Chicago Cubs: September Call-Ups Looking Like Impact Players for 2018

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2017

Chicago Cubs: September Call-Ups Looking Like Impact Players for 2018

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    Victor Caratini, an impressive catching prospect for the Chicago Cubs, joined the roster again as a September call-up.
    Victor Caratini, an impressive catching prospect for the Chicago Cubs, joined the roster again as a September call-up.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Winning has come at a cost for the Chicago Cubs, who had already either promoted or traded their blue-chip prospects before MLB's September roster expansion.

    Fans of any other team won't shed a tear for the defending champions. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber are all 25 or younger. At 28, Anthony Rizzo is one of the roster's veterans.

    After trading Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and Jeimer Candelario to bolster their big league squad, they have few high-impact prospects and fewer big league openings. None of their September call-ups have made much noise in limited opportunities.

    They're not contributing now, but perhaps that will change in 2018. Including a late arrival and another injured prospect who could follow, let's look at some of their September call-ups.

Honorable Mention: OF Mark Zagunis

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    A wrist injury has prevented Mark Zagunis from rejoining the Cubs in September.
    A wrist injury has prevented Mark Zagunis from rejoining the Cubs in September.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    If not for a wrist injury prematurely ending his minor league season in late August, Mark Zagunis would probably have joined the Cubs in September. On August 24, he expressed hope of recovering by the end of that month, per Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch.

    "This isn't that serious of an injury," Zanunis said. "So hopefully I can get back in a few weeks and have some time in September to hopefully get back up there."

    When given his first MLB tryout in June, the 24-year-old outfielder went hitless in 18 plate appearances. He also showed a brief glimpse of his keen batting by drawing four walks.

    Average in all other facets, Zagunis must leverage his superb patience into a major league role. Because of a 15.2 walk percentage, the righty has posted a .402 on-base percentage during his minor league career.

    He also would have been of the most immediate use. Schwarber is a defensive liability, and center field isn't an ideal spot for Happ. Defensive specialist Jason Heyward hardly helps at the plate. Zagunis could at least add depth to an imperfect unit.

    Zagunis is a mundane player compared to all of the Cubs' other young offensive stars, but he could produce as an inexpensive platoon player or fourth outfielder.

C/1B Victor Caratini

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    Victor Caratini has major league-caliber hitting skills.
    Victor Caratini has major league-caliber hitting skills.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    A little over a month after ousting Miguel Montero, the Cubs acquired Alex Avila in what then seemed like a luxury move. They already had a promising rookie in Victor Caratini to serve as Willson Contreras' understudy.

    The deal looks more essential in hindsight, as Contreras suffered a leg injury in early August. While Caratini might be considered the future starter on teams without a young star occupying the role, he's not ready to take the reins during a summer playoff push.

    He has, however, looked fairly comfortable at the plate, with a .245/.315/.367 slash line in 54 plate appearances. Triple-A, wherein he hit .343/.393/.558, no longer proved a worthy challenge for the 24-year-old righty.

    MLB.com pegs Caratini as Chicago's top position-player prospect in a farm system stockpiled with pitchers.

    "An offensive-minded catcher, Caratini has a balanced approach and an easy stroke from both sides of the plate," MLB.com's scouting report notes. "He focuses on making contact and using the whole field, which yields healthy batting averages and on-base percentages but not a lot of power."

    The Cubs likely would not have traded for Avila—at least not before Contreras' injury—if they had faith in Caratini's defense behind the plate. Some progress could lead him to winning the backup gig next year, but a lack of organizational depth could also see him stick in the majors as a corner-infield reserve.

C Taylor Davis

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    Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Taylor Davis made his MLB debut as a September call-up.
    Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Taylor Davis made his MLB debut as a September call-up.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Caratini has some catching competition in Taylor Davis, a man who is well-equipped to handle more cameras.

    The 27-year-old gained notoriety for pointedly staring into cameras at Triple-A Iowa, but don't write him off as the guy behind a silly video. He also hit .297/.357/.429 with a 9.1 walk and 11.1 strikeout percentage.

    He's not a high-profile prospect but rather an undrafted free agent who signed with the Cubs in 2011. Davis shared his excitement for getting the call to the majors with CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney.

    "This is the dream," Davis said. "Hopefully, it shows some people: Just never give up. Just look at my career in the past and see what has happened to me. I didn't really play early in my career. For this to happen at this point shows people that if you have a uniform, you have a chance."

