Colt Keith, the former Biloxi High star, hasn’t switched on the power yet in High-A ball, but his disciplined, “old-school” approach is producing nice results. Keith, who looks like a masher at 6 feet 3, 235 pounds, is batting .298 for West Michigan in the Detroit system. He has a .359 on-base percentage and has struck out just 19 times in 84 at-bats. One of the younger players in the Midwest League at 20, Keith has one home run, seven doubles, two triples and 14 RBIs. Drafted in the fifth round in 2020, Keith hit .286 with two homers at three levels last season in his pro debut. It figures that the power will come. For his part, Keith told motowntigers.com back in the spring that his approach is based on his disdain for striking out. “It’s a great mindset to have, staying with a short swing and putting the ball in play,” he said. Keith is primarily a third baseman but has also seen some time at second. MLB Pipeline rates him the No. 13 prospect in Detroit’s system, highlighting his athleticism and “quick, efficient left-handed swing.” Keith moved to Biloxi from Arizona in 2019 and was the state’s Gatorade player of the year that season. He was an Arizona State commit before the Tigers picked him in the curtailed 2020 draft and offered him a $500,000 bonus. P.S. Former Ole Miss and Mississippi Braves pitcher Chris Ellis, who made two appearances with Baltimore this season, will have shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the campaign.
There were times a few years back when Travis Demeritte looked like a budding star in the Atlanta system. Those who follow the Mississippi Braves would remember. With the Double-A M-Braves in 2017 and ’18, Demeritte belted 32 home runs, stole 11 bases and made a Southern League All-Star Game appearance. He was versatile enough to play second base, third and the outfield. But he was prone to slumps, struck out a lot and batted just .227 over those two seasons. In 2019, three years after he was acquired in a minor league trade with Texas, Demeritte was traded away to Detroit. In February of 2021, the Braves got him back as a waiver claim. On Tuesday night, in his third game for Atlanta, he finally took a star turn for the Braves. Demeritte homered — his first in the big leagues in three years — and made a great catch in right field, sliding into foul territory, as the Braves beat the visiting Chicago Cubs 3-1. Demeritte didn’t hit much in his 66 games with the Tigers in 2019 and ’20 but batted .282 with 21 homers at Triple-A Gwinnett last year and was swinging it well when Atlanta called him up last week. Once Ronald Acuna returns to the Braves’ active roster, Demeritte’s opportunities likely will diminish. But the former first-round pick — 30th overall by Texas out of Winder-Barrow High in Georgia in 2013 — showed what he is capable of on Tuesday night. It was good to see. P.S. For the current M-Braves, Drew Lugbauer hit his fifth homer — second-most in the SL — and Michael Harris II extended his on-base streak to 16 games (out of 16) in a 6-3 win at Montgomery.
Heads up, Biloxi Shuckers fans. A home-grown player appears headed that way next month. Joe Gray Jr., the ex-Hattiesburg High star, said in an mlb.com article that Double-A Biloxi is where he’s aiming to launch his 2022 season and build on the big year he had in A-ball. “That’s going to mean a lot,” Gray said of not just reaching the game’s pivotal level in his fourth pro season but playing close to home. Beset by illness and injuries in his first two seasons and shelved by the pandemic in 2020, Milwaukee’s second-round pick from 2018 broke out in 2021, batting .252 with 20 homers, 90 RBIs and 23 steals at two levels of A-ball. He also got an Arizona Fall League assignment. “So long as I’m on the field, stuff is going to happen,” Gray told mlb.com in a very interesting interview that covers his childhood on a farm in Carson (outside of Hattiesburg), why he chose baseball over football and his difficult bout with pneumonia in 2018. Minor league roster decisions are a long way off, but there is a strong chance the 21-year-old Gray, the Brewers’ No. 9 prospect, will be in center field when the Shuckers open April 8 at Pensacola. The team’s first game at MGM Park is set for April 12 against the Mississippi Braves. P.S. Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull is throwing again and is optimistic he’ll pitch for Detroit sometime in 2022, according to a Detroit News report. Turnbull had Tommy John surgery last summer. The right-hander, 29, went 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA and tossed a no-hitter on May 18 last year. … Former Loyd Star standout James Beard was named the best defensive prospect in the Chicago White Sox system by MLB Pipeline. The speedy Beard, a center fielder, was a fourth-round pick in 2019. His bat is still a work in progress; he hit .192 with five homers and nine steals at Low-A Kannapolis in 2021. Mississippi State and Jackson Prep alum Jake Mangum (see previous post) was pegged as the top defensive prospect in the New York Mets organization.
