09 Sep

that’s one

Brent Rooker, the latest in a string of sluggers Mississippi State has propelled to the big leagues, hit his first home run on Tuesday in Minnesota’s loss to St. Louis in Game 2 of a twinbill. He’ll likely hit a few more. Rooker has been rated one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Twins’ system since he was drafted out of Starkville in 2017. He has 54 minor league bombs in 259 games, and he blasted a tape-measure shot in Tokyo in a Team USA game last fall. Rooker hit 23 homers at State in his All-America junior season and 36 over his three-year career. So, yes, he’s got pop. The all-time leader in homers by a State alum is, of course, Rafael Palmeiro, who ranks 13th on MLB’s career chart with 569. Coincidentally, Palmeiro hit his first career homer on this date in 1986. He played 20 years. Second on the all-Bulldogs list is Will Clark with 284, followed by the active leader, Mitch Moreland, who has 174, including eight in 2020. Hunter Renfroe, who has six homers this year, stands at 95 career. Tyler Moore topped out at 30 after a promising start to his career. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his Chicago Cubs debut on Tuesday as a defensive replacement in center field, a role that figures to be his primary. The speedy Hamilton was a waiver claim from the New York Mets this week and reportedly would be eligible for the postseason.

04 Sep

clearing the bases

Brent Rooker, the former SEC Triple Crown winner from Mississippi State, got some dents in his fender today in his first MLB game. He became the first Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in the big leagues in 2020 when he started in left field for Minnesota against Detroit in Game 1 of a twinbill at Target Field. In his first career at-bat, vs. lefty Matthew Boyd, Rooker was hit by a pitch on a 1-2 count. He then collided with the Tigers shortstop on a force play. In his second AB, he lined out, after which he was replaced in the field. He was back in the lineup, batting cleanup, for Game 2 and got his first hit and RBI. Rooker, an outfielder/first baseman, was a first-round pick by the Twins in 2017. He has batted .267 with 54 homers and 178 RBIs in 259 minor league games, reaching the Triple-A level last summer. He was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. … Seven players with Mississippi ties are among the 30 nominees, one from each team, for the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award. The award is “an annual recognition of the MLB player who best represents the game through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” The honored players include Mississippi State product and Amory native Mitch Moreland (now with San Diego, nominated by Boston); Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz (San Diego); ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox); Mississippi Braves alumni Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta) and Jason Heyward (Cubs); and Biloxi Shuckers alum Brent Suter (Milwaukee). … Former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader is Milwaukee’s bullpen ace, the hard-throwing lefty with the scraggly mane. Everyone knows this. The Brewers’ secret bullpen weapon is Devin Williams, another Shuckers alum who has been lights-out in 2020, his second MLB season. He has a better ERA than Hader, more strikeouts per inning and fewer walks. One analyst has called Williams “the most dominant reliever in baseball.” Featuring a great changeup, he has a 0.60 ERA and 31 punchouts and six walks in 15 innings. The right-hander, 25, pitched for Biloxi in 2019, posting a 7-2 record, four saves and a 2.36 ERA in the Double-A Southern League. He struck out 76 in 53 1/3 innings. He was also an All-Star Futures Game participant last summer before getting his first call-up in August. … Whatever happened to: Ernesto Mejia, who had a monster season with the Mississippi Braves back in 2011, is still swinging it for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese Pacific League. The 34-year-old Venezuela native hit a walk-off home run earlier this week and has seven bombs in 24 games. He has hit 340 homers in pro ball. Mejia had one of the best seasons ever by an M-Brave, batting .297 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs for the 2011 club. He reached Triple-A but never got to The Show. He has been in Japan since 2014.

17 Jul

big league chew

Having passed a physical on Thursday, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made an appearance at San Francisco’s summer camp, but it appears unlikely he’ll be active for the Giants’ opener next week. “I don’t see that as a realistic expectation right now,” manager Gabe Kapler said in a San Jose Mercury News story. Hamilton, who could play a valuable role on defense and as a pinch runner, is with the Giants on a minor league deal. The veteran outfielder was placed on the injured list last week for undisclosed reasons. … The Boston Red Sox have formally signed DeSoto Central High product Blaze Jordan, their third-round draft pick. Jordan, 17, received a reported $1.75 million bonus, much higher than the slot value of $667,900 for the 89th pick. … If Freddie Freeman, currently on the COVID-19 injured list, is unable to answer the starting bell for Atlanta, ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley appears to be the leading candidate to man first base. Riley made six appearances (three starts) at first last season as a rookie, when he hit 18 homers in 80 games. … Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff has displayed lights-out stuff in Milwaukee’s camp. “I’ve had probably seven to eight at-bats against him,” Brewers outfielder Ben Gamel told mlb.com. “His fastball is just different. He’s got a different gear to him. And me, just playing behind him, his changeup’s filthy.” Woodruff struck out Christian Yelich three times in an intrasquad game this week. … Brent Rooker, another former State standout, saw a lot of duty behind Marwin Gonzalez at first base in Minnesota’s camp while Miguel Sano was in COVID-19 quarantine. Sano, transitioning from third to first this season, returned to camp Wednesday. Rooker, who has 54 homers in 259 minor league games, could make the 30-man active roster if Sano isn’t ready for opening day. … The Chicago White Sox reportedly are thrilled with Tim Anderson’s work at shortstop in summer camp. “Defensively, his jumps have been amazing getting off the ball,” coach Joe McEwing said of the former East Central Community College star in an mlb.com story. “We have been really focusing on keeping his head in there and staying through it and finishing his throws.” The American League batting champ led league shortstops in errors the last three years. … Ex-MSU standout Chris Stratton, vying for a role on Pittsburgh’s pitching staff, says he is well-equipped for the new three-batter minimum rule for pitchers. “I just think that I’m capable of getting multiple outs,” he told mlb.com. “If that’s at the beginning of the game, if it’s opening, if it’s starting, whatever, if it’s in the middle of the game, hopefully I can help the team as best as possible with the things that I have.”

