MLB's Top-Five Call-Ups That Will Affect the Playoff Race

Scott FenderCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2008

It's playoff time, regardless of whether or not your team is playoff bound or in a rebuilding mode. The trade deadline is three days away. Is your team a buyer or seller?

When teams sell, look for their young, hot, and sexy prospects to get time with the big club and fight for a spot next year. Some playoff-bound teams look for a rookie to become a spark plug or catalyst and push them past the opposition.

For one reason or another, these young athletes are making their major-league debut soon, and while some may fade to obscurity, and others reach stardom, one thing remains: They were good enough to play on a major-league team.

So here are, five names that should be popping up on your radar, as rosters expand and the season dwindles. These players could also be a fantasy-baseball savior and should be targeted in keeper leagues. Also listed are players to keep an eye on in the next year or two. Without further ado, the predictions and list, in no particular order.


Gio Gonzalez (SP, OAK)

Gio Gonzalez is going to be in the big leagues soon. That is a fact. With GM Billy Beane, young players will always shine until they are sold for a great profit, while breaking down on the team that paid for him.

With Dan Haren and Rich Harden being dealt, a path has opened up for Gio and a slew of young pitchers. Gio is the most seasoned and, perhaps, ready of the bunch. While he fought for a spot during Spring Training, he showed promise, but he was sent down to refine his skills.

Now with a rough first half of the season gone, Gio has unlocked his inner Duchscherer and has been unconscious the last few starts. Oakland hopes this turnaround is permanent and means he is ready for the spotlight. Oakland will likely put him in friendly matchups and at home, as they seem to have given up on this year, but you should never count out Oakland.


Matt LaPorta (OF/1B, CLE)

"Hi, my name is Matt LaPorta, and I was the key piece in the trade that sent your beloved ace for eight years to the Brewers." While no one wants to have to face those expectations, Matt LaPorta is staring them in the eyes.

LaPorta has plenty of potential and intense expectations. LaPorta played outfield for the Brewers because a 400-pound gorilla manned first base for the team. (Who wants to see Fielder running around in the outfield?)

LaPorta played first base in college, and the Indians are looking to utilize him most at that position. The Indians may not want to rush him to the big leagues, but the fans will be clamoring for it. LaPorta may be coming up later than most because he was named to the USA Olympic team and will be going to China to take on the world.

This will be a great learning experience that he can only benefit from. He will be taking on the world's best, and in the later rounds of competition, that is better than AAA.

LaPorta could make a splash this year, and if he does not make it to the big league this season, at least support him during the Olympics. He could become an instant hero there and carry his success to the Indians.


David Price (SP, TAM)

The Rays' No. 1 choice last year is probably the most high profile and anticipated player coming out of the minors. With the Rays leading the AL East, and the trigger-happy Red Sox and Yankees a few games behind, the Rays need all the help they can get.

The young team could get younger if Price is called up soon. David Price could make an impact like Evan Longoria did at the beginning of the year for the Rays and kick them into a higher gear and combat the evil empires.

While Price is no superhero, his numbers in the minors are hard to dispute. With a 1.82 ERA in high-A ball, and a 1.32 ERA in AA ball, he is already dominating the minors. A stint at AAA may not be needed, but it would help.

He has been eating up batters like Prince Fielder eats up tofu, with 59 strikeouts in 60 innings over both minor leagues. If another key cog goes down in the bullpen, look for Price to get the call. He can only benefit from being around Troy Percival and the other veterans that balance out the young studs in the rotation.

His promotion and use could be blueprinted like Joba Chamberlain's was last year. This much is certain: When he makes the Rays' team this year, and I do not doubt it will be this year, look out world.

If you are a Rays fan, be at that game. If you are a baseball fan, TiVo this game and get ready for a future star. If you are a Red Sox or Yankees fan, cry, because your reign as the AL East champs is over. You better start fighting for the Wild Card.


Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT)

The Pittsburgh Pirates' 15-year rebuilding plan is finally taking shape. Now if only they could find an infield, starting rotation, and bullpen, they will win more games than they lose.

McCutchen is the main prospect in the Pirates' organization, and the time is running out for him in AAA. He could have won the starting job in Spring Training, but he eventually lost the job to Nate McLouth.

So the backup job was his to take, until he lost it to former prospect and speedster Nyjer Morgan.

