Early Report Card Grades for MLB's Top 2016 September Call-Ups
By the time the season's final month arrives, most MLB teams have little room for a September addition to push his way into a significant role.
However, there are always at least a few players among the wave of September call-ups who make a splash, whether it's a young player getting an extended look for a non-contender or a veteran serving as a needed upgrade on a playoff hopeful.
Boston Red Sox infielder Yoan Moncada and Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Jose De Leon headlined this season's wave of prospect call-ups, but there was no shortage of intriguing names also getting their first taste of MLB action.
On the more experienced side, a trio of outfielders ranked as the biggest names, with Yasiel Puig, Byron Buxton and Michael Conforto all rejoining the MLB ranks and looking to play their way back into a starting role.
Ahead we'll take a look at how the most notable September call-ups have fared, with a grade for each player.
Also included is a look at some under-the-radar promotions that have earned themselves an "A" grade for their early returns.
Statistics are accurate prior to games played Saturday, September 10.
Other 'A' Grade Call-Ups
OF Terrance Gore, KC
4 G, 5 SB, 2 R
Gore will once again serve as a pinch runner for the Royals as they continue their push toward the playoffs. He's yet to make a plate appearance but is 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts with a pair of runs scored.
RP Jandel Gustave, HOU
4 G, 4.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
The hard-throwing Gustave bounced around to a few teams after being selected in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, but he found his way back to the Astros. With a legitimate 80-grade fastball and an improved slider, he has a chance to be a late-inning weapon.
RP James Hoyt, HOU
5 G, W, 5.1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K
Hoyt was nothing short of dominant in the minors this year, posting a 1.64 ERA with 29 saves and 93 strikeouts in 55 innings of work. He's continued to throw the ball well since being recalled after struggling in a brief taste of the majors earlier this year, and he could push for the closer's role down the line.
2B Whit Merrifield, KC
6 G, 6-for-15, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R
Merrifield spent a good chunk of the season as the starting second baseman for the Royals, posting a .271/.305/.381 over 220 plate appearances before being demoted to the minors amid a 5-for-45 slump. He's now splitting time at the keystone with top prospect Raul A. Mondesi.
C John Ryan Murphy, MIN
4 G, 5-for-12, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R
With Kurt Suzuki headed for free agency at season's end, Murphy is auditioning to be the team's primary catcher next year. The 25-year-old hit just .236 with a .609 OPS over 290 plate appearances in Triple-A, so he'll need to continue to make a splash in September.
C Tom Murphy, COL
5 G, 6-for-11, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R
Another Murphy vying to be his team's primary catcher next season, Tom Murphy will look to take over for Nick Hundley, who'll be a free agent at year's end, in 2017. He was a standout September call-up last season as well and has now hit a combined .326/.392/.674 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 51 big league plate appearances.
Top Pitching Prospects Who Have Made 1 Appearance
No. 4. Lucas Giolito, WAS
1 G, 3.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
Giolito still has the look of a future ace, but he's struggled in limited action this season. He made four starts earlier this year, going 0-1 with a 5.63 ERA while failing to pitch beyond the fifth inning. He was then hit hard in a multi-inning relief appearance following his promotion earlier this month.
The 22-year-old made one start in Triple-A between his August demotion and September recall, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out five over eight scoreless innings.
25. Jose De Leon, LAD
1 GS, W, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
It's somewhat surprising that De Leon wasn't promoted earlier as he posted a 2.61 ERA, 0.938 WHIP and 111-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 86.1 innings in Triple-A, all while injury hit the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation hard.
He showed the swing-and-miss stuff that has made him one of the game's fastest-rising prospects in his debut, and he's slated for another start Monday against the New York Yankees.
47. David Paulino, HOU
1 GS, L, 3.0 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K
With Dallas Keuchel recently joining Lance McCullers among the injured, the Houston Astros turned to Paulino for his MLB debut Thursday.
The 22-year-old has moved quickly since coming over from the Tigers in the 2013 deadline deal that sent reliever Jose Veras to Detroit. He got a quick hook in his debut, throwing 70 pitches over three innings and allowing four runs to take the loss.
48. Reynaldo Lopez, WAS
1 GS, L, 0-1, 4.0 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
With Stephen Strasburg once again sidelined with a flexor mass strain and Joe Ross still working his way back from shoulder inflammation, Lopez is in the Washington Nationals rotation for now.
