26 Jul

whatever happened to …

Jonathan Holder, the former Mississippi State standout from Gulfport, made his first appearance of 2022 on Monday, throwing an inning for the Chicago Cubs’ Arizona Complex League team. He allowed a hit but no runs and struck out a pair for the rookie club. The 29-year-old right-hander is on a rehab assignment from Triple-A Iowa; he is not on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. From 2017-19, Holder was a significant piece of the New York Yankees’ bullpen, and he has a career 4.38 ERA in 157 MLB games. After a rough 2020 season in New York, he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs. Beset by shoulder issues, Holder pitched in only two games, both in the minors, last season. He re-signed as a minor leaguer last fall and went to major league spring camp before being shut down again. P.S. Ex-State star Ethan Small has been recalled by Milwaukee and is slated to make his second big league start today against Minnesota. The big left-hander is 6-4, 3.34 ERA, at Triple-A Nashville. He gave up four hits, four walks and two runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Cubs in his big league debut on May 30. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley extended his hitting streak to 17 games for Atlanta on Monday; he is batting .435 with eight homers and 15 RBIs during that span. … MSU alum Buck Showalter, current Mets manager and former Yankees manager (1992-95), will get his first taste of the Subway Series tonight when the first-place teams meet at CitiField. … Three Ole Miss products, all sixth-round MLB draft picks, have signed or agreed to terms, per mlb.com: pitcher Derek Diamond (Pittsburgh), catcher Hayden Dunhurst (Kansas City) and pitcher — and College World Series hero — Dylan DeLucia (Cleveland).

22 Jul

drought conditions

It isn’t Marcus Thames’ fault, of course. But the Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star is the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach, so he no doubt will come under scrutiny over the team’s recent offensive malaise. The Marlins were shut out for the third straight game on Thursday, losing at home to Texas 8-0, their fourth straight loss. The Marlins (43-49) haven’t scored in their last 34 innings. They haven’t hit a home run in nine straight games. They rank 22nd in MLB in batting (.237) and 24th in runs (371). This is Thames’ first year with Miami, which simply isn’t a very good team. A longtime big leaguer, Thames spent four years as the New York Yankees’ hitting coach. Loaded with talent, the Yankees were winners every year. But in 2021 they had problems with situational hitting and didn’t score a lot. They also didn’t win a World Series, a drought that goes back to 2009. Championships are the standard in the Bronx. Thames, very popular with the players, was axed along with several other coaches. Hired by the Marlins, he joined a team that won just 67 games in 2021. They’ve got some good, young pitching, but they didn’t hit last year and they’re not hitting this year. Now, they have fallen into an awful scoreless drought. This isn’t Thames’ fault. But he is the hitting coach.

02 Jul

all in a day

On any given day, 90-some-odd games are played in affiliated pro ball at the different levels, from the big leagues to the rookies. There are Mississippians scattered throughout this landscape, at different stages of their careers, with different objectives in mind. Here’s a snapshot from Friday, starting in Mesa, Ariz., in the Arizona Complex League, where one of Kansas City’s rookie teams met Oakland’s. The Royals’ shortstop and No. 2 hitter is Brennon McNair, 19, a product of Magee High School and the lone prep player drafted out of Mississippi in 2021. McNair had a day Friday, going 4-for-4, with a double, three runs and a stolen base. For the year, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound McNair is batting .314 with a homer, eight RBIs, four doubles, four triples, two steals and 15 runs in 15 games. Just getting started on the road that leads to The Show, McNair is one to track. In addition to batting .527 with 11 homers as a senior at Magee, he was valedictorian and class president. … In Myrtle Beach, S.C., former Clinton High standout Christian Johnson made his Low-Class A debut for Charleston in the Tampa Bay system. Playing left field, he went 1-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base. Drafted in 2019, Johnson’s career got off to a sluggish start. He hit .168 in parts of three seasons at the rookie level. But the former 19th-round pick, 21 years old, is getting an opportunity at a higher level, and he made good Friday. … In Vancouver, B.C., Ole Miss alum Will Ethridge registered an encouraging start for Spokane, Colorado’s High-A team, allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts and notching his first win since April 29. The 24-year-old right-hander, a fifth-round pick in 2019, is 3-4 with a 5.51 ERA in 12 starts this season, 10-12, 4.82 for his pro career. … At Reading, Pa., in the Double-A Eastern League, former Jackson Prep star Will Warren worked five innings (four hits, one run) for Somerset, the New York Yankees’ affiliate, but got a no-decision in a game the Patriots lost. Warren, 23, drafted just last year out of Southeastern Louisiana, is 3-2 with a 2.90 ERA in six Double-A starts. He already is rated the Yankees’ No. 27 prospect by MLB Pipeline. … In Nashville, Mississippi State product Ethan Small, who got a brief look with the Milwaukee Brewers this season, keeps putting up good numbers for the Triple-A Sounds. The lefty, a former first-round pick, improved to 5-3, 3.30, with a six-inning outing (six hits, three runs) on Friday against Indianapolis. Small, 25, lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his MLB debut back on May 30. He is bound to get another call-up soon. … In San Francisco, at Oracle Park, ex-Ole Miss star and big league veteran Lance Lynn delivered his best start of the season for the Chicago White Sox: six shutout innings, allowing only five baserunners. (The White Sox won the game 1-0 with a run in the ninth; MSU alum Kendall Graveman got the save, his fourth.) Lynn, 35, who missed two months of the season after knee surgery, is 1-1 with a 4.50 in four starts since his return. The scuffling ChiSox, third in the American League Central, need more vintage Lynn. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton was called up from Triple-A by Miami on Friday but didn’t get in the Marlins’ game. The well-traveled, 10-year big league vet had played one game for Jacksonville after signing on June 21; he hit .186 this season for Triple-A Tacoma in Seattle’s system before declaring free agency. … Petal’s Demarcus Evans, taken off Texas’ 40-man roster, was outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock’s roster. Evans last pitched in the majors in 2021; he has a 7.50 ERA in 12 games at Round Rock this year.

