Predicting the 10 September Call-Ups Primed to Impact MLB Pennant Races
The time has come for MLB teams to pad out their rosters with September call-ups, although this year's round of roster additions will be significantly smaller.
Unlike in years past when rosters expanded to 40 players for the season's final month, active rosters will only move up from 26 to 28 players this September. That likely means fewer opportunities for unproven prospects to get their feet wet on contending teams, as those teams will prioritize immediate contributions.
Players who are already on the 40-man roster are also more likely candidates to be called up, as no corresponding roster move is required to bump them up to the majors.
With all of that in mind, we've highlighted 10 potential September call-ups primed to impact pennant races. Even if these guys don't immediately join their team's active roster on Sept. 1, expect them to contribute at some point in the coming month.
SS Jose Barrero, Cincinnati Reds
Shortstop has been a constant question mark for the Cincinnati Reds since Zack Cozart left town.
It looked like an answer had emerged when slick-fielding Kyle Farmer hit .446/.500/.750 with 10 extra-base hits in 14 games coming out of the All-Star break to close out July.
However, his offensive production has leveled off in August. The 31-year-old is hitting .240/.260/.370 in 104 plate appearances, which could open the door for top prospect Jose Barrero to get another look in September.
One of baseball's top middle infield prospects, Barrero hit .292/.358/.625 with four doubles and four home runs in 12 games at Triple-A to start the month of August before earning his first big league action of the 2021 season. He went 2-for-12 with four strikeouts in six games before he returned to the minors on Aug. 28 following the addition of veteran Asdrubal Cabrera, but he likely won't be back down for long.
All told, Barrero is hitting .303/.378/.532 with 19 doubles, 17 home runs and 62 RBI in 80 games between Double-A and Triple-A, and he is the shortstop of the future in Cincinnati.
OF Skye Bolt, Oakland Athletics
With Ramon Laureano suspended, Stephen Piscotty out for the season following wrist surgery and Seth Brown sidelined after a positive COVID-19 test, the Oakland Athletics are in need of outfield help.
Utility players Josh Harrison, Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder are all capable of manning an outfield spot, but it would make sense to use September roster expansion to add more depth in that area.
Skye Bolt has earned his shot.
The San Francisco Giants claimed Bolt off waivers in April, but he returned to Oakland a month later. He has spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, where he's hitting .387/.492/.650 with 23 extra-base hits in 199 plate appearances.
The 27-year-old hit only .105/.121/.193 in 60 career plate appearances at the MLB level over the past two seasons, but he has been raking all year in the minors.
It's worth seeing if he can provide a spark to the lineup as the A's battle for a wild-card berth.
2B/OF Vidal Brujan, Tampa Bay Rays
After a slow start in the majors, Wander Franco has found his footing for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Fellow top prospect Vidal Brujan was not given as long of a leash in his first big league action, going 2-for-26 with eight strikeouts in 10 games in July before he returned to the minors.
Since returning to Triple-A Durham on July 23, he's hitting .321/.413/.459 with 15 doubles, 20 steals and more walks (16) than strikeouts (13) in 126 plate appearances.
The No. 23 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, Brujan has a polished hit tool and top-of-the-scale speed. He has also added center field to his defensive repertoire after playing exclusively on the infield dirt early in his pro career.
The Rays do a great job utilizing their entire roster. Whether it's as a pinch-runner, part-time utility player or something more, Brujan can make an impact for the AL East leaders in September.
C Luis Campusano, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres are fading fast in the NL West and NL wild-card races, but they aren't sunk yet.
After watching from the sidelines for two months while he dealt with a recurring blister issue and sorted out some mechanical issues, MacKenzie Gore is back in action pitching for the team's rookie-ball affiliate. We aren't likely to see him in the majors this year.
Pitching is the Padres' glaring need, but they've already called on most of their viable reinforcements. As such, their September call-up most likely to make an impact is a hitter.
Catcher Luis Campusano is hitting .295/.365/.541 with 21 doubles and 15 home runs in 81 games for Triple-A El Paso. He has also thrown out a respectable 22 percent of base stealers while continuing to refine his receiving skills.
A healthy Austin Nola is hitting well as the primary catcher at the MLB level, but backup Victor Caratini is hitting only .219 with a .532 OPS and two extra-base hits since the All-Star break. He will likely remain Yu Darvish's personal catcher, but the Padres could go with three backstops in September.
Since the start of August, Campusano is hitting .373/.458/.765 with six home runs and 13 RBI in 15 games. He's had eight multiple-hit games during that stretch.
At some point, the Padres need to see if he can keep raking like that in the majors.
RHP Luis Gil, New York Yankees
Luis Gil turned heads in his first MLB audition earlier this year.
The 23-year-old tossed 15.2 scoreless innings over his first three big league starts, allowing nine hits and seven walks while striking out 18 batters. He was optioned back to the minors on Aug. 18, but it's only a matter of time before he's back in pinstripes.
He will be used out of the bullpen during his next scheduled start at Triple-A in an effort to acclimate him to that role, though he'll still throw a starter's workload.
