MLB: Stephen Strasburg and Every Team's Prospect to Watch Down the Stretch
With rosters expanding next week on September 1, several teams will turn to their top prospects down the stretch to show of their skills at the major league level.
Some of these players will be simply auditioning for roster spots on the 2012 opening day rosters, while others will be thrust into the middle of a pennant race.
And still, some of the top prospects are already with their major league club, contributing in some manner or another to the future of the organization.
Let's take a look at each team's prospect to watch down the stretch.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt
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Paul Goldschmidt made his major league debut with the Diamondbacks on August 1.
In his 21 major league games so far this season, he has managed a .262 batting average and five homers while playing a perfect first base.
Goldschmidt is considered the first baseman of the future for Arizona and will have the opportunity to display the power that has made him a top prospect as the Diamondbacks try to take the NL West division title away from the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
Atlanta Braves: Arodys Vizcaino
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Arodys Vizcaino may not be the top prospect in the Braves system, but he is the prospect that has the opportunity to make the biggest impact on the Braves postseason hopes.
Vizcaino made his major league debut on August 10 and has appeared in eight games in a relief role, so far this season.
He has put together a very impressive 1.86 ERA with ten strikeouts in his 9.2 innings.
He is expected to stick with the Braves bullpen for the remainder of the season.
In 26 minor league appearances this season, he was a starter in 17 games.
Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton
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Zach Britton has actually been with the Orioles for most of the 2011 season.
He made his Major League debut back on April 3, and has started 21 games for Baltimore so far.
Despite a few minor league appearances, he has primarily been gaining experience in the big leagues this year.
He is expected to be a part of Baltimore's starting rotation for years to come, so watching how he handles pitching this late in the season will be important, as the Orioles prepare him for a more prominent role in 2012.
He has compiled a 7-9 record with a 4.54 ERA in his opportunities this season.
Boston Red Sox: Felix Doubront
Doubront has appeared in three games for the Red Sox already this season and appeared in 12 games last season.
He was exclusively a starter this season while pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket. His three appearances with Boston were all in relief.
Chicago Cubs: Bryan LaHair
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At 28 years old, Bryan LaHair may no longer deserve the title "top prospect."
LaHair is having an excellent minor league season for the Cubs Triple-A affiliate in Iowa.
With the Cubs first base position up in the air for next season, LaHair and his .336 batting average and 36 home runs this season could be their answer for 2012, if they miss out on top free-agent targets such as Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols (and fail to retain Carlos Pena).
It will be worth watching how he responds to his second stint in the majors. (He also appeared in 45 games for the Seattle Mariners in 2008).
Chicago White Sox: Dayan Viciedo
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Dayan Viciedo showed a lot of promise in his stint with the White Sox in 2010.
In 38 games, he put together a .308 batting average with five homers while playing exclusively in the infield (third and first base).
This year he was held off the roster because of lack of a position for him.
He has been converted into an outfielder this year in the minors, while putting together a good offensive season for the White Sox Triple-A affiliate.
He is batting .297 with 20 homers so far this year.
Viciedo should find some at-bats down the stretch and have the opportunity to show that his bat is ready for full-time major league duties in 2012.
Cincinatti Reds: Yonder Alonso
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Yonder Alonso doesn't represent a September call-up.
He has already been in the big leagues for 20 games this season, posting a very impressive .448 batting average in 29 at-bats.
His average will certainly drop as the season winds down, but it is worth watching how he handles making the adjustments and what level of production he manages in the final month of the season.
Alonso could be auditioning for a position on the 25-man roster in 2012.
Cleveland Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall
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Lonnie Chisenhall made his major league debut for the Indians back on June 27.
He has managed a .240 batting average and three homers for Cleveland since his call up.
He was batting, a slightly more respectable, .267 with seven homers in Triple-A prior to making his debut.
It would be a boost to Cleveland's lineup if he is able to make the necessary adjustments and rediscover the hitting abilities that made him a first-round draft pick in the 2008 draft.
He was listed as the No. 25 overall prospect heading into 2011 by Baseball America.
Colorado Rockies: Kevin Kouzmanoff
Okay, Kevin Kouzmanoff is not a prospect, I know this and don't need the reminders.
I included him here because I believe that he represents the player that is most worth watching down the stretch as the Rockies evaluate their roster needs for 2012.
If Kouzmanoff can rediscover the game he displayed while with the San Diego Padres, he represents the answer for the Rockies at third base moving forward.
If he continues to be the offensive and defensive mess that he was while with the Oakland A's, they will need to continue their search during the offseason.
Personally, I think a return to the National League West (which Kouzmanoff knows well from his playing time in San Diego) and the hitter-friendly environment at Coors Field, will allow him to thrive in his new home.
He has a little over a month to prove he is the answer.
Detroit Tigers: Jacob Turner
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Jacob Turner made his major league debut with Detroit on July 30 this season.
He made just one start, going 5.1 innings and allowing two earned runs while striking out six and walking three batters in the loss.
