14 MLB Prospects We Can't Wait to See in the Majors in September
For fans of teams with little to root for during the final month and a half of the MLB season, the most exciting part of the waning days of the baseball season is getting to see some of the young, up-and-coming talent that arrives when the big-league roster expands on September 1st.
Teams like Pittsburgh, Seattle and Kansas City and the entire American League East, save for New York and Boston, will become stomping grounds for some of the best young prospects in the game. Pitchers with scary velocity, hitters with impressive plate discipline and guys with sensational facial hair will descend upon big-league ballparks and try to prove they have what it takes to earn a spot on the big-league roster for next year.
Last year's September 1st class included Chicago's Chris Sale and Dayan Viciedo, Atlanta's impressive duo of Freddie Freeman and Brandon Beachy, Boston's Lars Anderson, Cincinnati's Yonder Alonso and Los Angeles' Jordan Walden.
This season, we could be witness to one of the most impressive groups in quite some time, as Tampa's Matt Moore, Atlanta's Julio Teheran, Arizona's Trevor Bauer and Seattle's Alex Liddi all fight to get the nod to join the big-league club for the final month.
We could also bear witness to the second coming of Rick Ankiel in the form of Toronto's Adam Loewen, who was forced to give up pitching due to chronic injury issues, only to rebuild his career as a power-hitting outfielder.
Without further ado, I give you the top 14 prospects we should be most excited to see during the month of September.
Most Exciting Debut
As the MLB season winds down, one of the most intriguing story lines is whether or not 2011 third overall pick Trevor Bauer will get the call to come up and pitch with Arizona.
Whether or not he's qualified is not the issue. Bauer has certainly proved that, first with a dominating college campaign at UCLA, where he recorded complete games in his last nine starts and led the nation in strikeouts and innings pitched. After signing a team-friendly contract, Bauer has started on a path that should lead him all the way to Chase Field before the end of the 2011 season.
He made three starts in High-A ball and struck out 17 batters in just nine innings, earning a promotion to Double-A, where he's looked just as good, racking up 16 punchouts in 10 innings. Through five starts for the year, he's posted a 33-to-8 K:BB ratio in 19 innings and has allowed just 15 hits.
According to the Arizona front office, there is no real plan that would get Bauer to Phoenix in September. Instead, they're taking the "let's wait and see" approach. If he continues to excel, however, there's no way they can keep him and his six-pitch repertoire off the expanded roster.
Most Fearsome Flamethrower I
Tampa's Matt Moore has been the most dominant pitcher in the minor leagues for going on three seasons now.
He currently ranks third in the minors with 188 strikeouts and is on pace for his second consecutive 200-strikeout campaign. He's also within striking distance of locking down his third straight strikeout title. In addition to his strikeout prowess, Moore has continue to refine his repertoire and now features the best set of pitches in the minors.
It starts with his mid 90s fastball, which can reach 97-98 mph on a good day. His fastball isn't just fast though; it also has incredible movement and is a pitch that he can dominate with even when his other pitches are off. His curveball is one of the best in the minors, and his changeup is well on its way to becoming an above-average pitch too.
The Rays wanted Moore to focus on two things coming into this season: refining his wildness and pitching to contact more. At both he has excelled. He has issued only 38 walks this year after handing out 61 last year and 70 the year before that.
It's pretty hard for a youngster to break into the loaded Rays rotation, but if anyone can do it, it will be Moore, who is 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA in six Triple-A starts.
Most Fearsome Flamethrower II
Julio Teheran isn't far behind Moore when it comes to velocity or dominance. Since Moore has only six Triple-A starts under his belt, the Braves right-hander can lay claim to being the top pitcher in the International League this season and has a strong case for top honors among all minor leaguers.
After rocketing from Low-A to Double-A last year, Teheran has been a one-level guy this year, making all of his 22 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett. Well, all except for two, that is: He made two starts in the big leagues in the middle of the year and looked decent, but a bit over his head.
Teheran is so effective thanks to his incredible velocity (94-97 mph) and two potential above-average pitches in a curveball and a changeup. Both pitches still need some refinement if he's going to be really successful in the big leagues, but for now, they're good enough to dominate minor leaguers.
Teheran paces the IL with 13 victories and ranks second in all of the minors. His ridiculous 2.14 ERA places him fifth in MiLB, and his 112 strikeouts rank him inside the top 10 in his league.
The Braves won't likely need to turn to Teheran in September, thanks to an incredibly deep pitching staff, but if they are looking for some electricity, he's the No. 1 option.
Most Prolific Power Hitter I
After receiving hell for not giving slugger Kila Ka'aihue enough playing time last year, the Royals finally caved and let him start the 2011 campaign as the team's first baseman. After only 23 games, Ka'aihue had a sub-.200 batting average, just two home runs and 26 strikeouts.
