September can be a fun time even if your favorite MLB club isn’t in the playoff picture. Expanded rosters at the beginning of the month allow for an influx of prospects, providing hope for the future, as well as a little fall excitement.
Last season saw a number of freshman players produce decent September numbers, including pitchers Wily Peralta (Brewers), Shelby Miller (Cardinals), and Chris Archer (Rays), as well as outfielder Adam Eaton (Diamondbacks). All three hurlers have gone on to have extended roles in 2013 and both Miller and Archer are in the running for the rookie of the year awards in their respective leagues.
Below is a ranking of the best prospects to receive their first promotion to the big leagues during the first two days of September.
1. Nick Castellanos, RF/3B, Tigers: The addition of Castellanos to the active roster was a no-brainer. He was added to the 40-man roster a year earlier than he had to be (to be protected from the Rule 5 draft) but he’s close enough to big-league ready that he’s not going to need all three of his option years.
With third baseman Miguel Cabrera — the club’s most dangerous hitter — currently battling abdominal discomfort, Castellanos could become a key player in the month of September. His presence — and ability to play third base as well as left and right field — will provide Manager Jim Leyland the flexibility to rest a number of key veterans in anticipation of a long playoff run.
At the plate, the freshman player utilizes a line-drive swing from the right side of the plate and isn’t afraid to use the whole field. He doesn’t have prototypical power that one expects from a third baseman or corner outfielder but he could be good for a plethora of doubles and 15-20 home runs in a full season. The down side of Castellanos, 21, comes on defense. At third base, he’s fringe-average to average, thanks in part to his strong arm, which helps compensate for his stiff actions. In the outfield, he’s still learning to properly read fly balls.
2. Michael Choice, OF, Athletics: Choice will look to avoid the curse of fellow A’s outfield prospect Michael Taylor. The latter player has attempted unsuccessfully to break into the starting lineup for three years and has four Triple-A seasons under his belt. The good news for Choice is that he’s a little more defensive flexibility with his ability to play all three outfield positions.
He’s made adjustments at the plate and has seen his strikeout rate dip each of the past three seasons down to a career low mark of 19% in 2013. His plus raw power is intriguing but he’s hit only 24 home runs over the past two seasons and is still trying to tap into the power on a consistent basis in game situations. Oakland’s spacious home park also presents a problem. With every outfielder in Oakland having a disappointing season, now is the perfect time for Choice to take advantage of the opportunity to impressive the coaching staff.
3. Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds: Hamilton, 22, was a bit of a forgotten man on the prospect landscape this season after being mentioned with every second breath in 2012 when he stole 155 bases in 132 minor league games. The speedy shortstop-turned-outfielder still swiped 75 bases in 90 attempts and has pure 80 speed (20-80 scouting scale). He’s not likely to play regularly for the Reds, who are trying to position themselves as well as possible in the playoff wild card standings, but he could be a valuable pinch runner.
His 2013 Triple-A season tells us that Hamilton still has a lot of work to do with the bat. He strikes out too much for a top-of-the-order catalyst and his .308 on-base percentage is not going to help a player whose key weapon is only of value if he’s standing on a base. With some extra reps in the outfield, his blazing feet could help him become a plus defender.
4. Jonathan Schoop, 2B/SS, Orioles: It wasn’t a particularly successful season for Schoop, who battled injuries and posted a .695 OPS in 69 Triple-A games. Age is still on his side, though, and he’s just 21. The Orioles prospect also continues to flash his impressive tools and has shown the ability to play both second base and shortstop.
His promotion, in the thick of a playoff race, allows the club a chance to gauge a healthy Schoop’s readiness, however, he’s not going to play shortstop at the big league level. When J.J. Hardy leaves town, Manny Machado would probably get a shot at the position before the Curacao native. Schoop’s opportunity will probably come as a replacement for oft-injured second baseman Brian Roberts. For now, though, he won’t play much unless another injury occurs.