He entered the season as the No. 21 overall prospect according to Baseball America.
He should see a return to Detroit when rosters expand.
I would expect that any action he sees will come from the bullpen, but he could be in the Tigers rotation plans, perhaps, to begin next season.
Florida Marlins: Brad Hand
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Brad Hand made his major league debut for the Marlins on June 7.
In eight starts since then, Hand has compiled a 1-4 record with a 4.08 ERA.
The 21-year-old lefty is considered one of the better young arms in the Marlins system and should be a part of their rotation for many years.
It is worth watching how the Marlins decide to use him in the final month of the season with the Fish already out of the postseason chase.
Hand is certainly in the plans for a rotation spot in 2012 though.
Houston Astros: Brett Wallace
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Despite already playing in 101 games this season for the Houston Astros, Brett Wallace represents a September call-up at this point, after his demotion to the minor leagues.
Wallace was hitting .268 with a .720 OPS during his time with the Astros earlier in the year.
Since heading to the minors, he is batting .359 with a .926 OPS.
It is certainly going to be interesting to see if he returns to the majors and continues to swing a hot bat as he tries to make a statement to the Astros that he belongs in the majors for good, beginning with his call-up.
Kansas City Royals: Lorenzo Cain
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Lorenzo Cain will need to use his September call up as an audition for a 2012 starting spot.
He is batting .304 with 16 homers for the Royals Triple-A affiliate in Omaha this season.
He is currently blocked in the outfield by Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francouer and Alex Gordon.
If he is going to convince the Royals to move one of the above three during the offseason, he will need to show them that he is capable of producing in the month of September.
Let's see if he can do it.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Mike Trout
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Mike Trout had a forgettable first stint in the major leagues earlier this season.
In 18 games for the Angels, he managed just a .200 batting average.
He wasn't named the No. 2 prospect by Baseball America entering 2011 for no reason though.
Trout has a .326 batting average with 11 homers during his time in Triple-A.
He will be back up to play out the final month of the season as the Angels try to overtake the Texas Rangers for the division title, and figures to be in the Angels plans for 2012.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Nathan Eovaldi
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Nathan Eovaldi was called up and made his major league debut for the Dodgers on August 6.
He has made four starts for the Dodgers in August, posting a record of 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA.
Eovaldi had posted a 2.65 ERA in 103 innings pitched in Triple-A this season, as well.
He is a very promising young arm for Dodger fans to watch down the stretch as they try to build towards 2012 and rebound from their embarrassing 2011 season (on and off-the-field).
Milwaukee Brewers: Mat Gamel
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Mat Gamel hasn't done much in his opportunities with the big league club in 2011, batting just .115 in 26 at-bats.
He has had a more promising Triple-A season, though, batting .319 with 27 homers, while playing mostly at first base.
With Prince Fielder's free agency looming, Gamel should see some playing time as the Brewers evaluate if he is the answer to fill Fielder's void (assuming he is not retained) next season.
Minnesota Twins: Kyle Gibson
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After a promising promotion to Triple-A last season, in which Kyle Gibson posted a 1.72 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched, he has regressed a little this year.
In 18 Triple-A starts, he has posted a 3-8 record with a 4.81 ERA for the Twins minor league affiliate.
He is still likely to see a September call-up and some action out of the bullpen for the Twins this year.
It is certainly worth watching how Gibson responds to the pressure of pitching in the major leagues, even for a team that is already out of the division race.
He entered the season rated the No. 34 prospect overall by Baseball America.
New York Mets: Dillon Gee
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Dillon Gee has had an impressive rookie season, so far, for the New York Mets.
In 24 appearances, 21 starts, Gee has posted an 11-5 record and a 4.37 ERA.
Gee should be a staple in the Mets rotation for the next several seasons, making it worth watching how he performs the remainder of the season as the Mets grind through the remaining month of play.
New York Yankees: Jesus Montero
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Jesus Montero entered the 2011 season rated by Baseball America as the No. 3 overall prospect.
He is likely to receive a September call-up and make his major league debut for the Yankees this season.
He is batting .288 with 17 homers for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton this year.
The most intriguing thing to watch with Montero (at least for me) is whether he is auditioning for a potential starting spot in 2012, or if the Yankees will simply be showcasing him for potential trade partners this offseason.
Oakland Athletics: Brandon Allen
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Brandon Allen does not represent a September call-up, but he does represent the most intriguing player for A's fans to watch down the stretch.
It is pretty much assumed that Jemile Weeks is the long-term answer at second base, but first base has been a mystery spot for the A's for much of the season.
The trade for Allen at the deadline went under the radar, but he has been drawing plenty of attention since his call-up shortly after.
Currently Allen is batting .357 with a pair of homers since being brought up with the A's. He has also shown good athleticism at first base and looks like the long-term answer at the position for Oakland.
He is worth watching down the stretch to see how he responds as the league adjusts to him.
Philadelphia Phillies: Domonic Brown
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Domonic Brown represents the No. 4 rated prospect overall by Baseball America entering the 2011 season, and the most hyped Phillies prospect the past two seasons.
