at-bat of the spring for Texas. It came off big leaguer Shaun Anderson in the seventh inning and proved to be the game-winning hit. Reed, called over from minor league camp on Tuesday, homered in his lone big league spring game in 2019. An eighth-round pick by the Rangers in 2017, the 6-1, 250-pound Reed has 41 homers in his three minor league seasons. … At Dub Herring Park in Poplarville, Reece Ewing and Bryson Ware slugged two home runs apiece to power No. 2-ranked Pearl River Community College to a doubleheader sweep of Coastal Alabama-East. Ware, a Germantown High product and Auburn signee, has five homers on the year for 10-2 PRCC, while Ewing, a Southern Miss signee, now has three bombs.
Joe Gray, the ex-Hattiesburg High star, made his first appearance in an MLB spring training game on Monday and showed out. Gray, inserted mid-game as the DH for Milwaukee, went 2-for-2 with a double, an RBI and a run in the Brewers’ Cactus League loss to Oakland at Mesa, Ariz. Gray, a second-round pick by the Brewers in 2018, has labored rather quietly through two pro seasons at the lowest levels of the Brewers’ system. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder, he hit .182 with two homers in 24 games in the rookie Arizona League in 2018 and .164 with three homers in 31 games in the advanced rookie Pioneer League last season. He remains a highly rated prospect – MLB Pipeline has him at No. 9 in the Milwaukee system – based on his power potential and defensive abilities, most notably his arm. Gray, still only 19, has struck out 61 times in 187 at-bats, so more consistent contact is likely key to his advancement. He is probably a couple of years away from reaching Double-A Biloxi. P.S. Also making their big league spring debut on Monday at Mesa were Ethan Small, the Mississippi State product who was the Brewers’ first-round pick last summer, and Ole Miss alum Thomas Dillard, Milwaukee’s fifth-round selection in 2019. Left-hander Small worked a scoreless inning with a punchout and a walk, while Dillard, playing right field, went 0-for-1. … In the Brewers’ other split-squad game on Monday, a win against the Los Angeles Angels in Phoenix, former MSU star Brandon Woodruff, the staff ace, threw a scoreless first inning, opening some eyes when his first pitch hit 98 mph. “So, I needed to tone it down just a hair,” Woodruff told mlb.com.
After a frustrating, injury-marred 2019 season, former Richton High standout JaCoby Jones has come out of the gate strong this spring for the Detroit Tigers. He led off Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against Pittsburgh with a home run off Derek Holland and is 2-for-4 with two RBIs in two games. Jones, penciled in again as the Tigers’ regular center fielder, did three separate stints on the disabled list in 2019, playing in just 88 games. His season ended in early August when he broke his left wrist. Jones calls last year a “fluke thing.” “All my career I’ve been durable and been able to stay on the field. … This year I want to do everything I can to stay on the field for 150 games,” he told The Detroit News in January. Jones batted .235 last year – 24 points better than his career mark – and hit 11 homers with seven steals. During May and June, he batted .281 with eight homers, 22 RBIs and 24 runs. Detroit would love to see that kind of production over a full season. Regarded as a plus defender, Jones had some struggles in the field in 2019, possibly related to shoulder and back injuries. A third-round pick out of LSU by Pittsburgh in 2013, Jones turns 28 in May and is facing what might be a pivotal time in his career.
The addition of a 26th roster spot for major league clubs this season could help former Delta State star Trent Giambrone land a job with the Chicago Cubs this spring. Giambrone has received a non-roster invite to big league camp and figures to compete for a utility role. The fifth-year pro, who goes 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, can play virtually anywhere and has some power, having hit 23 homers in Triple-A last year. He is a .250 career hitter and played well in the Cubs’ camp last spring. Also on the Cubs’ NRI list, for the first time in his five years in pro ball, is ex-Ole Miss left-hander Wyatt Short, who posted a 2.95 ERA and nine saves between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. Ethan Small, the first player from Mississippi picked in last summer’s draft (28th overall out of Mississippi State), will be in Milwaukee’s camp as an NRI. The left-hander, already rated among the Brewers’ top prospects, pitched only 21 innings in the low minors last year. Ex-Ole Miss standout Ryan Rolison, Colorado’s first-round pick in 2018, received his first invite to Rockies’ camp, while MSU alum Brent Rooker, a supplemental first-round choice by Minnesota in 2017, will be back in the Twins’ camp for a second year. Other NRIs from the state include: Cooper Johnson (Ole Miss), Detroit; Jack Kruger (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Henri Lartigue (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Chuckie Robinson (Southern Miss), Houston; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit; Kade Scivicque (Southwest CC), Detroit; Tim Dillard (Itawamba CC), Texas; and Jacob Lindgren (MSU), Chicago White Sox.
After missing almost three full years because of two elbow surgeries, Biloxi native and onetime major leaguer Jacob Lindgren put up some good numbers in the low minors in 2019. The 26-year-old left-hander has been rewarded by the Chicago White Sox with a non-roster invitation to big league spring camp. ChiSox pitchers and catchers officially report Feb. 12. Lindgren was a second-round pick out of Mississippi State by the New York Yankees in 2014 after a junior season that saw him post a 0.81 ERA and average almost two strikeouts per inning. He made his MLB debut with the Yankees in 2015, appearing in seven games. But his career was detoured by injury the next year, when he had the first of his two Tommy John surgeries. He left the Yankees after the 2016 season, signed with Atlanta but didn’t pitch in an official game in the Braves’ system in 2017 or ’18, when he had his second surgery. The White Sox signed Lindgren as a minor league free agent last January. Once cleared to pitch, he worked at three levels and finished with a 2.83 ERA, 28 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 2/3 innings over 21 games. He’ll be a longshot to make the White Sox’s 26-man club this spring, but it must feel good just to have that opportunity. P.S. Other recent non-roster spring invitees include: Cooper Johnson (Ole Miss), Detroit; Henri Lartigue (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Chuckie Robinson (Southern Miss), Houston; and Jacob Robson (State), Detroit.
It’s gotta be a big thrill for a minor league player just to get called over to big league camp for the first time for an exhibition game. Then imagine getting a start at first base, then a hit in your first at-bat and then a home run in your third. Tyreque Reed lived that on Sunday in Arizona. The former Itawamba Community College slugger from Houlka, an eighth-round pick by Texas in 2017, surely left an impression on the Rangers’ brass. All three of the 21-year-old’s ABs came against Kansas City big leaguer Jakob Junis. The seventh-inning homer put the Rangers ahead in a game that would end in a 3-3 tie. Reed’s bat is legit. He gained a measure of fame when he led the nation’s Division II jucos in batting with an eye-popping .504 average in 2017. He also launched 15 bombs in 47 games for ICC that year. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound right-handed hitter hit .350 with five homers in 35 games in rookie ball in 2017 and followed that by batting .267 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs at Class A Hickory in 2018. His development should be fun to watch.