Void of any playoff run this season, the September call-ups for the Los Angeles Angels were less about additions and more about auditions.
In all, the Angels had six players from the 40-man roster get a call-up this month—Tommy Hanson, Robert Coello, Efren Navarro, Tommy Field, Ryan Brasier and Matt Shoemaker—with each getting the opportunity to catch the collective eye of the organization.
It's a pressure-filled situation handicapped by time. Though brought in before September, Angels' reliever Buddy Boshers understands the severity.
Every day is an audition. You're always being evaluated on the field, off the field and stuff like that. You can't take any day lightly or for granted because every day is an evaluation.
But what is there really to learn in such a small amount of time, such a small sample size and over such a long season?
I will forever be convinced that the MLB think-tank, involved in concocting the overall agenda of a September call-up, must have been fascinated with the process of speed dating.
Few things in the entire MLB landscape are as fast-paced when judging, reviewing and re-reviewing a group of players than when they are called up in September—which is odd when considering the slow nature of baseball.
Few things can be labeled as meaningless, too.
When you look over the list of all-time greatest September call-ups, the names on the list are not exactly the household variety (per Fangraphs):
|PITCHERS||Debut||Sept GS||Sept G||Sept IP||Sept ERA-||Sept FIP-|
|HITTERS||Debut||Sept PA||Sept wRC+||Sept WAR|
With perhaps J.D. Drew, Kevin Seitzer, Tim Belcher, Eric Gagne, fun-filled Nyjer Morgan and Josh Beckett standing as exceptions, none of those players ever lived up to their September call-up relevance. That's six out of 20. Not a great ratio.
Yet, we still want to know.
Regardless if a Manager like Mike Scioscia thinks it's overkill, with the idea that call-ups should be capped for the sanctity of the game, a team re-thinking their brand like the Angels deserves a little dissecting.
After all, no move is too small.
With that in mind, here are four things I have learned about the Angels' auditioned hopeful.
Tommy Hanson has the Angels sending mixed signals
There wasn't a certain kiss-of-death coming in the form of "faith in Hanson," but even getting a chance to pitch in September, after he was called up, seemed like a bad idea—even to one that makes those decisions.
When asked about Hanson, Mike Scioscia told MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez this:
The one game he came back off the DL, his stuff was eye-opening, and he hasn't repeated that. So, to say he's fixed everything, no, because if he fixed everything, you're going to see a Tommy Hanson much more in line with the way he threw that one game and much more in line with when he first came up to the Major Leagues. There's some things he's gotten better at, there's some things he's gotten more consistent at, but his last couple starts he had with us and the starts he had in Triple-A were not where he was that one outing. There's still more room for improvement.
Unfortunately, room for improvement usually is not met with a $4 million-plus price tag—especially not when you are the 2014 Angels.
However, 2.3 innings, three hits and two runs later, things have changed.
Did I miss something? Hanson seemed like a charity case, called up just for ceremonial purposes. Yet, Scioscia sang a different tune following his performance last Saturday.
Tommy looked like he did when he came off the DL after he couldn't make his start in Detroit. Motion looked good, ball was coming out really strong.
Is he or isn't he?
At this point, it seems like Hanson is a little of both.
Robert Coello could have starred in Rudy
Coello was impressive at times this season, touching the mid-90’s consistently with his fastball while commanding both sides of the dish
And who can forget his “what is it pitch” that piqued the baseball world’s interest? Yep, neither did I.
Much like the general trend for the 2013 Angels, however, Coello ran into injury problems. In June, an inflammation in his shoulder and elbow left him with an unwanted diagnosis: zero throwing for at least four weeks.
(At times, I wonder if that odd forkball/splitter/knuckleball combo caused the injury, but it’s wasted mind marbles at this point.)
By late August, Coello was written off for the season and placed on the 60-day DL in order to make room on the roster.
Another Angels reliever unexpectedly done for the season.