He went 2-2 with a 5.33 ERA in five starts earlier this season, including a pair of quality starts where he went seven innings, but his return to the majors was a shaky one at best.
65. Robert Stephenson, CIN
1 GS, L, 5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K
Stephenson looked good in two starts with the big club back in April, but it's been an up-and-down season for the Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect.
The most promising sign from his return to the MLB rotation was that he walked just one batter over 5.1 innings. He posted a 4.7 walk rate in the minors, and a lack of consistent command is what continues to hold him back.
Prospect ratings provided by Baseball America's midseason report.
RP Joe Kelly, Boston Red Sox
3 G, 3.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
Boston demoted Joe Kelly to the minors August 1 after he posted a 7.62 ERA and 2.154 WHIP in six starts and three relief appearances spanning 26 innings.
Now working primarily out of the bullpen since heading to the minors, he's been lights out.
In 29 relief innings for Triple-A Pawtucket, he posted a 1.54 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and a sterling 46-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"He will help us, yes," Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters after Kelly was included among the team's first wave of call-ups.
"He's getting more swing-and-miss to his fastball, large part because I think he's done a good job of elevating it in key spots. He's going to have an opportunity to contribute and help this club."
The 28-year-old has always had a big arm and his stuff plays up in shorter stints, when he can pair an upper-90s fastball with a curveball-slider combination that can be lethal when he's locating the heater.
He's worked three scoreless innings so far, striking out five and walking none, and he could find his way into a more high-leverage role if he keeps pitching well as the month progresses.
SP Bryan Mitchell, New York Yankees
1 GS, W, 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
Bryan Mitchell spent a good portion of the 2015 season on the New York Yankees' active roster, posting a 6.37 ERA over two starts and 18 relief appearances that spanned 29.2 innings.
It took the right-hander until September to join the big league club this time around, though.
The 25-year-old underwent toe surgery in April and didn't return to the mound until the beginning of August, posting a 4.29 ERA in six rehab starts over four different minor league levels.
With rookie Chad Green shut down for the remainder of the season with an elbow injury, Mitchell was called on to start Wednesday and turned in a terrific outing with just four hits and two walks allowed in five scoreless innings.
"After the whole season, what I went through, tonight's very rewarding," Mitchell told reporters after picking up his first career win.
The Yankees have pulled within one game of a wild-card spot, and Mitchell now figures to be a part of the rotation the rest of the way.
His next start will come Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
CF Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies
8 G, 7-for-22, 1 RBI, 4 R, 2 SB
If Raimel Tapia has proved one thing while climbing the ranks of the Colorado Rockies minor league system, it's that he can flat-out hit.
A career .317/.363/.446 hitter over 2,539 minor league plate appearances, he didn't miss a beat making the jump to the upper levels of the system this year.
Prior to his promotion, he hit .328/.361/.458 with 25 doubles 10 triples, eight home runs and 23 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A.
A banged-up Charlie Blackmon (back) has opened the door for the 22-year-old to see regular playing time in center field, and he's made the most of it.
He may never hit for a ton of power and his baserunning abilities still need to be refined as he was also thrown out 17 times to go with those 23 successful attempts.
A move to one of the corner outfield spots may also prove to be a necessity down the line, but there's still a lot to like about his game.
With trade rumors swirling around both Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez at various points in the past, it's not out of the question to think the door could swing open for Tapia to claim an everyday spot in the 2017 outfield.
RF Michael Conforto, New York Mets
7 G, 2-for-12, 2 2B
After a stellar rookie season in 2015, it looked like Michael Conforto was ready to step into a starring role with the New York Mets.
A .365/.442/.676 line over the first month of the 2016 campaign did little to quell those expectations, but his season has been in a free-fall ever since.
From May 1 to June 24, Conforto hit .147/.217/.303 with 48 strikeouts in 157 plate appearances, finally earning a demotion to the minors amid a 3-for-33 slump.
He returned roughly a month later but continued to struggle, posting a .200/.298/.340 line in 57 plate appearances from July 18 to August 11 before heading back to the minors.
Between those struggles, he annihilated Triple-A pitching with a .422 average, 1.209 OPS and 19 extra-base hits in 33 games.
So what does the future hold for the 23-year-old?
It doesn't seem like anyone knows the answer, but a strong September would go a long way in rebuilding his standing in the organization.
