Look for St. Louis' Carlos Martinez to get a look in September before earning a full-time gig in 2014.
September is an exciting month in Major League Baseball. There are playoff races, MVP battles, Cy Young matchups. An underrated but nonetheless important aspect of the final month is the expansion of rosters and prospects being called up.
We have already seen a flurry of top-prospect activity in recent weeks, dating back to Tampa Bay calling up Wil Myers to the Red Sox surprising a lot of people by bringing up Xander Bogaerts for the stretch run.
While we probably aren't going to see anyone the caliber of Myers or Bogaerts, widely regarded as top-five prospects at the time of their respective call-ups, there will be names to keep an eye on.
What's great about September, especially with teams conceding that they are out of the race, is it gives managers freedom to tinker with the lineup so they can incorporate these young players and give them valuable experience heading into next season.
Here are our best bets for players likely to get called up when rosters expand in September who can be impactful in 2014.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Current Level: Triple-A (Tacoma)
Taijuan Walker has been featured on prospect lists so long that you might start to wonder why he hasn't been called up if he is so great. Well, it speaks to his raw talent (plus-plus fastball and cutter, potentially plus curveball) and the fact he just turned 21 on August 13.
Pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Walker's stats at Triple-A don't look great (4.27 ERA, 45 hits in 46.1 innings). There are still some issues with the command and consistency of off-speed stuff that could prevent a September call-up.
But for the Mariners, who are still trying to figure out what to do with their offense and building around young pitching, getting Walker a few big league starts heading into 2014 could be crucial for his confidence.
Certainly, given the quality of Walker's stuff and poise on the mound, he could handle himself in Seattle right now. I don't think the Mariners will give him the call, but it wouldn't surprise me, which is why he's included.
Current Level: Triple-A (Memphis)
I fully admit that this pick is a bit of a cheat because the Cardinals have already used Carlos Martinez twice and should have no qualms calling him up for the stretch run, especially after the Triple-A season ends.
But just because Martinez has been called up before doesn't make him any less impactful, especially since he can essentially be this year's version of Shelby Miller, who came up late last season and worked primarily out of the bullpen.
Martinez's ultimate future might be in the bullpen because his smaller stature (6'0", 185 lbs) does cause some concern about his durability over 200-plus innings. He has an arsenal good enough to start with a mid-90s fastball, plus-plus changeup and above-average curveball.
Fastball command has often been one of Martinez's biggest weaknesses, and that has held true with 23 walks in his last 54 innings at Triple-A. If he can harness his command and repeat his delivery, the Cardinals will have another potentially dominant starting pitcher or at worst a late-inning, high-leverage reliever.
Current Level: Triple-A (Toledo)
Like Walker, Nick Castellanos has been on the prospect radar for years just biding his time until the Tigers give him a chance. He wasn't helping his cause with a slow start, but other than a poor July, he has been terrific.
Castellanos is a third baseman miscast as a corner outfielder because the Tigers insist that Miguel Cabrera can play defense despite a mountain of evidence suggesting otherwise.
That position change does lower Castellanos' upside because there is more pressure on his bat—specifically the power—and despite being a natural hitter, he doesn't project to be a huge home run hitter. He can hit for average and a lot of doubles with 15-18 home runs.
The questions also remain about how well Castellanos has acclimated himself to left field, though it also depends if the Tigers actually put stock in defense. The Tigers have an obvious need for a left fielder with Andy Dirks posting a .665 OPS in 100 games.
Current Level: Triple-A (Omaha)
The suddenly pitching-rich Royals are certainly under no obligation to promote their top prospect this September, though I don't think they are a playoff team either way. But Yordano Ventura is yet another hard-throwing arm they can use out of the pen down the stretch or allow him to make a few starts in preparation for his full-time debut in 2014.
Ventura is like Carlos Martinez in that his future long-term role is up in the air. There seems to be less chance of him sticking in the starting rotation than Martinez because he is an inch shorter and his no-plane fastball tends to be very straight, allowing hitters to elevate it.
