The date: August 22. The significance? Not only is September baseball around the corner, a stress-filled month jam packed with pennant races, sleepless nights with AL East standings flashing in your head and flashbacks of Jason Varitek chasing that high fastball to end the game (okay, maybe this is all just me), it also means September call-ups. While most are just roster fodder called up for their chance to sit in a major league dugout for a pennant race, some actually serve key roles that can help a contending team make the postseason.
For the Red Sox, most of their supreme minor league talent is found at the lower levels. They just spent tons of money on the draft to sign outstanding talents like Peter Hissey, Ryan Westmoreland, Casey Kelly and Derrick Gibson, continuing this front office’s trend of building successfully from the bottom up and pouring major resources into the draft. Pawtucket’s record is gaudy, but none of those players are big-time prospects other than one (more on him later), so most of the talent is in Portland, Lowell, Greenville and Lancaster. There are three players, two from AAA and one from AA, who I feel can make contributions to the Red Sox in September and deserve a call-up:
Michael Bowden (AAA): Prior to Lars Anderson tearing up Portland, Bowden was widely considered the Red Sox top prospect down on the farm. He’s had an outstanding 2008 season for a 21-year old who will turn 22 in September. Bowden dominated Portland with a 2.33 ERA, 4.21 K/BB and only 72 H allowed in 104.1 impressive innings before earning a promotion to Pawtucket where he’s gone 0-3, but with a 3.21 ERA and in each of his last starts he’s gone six innings while allowing only one run.
His fastball normally sits at 93-94 with a hard 12-6 curve and a developing changeup that’s showing progress. Bowden can contribute to a rotation suddenly in flux next month. With the Red Sox playing so many divisional foes, his new arsenal can provide quality innings and shore up the back end with Buchholz’s demotion, Wakefield’s shoulder, Beckett’s numbness and Colon still in AAA (albeit pitching well). Bowden has earned the chance to start with his phenomenal 2008 season and the Red Sox would be wise to hand him the ball the first given opportunity, even if he’s not on the 40-man roster.
Daniel Bard (AA): Has Daniel Bard finally figured it out? After what appeared to be a lost career at this time last year in Lancaster, Bard has put up outstanding numbers in 2008, overpowering hitters out of the bullpen at both Greenville and Portland. His numbers in high-A are ungodly: .129 BAA, 43 K in 28 IP and a 0.64 ERA. In Portland, he’s proved no fluke: .176 BAA, 61 K in 47 IP and a 2.11 ERA, including allowing just two runs in July and August combined. This move is tricky in that Bard would outright skip Pawtucket straight for the big leagues, but I feel the Red Sox should take a chance, even though any struggles could hurt his confidence.
His fastball finds the mid-90s consistently, and Bard is able to compliment that with a two-seamer in the low-90s that finishes with late movement. His slider and changeup need refinement, but are developing drastically and have taken major strides this season. Bard even added more movement to his fastball with an arm slot drop this season. Remember what Papelbon provided late in 2005 out of the bullpen as a fresh power arm? The Red Sox bullpen could use another viable arm and Bard more than fit’s the bill.
Dusty Brown (AAA): This one was the most realistic before the Red Sox signed David Ross, but I’d like to see Dusty Brown get a shot anyway. He’s 26 years old in AAA and not a top catching prospect by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s done his job very adequately this season: .286/.377/.475, and can catch the knuckleball. I prepared this article prior to the signing of Ross, which isn’t a bad one when you check out his OBP and see that he’s a stellar defensive backstop, but Brown is on the 40-man roster and has contributed very steadily this year. Hopefully, Brown could make a good impression and the Red Sox would be able to part ways with Kevin Cash. His bat undoubtedly has more pop.
It could be the case all three of these players don’t sniff the majors this season; the Bowden decision depends mostly on the health of Wakefield, Beckett and Colon down the stretch, Bard is still in double-A and the front office will likely opt against moving him to the majors so soon, and Brown’s chances may be ruined with the acquisition of Ross. With the minor league seasons these three players are having, they deserve a shot in the big show, especially with the tremendous ceiling of Bowden and Bard and their ability to contribute immediately in spots of pressing need. We’ll see if the front office agrees.