SP Jharel Cotton, Oakland Athletics
1 GS, W, 6.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
Jharel Cotton was one of three pitchers the Oakland Athletics acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline in exchange for Josh Reddick and Rich Hill.
The other two—Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas—are more well-regarded in prospect circles, and both ranked among the league's top 100 prospects in Baseball America's midseason update.
However, Cotton made his A's debut first, and what a debut it was.
Squaring off against the Los Angeles Angels, he allowed just two hits and one earned run on a solo home run by C.J. Cron over 6.1 innings to pick up a quality start and a win.
"Of course my dream is to get to the big leagues. I'm here now, my dream came true. I got to pitch in front of the Oakland A's fans and I'm happy I did a great job and showed them I can pitch up here in the big leagues," Cotton told reporters.
The Virgin Islands native has often been viewed as a future reliever due to his undersized 5'11" frame and lack of a quality breaking pitch to complement his fastball-changeup combination.
This was a big first step in proving he has what it takes to stick in a big league rotation.
3B Yoan Moncada, Boston Red Sox
6 G, 4-for-18, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 R
Yoan Moncada has all the tools to be a superstar for the Boston Red Sox, but the jump from Double-A to the big leagues has proved to be a tough one.
The 21-year-old put together a .294/.407/.511 line with 31 doubles, 15 home runs and 45 stolen bases in 491 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A before becoming the biggest name on the prospect side to earn a September promotion.
With the tandem of Aaron Hill and Travis Shaw both struggling at the plate, Moncada filled an obvious hole as a potential offensive upgrade at the hot corner and spark for an offense that had recently lost fellow rookie Andrew Benintendi (knee).
The Cuban phenom has shown flashes, going 2-for-5 with a double in his second MLB game. However, he's struck out in eight consecutive plate appearances, landing him on the bench Friday.
"When you look at where we are, what we’re going to be fighting for every night, there’s importance to every spot in the lineup and every position on the field," manager John Farrell told reporters. "I’m not saying we’re running away from Yoan, but we also understand that we’ve put in 138 games to put us to this point, and we’re going to put the best team on the field to finish this out."
If nothing else, the Moncada promotion appears to have awoken Shaw, who has gone 6-for-13 with two doubles, two home runs and nine RBI this month.
The future remains bright for Moncada, but he may not provide the Corey Seager-like spark that most were expecting this season.
RF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
5 G, 4-for-10, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R
Few players have fallen as far out of favor within their respective organization as Yasiel Puig has during his short time in the big leagues.
Putting up with his shenanigans was easy when he was posting All-Star-caliber numbers and winning games for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It's not as easy when he's struggling at the plate. The 25-year-old eventually earned a demotion to the minors after Josh Reddick came to town at the August 1 trade deadline.
Puig was hitting .260/.320/.386 with seven home runs in 303 plate appearances at the time of his demotion, but a strong first couple of weeks propped up those numbers.
After a .405/.500/.622 mark over the first 10 games of the season, he batted just .238/.290/.350 over his next 71 games.
His falling out of favor made him an intriguing buy-low trade candidate leading up to the deadline, and the Milwaukee Brewers reportedly claimed him off waivers in August. A deal involving Ryan Braun was discussed, but the two sides couldn't hammer out the details, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Back in the majors now that rosters have expanded, Puig has slugged a pair of home runs as he looks to prove he deserves a spot on the postseason roster and a significant role in L.A.'s October plans.
CF Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
8 G, 13-for-30, 4 2B, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 12 R
Has the Byron Buxton we've long been waiting for finally arrived?
His teammates have already taken notice of his newfound confidence at the plate, which has resulted in impressive numbers over his first eight games back with the big club.
"Forget the hits and homers and stuff—his approach looks a little different, which is good," Twins second baseman Brian Dozier told reporters. "He seems to have a little swagger, which is good, instead of being afraid to attack balls and stuff, which you could kind of see in the past."
Expected to be the team's everyday center fielder and a potential AL Rookie of the Year candidate, Buxton instead split the year between Minnesota and Triple-A as he regularly looked overmatched against big league pitching.
He was hitting a paltry .193/.247/.315 with a 36.7 percent strikeout rate over 218 plate appearances at the time of his most recent demotion on Aug. 5.
The 22-year-old has returned with a vengeance, though, and in a lost season for the Twins he's provided hope and excitement in the season's final month.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.