With September upon us, we (continue to) relentlessly speculate who will be joining our favorite teams when rosters expand in September. This is only natural given that not only will some team’s playoff fortunes be determined by the strength of their newly expanded rosters, but also because with September comes the end of the minor league season so those of us minor league/prospect diehards need to get our fix somehow.
Below is a lengthy, but hardly exhaustive list of some of the more exciting prospects that could be among those players called up in September. Will all of these players get called up? No....mainly because we don’t know every club’s plans for their 40-man roster over the coming months and between that, club control/service time considerations, and good old fashioned player development input...well there is a lot to consider and account for.
Brent Honeywell - P (Rays): Honeywell features a mid-90’s fastball, plus change-up and cutter, and a screwball which in itself is worth seeing in the majors again. Brent showed out at the 2017 Futures Game and has improved as the year has gone on. The Rays have fallen out of contention in the division but are fringe wild card contenders, so shore up their rotation with one of the best pitching prospects in baseball is definitely in the cards.
Scott Kingery - 2B (Phillies): All Kingery has done this year is hit, hit, hit. Scott has posted a .307/.360/.547 across Double-A and Triple-A this year and posted a 25 homer/25 stolen base season along the way. The Phillies could opt to coast to one of the top picks in next year’s draft and give Kingery some more seasoning next year and the presence of Cesar Hernandez at second base does complicate his path a bit, but Kingery appears to be part of the Phillies’ future and he could give them a sneak preview going into 2018.
Chance Adams - P (Yankees): The Yankees’ young RHP has cemented his status as a top 100 prospect thanks to a strong two-pitch combination with his mid-90’s fastball and hard slider that he attacks the zone with while having a change-up and slower curve that keep hitters honest. Notoriously difficult to square up (batters are hitting just .188 against him this year), Adams profile should play well in Yankee stadium.
The Yankees are leading the pack for a wild card spot and may need some rotation help, making it possible that Adams’ and his 2.24 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A this season an enticing internal option.
Jeimer Candelario - 1B/3B (Tigers): Hopelessly blocked in the Cubs organization given the presence of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Candelario had to hope for either someone to get hurt or a trade to get a legitimate shot at playing time. The latter came to be when he was traded to the Tigers at the end of July. Jeimer has posted an .835 OPS in the minors this season (all at Triple-A) and while his first cups of coffee in the majors haven’t gone exceedingly well, he has little left to prove in the minors and should at least get a look in September.
JP Crawford - SS (Phillies): Up until recently, Crawford was considered to be the Phillies’ top prospect due to his high floor, major league level defense at shortstop, and good approach at the plate. Some of the shine has come off in the last year or so as he has struggled to produce at the plate, but he still draws a ton of walks and plays a good shortstop.
At some point, the Phillies will have to bring him up to see what they truly have with him and while a .688 and .743 OPS in 2016 and 2017 respectively doesn’t exactly scream “promote me”, he is among the more likely to see time as a September call-up this season.
Max Fried - P (Braves): This one is cheating a little bit since he already saw time with the Braves not long ago before getting sent back down to the minors when AJ Minter was called up, but Fried is essentially a lock to be a September call-up. In addition to be great stuff including a hammer curve ball and live fastball from the left side, Fried is already on the 40-man roster so there are less “moving parts” there in terms of options and whatnot.
He has also already seen time in the bullpen so he has a couple of roles to play in September. While injuries and inconsistency, in particular against righties, plagued him earlier this season, he has started to round back into form of late and should see some MLB sooner rather than later.
Willy Adames - SS (Rays): When a top 15 prospect in baseball struggles as badly as Adames did in the first two months of the season, it can be because he is getting unlucky in a small sample, pressing too much as he is so close to the majors, or a sign that maybe opposing teams are starting to figure him. It looks like some combination of the first two was to blame as Adames has looked dynamic since May. If not for a bit of a lull in July, his overall line would be even better on the season.
Willy gets on base at a high clip, sprays line drives all over the field, and plays an above-average shortstop. The Rays currently have Hechavarria manning short primarily, but Adames would be a significant upgrade there in all likelihood. As the Rays continue to hang around the wild card race, Adames could get the call.
Nick Senzel - 3B (Reds): This one may be a bit of a stretch given that the Reds are not competing for much of anything and given their rebuild, service time could easily be a consideration. That said, Senzel is one of the more advanced bats in the minors and all the guy has done is hit this year. There was already discussion after he was drafted that he could debut in 2017 and a strong year on both sides of the ball including a .321/.391/.514 line this season doesn’t give any reason to change that forecast.
The biggest surprise has been the power output with 57 extra-base hits including 14 home runs. It has long been said that Senzel had real power, but it did not show up as over the fence power in college as much as some thought. Now that it is starting to play in games, Senzel is among the best prospects in baseball given his overall offensive skillset and the Reds COULD want to give him some big league at-bats a bit ahead of schedule.
Alex Verdugo - OF (Dodgers): One of the better kept secrets in the minors, Verdugo features one the better hit tools in the minors and he controls the zone extremely well. He isn’t overly toolsy per se, but he has great instincts both at the plate as well as in the field that serve him well. While he has been primarily a center fielder, his relative lack of athleticism may mean he will have to play in a corner, but he has a cannon arm so he should still provide some defensive value wherever he ends up.
It also helps that he is currently enjoying one of his best years in the minors in 2017 and performed well enough to play in the Futures Game this year. The problem is that the Dodgers just acquired Curtis Granderson for the playoff push and Chris Taylor has played well in the outfield this season.
That said, the Dodgers are primed for a big playoff push and with Puig being, well, less than reliable, it seems possible if not probable that the Dodgers could at least see if Verdugo can help them in September and going forward.
