There is an upside to the rolling over the month of September and there is a downside. The upside is the excitement of pennant races and meaningful baseball played in crisp fall air and all that slop. The downside is the flooding of rosters with marginal talent and an endless parade of relievers as every manager gets to live out his Tony Larussa matchup fantasy.
Sure, when the rosters expand it offers a chance to glimpse some of baseball’s top prospects for the first time. But these are the exceptions to the quad-A journeyman rule. Adron Chambers won’t find himself on the front cover of the Baseball Prospectus any time soon.
But there are some exciting prospects who will make their big league debuts this month. As exciting as Taijuan Walker facing big league hitters might be, playing for the Mariners at this time of year is just glorified complex league outings. There remain a few September call-ups who should figure prominently into the playoff drives of 2013. They are the secret weapons of September baseball.
Billy Hamilton is the reason this post exists, let’s be honest. The top Reds prospect raced into the Skyline Chili-laden hearts of Cincinnati Reds fans last night with his pinch running performance. He swiped second base off the best in the business then scored the game’s lone run on a double.
Hamilton might not have much in the way of a bat but in this late and close situation he presents significant problems for the opposition. All he needs is somebody else to do all the heavy lifting — Ryan Ludwick singled to allow the Reds a chance to use Hamilton’s speed and Todd Frazier picked up the key knock — but his impact on the game, his presence lording over the proceedings in the seventh inning.
Xander Bogaerts forced his way to the big leagues by scorching all minor league levels at the tender age of 20. The big shortstop posted eye-popping numbers at triple-A and looked as though he might be the Red Sox solution at either short of third base. But Stephen Drew has played very well and Will Middlebrooks presents the Sox with some tough decisions in his own right, all amounting to Bogaerts doing a lot of watching so far in his big league career.
Bogaerts has come to the plate just 11 times in the last week, grabbing three singles and a walk. The Red Sox might have a comfortable lead in the AL East but they still need to play for that division title. Once their passage beyond the play-in game is secure, look for the Red Sox to give Bogaerts more opportunity to play as they start making the tough decisions about their post-season roster.
Nick Castellanos is the only thing the Tigers have that even resembles a top prospect, a big bat without much of a position or defensive value. As a True Tiger, Castellanos might spell the ailing Miguel Cabrera at third base or perhaps supplant the Don Kelly‘s of the world in the Tigers outfield (and infield? Who can keep up with the Tigers roving band of defensive-adverse batsmen?)
The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t call up one of their top prospects but they did add two significant names as the rosters expanded: Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. Moore was activated from the disabled list, starting last night in Anaheim to reasonable results (5.1 innings pitched, four hits and four walks allowed, one unearned run against). The Rays need Matt Moore to look like the near-ace who dominated batters for long stretches of this season.
Jeremy Hellickson was sent to the minors to get rest. It is unusual to see a pitcher sent down to double-A after all the success in Hellickson’s career but the Rays are not afraid to humiliate a player in search of that extra edge. Why have a pitcher sitting around on your 25 man roster taking up space if you’re going to skip his starts? So down Hellickson went.
The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year starts tonight for the Rays in Anaheim, hoping to bounce back from an ugly stretch of starts to keep his team in the wild card race.
Like the Rays call ups, Evan Gattis isn’t a true September call-up. But El Oso Blanco struggled mightily after he returned from the disabled list in mid-July, posting a .215/.255/.280 line with just one home run until he was sent down at the end of August.
Gattis spent a week in triple-A (his first time above double-A, remember) and returned in time to qualify for the post-season roster. Gattis hit a home run last night, his first since July 24th, confirming that he might be a valuable pinch hitter or late-game bat for the Braves as they cruise in towards the playoffs.
It is extra tough to for young players to make an impression on good teams in September. They’re good teams, they aren’t exactly open spots for a rookie to waltz in and get every day playing time, barring injury. But Billy Hamilton injecting late-game lightning on the basepaths or a pinch hit opportunity for Evan Gattis or Nick Castellanos might provide the edge one of these contenders needs.
And the rest
Who needs young studs when you can pay 34-year old outfielders to steal home? Can’t teach guile…
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Justin Masterson is awesome, enormous.
Is there an MRI tube big enough to fit Masterson? "Just barely. We almost went to the zoo."
— Mark Emery (@Mark_Emery) September 3, 2013