26 Jun

up-date in arms

Surely there are Oklahoma players and fans wondering this today: How can Ole Miss possibly top the brilliant pitching performance of Jack Dougherty, Mason Nichols and Josh Mallitz on Saturday, which followed the brilliant pitching performance of Dylan DeLucia on Thursday? How deep is that well? Heads up Sooners, ’cause here comes Hunter Elliott, who’ll start Game 2 of the College World Series with the national title in the Rebels’ grasp. Elliott, the freshman left-hander from Tupelo, has, in his last four starts, beaten LSU, Southern Miss and Arkansas and pitched masterfully in a no-decision against Miami. He is 5-3, 2.70 ERA, on the season. And he’ll have Rebel Nation roaring with every strike he throws in Omaha today. … The Houston Astros’ three-man no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Saturday marked the first time the Yanks had been no-hit since June 11, 2003, when Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner started and finished, respectively, a six-man no-no for the Astros at the old Yankee Stadium. … Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn’s return to the Chicago White Sox’s rotation has not exactly sparked a team resurgence (see previous post). Lynn, coming off knee surgery, is 1-1 with a 6.19 ERA in his three starts, and the team is 6-6 since his return. He was roughed up Saturday by Baltimore. In 16 innings, Lynn has yielded 20 hits and three walks. … Mississippi State alum Ethan Small, bidding for another shot in The Show, threw seven strong innings for Nashville on Saturday, leading Milwaukee’s Triple-A club to a 2-1 win against Gwinnett. Small (4-3, 3.18) allowed three hits and one run and punched out 10, getting rehabbing big leaguer Eddie Rosario twice. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren had the “unicorn slider” (see previous post) working Saturday, hurling 5 1/3 shutout innings in a win for Double-A Somerset in the Yankees’ chain. The right-hander allowed four hits and three walks with seven K’s. There is speculation, per MLB Trade Rumors, that the Yankees might use Warren as trade bait for a big league arm.

25 Jun

comes now a ‘unicorn’

In just his first professional season, Will Warren has made it to the pivotal Double-A level. A key factor in the former Jackson Prep star’s rise is a pitch he discovered and refined in minor league spring training with the New York Yankees. It has been labeled the “unicorn slider,” a bolting breaking ball that compliments Warren’s low-90s fastball. “I’ve never seen a pitch like it,” catcher Josh Breaux, Warren’s teammate with the Somerset Patriots, told nj.com. Warren, 23, a 6-foot-2 right-hander, takes a 2-2 record and 3.92 ERA into his fifth Double-A start tonight against Hartford at Somerset’s TD Bank Ballpark. Warren told nj.com that his quick rise in the Yankees’ system is “unreal.” Warren went 7-0, 1.39 ERA, at Jackson Prep as a senior and signed with Southeastern Louisiana, a good but off-the-radar NCAA Division I program. He spent four years with the Lions, posting a 3.90 ERA in 53 games. The Yankees liked something they saw and drafted him in the eighth round last summer. He made his pro debut this season with High-Class A Hudson Valley, going 2-3, 3.60, in eight starts before earning the promotion to Somerset of the Eastern League late last month. All told, he has 56 strikeouts and 17 walks in 55 2/3 innings. Warren still has work to do, of course, but he is rated the Yankees’ No. 27 prospect by MLB Pipeline, which notes that his slider could become a “high-leverage weapon” in the big leagues.