Lance Lynn came in second in the American League Cy Young race in a poll of mlb.com experts. The former Ole Miss standout is 10-3 with a league-best 2.20 ERA for the first-place Chicago White Sox. Mississippi State product Brandon Woodruff (8-7, 2.38 for first-place Milwaukee) got one first-place vote in the National League voting but finished outside the top five overall. … Boston placed Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe on the bereavement list on Thursday. It isn’t clear when Renfroe – batting .258 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs – will return to the team. … After the cancellation of the current homestand because of COVID-19 protocols, the Mississippi Braves have only one homestand remaining: Sept. 7-12 against Montgomery. The M-Braves are 58-39, best record in the Double-A South, with 18 total regular season games left. They visit Biloxi next week. … Keep an eye on former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, a fast-rising prospect (currently No. 12) in Detroit’s system. The state’s 2019 player of the year after moving to the Coast from Arizona, Keith was a fifth-round draft pick in 2020. A lefty-hitting third baseman, he has played at three levels in his pro debut season. He was batting .320 (.436 on-base percentage) in Low-A ball when the Tigers bumped him up to High-A West Michigan on Monday. … Ex-Ole Miss star Errol Robinson is now playing for Sioux City of the independent American Association. Robinson, drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, was with Cincinnati’s Double-A Chattanooga club (and hitting .213) when he was released earlier this month. Robinson reached Triple-A with the Dodgers and started this year with the Reds’ Triple-A team. … Millsaps College recently broke ground on a 6,000 square foot facility for indoor hitting, pitching and fielding practice. Also as part of the $1.8 million project, space in the existing Hall Activities Center will be converted into a 1,000 square foot player lounge. “This project is an important step in the upgrade of our baseball facilities,” Jim Page, coach of the NCAA Division III Majors since 1989, said in a school release.
On a wacky Wednesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Lance Lynn took the ERA lead in the American League. That was a good thing. But the former Ole Miss standout said he felt miserable during the game — and that was before he was ejected for throwing his belt from the dugout onto the field following the top of the fourth inning. That was a bad thing. But the first-place White Sox won the game 3-2 over Oakland as a gang of relievers – including Ocean Springs’ Garrett Crochet – closed it out. So, that was a good thing. Lynn, apparently dealing with a physical issue, battled through his four innings, throwing 88 pitches while yielding one run on three hits and three walks. All he needed was to throw 1 1/3 innings Wednesday to qualify for the ERA lead, which he now owns with a 2.26. But he would have liked to go more than four. Lynn’s night ended when third-base umpire Nic Lentz tossed him for tossing his belt. It was his first career ejection. Lynn had left his glove and hat on the field for the obligatory sticky-stuff inspection as he hustled into the dugout, he said, to see the trainer. The ump yelled for the belt. Lynn threw it. “(O)bviously, I hurt his feelings,” Lynn said in a postgame interview. Lynn, who can be a little intense, vowed to be back on the bump in five days. P.S. Mississippi State alum Jacob Robson, 0-for-7 in four games with Detroit, was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. He was having a strong season there and will probably get another big-league look.
When Mitch Moreland signed with Oakland as a free agent this past off-season, it was with the understanding that he’d be primarily a designated hitter in 2021. It was a role the ex-Mississippi State standout had never filled before in a big league career that began in 2010 and has been spent mostly in the American League. “It’s definitely going to be different,” he said in a published interview before the season, “so I’m kind of looking forward to (spring) camp to figure out how to transition into that a little bit better. Get a game plan together for that job. I can’t answer it yet.” It’s August, and the game plan is still a work in progress. Moreland, 35, is hitting just .230 with nine homers and 27 RBIs over 71 games — 54 of those as a DH, six as a first baseman. Maybe something clicked on Thursday, when Moreland blasted two homers in a 17-0 win over Cleveland. The homers were his first since July 16. He is batting .200 since the All-Star break. The lefty-hitting Moreland, who has always hit right-handers well, isn’t even starting every game against them. He has a career .251 average and 185 homers, the kind of power the A’s were seeking when they signed him. Oakland, which has won seven in a row and 11 of 13, is a serious playoff contender. Perhaps Moreland, who has been a productive postseason hitter (.259, four homers, 19 RBIs in 52 games), can figure something out down the stretch. There’s still time to be a contributor in meaningful games ahead. P.S. MSU alum Jacob Robson made his big league debut Thursday for Detroit, going 0-for-2 in a win over Baltimore. Robson, a lefty-hitting outfielder, was batting .275 at Triple-A Toledo after hitting .424 in 18 games at Double-A Erie to start 2021. He joins Justin Steele, Nick Sandlin and Jack Kruger as Mississippians who debuted in the majors this year.
Tough break for former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull, who’ll miss the rest of this season and a big chunk of 2022 because of Tommy John surgery. Turnbull threw a no-hitter in late May, the first ever by a Mississippi high school or college alum, and was having a strong year (4-2, 2.88 ERA) with a bad Detroit team when he went on the injured list June 5 with a sore arm. He was shifted to the 60-day IL on July 7, and the announcement about the arm surgery came Tuesday. Turnbull, 28, was a second-round pick by the Tigers in 2014 out of Alabama. He debuted in the big leagues in 2018 and has an 11-25, 4.25 career ledger.