5. Erik Johnson, RHP, White Sox: A third-year pro, Johnson zoomed through the minors and reaches the Majors at a time when opportunities abound for young players in Chicago. The right-hander may not see a ton of action in September, as he’s already seen his innings total increase by 50 over his 2012 season. Because of that, he may end up in the bullpen as a long reliever who could spell second-year starters Hector Santiago and Jose Quintana as well as swingman Dylan Axelrod.
Johnson, 23, could be ready for a permanent spot in the starting rotation in 2014 so this is a perfect time for him to get his feet wet. He has a strong frame and should provide a plethora of innings as a No. 3 starter in the Majors, if he reaches his potential. His four-pitch repertoire includes a fastball in the low 90s, curveball, slider, and changeup.
6. Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Brewers: Nelson, a strong-bodied right-hander, makes his MLB debut after a season that saw him split the year between Double-A and Triple-A. He pitched just 14 more innings at the higher level but saw his walk rate jump from 1.96 to 5.40 BB/9. Despite the significant increase in base runners, he held his own in Triple-A thanks in part to his strikeout rate of almost 10 batters per nine innings and above-average ground ball rate that comes from the downward plane generated by his 6-6 frame.
Nelson could battle Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg for starts in September. He has the ceiling of a No. 3/4 starter with a solid repertoire that includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, above-average slider and developing changeup. If he can make some adjustments and improve his control, Nelson could be in line for a 2014 starting rotation spot.
7. Jose Ramirez. 2B, Indians: Ramirez, 20, was a surprise addition to the Indians’ call-ups. The diminutive second baseman did not need to be added to the 40-man roster until after the 2014 season so the organization will get his (three) option seasons start a year earlier than expected. The decision is even more perplexing when you consider Jason Kipnis has become entrenched at the keystone position in Cleveland.
Ramirez is an aggressive hitter who also makes above-average contact. He has above-average speed, which helps him both on the base paths and in the field. With just 25 extra base hits in 113 games (131 hits), the Dominican native will have to get stronger to avoid having the bat knocked out of his hands by big league power pitchers. The playoff atmosphere will no doubt be good for the rookie but he’ll almost certainly open 2014 back in the minors at the Triple-A level, barring an injury to Kipnis.
8. Brian Flynn, LHP, Marlins: The Marlins have a strong wave of pitching talent on the wave. Flynn, along with another recent call up, Sam Dyson, represents the beginning of the onslaught that also includes Andrew Heaney, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony DeSclafani. Just 10 innings above his 2012 total, the Oklahoma native could see a number of starts for the Marlins in September.
The southpaw hurler produced decent numbers in the Detroit Tigers system but he’s taken his game to the next level since coming over to the Marlins in the Anibal Sanchez/Omar Infante deal. The key for the 6-8 lefty is that his stuff has been more consistent in ’13 and he’s been able to hold his velocity into the later innings. He flashes 89-94 mph velocity on his fastball and also has an improved slider and a changeup. Flynn went to the same high school as top prospect Dylan Bundy but is three years older than the injured Orioles pitcher.
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9. Marcus Semien, SS, White Sox: A 2011 6th round draft pick, Semien has gotten a little bit better every year and now projects to develop into at least a second-division starter in the middle infield. The Sox clearly think he can help sooner rather than later since he was added to the 40-man roster a year ahead of schedule.
10. J.R. Murphy, C, Yankees: Gary Sanchez hasn’t developed quite as quickly as hoped but the 22-year-old Murphy could help bridge the gap, even if he has a lower ceiling. Originally it appeared as though the young catcher had no shot at remaining behind the dish but he’s worked hard and should be at least average back there.
11. Heath Hembree, RHP, Giants: Hembree has more potential than his high-ish ERA might suggest. He fell victim to the long ball a bit in 2013 at Triple-A but has solid control and struck out 63 batters in 55.1 innings. If he continues to improve his consistency, Hembree could eventually develop into a high-leverage reliever.
12. Daniel Webb, RHP, White Sox: Toronto has given up a number of B- or C-grade pitching prospects in the last few years to see their values increase significantly after the deals. Webb is a hard-throwing reliever who has seen his command/control improve to the point where he blew through three minor league levels on the way to the Majors.
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