"He'll pitch like a starter," Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters. "We just want to see what it's like to pitch out of the pen."
As it stands, the Yankees' rotation for the final month will be Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, Nestor Cortes Jr. and a healthy Corey Kluber, who rejoined the rotation Monday.
However, an injury or a few rocky starts from one of those guys could be all it takes for Gil to return to a starting role. Otherwise, he'll be a valuable multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen.
RHP Nate Pearson, Toronto Blue Jays
Despite struggling to a 6.00 ERA with 13 walks in 18 innings in his MLB debut last season, Nate Pearson was still expected to be a major piece of the puzzle for the Toronto Blue Jays this year.
Armed with an 80-grade fastball and a 70-grade slider, Pearson has some of the most electric pure stuff in all of baseball. His 6'6", 250-pound frame makes it easy to dream of a future at the top of the big league rotation.
However, he has been dealing with a sports hernia for much of the 2021 season, and he only recently returned to action for Triple-A Buffalo with four relief appearances in August.
There isn't enough time to build him back up to a starter's workload, so that's the role he's likely to fill the rest of the way. There is little doubt he has the stuff to be overpowering in short bursts.
The 25-year-old is still a future starter with the potential to develop into the long-term ace of the staff in Toronto, but his September contributions will come as a flamethrowing reliever.
OF Luke Raley, Los Angeles Dodgers
It isn't easy for upper-level hitters in the Los Angeles Dodgers system to carve out a role at the MLB level. The Dodgers have established stars at almost every position on the diamond.
Luke Raley has been up and down between the majors and Triple-A Oklahoma City all season. While he's gone only 10-for-59 with 22 strikeouts in his limited MLB action, he's swinging a hot bat right now in the minors.
The 26-year-old is batting .339/.433/.643 with five doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI in 16 games since returning from his most recent stint in the majors, and he has done it while lining up at all three outfield spots.
Meanwhile, Billy McKinney is hitting .160/.297/.253 with a 53 OPS+ in 91 plate appearances while serving as a backup outfielder on the major league roster. The 27-year-old has started 11 games in August, so there's a semi-regular role up for grabs if the Dodgers decide to make a change.
Don't sleep on Raley sneaking onto the postseason roster with a strong showing in September if he gets another chance.
RHP Connor Seabold, Boston Red Sox
An elbow issue kept Connor Seabold out of action until July, but he is quickly making up for lost time. He may be positioning himself for a late-season audition with the Boston Red Sox.
The 25-year-old allowed only one hit and one walk while striking out nine in seven scoreless innings last time out for Triple-A Worcester. He has a 2.35 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 with a .160 opponents' batting average in his last four starts.
His polished four-pitch repertoire is headlined by one of the best changeups in the minors, and MLB.com provided a full scouting report:
"Seabold's money pitch is a low-80s changeup with late fade and tumble that grades as well above average at times and works against both left-handers and right-handers. There's nothing special about the velocity on his fastball, which operates at 90-93 mph and 95, but it dodges bats up in the strike zone because of its high spin rates and induced vertical life. He also throws an average slider in the low 80s and has developed a softer curveball with similar potential."
There will be multiple spots up for grabs in Boston's 2022 rotation. A late-season promotion would serve as an audition for Seabold, but it could also provide an immediate boost to the club's playoff push.
With Nick Pivetta struggling to a 10.13 ERA in his last three starts, it could be time for a change, and Seabold is already on the 40-man roster.
RHP Ryan Weber, Seattle Mariners
Ready for an outside-the-box pick?
Ryan Weber has bounced around throughout the 2021 season, making one appearance each in the big leagues for the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers before Seattle Mariners claimed him off waivers on July 16.
The 31-year-old has a 5.28 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 167 career innings in the majors. He allowed two earned runs in three innings in the Seattle bullpen before he was sent to the minors.
Despite that track record, the three starts he has made for Triple-A Tacoma in August are tough to ignore.
- Aug. 5: W, 6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
- Aug. 12: W, 7.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
- Aug. 19: ND, 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
The number that really jumps off the page is the zero walks in 20 innings. Whether it's in a starting role or a multi-inning relief role, that level of dialed-in command plays in the majors.
Rookie Logan Gilbert has been getting shellacked as of late with a 9.13 ERA in five August starts, so a change in the rotation is not out of the question.
RHP Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves
Kyle Wright pitched well down the stretch last season and tossed six shutout innings against the Miami Marlins in Game 3 of the NLDS. But he ended up as the odd man out of the Atlanta Braves starting staff after they signed Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly in free agency and Huascar Ynoa emerged as a rotation standout.
The 25-year-old has gone 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 29.2 innings over five starts in August, including seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball last time out.
The Braves have stormed into first place in the NL East standings and now look like the team to beat in that division race, but there is room for improvement on the pitching staff.
Smyly has completed six innings only once in eight starts since the All-Star break, posting a 5.30 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 37.1 innings during that stretch. He allowed nine hits and five earned runs in 4.2 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday.
It might be time to consider shaking things up at the back of the rotation.