21 Feb

tool time

Demarcus Evans might not rank among the Texas Rangers’ top 30 prospects, but no prospect in the Rangers’ system has a better fastball than the former Petal High star, according to MLB Pipeline. Evans, 23, now on the 40-man roster and in big league camp, throws serious gas: In his five pro seasons, he has 369 strikeouts in 242 1/3 innings. If he improves his command, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound right-hander can be an impact arm out of the Texas bullpen. … Power is Bobby Bradley’s thing; the former Harrison Central High standout has said that he takes an assassin’s mentality to the plate: “I’m about to hit this ball as hard as possible. If you don’t have that certain kind of mentality, you’re already beat.” Rated by MLB Pipeline as the top power-hitting prospect in Cleveland’s system, Bradley, 23, has 147 homers over six minor league seasons and belted one during his 15-game MLB stint in 2019. … Mississippi State product Brent Rooker was given the nod as the top power prospect in Minnesota’s system. Rooker, who hit 36 homers in his three years in Starkville, has 54 in his three minor league campaigns, including 14 in Triple-A last year despite missing about half the season with injury. He smacked a monstrous homer for Team USA in Tokyo last fall that fans there may still be buzzing about. … As for the fastest running prospect in each organization, it came as no real surprise that James Beard topped the MLB Pipeline list for the Chicago White Sox. A fourth-round pick out of Loyd Star High last summer, Beard was considered the swiftest player available in the draft, drawing comparisons to Billy Hamilton. Beard, bigger than Hamilton at 5-10, 170, stole nine bases in 31 games at the rookie level in 2019.

15 Nov

have a blast

Of the many home runs he has hit in many different ballparks, the blast Brent Rooker struck in Japan’s Tokyo Dome on Friday is one that will likely stick with him. The Mississippi State product hit what was described as a “mammoth” homer that lifted Team USA to a 3-2 win over Chinese Taipei in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament. The victory in the must-win game kept Team USA in the hunt for a bronze medal in the event and a berth in the 2020 Olympic Games. Rooker’s third homer of the tournament was a two-run bomb in the seventh inning that gave his team its 3-2 lead. He reportedly punctuated the homer with an emphatic bat flip. “I had been holding my breath for about three innings,” Team USA manager Scott Brosius told The Japan Times. “So, he allowed me to breathe a little bit.” Rooker, a top prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization, has batted .353 in six games in the Premier 12 event. In his third pro season, the former SEC Triple Crown winner hit .281 with 14 homers in 65 Triple-A games, missing a chunk of time with injuries. He’ll likely make his big league debut in 2020.

11 Oct

going places

Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker, now a Minnesota Twins prospect, has been named to USA Baseball’s 28-man roster for the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament, set for Guadalajara, Mexico, from Nov. 2-4. Rooker, an outfielder/first baseman in his third pro season, batted .281 with 14 homers at Triple-A Rochester this season; he missed a chunk of time with injuries. Rated as the Twins’ No. 8 prospect (MLB Pipeline), Rooker has 54 homers in his pro career. Also on the Team USA squad is outfielder Drew Waters, the Mississippi Braves product who was Southern League MVP this year. The top two nations from the four in Team USA’s group will move on to the Super Round in Tokyo from Nov. 11-16. The event is a qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

