Will Taijuan Walker spend the final month of the season in the major leagues?
Even though most of the game’s highly touted prospects who were expected to reach the major leagues this season have been called up already, every team will receive an infusion of fresh, young talent on Sunday when the active roster expands from 25 to 40 players.
With roughly five weeks remaining in the regular season, the September 1 roster expansion allows teams to address their needs at the major league level by essentially plucking specific talent from within their farm system. In general, it’s an opportunity for every organization to add bench and bullpen depth.
In anticipation of what should be a flurry of promotions on Sunday, we’ve got you covered with a look at the top prospects that could be ticketed for the major leagues this September.
Obviously, our predictions are exactly that: predictions; it’s nearly impossible to say who will be promoted until it actually goes down. However, each player on this list has been included for a specific reason.
Here’s a look at the top 25 prospects that could be called up on September 1.
*Stats are courtesy of MiLB.com and reflect games through August 26.
2013 Stats (AA): .283/.311/.448, 32 XBH (12 HR), 11 SB, 55/15 K/BB (85 G)
Bethancourt is viewed as one of the better defensive catchers in the minor leagues thanks in part to an 80-grade arm and receiving skills that have steadily improved over the last two seasons. However, his punchless bat has prevented the 21-year-old from approaching his ceiling.
This season, his second straight at the Double-A level, Bethancourt has finally made significant strides in his development at the dish. In addition to making more consistent contact and striking out less, he’s been especially hot since the beginning of July, batting .307 with 18 extra-base hits and a 15/9 K/BB ratio.
With the Braves’ catching situation undecided for the 2014 season and Bethancourt already on the 40-man roster, expect the club to give him a look next month. He’s more than capable of serving as a valuable defensive replacement—with a few starts sprinkled in so as to rest Brian McCann and Evan Gattis—as the team attempts to secure a spot in the postseason.
2013 Stats (AAA): .253/.334/.461, 17 XBH (8 HR), 51/12 K/BB (62 G)
Schoop had a strong showing for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 2013 World Baseball Classic and was viewed as a potential option at second base for the Orioles later in the year. However, he got off to a slow start as a 21-year-old in Triple-A and was then sidelined in early May for roughly six weeks with a stress fracture in his back.
The second baseman has struggled since returning to Triple-A Norfolk, batting .237 with eight extra-base hits and a 26/3 K/BB ratio in 23 games. However, the combination of a late surge at the plate and his status on the 40-man roster could get him a look in the major leagues this September.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): .199/.295/.389, 36 XBH (15 HR), 124/48 K/BB (100 G)
Olt had a forgettable first half of the season and missed more than a month with vision problems. Since then, the 24-year-old’s undergone LASIK eye surgery and been traded to the Cubs but still has performed nothing like the player who played in the major leagues (in a playoff race) at this time last year.
If Olt can show signs of turning the corner in the coming weeks, he could get his first opportunity with his new club in September. However, his promotion is anything but a guarantee, as Olt still has plenty to prove this season in the minors.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 149 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .236 BAA, 142/34 K/BB (26 GS)
Montero doesn’t have the electric stuff of future rotation mates Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, but he does possess an outstanding feel for his craft with above-average command of four pitches. The 22-year-old made quick work of the Eastern League this year before a midseason promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, and he's made a strong case for a September call-up with a 2.51 ERA and 46/16 K/BB ratio over his last 10 starts.
It makes sense for the Mets to have Montero finish the season in the minor leagues, but he’s certainly in the mix for a promotion with Harvey sidelined for the rest of the year.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 135 IP, 2.07 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .197 BAA, 123/38 K/BB (23 GS)
In what has been an utterly dismal year for the Chicago White Sox—in case everyone was wondering, I’m actually a White Sox fan, unfortunately—Johnson’s success in the high minors arguably has been the organization’s top storyline.
After a dominant first half of the year at Double-A Birmingham, the 23-year-old was moved up to Triple-A Charlotte in late June. However, Johnson landed on the disabled with a strained oblique after only three starts. Since returning to action, however, it’s been business as usual for the right-hander.