    Making his first start on Thursday night, he recorded his first career hit on a swinging bunt. Although he's a career .284 minor league player adept at putting the ball in play, he's unlikely to receive many more plate appearances during a tight NL Central race.

    Even if he never dons a Cubs uniform again beyond September, Davis' call-up gives the franchise a feelgood story while fighting for the NL Central. Assuming they don't bring Avila back next year, perhaps Davis can practice his Blue Steel look at Wrigley Field next season.

OF Leonys Martin

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    Leonys Martin is a valuable defender despite his offensive limitations.
    Leonys Martin is a valuable defender despite his offensive limitations.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Last season, Leonys Martin registered 15 home runs, 24 stolen bases and 2.2 WAR, per FanGraphs. This season, the Seattle Mariners sent him to the Cubs for a player to be named later or cash.

    The 29-year-old hit a woeful .178/.221/.287 in 122 plate appearances for Seattle. Never much of an offensive threat, he sports a .661 career OPS.

    But he sure can field. FanGraphs credited the 29-year-old with five Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in this year's brief big league stint.

    Although arbitration salaries typically increase the closer a player gets to free agency, Martin's value careened to the point Seattle cut bait for a minimal return. If the Cubs even tender him an offer, they would have an affordable defensive specialist as a Plan B for losing Jon Jay this winter.

    Then again, Albert Almora can handle the same job with a higher on-base percentage and at a cheaper cost. Martin—who made his team debut as a pitcher in a 12-0 blowout—is eligible for the postseason roster but is unlikely to make the cut. That could be an indicator of whether the Cubs have any plans for him beyond added September depth.

RP Dillon Maples

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    Dillon Maples recorded 100 strikeouts in 63.1 minor league innings.
    Dillon Maples recorded 100 strikeouts in 63.1 minor league innings.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    OK, so Dillon Maples hasn't looked like a future closer since joining the Cubs. In three appearances, spanning 2.1 innings, he has surrendered four hits, four walks and six runs.

    The Cubs, who haven't used the 25-year-old righty since Friday, won't trust him for anything but mop-up duty in September. Nor should they. Yet a shaky debut does not end a rookie's career.

    Stuck in the low minors since 2012, the former 14th-round pick was an organizational afterthought entering 2017. Starting the season in High-A, Maples kept rising until he dominated Triple-A with a 1.96 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 18.1 innings.

    He tallied 100 strikeouts in 63.1 innings across three levels before making the majors.

    Like most Cubs prospects, Maples is a big power pitcher with late-inning upside. Having also issued 37 walks in the minors, control is the next hurdle he must overcome in order to produce in a league bullpen.

    According to the Chicago Tribune's Paul Skrbina, Maples considered retiring from baseball last year. Perhaps simply pitching in the majors marks his one shining moment rather than the beginning. But relievers are tough to project, so maybe he will host more dance parties in Chicago's bullpen next year.

SP Jen-Ho Tseng

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    Jen-Ho Tseng made his MLB debut in Thursday night's start against the New York Mets.
    Jen-Ho Tseng made his MLB debut in Thursday night's start against the New York Mets.Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    Despite entering Thursday with a 2.5-game division lead, the Cubs trusted Jen-Ho Tseng to make his major league debut. He lasted just three innings and allowed five runs, including back-to-back homers on consecutive pitches, but he also offered a silver lining by notching six strikeouts.

    Before his surprising arrival in a meaningful September start, the 22-year-old righty registered a 2.54 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A. While his strikeouts-per-nine rate declined from 8.9 to 6.4 at the higher minor league level, he relinquished just 11 earned runs over 55 Triple-A innings.

    Cubs manager Joe Maddon gave a peek behind the unexpected decision and ensuing discussion with the newcomer, per Mooney.

    "I just sat down with him in my office," Maddon said. "I said: 'I guess you're here in town to accept an award.' He just looked at me and I said: 'How about you start tomorrow night’s game instead?' He didn't even blanch. Actually, his interpreter was more taken by the whole situation than Jen-Ho was. But I heard nothing but good things about this kid."

    Jake Arrieta's hamstring strain and a New York Mets lineup depleted by injuries and trades created the perfect confluence of events for Tseng's debut. While the Cubs would probably rather Arrieta reclaimed his rotation spot, the organization's stamp of confidence bodes well for the rookie's future standing.