In relief, Ventura is a weapon because he can bring triple-digit heat with the fastball and a hard-snapping curveball that will destroy some knees. Turning over a lineup three times might prove more problematic, though the Royals should—and will—give him every opportunity to prove he can stick as a starter.
Ventura also has some control issues that have to be ironed out with 31 walks in 65.2 innings with Omaha, but it is not a huge concern that downgrades his long-term prognosis.
Current Level: Triple-A (Pawtucket)
Jackie Bradley's first trial with the Red Sox did not go as planned when the 2011 first-round pick hit just .155/.258/.310 in 23 games, but that hasn't hurt his overall development. Since being demoted, he has found himself with a strong .280/.379/.495 line in 68 games.
Given the promotion of Bogaerts, we know that this Red Sox team will not rest on its laurels in trying to get to the postseason for the first time since 2008. The one problem Bradley might face in getting called up is no spot for playing time.
Currently, Boston has good outfield depth already with Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes all handling their own. Someone would have to get injured for Bradley to see the field.
Still, when you are expanding rosters, it does afford the opportunity to take some chances here and there. Bradley is as close to being ready as a player can get. I can see a scenario where the Red Sox allow him to get his feet wet at the end of the year in anticipation of taking over for Ellsbury in center field next season.
Bradley is a completely different player from Ellsbury, whose game is predicated a lot on speed. Bradley has a good approach at the plate with doubles power and instincts in the outfield that help make up for his overall lack of foot speed.
Current Level: Triple-A (Oklahoma City)
In a much-improved Astros system, George Springer has been one of the standouts this season thanks to a power surge that has led to 35 home runs in 123 games across Double-A and Triple-A.
While there are still glaring holes in his offensive game, most notably 150 strikeouts in 448 at-bats, Springer has tremendous raw tools and can be a productive player for an Astros team that will slowly start to get better over the next 12 months.
Still lauded as a true four-tool talent with a good approach, Springer has little left to learn at Triple-A despite playing just 50 games there. He is going to struggle early adapting to off-speed stuff that snaps harder and better velocity, but eventually, he'll settle in as the team's center fielder of the future.
The beauty of September call-ups is that their days spent in the big leagues don't count against their service time, so Springer won't be any closer to arbitration if the Astros give him the chance he so richly deserves.
Current Level: Triple-A (Durham)
Jake Odorizzi, the "other" notable piece in the Wil Myers trade that sent James Shields to Kansas City, has had a season worth talking about for two very different reasons.
On the one hand, Odorizzi has more than held his own against Triple-A hitters with a 3.56 ERA and 113-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116.1 innings. That is exactly what you would expect from a four-pitch starter who has a knack for carving up hitters instead of blowing them away with raw stuff.
But the flip side is the slight regression in the quality of Odorizzi's stuff. His fastball has looked straighter than it used to in some starts I have seen and is only sitting 88-91 mph instead of the 91-93 it once did. His off-speed stuff doesn't have the same bite, particularly the slider that has gotten more slurvy than in the past.
It is a problem to keep an eye on, since it could lower his ceiling from a mid-rotation starter to a back-end guy, but given his ability to control everything and track record, Odorizzi deserves some benefit of the doubt.
Plus, the Rays have a knack for getting the most out of a pitcher. Odorizzi could be the next Jeremy Hellickson with a minor tweak here and there in the offseason, but he should get another crack in the big leagues before season's end.
Current Level: Double-A (Montgomery)
Another player I am going out on a limb for because the Rays rarely jump a pitcher two levels to the big leagues, but Enny Romero is a different animal than most of their young starters in that he projects as a reliever and the performance screams bullpen arm.
Romero has electric stuff that a team would love to keep in the rotation. He throws a heavy mid-90s fastball that has tremendous movement and an above-average curveball from the left side. You want to develop that kind of pitcher as a starter as long as you can.
But the problems for Romero come when you talk about throwing strikes. He has walked 65 in 130.1 innings this season and 257 in 500.1 minor league innings. His release point tends to change, causing the ball to move all over the place.