In his last five starts, Johnson has registered a stellar 1.41 ERA and 28/7 K/BB ratio in 32 innings. Overall, he has allowed more than three earned runs only twice in 23 starts this season between both levels. Additionally, the fact that Johnson missed most of July actually works in his favor towards a September call-up, as he’s logged only 135 innings with room left to work.
There’s no obvious spot for Johnson in the team’s big league rotation, but there could be if rookie Andre Rienzo doesn’t begin to work deeper into games. In my opinion, the right-hander deserves a look this September in anticipation of a more serious role in 2014.
2013 Stats (AAA): .278/.348/.484, 50 XBH (16 HR), 123/42 K/BB (108 G)
2013 Stats (MLB): .179/.233/.179, 9/2 K/BB (12 G)
Selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, Davidson has enjoyed a steady, one level-per-year rise through the Diamondbacks’ system. Since reaching a full-season level for the first time in 2010, the 22-year-old is yet to post an OPS below .810 and improved his plate discipline in each subsequent year.
The combination of his consistency and plus raw power, as well as injuries to both Cody Ross and Eric Chavez, resulted in a call-up earlier this month as Davidson appeared in 12 games with the Diamondbacks. However, the right-handed hitter didn’t make much of the opportunity, going 5-for-28 (.179) with no extra-base hits and nine strikeouts.
Since he’s now on the 40-man roster, Davidson will inevitably return to the major leagues in September and receive an extended look at the hot corner.
2013 Stats (AAA): 100.1 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .192 BAA, 112/42 K/BB (20 GS)
2013 Stats (MLB): 26.1 IP, 9.57 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, .336 BAA, 21/14 K/BB (6 GS)
Acquired by the Red Sox last summer in the blockbuster deal that sent half of the team’s starting lineup to the Dodgers, Webster was outstanding over the first two months of the season at Triple-A. In his eight starts during that span, the 23-year-old registered 2.39 ERA and 46/17 K/BB ratio in 37.2 innings. As a result of his overwhelming success in the minor leagues, the Red Sox called up Webster to start the back end of a double-dip on April 21.
Since then, he’s bounced between the minors and the major leagues four separate times and struggled in each opportunity with the Red Sox. And even though he was shaky upon returning to the Triple-A rotation in mid-July, the right-hander has pitched significantly better since the beginning of August with a 2.79 ERA and 29/10 K/BB ratio in 29 innings (five starts).
Though it’s doubtful that Boston will thrust him back into their rotation for the final month of the season, Webster could serve as a weapon out of the bullpen with three swing-and-miss (but inconsistent) offerings.
2013 Stats (AAA): .300/.386/.443, 42 XBH (14 HR), 88 RBI, 114/66 K/BB (127 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, when he smacked 30 home runs in 118 games for High-A Stockton. However, the 23-year-old has made significant improvements to his approach and, as a result, 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 the team now fighting to stay in the playoff hunt, Choice is likely Oakland's best option at adding some power for the final month of the season.
2013 Stats (AA): 142.2 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .247 BAA, 131/35 K/BB (28 G/25 GS)
The Dodgers paid Lee over $5 million to turn down a scholarship to quarterback at Louisiana State after they selected him with the No. 28 overall pick in the 2010 draft. As the organization tends to do with so many of its top pitching prospects, Lee was challenged last year in his second professional season, splitting the year between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga. His overall numbers weren’t especially flattering, but the right-hander demonstrated a feel for his deep arsenal and made noticeable improvements to his approach during the second half.
This season, Lee has applied everything he learned in 2012 while repeating the year at Double-A Chattanooga. As a result, the right-hander has improved across the board, allowing less hard contact and missing more bats. Considering the Dodgers have already run away with the NL West title with over a month to go in the regular season, Lee could be an option to make a few starts and gain invaluable experience this September in a winning environment.
