Buying or Selling the Hype Around MLB's 10 Biggest September Call-Ups
Anyone who has ever paid attention to a prospect’s rise and/or fall knows the ordeal is always dicey at best. Promise can evaporate in a matter of a month or be fulfilled and earn even higher expectations next spring.
Either way, the hype machine is pumping every September when major league teams expand rosters and invite their prospects for casting calls. A strong audition leads to bigger hopes, while a poor one leads to more uncertainty.
Some teams couldn’t wait until September to test their prospects, like the Chicago Cubs with Jorge Soler. Others have pushed back the arrival date of their guy as long as they could, like the Los Angeles Dodgers with Joc Pederson.
Either way, these prospects will be watched closely for 30 days in September as the baseball world decides if it is going to believe the hype or move on to the next hope-inspiring name.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Kansas City Royals
The Royals made Brandon Finnegan the first draftee from last June’s class—he was taken 17th overall—to make it to the big leagues, and it doesn’t hurt that he is expected to strengthen a bullpen that is already one of the best in the American League.
The Royals were wise in making this move. They need help in other areas—mainly with scoring runs—but they don’t have anyone in the upper tier of their system who can come in and help. If they did, he would have been called up by now.
The other area of need: lefty middle relief. The Royals have a strong back end of the bullpen, but middle relief and any left-handedness have been needs. Finnegan fills both.
He has thrown 27 innings between Single- and Double-A with a 1.33 ERA and a 6.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Royals figure he has around 20 innings left in the season, per Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star. That total can go a long way in a month or even beyond, as the Royals believe a roster loophole can make Finnegan eligible for the postseason, according to McCullough.
Believing the hype? Yes.
The Royals still see Finnegan as a starter who sits in the low 90s. But if we are talking strictly relief, Finnegan can blow high-90s gas if he is working an inning at a time, and a plus slider is his put-away weapon.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
Maikel Franco made his major league debut Tuesday night as the youngest position player to do so for the Phillies since Jimmy Rollins' first appearance as a 21-year-old in 2000. Franco turned 22 a week ago.
Franco’s option to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to start the season looked like a smart move when he hit .172 with a .487 OPS in April, but after the minor league All-Star break he hit .309 with 10 home runs and an .877 OPS in 46 games. In his final 16 games with Lehigh Valley, he had 11 extra-base hits and 16 RBIs.
That finish prompted the call-up, and now the Phillies are expected to get Franco enough at-bats in the final month to see how he handles big league pitching. He will be primarily a third baseman, but analysts like ESPN Insider Keith Law (subscription required) don’t love his defense, so it is entirely possible he sees some first base duty.
Believing the hype? Not this month.
Franco had a .299 on-base percentage in the minors, which won’t come close to cutting it in Philadelphia.
Alex Guerrero, INF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex Guerrero first made headlines when the Dodgers signed him to a four-year, $28 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus. He next made headlines when he had part of his ear bitten off by teammate Miguel Olivo in the dugout during a game.
However, Guerrero’s actual on-field production, which wasn’t bad at Triple-A Albuquerque, has been overlooked. He hit .329/.364/.613 with 15 home runs in 65 games. He played the majority of the time at second base, some in left field and shortstop, and one game at third base.
While his bat seems ready to be tested in the majors—the Dodgers will use him almost exclusively as a bat off the bench—his glove still needs work. In addition, he doesn’t have a definitive position since Dee Gordon has turned into an All-Star at second for the Dodgers.
“Right now I’m not comfortable starting him ahead of any of our guys anywhere. I have a second baseman that's an All-Star player,” manager Don Mattingly told Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA.com. “Right now we're not looking to try people out, not looking to get extra guys at-bats. We're not trying to be fair to anybody. We're trying to win games.”
Believing the hype? No.
Guerrero won’t play enough this month to prove himself worthy of a major league roster spot come next April.
Dilson Herrera, INF, New York Mets
The Mets’ roster situation helped Dilson Herrera get a call-up—he needed to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft—but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve the promotion.
Herrera hit .340 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs in 241 Double-A at-bats.
One scout told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com he believes Herrera is more than a product of Double-A pitching and can be a productive major leaguer. ESPN.com's Keith Law said on Sports Nation (subscription required) that he believes Herrera can be the team’s second baseman of the future, which would push Daniel Murphy out the door (via Joe Kaiser).
Herrera was the return for Marlon Byrd, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates last season.
Believe the hype? Yes.
Herrera’s compact swing and ability to hit to all fields could give him a fine chance to hit for average with the Mets.
Steven Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers
Steven Moya is one of the September call-ups who brings excitement from the minors. He has the kind of prodigious power—35 home runs at Double-A Erie—that leaves fans salivating for his full-time arrival.