So back to AAA and obscurity Andrew went. After a rough first half that could be shock from performing so badly in Spring Training, he has finally gotten that fire back and is ready to make the jump.

Steven Pearce took what was supposed to be his call-up earlier this year and again when the Pirates traded Xavier Nady. Look for Pearce and McCutchen to split time in the outfield, starting a tryout session for next year's outfield spot. Either way, McCutchen is someone to be ready for.


Mat Gamel (3B, MIL)

The Brew Crew sure do love their power-hitting third basemen. Especially ones who hit as many home runs as errors committed in the field. Gamel could make a Braun-like impact, not only at the plate, but at the hot corner as well.

Gamel will get the call up because of his bat. Do not look for him to actually play much in the field. Instead, he will be used primarily as a pinch hitter. The Brewers have a great formula for late call-ups that produce, and Gamel may be the next in line.

Gamel will get a few looks for a tryout for next year, but since the Brewers are all-in for this year, they must pull out all the stops.

The last time the Brewers made the playoffs, Hammerin' Hank was still playing. Okay, they made the playoffs since then, but the Sausage Eaters of Milwaukee still think it has been way too long.

Gamel can only help them push for the playoffs. Come October, look for the Brewers to be shaking cans of beer in the locker room (because in Milwaukee, Champagne is banned) and Gamel could be a key piece in the surge.


Other Notables

Colby Rasmus (OF, STL) He was originally intended to be on this list until an mild ACL sprain sidelined him for more than a month and cost him his spot on the Olympic team. The Cardinals have a talented and deep outfield that could match the Angels', once Rasmus is healthy. Look for him to be an opening-day starter next year.

Cameron Maybin (OF, FLA) He, too, was on this list, until I saw that he played 17 games for Detroit before he was traded in the Cabrera/Willis deal. So that left him off the debut list, but he still gets mention because Florida is waiting for him.

Angel Villanola (3B/1B, SFG) A power player who hits moonshots. He could hit a home run with a toothpick for a bat and a bowling ball coming at him. His numbers this year are nothing to write home about, with a .178 average, but he is starting to get the feel of things in the minor leagues.

Fortunately, he is 17-years of age. He cannot gamble or smoke legally yet, and yet he is still the No. 1 prospect in the Giants' organization.

Elvis Andrus (SS, TEX) Another young stud who, at 18, is the best minor-league shortstop and is only getting better. He could make an impact like Hanley Ramirez has done with the Marlins. He needs about a year or two to fine-tune things, but the time is coming for Elvis to rock the world again. You can thank the Braves for dealing him in exchange for Mark Teixeira.

Nefitali Perez (SP, TEX) Not to rub things in or anything, but he was another prospect in the Teixeira deal. And he is hitting about 100 MPH on the radar. So Braves fans should probably skip to the next one while I gush about his abilities.

Perez is still growing and still getting stronger. He could have Randy Johnson-type domination, hopefully without the back surgeries. Perez will come up quickly because the Rangers' pitching staff couldn't stop a little-league team from scoring runs.

Chen-Hsuan Lin (CF, BOS) He merits mention mainly because he won the MVP award at the Futures Game at Yankee stadium, helping the World beat the United States 3-0. It was his two-run home run that opened up the scoring in the sixth inning.

He was viewed as not worthy to be at the Futures Game, but he said a polite, "Screw You!" to those people. Lin has the speed and is developing the power to become a regular center fielder on a major-league level. Keep a watchful eye on him.

Luke Hughes (3B, Min) Few have heard of him, but he is going to garner your attention soon. He has crushed AA ball this year and is poised to make his debut possibly this year.

The year before, he struggled in the minors and was revoked as a prospect, but a hot year makes him relevant again. The Twins could call him up and see if the hot streak continues, or just promote him to AAA and just wait and see if the year is a fluke or not. Out of this list down here, he is the most likely to see time this year.

Hank Conger (C, LAA) The catching phenom is here on this list because he is on my favorite team, and I am biased. He is drawing some comparisons to Mike Piazza with his offensive bat. He may still be two years off, since he is only in high-A ball, but there is reason for excitement.

While he is prone to injuries as of late, when he plays, he makes an impact. Conger hits for average but can drive the long ball just as easily. Think Howie Kendrick, but with power.

While his defense needs to be better, and his catching skills are only so-so, a position change could be in the works. Since he is still a ways away from the big league, the Angels have time to develop him. Oh, and he is a switch hitter, just to add to his awesomeness.


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