But the diagnosis and day amounts listed on his DL status didn’t keep Coello from working his tail off to get back this season. He showed a little bit of fire, guts and non-stop dedication.
Every week, it seemed he was progressing further and further ahead in his rehab, and on September 16—following a shot of platelet rich plasma—he was activated for the Angels.
He had made it. A chance to walk out that tunnel one more time…to get a chance to live a dream so many could never achieve…you get the point.
And what did he do? Only 1.2 innings of scoreless relief, touching the same mid-90s that was impressive at the beginning of the season. That's what.
If he can stay healthy—again, like the rest of the team—Coello should be an interesting piece to the Angels’ pitching situation in 2014.
Efren Navarro and Tommy Field are at the mercy of the baseball clock
Both Tommy Field and Efren Navarro are perfect examples of why September call-ups are not on equal ground, making it difficult to get a solid idea of the talent.
Regardless of the potential, there just isn’t enough space on the field to give both players ample playing time.
Field—a versatile infielder—has enjoyed more opportunity this season because of injuries, but he hasn’t produced. In 26 at-bats, he is hitting .154 with seven strikeouts and one walk.
He did finish the Triple-A (Salt Lake) season hitting over .300 with 11 home runs, leaving the possibility he can continue to progress at the MLB level, but there isn’t enough at-bats for him the rest of this season. And I doubt that trend breaks next season.
Navarro’s situation is even more of a difficult position (literally).
His September promotion is the first test with the big league club, highlighting the reality of competing for a well-stocked first base job for the Angels—one that seems to get more converts than experts.
The fact that Mark Trumbo, Brendan Harris, Luis Jimenez and Kole Calhoun have all gotten an opportunity to fill in for Albert Pujols doesn’t show a ton of promise or confidence towards Navarro—who did hit .326 at Triple-A this season, earning him post-season All-Star status.
It's difficult to write off two players when there hasn't been a major opportunity to see them perform, but sometimes circumstances in the MLB lead to just that.
Matt Shoemaker isn’t Bud Smith
Shoemaker looked solid in his first start wit the Angels, going five innings without allowing a run to the Seattle Mariners.
His splitter was impressive, disrupting hitters swing path, leading to five strikeouts. And though his pitch count was rather high for only a minimal amount of innings, the right-hander battled in every situation.
But his performance also raises a question: Does Shoemaker have the stuff to get through a lineup multiple times?
It’s something I like to call the “Bud Smith Affect.”
For those of you who don’t remember, or were not even born, Smith was a rookie left-hander for the St. Louis Cardinals back in the late 1990s, early 2000s. He wasn’t flashy. He didn’t have overpowering stuff. He was just an average pitcher.
He did, however, manage to throw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on September 3 2001,which earned him staying power at the MLB level.
But his staying power didn't last long. Regardless of the no-hitter, Smith didn’t have the stuff to go through lineups multiple times.
It has shadowed first-time performances, in my mind, ever since.
Following Shoemaker's outing, Mariners pitcher (ex-Angel) Joe Saunders reminded me about that specific skepticism when speaking to MLB.com's William Boor.
He gave credit to the young pitcher, no question...but he also muttered a key phrase in evaluating pitchers:
He was mixing up his pitches, able to throw off-speed in hitter's counts. His splitter is pretty good. Not seeing him before certainly made it tougher, but all the credit to him. He pitched a great game, especially for his debut. He's got the stuff to continue to be successful at this level.
Did you catch it? Yes, not seeing Shoemaker for the first time probably helped.
But another Bud Smith? If you ask me, not in this case.
However, I don't think the argument whether Shoemaker can hang (or not) in the MLB until we see another start.
If Jerome Williams' injury keeps him out this weekend, we should get one more opportunity to see what Shoemaker can do—against a far more talent hitting club (Texas Rangers), in a far more hitter friendly park.
The truth is we really would need to see more of all six September call-ups before making any judgment towards their Angels careers. And even then, it's still nothing more than an educated guess.
Note: All stats provided were courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter@rick_suter.
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