Ronald Acuna - OF (Braves): This may be the biggest stretch on the list, but given how quickly he has been moved up and how well he has performed...well, nothing should be surprising with Acuna at this point.
Acuna started the year at High-A and has mashed and stole his way all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett and seemingly getting better and better with each promotion. A true five-tool prospect, he features a cannon arm that can play all three outfield positions, at least plus speed, plus power, and is hard to beat in the strike zone when he is at the plate. He already has eclipsed 20 home runs and 40 stolen bases on the season despite the fact that he will remain a teenager until December.
Everything from his age, experience level, service time, etc. all say that he would stay in the minors. However, he has been on a trajectory rarely seen from a prospect, scouts love him, and the Braves have not been shy with his promotion schedule.
Keith Law of ESPN.com speculated in one of his recent chats that he could be with the Braves when September call-ups happen. While it is unclear as to whether or not Keith knows something we don’t or he is just looking at the same trajectory we all are, either way KLaw could very well be right.
Willie Calhoun - 2B/OF (Rangers): One of the better bats in the minor leagues, Calhoun has a real shot to see time with the Rangers now that he is out of a crowded and frankly loaded Dodgers organization.
Traded to the Rangers in the deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers, Calhoun features the rare ability to both make consistent contact as well as hit for power. He doesn’t strike out and while the walk rate leaves something to be the desired, both the power and walks should play up once he learns to better at getting his pitches rather than just letting his natural ability allow him to make contact with just about anything.
Calhoun is not a player that will provide much defensive value and he has almost no chance of sticking in the infield long term, but the bat is good enough to play in a corner outfield spot. Rangers outfield isn’t exactly awe-inspiring and the Rangers have a chance (albeit not a great one) at a wild card spot, so Calhoun could be in play for a call-up when rosters expand.
Jack Flaherty - P (Cardinals): Jack Flaherty is the type of prospect that player development types love. He doesn’t possess the high end stuff of some higher rated guys, but he throws a ton of strikes and he has made improvements each and every year in the minors.
In 2017, we have seen Flaherty throwing a bit harder and his secondary pitches (changeup, slider, curve) all tick up as well. The result has been that Flaherty has been dominant and earned a promotion to Triple-A where he has continued to pitch well. He doesn’t issue many free passes and doesn’t give up much hard contact which all bodes well going forward for him.
The Cardinals are fringe contenders for both the division and the wild card, but it is unclear whether or not they have a particularly strong need in the rotation for Flaherty’s services. The bullpen to start his career isn’t crazy, but his arsenal isn’t the ideal set for “playing up” in shorter stints. That said, he is pretty clearly the most major league ready of the Cardinals pitching prospects although a guy like John Gant who has less service time concerns could get the nod instead.
Luiz Gohara - P (Braves): Gohara is another Brave that it is hard to believe is on the verge of making their MLB debuts given where they started the season. After starting the season in High-A after a very uneven stint with the Mariners organization, Gohara has been dialed in for most of the season and dominated hitters as he has sported a 2.73 ERA across three levels.
His two best pitches are his fastball that threatens triple digits and a wipeout slider that makes hitters look really foolish when he gets them to swing at it. Gohara’s changeup has improved and helps keep hitters from sitting on his fastball, but the first two pitches and his command of them will dictate how successful he will be in the majors.
Gohara will have to be added to the 40-man roster before the Rule V draft this winter anyways, so as a result there are already rumblings that Luiz could get added to the Braves roster in September. He is among the better starting pitching prospects who could get the call, but he also could be lights out as a reliever as he could throw even harder and get more action on his pitches in shorter stints.
Franklin Barreto - SS (Athletics): This one is also cheating a bit as Barreto has already seen a bit of action in the majors this season, but given his status as one of the better infield prospects in baseball...well, we are going to talk about him.
Stronger than he looks, Barreto hits line drives with authority to all fields and has the ability to clear fences although his approach limits how much that power will play in games. He strikes out too much which is a concern, but there are enough people who believe that he will learn better discipline as he develops.
Defensively, shortstop is not where he likely ends up long-term with second base being his most likely destination. There seems to be opportunities for playing time with Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien being underwhelming options there. His first stint in the majors did not go particularly well as he struck out in nearly half his at-bats, but expect the A’s to give him another shot when rosters expand.
Chance Sisco - C (Orioles): The only catcher on this list, Chance Sisco is an offense-first catching prospect who has been creeping up prospect rankings for a while now. Up until this year, he was known for his ability to hit the ball to all fields and limited swings and misses although the strikeouts have jumped up a bit this season. Sisco has power, but it is mostly gap to gap power although he will hit his fair share of home runs.
He has improved defensively, but he doesn’t really have a standout tool on the field which will limit his ability to stop opposing speedsters and suppress his contributions defensively overall. The Orioles are in the thick of the frankly ludicrous AL wild card race, but it does not appear as though that he has a clear path to playing time with Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph behind the plate already. Still a possibility, but less likely than some on this list.
Jake Bauers - 1B/OF (Rays): Last but not least, we have another Rays prospect in Jake Bauers. The good news here is that Bauers is a steady bat with some pop that also gets on base a bunch while also not striking out much. Jake could see upticks in his game power although it shouldn’t be much more than what he has been putting up in the minors. His strong approach at the plate has allowed him to maintain a .362 OBP in this minor league career despite the fact that he doesn’t hit for a particularly high average.
Copy and paste all the stuff above about how the Rays are kinda-sorta hanging around in playoff contention, but Bauers is an interesting case because he could play well as a bench bat who could also spell either of the corner outfield spots as well as Logan Morrison at first base. Its unclear as to how much better he would be than any of the players the Rays currently play in those spots (if better at all), but having a guy like Bauers could easily have significant value for a team that just needs consistent offensive production.