Mike Rosenbaum's Top 10 Prospects, September Call-Up Edition
The door to The Show opened for some of baseball’s top prospects Monday with the expansion of the active roster from 25 to 40 players.
The Los Angeles Dodgers wasted no time promoting outfielder Joc Pederson, as the team purchased his contract from Triple-A Albuquerque before Monday’s game.
The Blue Jays and Royals took advantage of the expanded rosters by each calling up a pair of non-roster prospects.
The Royals added game-changing speed to their bench for the stretch run in outfielder Terrance Gore, and they also called up 2014 first-round left-hander Brandon Finnegan, who is expected to work out of the bullpen down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays purchased the contracts of their two top prospects, left-hander Daniel Norris and center fielder Dalton Pompey. The major leagues represent the fourth and final level of the year for both players, and it’s doubtful they’re coming up to ride the bench.
There inevitably will be even more prospects called up as the month unfolds, as the minor league playoffs are just starting at the Double- and Triple-A levels.
Before that happens, though, it’s time to take a look at the top prospects that were promoted to the major leagues on Sept. 1, with the rankings based on the original order of our top 25 call-up candidates.
Be sure to check out Prospect Pipeline’s up-to-date tracker for stats, scouting reports and predictions for every notable September call-up once the transaction information is made available.
10. James McCann, C, Detroit Tigers
James McCann, a second-round draft pick back in 2011, took a big step forward last year at Double-A Erie and has continued to improve this season at Triple-A Toledo with a .295/.343/.427 batting line, 34 doubles, seven home runs and 54 RBI in 109 games.
Defensively, McCann has allowed only five passed balls in 98 games this season and has thrown out base stealers at a 42 percent clip. However, the 24-year-old’s greatest strength might be his ability to crush left-handed pitching, evidenced by his .342/.404/.475 batting line in 120 at-bats this season against southpaws.
The Tigers purchased McCann’s contract from Toledo prior to Monday’s game, and he actually replaced Alex Avila behind the plate in the ninth inning.
9. Alex Guerrero, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex Guerrero missed two months of the season after Miguel Olivo bit off a chunk of his ear during a scuffle in the Albuquerque dugout in late May.
The Cuban infielder, who signed a four-year, $28 million free-agent contract last October (including a $10 million signing bonus), has put up solid numbers since coming off the disabled list, with a .304/.343/.542 batting line, 23 extra-base hits (seven home runs) and 28 RBI in 44 games.
Though second base is his primary position (54 games played), Guerrero will always be a bat-first player with minimal defensive value. Other than the keystone, Guerrero has also spent time at third base (four games), shortstop (seven) and left field (nine), meaning the Dodgers could be considering him in a utility role for September.
However, my best guess is that the 27-year-old’s playing time will depend on how much he hits in those initial opportunities.
8. Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers
Steven Moya, 22, was recently named MVP of the Double-A Eastern League after leading the circuit in home runs (35), RBI (105), extra-base hits (71) and slugging percentage (.555)—all career highs. Furthermore, his 35 bombs, 286 total bases, 71 extra-base hits and 105 RBI were single-season franchise records for Erie.
The 6’6”, 230-pound outfielder has done most of his damage this season against righties, with a .284/.315/.570 slash line, 22 home runs and 24 doubles in 328 at-bats.
As of now, the Tigers' reserves are Bryan Holaday, Andrew Romine, Ezequiel Carrera and Don Kelly, none of whom possess more than a lick of power. Given Moya’s breathtaking thump from the left side and current spot on Detroit's 40-man roster, he’s likely to get some looks off the bench for the Tigers in September.
It didn’t take Moya long to get his feet wet in The Show, as he entered Monday’s game against the Indians as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning and promptly delivered a single through the right side of the infield on a 2-2 slider.
7. Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
Christian Bethancourt has appeared in 13 games with the Braves this season, batting .240/.283/.260 with 14 strikeouts during that span.