15 May

have a day

On Tim Anderson Bobblehead Night at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, it was only fitting that the former East Central Community College standout would play a leading role in the White Sox’s walk-off 3-2 win against the New York Yankees. With the score knotted at 2-2 Saturday, Anderson got a one-out single in the ninth inning off Aroldis Chapman. Yankees broadcasters credited Anderson with distracting Chapman into walking the next batter and then falling behind 3-0 to Luis Robert. On a 3-1 pitch, Robert poked a single into right field and Anderson scored the winning run from second base just ahead of a throw by Aaron Judge. The bobblehead commemorated Anderson’s walk-off homer vs. the Yankees in the Field of Dreams Game last summer. The dynamic Anderson went 3-for-5 Saturday, boosting his average to .339, second in the American League. He was just the brightest star on a day filled with shining moments from Mississippians in the majors. To wit: In the ChiSox-Yankees game, Mississippi State alum Kendall Graveman pitched two scoreless innings (the sixth and seventh) for Chicago, registered his eighth hold and trimmed his ERA to 1.56 in 15 games. … In Atlanta, a scuffling Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star, went 3-for-4 and delivered the game-deciding run in the eighth inning of a crazy 6-5 victory over San Diego. … In St. Louis, MSU product Dakota Hudson blanked San Francisco over five innings, picking up the win — he is 3-2, 3.06 — as the Cardinals stopped the Giants’ six-game win streak 4-0. McComb native Corey Dickerson went 1-for-4 for the Cards. … Former Southern Miss standout Nick Sandlin picked up a win for Cleveland, working 1 1/3 scoreless innings (in the eighth and ninth) in the Guardians’ 3-2, 10-inning win against Minnesota. Sandlin is 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA in 12 games in middle relief. … Chris Stratton, the MSU product from Tupelo, struck out two batters in the eighth inning and got his fourth hold for Pittsburgh in a 3-1 win against Cincinnati. … Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, belted his ninth home run in Milwaukee’s 9-3 loss to Miami. He is tied for the National League lead in homers. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, who has found his form in recent outings, worked a scoreless ninth inning for the Los Angeles Angels in their 9-1 win vs. Oakland in Game 2 of a twinbill.

28 Dec

catching up

Colby White, a Mississippi State product drafted by Tampa Bay in 2019, made the Rays’ Organization All-Star team as selected by milb.com. White, a right-handed reliever, posted a 1.44 ERA while rising through four levels of the minors in 2021. Would not be a surprise to see him in the big leagues in 2022. One scout has compared White to Craig Kimbrel, which is some high praise. … Ole Miss alum and erstwhile big leaguer Jacob Waguespack has signed with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. Waguespack spent all of 2021 in the minors for Toronto; he went 5-5 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 games for the Blue Jays in 2019-20. … Ex-State standout Jonathan Holder, who recently re-signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs, has been invited to big league spring camp. Holder, an MLB vet with a 4.38 ERA, did not pitch in the majors in 2021 because of a shoulder problem. He made two appearances in the Cubs’ minor league system and was dropped from the 40-man roster after the season. … Former MSU star Travis Chapman, a longtime minor league manager and coach, has been named the New York Yankees’ first base coach. … The Biloxi Shuckers got a shout-out (sorta) in Sports Illustrated’s year-end issue thanks to one of the craziest games of 2021. In a May 6 Double-A South contest at Birmingham, the Shuckers drew 13 walks and an HBP in one inning, scoring 12 runs en route to a 14-6 win over the Barons. SI’s Steve Rushin labeled it “Baron Wasteland” in his witty summary of the year’s oddest events. … The change in ownership of the Mississippi Braves franchise (from the Atlanta Braves/Liberty Media to Diamond Baseball Holdings) won’t affect the team’s affiliation with Atlanta or its location in Pearl, but one has to wonder if a name change might happen down the road. … Ready or not, the college season in Mississippi is slated to open on Feb. 2, when Rust College visits Tuskegee for a doubleheader that will also mark the debut of Bearcats coach John Bates. William Carey University, another NAIA program, opens at home in Hattiesburg on Feb. 4 against Lindsey Wilson. NAIA Tougaloo College starts Feb. 5 with a twinbill at Xavier of New Orleans. Tougaloo recently named its home field after longtime coach Earl Sanders, the ex-Jackson State star; the Bulldogs’ first game there is set for Feb. 19.