27 Aug

dee-fense, dee-fense

Fans don’t shout “Dee-fense, dee-fense” at baseball games, but making plays in the field is an essential element of winning. The ability to catch and throw, skills he displayed on Monday night, has helped Jarrod Dyson carve out a 10-year big league career. In the sixth inning of Arizona’s game at San Francisco, McComb native Dyson, playing right field, made a leaping catch against the wall for the first out. (It was one of the Top Plays on MLB Network’s Quick Pitch.) Later in the inning, Dyson, shifting toward the line against left-handed pull hitter Brandon Crawford, fielded Crawford’s hit and cut down a runner at the plate, preserving the Diamondbacks’ 3-2 lead. “I played the play in my head before it happened, and it happened exactly how I played it,” the ever-quotable Dyson told The Associated Press. Arizona went on to win 6-4 in a battle of fringe wild card contenders. Dyson has eight assists this season and 165 putouts with just two errors in 96 games. For his career, during which he often has been used as a defensive replacement, Dyson has 59 assists and a .983 fielding percentage. The swift 35-year-old has played all three outfield positions in his career — and actually played all three in Monday’s game. P.S. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker started a rehab assignment on Monday with Minnesota’s Gulf Coast League team. Rooker, out with a groin injury, last played on July 13 for Triple-A Rochester, where he was batting .281 with 14 home runs. … Ex-Southern Miss star Cody Carroll (the one from Tennessee) pitched a scoreless inning Saturday on a rehab assignment with Baltimore’s GCL team. Carroll, who made his big league debut in 2018, has been out all season with a back injury.

18 Jul

reverse course

After a sluggish start to his pro career, Willie Joe Garry Jr. has taken off in Year 2. The former Pascagoula High star, 19, is batting .314 with a homer, seven RBIs and 12 runs in 21 games for Elizabethton, a rookie-level club in Minnesota’s system. Garry went 3-for-3 with three RBIs in an E-Twins win on Wednesday. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound lefty hitter batted just .160 in the Gulf Coast League in 2018. He was a ninth-round pick by the Twins in 2018, the third prep player drafted out of the state behind Brandon’s J.T. Ginn and Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray. Garry’s draft stock soared following a strong showing with his travel team in the summer of 2017, according to a story in the Biloxi Sun-Herald. A five-tool talent, he then hit .432 with three homers and 21 steals as a senior at Goula. Garry, a second cousin of former Southern Miss football star Ben Garry, told the Sun-Herald he credits some of his development as a player to ex-big leaguer Matt Lawton, his youth league coach. (Lawton also was drafted by the Twins and played seven years in Minnesota.) Garry plays center field for the E-Twins, usually flanked in right field by USM alum Matt Wallner, a first-round pick this year who is hitting .316 with a couple of homers. P.S. Jarrod Dyson, the former McComb High and Southwest Mississippi Community College star, left Wednesday’s game for Arizona with a hamstring cramp. Dyson helped fuel the Diamondbacks’ 19-4 win at Texas with three hits, including his career-high sixth homer. The 34-year-old outfielder is batting .254 with 43 runs and 21 stolen bases in 77 games.

10 Jul

oh, by the way …

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of All-Star week is the Triple-A All-Star Game, which is set for tonight (8 p.m., MLB Network) in El Paso, Texas. It’s worth noting here because there are two Mississippi-connected players on the International League roster: Mississippi State product Brent Rooker and ex-Mississippi Braves slugger Travis Demeritte. Rooker, a third-year pro in the Minnesota Twins system, is batting .286 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs for Rochester. One of the highest rated prospects in this game (No. 7 by mlb.com), he could get a big league call-up later this summer. Demeritte, now with Gwinnett in Atlanta’s chain, is batting .301 with 18 homers and 64 RBIs. He hit 32 homers during two otherwise lackluster seasons in Pearl. The IL’s pitching coach is Jackson native and former big leaguer Stu Cliburn, who has been in Rochester for several years. P.S. In the lone MLB game on Thursday night’s slate, Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn will shoot for the American League lead in wins when he takes the mound for Texas against visiting Houston. Lynn, in his first year with the Rangers, is 11-4, 3.91 ERA. He is an impressive 93-61 career.

28 Jun

more to come

Matt Wallner belted his first pro home run on Thursday. Many more are expected. Wallner, Southern Miss’ career home run leader, hit a solo shot for the rookie-level Elizabethton Twins against the Bristol Pirates in an Appalachian League game. Wallner is batting .320 (8-for-25) in six games. Minnesota drafted the Minnesota native with the 39th overall pick earlier this month; it’s the highest any Golden Eagles player has been picked. Power is Wallner’s game. The 6-foot-5 left-handed slugger tied the USM single-season record for homers this year with 23 and finished his three years in Hattiesburg with 58. The Twins drafted Wallner in the 32nd round out of high school in 2016, but Minnesota’s Mr. Baseball opted to attend North Dakota, which abruptly dropped its program. He landed at USM, where he won several national freshman of the year awards in 2017 and earned All-America nods as a sophomore and junior. A prototypical right fielder, Wallner also has a big arm. USM occasionally used him as a closer his first two years. P.S. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect and another power bat in that system, was named to the International League roster for the Triple-A All-Star Game, scheduled July 10. The former SEC Triple Crown winner is batting .277 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for Rochester. … Ex-State standout Reid Humphreys is back on the injured list at Double-A Hartford in Colorado’s system. The right-handed closer came off the IL on June 7, allowed 11 hits and five runs in four appearances and went back on the shelf on June 21. He had 39 saves in his first three pro seasons. … George County High alum Walker Robbins, who batted .170 with two homers over his first three pro seasons, is now pitching full-time at rookie-level Johnson City in the St. Louis system. The 21-year-old lefty, a fifth-round pick in 2016, has a 2.70 ERA in three relief appearances.