The 22-year-old hasn’t taken a step forward offensively this season as hoped, despite putting together a.287/.312/.414 batting line to go along with 26 extra-base hits (eight home runs) in 90 minor league games.
The right-handed hitter’s bat is easily his weakest tool. He employs an overaggressive approach and tends to swing at anything around the zone, and his ability to make consistent contact at times serves as a detriment. Therefore, it’s his superb defense that has him back in the major leagues.
Bethancourt is regarded as one of the premier defensive catchers in the minor leagues thanks to his elite, 80-grade arm strength, sound footwork and sub-1.8-second pop times. Bethancourt recently landed on Triple-A Gwinnett's disabled list with a left hand contusion, though the injury wasn’t serious and he returned in time for a September call-up.
6. Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Kansas City Royals
Selected by the Kansas City Royals with the No. 17 overall pick in this year’s draft out of TCU, Brandon Finnegan began his professional career at High-A Wilmington, where he posted a 0.60 ERA, allowed five hits and fanned 13 batters in 15 innings.
The Royals moved him up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in early August to work out of the bullpen, and the southpaw has responded well to the challenge by posting a 2.25 ERA with 13 strikeouts over 12 innings.
Finnegan sits consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and has the potential to work a few ticks higher in shorter bursts, and he’s also shown the ability to hold the velocity deep into games. His breaking ball was slurvy at the time of the draft, but he’s since cleaned it up and used it to put up impressive numbers at a pair of advanced levels.
The Royals wouldn't be calling him up if they didn't plan on using him, so expect the southpaw to get regular work, possibly even in high-leverage situations, down the stretch.
5. Dalton Pompey, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Dalton Pompey, drafted in the 16th round of the 2010 draft out of Ontario, got everyone’s attention last year by posting a .752 OPS with 37 extra-base hits and 38 steals over 115 games in his full-season debut at Low-A Lansing.
The 21-year-old switch-hitter has emerged as one the game’s more intriguing power-speed prospects this year, as his debut in the major leagues will mark his fourth level of the season.
Pompey began his season with High-A Dunedin in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League before moving up to Double-A New Hampshire in late June. Pompey played in only 31 Eastern League games before he received another promotion, this time moving up to Triple-A Buffalo and fueling speculation about a potential September call-up.
Well, after batting .358/.393/.453 with 15 runs scored and six stolen bases in 12 Triple-A games, Pompey is officially headed for the major leagues. He’ll finish his second full professional season having batted .313/.388/.462 with nine home runs, nine triples, 20 doubles, 43 stolen bases and an 84-52 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 494 plate appearances (112 games) across three levels.
The switch-hitter also fared equally well from both sides of the plate, with an .849 OPS as a left-handed batter and an .853 OPS as a rightly.
Pompey has a high-end combination of hit/speed potential while also playing a solid center field—all attributes he showcased in this year’s All-Star Futures Game. Given the Blue Jays’ lack of production from center fielders Colby Rasmus (.735 OPS, 43 K) and Anthony Gose (.635 OPS) since the All-Star break, it wouldn’t be surprising if Pompey sneaks his way into the lineup sometime soon.
4. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
Maikel Franco entered spring training with an outside chance of making the Phillies' Opening Day roster, but ultimately the team assigned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after he hit .184 over 16 games.
Unfortunately, his struggles didn't end with spring training, as he posted a disappointing .209/.267/.318 line with five home runs in 78 games spanning the first three months of the season.
The 22-year-old has raked since the beginning of July, though, with an impressive .324/.344/.579 batting line, 30 extra-base hits (11 home runs) and 47 RBI over his last 54 games.
A physically strong right-handed hitter, Franco’s strong wrists and plus bat speed fuel his plus power projection, which could manifest in the form of 25-plus home runs at maturity. While he continued to feast on fastballs last year, his improved secondary recognition helped him control the strike zone and strike out less often, especially during the second half of the season.