24 Sep

what’s on tap

At Trustmark Park in Pearl, the Mississippi Braves will try to take another step toward their second pennant when they host Montgomery in Game 3 (6:35 p.m.) of the Double-A South Championship Series. The M-Braves, 2008 champs in the Southern League, evened the series at 1-1 with an 8-5 win in the second game on Wednesday. Spencer Strider (3-7, 4.71 ERA), a 2020 Atlanta draft pick out of Clemson, goes to the bump for the M-Braves. The right-hander has 94 strikeouts in 63 innings over 14 starts. Trey Harris drove in three runs, Wendell Rijo homered, Justin Dean stole two bases and scored twice and the M-Braves bullpen finished with four scoreless innings in Game 2.
At Canal Park in Akron, Ohio, former Mississippi State standout Konnor Pilkington starts for the Akron Rubber Ducks in Game 3 of the Double-A Northeast title series against Bowie. The Ducks are up 2-0. Pilkington, a left-hander, went 3-2, 2.33 for Akron after coming over to Cleveland’s system from the Chicago White Sox. He is 7-6, 3.04 overall in 2021. Bowie’s shortstop is ex-State star Jordan Westburg, who hit .232 with four homers for the Baltimore farm club; he has 15 homers on the season.
At Wrigley Field, George County High product Justin Steele will try to stop St. Louis’ 12-game win streak when the rookie left-hander takes the mound for Chicago in Game 1 of a pair. Steele is 1-3, 5.12 in seven starts since the Cubs moved him from the bullpen. None of the Cardinals hitters have faced him. In the unlikely event the lowly Cubs sweep the Cardinals today, Milwaukee can clinch the National League Central with a win against the visiting New York Mets at American Family Field.
And at Fenway Park, there’s the always enthralling renewal of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Boston leads New York by 2 games in the American League wild card battle with Toronto lurking a game back of the Yanks. Gerrit Cole (15-8, 3.03) starts for the Yankees; ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, the Red Sox’s right fielder, is 3-for-18 with no RBIs career against the right-hander.

09 Sep

in select company

In his first season with Boston, Hunter Renfroe is rubbing elbows (virtually, of course) with Red Sox legends. In a jaw-dropping performance on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, in the heat of the battle for playoff spots, former Mississippi State star Renfroe hit a game-turning home run and made a game-ending throw. The Red Sox beat division rival Tampa Bay 2-1 and moved into first place – ahead of New York – in the American League wild card race. Renfroe, cut loose by the Rays after the 2020 season, launched a two-run homer in the eighth inning to put the Sox ahead. “There’s your magic, baby,” screamed one of the Boston broadcasters. There was more to come. In the ninth, Renfroe scrambled into deep center field to run down a ball hit by Joey Wendle and fired a cannon shot to nail Wendle at third base to end the game. It was the second assist of the night for Renfroe, who has 16 on the season, the most by a Boston right fielder since at least 1961, per mlb.com. Move over Dwight Evans. Renfroe’s homer was his 27th. He is just the sixth player in Boston’s long history with 25-plus homers and 15-plus assists in a season, again per mlb.com. Others on the list: Jason Bay, Manny Ramirez, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams. Renfroe is batting .267 and slugging .515 with 85 RBIs. He has 12 bombs since Aug. 1. “What he’s done for us this season, it’s been amazing,” manager Joey Cora said in an mlb.com piece. P.S. In other impactful games, MSU product Adam Frazier, in need of some big hits, went 2-for-4 with three RBIs in San Diego’s 8-5 win against the Los Angeles Angels. In a funk since joining the Padres at the trade deadline, Frazier doubled his RBI total and raised his average to .235 in 35 games with his new club, which is clinging to second in the National League wild card chase. … At Yankee Stadium, in red-hot Toronto’s 6-3 win over the skidding Yankees, Jarrod Dyson did what Jarrod Dyson do: The McComb native entered the game late as a pinch runner, scored on a sac fly and then ended the game with a diving catch in center field. The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by 1.5 games for the second AL wild card.

08 Sep

must see tv

Tonight’s marquee game in the big leagues has to be Toronto at New York, slated to be televised by MLB Network at 6:05 CDT from Yankee Stadium. Three Mississippians are among the cast: McComb natives and Mississippi junior college products Corey Dickerson and Jarrod Dyson play for the suddenly sizzling Blue Jays; Louisville native and East Central CC product Marcus Thames is the hitting coach for the Jekyll-and-Hyde Yankees, currently in an ugly slide. The Blue Jays (75-62) have won six in a row and nine of 10 to move within 2 games of the second wild card berth in the American League. They lead all of MLB in homers and have hit seven in the first two games of this series. The Yankees, who had ripped off a 13-game win streak that moved them to the top of the wild card standings, have dropped four straight and eight of 10. New York (78-60) lost the first two games of this series 8-0 and 5-1, failing to record a walk or an extra-base hit in successive games for only the fourth time in team history. Dickerson (Meridian CC) is batting .277 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 29 games for the Jays since he was acquired in a trade with Miami. He’ll lead off tonight against Yankees rookie right-hander Luis Gil. Dyson (Southwest CC), a recent waiver claim from Kansas City, serves mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. He is at .220 for the season with 10 steals, two for Toronto. It’s surely been a frustrating season for Thames, in his fourth year as the Yanks’ hitting coach. A lineup loaded with sluggers ranks 11th in the league in scoring, first in grounding into double plays and seventh in strikeouts. Only one batter in tonight’s lineup is batting above .266.