As minor league seasons end and the major leagues hit the final stretch, teams start calling up their top prospects for their first taste of life in the big leagues. It is a time to see major league pitching, get adjusted to speed of the game and shake off the awe of being a major league ballplayer.
September 1 marks the time when teams can have 40 players on the active roster.
A time that usually brings excitements to fans across the board.
While these players may clog an already cramped clubhouse, they also provide added depth that is needed after the grueling summer months. That's why an extra catcher is typically added, a couple of arms in the bullpen and a possible spot starter.
The past few years, the Cubs have called up all sorts of prospects, who had varying degrees of success. Jeff Samardzija was a September call-up in 2010, in what proved to be a tough year for the perennial ace. He turned it around the season after by putting together a stellar season out of the bullpen.
Last season, the Cubs called up Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson in August for the final stretch, but they both proved to be nowhere near ready and have spent the whole year in the minors. Vitters has fewer than 100 at-bats, while Brett Jackson struggled at the plate and with injuries, finishing the year in Double-A.
The Cubs have plenty to be excited about in the minor league system, even though it is still a season or two away. This year just isn't the year our prospects are ready to taste the big leagues—at least not the ones we are hearing about.
Junior Lake is probably the most exciting young name on the Cubs roster in terms of prospects.
Lake owns a .295 average with 4 home runs and a .337 OBP in 42 games. What many thought would be a short-term stint has eventually turned into almost a quarter of the season. He's a versatile young player, who could play a variety of positions in the future. He appears comfortable in the outfield and has logged considerable time at second, third and short. If he continues to hit, the Cubs will find a spot for him.
The Cubs took advantage of the expanded rosters by activating Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena from the disabled list. They also called up reliever Alberto Cabrera, who appeared in 25 games for the Cubs last season and owns a career 5.40 ERA.
He was off to a great start in Double-A this season, posting a 9-3 record with a 3.20 ERA, before earning a call-up to Triple-A. He also struck out 107 batters to 37 walks, an improvement after a few years of pitching in Double-A. He's since been moved to the bullpen in Triple-A, posting a 7.08 and a 19-12 K-BB in 15 games. Not what you want to see, but perhaps the transition to the bullpen threw him off his rhythm.
He will certainly be given a shot in 2013 and perhaps in 2014, when the Cubs need an extra arm. Fortunately for Cabrera, he has likely secured a spot on the Triple-A roster for next season, so he's one step closer. He just needs to continue to pitch how he's pitched as a starter in 2013.
The Cubs are expected to make a few more roster moves in the coming days, bringing up a few extra bench players and relievers to help some of our more taxed players.
As reported by Bruce Levine of the Daily Herald, J.C. Boscan may be called up as the extra catcher on the roster. Boscan, 33, offers virtually no upside for the Cubs, merely organizational depth.
Brooks Raley may get the call as the second lefty in the bullpen.
James Russell reached 70 appearances for the second season in a row, an impressive feat. Raley, 25, has put together a nice season for Triple-A Iowa but will face steep competition for a rotation spot in the spring if he's being considered at all.
Julio Borbon has had a rough season between Chicago and Texas, and was ultimately demoted after a blunder last month. The lefty offers a unique combination of speed and defense and could be in the mix for a bench spot in the future. While he may still be serving a punishment, he will likely get a shot to finish the year on a positive note.
One player I hope gets a spot start down the stretch is Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks, 23, was acquired in the Ryan Dempster trade in 2012 from the Rangers. He's posted a combined 13-4 record with a 2.00 ERA in 27 starts with 128 strikeouts to 34 walks between Double-A and Triple-A.
He's made six starts in Triple-A and will likely begin next season in Iowa, but consider him one of our top pitching prospects as our system tends to lean heavily on offense.
A long-shot, yet intriguing name in the Cubs system is Korean closer Chang-Yong Lim. Lim, 37, had a nice run in Korea and Japan before taking his chance on the major leagues. A second Tommy John surgery in 2012 prompted the move, and—given the closer situation last offseason—the Cubs presumably thought he would provide depth if necessary.
In 21 appearances this season, Lim owns a 1.61 ERA and 24 strikeouts to 7 walks. He's pitched well in Triple-A through 11 games, pitching more frequently as of late. This may be his last opportunity to pitch in the major leagues, and this seems like the perfect opportunity to allow that to happen.
Don't count on it though.
The Cubs will likely call up no more than five guys in the next week, which is all they need this year, in what will go down as another rebuilding year. The positives are that Javier Baez has 37 total home runs this season, and Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora are all playing well and appear to be on track.
Let's see where we will be at a year from now.