Even though Franco is a below-average runner, he has decent lateral range at the hot corner to go along with good hands and above-average arm strength.
The Phillies have nothing to lose by auditioning Franco at the hot corner over the season's final month, especially if they plan on giving Cody Asche, the team’s closest thing to an everyday third baseman at the present, a look in left field.
If Franco’s second-half hot streak carries over to the major leagues this month, then it wouldn’t be surprising if third base becomes his position to lose headed into 2015.
3. Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Daniel Norris received a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire after breezing through the Florida State League to begin the year. The 21-year-old left-hander didn’t stay there long, though, as the Blue Jays decided to move him up to Triple-A Buffalo after just eight starts.
Well, after four dominant outings at the minor’s highest level (and one not-so-good one), it now appears that Norris will finish his breakout campaign in the major leagues, per Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith.
On the season, Norris is 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 163-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 124.2 innings (25 starts) across all three levels. He's held opposing hitters to a .212 batting average during that span, highlighted by a .182 opponents' batting average over 22.2 innings at Triple-A.
The Blue Jays would not be rushing Norris up the ladder like this if they didn’t plan on using him in the major leagues next month. Chances are he’ll work out of the bullpen so as to manage his workload, but if a playoff spot is on the line, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Norris making a start or two down the stretch.
2. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pederson’s call-up came on the heels of him being named MVP of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. This season, the 22-year-old outfielder led the PCL in home runs (33), OPS (1.017), on-base percentage (.435), runs scored (106), walks (100) and total bases (259). He also became the first Pacific Coast League player to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season since Frank Demaree in 1934.
Pederson’s debut came earlier than expected on Monday night, as Mattingly called on him to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with two runners on base and the Dodgers trailing 6-4. The youngster ripped a 2-1 fastball foul against Rafael Soriano before ultimately working a full count, but he was called out on strikes when the Nats closer painted a cutter on the outside corner.
Manager Don Mattingly spoke about his willingness to put in Pederson with the game on the line (via MLB.com):
"We get down to the point where you have to try to win the game," manager Don Mattingly said. "And Joc's the guy for that right there. He's a left-handed hitter, he's a guy who can hit a ball in the gap, score a run.
"It would've been nice of him to hit a double. That ball he hits foul, I would've loved to see it go in the corner. I'd love to see him hit a home run to win the game or at least get on to extend the inning."
Pederson is an impressive athlete with quiet strength, showcasing five average or better tools and good secondary skills. He projects to be a slightly above-average hitter at the highest level, with a mature approach and line drive-oriented swing, and he already demonstrates a feel for working counts and getting on base. Given his ability to play plus defense at all three outfield positions, Pederson figures to serve primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement down the stretch.
1. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker seemed primed to open the season in the Mariners' starting rotation after he received a late-season call-up in 2013, but Seattle ultimately assigned him to Triple-A after a shaky performance during spring training. The 22-year-old right-hander then suffered a shoulder injury during his second start of the season and didn't return to action until late May.
Walker made three starts for the Mariners between June 30 and July 23, registering a 3.60 ERA and .133 batting average against over 15 innings, but he struggled with his control and walked (13) nearly as many batters as he struck out (14).
The right-hander was pitching well back at Tacoma—2.37 ERA over his last 19 innings, to be exact—before scuffling on Monday, when he allowed five runs on nine hits over six innings against Kris Bryant and Triple-A Iowa.
With only 82.1 innings under his belt this season and Triple-A Tacoma not headed to the playoffs, the Mariners will have some flexibility with Walker over the final month of the season. According to manager Lloyd McClendon, via MLB.com, Walker will initially work out of the bullpen:
Right now, he's probably going to be more of a long man. Hopefully he'll get to the point where he's so dominating that he's in the rotation, but we'll see. I had a talk with him today, and that's totally up to him. We've all heard the hype and know he's a very talented individual, but I want to see it on the field.