That experiment may have been a total failure, but that's no reason to banish fellow slugger Clint Robinson to the same fate. Robinson has torn up every league he's played in, and at age 26, he's having his most productive season yet, hitting .322 with 32 doubles, 21 home runs and 90 RBI. He has a good number of walks (57) and plays decent defense.
With five more home runs this season, Robinson will have 100 career dingers, accumulated in just 549 games and 2,008 at-bats.
His all-around game isn't good enough to force future star Eric Hosmer off first base, but considering Robinson is as hot right now as he's ever been, hitting close to .400 with 20 RBI and a 1.123 OPS during August, now might just be the best time to see if he's worth holding on to.
Most Prolific Power Hitter II
If you go by statistics, making it in the big leagues as a native of Italy is harder to do than working one's way up through poverty-stricken, Third World countries like the Dominican Republic and ending up as a major leaguer.
As proof, I give you this widely known fact: Mariners prospect Alex Liddi is the first Italian-born position player to play pro baseball in the United States.
That's right—not even Joey DiMaggio or Mike Piazza can claim as much Italian as Liddi.
Fortunately for the M's, Liddi wasn't content in becoming the first to play professionally. He has his eyes set much higher, and with a kind gesture from the front office, he could be on the verge of reaching the final frontier for native Italians...making the major leagues.
He's certainly earned his spot this year, hitting .256 with 31 doubles, 27 home runs and 96 RBI. The latter number ranks him fourth among Triple-A hitters and in the top 10 in all of the minors. Unfortunately, he also ranks second in the International League in another category...strikeouts. He has 153 of those and trails Jai Miller by just two for top honors in the IL.
That has been the primary reason the M's haven't been overly aggressive with Liddi, allowing him to work his way through each level by spending at least one full season at each stop, beginning with rookie ball back in 2006.
The Savviest Speedster I
Baltimore's Matt Angle put behind the worst start of his professional career and has gone on to have one of his finest seasons to date.
The almost-25-year old is hitting .272, a far cry from the .158 he hit during April, but still the lowest number of his career with Baltimore. He's closing in on setting career highs in triples, home runs and RBI, however, and he leads the O's Triple-A Norfolk squad with 27 steals.
That number is also a career low for Angle, who stole a ridiculous 34 bases in his first 66 games during his debut season back in 2007. He stole 37 the next season and peaked with 42 in 2009. He dropped back to 29 last year.
Angle is one of the grittier players you'll find in the minor leagues and is also one of its savviest baserunners, if not the most savvy. He picks his spots carefully and as a result has only been caught nine times in the past two years.
His abilities to get on base and play multiple outfield positions should help him earn a longer look than the one he got earlier this year (two games).
Don't be surprised if he surprises everyone and locks down a spot in left field for 2012.
The Savviest Speedster II
Wondering why you haven't heard the name Tyler Graham?
Maybe you're not, but if you're a Giants fan, you could become quite familiar with the name soon enough. With their big-league club struggling to get much out of one of the worst running games in baseball (just 70 steals in 127 games), the team might be wise to keep tabs on the 27-year-old Graham with an eye towards the playoffs.
Graham has always been a solid base thief, swiping 14 bases in 50 games during his debut in the Northwest League back in 2006. He went on to steal 147 during the next 362 games, setting a career high with 47 during the 2008 season. He stole 36 bags last year, but that was hardly his highlight.
After failing to eclipse .300 during any of his previous four seasons, Graham exploded to finish the year with a .343 mark, one of the best numbers posted during the 2010 season in the PCL.
This year, Graham's average has dipped back to .277, but he's been more prolific than ever on the basepaths, establishing a new career best with 56 swipes through 113 contests.
Most Polished Pitcher I
For the most part, the Nationals starting rotation has performed admirably over the course of the 2011 season, and that is the primary reason why polished lefty Tom Milone hasn't been forced into action.
The 24-year-old USC alum has never had a problem winning games (35 victories in three-plus seasons) or posting low ERAs (career 3.10 mark), but this season he's taken his game to a whole new level. Through 22 starts he has struck out 141 batters in just 136.1 innings, while issuing just 13 walks.
That's 13 walks in nearly an entire season. That's almost an average of one every other start. He hasn't walked a single batter since an August 8th start, and he issued just one during six spectacular June outings, posting a 45-to-1 K:BB ratio.
Milone has also cracked the 10-win plateau for the third consecutive season and is a serious candidate for MiLB Pitcher of the Year honors.
Once rosters expand, look for him to get a nice long look.
Most Polished Pitcher II
As the Indians scratch and claw, trying to remain in contention into September, they're going to need some more quality arms to pick up the slack of their tiring rotation and bullpen.
Luckily, they won't have to look to far to find their best in-house option, right-hander Zachary Taylor McAllister, who just so happens to share a first and middle name with one of America's scrappiest presidents.