2013 Stats (A+/AA): 132 IP, 2.52 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .208 BAA, 125/33 K/BB (25 GS)
Selected by the Padres in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, Wisler was one of the more underrated pitchers in the minor leagues last year (his full-season debut) when he posted a 2.53 ERA with 113 strikeouts in 144 innings for Low-A Fort Wayne.
This year, the 20-year-old right-hander has continued to develop at an accelerating rate. After six dominant starts at High-A Lake Elsinore to begin the season, Wisler was promoted to Double-A San Antonio where he’s posted a 2.67 ERA over 19 starts. His plus fastball-slider combination has been a nightmare for right-handed hitters in the Texas League, whom he’s held to a .177 batting average this season with a 69/6 K/BB ratio in 56 innings.
The Padres don’t typically rush their pitching prospects to the major leagues, though they did earlier this season with Burch Smith. However, the team is expected to give some of their younger arms a look this September, and Wisler may be in the mix. Yes, he’s logged a career-high 132 innings this season, but he’s also been nearly unhittable this month with a 0.36 ERA, .111 BAA and 31/5 K/BB ratio in 25 innings (five starts).
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 136 IP, 3.04 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .224 BAA, 46/10 K/BB (24 GS)
The No. 39 overall selection in the 2010 draft, Ranaudo had a hugely disappointing 2012 season in which he logged only 37.2 innings (nine starts) and spent most of the year on the disabled list. This season, however, the 23-year-old has made up for lost time with a strong performance at Double-A Portland and now Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Red Sox have tapped into the farm for a starter on several occasions this season (Allen Webster, Brandon Workman), and Ranaudo appears to be next in line for a promotion.
2013 Stats (A+/AA): 139 IP, 3.56 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .242 BAA, 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 struggled 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, Rodriguez appears to have put everything together at the perfect time. Over his last three starts, the southpaw has 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 chance that the team will turn to Rodriguez to contribute in some capacity down the stretch.
2013 Stats (AAA): .331/.359/.481, 170 H, 46 XBH (12 HR), 16 SB, 94/20 K/BB (118 G)
Owings has been a boss at Triple-A Reno this season, as he currently leads all Pacific Coast League batters in runs scored (97), hits (170) and total bases (247). Even though the 22-year-old consistently makes hard contact to all fields and shows innate bat-to-ball ability, his approach and plate discipline (94/20 K/BB ratio in 118 games) leaves something to be desired.
Owings hasn’t played in a game with Reno since August 12 when he suffered a hamstring injury. However, because the Diamondbacks will need to add him to the 40-man roster during the offseason to avoid eligibility for the Rule 5 draft, the shortstop could get a look this September provided that he’s healthy.
Update: Owings returned to the lineup with Triple-A Reno on Tuesday night.
2013 Stats (AA): 100.2 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .235 BAA, 117/24 K/BB (18 GS)
Stroman missed the first 50 games of the 2013 season serving a PED-related suspension but has helped make up for lost time with a strong showing in the Double-A starting rotation. Despite his diminutive, 5’9” build, the 22-year-old is loaded with arm strength. Stroman boasts an explosive fastball that reaches the upper-90s, as well as a wipeout slider and underrated changeup.
As a result of his suspension, Stroman has logged only 100.2 innings this season. And much like the Marlins’ Andrew Heaney, he’s a candidate to finish the year in the major leagues.
2013 Stats (AAA): .257/.310/.346, 27 XBH (17 2B), 73 SB, 101/38 K/BB (119 G)
After setting the professional stolen base record last year with 155 in 132 games between High- and Double-A, Hamilton has regressed considerably this season at Triple-A Louisville. Surprisingly, the 22-year-old speedster has been more successful on the basepaths this year than he was a season ago, but both his bat-to-ball and on-base skills have deteriorated at the more advanced level.
A strong argument can be made that the 22-year-old should finish the year in the minor leagues, as he’s clearly in need of further refinement before advancing to the highest level. However, given his upside as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, it’s hard to see the Reds not utilizing him in some capacity during the final month of the season.