He underwhelmed in his appearances in the major leagues so far this season, batting just .246, but is assured of appearances down the stretch for the playoff-bound Phillies.
A hot September should earn Brown a shot at a starting spot on the 2012 roster.
At worst, the Phillies would like to adequately showcase their talented outfield prospect for potential impact trades during the offseason.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Rudy Owens
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Rudy Owens is one of the few Pirates rated prospects knocking on the door for a September call-up.
Currently rated as the fifth best prospect in the Pirates farm system, Owens has put together a 9-7 record with a 5.05 ERA in Triple-A.
He will likely make his major league debut this September for the Pirates.
Whether they use him as a spot starter or out of the bullpen is still unknown, but he will use his appearances as a showcase for 2012.
If he pitches well, he could crack their starting rotation in spring training next year.
San Diego Padres: Anthony Rizzo
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Anthony Rizzo, acquired by the Padres from the Boston Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez trade last winter, wasn't able to make much of an impact in his first major league stint this season.
In 35 games, he managed just a .143 batting average.
Rizzo is batting .343 with 24 homers in Triple-A, however, and should be headed back to San Diego when rosters expand.
He is considered the long-term answer at first base for the Padres, so it will be worth watching how he responds to his second stint in the majors after regaining his confidence.
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt
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If the San Francisco Giants are going to make a late-season run to win the NL West division and return to the playoffs, they will need offensive production from Brandon Belt down the stretch.
Belt has played in 40 games for the Giants this season, spread out over a couple of stints with the big league club.
He has shown flashes of his talent, but overall is batting just .239 with five homers.
He combined to hit 23 homers and bat .352 in the minors in 2010 and has eight homers and a .320 batting average in the minors this season.
If he can translate his minor league success into big league production, he has an opportunity to overtake one of the starting outfield positions, or first base, for the remainder of the year and into 2012.
Seattle Mariners: Alex Liddi
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With the continued struggles of Chone Figgins in Seattle, Alex Liddi has an opportunity to force the veteran out of his position beginning with a September call-up.
Liddi has batted just .259 this season in Triple-A Tacoma, but has displayed good power numbers with 27 homers.
He's played an adequate enough defensive third base to justify the Mariners sacrificing a little defense for the offensive upgrade.
If he is able to prove he is ready for the jump to the majors, he could prompt the Mariners to part ways with the veteran Figgins this offseason.
St. Louis Cardinals: Allen Craig
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In his major league opportunities in 2011, Allen Craig just hits, hits and hits.
He has a .326 batting average over 51 games with the Cardinals this season.
He suffered an injury earlier this year, but should continue to see regular playing time in September.
At 27 years old, Craig may not truly be a prospect anymore, but he is proving that he could just be a late bloomer capable of becoming a quality major league regular.
Tampa Bay Rays: Desmond Jennings
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Desmond Jennings has impressed since his call-up this season.
In 31 games in 2011, Jennings is batting .342 with five homers and 13 stolen bases.
Jennings is expected to continue to receive ample playing time the remainder of the season.
If the Rays decide to place B.J. Upton back on the trade market this offseason, Jennings is the logical candidate to take over as the everyday starting center fielder in 2012.
Even if the Rays retain Upton, Jennings figures to be an everyday starter at one of the corner outfield spots next year.
Texas Rangers: Leonys Martin
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Leonys Martin has managed to climb through all levels of the minor leagues this season.
His combined statistics include a .297/.364/.424 batting line with four homers and 42 RBI. He has also successfully stolen 18 bases while being caught stealing 11 times.
The 23-year-old may make the climb all the way to the majors with a September call-up, making him worth watching for that reason alone.
Toronto Blue Jays: David Cooper
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David Cooper is another player that underwhelmed in his first major league stint this season, but should earn a second audition when rosters expand.
In 13 games with Toronto, Cooper batted just .121 in 33 at-bats (four hits).
He put together a very impressive Triple-A season though, batting .371 with nine homers and 91 RBI.
The Blue Jays will call him up and hope that his hot hitting carries over to the major league level with his increased confidence.
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg
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While there are plenty of people around baseball that will make the argument that the Washington Nationals should not be rushing Stephen Strasburg back to the majors in 2011 (following season-ending Tommy John surgery last season), no one can argue that there are few more exciting prospects to watch.
Strasburg was simply one of the best pitching prospects in years last season when he made his debut. He instantly became a must-see marquee-type player, capable of selling out a stadium.
At the time of his injury, he had a 5-3 record, 2.93 ERA and a 12.2 K/9 ratio.
Despite having a 6.75 ERA in four minor league rehab starts this season, he has a (inflated because it's the minor leagues) 17.4 K/9 ratio, demonstrating that he has not lost the "stuff" that made him so dominant.
Strasburg will still be a marquee name and rotation ace when he returns to the big leagues.
Even if he makes only one start in the majors in 2011, it will likely be one of the most talked about events of the year, making him the top prospect to watch down the stretch.