McAllister has continued the success he began in a Yankee uni. He's a few starts away from setting career marks in innings pitched, strikeouts and possibly even victories. He's 10-3 through 23 starts and has a solid 3.37 ERA. His 141.2 innings rank third in the International League, while he's tied for first with three complete games.
He's been stingy with the long ball, serving up just 10 so far, and has enjoyed a return to the brilliant command that abandoned him during a brutal 2010 campaign. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 112-to-28 is one of the best of its kind in the IL.
In New York, McAllister never would have had a chance to compete for a bullpen spot, much less one in the rotation. Now in Cleveland, he could secure a spot on the 2012 pitching staff with a strong September.
Most Righteous Reliever I
When the Detroit Tigers selected Texas Longhorn reliever Chance Ruffin with their supplemental first-round pick last year, they knew they would be getting a guy who wouldn't need much seasoning in the minors, and for all intents and purposes that has proven to be true.
Ruffin made less than 30 appearances before getting the call to Detroit, where he looked strong and showed great composure, issuing not a single walk. He returned to the minors after the promotion and put together a strong dozen games in Triple-A, saving nine games and posting a 1.84 ERA.
A late-season big-league promotion seemed like an inevitability until Ruffin was included as the player-to-be-named-later to complete the deal that sent Doug Fister and David Pauley to Detroit in exchange for Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush and Francisco Martinez.
Ruffin made his Mariners debut last week on the same day the deal was finally completed and has looked strong in two appearances so far, striking out three batters in just two innings of work.
Most Righteous Reliever II
Over the past few years, the Braves have quietly assembled a massive cache of very young, very impressive relievers, including Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters and possibly this year Jairo Asencio, a talented right-hander from the Dominican, who has put a hurting on International League hitters this year.
His ERA is one of the best among relievers in the IL at 1.52 and he's racked up 20 saves in 40 appearances, good for fourth among IL closers. More impressively, he has 62 strikeouts in just 47.1 innings, a testament to his swing-and-miss stuff.
Asencio isn't going to be a multiple-inning kind of reliever, considering he's been weaned in the innings department ever since a tough campaign as a starter back in 2006, but he's got enough talent that he could be an intriguing sixth- or seventh-inning option for the Braves as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.
RBI Machine I
David Cooper has had one of those seasons that you dream of, the kind where you can do nothing wrong.
His .371 average through 104 games is the second-best in the entire minor leagues and the top mark among Triple-A hitters by a very wide margin. He's also been an incredible run-producer, driving in 89 runs and managing to do so despite hitting just nine home runs all season. In fact, he hasn't even hit one during the month of August.
But Cooper has remained a steady source of RBI for Toronto's Triple-A affiliate, thanks in part to his prolific doubles pace. He already has 47, another number that leads the PCL by a large margin.
It doesn't necessarily play into his run-producing ability, but Cooper also has one of the best BB-to-K ratios in all of baseball, a healthy 58-to-37.
Cooper earned a big-league promotion earlier in the season and didn't perform up to his standards (.121 in 13 games), but considering he's riding another hot streak (.333 with 13-to-5 BB:K rate in August), he's a likely bet to return to Toronto once big-league rosters expand.
RBI Machine II
It's not as if the Brewers need any more offensive help, but if they decide they could use another potent bat capable of driving in runs at will, they'll most likely call on Triple-A third baseman Taylor Green.
Green has driven in 85 runs this year, just two away from setting a new career high. This year marks the third time that Green has eclipsed the 80 RBI mark during his six professional seasons. He also has a campaign during which he drove in 73.
Like Cooper, he has done it for the most part without tons of power. His career high in home runs before the 2011 season was 15, although in a favorable hitting environment (Pacific Coast League) he's exploded for 21 this year.
Green has enhanced his chances of getting a September call-up by hitting .337 and showing incredible plate discipline (54-to-69 BB:K). He's also provided solid defense at both second and third base.
That added versatility could increase his odds of getting onto not only the big-league roster, but also the playoff version.
Most Interesting Facial Hair
Without a doubt, the best facial hair among likely September call-ups belongs to Cooper's teammate Adam Loewen.
Kind of looks like he belongs in the WWE, if you ask me.
But Loewen has more to offer the world than an aspiring Fu Manchu. He's also one heck of a hitter who has a story that rivals Rick Ankiel's.
Loewen, then a talented lefty pitcher, earned a multimillion-dollar big-league contract from the Orioles back in 2003 and rocketed through the minors, arriving in Baltimore in mid 2006. He split time in the rotation and on the DL, where he was sent with numerous elbow and shoulder ailments.
Eventually a stress fracture in his pitching arm led him to take another look at his career, and with the O's blessing, he decided to go back to hitting, something he did with great aplomb during his high school and JUCO career. He spurned an offer to return to Baltimore, and instead the native Canadian signed with Toronto.
Three years and 33 home runs later, he's on the verge of cracking a big-league roster for the second time in his career, but for the first time as a position player. Few have ever been able to pull off such a stunt, and even fewer have been successful.