Whiffs are delaying that ETA, however. Moya, who is 6'6" and 230 pounds, struck out 161 times in 549 plate appearances, a 29 percent strikeout rate. Those swings and misses, a product of a long swing and an inclination to chase, have limited his walks (23) and kept his on-base percentage low (.306) and the Tigers leery.
Moya won’t play much in September with the Tigers in a tight divisional race but will provide a left-handed power threat off the bench.
“He brings that threat off the bench to hit the ball 450 feet,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told Chris Iott of MLive.com. “He can hit it to all fields. Opposing managers are going to have to be aware of that.”
Believing the hype? No.
Moya’s strikeout rate is way too high for him to be consistently successful at the major league level. Once that goes down and his OBP shoots up, the Tigers can seriously consider him an option.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Daniel Norris is another product of the impressive 2011 draft. His rise started late last season and continued this year over three classes. He compiled a 2.53 ERA and went 12-2 in 26 appearances, 25 of them starts. He also struck out 163 batters in 124 and two-thirds innings—11.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Blue Jays are reaping the benefits of fixing Norris’ mechanics, according to Law (subscription required), which added consistency to his delivery and allowed him to harness his power and command. He is expected to compete for a starting job next year.
Because of the number of innings Norris has already pitched, he will be used carefully out of Toronto’s bullpen.
Believing the hype? For sure.
Norris’ strikeout rates at three levels were impressive, and there is no reason to think that won’t continue when the focus shrinks to an inning or two at a time.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Pederson might be the most major league-ready prospect in this group. He became the first Pacific Coast League player in 80 years to have a 30-30 season and hit .303/.435/.582 with a 1.017 OPS and 33 home runs. Those numbers earned him the PCL MVP award.
The problem for Pederson is the Dodgers have a standing-room-only outfield with Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier patrolling it. While Pederson is probably the best defensive center fielder of the group, that foursome makes big money, and the Dodgers won’t bump one of them for Pederson at this point.
Believing the hype? No doubt about it.
Pederson has to bide his time for now, but by next season the Dodgers will be forced to make room in that outfield for him. Plus, the Dodgers could desperately use some pop in the final month.
Cory Spangenberg, INF, San Diego Padres
Another 2011 draft pick, Cory Spangenberg has already made a major league impact, driving in two runs and making a pair of stellar defensive plays at third base on Monday.
Spangenberg’s rise to the majors was slowed by two concussions in the minors, but he still managed to hit .331/.365/.470 with an .835 OPS in 66 games at Double-A San Antonio, his second season at that level.
ESPN’s Law (subscription required) doesn't believe Spangenberg projects as a regular at any position right now, but he could play a couple of infield spots and probably center field.
Believing the hype? Leaning toward yes.
If—maybe a big “if”—Spangenberg can increase his contact rate in the majors, he might just hit himself into the lineup, especially since former third baseman Chase Headley was traded this year.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
It seems like baseball people and Mariner fans have been talking about Taijuan Walker for a decade, but it’s only been since 2010, when he was the 43rd overall pick out of Yucaipa High School in Southern California.
Walker was a call-up last season and earlier this year but didn’t get jaw-dropping results. That changed when he took the ball on Monday. He pitched six innings and allowed one run and struck out five. He entered the game in the second inning with the Mariners already down five runs and got his fastball up to 97 mph.
“He threw the ball pretty darn good,” tight-lipped manager Lloyd McClendon told Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times.
Walker struggled at Triple-A Tacoma this season, posting a 4.81 ERA in 73 innings, striking out 74 and allowing 13 homers after dealing with a shoulder injury early in the year.
Believing the hype? Yes.
Walker’s struggles could just be jitters, but once he settles in and feels comfortable, he has the kind of stuff that can excel in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. Walker turned 22 last month, so he still has plenty of time to develop.
Andy Wilkins, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox
Andy Wilkins led the International League in home runs (30), RBI (85) and total bases (274), and this was just the latest chapter in which the 25-year old—he turns 26 on Sept. 13—proved he can hit in the minors.
Wilkins will get plenty of at-bats as the DH and some at first base after Adam Dunn was traded to Oakland over the weekend. His debut wasn’t great Sunday—he struck out three times—but he seems to understand how to handle the highs and lows of the season.
“That prospect-status stuff, you can get really wrapped up in that," Wilkins told the Chicago Tribune’s Fred Mitchell (subscription required). “You've seen a lot of prospects in the past not pan out, and you've seen plenty of guys that get drafted in the 40th round that get to the big leagues. ... If someone wants to praise me or dog on me, whatever. It's all the same to me."
Believing the hype? No.
The DH/1B spots are crowded for the White Sox, and Wilkins did not have a spot on the 40-man roster until his call-up, which could say something about how the organization feels about him considering his age. His defense is also a question mark, even though he probably won’t be playing much in the field.
Wilkins could break out, but he may also be that classic Quad-A player who mashes in the minors but can’t figure it out at the top level.