Ah, September: that bizarre time of year where rosters expand, the disabled list disappears, benches swell, and all of a sudden managers have access to 16-man pitching staffs.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll only be looking at players who either have already been called up or who we can confirmed will be shortly, so if you’re wondering why Billy Hamilton & Oscar Taveras aren’t listed, that’s why.
Shelby Miller, RHP Cardinals
To merely glance at Miller’s 2012 stat line, you might think that the 2009 first-round draft pick had suffered through a disappointing year, one which would surely knock him off the top prospect lists. Sure, 160 strikeouts in 136 2/3 innings is impressive, but a 4.74 ERA (4.48 FIP) that was in large part due to a disturbingly high 1.58/9 home run rate – amid reports of maturity questions and declining velocity – can easily make you wonder, “well, what happened?”
It’s a little more complex than we have room to get into here, but the Miller of September 2012 bears little resemblance to the one who started the season, and that’s to be taken literally. A renewed commitment to conditioning and improved mechanics – Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has more on that here – allowed Miller to regain velocity and effectiveness, and the results were eye-catching. In 17 starts before the All-Star Break, Miller had a 6.17 ERA; in 10 starts after, it was just 2.88 along with a stellar 70/7 K/BB.
Miller is probably up only to soak in the atmosphere and perhaps get some time in out of the bullpen than he is to join the rotation, though it’s worth nothing that current #5 starter Joe Kelly pitched out of the bullpen last week and was hit hard in his most recent start. In keeper leagues, Miller is an obvious add.
Andrew Cashner, RHP Padres
Cashner started the season in the San Diego bullpen and made 27 appearances before being shifted into the rotation in June. He made just three starts before injured his lat and landing on the disabled list, and that’s the crux of the problem right there: when he left his third start after just two innings because of that lat, the main reaction was joy that he hadn’t blown out his arm. No one doubts Cashner’s talent, just his ability to stay healthy.
Cashner will get another shot when he starts on Friday against Arizona, and if he can stay upright he could get as many as four starts this month. The San Diego rotation is so tattered right now that when Andrew Werner started on Monday, the undrafted free agent who was in the independent leagues just two years ago was the 14th different starter to suit up for the Padres in 2012, so Cashner will get as long a look as possible with an eye towards 2013. The opportunity plus the talent – even if his fastball, which averaged 98.6 MPH this year, dips a little bit out of the bullpen – makes Cashner a worthwhile pickup in NL-only leagues and still intriguing in deeper mixed ones.
Tony Cingrani, LHP Reds
If you haven’t heard of Cingrani before, don’t feel too bad, because the 2011 draftee was a college senior, which is rarely where you’ll find the most touted prospects. Then you look at what he’s done so far in the minors this year – 172 strikeouts in 146 innings, even though his first ten starts came in the hitter-friendly California League – and suddenly you start to wonder why exactly you haven’t heard more about him. Cingrani’s future role is still up in the air, because despite being a starter in the pros, he was mainly a reliever in college for Rice, and isn’t likely to be considered for a start in September when he gets called up.
That might be for the best, since Cingrani brings a plus fastball while still working on his secondary pitches, and it’s not hard for Reds fans to drool at the thought of a Cincinnati bullpen that could add another power lefty to go with Aroldis Chapman & Sean Marshall. I consider him one of the more intriguing new names this September, though the lack of a clear role makes him interesting to NL-only leagues for now.
Xavier Nady, OF Giants
Who says a September callup has to be a highly-touted rookie? It’s been nearly 12 years since the 33-year-old Nady made his big-league debut, but it was only on September 1 that he made his first appearances with his hometown Giants after being cut by the Nationals in June. Of course, the last part of that sentence is a huge red flag, because Nady hasn’t really had a good season since 2008. Still, the Giants have a big, Melky-sized hole in the outfield to fill, and Gregor Blanco isn’t getting the job done. For opportunity alone, Nady has to be considered in NL-only leagues, but despite doubles in each of his first two games… he’s still Xavier Nady. I hope you’re not that desperate.
A.J. Ramos, RHP Marlins
Ramos, a 21st round pick out of Texas Tech in 2009, has been the closer for each of his three full seasons in the minor leagues, moving up a level at a time. While we should know by now that you can’t scout a minor league stat line, the numbers remain impressive, with 288 strikeouts in 211.1 career innings and only eight homers allowed. Better, his control appears to be improving, as a walk rate which was 4.9/9 in 2010 and 3.4 in 2011 is down to just 2.8 this year. Ramos will be 26 this month, which makes him old for his level and may explain some of the impressive stats. Still, the Miami bullpen seems to be constantly in a state of flux, and it’s not hard to see him getting a chance to show his stuff as a lost season slips further away for the Marlins.