If the Rays, whose bullpen ERA is middle-of-the-pack in baseball, decide they need another arm for the stretch run, even one to put in a low-leverage situation, Romero makes a lot of sense. He could then slowly move into a late-inning role starting in 2014 when Fernando Rodney takes his talents elsewhere.
Current Level: Triple-A (Reno)
Chris Owings appears to be the odd man out in Arizona because the team acquired Didi Gregorius from Cincinnati last offseason to be the shortstop of the future.
General manager Kevin Towers loves Gregorius, so much that he actually said the young shortstop reminded him of Derek Jeter. The problem with that comparison is Gregorius can defend but not hit, while Jeter can hit but not defend.
Owings is somewhere in the middle of Gregorius and Jeter. He isn't the hitter the Yankees captain is, but does possess some bat speed and pop to generate above-average home run totals. He still struggles to work counts and won't put up high OBP numbers in the big leagues.
On defense, as you saw if you watched the Futures Game, Owings has the ability to cover a lot of ground with good footwork, instincts and feel. He also has plus arm strength and accuracy. Basically, he is a better version of Gregorius.
Don't pay much attention to the .331/.359/.481 line Owings has put up in Triple-A because Reno and the PCL are a hitter's paradise. That said, he brings some offensive upside and a similar defensive profile to Gregorius.
What I could see happening, since Towers is so enamored with Gregorius, is Arizona bringing up Owings in September to show what he can do in a small sample size before the team tries to trade him somewhere he can play full-time in the offseason.
Current Level: Triple-A (Memphis)
If there is one potential playoff team screaming to make an upgrade at a critical position this September hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, it is St. Louis. And it has someone who could be an answer just waiting in Triple-A.
The Cardinals, for reasons still unclear, have given Pete Kozma every opportunity to lay claim to the shortstop job in 2013. He has been among the worst everyday players in the National League with a minus-0.2 FanGraphs' WAR and .221/.271/.279 slash line.
It should tell you how bad Kozma's offense has been when he is credited with five defensive runs saved at the most important position on the diamond and is still a below-replacement-level player.
Ryan Jackson is not exactly a dominant offensive force, with little power and only average bat speed, but his approach is solid enough to draw walks and get on base at a higher rate than Kozma.
Defensively is where Jackson shines. He owns a plus throwing arm, tremendous instincts at the position and always puts himself in spots to make plays.
Considering the depth the Cardinals have at the big league level, they only need to make minor changes to secure their playoff status and make another run at the World Series. Jackson should get a chance to play everyday in September with the expectation of earning an everyday job in 2014.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros (Triple-A)
Singelton's timing has been off since returning from a 50-game suspension, which is why he probably doesn't see the big leagues until sometime early in the 2014 season. But he will be just 22 years old next season and projects as a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Double-A)
I couldn't put Bradley on this list because he's already at 136.2 innings and has some control issues in Double-A (49 walks in 108 innings). But he's one of the two best right-handed starters in the minors (along with Taijuan Walker) and will be in Arizona probably around mid-2014.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Triple-A)
His brief trial in the big leagues notwithstanding, Gausman will likely be given every chance to win a starting job out of spring training next season because the Orioles lack depth in the starting rotation. His 4.41 ERA in Triple-A isn't stellar, but the 22-year-old owns a very good 29-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.2 innings and has the highest ceiling of any healthy pitcher in that system.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals
If the Royals needed a starter as they were chasing a playoff spot (which is really strange to say in late August), I could try to make a case for Zimmer to get called up this season. But he has thrown just 18.2 innings at Double-A, and the team has more rotation depth now than it has had in a long time. He will make his debut at some point in 2014, but not right out of spring training.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
I fully expect Taveras to be in St. Louis very early next season, especially if the Cardinals don't re-sign Carlos Beltran. But an ankle injury basically ruined his 2013 season in Triple-A before he decided to get surgery done to be ready for 2014.
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