With the active roster set to expand from 25 to 40 players on September 1, teams only have a few more days to decide which prospects are in the mix for a late-season promotion to the major leagues.
While most clubs ultimately recall players already on their 40-man roster, some teams are more inclined to think outside the box and take a chance on a prospect not already on the roster.
Last season, some of the game’s top prospects, such as Jurickson Profar and Shelby Miller, were promoted to the major leagues on September 1 and ultimately made a significant impact over the final month of the season.
This year, however, there won’t be many, if any, future stars called up for the stretch run. However, there are numerous lesser-known but deserving prospects seemingly in line for a call-up at the end of the week.
Here’s a look at seven under-the-radar September call-up candidates who could impact the playoff races.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
2013 Stats (A/AA): 139.0 IP, 3.56 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 119/48 K/BB (24 GS)
Coming off a breakout full-season debut in 2012, Rodriguez has continued to improve this year, despite being one of the younger full-time starters at both the High-A and Double-A levels.
After a strong showing over the first half of the season in the Carolina League, the Orioles promoted the 20-year-old to Double-A Bowie in early July. The left-hander initially was overmatched at the more advanced level, as he registered a 7.02 ERA and 33/21 K/BB over his first 34.2 innings (seven starts).
However, things have come together for Rodriguez at the perfect time. Over his last three starts, he’s posted a 0.47 ERA and 20/2 K/BB ratio in 19 innings. And given the recent struggles of the Orioles’ rotation and bullpen, there’s a realistic chance that the team will turn to Rodriguez to contribute in some capacity down the stretch.
Mike O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): .324/.434/.380, 78 R, 19 XBH (15 2B), 19 SB, 34/88 K/BB (123 G)
O’Neill doesn’t get much love because (a) he’s in a system that’s absolutely loaded with talent at basically every level, and (b) he’s undersized at 5’9” and lacks the profile of an everyday outfielder. However, it’s hard to find a hitter with better plate discipline and pitch recognition than O’Neill.
A 31st-round draft pick in 2010, O’Neill, 25, has amassed 219 walks compared to only 96 strikeouts in 334 minor league games. And it’s not as though he’s all on-base skills; the left-handed hitter's consistent bat has resulted in a .332/.439/.410 batting line over four seasons.
O’Neill is the epitome of the classic Cardinals overachiever—no impact tool but is a well-rounded player who maximizes his ability. And based on his promotion to Triple-A Memphis last month, there’s a realistic chance that he’ll see some time in the big league outfield this September and allow the team to rest Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday down the stretch.
Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2013 Stats (A/A+/AA): 4 SV, 19 IP, 2.84 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, .257 BAA, 17/13 K/BB (20 G/1 GS)
Lorenzen was drafted this past June as a pitcher, but it’s believed the Reds will allow him to develop as a two-way player beginning next season. This year, he’s been working as a late-inning reliever—he was a lights-out closer at Cal State Fullerton—and has been moving quickly up the ladder.
After making his professional debut in the rookie-level Arizona League, the 21-year-old made brief stops at Low-A Dayton and High-A Bakersfield before moving up to Double-A Pensacola in mid-August. It’s not surprising that the Reds have been aggressive with the right-hander this summer, as he boasts big-time stuff with an explosive fastball in the mid- to upper-90s and a hammer curveball.
It seems that the Reds have a very specific plan for Lorenzen, which, in my opinion, involves using him out of the big league bullpen in September. While he may not be ready from an approach or efficiency standpoint, the right-hander’s stuff should translate favorably at the highest level. Plus, the recent injury to Jonathan Broxton should only improve his chances of one final late-season promotion.
Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
2013 Stats (AAA): .300/.386/.443, 41 XBH (14 HR), 88 RBI, 112/65 K/BB (126 G)
The No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 draft, Choice probably would already be in the major leagues had he not suffered a broken hand during the 2012 season.
Despite playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this season, Choice hasn’t showcased the robust power that he did during his full-season debut in 2011 (30 home runs in 118 games). However, the 23-year-old has made significant adjustments to his approach and posted the best strikeout and walk rates of his career.
The only thing seemingly holding him back from the major leagues is a spot on the 40-man roster. But with Josh Reddick now on the disabled list, Choice is likely Oakland's best option at replacing his power at a corner position.
Mike Wright, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2013 Stats (AA): 141.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .265 BAA, 134/37 K/BB (25 GS)
After struggling at Double-A Bowie to conclude the 2012 season, Wright, 23, was inconsistent over the first few months this year in his second tour of the level. Since the beginning of July, though, he’s been outstanding, with a 5-0 record, 2.01 ERA and 59/11 K/BB ratio in 62.2 innings (10 starts).
Wright, a 6’6”, 215-pound right-hander, features a three-pitch arsenal that’s highlighted by an above-average-to-plus fastball. He doesn’t have electric stuff, but his ability to work deep into games could help him get a few starts with the Orioles over the final month of the season. And considering they’re rapidly falling out of the playoff race, it may be an option they explore soon.
Corey Knebel, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2013 Stats (A): 13 SV, 28 IP, 0.64 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, .129 BAA, 38/8 K/BB (27 G)
Knebel was widely regarded as the best true closer in the 2013 draft class, so it wasn’t surprising that the Tigers, a team with major question marks surrounding their big league bullpen, took him with the No. 39 overall pick.
Boasting a plus fastball-curveball combination ideal for a late-inning role, the 21-year-old has been dominant as the closer for Low-A West Michigan this summer in his professional debut. Granted, he’s faced mostly younger hitters in the Midwest League, but Knebel has put up exactly the type of numbers the organization expected.
That being said, I’m a little surprised that the Tigers haven’t already promoted him to a more advanced level. Both his stuff and makeup are nearly ready for the major leagues and could be an asset for the Tigers over the final month of the season.
Erik Johnson, RHP, Chicago White Sox
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 135 IP, 2.07 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .197 BAA, 123/38 K/BB (23 GS)
Johnson emerged as the White Sox’s top pitching prospect this season in what has been an overall quick ascent through their system. The 23-year-old right-hander features an impressive four-pitch mix, as he’ll work comfortably in the low- to mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with one of the better right-handed sliders in the minors.
After excelling at Double-A Birmingham over the first half of the season, Johnson was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte in late June. However, after making three starts at the new level, he landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain and missed most of July.
The fact that Johnson missed roughly a full month actually works in his favor in terms of a September call-up, as he’s logged only 135 innings with room left to work. Plus, few pitchers have been hotter than Johnson since the beginning of August.
In five starts, the right-hander has registered a 1.41 ERA and 28/7 K/BB ratio in 32 innings. And of his 23 starts this season between both levels, Johnson has allowed more than three earned runs only twice.
While there’s currently no obvious spot for him in the team’s big league rotation, the right-hander deserves a look this September in anticipation of a more serious role in 2014. With the White Sox scheduled to play against the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Indians and Royals next month, Johnson has the potential to help crush a team’s playoff aspirations.