2013 Stats (AA): 89.1 IP, 1.41 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .207 BAA, 85/25 K/BB (18 G/17 GS)
The Marlins haven’t been afraid to promote a top prospect to the major leagues ahead of schedule—just ask Jose Fernandez, Marcell Ozuna, Derek Dietrich, Jake Marisnick and Christian Yelich. It may not be long until their joined by left-hander Andrew Heaney, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
After missing roughly the first six weeks of the 2013 season with an oblique strain, the 22-year-old has been excellent since returning to the mound. More specifically, Heaney has allowed more than one earned run in just one of his five starts following a promotion to Double-A Jacksonville in early August. And with only 89.1 innings under his belt this season, Heaney is a strong candidate to finish the year in the major leagues.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 129.1 IP, 2.99 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .232 BAA, 150/52 K/BB (25 G/24 GS)
Ventura was promoted to Triple-A Omaha in early June after an impressive first half of the season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas. But the 22-year-old got off to a shaky start at the more advanced level, posting a 5.95 ERA with 26 hits allowed and a 21/13 K/BB ratio over his first five starts. Since then, however, he’s been one of the Pacific Coast League’s top pitchers with a 2.36 ERA and 49/15 K/BB ratio over his last 42 frames (eight starts).
Ventura has blossomed into a legitimate starting pitching prospect this season in the high minors after adding considerable strength to his wiry, 5’11” frame over the last year. However, because he’s already surpassed his 2012 innings total (109.1 innings), it’s likely that the Royals would use the flame-throwing right-hander out of the bullpen this September.
2013 Stats (AAA): .279/.378/.483, 38 XBH (10 HR), 7 SB, 71/41 K/BB (74 G)
2013 Stats (MLB): .155/.258/.310, 5 XBH, 20/7 K/BB (23 G)
Bradley struggled in his first taste of the majors this season after breaking camp with the Red Sox. Following a demotion to Triple-A, the 23-year-old had difficultly establishing rhythm at the plate and battled several minor injuries. However, the outfielder’s bat is heating up at the right time with a September call-up on the horizon. Since the beginning of August, Bradley has posted an .834 OPS with 13 runs scored and seven extra-base hits in 16 games.
With the Red Sox in the playoff hunt, Bradley is unlikely to see significant playing time outside of an occasional start or as a late-inning defensive replacement. However, there are few prospects better suited for such a role.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): .301/.411/.606, 103 R, 67 XBH (37 HR), 43 SB, 158/81 K/BB (130 G)
Springer turned in an outstanding full-season debut last year in which he posted a .910 OPS with 24 home runs and 30 stolen bases in 127 games across two levels. However, due to his high strikeout rate and fringy pitch recognition, many expected George Springer to regress in 2013 against advanced competition. But that’s been anything but the case this season, as the 23-year-old has significantly improved his prospect stock with a ridiculously good campaign at Double- and Triple-A.
Having already achieved the first 30-30 season in the minor leagues since 2009 (Grant Desme), Springer now has a realistic chance of joining the very exclusive 40-40 club. And considering his propensity for hot streaks, the feat is definitely attainable. The Astros have already stated that the center fielder will finish the season in the minor leagues, but I’m still not willing to rule out the possibility of a September call-up.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 82 IP, 3.51 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .256 BAA, 82/14 K/BB (16 G/15 GS)
2013 Stats (MLB): 33.1 IP, 6.21 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .301 BAA, 26/9 K/BB (9 G/5 GS)
Gausman was expected to move quickly through the Orioles' system after they made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 draft. However, there’s no doubt that the organization rushed him to the major leagues this season. In the 22-year-old’s first stint with the team (as a starter), he showed excellent stuff but struggled with his command against considerably advanced hitters. Gausman fared better as a reliever, though, registering a 2.08 ERA in 8.2 innings over four appearances.
Since returning the minor leagues in late July, the right-hander has been working as a starter exclusively. Meanwhile, the Orioles have carefully monitored Gausman’s workload over the last month in anticipation of using him down the stretch. As long as he can consistently work down in the zone with his two- and four-seam fastball, he should have more success in the role upon his return to the major leagues.
