Now that the MLB trade deadline has come and gone, the best resource for contending teams to add to their clubs for the playoff push are the prospects in their farm systems.
The Baltimore Orioles called up top prospect Manny Machado, who opened his big league career with two hits Thursday night, while the Texas Rangers called up top hitting prospect Mike Olt last week. Despite the fact that neither of these two players had any experience above Double-A, they will be given the keys to everyday starting roles on contending teams with the hope they can thrive.
Baseball only gets better as the season winds down. With the addition of the second Wild Card, there is extra incentive for teams to make an extra push to make the playoffs. As the O's and Rangers have already shown, teams are willing to promote their prospects to try to get an upper hand.
Here are 10 more top prospects who could play a role in a pennant race in September.
With the Olympics in full swing, Billy Hamilton just might be baseball's Usain Bolt.
The Reds' speedy shortstop has ranked in Baseball America's Top 50 prospects each of the past two seasons, but this year he took his game to a new level.
The minor league record for steals in a season is Donnell Nixon's 144 in 1983, but Hamilton is on his way to surpassing that mark. In just 109 games this season, Hamilton has an astounding 131 steals, not to mention a .310 average and .407 on-base percentage across two levels.
While he is still in Double-A, Hamilton's profile is a perfect fit for the division-leading Reds, as they are in dire need of a leadoff man.
Entering play this week, Reds leadoff hitters ranked last in the NL in average (.202) and OBP (.248) and second-to-last in slugging (.308), OPS (.557), total bases (128) and RBI (19).
The Orioles and Rangers have both shown that teams will reach down into their minor league systems to fill a need, and Hamilton would do that for the Reds.
Watch Hamilton hit an inside-the-park home run in a breathtaking 13.8 seconds.
Shelby Miller has been one of baseball's top pitching prospects for quite some time now, ranking in Baseball America's Top 50 prospects each of the last three seasons and as high as No. 8 this year.
Despite his previous success, the Cardinals right-hander struggled mightily in Triple-A this season, and his debut at the big league level was delayed.
Before the minor league All-Star break, Miller went 4-8 with a 6.17 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP in 17 starts. However, after the break he has returned to his previous form, going 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA and an even more impressive 25-3 SO-BB ratio in 29 innings.
The Cardinals are very fortunate to have four very strong starters with Jaime Garcia close to returning from injury, but it appears their 2009 first-round pick is getting ready to take the next step.
Coming into the season, Oscar Taveras was a great prospect who was at least a couple of years away. The Cards OF has torn the cover off the ball in Double-A to the tune of a .325/.387.581 slash line, with just 50 strikeouts in over 400 at-bats.
After coming into the season ranked as ESPN's 53rd-best prospect, Taveras jumped up to No. 8 in its midseason rankings. St. Louis has two of the best outfielders in baseball with Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday, but if they are looking for more pop, Taveras could provide an upgrade over their injury-prone center fielder, Jon Jay.
Another strong hitting prospect in Double-A, Nick Castellanos was hanging around with Ted Williams for the first half of the season, hitting .405 through 55 games in High-A ball until his promotion to Double-A.
The Tigers lineup does not have many holes, especially after acquiring Omar Infante and Jeff Baker, but with Brennan Boesch hitting just .254, there could be a fit for Castellanos in Detroit sooner rather than later.
This would be another move that would be putting the value on the 2012 season ahead of the development of a prospect, but Detroit GM David Dombrowski has been very proactive in his pursuit of a World Series.
With the Prince Fielder mega-deal and Jacob Turner trade in mind, it would not surprise me to see Dombrowski make another aggressive move and promote Castellanos to the big leagues when the minor league season ends. He should contribute with a high average right away.
Despite his struggles in his brief cup of coffee at the big league level, Bauer still has future ace written all over him. His 11-1 record with a 2.16 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A this season speak to that, but Bauer still needs to improve his control.
Until he does, he will not reach his full potential, but I still believe he is a better option than both Collmenter and Corbin.
In Tyler Skaggs, Arizona has another "ace in the hole." Since being promoted to Triple-A, the 6'3" lefty has gone 4-1 in eight starts with a 1.70 ERA and 2.6 BB/9 ratio (compared to Bauer's 4.4/9 in Triple-A).
Despite being just 21 years old, Skaggs has been improving dramatically as the season has moved along. He has a 0.96 ERA in six post All-Star break starts, and his ability to control the strike zone probably has him ahead of Bauer if the need for a starting pitcher arises.
Coming into June, the Giants had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball.
Santiago Casilla was thriving in his new role as closer, and Sergio Romo was his usual dominant self in the eighth inning, while Jeremy Affeldt, Clay Hensley and Javier Lopez were performing well in their middle-relief roles.
Entering August, things are not quite as promising.
Romo gave up six runs in his last two July appearances, Casilla was last seen warming up in the sixth inning and Jeremy Affeldt has become the lead closer in a closer-by-committee approach.
With all of these struggles and new bodies in the 'pen, the next arm who could be thrown into the playoff push is Double-A strikeout artist Brett Bochy.
In 46.2 innings this season, Bochy has a 1.74 ERA with 60 strikeouts against just 12 walks. While it is a difficult transition for any player to jump from Double-A straight to the big leagues, if the SF bullpen continues to struggle, it may soon be time to see what the former 20th-round pick can do under the lights.
Simply put, the Yankees do not have many holes.
David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain have returned from injuries, and Rafael Soriano has continued to dominate at the end of the game, so the bullpen is far from weak. When it comes to the playoffs, though, one can never have enough pitching.
Enter Mark Montgomery.
In 51.1 innings this season, Montgomery has a 1.58 ERA across two levels. Since his midseason promotion to Double-A, his peripherals have only improved.
He has stopped walking batters, with just one in 11 innings. In addition to his 19 strikeouts and just six hits allowed, his WHIP, H/9, BB/9 and SO/9 have all improved despite the better competition.
The Yankees have used young, hard-throwing relievers down the stretch in the past, such as Phil Hughes in 2009, Joba in 2007 and Mariano Rivera back in 1996, so the precedent is there for Montgomery to succeed in the Bronx.
It is a testament to the Tampa Bay Rays and their staff that they are still in contention considering Evan Longoria missed three months and they have gotten little to no production from their middle infielders this season.
Reid Brignac hit .118 in 17 at-bats, Sean Rodriguez is hitting .208 in 274 at-bats and Elliot Johnson is hitting .248 in 262 at-bats as the Rays shuffle the lineup to try to get any sort of production.
That is where Cole Figueroa could fit into their plans down the stretch.
While I doubt he will have many All-Star appearances in his career, Figueroa has a .302/.376/.430 slash line across Double-A and Triple-A this season. His most impressive stat is that over the course of his five minor league seasons, he has accumulated 242 walks against just 189 strikeouts.
He has shown the ability to steal bases (with 26 back in 2010), and since he can play multiple positions in the infield, he has the needed versatility to fit into a Joe Maddon clubhouse.
The Angels are another team having tremendous bullpen struggles no matter who takes the mound.
Since the All-Star break, there are only two members of L.A.'s bullpen that have an ERA less than six. Thus, even with one of the best lineups in baseball, led by Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo, the Halos are in trouble.
One place they could look for some immediate help is 24-year-old Steven Geltz.
In his five-year minor league career, Geltz has a 12.1 SO/9 ratio, and this year he has taken it to a new level. Geltz has posted career bests in ERA, WHIP and BB/9 (2.09, 0.95 and 2.6/9, respectively), so he would provide a much-needed boost to the maligned Angels 'pen if called upon.