A couple of pitching performances, from very different pitchers, jumped out from Friday’s array of games. Both, by sheer coincidence, involved the Detroit Tigers, who were on the losing side in each game. In the big leagues, former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn delivered one of his typical workhorse performances in the Chicago White Sox’s 8-2 win against the Tigers. In Triple-A, ex-Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty, a Cleveland farmhand, delivered one of his typical crafty performances in Columbus’ 7-1 win over Toledo, Detroit’s top farm club. The veteran Lynn threw 117 pitches to get through six innings. He allowed four hits, walked five, struck out nine and yielded just one run in improving to 8-3 for the first-place White Sox. His 2.02 ERA ranks second in the American League. The self-proclaimed “big bastard” just might get an All-Star Game invite. McCarty, a 5-foot-8 lefty in his fourth pro season, worked seven innings for Columbus, allowing four hits, two walks and the one run with six strikeouts. The only Toledo hitter who really gave him any trouble was Mississippi State alum Jacob Robson, who went 3-for-3. McCarty, an Oak Grove High product, is 6-1 with a 4.11 ERA in his first Triple-A campaign. The six wins rank second in the Triple-A East. He isn’t rated among the Indians’ top prospects, but he is surely on their radar.
Braxton Lee, signed out of independent ball last week, went 2-for-5 Wednesday in his debut with Cincinnati’s Double-A Chattanooga club, the latest stop in what has been a whirlwind career for the 27-year-old one-time major league outfielder. Lee played at Picayune High, Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss, where he had a nice season (.281, 30 steals) for the 2014 team that reached the College World Series semifinals. Lee was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2014 and began his pro career at Hudson Valley. From there he made stops in Port Charlotte and Montgomery before being traded in mid-2017 to Miami. The Marlins sent him to Jacksonville (where he won the Southern League batting title). He stood out for Salt River in the 2017 Arizona Fall League, then made the big leagues with the Marlins to start 2018. He spent time at four different levels that year, including Triple-A New Orleans, Class A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. He went 3-for-17 in two stints in the majors. The New York Mets claimed Lee on waivers in the fall of 2018, and he spent 2019 bouncing between Binghamton and Syracuse in that system. With no minor league season in 2020, he had no team to play for. He declared free agency last fall and signed with the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, playing four games (batting .438 under manager Stan Cliburn) before his contract was purchased by the Reds. Through it all, Lee has batted .266 in 606 minor league games. … Jacob Lindgren’s second – or third — chance at returning to The Show ended on June 4, when the Mississippi State product from Biloxi was released out of Triple-A by the Chicago White Sox. The 28-year-old left-hander had a 10.13 ERA in eight games for Charlotte. A second-round pick out of Starkville in 2014, he made the majors with the New York Yankees the very next year, appearing in seven games. Unfortunately, injuries – two Tommy John surgeries — derailed him thereafter. He spent time in Atlanta’s system and was signed by the White Sox in 2019. Lindgren had some positive results that season and was invited to their alternate site in 2020 and to big league camp this spring. The onetime strikeout machine had eight K’s and 15 walks in eight innings for Charlotte. P.S. Former State standout Jacob Robson, promoted to Triple-A upon his return from playing for Team Canada in an Olympics qualifier, went 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs Wednesday for Toledo in Detroit’s chain. Robson, a sixth-year pro with previous Triple-A experience, was hitting .424 in Double-A this season. The Tigers might have plans for him.
Two former Mississippi college stars, each of whom pitched a gem on Monday night, have risen to the top in ERA in their respective leagues. Mississippi State alumnus Brandon Woodruff, now with Milwaukee, leads the National League with a 1.41, and Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, with the Chicago White Sox, heads the American League with a 1.51. Woodruff stopped San Diego’s nine-game win streak Monday, throwing seven shutout innings (three hits, no walks, eight strikeouts) in a 5-3 win. It was the big right-hander’s ninth straight quality start. “This is brilliance,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. Woodruff’s record is just 3-2; the Brewers haven’t given him much offensive support in his 10 starts. Lynn has had no such problem. He improved to 5-1 over eight starts, tossing seven innings (three hits, one run) in a 5-1 victory against his original team, St. Louis. The burly right-hander called it “probably the most satisfying (win) I’ve ever had.” Note: He has 109 career wins and won a World Series with the Cards. … A pair of former Mississippi high school stars claimed player of the week awards in their respective leagues. Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull, who threw a no-hitter for Detroit last week, shared the AL award with Corey Kluber, who also tossed a no-no, and DeSoto Central product Austin Riley won the NL award after hitting .462 with six homers and 11 RBIs last week for Atlanta. P.S. No relief pitcher in the big leagues has a better ERA than State product Kendall Graveman, who has not allowed a run in 16 2/3 innings while racking up five saves for Seattle. Unfortunately, Graveman is currently on the COVID-19 injured list with an uncertain return date. … Ex-Richton High star JaCoby Jones was demoted to Triple-A by Detroit, presumably to find his swing. The sixth-year big leaguer is batting .170 with 42 strikeouts in 100 at-bats.