2013 Stats (AAA): .275/.345/.444, 53 XBH (16 HR), 93/54 K/BB (78 G)
Castellanos has made significant adjustments at the plate this year in Triple-A, demonstrating a more advanced approach that's led to more walks and fewer strikeouts. While he's shown plenty of gap power in the past, the 21-year-old has developed more consistent over-the-fence pop this season. His defense is another story—he moved from third base to the outfield a little over a year ago—as both his reads and routes can be rough.
I think the Tigers will give Castellanos a look in September, even if only as a platoon option against left-handed pitching. Let’s be real; it’s not as though he could be any worse than the team’s current trio of Andy Dirks, Matt Tuiasosopo and Don Kelly (depending on the matchup).
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 134.1 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .250 BAA, 131/49 K/BB (24 G/23 GS)
Taillon has ranked as one of the game’s premier pitching prospects since the Pirates made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. While he’s moved at a level-per-year pace through their system, the 21-year-old right-hander is yet to truly put everything together on the mound. Taillon is close to being ready for the major leagues, but his command and pitch execution still need refinement.
Taillon amassed 142 innings last year (not including the Eastern League playoffs), so it’s doubtful he’ll run into a cap with only 134.1 frames under his belt this season. The Pirates are known for exercising caution with their pitching prospects, and chances are that Taillon will finish the year at Triple-A. However, I think we can all agree that his plus fastball-curveball combination would be a weapon out of the pen in September and possibly beyond.
2013 Stats (A+/AA): .287/.347/.583, 72 XBH (35 HR), 105 RBI, 20 SB, 138/38 K/BB (124 G)
After struggling at High-A Daytona to begin the season, Baez eventually caught fire, as he always seems to do, and received a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Since then, the 20-year-old has been one of the hottest hitters in the minor leagues with a .996 OPS and 18 home runs over his last 49 games.
While his plate discipline and pitch recognition are both still raw and in need of further refinement in the minor leagues, Baez has the natural ability to post an .800-plus OPS in The Show right now. Despite the Cubs’ recent track record of challenging Baez with aggressive promotions, there’s no need to promote him at this juncture of his young career. Still, calling him up in September could be a chance for the team to put pressure on the ever-regressing Starlin Castro.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 141.1 IP, 2.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .217 BAA, 160/57 K/BB (25 GS)
Walker mastered the Double-A level in his second tour this season before a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma in late June. However, the 21-year-old has struggled with his command at the more advanced level and, at times, experienced the unforgiving nature of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League environments.
Even though Walker probably would be better off finishing the season in the minor leagues, there’s a realistic chance that we may see him join the Mariners in September. According to manager Eric Wedge (via Greg Johns), the right-hander is a candidate to start Friday’s game in Houston after the team recently designated Aaron Harang for assignment.
2013 Stats (A+/AA): 147 IP, 1.84 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .216 BAA, 160/68 K/BB (25 GS)
Bradley had an impressive but inconsistent—he nearly walked as many batters (84) as he allowed hits (87) in 136 innings—full-season debut in 2012, struggling to repeat his athletic but busy delivery. This season, however, the 20-year-old has put things together in a big way and emerged as the game’s top pitching prospect.
Promoted to Double-A Mobile after five outstanding starts in the California League, Bradley, who boasts a lethal plus-plus fastball-curveball combination, didn’t skip a beat despite the jump in competition. His command has regressed a bit over the second half of the season, but that hasn’t prevented the right-hander from ranking as one of the top pitchers in the Southern League in every major pitching category.
After throwing 142 innings last year, Bradley has logged 147 this season and will likely be allowed to work upwards of 175 frames. For that reason, and especially if the Diamondbacks play their way back into playoff contention, the right-hander has a realistic chance to be promoted in September, even if only to get his feet wet out of the bullpen. The team did something similar with Jarrod Parker in 2011 and both Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs in 2012, so there is some basis for the prediction. And if there’s one pitcher deserving of a call-up this season, it’s Archie.